Astrid Maxxim and the Mystery of Dolphin Island – Chapter 9 Excerpt

Astrid kicked her legs as hard as she could, shooting through the water over Swen’s Atoll. The grey monster shot up from behind and passed her like a bullet, only to roll over and propel itself directly toward her. At the last moment, it rose just enough to pass above her without touching. Seeing him from the surface, it was difficult to tell just how big Alister was, but seen from here beneath the waves, he was huge—over ten feet long and weighing about a thousand pounds.

“Alister play. Alister play,” the device in Astrid’s hands translated the dolphin’s signals.

From twenty feet to Astrid’s left, came another sound. Alister’s partner called out to him.

“Alister. Alister”

Astrid didn’t know for sure, but she suspected that John was trying to get Alister to pay him some attention, rather than lavishing it on the surface-dweller. Five consecutive days of swimming with him had certainly given Astrid the impression that Alister enjoyed her company. She couldn’t say the same about his companion.

She dove down and flipped over, swimming in the reverse of the direction she had been going. As she approached where the boat was anchored, she saw Penelope and two female dolphins playing with the scarf. Then she saw Adeline, who was signaling to return to the surface. Astrid followed her until both their heads popped above the waves. The girl inventor was surprised to find it darker than it had been when she had submerged.

“We’ve got to go in,” said Adeline. “The clouds have rolled in and the wind is picking up.”

“Okay,” Astrid replied. “Let me get Penelope.”

Pushing the regulator back in her mouth, Astrid dove down to where her aunt was floating, tapping her on the shoulder. When Penelope looked, she signaled to head for the surface. When their heads reached the air, they could see that the ocean was already becoming choppy. They quickly climbed into the boat.

“Were we expecting weather?” asked Penelope.

“It’s Hurricane Diego,” said Eleanor. “It was supposed to be far north of us, but it’s turned our way.”

She pulled up the anchor and then took her place behind the wheel, starting up the engine and steering toward Dolphin Island. The dolphins swam along behind them for a while, riding the wake, but then disappeared.

“That was great fun,” said Astrid. “I can’t believe that Alister is saying whole sentences—well, at least a two word sentence.”

“I think our translation is problematic,” said Adeline. “The dolphins use gestures and other signals, but I think they should be saying more. I think we are only getting a little slice of what they could say to us.”

By the time the boat was cruising into the lagoon, the waves of the open ocean were five feet or more.

They pulled the boat as far onto the sand as they could and tied it to not one, but three trees. Then they hurried inside the little house.

Eleanor turned on the radio and dialed into the weather.

“I’m going to pull up the storm on the Internet,” said Astrid.

“I’m going to puke,” said Penelope.

She staggered to the front door and stepped outside. The others could hear a retching sound. Astrid stepped out to make sure that she was all right and found the sky so dark she could have been forgiven for thinking it was night. The wind was so strong that it pushed her two steps to the left. Steadying herself, she stepped over to where Penelope knelt in the sand and bent down over her.

“Are you okay, Aunt Penelope?”

Her aunt arched her back and heaved again in reply. Astrid pulled her aunt’s black hair back to keep it out of the pool of vomit in the sand.

“I think I’m going to be turned inside out,” gasped Penelope at last.   “I haven’t felt this bad since the after party at the Grammy’s.”

“What were you doing at the Grammy’s?”

“Getting sick. That’s really all you need to know. Well, I think I’m done.”

She began struggling to her feet. Astrid helped pull her up and then threw her shoulder under the elder Maxxim’s. She led the way back inside and into the office, where Penelope crawled into her sleeping bag.

“Here, Penelope, drink this,” said Océane, stepping into the room with a glass of amber liquid.

“What is it?” came the croaked reply.

“It’s ginger ale. It will settle your stomach. We keep it on hand because Eleanor gets seasick too.”

“Is she sick now too?” wondered Astrid.

Océane nodded. “You should drink some too, Astrid.”

“I’m not seasick.”

“Not yet.”

“I need something stronger,” said Penelope. “I think I need to be put in a medically-induced coma.”

“I’m sorry,” said Océane. “I’m afraid we don’t even have motion sickness pills.”

