The first time I heard about Planet Choom, we'd been on Mars for almost a year. But life on the Mars station was grim, and since Earth was no longer an option (we may have blown it up), it was time to find a new home.
That's how we ended up on Choom with the Zhuri. They're very smart. They also look like giant mosquitos. But that's not why it's so hard to live here. There's a lot that the Zhuri don't like: singing (just ask my sister, Ila), comedy (one joke got me sent to the principal's office), or any kind of emotion. The biggest problem, though? The Zhuri don't like us. And if humankind is going to survive, it's up to my family to change their minds. No pressure.
|Publisher:||Random House Children's Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.62(d)|
|Age Range:||8 - 12 Years|
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The first time I heard anything about Planet Choom, we’d been on Mars for almost a year. I was sitting in the rec center with Naya and Jens. We were taking a break from shooting a video we’d written. It was either How to Be Your Own Pet or Top Ten Toilets of the Mars Station. I can’t remember which.
Naya leaned in over the table and whispered, like she was telling us a big secret. “My dad says they found a planet humans can live on permanently. Like, we can breathe the air and everything. But the thing is . . .”
She looked around to make sure nobody else was listening before she went on. “There’s already aliens there. And they look like giant bugs.”
“What kind of bugs?” Jens asked.
“I don’t know,” said Naya. “I think mosquitoes.”
“Are they dangerous? Like, do they have stingers?” A planet full of giant mosquitoes sounded terrifying.
Naya shook her head. “They don’t act like mosquitoes. They just look like them. And they’re really smart.”
“As smart as humans?”
“Yeah. Like, maybe even smarter.”
“Are they friendly?”
“I guess. I mean, they know we exist. And they haven’t tried to kill us or anything.”
“I’d rather just go to Novo,” I said. This was a few months after the Governing Council had announced they’d discovered Novo in a nearby solar system. It was a planet that could almost-but-not-quite support human life, and the GC was studying whether they could “terraform” it, which meant changing its environment enough for us to live there.
Naya snorted. “Novo’s never going to work,” she said, shaking her head. “If it could, we’d all be headed there by now.”
“Not necessarily,” I told her. “Novo’s really far away. So they have to be sure. And it’s hard to study it from here. Plus, they need time to get all the bio-suspension pods ready.” The trip to Novo would take fifteen Earth years, and the only way for a whole ship full of people to survive the trip without running out of food and water was to go into bio-suspension. Supposedly, that was just like going to sleep, except it lasted much longer, and you barfed a lot when you woke up.
“Is that what your mom told you?”
“No! It was in the weekly announcements. My mom doesn’t tell me anything.” Mom had been elected to the Governing Council when it got set up right after the first refugee ships arrived on Mars. It was a big deal, I guess, but it didn’t get my family any special treatment or inside info. All it meant for me was that I never saw Mom, because she was always working.
“I’m just going to go back to Earth,” Jens announced.
I rolled my eyes as Naya sighed. “You can’t go back to Earth!” she told Jens for about the fortieth time.
“Everybody there is dead!”
“So nobody can live there anymore!”
“Nuh-uh!” Jens insisted. “We can live there again. We just have to wait a while.”
“Yeah, like a thousand years.”
“Nuh-uh! Just a year or two! My dad said so.”
“Your dad’s wrong.”
“No, he’s not!”
They probably would’ve kept arguing until Jens started to cry, which was what usually happened when we tried to change his mind about Earth. But just then an old man passed by our table. He must’ve been on one of the last ships to arrive, because his face was pockmarked with dark red sores from radiation exposure.
When he saw us, he stopped and looked down. “You kids making another one of your videos?”
“Yes, sir.” I smiled at him, and he smiled back. Whenever we made a new video, the guy who ran Movie Night at the rec center played it on the big screen before the main feature. We’d done about half a dozen of them, and they’d turned Naya, Jens, and me into minor celebrities among the hundred or so people who usually showed up for the movie.
“Keep it up!” the man told us. “Folks need to laugh. Now more than ever.”
“Not too many people laughed at the last one,” Naya reminded him. I’d written Fabulous Fashion Looks for Fall myself, after I outgrew everything I’d brought from Earth and my parents sent me to the clothing exchange. All they had in my size were a pair of worn-out jeans with mysterious stains on them and a grimy T-shirt that said taylor swift world tour 2028. Now I was stuck wearing them even though the stains grossed me out and I’d never even listened to Taylor Swift.
So I wrote a video making fun of the clothing exchange. But it came out more angry than funny, and people didn’t like it nearly as much as our other ones.
“Was that the one about the clothes?” The old man grimaced in sympathy. “Yeah, that was a bit of a misfire. But don’t let it get you down! You know what they say: ‘Dying’s easy. Comedy’s hard.’ ”
“People say that?” I’d never heard it before. To be honest, it seemed a little inappropriate.
“They used to. Back in my theater days. Guess it made more sense back then.” He chuckled. “Point is--you just keep up the good work. You’re raising people’s spirits. We need all the joy we can get around here.” Then he put a scarred hand on my shoulder and lowered his head a little closer to mine. “Speaking of which, I heard a rumor. . . .”
I knew what was coming next even before he said it.
“Is your sister Ila Mifune? From that Pop Singer show?”
“Yes, sir.” Ila had been playing guitar and singing since she was six. By twelve she was writing her own songs. At sixteen she went to an open audition for Pop Singer, the highest-rated TV show in our country. She made it all the way through to the semifinals, where she sang one of her own songs, “Under a Blue Sky,” to a TV audience of sixty million people. Going into the live final episode, she had more votes than any of the other contestants.
But the world had been slowly falling apart for a while, and two days before the episode was supposed to happen, it suddenly fell apart a lot faster. Instead of going to the airport and flying to see Ila in the Pop Singer finale, we wound up at the spaceport, where we were lucky enough to get seats for all four of us on a ship to Mars.
Most people weren’t that lucky.