The Elvis Orbit


From the last great Fire Age a civilization arose.

And I just heard a voice from the deepest night.

Among the achievements of our people was the Great Ear, the invention that allowed people to communicate at vast distances. Using metals and generated energy to control electrons allowed us to hear our own voices as far as we could see; and then, using tall towers, we could relay our voices even beyond the horizon, until they reached around the world.

Our world is in the middle orbit between the three planets that are closer to Trappist and the three planets that are farthest from Trappist. Each world has its own blend of noises and broadcasts its existence in its own way. When they harmonize our people are known to feel their best and accidents dip to their lowest rate of occurrence.

But the voice out of the night is not the voice of our planets. It’s not a star and it isn’t the sound of the ancient universe hissing away. It’s the voice of an alien planet of another star.

On this world I’m the discoverer of Earth.

Faint signals, practically incoherent at this range, have been traveling toward us from Earth for 70 Earth years. I started sifting them out of the background noise 30 Earth years ago. We don’t have years on our planet.

Our calendar is based on the alignments of the planets. When all three outer planets are over here it’s One Day, and when they’re all over there that’s Two Day. But when that one is over here and those two are over there, that’s Three Day. When none of them are in the sky that’s Four Day. When only two are in the sky but one is over here and one is over there, that’s Five Day.  And when only one is in the sky that’s Six Day.

But our relative “weeks” are counted by the appearances of the three  inner planets, and how many of them show up near the horizon at any given time.

It was the music that stood out first. Familiar to me because of my origin, of course; but unfamiliar and foreign to the true natives of this world. And what sounded like mushy crackling to them sounded quite coherent to me.

The warden threw a party at the county jail-

The prison band was there and they began to wail-

The band was jumpin’ and the joint began to swing-

You should’a heard them knocked-out jailbirds sing

Let’s rock, everybody let’s rock-

Everybody in the whole cell block

Was dancin’ to the jailhouse rock!*

The tidal effects of six planets and a star have shaped the fate of life on Elvis. All seven of our Earth-sized worlds orbit the star Trappist within a space smaller than the distance of Mercury from Sol.

It may give off a dim light for a star, but Trappist is putting out lots of heat. And once in a while it sends out a flare that heats things up even more. Extinctions have happened several times in the history of life on Elvis, mostly because the planet got scorched by a fireball from Trappist, setting off a Fire Age. It’s probably going to happen again someday, but no telling when.

Like all the Trappist planets, most of one side of ours always faces its sun while the other side always faces cold space. So civilization is concentrated on the north-south twilight zone between the hot side of Elvis and the cold side.

Here, sound is everything. Our mountains ring with the echoes of planets. Our seas carry the hum of neighboring worlds passing through our space.

It’s simple to believe that the people of our world are unique and our growth so random that something like us couldn’t happen anywhere else. It’s easy to assume that every condition under which we evolved has to be in place if it’s ever going to happen again.

But I hear millions of stars that are much like Trappist.  I hear billions more that are alike in their own ways. While every single “thing” is different, nothing is unique. It’s good for the people of a lonely planet to know…

The universe is filled with hunks of burning love.


*Jailhouse Rock by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, 1957