“What do you mean you’re moving away? You can’t move!”
“My dad just got appointed as a Galaxy Explorer, one of the explorers of new regions of space. I told him I wanted to stay here, on forward outpost Taurus 9, but he said I had to go.” Chetan had been my best friend since forever, and now he was going away.
Chetan picked up a rock and heaved it at the orangish second moon, but it dropped harmlessly in the lake with a small splash. “Maybe you could come with us, Ryan,” he said.
“My parents would never let me go. How long are you going to be gone?” I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. I hoped it wouldn’t be too long.
“Four years at least.” Chetan’s voice was flat, and he sighed heavily before adding, “It could be longer…we may never come back to this planet.”
“Never?” I thought.
“What about our science project? We were going to find a new plant and name it after ourselves, win the science fair, and become famous!”
Chetan didn’t respond.
“And what about me? I may never see you again. How am I supposed to do the project by myself?”
“I know, Ryan,” Chetan said, “I know.”
We walked back toward the spaceport quietly. The idea of my best friend leaving was just sinking in. I kicked a rock down the path, but it didn’t help.
The next morning, I decided I needed to start living my own life. When Chetan called, I didn’t get the message because I was at the library looking for places to find a unique plant. The best choice seemed to be Moonscape Crater, but it was several miles from town.
When I got home, I read Chetan’s message: “My grandfather told me a story about his friend on Earth that he hasn’t seen in 56 years, but who messages him every week and is still his best friend.”
That was fine for his grandfather on Earth, but we were going to be in different solar systems.
The next morning, I left early for the crater without responding to Chetan. I wasn’t sure what to say.
I took my scooter out to the edge of the crater, which was much bigger than I thought. I wished that Chetan was with me. He always told me I could do anything I really wanted to do. I thought of him as I slid over the edge and started working my way down into the crater.
As I wandered through the familiar-looking plants and trees, I thought about Chetan’s message. His grandfather’s friend on Earth made the effort to stay in touch because they were friends. The distance between them didn’t change that. I needed to see Chetan.
I turned to head back out of the crater, and something caught my eye – a plant I had never seen before. I scooped it up and packed it carefully in the container I had brought, but as I started climbing up the side of the crater, the soft gravel gave way and I couldn’t make any progress. Each attempt took me further from the rim. I started taking small steps to the side and was able to move up a little, but it was slow, too slow. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get out of the crater, until finally I hit a firmer patch and was able to work my way up to the rim. But I was halfway around the crater, the sun was starting down, and I was exhausted.
I finally got to my scooter, but when I hit the starter, nothing happened. I had left it on, and the rim had cast a shadow on it, and now the battery was dead.
I started pushing the scooter toward the spaceport while the sun recharged it. I was almost halfway back before it would start, but it was already getting dark. I raced to Chetan’s house.
From a distance, I couldn’t tell if anyone was there. My scooter was dying, so I jumped off scooter, and ran to the house. I was too late. It was empty. Chetan … gone. Forever.
I sat on the front step thinking how I had lost my best friend because I was so concerned about myself. Now I would never see him again.
I pushed my scooter home slowly, ignoring everything around. I had treated Chetan badly, and now my best friend was gone.
When I got back to my house, there was a box sitting on the front step. I figured it was something my mom ordered, but as I got closer I saw my name on the box.
I opened the package slowly. Inside was a small, silver box with a telescreen cord and a label that read Subspace Communication Inc., the company that made space phones and radios. On the device was a note written by Chetan that simply said, “Friends for Life.”
A few days later the box made a whirring noise and a light started blinking. I turned on my telescreen and a picture appeared of a strange-looking purplish plant with intertwined yellow and orange tendrils hanging below clumps of shiny black berries, Below the picture was a message. “Here is the Chetan-Ryan plant. This should win the science fair.”
I looked down at the plant I had found at the crater, with its black berries and yellow and orange tendrils, and my response was simple. “I believe the Friends for Life plant will destroy the competition.”