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Wednesday, September 29 2010 @ 09:10 AM EDT
Jim wriggled through the air vents, tugging Ronnie along with him. The vents groaned under their weight, and Jim could hear his heart pounding in his ears even over Ronnie's ragged breathing. Sweat trickled down his nose.
He'd never been more terrified. He was pretty sure that Ronnie's arm was broken, and dragging her through the vents couldn't be doing it any good.
And the vents had collapsed under her weight, so it was a miracle that they were holding up under both of them.
He kept moving, one painful crawling lurch at a time.
"How're you doing, son?" Ronnie's dad's voice made him jump. How could he sound so calm? Maybe it was a grown up thing.
"I'm okay, sir. Ronnie's still out cold." Jim was proud that his voice didn't shake.
"We're tracking you. You're almost out. You're doing great, Jim."
Jim saw light ahead, and pushed his exhausted body just a little faster. He tumbled out of the air vent, straight into Ronnie's dad's arms. Ronnie slid after him, and her dad caught her, too.
For a second, he just held them. "Thank you," Ronnie's dad breathed, his voice breaking a little.
Then, Jim's dad was pulling Ronnie away. He scowled at Jim. "Her arm's a mess."
"He saved her life," Ronnie's dad said. "We never would have found her if it weren't for Jim."
Jim's dad just rolled his eyes as he rummaged in his bag, and something in Jim snapped. "Nothing I ever do is going to be good enough for you, is it?"
His dad sighed. "You could be good enough, James. If you stopped slacking off and running around with people who are beneath you." His eyes flicked from Ronnie, to her dad, to Don, who was examining the air vent.
"Screw you, Dad. You don't know anything about me, and you don't know anything about anyone else on this station. You think you're so much better than everyone, but you're wrong. You're not better than anyone, Dad. You're not better than Ronnie, or Don, or Mom, or me."
His dad gave Ronnie a shot, then set her arm and sealed a FastHeal cast around it. "You shouldn't talk to your father like that, James." His voice was low and dangerous, but for the first time that he could remember, Jim wasn't afraid of him.
"You've never been a father to me," Jim said.
"I brought you to this planet, James. I support both you and your mother. You're nothing without me. Don't test my patience."
Ronnie's dad put his hand on Jim's shoulder. "Jim's been helping with maintenance, and your wife works as your assistant. They both pull their own weight."
Jim's dad stood up. "You can take your daughter home. She'll need fluids when she wakes up. Come, James. We're going home."
Ronnie's dad's hand tightened on Jim's shoulder. "You can come with us, if you'd rather."
Jim nodded. "I would." He walked away from his father, and he didn't look back.
Wednesday, September 22 2010 @ 10:51 AM EDT
Ronnie heard Jim's voice, and it made her feel safe. Of course he'd come for her. He'd make everything better. He always did. Her whole life was better than it'd ever been before he came.
She'd read about friends before, watched people in vids, daydreamed about what having someone her age who understood her and liked her and accepted her and didn't care about what she did when she grew up. But Jim was better than any daydream she'd ever had.
And he had such pretty eyes. And soft hair. He chewed his lower lip when he thought about things and blushed whenever someone said something nice about him.
He was just so good. And he was coming for her, all she had to do was hold on. The voices kept telling her that, and she believed them.
Warm hands touched her, and she realized just how cold she'd been. She forced her eyes open. The pain that had ebbed to a background ache flared up, and she whimpered. Jim's face was barely visible behind the glare of the light that was strapped to his forehead.
"Ronnie, Ronnie, come on. Say something."
His hands were so warm. How had she never noticed that before? She smiled at him. "Jim."
Jim touched her cheek. "You're freezing."
Ronnie managed a nod. "S'cold."
"How do you feel about getting out of here?"
"Happy birthday, Ronnie." Jim grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her straight up. Ronnie screamed as her weight lifted from her broken arm. She fought to stay conscious, but the pain battered at her senses, and Jim's worried face slipped away.
Wednesday, September 15 2010 @ 12:00 AM EDT
Jim's communicator went silent again, and he spat one of Mr. Barrie's curses. "Where's the observation post?"
Ronnie's dad raked his hands through his thinning hair. "It's in an old part of the station. It's sealed off. There shouldn't be any way in."
