“When Billionaires Flee to Proxima b,” by Chris Panatier

Dec 20th, 2019 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

The billionaires gathered inside their special room, the hermetically sealed one with piped-in HEPA air, aromatherapy diffusers, and personal attention chambers. The room, rarely used, was reserved for emergencies only, and nobody present would dispute that this was an emergency.

The world was burning. Literally. Climate change had turned California into a tinderbox, while the rain forests of the Southern Hemisphere were being purposefully incinerated to make grazing room for the rare cattle with beautifully marbled meat that the billionaires preferred.

“Did you guys know that one out of every five breaths of air that we take is owed to oxygen produced by the Amazon?” asked the unblinking child-like billionaire with the waxy face and acorn-cap hair.

“My Amazon?” asked the bald billionaire.

“No, the forest Amazon. With the river.”


The others nodded. The world’s problems, ranging from this current climate kerfuffle, to the so-called “income gap” millennials were always complaining of, to never-ending wars and labor disputes, were becoming quite the nuisance. People were even grumbling about making their companies pay taxes! The billionaires freely acknowledged their roles in the swelling debacle and their apathy in responding to it, but there had been shareholders to answer to. It was all water over the bridge now. They were past the brink, and the golf courses weren’t going to unflood themselves.

The billionaire sitting on the yoga mat stirred from his meditation and gracefully folded himself into an exquisite Eka Pada Koundinyanasana. Coming out of the pose, he took a decorous sip of mango kombucha. “I’d say it’s time to consolidate the rocket fuel.”

The men at the table nodded somberly in the affirmative. They hated to leave Earth, with its spendy populations, hunting reserves, and discrete massage salons. The eccentric one—they were all eccentric, but he was the one the rest of them deemed disproportionately eccentric relative to themselves—scribbled some notes on a disposable handmade silk napkin. “Well, I’ll tell you,” he said, underlining something. “It’s fortunate we developed the alternative fuel source to get us to Proxima b,” he said. “Conventional fuels could have done the job, but I’d not factored in the vintage cars.”

“I don’t go anywhere without my Boo-bu-gatti,” said Bald, making a pouty baby face.

The problem caused by the additional payload, which had ballooned to include not only the billionaires’ exotic cars, but their vast art collections, rare and endangered animals, exercise equipment, cryogenic chambers, and personal chefs, was that regular rocket fuel—a mixture of liquid oxygen and kerosene—simply wouldn’t get them off the Earth, much less to the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, where Proxima b orbited in the habitable zone. Always diligent in anticipating contingencies, the billionaires had, over the preceding decade, quietly developed a new fuel. It burned longer and hotter, which gave it a specific impulse—the measure of how efficiently a rocket fuel burns—that far exceeded the usual solid or liquid propellants. But it was also plentiful, easy to collect, and refine. Best of all, it was free.

The new fuel was human souls.

“We really owe it to you,” said Unblinking Waxy Boy to the Kombucha billionaire. “You developed the extraction technology.”

“I can’t take all the credit,” said Kombucha. “You figured out how to get it onto all the platforms. That easily quadrupled our production.”

“What are we at in terms of total harvest to date?” asked Eccentric.

“Great question,” said Bald, bringing up some statistics on a wall screen. “We’re pacing at just under six hundred million tweets per day. Hmm. That’s up.”

“Nice,” added Waxy Boy.

Bald struggled to pull free a strip of monkey jerky with his teeth, then continued as he battled the wad of meat, “What’s the math on that, overall?”

Eccentric consulted the napkin for a moment and said, “Well, we’re a little over two hundred billion tweets per year, with every tweet garnering about a picogram of each tweeters’ soul. We’ve been collecting since the aughts. Hmm-mm. I have us safely over a trillion tweets. That’s one gram of pure soul. Easily enough to get us to our new home and then some.” He chortled. “Mars shmarz.”

“One gram, that’s it?” asked Waxy. “I thought we’d need more.”

“Soular power is unrivaled,” said Eccentric. “Each person has a million Chernobyls’ worth of energy locked within their soul. We just withdrew a tiny bit every time they tweeted a cat meme.”

“Guess that’s why people say they feel like they die a little bit when they go on Twitter,” said Waxy.

Kombucha selected an essential oil he liked, bergamot, and anointed himself at the brow and then under his armpits. “That’s exactly why.”

Waxy slapped the table. “Welp, I guess I’ll have to start packing. Any of you bringing your girlfriends?”

“No!” yelled the chorus.

“Wait a second,” said Bald, standing. “I’ve sent tweets. Was my soul being harvested?”

The room fell silent. The billionaires stopped what they were doing and looked at Bald, wide-eyed at his revelation. Kombucha cracked a smile then burst out laughing. The others, including Bald, followed suit. And they laughed.

And laughed.

And laughed.


Chris Panatier’s short fiction has appeared in The Molotov Cocktail, Ghost Parachute, Tales to Terrify, and others. As an artist, he illustrates album covers for metal bands, and used to be an editorial cartoonist. He thinks one of his dogs might be a goat. Tweets from @chrisjpanatier.

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