The Pale Blue Dot is a story that starts off with a perspective of how small Earth is. Perhaps the main part of the story begins a little further in. It’s the story of Katy Miller, a pop star, and her desire for fame, fortune, peace, and tranquility, and of the plan that she and her handlers hatch to get Katy what she wants.
Imagine yourself as having lived since the dawn of time. Take a moment. Describe to yourself how long that might be. You would have been alive since before the planet Earth. You would have been here when Earth was being formed. You would have been here when carbon dioxide was first created. You would have been here when our planet, for lack of a better word, first started to breathe. You would have been here during the time of the dinosaurs, who survived for tens of millions of years. You would have seen the meteor hit, and the dinosaurs destroyed. You would have seen the earliest hominids, who survived for hundreds of thousands of years. You would have seen the Stone Age, the Iron Age, and finally the last couple thousand years of modern civilization, the Anthropocene, which are less than a blink in time.
Additionally, you would have had time to consider how small the planet Earth is with regard to the universe. The planet Earth is one planet in our solar system. A single one. One single planet. In our galaxy, the Milky Way, there are a hundred thousand planets. There are many, many galaxies in the universe. The universe is a decent sized place, and we don’t know whether or not there are other universes.
Now, for one moment, imagine yourself at the edge of our galaxy.
For this exercise, don’t even imagine yourself at the edge of our universe, because that perspective is so big that the mind boggles.
Just imagine yourself at the edge of our galaxy. The planet Earth would be so small that it would seem like a pale blue dot. The people on planet Earth would seem like tiny, squibbling things like bacteria or molecules. The people on Earth live for a hundred years or so, which is not even a blink in time. A hundred years is far, far less than a blink in time.
The lifespan of a star is a blink in time, and stars live for ten or fifteen billion years. The Earth is only four or five billion years old. Our universe has been in existence for ninety or a hundred billion years. We, human beings, live for a hundred years. A hundred years is nothing. Nothing.
Now, imagine, during this time, getting all wrapped up in determining which human has more pieces of paper than another human. That’s greed for money. It’s not noticed beyond our solar system, I guarantee it. In fact, no one outside our solar system cares whether Honduras owes money to China or whether China owes money to Honduras. It doesn’t matter. Not one iota.
Now imagine the humanitarian efforts of our people. Those are not noticed either.
Imagine the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of humans. Outside of Earth, it doesn’t matter. No one outside of Earth notices or cares.
The fact is, we’re not noticed by anyone. We’re operating on our own, in a distant galaxy surrounded by eight lifeless planets, circling around a burning, lifeless star. We’re four light years from the next nearest star, and no one’s in that solar system either.
We are a long ways from anybody.
When you die, nothing will happen. You will just be dead. Death will be like a dreamless sleep, and I guarantee that too.
However, that being said, none of this information, not one bit of it, was mentioned by Katy Miller’s handlers when they proposed to her the idea of the living room camera.
Katy Miller was beautiful. She had a mesmerizing profile. Even her silhouette was breathtaking. Additionally, she had a voice as clear as a bell jar. She could move a hundred million album-equivalent units, which was the music industry’s measurement for reckoning how many albums were sold, now that albums had gone digital and everyone consumed their media electronically. She was as rich as a sultan, as pretty as a plum, as famous a musician as money could buy, and she had the trappings to go with her attributes.
She had an Aston-Martin that ran solely on electricity, and it did none to a hundred in 2.3.
She had a pet lemur. She had four pet dogs, two of which could fit into her handbags.
She received Gucci sunglasses in the mail, promotionals, and she never wore them nor even knew what became of them.
Katy Miller had a staff of maids, lawn-grooms, and butlers to keep her mansion looking perfectly, outrageously neat.
Katy Miller had a team of handlers who sought to leverage her fame and fortune, and to make her celebrity status bigger, more consumable. Audiences, they knew, wanted access.
It was Raúl Wang, her agent, who first suggested the living room camera. Raúl was just under forty, olive-skinned and handsome, with a perpetual five o’clock shadow. He wore Versace and Armani suits. He was born in Queens, and he came of Latin and East Asian blood. He had moved to Los Angeles to make his career, but retained his east coast connections. Raúl was very much in vogue.
“Katy darling,” he said. “I’ve just had the most fabulous idea. Why not put cameras throughout your house and stream your daily life live?”
Katy was smart, but she was also interested in money and growing her brand. She paused. “There’re tons of other people already doing it.”
“But you’re famous, Katy darling! People want to see how famous people live: the mansions, the cars, your darling Toto.” Raúl held up Toto, her lemur.
