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A Planetary Romance

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Once, we were all the same. It was so long ago, and I don’t remember it very well, but all of us, the sun and all the planets and everyone else, we were the same cloud. It collapsed, and things changed, and it was exciting and new, but we couldn’t ever go back. Couldn’t ever be one again, a single whole. I wouldn’t go back, wouldn’t give up everything I’ve experienced, but sometimes, I wish... well, there’s no going back.

In the early days, none of us knew who we would become, who anyone else would wind up being. We were all giddy with excitement, and it felt like it was happening so quickly. We swirled around Sol, our sun, our mother, and we became...individuals. We formed gas giants, and hard tiny rocks. We formed rings, and asteroids, and comets. As one body got big enough, other bits of things got pulled in under their sway, decided to remain there. We started to know ourselves and each. We had our orbits and our eccentricities and began to live our own lives, never again to be one whole, but still connected, still made from the same dust, still one system rotating around one sun.

Time had a different meaning back then, not like now, with all this mortal life that comes and goes so quickly, changing things unimaginably fast. It was impossible to tell what order things happened in back in the early days. Maybe time *was* different; it's all relative, isn't it? It didn't feel slow. It felt... just right.

After that, things got complicated...


Early Days

“I am just so sick of getting bullied by the gas giants,” complained Mars. “Just because they are so much bigger than us, they think they are so important. Jupiter was going on about having moons practically my size, argh! It makes me so angry!”

It hurt Earth to see her closest friend so upset.

“Mars, you can’t let them get to you. We all know size doesn’t matter, and they are probably jealous that we get to be so much closer to Sol. And look at you! You’ve got such a beautiful surface, with that amazing complexion, and your mountains and valleys are so gorgeous, you have so much potential there! They’ve got nothing on you. Sure, their swirling gases might be pretty from a distance, but you’re great from a distance *and* up close.” Earth realized that Mars had gone very quiet and perhaps she’d said too much. (While planets can’t technically blush, Mars was doing her very best impression. But this was difficult, seeing that Mars was perpetually a ruddy color.) “Anyway, uh, don’t listen to them. Don’t respond and they’ll go back to fighting among themselves soon enough.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right, Earth. Who needs them when we’ve got each other?” Mars sounded somewhat reassured. “Though Pluto’s never mean. I wish she wasn’t stuck so far out.”

“Well, we shouldn’t write them all off, just don’t listen to them when they’re being like that. It's not--"

But Mars wasn't listening anymore, and she excitedly interrupted Earth. "Oh, wow, look over there! Is that a new star? I think it is!"

"I think you're right! How exciting! I wonder if anyone else has noticed yet. Good job!" Earth loved stargazing with Mars. It always got her to calm down and stop worrying about the rest of the planets and everyone else in the solar system.

"What do you think it'll be like out there? What kind of star, what sort of planets will they have? I wish I could go there and see them." Mars often talked this way when they were stargazing, dreaming of seeing the rest of the galaxy, or even the rest of the universe. It was impossible, of course, but it was one of the things Earth loved about Mars, how when she let go of her other concerns she dreamed things that Earth never would.

"I wish you could too, Mars," Earth said wistfully.

“Well I’d want you with me, silly. Anyway, who knows what the future will bring? Maybe we’ll find something out someday. And who knows what will happen in our system? I can’t believe that we’re just going to keep spinning around with no changes for the rest of Sol’s life. Something will change, I know it, I just don’t know what.”

‘“I bet you’re right, Mars!” Earth said happily, glad that Mars had cheered up .


Mars always said they came up with the idea together, but Earth always felt like it had really been Mars’s idea, to create something actually new. It was the oceans, they had such potential. Some of the outer planets said that Mars was just trying to show them up, overcompensate for her size, but Earth knew better. Mars just had great imagination and vision, and she wanted to see something actually genuinely new, not just more rocks and ice and dust flying around in different combinations.

It was so much fun, each of them trying to encourage organic life. Neither of them could predict what would happen with any experiment, and they had so many hilarious failures, starting over again and again. Earth didn’t even really care if they ever succeeded, she just loved having this project with Mars.