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A Plague of Wizards – Chapter 4 Excerpt

The very eastern edge of Port Dechantagne, just south of Zaeritown, was dominated by many groups of small housing developments constructed by BB&C and other firms who wanted to take advantage of the city’s growth. Most of these consisted of a score or so of small cottages situated around a little park. The area quickly became the most sought after real estate for Birmisia Colony’s burgeoning middle class—those who could afford better than an apartment in the brownstones near Lizzietown, but who were nowhere near affluent enough for the great mansions and estates near the northern central part of town. The main thoroughfare through neighborhood was Victory Boulevard. It was a four lane red brick-paved street, lined on either side with gas streetlamps, and with a broad grassy median that accommodated side-by-side trolley tracks. The west end of Victory Boulevard ended at Victory Park and in the east it, along with its trolley line, extended two hundred yards past the last group of houses. From there it turned into a single lane, winding gravel road that led some eleven miles to the small village of Villa Cochon.

Turning south from Victory on Ghiosa Way led one through one of these little neighborhoods. Five houses sat on the left and three on the right, and then there was a turn west on Dante Street. Around the corner was the park with swings, park benches, and a pond, frequented by shore birds from the ocean several miles to the north. Ghiosa Way itself, ended with a wood fence as a barricade. Though beyond it, the street might some day continue, for now, it was remarkably dense woodland just a dozen feet away. The last house on the left side of the little street, right next where it ended, was a small yellow cottage, with a white railing and posts on the front porch, a white-framed window just left of the white front door, and a similar window looking down from the attic between the eaves. The cobblestone pathway leading up to the front steps was lined with large ferns of the type commonly found in the area, and the yard was filled with several pines and a maple that had escaped the fate of those that had been cut to make room for the comfy little domicile.

Near the back right corner of the little cottage’s yard, about halfway between the house and the nearest trees, was a large barrel in which trash was burned once or twice a week. Though the refuse did not include foodstuffs, it did sometimes contain newsprint that had once wrapped a purchase from the butcher or the fishmonger. It was these smells that sometimes drew animals from the forest to the yard, as it did on this particular day. The animals in question were three velociraptors. They were two and a half feet tall and five feet from the tip of their many-toothed snouts to the ends of their tails. Hairy feathers covered their bodies—yellow near their small arms and green everywhere else, but for a black band around their necks and a black tuft at the ends of their tails. Easily mistaken for a more benign bird from a distance, those familiar with them were wary because of the teeth and clawed hands, but mostly because of their feet, each of which had a three-inch claw curving upward, used to disembowel prey.

One of the velociraptors jumped up onto the edge of the barrel and looked down inside, trying to discover something edible. Before it could learn whether any such thing existed, it was knocked off by another, which then let out a squawk and promptly fell inside. All three began a horrendous cacophony of shrieks and cries, even after the most adventurous of the three had found his way back out and onto the ground. Suddenly the side door of the house burst open and a woman ran out swinging a broom and shouting her own shrieks and cries.

“Get out of here, you horrid beasts!” She made every effort to swat them, but the velociraptors easily evaded her and went running back into the woods.

“I’ve told you before not to do that!” shouted a tall red-haired man, running around the side of the house.

“They’ll make a mess,” she replied.

“Better they make a mess than they injure you, or worse.” He stopped in front of her, looked down into her bright blue eyes, and then kissed her on the lips. “I don’t want to lose you.”

She smiled, and reached up to run her fingers along the line of his square jaw.

“How did I ever get so lucky, Mr. Baxter?”

“I’m sure most would say that I’m the lucky one, Mrs. Baxter.”

“Come inside. I have been slaving all day to have your luncheon ready.”

She took him by the hand and led him into the house. Just inside was the small dining room. Painted yellow with green trim, it was as cozy as one would have expected, having seen the outside of the home. All of the furniture was new and of the highest quality, manufactured locally in Birmisia. There was a flatware hutch, displaying behind the glass doors, a collection of beautiful porcelain dishes, a small table with two chairs, and an occasional table upon which sat two framed pictures.

She pulled out a chair and waved for him to sit.

“Your seat, Monsieur.”

He sat and pulled her into his lap.

“If you’re playing at being a Mirsannan, shouldn’t you be dressed like one?” he asked. “Their women usually wear these gauzy gowns that one can practically see right through.”

“You, sir, are very naughty.”

