James–no, Jim, he had to start thinking of himself as Jim–couldn’t believe his luck. The only other kid on Mars was a cute girl. A cute, nice girl who was obviously excited about the idea of being his friend.
No one had ever been excited to be his friend before. He’d never had a nickname before, either, but Ronnie had one, and James–Jim–felt like he should too. She’d already introduced him to everyone on the station as Jim.
Not only was he on a whole new world, but he had a whole new identity.
And good riddance. Good riddance to Earth, and good riddance to James.
Ronnie was taking him to the greenhouses. They were apparently off-limits, but Ronnie knew a way around all of the locked doors.
"It’s my favorite place in the whole station," she said, leading him through a series of twists and turns. "When they first decided to start a colony here, they sent robots, and they built the first domes and planted the first trees. They were little, stunted things, engineered to be able to live in the crappy atmosphere and terrible soil. There are only a few of those left, since we’re able to grow bigger trees now." Ronnie opened a final door, and stepped into the alien forest.
Red Martian soil crunched beneath Jim’s feet, and branches arched overhead, obscuring the oddly-colored sky above the clear dome. The air tasted odd, but it wasn’t unpleasant or hard to breathe. "Wow," he said, staring around. "This is incredible."
Ronnie grinned. "There are other greenhouses, too, where we grow food, and most of the oxygen actually comes from the algae tubs, but this," she extended her arms and twirled around. "This is where it all started."
"Hey!" a distant voice shouted.
Jim jumped at the unexpected yell, and Ronnie grimaced.
"Crap," she hissed. "We’ve been spotted. That sounds like Dr. Eric."
"Did I meet him?" Jim asked, edging toward the door. He didn’t want to get in trouble. He’d only been here a day.
"Yeah. He was the old guy with the glasses and the funny accent." Ronnie glanced between the tree trunks. "He’s a ways off yet. I bet we could outrun him. And he wouldn’t rat us out to my mom."
"You want to run? To where?" She was crazy.
Ronnie nodded. "Deeper into the woods. He won’t follow us. Come on, Jim!" She took off, dodging around tree trunks. Red dust puffed behind her.
James wouldn’t have followed. He would have stayed, listened to a lecture, and then gone home.
But James didn’t exist on Mars. Jim sprinted after his friend.