Astrid Maxxim and her Undersea Dome – Chapter 9 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim 2The next morning, the stranger was all that Astrid could think about, at least until she and her friends arrived at Rachel Carson High School on the monorail. The school was abuzz, but not about any strange man arrested by police. Instead, everyone was talking about the lake monster. Boys drew pictures of various marine reptiles on the backs of their notebooks. Girls recounted how strange Pearl Lake had seemed last summer when they went swimming. And every conversation seemed to revolve around Austin Tretower. Some of the teachers even got into the act. Dr. Ikeda decorated the science hallway with a gigantic Elasmosaurus mural, and Mr. Hall assigned essays on the Loch Ness Monster in English Composition.

“I want an alternate assignment,” said Astrid, raising her hand.

“What?” said a startled Mr. Hall.

“I don’t want to write about something as silly as the Loch Ness Monster.”

Astrid could feel Denise and Christopher, on either side of her, staring.

“You’re not limited in the way that you approach the assignment, Astrid,” said Mr. Hall. “You have written more than enough persuasive essays. Perhaps you’d like to do something more creative—a fictional story, perhaps?”

“No, Mr. Hall, I don’t think I would like that at all.”

“What’s going on?” whispered Christopher.

Denise shrugged, and then made a crazy circle with her finger next to her head.

“Then Astrid,” continued the teacher, “if you insist on sticking to your routine, why don’t you write a paper explaining why you believe the Loch Ness Monster does not exist? Might I recommend the book by Steuart Campbell…?”

“I read it when I was five,” said Astrid. “Right after I figured out that there was no Santa Claus.”

“Wait a second,” said Madison Laurel from the far side of the room. “You mean Santa Claus isn’t real?”

“Oh no,” said Denise. “Santa Claus is totally real.”

The class erupted into laughter, and Mr. Hall, with difficulty, brought them back on task.

“Your parents may expect a call this evening,” he told Astrid.

Astrid didn’t enjoy her next three classes as much as usual, but at least the talk of monsters was limited to the students. As they left US History on their way to lunch, Christopher pulled her aside.

“What’s going on with you, Astrid?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re awfully testy today,” he said. “Everybody has an off day now and then… I mean everybody but you. I’ve never seen you have an off day, and I’ve never seen you short with a teacher before.”

“There’s a lot going on, I guess,” said Astrid. “And this lake monster talk is really annoying. You know there’s no such thing as a lake monster. We’ve gone swimming in Pearl Lake a hundred times.”

“I know,” said Christopher.

“Plesiosaurs like Elasmosaurus died out 65 million years ago.”

“Sixty five point two million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous,” confirmed Christopher.

“Loch Ness is less than 10,000 years old, and Pearl Lake is only about a thousand years old. There’s no way there could be a prehistoric monster in either of them.”

“Of course not,” said Christopher. “Kids just like monsters, Astrid. It’s like all those zombie movies or that vampire that the girl’s like. I don’t know why you’re letting it get under your skin.”

“People shouldn’t believe ridiculous things,” she said. “Pretty soon they’ll think the world is flat and Neil Armstrong didn’t land on the moon.”

“I don’t think many people really do believe there’s a monster in Pearl Lake. They’re just having a little fun making themselves scared. It’s like riding the Screaming Pterodactyl at Joyland. It’s just a little thrill to shake things up. Not everyone has spies, sharks, and air-to-air missiles to spice up their lives.”

“All right, I see what you mean,” said Astrid. “But it really wasn’t much of a shark.”

Astrid Maxxim and her Undersea Dome – Chapter 8 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim 2Astrid spent most of Sunday at the Vehicles Facility near the Maxxim Airfield. She had collected several small underwater craft that would be used in the undersea dome’s construction. As soon as she had signed off on them, they were loaded aboard a Maxxim Super-transport 97C. The 97C was a craft that Dr. Maxxim had designed years earlier for the US Space Program, but the contract had been lost to a competitor. It was a jet more than 140 feet long, with a wingspan wider than its length. What marked the aircraft as unusual was its vastly oversized body, looking far too fat to ever get off the ground. Its cargo bay was 25 feet wide and 25 feet tall and 110 feet long. Though never put into production, several prototypes had been built and now the massive plane would ferry Astrid’s dome and all of the construction equipment to the fiftieth state.

“That’s just shy of twenty-five tons,” she said, checking off the last of the cargo.