He admired her very Brech appearance.   She wore a pretty white pinstriped day dress, trimmed with white lace and bows. She wasn’t wearing the matching hat and her collar-length dark brown hair was parted on the side and combed over with only a few curls in the back.

Astrid Maxxim and the Mystery of Dolphin Island – Chapter 8 Excerpt

The next morning, Océane woke the two Maxxims early. After a quick breakfast of cold cereal, the five women climbed into the speedboat and started across the ocean. Swen’s Atoll was about twenty miles away and soon the boat was floating above it. Eleanor shut down the outboard engines and dropped anchor.

Astrid quickly arranged the translation devices. Then she, Océane, and Adeline donned their scuba tanks, masks, and fins.

“Here’s the scarf,” said Eleanor, producing a red silk scarf.

“What’s that for?” wondered Penelope.

“The dolphins love to play with it. They think it’s the greatest thing they’ve ever seen. Adeline thinks it can be a breakthrough item. We’ve created a dolphin word for scarf. The plan is that we’ll play with them as they chase the scarf around while repeating the word. Hopefully they will copy it. Then we will know that they can learn a new word and add it to their language.”

“Let’s go,” said Adeline, dropping over the side.

Astrid followed.

The water was a beautiful azure, and amazingly clear. Visibility was as great as Astrid had ever seen in a dive anywhere. She could see almost one hundred fifty feet in any direction. The ocean seemed to want to give away its secrets. She could see a large manta ray flying through the depths and a few spotted eagle rays, skimming the tops of the coral that made up the atoll’s top. In the deep water beyond, swam several lemon sharks. And everywhere were crowded schools of colorful reef fish.

The only thing that was missing were the dolphins. The three women swam across over the reef, constantly on the lookout for the great grey mammals, but there was no sign of them. After twenty minutes, Adeline signaled for a return to the surface.

“We’ll wait aboard the boat,” she said, after spitting out her regulator.

“Why aren’t they here?” Astrid asked.

“Who can say?”

Eleanor and Penelope helped them all back into the boat. Then they waited, watching every direction for any sign of the missing dolphins. After two hours though, there was still nothing.

“How disappointing,” sighed Astrid.

“That’s how it is sometimes,” said Océane. “The ocean creatures do not follow our schedule.”

They returned to Dolphin Island and ate a simple lunch of fruit, cheese, and bread. The mood was subdued.

Astrid took the opportunity to take a brief nap after lunch. She had only just woken up when her phone rang. The screen showed her father’s face.

“Hi, Dad.”

“Hello, sweetheart. How’s Polynesia.”

“It’s fine, although apparently the dolphins are vacationing elsewhere.”

“Them’s the breaks, as they say. Is that why you’re there? To observe their behavior? What is this, a school project?”

“Dad, it’s summer.”

“Oh, yeah. So, not a school project?”

“I’m here to help one of Dr. Feuillée’s protégées with her study of dolphin language.”

The girl inventor went on to describe the project in detail and the technological solution she had developed for translation.

“That sounds amazing, Astrid,” said her father. “I hope you don’t get your hopes up too much. It may be that dolphins don’t really have a language as such at all. Just because an animal makes noises, doesn’t mean they’re talking. I learned that with my dog Buster when I was a kid.”

“Dolphins are a lot smarter than dogs.”

“You didn’t know Buster.”

“No, I didn’t,” said Astrid. “That brings up an important question. How come I don’t have a dog?”

“I didn’t know you wanted one,” he said. “Most four-year-olds ask for a puppy. You wanted a chemistry set… and a robot.”

“Well, maybe we could get a dog now.”

“Maybe,” he said. “Talk to your mother about it. On an unrelated topic, how are you and Penny getting along.”

“Famously,” said Astrid.

“Well, don’t be too rough on her.”

“You make me sound like a juvenile delinquent,” she complained.

“You’re no delinquent.” She could hear the smile in his voice. “But you’re not the easiest kid to rein in.”

“I guess I just have to run free.”

“Whatever. Just take it easy on my little sister.”

No sooner had Astrid finished talking with her father, when her phone rang again. This time it was Toby.

“Hi, boyfriend.”

“Oh, um, hi, Astrid.”

“How’s life with Jürgen and Sabine?”

