1. In the beginning...
True Danziger was not having a good day. It had been four days since the crash, and the only thing she had to show for it was a stupid bracelet that monitored her every move. Her father patted her on the head and then disappeared with a few other people to set up a makeshift camp. True was tired and hungry and really, really bored. It felt like they had been walking forever, only stopping whenever stupid Uly needed to have his vitals checked, and everything looked the same as the place they left that morning. How were they supposed to know if they were going in the right direction if all they had to measure it was a bunch of rocks and mountains that looked exactly alike? True was beginning to think that she was going to die of boredom before they ever got rescued.
She noticed a flicker of light coming from a patch of land beyond the brush and smiled. She made her way over to the area, taking everything in and trying to make sense of it. She had never been on Earth, but her dad’s friends used to tell her stories of the things they saw. It would be an awful shame if she came all this way and couldn’t even say she saw anything aside from a bunch of rocks.
She flinched when the bracelet sounded a high pitch squeal and slapped at it to try to quiet it. Her dad never made her wear something like a monitoring bracelet on the stations. On the stations, she was allowed to wander around to her heart’s content as long as she stayed out of trouble and checked in with her dad every few hours. True used to hear people comment to her dad about her adventures and his response always was the same, “She’s independent like her mother. I want to encourage that in her.”
That all changed the minute the escape pod crashed onto the planet.
The bracelet quieted down and True decided to risk trouble in favor of the world before her. She inched closer to the brush area only to hear her father’s stern voice echo in the air. She spun around to find him hovering a few yards away. “Come on True Girl. It’s time to eat and then sleep.”
“It’s still early,” she complained.
True glared at her father, crossing her arms protectively across her chest. She knew he would probably get angry with her, but she didn’t know what else to do. True wanted to yell at her father or at anyone who would listen. She was sick of being kept on a leash like a dog and if she heard the word “rules” one more time, she was going to cry. Couldn’t they see that she was trying to make the best of the situation? All she wanted to do was explore for a few minutes, but no one would let her do anything except chores and schoolwork. True hated it. She wasn’t the sick kid in the ammuno suit…so why was everyone treating her like she had to be babied?
“Can’t I take a few more—”
“—we’ve been over this, True. No wandering off,” her father replied. He glanced upward for a second and then focused back on her. He stepped closer to her and said, “We’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow and you’re going to be expected to carry your own load.”
Again, she wanted to holler at her dad, tell him that it wasn’t fair that he got to have it both ways – if she was big enough to carry her own load, why couldn’t she explore? Instead, True met her father’s no-chance-in-changing-his-mind gaze and shrugged. “I know.”
Suddenly her father’s expression softened. He knelt down in front of her, brushing her hair back off her face, and said, “You make the best of what you got, honey.”
“Even when you hate it?”
He smiled. “Even when you hate it.” He stood up and motioned toward the campfire. Her father was always leading True away from interesting things. He said, “C’mon, let’s go eat.”
True glanced back at the area - so much right before her eyes and within her grasp – before hurrying over to her father. He hugged her against him as she passed by. She smiled up at him, though all she wanted to do was complain about how bored she was. She didn’t though. Wentworth told her a long time ago to pick her battles with her dad…exploring would have to wait for another day.
2. The Good and the Bad...
True laid back on the rock and glanced up at the sky. Uly laid next to her doing the same thing, except he kept talking about terrians and being their new best friend. True wanted to hit Uly when he went on about the terrians like that, but she forced her concentration onto the sky above her. If she focused hard enough it was almost like she could touch the sky and the clouds.
It was one of the nice parts about being stuck on the planet. Her father had attempted to cheer her up one morning, telling her to make a list of all the interesting things that she got to do there that she missed out on at home. He said it would help her remember it better when they got back to the space stations, though True wasn’t sure who he was saying that for. Everyone in their group seemed to think this was their new permanent home – well, New Pacifica anyway.
True nodded at her dad and they made a list of things together. The creatures she saw during their traveling and being able to play in the rain were definitely on her good list. Though she did miss her own bed and the fact that she could move around more freely at home. She didn’t miss the kid that lived next door back home, though, because he always smelled like fish. When she said that, her father had laughed at her and patted her head affectionately…she couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t disagree about the bad smell.