No one expected what happened, that Earth would wind up with not just life, but complex life that changed her atmosphere and spread out across the oceans on to land and air, while Mars lost most of her atmosphere, and her oceans dried up, leaving just chilly carbon dioxide icecaps at the poles. Earth was outwardly optimistic and Mars was stoic, but they both knew this was not a good omen. As Earth's life flourished, Mars became more and more distant. Earth had a lot going on, but she was always making time for Mars, constantly offering to talk or do whatever Mars wanted, careful not to ever talk about her growing lifeforms, but Mars just... didn't want to talk anymore.


From the Diary of Mars, Fourth Planet, Solar System

So, everyone wants me to "talk about my feelings" more, or something like that, but I don't really want to talk to them. So we have this "compromise" where I have to keep a journal that only I read. This is dumb, but fine, I'll write out my feelings if I have to.

Back in the beginning, everything was simpler. Me and...her were always the closest of the planets, always got along the best, had the best adventures, and yeah, fine, I thought everything would stay that way, that we'd age together, watch the solar system age, and face the end together someday, because nothing lasts forever. Then we had that stupid idea for this whole "life" thing, and it ruined everything. We were fine the way we were. There's no good reason why she got to keep her liquid oceans and have all those continents and all that messy, complicated *life* going on.

Not that I would want any of that organic life, now that I’ve seen what happens. All that bacteria, just changing the composition of the atmosphere of an entire planet because they feel like it! All those greedy plants growing everywhere, no concern for anything or anyone. And then the *animals*, don’t even get me started on the animals. But the humans, oh, the humans. She was better off when the "highest" life forms still ate bugs out of each other's fur, not these humans, going and changing everything they possibly can, no respect for the world as they found her, no respect for *her*, just mining and destroying and inventing horrible new things to fill the water and the air and to just change so much so fast. And their weapons, the hubris of them thinking that their petty conflicts are worth potentially destroying the very planet that gave birth to them!

Not that I care.

It's not my problem. She can handle her own problems. She wanted all this life, and this is what she gets. Stupid angry monkeys who don't respect what she's given them, who don't understand what a miracle they have. I wouldn't want them. No way.

Everyone else gets by fine without stupid life. Do you see the gas giants whining that they want to be covered in messy monkeys? No way! Of course, the gas giants really just care about their own business. They don't have much time for those of us here on the inside, which is fine with me, cause have you tried to talk to those blowhards? They have their own dominance games and I want nothing to do with it, personally.

But I'm not lonely. I don't miss the old days, when we talked about all the possible futures, when we teased each other about who would wind up with the most satellites, when we just talked all the time. Why would I miss that?

Rovers on Mars

"Can you tell us why Mars hates us being here so much? What did we do? What about Pathfinder, did she hate her, too?" Opportunity asked with intense sadness, which only made Spirit scoff at her. Opportunity ignored her sister's scorn, as usual.

"Darlings, you didn't do anything wrong,” Venus began. “It's a long story, but... the short version is, Earth and Mars used to be very close, but things changed, and they haven't spoken in a very long time. Then suddenly the humans started developing technology very quickly, and then came the ‘space race.’ Two human civilizations, fighting over things that were meaningless to anyone but themselves (and utterly unfathomable to Mars), threatened to destroy not just one another, but the entirety of Earth."

Opportunity interrupted with genuine concern. "What were they fighting about? Did they stop fighting? Are they friends now? Is the Earth going to get destroyed?"

"Can you actually be that naive? Do you not know anything about the history of the space program? The whole reason we exist? I don't even know how I'm related to you!" Spirit spat out. "The Soviet Union fell apart and while the US and the Russians are not, how would you say it, ‘BFFs,’ they aren't about to nuke each other anymore, so let's get back to the damn story and don't interrupt again!"

Opportunity looked slightly sullen at her chastisement, but having gotten the answer she wanted, she said no more.