“It’s going okay. We went fishing yesterday at Pearl Lake. It was a really nice day. We caught four trout and Aunt Gerta fixed them for dinner.”

“I can’t imagine Sabine found that very entertaining.”

A Plague of Wizards – Chapter 3 Excerpt

Governor Iolanthe Staff slid out from under the body of her lover. Collapsing against the cool surface of her pillow, she ran a hand over her body, slick with perspiration. After several deep breaths, she rolled off the mattress and stepped to the washstand, where she poured the full pitcher of water into the basin. Setting the pitcher aside, she cupped both hands in the cool water and brought them up to splash it over her face. She didn’t bother to dry herself.

Gazing at the man on the bed, she took careful note of his muscular back and buttocks, before moving back and crawling cat-like to him. She draped herself over him and kissed the nape of his neck.

“This was very nice,” she said.

“I’m glad to hear that,” he said, drowsily. “I wasn’t sure I was welcome at first.”

“You’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”

“No, I have to get up.”

She rolled off of him, sitting up, and fluffing the pillow behind her.

“I thought as much.” Her voice turned from sultry to crisp and commanding. “You should be on your way. It’s almost tea.”

“Yes.”

He got up and walked around the bed to the washstand. There, he took the hand towel, and dipping it in the basin, used it to wash his body. He quickly dressed and used her brush to put his sandy blond hair back into its usual neat precision.

“Will you be by tomorrow?”

“I don’t know. I have a great deal to do.”

“I’m surprised you have any time for me at all.”

“I have a weakness for powerful women,” he said. “It must be down to how I was raised.”

“Perhaps I’ve grown too old and ugly for you.”

“Don’t be stupid.” He glanced over her naked body, nodding in appreciation. “I said I have a great deal to do. I have to take care of this wizard problem.”

“My nephew is dealing with it,” said Iolanthe.

“It’s a police matter,” he said, slipping into his suit jacket, “and I am the Chief of Police.”

“So you are.”

He stepped to the door and started to turn the knob.

“Saba?” she called.

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” he called over his shoulder.

 

* * * * *

Police Chief Saba Colbshallow opened the front door of his home and stepped inside. He was immediately almost knocked over by an eighty-two pound projectile hitting him right in his center mass. Grasping it below the shoulders, he hefted it up to find that, as he suspected, it was his daughter DeeDee. It was already apparent, despite the gangliness of eleven-year-olds, that she would grow up to be a beautiful woman. She had inherited the heterochromia of both eyes and hair from her mother, as well as her flawless skin and near perfect facial features. Saba looked into her eyes, one deep brown and the other hazel.

“Hello, My Dearest. How are you today?”

“Fine, Daddy.”

“Where is your sister?”

“She’s in her room.”

“Playing?”

“I don’t think so. I think she misses her home.”

“This is her home now,” he said. “Where’s Mummy?”

“She’s in her room. She’s dicky.”

“How about Nan?”

“In the garden. I was just going out to join her.”

“Go upstairs and check on your sister. Bring her out in the garden, if she’s able.” He ran his hand through her hair, each strand seemingly a different shade from very light blond to coppery red, and then pushed her gently towards the staircase.

Saba made his way through the parlor, the dining room, and the kitchen, finally stepping out onto the back porch and then out to the garden. Here he found his mother, on her knees, planting flower bulbs around the base of the tree.

“You’re about nine months too late to plant those, Mother. It should have been done back in Novuary. Either that, or you’re four months too early for next year.”

“I’m sure they’ll grow and be quite lovely.”

“Oh, they’ll grow, but they won’t blossom. I was expecting tea.”

“I’m too old to fuss with such things.”

“But not too old to crawl around in the dirt,” he said. “I would think that the lady of the house would see to tea.”

“She’s not feeling well.”

“She never feels well.”

“Well, what do you expect, with the way you treat her?”

He pulled a wrought-iron chair away from the outdoor table and sat down, crossing his legs. “What do you mean, Mother?”

“You know what I mean. It’s bad enough that you’re wandering the town like an alley cat, without you bringing her the results of your imprudence.”

“That was one time, and it was a long time ago.”