“No,” said Katy. “It’s unoriginal. I only do new.”
“Wear a camera,” suggested Millie Lundquist. Millie Lundquist was one of Katy’s entourage, and she was reclining on Katy’s divan. “I mean, have cameras all over the house, and wear a camera too. People can choose to toggle between your point of view or the POV from the house cameras. If they want to look at Toto, they look at Toto. If they want to follow you, they follow you.”
“Hmmm,” said Katy. “Warmer. But not quite hot.”
“What if you asked all your friends to wear cameras?” asked Lucas DiLorenzo. He was Katy’s boyfriend, and, she thought, he might not be for much longer.
“Too much of a bother,” Katy replied. “I’m meeting new people all the time, traveling the world. I meet friends, CEOs, executives, media personnel, et cetera. They’d all have to be mic’ed up, and that would be a hassle. And I wouldn’t want the cameras on during business negotiations, nor would any of the execs.”
“I like Millie’s idea,” said Raúl.
“I do too,” said Katy.
Millie blew a puff of smoke into the air, and she shrugged her shoulders, as if to say, Of course it’s just casual genius.
“And all that Millie’s idea needs is a little twist,” Raúl continued. “Something to make it more flamboyant and original. Something that takes it beyond the pale into true originality. I’ve almost got it—you’ll have cameras all over the house, you’ll wear a camera, and…” He paused, at a loss for what the twist would be.
“You could record everything,” suggested Lucas.
“Ok,” said Katy. “But so what?”
“People could go back and review what you said. It would give your life the illusion of the eternal.”
Katy shrugged her shoulders. “I guess.”
“Biographers could go back and review everything.”
“No,” said Raúl, “Too long-term. Recordings are interesting and utilitarian from a historical perspective, but they’re not click bait. A recording’s not sexy enough. It doesn’t generate enough pop.”
“Fine,” said Lucas.
“Oh, Lucas darling, don’t be petulant. It was a good idea,” said Katy.
“Thank you,” said Lucas, looking mollified.
Katy realized she’d need a new boyfriend soon. There were hundreds of likely candidates to choose from. Lucas was handsome, but she wanted a man she could, at times, follow, not one she whom she always had to lead. She found that exasperating.
“What we need,” said Raúl, “Is something sensational.”
“I’ll fake my own death,” said Katy brightly. “That would be sensational. I’m bored of the glamor anyway. Well, not bored of it, but I need a respite.”
“Fake your own death!” Raúl marveled. His mind wondered as he considered the possibilities.
“Is that possible?” asked Millie.
“I’m the Queen of Pop.” Katy shrugged. “Anything’s possible.”
“What about us?” asked Lucas. “You and me? We wouldn’t be able to be seen in public anymore.”
“We’d have to figure that out,” said Katy.
“Oh,” said Lucas.
“We’d have to figure out a million other details,” said Katy, soothingly. “But the idea’s got some panache, you’ve got to admit.”
“Panache?” said Millie.
“Vim and vigor,” said Raúl absently. “You know, pop.”
And just like that, he had an idea. “You’re the Queen of Pop,” he said. “Why don’t we make you just go ‘pop’?”
“What do you mean?” asked Katy.
“You’ll vanish in a puff of smoke. You’ll disappear.”
“Okay…” said Katy.
“Death is too morbid. It’s too macabre. People would feel betrayed when you reappeared. There would be a police inquiry. No, death’s too much of a pain. But vanishing, disappearance… Now there’s an idea! Put the disappearance together with the idea of you wearing cameras all the time, so that none of the audience can see you planning your own disappearance. Now we’re cooking!”
“I love it!” said Katy. “So the idea is that we plan the entire disappearance beforehand, correct?”
“Right,” said Raúl, nodding and thinking.
Millie sat up on the couch.
Lucas leaned forward.
“A month before my final concert date, I begin to wear the camera, and I have cameras installed in the tour bus, on set, wherever I go. I live stream everything. The audience has total access. Everyone follows me everywhere.”
“Right,” said Raúl. “And at the last concert, after all your contractual obligations are complete, you come out for the encore, and we arrange for a puff of smoke at center stage. We suddenly shut all the cameras off. The stage has a trap door that we’ve never used before, so that even the band has no idea where you’ve gone. You go through the trap door, and I am waiting beneath with a disguise. We hustle you out. There will be thousands and thousands of people screaming. No one will look twice at a person who doesn’t look like you. They do quick changes at the Super Bowl, we’ll do a quick change beneath the stage. Then you’re in a car that Millie drives, and you’re gone. We send you away for a year.”
