The trouble began when Pluto cut in on Neptune. Uranus eyed the upstart warily, fully expecting to be treated the same. It was the one-thousand, nine-hundred and seventy-ninth revolution of the Celestial Dance—by one account—and nobody was paying much attention to Gaea's fleas.
Jupiter rubbed his age spot, coughed and pointed a commanding finger. "Watch your step," he said. "You're achieving conjunction with Uranus." Pluto ignored him, however, merrily spinning on his axis. Saturn shook her pretty head. Things hadn't been the same since they had discovered Pluto dancing on the outskirts. He and his little tag-a-long accounted for many of the strange steps that they had been performing for ages. In fact, everything now was blamed on Pluto. Instead of on Gaea's gnats.
Mercury, that hot-headed youngster, proposed that they cut Pluto off. "He doesn't stay within the ecliptic anyway," he said. But older, wiser heads prevailed. Even if Pluto was barely the size of some of his retinue, Jupiter had grown fond of the little guy. "Just get back in line," he told Pluto again. "We'll never achieve the Grand Harmonic Convergence this way."
Mars twitched. Something was tickling his old, dry, cold skin. Venus felt a pinprick. They glared at Pluto. Gaea watched, unable to say anything, her jet stream full of debris and noxious gases that were blocking her ozone cords.
Eventually, Pluto darted back outside, just in time for the two-thousandth revolution. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Venus, Mars and Mercury all sighed with relief. Things could get back to normal now. No one could hear Gaea's silent screams.
When Venus began to cool, and Mars begin to heat, the planets finally turned to Gaea. But it was too late. The solar system had contracted life—and it was terminal.
(originally published in 1998 in Just Because; image Solar System by Joe Plocki (https://www.flickr.com/photos/turbojoe/) licensed under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/)
Glen Engel-Cox is the author of a novel, Darwin's Daughter, and a non-fiction collection on reading, First Impressions.