Astrid Maxxim and the Mystery of Dolphin Island – Chapter 7 Excerpt

By the time Astrid was back on the shore, she was exhausted from swimming. Being near the dolphins was so exhilarating that it was easy to forget that treading water was hard work. After drying off, the three young women went back inside the house, where the girl inventor, assisted by Océane, continued the task of entering Adeline’s findings in the new database.

“Are you two hungry?” asked Adeline, sticking her head through the doorway.

“We just had lunch,” said Astrid.

“That was hours ago.”

Glancing at her watch, Astrid realized that, once again, time had gotten away from her.

“I made supper,” said Adeline.

“Eleanor and Penelope aren’t back yet?”

“No, and I’m starting to really worry. It will be dark soon. Anyway, we should eat.”

They had just sat down when the sounds of a motor outside sent them to see the speedboat sliding through the lagoon, bearing their missing companions. Eleanor tossed the line to Océane, who tied it to a tree.

“Sorry we’re so late,” said Eleanor. “We’ve brought lots of goodies.”

The vessel was indeed loaded with gear. The five young women spent almost half an hour unloading it. There were boxes of scuba gear, air tanks, bags of clothing, and four crates of groceries.

“What did you do?” wondered Adeline, when they were all back inside the now very crowded little house.

“Eleanor told me how you scrimped to make due till the end of the season,” said Penelope. “I just thought I would help out a bit.”

“She bought us three new aqualungs and all the gear to go along with it,” said Eleanor. “She got us a new compressor too.”

“I also bought clothing for Astrid and me,” said Penelope, “since we had only packed for a weekend. I got us a couple of swimsuits too, Astrid.”

“Good thinking,” said the girl inventor.

“Now, can we all sit down and eat?” asked Eleanor. “I’m starving.”

They ate their meal and then Penelope helped clean up while Astrid and Océane returned to their data entry. By bedtime, all of the files had been transferred and the information from the journal typed in. All that remained was to index the two together.

In the morning, Astrid enjoyed a breakfast of pain perdu, which Astrid’s translation app described as “lost bread,” but which she found out was French toast.

“I didn’t really think they ate French toast in France,” she said.

“We don’t eat it often,” explained Océane, “but we do have it.”

By lunchtime, Astrid had a functional database with all of the dolphin sounds indexed to their possible meanings. That afternoon, she began transferring it to several MX-360 personal digital assistants. The devices were waterproof, but had very small microphones, akin to those found in phones. She planned to connect them to powerful underwater microphones that she had received at the Maxxim Store, devices that were not originally designed to work together. In the end, she had to wrap the connection with kitchen plastic wrap and hope that it would stay watertight. She explained the devices’ operation to the others over sandwiches.

“It should be pretty straightforward. I’m afraid they are going to require both hands though, one to hold the MX device and the other to hold the microphone. When the microphone picks one of the dolphin sounds, it should give the corresponding meaning on the screen and speak it into our earphone. To speak, we have to select our text from the screen and the device will play the sound. Hopefully the dolphins can hear it. Since the MX-360 is designed to function as a music player, it has a much louder speaker than it does a microphones.”

“We already know the dolphins can hear it,” said Adeline. “The year before last, we played music for them.”

“I’m curious about something though,” said Astrid. “There are three sounds that don’t have meanings.”

“Those aren’t sounds the dolphins have made,” said Adeline. Those are three sounds we have created to try and introduce new words. The first means scarf. That’s something we have been using with the dolphins. The others are our names—mine and Océane’s.”

“I want a dolphin name,” said Astrid.

“We’ll make one for you,” laughed Adeline. “Then tomorrow, we’ll take the boat out and try the equipment.”

“Why not today?” wondered Penelope.

“The dolphins will be here at the island this afternoon,” said Astrid. “We swam with them yesterday while you were gone.”

“We’ve been recording them at Swen’s Atoll,” said Eleanor. “It’s the top of a large underwater hill. The top is about twenty feet below the surface. They’re often there in the mornings.”

“They’ll be back here today, won’t they?” wondered Astrid.

“Probably,” said Océane.

“Come on.” Penelope took Astrid by the elbow and led her toward their little office. “Let’s try on our new swimsuits.”