“Room to spare,” said pilot Carl Williams.

“Yes, it’s a big plane.”

“And one of the few your boyfriend isn’t qualified on yet.”

“Toby’s not my boyfriend,” said Astrid. “At least, not officially.”

“What makes it official?”

“I don’t know…” she said to herself, as the pilot walked away.

Now thinking of Toby, she pulled out her phone and texted him. “Where are you?

I’m at Christopher’s, playing air hockey. Do you want to come over?

She smiled, seeing the comma and question mark in his text. Leave it to Toby to remember how much she appreciated punctuation.

No. I’ll see you in the morning.

Astrid took the monorail back to town and walked home alone. The end of the afternoon and beginning of evening brought out long shadows from the many trees lining the streets. Deep in thought, imagining life in an undersea dome as the future Dr. Astrid Bundersmith, she paid little attention to her surroundings, until something caught her eye. A man in casual clothes was sitting on one of the city’s many sidewalk benches, this one at the corner ahead and just across the street from her. He had an open newspaper in his lap. There were several things odd with the picture. First, the man wore dark sunglasses even though he was in the shade, and was supposedly trying to read. Secondly, the local newspaper, The Maxxim City Gazette, was only delivered electronically. While it wasn’t unheard of for someone to have a paper from a nearby metropolitan area, it wasn’t common. There was something else though. There was an unwholesomeness about the man, as if he simply didn’t fit in Astrid’s world.

The girl inventor pulled out her phone and fired off another text to Toby. “Still at Christopher’s?

Just leaving. What’s up?

I’m near Acacia and Fifth. There’s a weird guy.

goto vals b rit ther” Toby’s correct spelling and punctuation flew out the digital window.

Astrid Maxxim and her Undersea Dome – Chapter 7 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim 2“Don’t you think racing is a waste of time?” asked Robot Valerie. “These hoverbikes are all new and have the same internal workings. Won’t the winner just be the person who is lightest?”

“Yay, I win,” said Denise.

“Racing isn’t just about top speed,” said Austin. “It’s about skill and strategy and knowing when to accelerate and how to move into a turn. Didn’t you guys ever watch Cars? Besides, it’ll be fun.”

“Where do you want to race?” asked Christopher.

“Let’s race around that island,” replied Austin.

Two hundred yards from shore was a small island, little more than a bit of rock sticking up just above the surface, to which clung a bit of soil and a few weeds, along with a single yucca plant. It was so small that a single individual would have been hard-pressed to find a spot to sit down.

“You want to race over the water?” asked Denise.

“Sure, it’s better than racing around this desert,” he replied. “If we fall, we get wet. If we fell anywhere else, we’d be covered in cactus needles.”

“Valerie can’t race over the water,” said Denise. “What if she fell in?”

“She’d get wet,” said Austin.

“I mean Robot Valerie. She’s made of metal. She might rust.”

“I’m mostly plastic,” said Robot Valerie, defensively. “I still can’t race over the water though.”

“No you can’t,” said Astrid. “I’m surprised at you, Austin. That’s like asking you to fly over a pit of lava.”

The boy stuck out his lip and frowned. “I didn’t… I don’t want her to get hurt. It’s only I wanted to race.”

“Why don’t you three boys race,” said Astrid.

Christopher rolled his eyes, but then nodded and he and Toby walked to their hoverbikes and put on their helmets. Austin, anxious to get started before anyone had a chance to change his mind, was at the shoreline waiting for them. The four girls walked down to the lake’s edge to watch.

“All right,” said Toby. “Once around the island and back to this point. First one to cross the edge of the shore wins. Put your helmet on, Austin.”

The three boys lined up and got ready. Astrid held up her hand.

“Ready… steady… go!”

The three hoverbikes took off across the lake. Austin’s blue bike took the lead, skimming just feet from the water, leaving a path in the waves beneath him. Even from the shoreline, it was obvious that he was pushing the bike near its 40 mph top speed. Christopher was racing nearly as fast, though his green hoverbike was flying about twenty feet higher.

“Toby’s losing,” said Regular Valerie.

“He’s just letting Austin win,” said Astrid.

Austin, now firmly in the lead, leaned right and made the turn around the little island. He had just finished the maneuver, when suddenly something reached out of the water and hit the bottom of his bike. The sleek blue hoverbike flipped over end on end, tossing the boy into the lake.

“Holy macaroni!” shouted Denise.

