Astrid mounted the bike and Toby climbed into his same spot behind. She drove to the lab entrance and he hopped down to hold the door open as she drove through. He did the same thing at the elevator, and again downstairs. They had to use the side entrance, since the hoverbike wouldn’t fit through the revolving door in the front.
“Making another break for it?” asked Mr. Toulson, intercepting them just outside.
“Charles, get your van and follow us,” said Astrid. “We may need your help.”
Minutes later, they were shooting across the Maxxim campus, Astrid and Toby cruising over the desert on the hoverbike and Toulson on the road that ran in the same general direction they were traveling. Toby looked down to gauge their height and then over Astrid’s shoulder to check their speed.
“I’d say we’re about two feet high and we’re going twenty-five,” he pointed out. “That’s a bit more than you expected wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” replied Astrid. “I’m not giving it full power either.”
“Well, open it up and let’s see what it can do,” said Toby.
Astrid pressed her foot down all the way on the throttle and pulled back on the controls. The hoverbike rose up into the air about twenty feet before leveling off and the speedometer moved slowly up until it wobbled around the 40 mph mark.
“And this is with two people on it!” said Toby excitedly. “I am definitely getting one of these!”
“Don’t tell any of the others,” said Astrid, “but I’m having them made for all seven of us.”
“Yes, Austin is one of the gang now.”
“That makes six… oh yeah. I keep forgetting there are two Valeries now. They seem so much alike.”
They flew above the desert floor. Toulson was sometimes closer and other times farther away as the road wound in and around the dry rivers and rocky hills, but with the van’s superior speed he managed to keep up with them. Some forty minutes after they had left the R&D parking lot, they arrived at the Saguaro Cactus Garden, the site of the school field trip. This was, according to the website, the location of Austin’s MX-360. Starting at the monorail platform, Astrid began spiraling out in an ever-widening circle as both she and Toby looked for their friend. At last, Toby tapped Astrid on the shoulder and pointed down toward the ground. Slumped against a boulder was a body.
Astrid dropped the hoverbike so quickly to the ground that it smacked into a small sand dune. When she and Toby jumped off, it rose back up to hover a foot in the air. They ran to the side of the crumpled form and found that it was indeed Austin. His clothing was covered with sand, his face and arms were sunburned, and his lips were chapped.
“Austin,” said Astrid, brushing the sand off his face. “Austin, are you okay?”
“I don’t want to go to school, Mom,” he said, dreamily.
“Austin, wake up.”
The boy opened his eyes.
“It bit me,” he said lifting up his right arm. “A snake bit me.”