Jim staggered a little under Ronnie’s weight, but he made sure she landed gently. She felt solid in his arms. He liked it. And they’d held hands, for a bit, too. Did it count as holding hands through their suits? Did this count as a hug?
Probably not. Ronnie liked him as a friend, but he didn’t think she liked him like that. Maybe she would someday.
"It’s so dark down here," she whispered. She fumbled with something on her glove, and it started to glow. Ronnie sighed. "That’s better."
The rock around them was reddish gray, and passages opened up in three directions. Two were too small to explore, but the third looked promising. It was a tall, narrow slit, and Jim thought they could squeeze through. Jim looked at his own gloves. "How do you get them to light up?"
Ronnie eagerly took his hands and pressed buttons just below his middle fingers. More light flooded the chamber. Jim touched the wall, and his glove came away dusty. "It’s so dry. The caves I went in with my grandma were always damp." He turned around, examining every nook and cranny. "We’re the first human beings to see this, ever." He grinned at Ronnie. "Isn’t it amazing?"
Ronnie was looking up at the hole he’d fallen through. It was a few feet above her head. "I guess. How are we going to get out?"
"I’ll boost you out, then you’ll probably have to call for help to get me out. But stop worrying about it." He’d have her call Don. His parents didn’t have to know about this. "Come on, don’t you want to see what’s around that corner?"
Ronnie glanced down the biggest passage. "What if it collapses on us?"
"It’s not going to collapse on us."
"The ceiling gave way where you stepped on it," Ronnie said.
"There isn’t anyone else walking around up there," Jim pointed out. "Plus, see how the ceiling gets lower? It’s much thicker everywhere else. I stepped on the weakest point. This cave has been her for a long time. We’re okay. Really."
"I’m still afraid, Jim. Even if it doesn’t make sense to be scared. I don’t like it."
Jim blinked. Ronnie was afraid of caves? That was strange. She wasn’t afraid of getting yelled at, or disappointing her parents, or of people not liking her, but caves freaked her out? Jim squeezed her shoulder. "Everyone gets scared sometimes, Ronnie. You jumped down here, even though it scared you. That’s really brave. We’ll just go down to the next corner, and if you’re still don’t like it, we’ll come right back. I promise."
Ronnie took a deep breath. "Okay."
Jim led her through the twisting passage, careful never to get too far ahead. He reached the first turn and squeezed around it. "Oh, wow." The cave opened up in front of him to a huge chamber. The ground fell away a few feet away into a massive chasm. He couldn’t see the bottom. "Ronnie, you have to see this."
Ronnie gasped. "It’s huge," she said.
"It reminds me of the Grand Canyon, back on Earth." He took Ronnie’s hand and squeezed it. "I wonder if we just found evidence for running water here on Mars."