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My name is Will Robinson, and I’m in danger. We all are. Ever since my family crash-landed on this planet, one thing or another has been trying to kill us. Collapsing ice, erupting volcanoes, violent storms, and creatures you’d have to see to believe.
But sometimes I think the most dangerous thing to us all is . . . me.
You’re probably wondering: How can an eleven- year-old boy be a danger to his family? Well, for me, it’s easy. I’m not brave like my sister Judy, or creative like my sister Penny. I’m smart—really smart, actually—but that doesn’t do me any good if I freeze up when things get hard. Also, it seems like no matter what I do, danger always finds me.
Of course, the most dangerous thing that ever found me also ended up saving us all. That would be my Robot. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t even have survived our first night here. With him around, I feel like I can be braver and more helpful than I’ve ever been, and I put us in a lot less danger....Well, at least as far as my family knows.
Most of my family has no idea about what hap- pened in the north cave. And if I’m lucky, the rest of them will never find out, because if they knew how bad things almost got, and all because of me...
Then again, what happened was partially their fault. The morning it all started, I was busy double- checking the circuit boards in the ship’s life-support systems—just one of, like, twenty jobs that Mom had listed on the whiteboard for me—when Dad’s voice suddenly came over the Jupiter 2 comm system: “Kids, meet up in the common room. Your mother and I are going out.”
Great, I thought, another mission where we get left behind. I slid the circuit board back into its socket in the wall compartment and turned to the Robot, who stood beside me.
“Come on,” I said. “Family meeting.”
He looked down at me, his smooth crystal face glowing with lights like thousands of falling stars, and then followed me as I walked down the cir- cular corridor of the ship to the central common room. Mom and Dad were already there, zipping up their jackets.
“Where exactly are you going?” Judy appeared, a towel over her shoulder, still breathing hard from running on one of the treadmills down in the cargo bay. “And for how long?”
“All very good questions that your father should have answered in his announcement,” Mom said, giving Dad that look that meant they were mostly on the same page.
“I just figured you’d know the details better than me,” Dad said with a shrug.
“Of course she does,” said Penny, not looking up from where she was sitting and writing in her journal. “Mom’s the detail queen.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” said Mom, smiling. “We have to help Victor disperse the collected supplies among the surviving Jupiters. I also need to do a manual check of each ship’s fuel reserves to make sure my calculations are right.”
“We should be back by nightfall,” said Dad.
“I thought our primary goal was trying to establish contact with the Resolute,” said Judy. “What’s so important about the fuel stores?”
“Things have changed,” said Mom, and her face fell. I glanced at Penny, who always noticed those kinds of things, and saw that her face had darkened, too.
“What’s going on?” said Judy, looking between the two of them.
Mom breathed deep and puton a smile. “I promise we’ll explain all the details once we’re back, but right now we’re wasting daylight. Everybody good with their job board?”
“Define good,” Penny muttered.
“As in: You’ll have it all done when we get back,” said Dad.
“Aye-aye, captain,” said Penny.
Dad grinned. “And remember to keep the perimeter fence armed while we’re gone, got it?”
“Keep us posted,” said Judy.
“We will.” Mom started out, but paused to rub my shoulder. “Stay safe,” she said, and her eyes flicked to the Robot, who stood behind me.
A minute later we heard the hum of the chariot fading into the distance.
“Well, back to work I guess,” Judy said.
I went back to my circuit board tests. Our Jupiter had been submerged in glacial water, and after that, Dad flew it through collapsing ice tunnels. We’d barely made it out, and the combination of impact and water damage had affected a bunch of systems. Almost every board had at least one burned-out connection, and I had to solder those back together and sometimes replace the wires and resistors. I didn’t mind the work that much— it was a good chance to review circuit pathways and ship systems, and it was super important if we ever wanted to get back to the Resolute—but it was a little boring. Mom and Dad, even Judy, were always getting to go out on real missions and adventures, while I pretty much always got stuck here where it was safe.
That said, by noon I had finally finished all my jobs, so the Robot and I headed to the cockpit, where Judy was working on recalibrating the Jupiter’s navigation system. “We’re gonna go for a hike,” I said, slinging my backpack over my shoulder.
“Did you finish all your jobs?” You could always count on Judy to have memorized not only every item that Mom had left her to do, but the rest of us, too.
Judy looked from me to the Robot, who was right behind me. It was a look just like Mom’s: the mistrust, always there no matter how many times he proved he was a friend.
“We’ll be fine,” I added.
Judy’s lips pursed, but she nodded. “Don’t be gone long. And stay inside the perimeter.”
I just gave her a look.
She rolled her eyes. “Fine, but definitely stay in comm range, okay?”
“Got it.” I headed for the hatch and jogged down the ramp, the Robot’s footsteps thudding behind me. When I reached ground, I could feel the eyes of the other colonists nearby: all gazing at the Robot even more warily than Judy had. Some of them even looked afraid.