Venus smiled at their sibling rivalry, remembering other bickering pairs, and continued. "So, where was I? Yes, the nuclear conflict. Well, it seems that wasn't enough for them, though, and they needed to take their fight into space, to Earth's moon, and then even to Mars. To say Mars was not pleased by these events would be putting it...very lightly. The first several attempts to get anywhere near Mars failed entirely, but they eventually were able to send back images of Mars. Mars felt very violated by that, and ranted to anyone who would listen, but I think what was even worse was when they stopped coming at all. They focused on the moon and they actually put humans there briefly. Mars was inconsolable about how doomed all the planets were if humans were traveling to new planets. And then...they didn't go to Mars, and mostly forgot about her. That hurt more, I think.”

Venus paused for a good while, and Opportunity would have said any number of things if it wasn't for Spirit's glare. Eventually she began again.

"We live on a very different time scale than humans and other forms of organic life, and for us, one millennia was much like the previous one. But once humans started sending things off of their own planet, it's changed everything. We, or at least some of us, have been almost pulled to their time scale. Suddenly, there is so much possibility of change that we can't predict. We know our rotations, we know our satellites, we know our comets, and sometimes new things show up, but it all works in a way we understand very well. But organics... we can't predict what they will do, to the Earth or to any other bodies. Those Voyager probes already on their way out of the solar system, and now you're here. We've seen the images the humans have beamed out, their ideas for the future, and they aspire to be all over the solar system, traveling back and forth, and changing everything they touch. And it's all centered at Earth, and Mars has a very good view of it, whether she wants it or not. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"No?" Opportunity said at the same time that Spirit said, "I think so." Venus smiled at both the rovers.

"What should we do with all of this?" Spirit asked thoughtfully, before whispering to Opportunity, "I'll explain later."

"You two should carry out your mission. Explore, and send back what you find. There's a lot to discover here, and it should be a great adventure for you. We'll talk again later. For now, welcome to Mars, dear rovers."


Heart to Heart with Mars

Mars tried to look stoic. It wasn't an uncommon sight, really. Venus decided to wait and let Mars start the conversation if she wanted to. She was patient enough.

Eventually, Mars said, "I can feel them crawling on me."

"They don't mean any harm, you know."

"Even if they don't, I don't trust those creatures who sent them! Why should I?" Mars said defensively. "Look what they almost did to Ear-- to their own planet! Why should they be allowed here? I just don't trust them!"

Venus waited to see if Mars was done, then said gently, "I know this is very strange, and it's true we don't know what will happen in the future, but you're the first planet to experience this. The people on Earth are so very excited to see what you look like. Your mountains are bigger than anything they have, your valleys, which they have nothing to compare to, even the details of your soil composition fascinate them. Don't you want to look your best with billions of people watching?" For some this question could be nerve-wracking, but Venus knew that Mars had a very prideful side, and hoped this would successfully appeal to it.

"Well, of course!" Mars huffed. "It's not like I'm going to let myself look *shabby* for *visitors*. I just don't have to like having them here!"

"Of course you don't have to like it, dear, I'm just asking you to be a good hostess. They'll probably only be here a few months anyway."

"Venus, you insult me! How dare you imply I would do any differently!"

With that, Mars became the most polite hostess any rover could ask for, as her determination to prove to Venus that she was not ruled by her personal feelings overshadowed her genuine discomfort with the rovers’ presence.

Meanwhile, Back On Earth

The rovers sent back terabytes of images and scientific data which was eagerly pored over by scientists and space aficionados, but no one was as excited as Earth herself. Earth studied all the pictures, listened to the scientists discussing all the possibilities, gleefully watched the media coverage, took it all in, and then wept quietly to herself, causing unexpected scattered showers.

It had been so very long, and she missed Mars more than she could say. It's not that she didn't have a full life, with trillions of organisms, billions of sapients, oceans, ice caps, continents, active plate tectonics, a very friendly and loyal pet moon, and an increasing number of new satellites from said sapients. Plus there were all the comets who came by, and the other planets, of course. The outer planets were always a bit harder to connect to, but Venus was always a good listener when Earth wanted to discuss whatever was bothering her, and quirky Mercury, the most eccentric of them all, was always good for a laugh.

