Astrid Maxxim and her Undersea Dome – Chapter 11 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim 2Before she could make any further protests, Christopher and Denise pulled Astrid quickly onto the bus. The vehicle made a single stop at a gate guarded by military police and then it was out onto the Queen Liliuokalani Freeway. From there it was a remarkably short trip across the island to Kailua. Less than an hour after arriving in Hawaii, Astrid and the others stepped off the bus in front of the palatial beachfront property owned by Maxxim Industries.

The estate had been created years before when Mrs. Maxxim had purchased seven properties and combined them. The original houses, which had been in bad repair, had been removed and five lovely multi-level modern homes had been built, interspersed with gardens and common areas.

“Where’s the swimming pool?” asked Denise as soon as she stepped out of the bus.

“We’re a hundred yards away from the most beautiful beach in the world,” said her brother, “and you want a swimming pool?”

“I don’t swim in the ocean with Astrid anymore.”

“There are three swimming pools,” said Astrid. “You can swim in all three of them.”

“After we get settled,” interjected Mr. Brown. “Do you know where we’re staying, Astrid?”

“Hold on,” replied the girl inventor, pulling out her tablet and flipping her fingers across the screen. “My mom gave me the arrangements. You and Denise are staying at Orchid House, and Dennis too of course. The Harrises are at Plumeria House. The Diazes are at Antherium House. And Toby and Mr. Bundersmith are at Chrysanthemum House.”

“What about me?” asked Austin.

“Oh, um… you’re with Toby and his dad. And I’ll be at Gardenia House.”

Carrying their luggage with them, the travelers from Maxxim City split up and headed in small groups toward each of the assigned houses. Astrid all alone, walked down the sidewalk and up the steps to the front door of Gardenia House, pulling her suitcase along on its wheels. It was a medium-sized home, far smaller than the Maxxim Mansion, but quite striking. A central portion rose up into two stories plus a loft, while wings on either side were a single level. The gently sloping roof and the coral façade fit perfectly with the tropical plants that filled carefully arranged flowerbeds all around the perimeter. The front door accepted Astrid’s thumbprint and she stepped inside.

Walking through the foyer and into the kitchen, Astrid opened the refrigerator to find an apple, which she washed in the sink before taking a bite. The interior of the house was beautifully furnished and spotlessly kept; not surprising since it was used only a few weeks a year. Opening the patio door, the fourteen year-old breathed in the floral scent that floated on the gentle breeze. She could hear the ocean waves crashing against the nearby beach with an irregular rhythm.

Astrid sat down in one of the heavy wooden patio chairs as the breeze whipped up slightly around her. It was pleasantly warm and neither the small cloud that moved over her head, nor the scattered drops that fell from it detracted the feeling that the entire island was giving her one big hug. She finished her apple and walked back inside, dropping the core in the recycle bin before taking her suitcase to the bedroom she had used when she had stayed in the house the previous summer. She had just started unpacking when she received a text.

“Already at the pool,” said Denise’s text, pointing at her name.

How’s the water?” typed Astrid.

Not in water. Laying out… duh.

Astrid texted back. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.

She had barely finished typing when another text arrived, this one from Valerie.

We’re here! See you in an hour.

Wonderful.

Astrid sat her phone, her tablet, and her MX-360 on the nightstand and then quickly unpacked her suitcase, placing her clothes in the dresser drawers. The exception was her pink and yellow swimsuit. It wasn’t so much that she wanted to lay out by the pool, she told herself, so much as she needed to keep an eye on Denise to see that she properly protected her skin. Decked out in her bikini and her matching flip-flops, she skipped out the bedroom door and into the hallway to come face to face with two strange men.

Astrid Maxxim and her Undersea Dome – Chapter 10 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim 2The rest of the week was far less eventful than Monday had been and as far as Astrid was concerned, uneventful was a good thing. As the weekend approached though, she began to worry about missing so much school. She would not only miss class that Friday, but the entire next week as well. After school Thursday, she arrived at the monorail station, her arms full of books to find her friends waiting for her. Though they too had their assignments for the next week, only Christopher was as weighted down as she was.

“Why do you have so many books?” Denise asked Astrid. “The rest of us have tons of work for the next week, but I happen to know that you’ve already done next week’s assignments.”

“I have,” she said. “But what about the other work?”

“What other work?”

“You don’t just do what’s assigned, do you?” wondered the girl inventor. “You do the other problems in the textbooks too, right? And you read the books mentioned in the references, right?”

Christopher nodded but the others shook their heads in bewilderment. Once they boarded the train, Toby sat down next to her.

“My dad is working late, and he told me that your parents were too.”

“That’s right,” agreed Astrid.

“Do you want to come over for dinner?”

“This isn’t a date either, right?”

“Of course not,” said Toby, rather too quickly for Astrid’s taste. “Aunt Gerta is going to be there. She’s making schweinebraten.”

“What is that?” Astrid asked.

“It’s like um… a pork roast.”

“I should have guessed that,” she reasoned. “It’s schweine, like swine.”

“Yeah, German is kind of cool like that,” said Toby. “So, will you come over?”

“Sure.”

The monorail took them all to Maxxim City, where the gang said goodbye to Austin and began their walk home. After bidding the Valeries, and then Christopher and Denise goodnight, Astrid and Toby finally arrived at the point where their two yards met.

“What time should I come over?” she asked him.