A Plague of Wizards – Chapter 2 Excerpt

Lord Augustus Marek Virgil Dechantagne, Earl of Cordwell, March Lord of Birmisia, Viscount Dechantagne, and Baron of Halvhazl, stood in the parlor, looking out the front window. A dragonfly, somewhat larger than the palm of his hand, flew up to hover just on the other side of the glass from his face. The two stared at each other for a moment, and then the insect buzzed away. The young nobleman had grown from a chubby boy to a tall, fit young man. He had gained three inches in height just since his fifteenth birthday half a year before.

“It’s bloody warm today,” he said, brushing back his chestnut hair. “It’s going to be a hot summer.”

“If you say so, Augie,” said his fifteen-year-old sister, who sat on the sofa embroidering a tea cloth. Her own dull, brown hair fell limply over her shoulders. Her voice was deep for a girl, but rather weak and scratchy. “You know best.”

The youth snapped his fingers and a hulking lizardman entered to stand beside him. The monstrous creature was seven feet tall, dwarfing the human. He was covered with bumpy skin, light olive down his front from the dewlap below his long snout, and deep forest green on his back and down the length of the long powerful tail that hung behind him, the tip a few inches off the floor. He looked like a cross between an anthropomorphic iguana and an alligator.

“A cup of tea,” said Lord Dechantagne. “And one for my sister too.”

“I don’t think I want tea,” she said, without looking up.

“Yes, Little Worm, you do.”

“If you say so, Augie.”

The reptilian servant nodded and hurried from the room.

The young man left the window and walked to the chair by the fire, where the third member of the family slumbered. His mother was still a great beauty at forty-four years of age, though her dark brown hair now had several thick streaks of grey. Yuah Dechantagne was still in her dressing gown, with one leg thrown over the side of the chair and her head tucked into the back corner. A single long snore escaped her thick, well-formed lips. He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.

“Do you want to go up for your nap, Mother?”

“I’m not asleep,” she said, sleepily. “I’m just resting my eyes.”

With a sigh, he left her and sat beside his sister.

“She’s been gone four years now,” he said.

“I know. I can hardly believe it has been so long, but I’ve decided to join her as soon as Auntie Iolanthe will let me.”

“What in the deuces are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about going to Brech City. I’m going to live with Cousin Iolana. I miss her so.”

“Well, I wasn’t talking about Iolana. And I don’t think you’ll be allowed to go live with her. That girl does nothing but spend money on parties and clothes. There’s no telling what trouble she’s getting into.”

“What do you expect? The poor thing’s lost her father.” She stopped and looked around, and then continued at a much lower volume. “And honestly, would you want Auntie Iolanthe as a mother?”

“Auntie only wants the best for all of us. Besides, we lost our father too.”

“You don’t remember Father, and I wasn’t even born when he died.”

“When he was killed, you mean… killed by the lizzies. Anyway, Uncle Radley was like a father to me.” He turned to the reptilian servant arriving with a large tea tray. “Set it here, and there better be some milk. I’m tired of drinking my tea like a savage.”

“I miss Uncle Radley too,” continued Terra. “I think he was the most level-headed person I ever met. Plus he told me he would buy me a car when I turned fourteen. Here I am, almost sixteen and no car.”

“I’ll buy you a car.”

He poured two cups of tea and then added milk to his and sugar to hers. After handing the cup to her, he took his and leaned back into the sofa.

“I wasn’t talking about Iolana. I was talking about the sorceress.”

“You mean Senta? Oh, I expect she’s dead. Don’t you?”

“Don’t be daft. Nothing can kill her.”

“Oh, I think anyone can be killed,” said Terra. “That green dragon died and the lizzies worshipped him as a god.”

“Yes, and look who killed him: Senta, that’s who. And she wasn’t even at her full magic power yet. Dragons aren’t gods anyway. The lizzies just worship them because they’re too ignorant to know any better.”

“If you say so, Augie. You know best.”

She set her half-empty teacup on the tray and moved her needlepoint from her lap onto the arm of the sofa before standing up.

“Zandy, would you fetch Kristee please?” she called to the lizzie standing nearby. “I need to change into my walking dress.”

“Where are you going?” asked Augie.

“Where else do I ever go around here? I’m going visiting.”

“Be home in time for dinner. I have something I want to talk to you about. Oh, and will you be visiting Miss Likliter?”

“That seems likely.”