"Well, she's in a ventilation shaft. One of them must lead into the sealed off part, right?" Jim asked.
Mr. Dad nodded. "Yeah, but I don't know which one."
"Do you have the station schematics?" Jim asked, thankful that he'd learned how to read them.
Ronnie's dad nodded. He opened them up on his computer, then turned the screen so Jim could see. "The observation post is here." He tapped a tiny room. "It looks like there's only one air vent. It's pretty small, and it hasn't been maintained since we sealed that part of the station off. It must have collapsed under her weight."
Jim traced the ventilation shaft. "I'll go in after her."
"Jim, if it didn't hold her weight, it won't hold yours."
"These sections--the blue ones--should be strong enough. They're reinforced. These red ones are where things'll get dangerous. But we don't have any other choice. I'm not that much bigger than her, and I've spent time in the ventilation shafts before. And I'm still lighter than any of the maintenance robots. I can get her out, Mr. Barrie. I know I can."
Mr. Barrie stared at him for a long moment, then nodded. "I should make you wake your mother, get your parents' permission."
"I'll go get some ropes and a safety harness." Jim ran before Ronnie's dad could change his mind. Ronnie needed him.
Tuesday, August 31 2010 @ 12:00 AM EDT
Ronnie groaned. Was that Jim? He sounded far away. "Ronnie! Where are you?"
Thoughts slipped through Ronnie's mind, slippery and hard to catch, like fish. Something was wrong, she was sure of that. She tried to rub her forehead.
Pain exploded through her body. Her arm was wedged beneath her and twisted at a strange angle. Jim's voice was muffled by her back.
"I'm in a ventilation shaft." Ronnie said, remembering. It was her birthday. She stared to cry. "Jim?"
"Ronnie," Jim's voice sounded rough, like he'd been shouting or crying, or both. "You're awake."
"I think my arm's broken," Ronnie said. The ventilation shaft was dark, and the walls were too close together. She couldn't get enough air.
Ronnie could hear her father swearing in the background.
"Which ventilation shaft are you in?"
"I was... going to the observation post." Ronnie was gasping for breath. Everything hurt, and the walls just kept getting closer.
"Calm down, Ronnie. You're going to be okay. I'll find you."
Jim's voice was starting to sound far away again. Ronnie's eyes slipped closed, and his words slipped away.
Wednesday, August 25 2010 @ 12:00 AM EDT
Ronnie's scream echoed in Jim's room. He grabbed his communicator. "Ronnie? Ronnie, are you okay? Where are you?"
Static crackled at him.
Jim shook the communicator, then tried again. Worry clawed at his belly. Where was she? What had she done?
Maybe this was all a prank. Maybe she was safe, at home, in bed, giggling at him. Still in his pajamas, he ran to Ronnie's house and pounded on the door.
After a few moments, her father came to the door. "Jim, do you know what time it is? What's going on?"
"Is Ronnie here?"
"Of course she is. Go back to bed, Jim."
"Could you check on her? Please?"
Ronnie's dad sighed. "Did you have a bad dream, son?"
Jim shrugged. "I hope so."
Ronnie's dad waved him into the kitchen, then disappeared down the hall. He came back a moment later, and his face was white. "She's gone."
Jim shook his communicator and tried it again. "Ronnie? Ronnie, please answer me."
Wednesday, August 18 2010 @ 12:00 AM EDT
Ronnie wormed her way through the air vent. It was a lot tighter than she remembered--but then she hadn't been through here since before Jim came. She'd grown in the past year.
She slithered forward. It would be her birthday soon, and she always greeted her birthday from the same spot. Of course, she hadn't always had to crawl through vents to get there. The station had grown, too.
She got wedged in a corner. Her legs were tangled together, and it was hard to breathe. She was almost desperate enough to call for help when she managed to get herself unstuck. She patted her wrist communicator. Jim had made it for her and given it to her early. He'd been so excited and proud of himself. He'd never made a present for a friend before.
It was programmed with three settings. One went straight to Jim's matching communicator, the second went to the station's main communication line, and the third was the emergency line.
Jim was a little obsessed with safety. He'd be horrified when she told him about her trip through the vents. She grinned and pictured the look on his face.
She could see sunlight ahead. She was almost there. Just a little further. She pulled herself to the end of the vent. The thin metal shifted beneath her, and the bolts holding the vent moaned.