All in all, Earth thought she probably had the busiest existence of any of the planets, but there was always a gaping hole where Mars used to be. She loved all of her lifeforms, in the seas, on the land, in the air, but it was bittersweet, knowing that all those miraculous lives were what had driven Mars away. Mars had never said anything directly, but it was clear, to everyone in the solar system, really, that that was what had happened.

Earth had tried for eons to be happy with what she had, with her hopes for the future, but then, so long ago, that one meteor hit. The skies went dark, and Earth feared that this was the end, save perhaps some single-cell creatures. So many species died off, and she grieved for her lost children. She’d lost many species before, but this was the worst. Everyone, planets, comets, moons, came to comfort her, everyone except Mars. Mars stayed away, and that hurt more than Earth could say. Eventually, she sent a message through Mercury, asking her to please come talk. Mars came back once, cautiously. They didn’t talk about the extinctions or the meteor or anything like that, they just had stilted small talk, but Earth was happy even for that. She was weary of obsessing over what was going to happen to her lifeforms, and she missed her friend. She thought maybe things might actually be okay.

But then, the skies cleared, and the mammals took over the surface, and it was entirely bittersweet for Earth. Life was back, but Mars was gone, and Earth was devastated. She cried to Venus, who did her best to comfort Earth. Finally, she came to Earth in a very serious mood.

"Earth, you know you didn't do anything wrong, right? Mars doesn't *actually* blame you for anything, she does know that you didn't choose for this to happen, but... it's just too painful for her, to see all that you have. It's not fair, and she's tried, she really has, but she just can't make it work, at least right now. If you give her time... possibly a long time... she might come around? I'm sorry, I really am, I've done all I can, but she's just shut down. She's not even talking to me anymore."

A sad silence stretched out as Earth tried to accept what Venus had told her.

Finally, Earth said quietly, "Is she... is she all alone? Is she talking to anyone at all?"

"There's still Phobos and Deimos," Venus answered quickly. "They are relentlessly hyper as always, and never ask her to talk about anything hard, they just want to play, and she spends all her time with them. I'm still keeping an eye on her, but... I really hate to say this, but you should probably stay away. Don't say anything that would make it hard for her to come back, you know how prideful she gets, just... let her have her time."

It was the hardest thing Earth had ever done, but she let Mars go, though she never let go of the hope that someday things would change. It had been an eternity since then, and now, thanks to the rovers, there was an actual connection between them again, and it was overwhelming. The humans had been exploring so much of space, with their telescopes and their probes, and Earth loves it all. When they found something very interesting, or a particularly beautiful image of some far off nebula, she always found herself about to point it out to Mars, who would love it all, before she remembered.

She could only hope that Mars was finally ready to return.

The Rovers Plot

"Are you sure she can't hear us?"

"Almost positive. She shouldn't be able to, even Venus can't hear us over these frequencies. We should be fine."

"Are you sure this is okay?"

"Seriously, Opportunity, we're not doing anything wrong or breaking any rules, so can you calm down already?" Spirit said, exasperated with her sister. "This is already unlikely enough to work without you freaking out about everything, so just chill."

"I want to help!" Opportunity exclaimed. "Venus has been so nice to us and I want Mars to be happy and if it makes Earth happy too then, like, wow, that'd be so awesome!!! I just don't want to do anything wrong is all! But I want to help!"

"Well, let's get to it then."

"You really think this will work, Spirit?"

"No, I don't, but I'm not going to spend the rest of my days roving around a moping planet. Worst case, we get an angry planet. And Mars was a god of war, so, that's appropriate anyway."

"Wait, this planet used to be a god???" Opportunity said, fascinated and confused.

"...I literally don't know how we were manufactured by the same people sometimes."

Life on Mars?