“Then see if you can find out about the new brown hat I ordered from her mother.”

“Whatever you say, Augie.”

Astrid Maxxim and the Mystery of Dolphin Island – Chapter 6 Excerpt

The next morning after breakfast, Eleanor and Penelope left for Tahiti in the speedboat, leaving Astrid, Océane, and Adeline on Dolphin Island. After helping clean up the kitchen, the girl inventor turned on her computer system and checked everything over.

“Adeline,” she called into the other room. “I don’t suppose you have a connection to the Internet, do you?”

“As a matter of fact we do,” the young woman replied, stepping past Astrid to point to a spot on the wall. “They laid an underwater cable from Papeete a long time ago. I think back in the eighties. I hope it still works.”

“More like the nineties,” said Astrid, sitting down in front of the outlet, and pulling out her pocket toolkit. “This is a CAT-3 connection. I’m going to need to convert it. I’ll just strip an end off one of these cables I brought and we can see if the connection still works.”

A few minutes later, Astrid had a wire running from the wall to the back of the Ion desktop computer. After she ran the setup routine, the Maxxim Industries web page appeared on the screen.

“This will work. We’re limited to 100 megabits, but that’s not too bad really. When you said it was made in the eighties, I thought it might have been a 1200 baud connection.”

“I know most of those English words,” said Adeline, “but I still have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“That’s okay. Why don’t you show me your data?”

Adeline had recorded 2,164 sounds on a digital recorder. Each recording corresponded to an entry in a notebook that described the likely meaning. The job would require that all the sounds be copied to the computer and then to the data from the notebook would be typed in. Afterwards, a database would have to be written that included both.

“Well, I’d better get started.”

“I can help,” said Océane. “I am a very good typist. I can input everything from the notebook, while you create the program.”

“Great,” said Astrid. “Why don’t we take two of the portable computers and do it while we sit on the beach? I hope you have sunscreen.”

Océane did have sunscreen and they helped each other cover all their exposed skin. Océane had a black one-piece swimsuit, but Astrid wore shorts and a yellow top, not having thought to pack a suit. Adeline followed them down and set up a large beach umbrella, under which the two teen girls sat with their computers.

It was a lovely day and the only sounds were of the surf crashing onto the sand, and an occasional squawk of a seabird. It seemed like very little time had passed, when Adeline arrived back on the beach with a wicker picnic basket.

“Eleanor and Penelope should be back soon,” she said, as she passed out plates and then scooped potato salad onto them.

“Good,” said Astrid. “I really want to meet your dolphins.”

“Well, we really don’t need the boat for that. Most afternoons, they swim right around the island. I flatter myself that they come to visit me, but in reality they hunt over the reef and sun themselves in the lagoon. Have some cheese.”

“How come all the French people I know are thin,” said Astrid, taking a slice of Camembert, “and you all eat so much cheese and bread.”

“Obviously it isn’t bread or cheese that makes a person fat,” said Océane.

“You Americans don’t take time for your food,” said Adeline. “You are in too much of a hurry. It’s not healthy.”

“I agree with you there,” replied Astrid. “My mother is a perfect example. She’s busy all the time. Although, now that I think about it, both times I’ve talked to her recently, she’s been relaxed and at home.”

“Maybe she’s decided to start taking it easy.”

“Maybe, but that somehow doesn’t sound likely.”

“Have some dried fruits,” said Adeline, passing out an assortment of dates, apricots and roasted nuts. “Would you like some wine?”

She handed glasses out and then pulled out a bottle.

“Um, I’m too young to drink.”

“I only drink wine,” said Océane. “My father didn’t let me even drink it until I was twelve.”

“In France, everyone drinks wine. It is good for you.”

“This is that peer pressure everyone keeps telling me about,” said Astrid.

“I don’t want to pressure you, Astrid,” said Océane. “You can drink water.”

“Thank you. I’ll go and get it myself.”

The girl inventor got up and walked up to the house. As soon as she stepped inside, the phone ringer on her Carpé watch began to sound.

“Hello?”

“Astrid?”

“Hi, Toby,” said Astrid, a grin breaking out on her face. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing’s going on with me,” he said. “What’s this I hear about you being in Tahiti?”

“Um, well, I flew down to help a friend of Océane’s with some research.”