Astrid Maxxim and her Undersea Dome – Chapter 5 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim 2Just after five, she pulled her phone from her pocket and called Mrs. Purcell, the office manager.

“What do you need, Astrid?”

“Can you get both Mr. Gortner and Mrs. Trent from Production for me?”

Mr. Gortner was first on the line.

“Good afternoon, Astrid,” he said. “You caught me just as I was leaving.”

“Well, I don’t want to keep you; just one quick question. Do we have a supply of hydrophobic sand on site?”

“I’m sure we have some. How much do you need?”

“I’d like about a hundred pounds, if possible.”

“I’ll have it sent over first thing tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Mr. Gortner,” said Astrid. “And how is the battery facility coming?”

He laughed. “Don’t be too impatient, Astrid. We won’t even break ground till next month.”

Seconds after Astrid said goodbye to Mr. Gortner, Mrs. Trent was on the line.

“How is the hoverbike production going?” asked Astrid.

“We’re producing 200 a day,” replied Mrs. Trent. “Nobody seems to know how many we need though. Some of our accounts people are predicting an initial order of 10,000. But I think it could be ten times that many.”

“Well, I have a couple of other things that I need,” said the girl inventor. “I want to build a second undersea dome, with thicker Astridium panels. I’ll send you the measurements tomorrow. In the meantime, I’d appreciate it if you could send me a hundred pounds of ground Astridium.”

“I can send you all the ground material you want,” said Mrs. Trent. “I can just grind up some parts that aren’t up to spec. As for building another dome, Astrid, I’m afraid that’s out of the question.”

“What?”

“We don’t have the capacity or the man-hours. I’ve got to finish this run of hoverbikes, and then your father has three different projects waiting in the queue. His work takes priority.”

“Oh, um, all right,” said Astrid.

She ended the call and stuffed the phone back into her pocket.

“Are you still here, Astrid?” Mr. Brown stepped into the lab.

“Yes, I’m here.”

“What’s the matter, Astrid?”

“Um, nothing. Why?”

“You look like somebody just shot your dog.”

Astrid laughed. “Nothing that horrible. I’m just not used to not getting my way. I guess I’m spoiled.”

“You are the least spoiled girl I know,” he replied smiling. “What are you not getting your way about?”

“Oh, nothing.”

“Are you working on something new?” he asked.

“I was thinking about how hydrophobic sand was originally designed to clean up oil spills, and I thought that ground Astridium might work equally well. And since we might have extra after making hoverbikes, it could be repurposed to help the environment.”

Astrid Maxxim and her Undersea Dome – Chapter 4 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim 2The teen inventor always looked forward to Fencing. It was the last class of the day, and more importantly Toby, and Christopher too, took the class with her. When she got there however, she saw not only her two close friends, but Gloria as well. She was standing by the foils talking to Diego Martinez and Mark McGovern, the biggest bully in the freshman class. Once the class had donned their jackets, gloves, and masks; and picked up their foils, they faced off against one another. As usual, Astrid was paired with Bud Collins.

“Can I ask you a question?” he said, as they sparred.

“Sure. It’s not about Gloria, is it?”

“Do you know if anyone has asked Valerie to the Junior Prom?”

“No, I don’t. I would think that she’s waiting for you to ask, since you went to the Spring Fling together.”

“Well, that didn’t go all that well,” he replied.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I was trying to compliment her, but I think the opposite kind of came out of my mouth. She didn’t speak much after that.”

“What did you say?”

“I just said she should get her photograph taken…”

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” said Astrid.

“… with one of those fuzzy lenses.”

“Oh, yeah. Well I could see where that could go wrong.”

“I tried to fix it, but it just got worse.”

“Well, I’m sure she’s forgotten all about it.”

“Do you really think so?” asked Bud, hopefully.

“Not a chance,” said Astrid.

“All right everyone,” called Mr. Chevalier. “Time to pair up for some serious fencing.”

Astrid knew the ranking chart without looking. She was sixth in the class, right behind Christopher. That meant that they were usually, as in so much of their academic lives, competing against one another. Toby was ranked number one. When she looked up at the display screen above at the weapons rack though, she wasn’t paired with Christopher. The students weren’t matched by ranking at all. They were paired up alphabetically. And that meant that she was paired with her cousin Gloria.

“What the heck is this?” she wondered.

“I decided that today we should have a change,” said Mr. Chevalier, his Austrian accent becoming more pronounced. “Some of us are in need of a little challenge.”