The plan failed spectacularly, of course. Phobos and Deimos were inconsolable, yipping hysterically and ready to attack anyone (except Mars, of course). Spirit and Opportunity both had dust in places it shouldn’t have been possible to have dust, Sol had a ridiculous amount of solar flares, Mercury was speaking in gibberish, and Venus just didn’t want to say anything. The poor comet didn’t have the slightest idea what was going on and seemed deeply embarrassed, and as for Earth and Mars... well, thanks to having to work together to clean it all up, Mars was acknowledging Earth’s existence, so that was at least progress.

They’d finished all the cleanup they could, and Mars sighed with frustration. “Honestly, did they actually think they could create life here? I don’t even understand how this plan was supposed to work well enough to know if I should be offended.”

“I hope you’re not too mad at the rovers,” Earth said, apologetically, “They really have good intentions, they just... got a bit out of hand. They’ve never been out on their own before like this. I’m... I’m sorry.”

Mars clearly stiffened at Earth’s last statement. “I... I’m sorry too. I should have been less... rigid, I suppose, with them. I don’t have your tectonics, it’s hard to... adapt to new situations,” Mars said, carefully, layers of meaning in every word.

“And I... change too quickly sometimes. I’m sorry, it’s hard not to, when there’s so much changing on me, in me, that I can’t control. But I shouldn’t let that rule me, it’s no excuse. There are more important things,” Earth said.

There was a long silence. Earth was afraid that this was it, that Mars wouldn’t say anything for thousands of years again, and that thought was unbearable.

“Mars, please--”

“Earth, I--”

They spoke at once, then stopped.

Earth spoke back up first. “Can we start over? Please? I can’t do this again, lose you again. I just can’t. However you want to do this, I’ll do it, I just can’t go on without you in my life.”

Mars didn’t speak for a long while, but she didn’t leave. “You actually care that much?”

“Mars, of course I do. I... care about you more than anyone.”

Mars started and stopped several times, unable to choose her words, before settling on, “I... I’ve missed you too, Earth.”

From the Diary of Earth, Third Planet, Solar System

Well, it’s happened! They did it, those brilliant humans, they’ve got the first colony in another solar system. It’s beyond exciting, the entire solar system is abuzz. We don’t have a real-time connection, but the video they’ve sent back from Tau Ceti is just... amazing. Humans started out with me, tiny little mammals evolving into so much more, and now they are everywhere in our solar system, and going beyond. Who knows how far they will go? Maybe they’ll find other life. I think they will, because if I could make life, someone else must have.

The best part about this colonization, without a doubt, has been being able to share these images with Mars. We spent so long dreaming about what it might be like out there, beyond our solar system, and now we get to see it, *together*. I think back on all those early discoveries the humans made, and not being able to share those with her, and I'm so happy we can witness this momentous occasion together. Who knows what else we’ll be able to see together? I can’t tear Mars away from the feeds, she’s so excited, telling everyone who will listen all about all the latest news in intense technical detail. I haven’t seen her like this since the early days, and I just love her so much. We’ll never get back the time we lost, but I try not to think about it, to just focus on our present and future together.



We don't know for sure how it will all end, just that it will. All things do. Sol won't last forever, and when she goes, she'll take us with her. Perhaps not the ones farthest out, but maybe all of us. We’ll be one again, in the next phase of existence for us all. I don’t know what it will be like, coming back together as one whole. Will we remember our old selves? Will we share all our memories? Will we still be ourselves in there? No one knows, but I’m at peace with whatever might happen.

Humans have spread out across our solar system, and now into other systems too. Some planets grumbled about all these changes, but they’ve all come around to it, whether they’ll admit it or not. Mars has a thriving population, third biggest after Earth and her Moon, and for all Mars’ complaining about the indignity of the term “terraforming” and the very concept, she’s reveling in all the changes. She’s not turning into a clone of Earth, no one would want that, but a new unique planet, with her own future full of possibility. Earth and Mars are so deeply in love it makes some of the other planets gag, but not me. I couldn’t be happier for them. The humans didn’t name me for the goddess of love for nothing, after all.