Gleise 581g

Harmony’s modeling program showed the distant planet as tidally locked. One side always faced its sun; the other backed onto the vast universe. Hubble shots revealed a rocky world in a temperate zone: that special distance from a sun in which planets can sustain water. Though the lack of an axis argued against life, Harmony’s program suggested otherwise.
She popped another Mentos. “Again,” she said.
Arnold touched his bald spot. “It’s late. My wife will think I’m cheating.”
“Long distance love?” she said, tapping the screen. Once he’d allowed her to finger that tender, naked circle of skin. Now, though, she needed nothing besides this dot in the night sky.
“581g isn’t going anywhere,” he said.
“It took us centuries to pinpoint. It could disappear tomorrow.” “You’re the least logical scientist I know.”
“Tell Sheila hi.”
At the door, he paused. “Get some rest, okay?”
“Sure,” she said, jabbing at her keyboard. “When I’m dead.”
In his absence, she studied the data again, narrowed 581g’s orbital path by 1%, hit “run,” and sat back to watch. The simulation showed an alien solar system and Planet 581g, just another of the macrocosm’s ping-pong balls until the program zoomed through its magenta atmosphere, soaring over the endless deserts of a world that might or might not exist. With her program, Harmony saw what Arnold’s logic would never allow:
A colony on the sunny side, intelligent, readies a canoe of petrified cactus. She watches them drag it to their great, cold sea where all they’ll find is a wide island of ice and total absence of sun. She journeys with them, sharing their helplessness before the twinkling slate of an endless, unfathomable universe, knowing they’ll return to shore having coined the word
“dark” in their language, something they’d never yet needed to say.

Katie Cortese received an MFA from Arizona State University and is currently a PhD student at Florida State. Her poetry and fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Main Street Rag, Fiction Southeast, Harpur Palate, Smokelong Quarterly, PANK, Prick of the Spindle, The Ampersand Review, The Superstition Review, NANO Fiction, and elsewhere.