Things were definitely better between them since everything with Gaal. She didn’t mind the bracelet so much anymore and stopped trying to get out of it. Her father stopped yelling at her all the time and occasionally let her skip out on history lessons to help him with the machines. It surprised her how much she missed working next to her dad. It didn’t hurt that it was something she was good at that not many other people were. It made her feel special.
It was definitely different from her life on the space stations, but she didn’t hate the planet anymore.
She didn’t even hate Uly, even though he was a brat most of the time.
True still got scared of the place though. Even if the terrians were their friends, it was frightening how they could pop up out of the ground at any time. And then Wentworth and Firestein had died, her dad had gotten sick, and all she could think about was being stuck on this planet alone. As long as she had her dad, she didn’t mind her life so much because he was smart and would always take care of her. She trusted her dad completely, but she still had trouble trusting the planet.
“Uly! True! It’s time to come back to camp,” Devon’s voice called out to them.
Uly snapped his head up and glanced at True. “We’ve gotta go back.”
“Uh-huh,” True replied. And she was going to listen, really, but she wanted to figure out the shape of that cloud over her head first.
Uly stood up and kicked at True’s legs. He said, “You’re going to get us in trouble.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are.”
“If you’re such a baby, go back without me.”
“I’m not a baby.”
True rolled her eyes and said, “Then go.”
“I’ll get in trouble for leaving you.”
“I can take care of myself,” True replied. She moved her eyes back to the clouds above her and decided the cloud was shaped like a cat. With that, she picked herself up off the ground, wiped the dirt off her hands, and glared at Uly. “And if you hadn’t bothered me, I would’ve been done a minute ago.”
She walked off ahead of Uly, smiling all the way back to camp. Her father greeted her with a hug, pointing out how happy she looked and wondering aloud what kind of trouble she had gotten into. She laughed, wrapping her arms around her father’s neck as he scooped her up and over his shoulder, and told him about the cat-shaped cloud.
Sometimes the planet definitely wasn’t so bad.
3. The Winter That Never Ended...
The air whipped across the hill, causing True’s cheeks to burn against the cold. Even bundled up in layers of clothes, she could still feel the weather seeping into her skin. It was like it had been this cold forever. Her father told her to stop being so impatient, that warm weather would come back in due time, and that considering all that could’ve happened after the crash, the good outweighed the bad.
True figured her dad was right, he usually was about most things, but she felt trapped in the one location. She hated it. She had grown used to constantly moving and having new areas to explore. They had been camped in this place for weeks and it didn’t look like they’d be moving on anytime soon. True couldn’t remember the last time she saw the green grass below her feet or wasn’t aware of the white puff her breath made in the air. The weather also made wandering especially hard. Snow tired her out a lot quicker and she had to stop whenever her face or hands got too cold.
It didn’t help that people were getting sick. Julia said it was because none of them were used to a real winter on a real planet, and their bodies had to adjust. Her father had been sick for awhile, but he was better now. Again, True was overcome with that helpless feeling of being stranded on the planet without him. And again, the rest of the group tried to keep her at camp because of stupid rules. So she hid away in the dune rail and followed Devon to find her father. True couldn’t trust any of them to take care of her father, she needed her dad. Devon seemed to understand that because she hadn’t yelled at True for sneaking away from camp and Devon never told her dad what she had done either.
If there was a bright side to gloomy weather surrounding them, it was that True felt much more comfortable around the rest of the group. Not just Devon either, but everyone. Being cooped up in the cold for so long brought them closer together, even Morgan, who stopped grumbling at True quite so often.
Despite the bonding and the weather, True was still a kid in their eyes. She and Uly never knew what was going on unless they eavesdropped (which they tended to do) or they followed after the expedition groups without anyone knowing (her dad and Devon usually figured it out and stopped them). She tried to talk to her father about it because it drove her crazy. She didn’t like not knowing stuff, especially if it had to do with her. Back home her father told her almost everything, but on the planet, there were always hushed whispers or statements that it was “time for bed.”
True stopped walking, the wind taking the opportunity to slap her face with the cold once again, and turned to see Uly hurrying over to her with his sled in tow.
“There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you! Wanna go sledding? Mom and Yale said as long as we stick to the hill right by camp, it was okay.”
