PLANET JUMPERS • by Daniel Ausema

The Twin grew ever larger in the sky, from a distant speck of light to a full moon to taking up half the sky. It pulled our waters up, tides not seen in four generations. Even the ground seemed to yearn toward that other planet. Rocks, though, can’t jump. My people can.

Four generations of ruthless breeding programs. Three decades, speaking for myself, of training — my legs, my lungs. At last we would escape this home to settle on our twin. Of course we would have to leave our elderly behind. The children, too. They would be the seeds of the next generations, jumping to rejoin our new descendants on the Twin. But our strongest and most able were surely the ones to create a new society, anyway.

The Twin. We spoke of it in our twilight tales, the thick air that would slow our descent, the wide lakes and fertile ground. Too wild, perhaps. It needed us, just as we needed it, needed our hands to care for it, needed our strong legs to explore its heights and valleys. And we needed the space to be sure our people survived. We studied its atmosphere as it merged with our own, a cascade of richer air pouring down onto us. Had our home once had air so pure? So close, we reached our hands up as if to touch it. Only the gods of the stars kept it from crashing into our windswept rock of straggly plants and thin ponds.

Everyone wanted to be first to reach it. I watched my fellow jumpers popping off the ground only to come crashing back to the familiar earth. If they survived, they certainly wouldn’t be ready to jump again until too late. I waited.

Across the valley were our cousin species, perhaps driven into separation in a much earlier attempt at breeding. They were not jumpers, would never reach the Twin on their own. They called and sang their disjointed language. I sneered at them, at the fear I heard in the way they spoke. Let them fear the Twin. We would conquer it.

The Twin loomed ever larger. I saw forests and picked out the edge of the glacial defile, the twists of rivers. So much like our own planet — its name was no mere romance — and yet so much richer. I licked the air and imagined that I could already taste its insects and smell its harsh pollens. I crouched low to stretch my muscles.

The earth shifted. Just as I was about to kick off, it shook beneath me, throwing off my balance. The Twin was directly above, as close as it would be for another two centuries, but I couldn’t find the purchase to jump. A building crumbled, and only most of its rock fell down: some debris fell upward.

Across the valley, our cousins threw their young into the air. So strong. How had our cousins become so strong? Unless they too had been breeding for this very moment… From where I sprawled, I watched their children cross that space between planets, watched them spread their arms and skin flaps wide to slow their descent to their new home. I could hear their songs, which no longer sounded fearful. Triumphant as they passed from one atmosphere to the other. Mournful yet proud, those left behind.

For a moment I let myself mourn too. Already it was too late for me to reach the Twin. I could never get myself into position to jump high enough. But maybe not too late for us, for my people.

I ran across the uncertain ground and found one of our own children. Scared and young, but her legs already looked strong with the springy muscles of our people. They would need jumpers over there on the Twin. Not just strong throwers. Let her become a part of their people and make it stronger.

I scooped her up and jumped before she had a chance to know what was happening. It was my highest jump ever, even with the child’s weight in my arms. Perhaps the Twin’s gravity aided me. For an instant I let myself believe we would both make it, but even as I thought it, I could feel myself slowing down. No, no Twin for me. When I reached the apex of my jump, I threw the girl. The Twin’s gravity caught her. She’d seen the thrower children, I was pleased to see as I fell back toward our village. She stretched out her arms and let herself fall. I tried to slow my own descent, spreading limbs wide as the familiar ground rushed to meet me.

The thinner air slowed me, but not enough. Landing, I felt my legs crumple. Shattered or just in pain from the shock? I couldn’t tell, but even if my legs still worked, I was certainly too weak and in too much pain to jump again. From the ground I watched my fellow jumpers leap and cast the other children, crying their blessings and farewells as they fell back here, and the children fell away to make their own new, shared home.

Daniel Ausema has a background in experiential education and journalism and is now a stay-at-home dad. His fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous places, including Daily Science Fiction, Electric Velocipede, and Penumbra, and he is the creator of the steampunk-fantasy serial fiction project, Spire City, published by Musa Publishing. He lives in Colorado, a land of mountain views, micro-brews, and the scent of wildfires.

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