“It’s okay,” I said to him.
He didn’t respond—he never did. In fact, there were only three words he ever said, and when he did, we were in trouble. But those lights in his face . . . they made all these different patterns and shapes, and I could just tell he was thinking so much. Sometimes I even felt like I could under- stand him. Like right then, as we stood there outside the ship, his lights were making a sort of figure-eight pattern that I always thought of as his unsure face.
“They’re going to come around,” I said, glancing at the colonists, who had mostly gotten back to their duties. “You’ll see.”
I should probably explain why everyone was looking at the Robot this way. See, ever since I’d found him, he’d been good, with calm blue lights and a human shape, but when I first met him, he was bad. His face lights were a fire red, and he had a totally different form with multiple legs and blades for hands. That’s how the colonists remembered him from when he attacked the Resolute.
That’s also how he’d looked when I ran into him in the forest, but he’d been badly injured, and after I helped him, he did whatever I said, and he was always by my side, right there when I needed him. Kinda like having a dog, except, like, a super- strong-technologically-advanced-alien dog. And hey, no allergies!
Seriously, though, no one had ever truly been there like that for me. Judy and Penny hung out with me when they could, but they were really busy with their own lives. Mom tried to find time, too, but she was always so busy with her work on the Resolute mission, and before this trip, Dad was always gone. Friends? I’d had a couple, but it was never that easy. I’d always had the right answer in school, but around other kids, just hanging out, I felt like I never did. And kids notice that—when it’s hard—and they’re not always nice about it.
With the Robot, it was so different: It was like he got everything I said. And he would never hurt me or anyone I knew. I was sure of that.
But the rest of the colonists weren’t. They remembered what he was. What he did.
Put all that together, and we had more fun when we were off on our own.
“Want to go check out some more of the cave system?” I asked him as we started off on our hike. His lights morphed, the figure eight changing to a simple pattern where all the stars fell toward the center. “Good. Let’s go.”
We left camp and headed downhill into the woods. Just after the ship was out of sight, we came to one of the little light posts stuck in the ground that marked the perimeter fence. Seeing them always reminded me of home—sorry, of Earth. (Mom said not to call it home anymore.) In the year before we left, we’d had to put this same kind of electric barrier around our house. Here, it was meant to protect us from the weird creatures that lived in this planet’s forests, only some of which we’d actually seen. Back home, it was to protect us from other people. In some ways, this place felt safer than Earth did.
I tapped the communicator on my wrist to bring up the fence controls and momentarily deactivated the section in front of us. Then I pulled up the map I’d made of the area.
“We’ll take the usual route toward the caves,” I said to the Robot.
The path began by dropping down a long hill to the shore of a nearby lake. We wound along the water’s edge, and soon we passed through the grove of clapping flowers. That’s not their official name, just what I called them—although, since we were the first humans or intelligent beings of any kind to ever come to this planet (as far as we knew anyway) maybe that did get to be their real name. Right then they didn’t look like flowers, but more like green arrows pointing straight up to about knee height. But when I walked to the middle of the grove and smacked my hands together, the buds around my feet burst open in huge magenta blooms. The Robot did the same, and the heavy thud of his metal hands made the entire grove ripple with color.
“Good one,” I said.
We continued on, and the trail turned away from the lakeside and wound its way deeper into the for- est. Without the lapping of the water against the shore, the forest was eerie and quiet. A cool breeze blew on our faces from the glaciers high above.
“I was thinking we could check out the caves to the south this time,” I said to the Robot. He went wherever I went, but I figured he’d want to be in on the plan. “From the map, they look even bigger than the one we spent the night in. See?” I switched maps on my communicator to the harmonic frequency scan I’d made of the mountainside last time we were here.
His lights seemed to flow to the center a little faster. “Glad you agree,” I said.
We walked on, weaving through the forest. The shadows were cool and dark around us, and the trees kind of looked like the pine trees that you would have seen in some of the mountain forests on Earth, at least before the Christmas Star impact that changed everything. Judy said she remembered hiking in forests like this. I think I might have, once or twice? But by the time we’d left, most of the forests anywhere near where we lived had died out completely
Here, in the dim light, there were strange plants with iridescent leaves and also these tall, mushroom- like things. Nowandthen, abig, flutterymothwould bob past me, its jewel-colored wings glimmering. I always paused to watch that species, and yet at the same time, the sight of them caused a flash of adrenaline to course through me, because I knew what liked to eat them.
We reached the log bridge that crossed over a narrow crevasse. The cave system was close, a little ways past Penny’s favorite waterfall, where the land started to climb steeply toward the jagged mountains.
I had just put my foot carefully up onto the log, clenching my stomach at the view of rushing water in the shadows far below, when the Robot’s hand gripped my shoulder. Remember how I said there were only three words he ever said, and they were bad news?
Well, he said them: “Danger, Will Robinson.”