“All right nerd,” said Gloria, taking her position in front of Astrid. “Time to feel my steel. En Garde!”

At the end of the day, the gang met near the monorail station.

“It wasn’t the most lopsided match I’ve ever seen,” said Christopher.

“Of course not,” replied Astrid. “We were perfectly matched. She was the pin and I was the pin cushion.”

“I honestly thought you would do better,” Toby told Astrid. “I’ve seen you fence much better than that. You need to stop letting Gloria intimidate you. You’re better than she is.”

“At least your match wasn’t as lopsided as Toby’s,” said Christopher.

Toby hung his head.

“I feel so bad about that. I like Bud, you know?”

“What did you do to Bud?” demanded Valerie.

“He crushed him like a bug,” said Christopher. “I thought he was going to cry.”

“I’d better go see if he’s okay,” she said, getting up and looking around.

“I tried to let him score,” continued Toby, as she walked away. “I all but stepped into his thrust, but he just wouldn’t touch me.”

“I guess some days you just can’t lose,” Astrid told him. “No matter how hard you try.”

“That might be a Toby Bundersmith problem,” said Austin. “But it has never been an Austin Tretower problem.”

“Come on, Astrid,” said Christopher. “It’s our turn to clean the school this week.”

Astrid Maxxim and her Undersea Dome – Chapter 3 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim 2The next morning, showered and dressed in her school uniform, Astrid found her parents in the breakfast room eating waffles. Her father got up from the table and intercepted her with a big embrace. He was a tall, handsome man, with just a touch of grey hair at his temples.

“Astrid, I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed you,” he said.

“Same here,” she replied. “But I had a great time in Cartagena.”

“I bet you did. Fortunately you had no trouble on your trip.” He spoke with emphasis and nodded his head conspiratorially toward Mrs. Maxxim.”

“Nothing, as long as you consider air-to-air missiles and sharks nothing,” said Mrs. Maxxim, setting a plate down at the table for her daughter.

Kate Maxxim was a tall, blond woman. Though it was still early, she was already dressed in a sharp blue business suit, her hair and makeup looking like something out of a fashion magazine.

“I’m not really hungry, Mom.”

“Eat one waffle,” her mother ordered.

Astrid ate quickly as her father filled her in on the production of several new products, the most important of which, as far as the girl inventor was concerned, were the components for her undersea dome. Before she knew it, she had finished her waffle.

“All right, got to go,” she called back as she dashed out of the room.

“Learn stuff!” called her father.

If her mother said anything, it was lost in the sound of her rushing out the front door.

At the point where their two yards joined, Toby waited for her. As always, he was neatly dressed, and his hair was brushed with his brown bangs hanging down lazily above his eyes. His backpack was on the ground by his feet as he adjusted his tie.

“Back to the salt mine,” he said. “I was just getting used to going without a tie.”

“Here, let me,” said Astrid, sliding the tie’s knot into just the right position. “I kind of like wearing a tie.”

“Well, girls look better in them than boys do.”

“I suspect you think girls look better in just about everything,” she said.

“I do,” he agreed. “I really do.”

“Come on, Romeo. We’re going to be late.”

“You know that’s actually a misnomer,” he said, as they walked the carefully cultivated sidewalk, shaded by overhanging trees. “Romeo wasn’t smooth at all. He was kind of goofy, really.”

“See? And you thought you wouldn’t like Renaissance Literature.”

“Oh, I like Shakespeare.” He stopped, and placing one hand on his chest, lifted the other into the air. “But soft. What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Astrid is the sun. Arise fair sun and kill the envious moon, already sick and pale with grief that thou her maid art far more fair than she.”

“You better not have been looking in my window,” she said with a sly smile.

“Don’t be silly. Your room doesn’t even have a window. Besides, you’re supposed to be more impressed.”

“Oh, should I swoon?” Astrid placed the back of her hand over her forehead. “Oh Romeo, Romeo. Where for art thou Romeo? What’s the next line?”

“I didn’t memorize the girl parts.”

Astrid laughed.

“Seriously,” said Toby, suddenly looking nervous. “Wouldst thou venture forth with me unto the Junior Prom?”

“That’s still more than a month away,” Astrid pointed out.

“You told me not to wait until the last minute.”

“I did, didn’t I? Of course I will go to the Prom with you.”

“Thanks,” said Toby, suddenly not nervous at all.