True nodded. A part of her was suspicious of Uly’s willingness to share his sled with her, but she thought it best to ignore that part. Sometimes it was a real pain to fight with Uly, and sometimes he could actually be fun to play with.
True picked up one of the ropes to help Uly drag the sled to the hill. As the two of them trudged along in the snow, True realized that Uly was probably her best friend, aside from her dad. They still argued all the time and sometimes she wanted to make him disappear, but they always ended up back together, laughing and playing. It didn’t hurt that since he had gotten better (and stayed that way for more than a few weeks), True had discovered that Uly enjoyed exploring as much as she did.
Sometimes they would dare each other to go a little further from camp, moving as far away as their bracelets would allow. Mostly they hung around camp, snooping and having imaginary adventures.
Uly stopped pulling on the sled when they reached the hill. He pointed and said, “I want the front.”
True nodded. Uly usually accused her of being bossy, but if he could stop being bratty long enough to share, she could let him have his way. She slid onto the back of the sled. She said, “Ready?”
She used her leg to give the sled the momentum it needed to start down the hill and pulled it up. The sled rushed down the hill at a pace that was exciting and a little bit scary, leaving True torn between the urge to laugh and scream. She settled for a noise somewhere in the middle as the sled slowed down, causing her and Uly to tumble into the snow.
True realized that her father was right about things at the moment – the good outweighed the bad.
4. Just When Things Settled Down...
Lately things were getting more and more out of control in True’s life and she didn’t know how to handle it. Sometimes she wanted to remind everyone that she was just a kid, but like most things, that fact was only remembered when she’d rather it was forgotten. In a matter of days everything had changed for the group. Devon was gone (well, frozen because she was sick), but no one really talked about it.
Instead, the group kept on moving toward New Pacifica in a strained environment that reminded True of the first few weeks on the planet. There was even fighting again, random outbursts that were quickly quieted whenever she or Uly were around.
True wanted to hit something. She settled for kicking the dirt beneath her feet and tossing a rock against a small tree. It had become easier for her to get away from camp as time had gone on. She learned how to make herself scarce when something big was going on. It was the perfect opportunity for her to see her new world and avoid all the frowns and worry surrounding the group.
True sat down on a small rock. She rested her elbow on her knee and her chin in the palm of her hand. She glanced out at the blue sky, flecks of orange slowly overtaking the blue, and tried to make sense of the last couple of days. That crazy guy had talked about bad reactions to the planet, that the planet didn’t want them there and would kill them all
His rantings frightened True more than she wanted to admit, even to herself. She wasn’t the type to get scared easily, but worse than the thought of getting sick was the idea of being the only one who didn’t.
True started having nightmares after months of not dreaming at all, dreams where she was left alone with the terrians and Uly.
She didn’t want to worry her dad. He tried to hold the group together in the wake of Devon’s illness and that took attention to everything. Besides, he and Yale had started spending a lot of time with Uly. True didn’t mind though. She knew her father loved her and was there for her, but more than that, she understood what Uly was feeling. The thought of being left in an unfamiliar place without her father scared her senseless.
“Hey sport,” her father said from behind her. He draped her coat over her shoulders and sat down next to her. He said, “I’ve been looking all over for you.”
True shrugged, drawing shapes into the dirt with her feet. She glanced up at her dad – he looked tired – and replied, “I like the view here.”
Her father nodded and said, “It’s gonna be alright, True. I won’t let anything happen to you or anyone else.”
True met her father’s gaze and suddenly she wasn’t so scared. The planet she had come to know over the last several months wasn’t the enemy, and she believed that everything would be alright. She wrapped her arms around her father’s neck and said, “It’s going to be fine, daddy.”
He pulled her closer to him, hugging her tighter, and said, “Let’s go back to camp.”
“How’s Uly? I was thinking that he and I could play in VR for awhile.”
Her father kissed the top of her head and said, “I think he’d like that.”
True glanced back at the rock and the view she had been admiring. She knew in her heart that they would all make it to New Pacifica. She thought of the bedtime stories her dad used to tell her. They were full of trials and tribulations, but it always ended the way she wanted. Her dad told her that was how life was. True figured that applied to this planet as much as the space stations.
“Let’s go,” True said, taking her dad’s hand and pulling him back toward the camp.
Everything was going to be alright now.