Astrid 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.