“Transferring control to manual,” said Astrid. “How does it feel?”
“Pretty sluggish,” replied Toby. “Is it always like this?”
“At this point, yes. It’s a lot like flying a brick until we’re ready to throttle up.”
Astrid Maxxim was a startlingly cute girl of fifteen. Her shoulder-length strawberry blond hair set off her very large blue eyes. She sat in the copilot seat of the Constellation, the newest of her hypersonic space planes, as it blasted its way back into the Earth’s atmosphere. Toby Bundersmith occupied the pilot’s seat. Though it was difficult to tell in his spacesuit, he was tall and muscular. His brown hair hung down in bangs just above his hazel eyes. He turned and gave Astrid a nervous smile. While he was a skilled pilot, this shakedown flight was his first trip to space. Astrid, in addition to being a world-famous inventor, was already a veteran of three previous orbital flights.
“Descending to ten miles altitude,” she said. “Prepare to throttle up.”
“Throttle up to sixty percent power.”
“Roger,” replied Toby, pushing the thrust control forward.
“Houston, this is Constellation,” said Astrid into her microphone.
There were a few seconds of static before a reply came through her headphones.
“Constellation, Houston. Welcome home.”
“Thank you. Now that we’re safely back in the atmosphere, we’ll bid you farewell and switch over to Maxxim Tower.”
“Roger, Constellation. Happy landing.”
“We’re passing over Southern California,” said Toby. “It’ll be a few minutes before we’re ready to ask for a landing clearance.”
“That’s a fact,” said Astrid, as she unfastened and then removed her helmet. “Do you want some help with your helmet?”
“No, I’m going to leave it on,” he said. And then a few seconds later, “No, I want to take it off. As soon as you said something, my nose started itching like no tomorrow.”
Astrid helped him remove it, stowing it, along with hers, in the appropriate compartment. Toby immediately scratched his nose with a gloved hand, before returning all his attention to the controls.
“I pointed out that we had a few minutes,” said Toby, “to highlight the fact that we have a bit of time to talk.”
“What did you want to talk about?”
“My cousins are coming to town next week and I thought maybe you could help me plan some activities for them.”
“Event planning is not really my field of expertise,” said Astrid, with an arched brow. “Are you just asking me because I’m a girl?”
“No!” Toby exclaimed. “Absolutely not. I was asking… What I really should have asked… It would really be cool if they could take a flight into space.”
“I’m sure it would be cool for them,” said Astrid. “They’d probably think you were the best cousin ever. I’m afraid it can’t happen though. You remember all the training you’ve gone through, and even our passengers have six weeks of rigorous training before they fly on one of the space planes.”
“Yeah,” said Toby. “I guess I already knew the answer to that. I’m just getting worried that they’ll be bored. They live in Berlin and I live in a little town in the Southwestern U.S.”
“Maybe Jürgen and Sabine aren’t looking for a wild time. It seems to me that most Europeans visiting the states enjoy the great natural wonders we have here. Take a trip up to the Grand Canyon. Fly over to Mesa Verde and show them the Ancient Pueblo ruins.”
“I’m sure that would be great for Jürgen,” he said. “I’m worried about Sabine. She is really into the German nightlife. Maxxim City is going to seem really tame.”
“Well, if you have to, you can always fly them to L.A. You can take them to a disco and visit Disneyland on the same trip.”
“Well, that sounds pretty good. Does that mean I have free access to a Maxxim Industries plane?”
“A Starcraft 170 and all the fuel you can use.”
“I guess it pays to have a girlfriend who is the CEO of a major multinational corporation.”
“I’m just the co-CEO, said Astrid, “and are we saying the B and G words?”
“What? Boyfriend and girlfriend? I’m saying it. I say it all the time. My girlfriend Astrid. Astrid, my girlfriend.”
Just then the space plane lurched.
“Pay attention to the controls, boyfriend,” said Astrid, climbing back into her seat.”
“I am. It was just a pocket of turbulence.”
“Maxxim Tower, Constellation,” said Astrid into her microphone. “Requesting a landing vector.”
“If I crashed us,” said Toby, “I’d be grounded for a month.”
“Only a month?” asked Astrid with a grin.