Author : Gray Blix

Before NASA’s panelists were even introduced, a reporter shouted at a scientist known for his off the cuff statements.

“Dr. Worful, why did Jupiter blow up?”

Nervously, “Well, for starters, Jupiter didn’t ‘blow up.’ There’s no energy emissions, no shock waves, no gas clouds — no indications of an explosion. The planet simply disappeared.”

“But planets don’t just ‘disappear,’ do they Dr. Worful?”

Softly, “No, they don’t.”

“What do you think happened to it?

“I think it was…” leaning into the microphone, “taken.”

Commotion ensued until, “I am Dr. Ralph Payne, NASA Administrator.” Glaring at Worful, “It’s premature to advance theories about what happened to Jupiter. When we have something to announce, we will hold another press conference. But today we must share with you what the consequences of this event are likely to be. ”

He nodded to a female panelist, “Dr. West.”

On that day and in subsequent weeks, Dr. West was a media omnipresence, NASA’s ideal spokesperson. Well groomed and well spoken, authoritative but low key, she delivered information that should have frightened her audience in a way that most could accept as matter-of-fact realities of life. Life after Jupiter.

She explained that the orbits of Uranus and Neptune might be perturbed enough to send them careening through the solar system. Jupiter’s moons, no longer captives, could also go wandering. Jupiter would no longer vacuum up comets and asteroids passing its way, leaving their path toward the Sun and its inner planets uninterrupted. And the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter would be destabilized. She made it all seem like an interesting science experiment. Life after Jupiter.

Through it all, she deflected questions about Dr. Worful’s conjecture. These and other theories, she said, would be discussed in due time. Meanwhile, Worful seemingly joined Jupiter in disappearing. “Jupiter taken by aliens” headlines gave way to “Where’s Worful?” and eventually to “Life after Jupiter” articles featuring West’s talking points. Astronomers all over the world tracking thousands of objects, big and small, in the solar system, found three sizable asteroids on courses that would bring them near Earth, but impacts were not predicted.

“This honeymoon can’t go on forever, Ellen,” said Dr. Worful to Dr. West.

Pulling the sheet to her neck, “I don’t recall our getting married.”

“You know what I mean, the honeymoon with the press. You can keep me captive in your apartment — really, you can keep me captive — but you know there are others who share my theory about Jupiter.”

“Yes, Max, I am one of them. But what good would it do…”

She answered the phone.

“Payne wants us both in his office at noon.”

West and Worful joined several fellow scientists in the NASA Administrator’s office.

“Astronomers from the Keck and European Southern observatories announced this morning that Jupiter was just the latest in a series of planet disappearances — exoplanets that is. I don’t think we’ve lost any others in our solar system, but I didn’t count them this morning.”

In the weeks to follow, Worful and his colleagues plotted disappearances in time and space, noting that all were gas giants rather than rocky planets, all seemingly on routes to and from the Cygnus constellation. Gaps in plots were in solar systems where a planet might have been taken before discovery by Earth astronomers.

At long last Dr. Worful faced the press and, blessed by Payne, presented their theory that aliens were sucking up gas planets.

“But why would they do that?” asked a reporter.

“Haven’t you ever been on a long trip and needed to stop for gas?”

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