“There would be a police investigation for a disappearance too,” Lucas put in.
“No,” said Katy, “We just put it out to the masses that I’m going on an extended holiday, à la Dave Chappelle. He vanished to Africa for a year. The police didn’t look for him. I’ll vanish somewhere for the same.”
“The police won’t investigate a holiday,” agreed Millie. “I love it.”
“People will go crazy about it—” Lucas said admiringly. “And you can record it. The Disappearance of the Century it will be called. People will talk about your vanishing for decades after you come back.”
“Yes, we’ll record it. People will review the recording like it’s the Zapruder film. And the disappearance will give me a year of peace and quiet that I can’t get any other way,” said Katy happily. “And, at the same time, it will make me the most fashionable celebrity in the world for another year. Everyone will be guessing at my disappearance and anticipating my return.”
“We’ll have you ‘pop’ back into existence at New Year’s,” Raúl said with sagacity and cunning. “We’ll have you pop back in Manhattan, New York right at the moment that the ball drops at the turn of the new year. Times Square. New York. Everyone will be watching. The ball will drop, and, in a puff of smoke, you will reappear. We’ll have the band ready. You can launch right back into a song. Don’t do a new one of your own. No one would know the words. Do a cover. Do Elton John’s, ‘I’m Still Standing’.”
“It’s perfect,” said Katy breathlessly. “I love everything about it!”
Millie applauded. Lucas held up a flute of champagne. His eyes were shining bright for Katy.
“I’m happy for you, Katy,” he said.
In that moment, when she saw his handsome face, and she felt her heart fluttering, her mind changed, and she thought, “I could see myself marrying this man.”
“But wait,” said Raúl suddenly, dampening the affairs for a moment. “What if plans change during the last month? How will we communicate even a slight change to you? You’ll have cameras on you literally all the time.”
They all paused, puzzled for a moment.
Then Katy had the solution. “I’ll tell you what,” said Katy, “We’ll do it the old fashioned way. How did people get a message across when they didn’t want others to see it? They did it in code. On the day of my last concert, you tell me what changes must take place, and tell me in writing. The audience will see what I’m reading, but you write the real message so that I only need to read every third word of the document. If I understand it, then I’ll sign it. That way, the audience will think that they’re seeing something like a legal document, but they won’t understand that they’re really seeing a code.”
“Excellent idea!” said Raúl. “And I’ll only put the code in the last paragraph. So you can just disregard the rest of the document and go straight to the code. That way, people will understand why it seems to be taking you a while to read it.”
“Wonderful!” said Katy.
“Marvelous!” said Raúl.
“Great!” said Millie.
“Let’s do this!” said Lucas. They toasted with four flutes full of champagne. They spent the night getting happily drunk together, and, for the next month, they made the logistical preparations.
The logistics went well. They got a disguise for Katy, and they put a trap door in the stage. They bought a burner car without a title.
When everything was ready, Katy gave Lucas, Millie, and Raúl a hug. They wished each other well. They made their final checks.
Then, perhaps most importantly, they turned on the cameras.
Everything that Katy did for the next three months of her tour was filmed: her shows, her dressing, her interviews, her flights, her bus rides, etc.
The concerts were a smashing success. Katy Miller’s personality was vibrant, audacious, at times a little too aggressive for the pundits. The audiences ate it up.
Katy Miller’s popularity soared.
For the next three months, Katy was as busy as a bee. She flitted from one venue to the next.
Six weeks into her three month-long touring schedule, Katy broke up with Lucas. The cameras recorded it all. His tears, and hers, were the covers of tabloids for two weeks.
Katy felt herself growing weary at times, and she began to feel eager for her break from fame and fortune. It was tiresome, she felt, to be hounded all the time. The vanishing act, she realized, was going to be a boon that she’d needed. She really would take some time off for herself. She contemplated a long break that filled her days with fresh fruit and yoga, something like Julia Roberts did in Eat, Pray, Love, except that Katy would skip the Love part… And, she thought with an amused grin, maybe she would skip the Pray part too. Maybe she would go somewhere quiet and just Eat.
When the big day came, Katy reflected that her final concert date had arrived, and she thought, Good, I’m exhausted.
Her tour manager came into her dressing room with a long, contractual looking document that he said was from Raúl.
The tour manager said, “Katy, Raúl wants you to read this document and sign it, if you agree with what it says. Is now a good time for you to do that?”