Ronnie tried to throw herself forward, but her foot caught. She scrambled for something to hold onto as the vent pulled away from the wall. Her stomach lurched, and she started to fall.
She hit her wrist communicator and screamed Jim's name.
Wednesday, August 11 2010 @ 12:00 AM EDT
Jim whistled as he walked to work. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, and it was his birthday. He'd been on the station for almost a year. He was going to work a short shift, and then Ronnie, her parents, and his mom were going to throw him a surprise party.
No one had ever tried to throw him a surprise party before. He almost wished that he hadn't overheard his mom and his best friend plotting.
The maintenance staff's break room was dark. Jim usually wasn't the first one in, but when he was it was his job to make coffee. Humming, he flipped the light switch.
"Surprise!" Half the station was crammed into the room. Jim gaped. Don and the rest of the crew grinned at him from behind a cake. Ronnie parents huddled together behind a camera.
Ronnie threw her arms around him. "We totally got you!"
His mom kissed the top of his head. "You should have seen the look on your face!"
"Thought the party was going to be later?" Ronnie said.
"That was a diversion." Ronnie pulled him toward the green cake. "It was your mom's idea."
"It was my mom's idea to have cake for breakfast?"
Don slid a generous slice of cake onto a plate. "We got you something," he said, handing Jim a package.
"Go on, open it," urged one of the other maintenance men.
Jim peeled back the plain brown paper. Inside were three workshirts with the station's logo and his name neatly embroidered on them.
"We figured it was about time we made your position official," Don said.
Jim throat felt tight. He nodded and traced his name. "Thanks."
Ronnie pressed a heavy package into his hand. "I got you something, too," she said.
Jim unwrapped it carefully. "Oh, wow, Ronnie." It was three books. One contained all of the technical readouts on the station. Another book, this one on the history of the station and the Mars Project, was tucked behind it. The last was a worn copy of a pulp science fiction novel.
Jim hadn't been able to bring many of his paper books to the station, and he's missed having them on shelves around his room. He didn't even remember mentioning it to Ronnie. The paperback smelled like rainy afternoons at his grandmother's house. "Thank you," he managed.
Ronnie kissed his cheek. "Happy birthday, Jim."
"My best one ever," he said.
"Your best one yet," Ronnie said.
Jim pulled on one of his shirts and took a bite of cake. "Yet," he said.
Wednesday, August 04 2010 @ 12:00 AM EDT
Ronnie curled up in the hideout and pulled out one of the chocolate bars that Jim's grandma had sent with him. They didn't get much chocolate on Mars, and Ronnie usually savored it.
She devoured the bar in four bites. Her mom was driving her crazy. She thought that she knew more than Ronnie did about Jim and his dad, and she was just wrong. And Jim didn't want her mom's help dealing with it. He'd been dealing with it all of his life. He was fine.
Ronnie pressed her hands over her eyes. How could one person be so embarrassing? She'd practically smothered Jim with affection, and it was plain to anyone with eyes that it was all fake. Her mom liked Jim well enough, but she hadn't really paid much attention to him before she'd gotten all buddy-buddy with Jim's mom.
Now she oozed sympathy every time Jim's name was mentioned, and it made Ronnie's skin crawl.
Jim ducked into the hideout. "Hey," he said, sitting down next to her.
Ronnie sighed. "I'm so sorry about my mom."
Jim shrugged. "It's okay. A little weird, but not bad. Your mom's just nice. And it's good that she and my mom are friends now. My mom needs friends."
"Yeah, but you're my friend, and she's just... ugh." Ronnie curled her fingers in her hair. "She's driving me nuts."
"That's just how moms are. Don't worry about it." He grinned at her. "So, since I've been helping with maintenance, I've learned a few new shortcuts around the station. Want to go check them out?"
"Okay." Ronnie pushed her mom out of her mind and stood up.
"Come on, I'll race you to the door," Jim called, already running.
Ronnie chased after him, laughing.
He was getting faster--she only beat him by a couple of seconds.
Wednesday, July 28 2010 @ 12:00 AM EDT
Jim zoned out a little during the speeches. He listened while Ronnie's dad got up and talked for a while about the purpose of the colony--about exploration and the indomitable human spirit. It was the same sort of thing that Ronnie's dad always went on about. Jim's lips twitched. He really liked Ronnie's dad. But the scientist's speeches about what the crevasse could mean got a little tedious.
