Five thousand: how many exoplanets scientists anticipate discovering by 2030. Five hundred: how many days Frank and I have worked together at this ersatz NASA funded by a manic billionaire. Five: how many times Frank – a mansplaining attention-whore in a crappy suit – has attempted to claim credit for my ideas for human colonization of a habitable second world in front of Charles (the aforesaid billionaire).
Last Friday, security escorted Frank out – although not because of the mediocre-white-man confidence which underpinned his intellectual property theft. Instead, the charge was actual petty theft. Now, on this cool Monday morning, Arabella’s replaced him. She shakes my hand, and, bypassing hello, says, “How would you spend your vacation on Kepler-442b?”
This planet is near Earth’s size and within its star’s habitable zone. The b indicates the first planet discovered in another orbital system. In Kepler-442b’s case, it’s an only child. “Better than on Kepler-442a?” I joke.
Arabella scowls as though I’ve said something indecent.
“Sailing?” I propose.
“How about you?”
“Given Kepler-442b’s reduced sunlight, I would need to spend an additional ninety minutes outdoors for adequate vitamin D exposure. Due to below-freezing temperatures, however, I anticipate sedentary enjoyments would pall quickly. Though… with higher gravity, vigorous activity might prove fatiguing. Ergo, walking at a sustainable pace, with adequate outdoor clothing, would seem salubrious.”
“Of course,” I say. “Would you like me to show you the break room?”
She declines any interest in that, or in seeing my research on Proxima Centauri – a mere four-ish light years away, versus 1200+ for Frozen Hikingland. “Will you continue Frank’s research on Gliese 667 Cc?”
My Aunt Myrna offered me that same smile, when, aged four, I “borrowed” her best mauve-suitable-for-loan-officering lipstick and adorned myself.
“No. Gliese 832c.”
Had Aunt Myrna suddenly called to say she’d become a Juggalo, I’d have felt less staggered. “Charles… authorized that?”
Calling that planet a crapshoot is… overly generous toward the word ‘crap’. Even if Gliese 832c isn’t a second (greenhouse-gas-ridden) Venus, the odds are not in its favor. The best projections favor a fragmentary region of habitability (an area called a ‘terminator line’, which always sounds to me like a Schwarzenegger project that failed to get studio backing.)
“Charles recruited me,” says Arabella, primly.
I collegially refrain from punching her. (Indeed, Aunt Myrna would approve.)
But our next presentation for Charles tests my fist’s patience. I discuss our expanding cooperation with Breakthrough Starshot (which aims to reach Proxima Centauri within 20-30 years). Arabella – using mathematical modeling I only understand through a glass, darkly – manages to prove the existence of a hospitable atmosphere, potable water, and a suitably located microcontinent.
Our next dozen-ish presentations reinforce this distinction.
I sign up for newly-developed 600-level math courses at the local university. And fail them.
I somehow find myself applying Arabella’s inferences about Gliese 832c to my own work. But minus supporting calculations.
Security escorts me out on a Friday, too.
Aunt Myrna says her bank has entry-level positions available.
Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories and the occasional poem have appeared in over seventy literary magazines. She received Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations in 2020. She may be found on Twitter: @LindaCMcMullen.