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Fiction in response to Responsible Consumption and Production
December 2018


By Ilana Arougheti

Two planets down.


It isn’t just a game or a mission. It’s our lives. When my grandparents took off in the first wave of explorer rovers, nearly 40 years ago, the concept of finding two more habitable planets to maintain Earth’s standard of living was novel. They were explorers, not refugees. Cape Canaveral guests threw magnums of champagne against the side of their shuttle like they were off on an old-time ocean liner.


My grandparents, or so the family story goes, were the only ones to hear the comments from Mission Control. It had been thought that the radios were off. A final murmur from a scientist in a suit somewhere down below, toasting from his computer station, weary for one crucial moment over the radio waves. If we don’t find somewhere else to go, I don’t see how we can survive.


The sense of urgency, once only a puzzling story and a family tradition of urgency, has since become unspoken truth.


In a way, the starships solved a lot of the problems. Households can’t belch constant carbon emission if they have been replaced by bunks. Scrapping all the airplanes for spaceship parts will certainly help the gas last longer. And the massive spike in the survival technology industry – inventors looking for government grants to stock the space stations, apocalypse fiends stocking their bunkers with their share of Earth’s dwindling resources – brought us to a breakthrough point in water purification. Of course, it wasn’t enough.


It was ten years ago that Major Douglas found fresh water and concentrated oxygen after a wrong turn during a solo mission. The residents of Terra New live underground, the surface is too cold for anything or anyone to grow. Ten years more and we sent our first ships to Vermillion. That one was more of a stretch, but at least there’s an atmosphere and a molten core and a fair variety of fungus. Hope our grandchildren like mushrooms.


So we search. As shuttles crammed with refugees take off whenever enough scrap metal can be found, as water wars rage and food shortages cripple, the world we left behind still bursting at the seams, we search. Two habitable planets down, half our ships already sending pioneers back and forth, the first interstellar libraries and schools and vegetable gardens already in place somewhere south of Alpha Centauri.

We really thought we were on to something with the ice world. Before that, there was a planet that looked from afar like green oasis and turned out to be covered in green rust. (The ship commander was fired for the waste of a lightyear of fuel.) We’ve far outstripped the old Curiosity and Juno rovers.


Next year I will begin my solo flight. It wasn’t easy, getting the position. There are less than a dozen explorer pods left – too many benign bodies beyond the Milky Way have already been checked for water or food or oxygen and scratched hopelessly off the lists. Too many little black boxes, taken as mementos from each pod before its departure, line our starboard mausoleum. But my grandparents and my parents were well-liked along the ship. And I’ve already set a course for a little blue marble twenty lightyears away which we think may be a terrestrial planet. Maybe I’ll be written in the history logs as the woman who brought back topsoil.


Somewhere around the asteroid belt, we lost track of the other fleets. There are about three thousand still in our pod, drawing bright red lines on our star maps, circling shadows across our laps. When I look out the window at night in between missions they’re all in a line, infinitesimal windows, oceans of pressed steel. In this liminal space with limited topography, they look almost like skyscrapers.

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