He glanced at his mom. She was still there. He could barely believe that his dad hadn't called her away for something. Maybe things really were changing.
She saw him looking at her and beamed at him.
Finally, it was time for his speech. He looked out over the crowd of friendly faces. He spotted Don in the back.
Jim's knees shook. He'd tried to get out of this, but Ronnie had insisted.
The crazy girl thought that speeches were fun. Jim hoped that he wouldn't embarrass himself too badly.
"When my dad decided to bring my family to Mars, I wasn't sure what to think. We've always moved a lot, but I'd never even thought about leaving the Earth behind.
"The year before we left, my grandmother took me on a whirlwind tour of the planet. She wanted to convince me to stay with her. That didn't happen, but I did get to see some amazing things on Earth.
"But I've seen some amazing things on Mars, too. Ronnie and I were the first two humans to see the Valor Crevasse. Standing there, looking at it was one of the most amazing feelings I've ever had. There aren't many new places to find on Earth.
"But my favorite thing about Mars is the people. There's an incredible sense of community in this colony. You've all made me feel welcome from the moment I opened my eyes here, and I want to thank you for that.
"And most of all, I want to thank Ronnie. She's the best friend I've ever had, and without her, I never would have had the courage to wander off of the path, and the Valor Crevasse would still be unknown."
Applause thundered around him. His mom's cheeks were wet. Ronnie squeezed his hand. "Told you speeches are fun," she whispered.
Wednesday, July 21 2010 @ 12:00 AM EDT
Mrs. Morgan looked taller without Jim's dad towering over her. And she looked pretty in her pink-flower dress and pearls. And Jim looked very solemn in his suit. Ronnie grinned and waved. Jim waved back.
Ronnie's mom had redecorated the cafeteria for the ceremony. The tables had been stashed somewhere, and the chairs were lined up facing the front of the room. Dark blue drapes concealed the kitchen. Ronnie and Jim both had chairs up at the front, behind the podium. Ronnie adjusted the chairs so that they were perfectly parallel.
Jim led his mom over to Ronnie and her parents. The adults shook hands, then Jim's mom turned to Ronnie. "I hear congratulations are in order, Veronica."
"No one calls her that, Mom," Jim whispered.
His mom's smile looked pained, and Ronnie took her hand. "It's okay, Mrs. Morgan. You can call me either Veronica or Ronnie, whichever you like."
Jim's mom squeezed Ronnie's fingers. "Both are very pretty, but if everyone else calls you Ronnie, I guess I should, too."
"Thanks, Mrs. Morgan. I like your dress. It's very pretty."
Jim and his mom both blushed, but they looked pleased. "Jim helped me pick it."
Jim's cheeks got even redder. "Mom!"
"It's nice to see you out of uniform, Mrs. Morgan," Ronnie's mom said. "I don't think I've seen you in anything but scrubs since you got here!"
"Well, Charles does keep me busy." Mrs. Morgan glanced at Jim, then down at the floor.
"Dad's work is very important to him," Jim said, also looking at the floor.
Ronnie fought to keep a scowl off her face. She'd known that Jim's dad made him miserable, but she hadn't realized that he made Jim's mom miserable, too. She wondered if Jim realized.
"Well, work is great, but people need recreation to really stay sharp," Ronnie said. Her parents smiled at her. "And I think you should take some time off and come over for dinner sometime."
"That would be great," Ronnie's dad said.
Ronnie knew that her parents would back her. They had moments of being completely awesome.
"Dad doesn't like eating with other people," Jim said.
"Well, he doesn't have to come, does he?" Ronnie asked.
"No. He doesn't," Mrs. Morgan said. "I think dinner sounds lovely. Thank you for the invitation, Ronnie."
Jim gaped at her. "Really? You're willing to go without dad?"
"I'm not your father, Jam--Jim," she said.
The cafeteria had filled up as they talked. "Maybe we'd better find seats," Ronnie's mom said. "You two go ahead and sit down. We'll get the ceremony started in a minute."
Ronnie's parents each squeezed one of her shoulders, and Jim's mom kissed his cheek. Everyone found their seats, and the ceremony began.
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