“Never a better,” Katy replied.
The tour manager laid the document onto the table. It was a page long, in fairly small print. Katy went right to the last paragraph. This was the coded letter that she’d been anticipating.
The paragraph read.
You are everything, and what is, shall always still be looked on. I know no other lady changes the music from the old—my dated generation’s side. Sign of times if you want; you’re the best; All Timer, you’re ready!
Every third word read, “Everything is still on. No changes from my side. Sign if you’re all ready.”
A short time later, she went on stage. She made a playful mention of an upcoming disappearance. It was vague, but not too vague. Then Katy sang her songs. At the end of the concert, she stood in the center of the stage. Her arms were raised on either side. She wore a glittery red costume that looked like a swimsuit. It was very revealing. It could not be mistaken.
There was an enormous puff of smoke. For a moment, Katy could see nothing.
Then the trap door opened, and Katy fell through. Raúl caught her, and he set her gently on the ground. He had waiting for her a frumpy black hooded sweatshirt and some grey sweat pants. He had some tennis shoes. He had sunglasses.
The first thing that Katy took off was the camera. When she pulled it off, it was like the weight of a millstone coming off her neck. It weighed but a few ounces imperial, but several hundred pounds, and gaining, psychological.
Katy pulled the clothes on, and she and Raúl slipped out from underneath the stage. She kept her head bowed. They were like salmon going upstream against a current. Security, police, and media were hustling toward the stage.
No one prevented their escape.
Millie was waiting outside with the car idling. Raúl and Katy stepped into the car. They shut the doors behind them. Millie drove slowly away. The car’s windows were tinted black. Raúl pulled the back of the backseat down, and Katy crawled out of the backseat, into the trunk of the car. Raúl put the seatback back up again.
Millie and Raúl were very quiet as they drove out of Los Angeles, out toward the desert. It was a horrible thing that they had in mind to do.
When they reached the desert, it was two-thirty in the morning. Raúl opened the trunk, and he helped Katy out.
She was a smart girl, Katy, and as soon as she saw the desert, she knew that something, at some time, had gone wrong in the plans. Her moment of realization came a moment too late. Raúl struck her ferociously with the tire iron, and she went down like bricks into the sea.
Millie and Raúl had left shovels in the desert. These they used to bury Katy.
The document which Katy had signed, the great part of which she had not read, was recorded by all the cameras that she’d used. She’d signed that she planned to go away, that she’d been planning her vanishing since before the cameras had been turned on. The document stated that she was tired of the materialism and wealth, and she was leaving half her hundred million dollar fortune to Millie and the other half to Raúl.
Millie and Raúl, having cooked up this scheme between them, felt a hundred million dollars to be a prize well worth one human life. They reasoned that the police would search only half-heartedly for Katy, since she signed that she was going away.
Millie and Raúl didn’t need much, they realized, for all that money. They needed the will to commit murder. They both recognized that they had that will. And, Millie and Raúl fathomed, they’d have to bury Katy deep. So deep that she’d never be found.
They buried her deep.
It was a sensational little human drama: the sudden disappearance of the Queen of Pop, the conspiracies, the love, the recorded evidence, the police investigation, the strange and unlooked-for will, the mystery, the intrigue, the glamor, and the fame.
Lucas was right. People called it The Disappearance of a Century. Some people believed that Katy Miller would return or be seen again, like Lydie Marland, the governor’s wife who lived in a mansion with a secret room. Conspiracy theorists said that Katy Miller had been murdered by Raúl and Millie, and these theorists were mostly disregarded. The police, reviewing the final concert, realized that Katy had playfully mentioned her upcoming disappearance. The lead detective thought she went south to Mexico then, perhaps, to Peru. Raúl and Millie, on separate occasions, had informed this detective that Katy was interested in temazcal.
So the detective moved on from the Miller disappearance without much sorrow. There were murders where the victim had certainly been killed, and disappearances where the victim had definitely been kidnapped. These cases had substance, and, although they weren’t so glamorous, still the victims and families in such cases needed police help. There was only so much time that a detective could devote to one case, even a high-profile one, without shirking his duties with regard to the rest of his caseload.
And outside of this pale blue dot of a planet that we call Earth, no one batted an eyelid that one meager life was lost or that pieces of paper changed hands. No one heard the collective buzz of millions of people conversing about Katie Miller. The pleas, whims, words, and actions of humans were utterly and completely muffled by the vastness of space.
But on planet Earth, for decades after the fantastic circumstances of Katie Miller’s disappearance, many people continued to care.