“Maybe we shouldn’t even be down here,” said Austin Tretower, as he looked around the gloomy basement. “Are you sure it’s okay with your parents?”
“Of course it’s okay with them,” replied girl inventor Astrid Maxxim. “We just need to carry this crate upstairs. That’s why I called the three of you.”
Austin looked at the dusty wooden container labeled Antarctic Expedition 1928.
“This is just about the point in the conversation when The Thing explodes from the box and eats our faces.”
“There’s rope handle on each side,” Astrid pointed out. “You and I will take the sides. Toby can take the top end and Valerie the bottom. Then we’ll just carry it right up the stairs.”
The four teenagers looked at one another, nodded in agreement, and then each took their respective handle and lifted. Five minutes later, they were at the top of the stairs and set the crate down on the floor of the Maxxim family room.
Astrid Maxxim was five foot five and startlingly cute. Her strawberry blond hair was cut to shoulder length, setting off her very large blue eyes. Astrid’s friend Austin was a sandy-haired boy who seemed thoroughly average in just about every way. He had only recently moved to Maxxim City, but was already a part of Astrid’s close circle of friends. The third member of the group was Toby Bundersmith. Toby had lived next door to Astrid since she was born and embodied, at least in Astrid’s opinion, everything good about a boy. He was tall and handsome, with brown bangs cut just above his hazel eyes. Finally there was Valerie. Valerie was a robot copy of a fourteen year old girl, built by Astrid earlier that year and programmed with the memories of Astrid’s long-time friend Valerie Diaz. Robot Valerie originally had bright silver skin, but after returning from Hawaii, Astrid had covered it with a bluish metallic polycarbonate so that she would be more water resistant. Thanks to another recent upgrade, she also had bright blue shoulder length hair. She was just a bit shorter than Astrid.
“What’s in that dusty old thing anyway?” asked Valerie’s flesh-and-blood twin from where she sat on the couch, with her feet curled up under her. Though she shared the robot’s features, her raven hair and flashing brown eyes made it only too clear that she was entirely human. “It’s not The Thing, is it?”
“See, I’m not the only one,” said Austin.
“You know Valerie could have carried that upstairs all by herself. She’s very strong.”
“I don’t want to go down in that basement by myself,” said Robot Valerie. “It’s spooky.”
“All three of you are just being silly,” said Astrid. “Now, let’s get this open and you’ll see that there’s nothing in there. Well, there will be something, but not The Thing.”
A rusty hasp, with an ancient padlock in it, held down the lid of the box. The wood was so old however that the hasp and the hinges on the opposite side all pulled loose. Toby helped Astrid lift the lid and set it to the side. Nestled neatly within the box were four stacks of manilla file folders.
“Oh great,” said Austin. “It’s worse than The Thing. It’s homework.”