“You can come over now,” he replied. “We can swim before we eat.”

“All right. First I have to drop all my books at home and get my swimsuit. Why don’t we meet there in twenty minutes?”

“Deal,” said Toby, before turning and heading toward his house.

Astrid walked across the lawn and pressed her thumb onto the pad to unlock the front door. Before she could enter, she heard the gentle hum of a hoverbike behind her. Turning around, she saw her cousin Gloria dropping from the sky to land on the lawn.

“Hello nerd,” said Gloria. “I just wanted to show you my new hoverbike. It’s so much nicer than yours, don’t you think?”

Astrid examined the vehicle. It was one of the sleek models, like Toby’s, only this one was purple with a black stripe.

“It’s very nice,” she said.

“I think it’s great that our company makes such cool things,” said Gloria. “I don’t see why you and your little friends get to get them before I do though.”

“Um, Gloria,” said Astrid. “I got the first hoverbike because I invented it.”

Crazy Month, Crazy Year

Wow!

It’s been three weeks since I last updated this page.  It’s been a crazy month.  Getting ready to teach virtual classes, and then to start teaching them has been crazy.  But then, this has been a crazy year, hasn’t it.  Who could have ever imagined something like this?  Isaac Asimov?  Arthur C. Clarke?  Probably.

I’ve been plunking away at a couple of story ideas, only one of which will result in a publication this year– hopefully soon.  I hope to have the next Astrid Maxxim book out by the end of the year, which will make three books for 2020.  The last time I published three books in a year was 2016.

Next year, I will be devoted to getting His Robot Wife: Extreme Patience completed before anything else.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to get some new stuff done after that.

In the meantime, stay safe and stay healthy.  And thanks for your support.

Astrid Maxxim and her Undersea Dome – Chapter 9 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim 2The next morning, the stranger was all that Astrid could think about, at least until she and her friends arrived at Rachel Carson High School on the monorail. The school was abuzz, but not about any strange man arrested by police. Instead, everyone was talking about the lake monster. Boys drew pictures of various marine reptiles on the backs of their notebooks. Girls recounted how strange Pearl Lake had seemed last summer when they went swimming. And every conversation seemed to revolve around Austin Tretower. Some of the teachers even got into the act. Dr. Ikeda decorated the science hallway with a gigantic Elasmosaurus mural, and Mr. Hall assigned essays on the Loch Ness Monster in English Composition.

“I want an alternate assignment,” said Astrid, raising her hand.

“What?” said a startled Mr. Hall.

“I don’t want to write about something as silly as the Loch Ness Monster.”

Astrid could feel Denise and Christopher, on either side of her, staring.

“You’re not limited in the way that you approach the assignment, Astrid,” said Mr. Hall. “You have written more than enough persuasive essays. Perhaps you’d like to do something more creative—a fictional story, perhaps?”

“No, Mr. Hall, I don’t think I would like that at all.”

“What’s going on?” whispered Christopher.

Denise shrugged, and then made a crazy circle with her finger next to her head.

“Then Astrid,” continued the teacher, “if you insist on sticking to your routine, why don’t you write a paper explaining why you believe the Loch Ness Monster does not exist? Might I recommend the book by Steuart Campbell…?”

“I read it when I was five,” said Astrid. “Right after I figured out that there was no Santa Claus.”

“Wait a second,” said Madison Laurel from the far side of the room. “You mean Santa Claus isn’t real?”

“Oh no,” said Denise. “Santa Claus is totally real.”

The class erupted into laughter, and Mr. Hall, with difficulty, brought them back on task.

“Your parents may expect a call this evening,” he told Astrid.

Astrid didn’t enjoy her next three classes as much as usual, but at least the talk of monsters was limited to the students. As they left US History on their way to lunch, Christopher pulled her aside.

“What’s going on with you, Astrid?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re awfully testy today,” he said. “Everybody has an off day now and then… I mean everybody but you. I’ve never seen you have an off day, and I’ve never seen you short with a teacher before.”

“There’s a lot going on, I guess,” said Astrid. “And this lake monster talk is really annoying. You know there’s no such thing as a lake monster. We’ve gone swimming in Pearl Lake a hundred times.”

“I know,” said Christopher.

“Plesiosaurs like Elasmosaurus died out 65 million years ago.”

“Sixty five point two million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous,” confirmed Christopher.

“Loch Ness is less than 10,000 years old, and Pearl Lake is only about a thousand years old. There’s no way there could be a prehistoric monster in either of them.”

“Of course not,” said Christopher. “Kids just like monsters, Astrid. It’s like all those zombie movies or that vampire that the girl’s like. I don’t know why you’re letting it get under your skin.”

“People shouldn’t believe ridiculous things,” she said. “Pretty soon they’ll think the world is flat and Neil Armstrong didn’t land on the moon.”

“I don’t think many people really do believe there’s a monster in Pearl Lake. They’re just having a little fun making themselves scared. It’s like riding the Screaming Pterodactyl at Joyland. It’s just a little thrill to shake things up. Not everyone has spies, sharks, and air-to-air missiles to spice up their lives.”

“All right, I see what you mean,” said Astrid. “But it really wasn’t much of a shark.”

Astrid Maxxim and her Undersea Dome – Chapter 8 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim 2Astrid 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.

Astrid Maxxim and her Undersea Dome – Chapter 7 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim 2“Don’t you think racing is a waste of time?” asked Robot Valerie. “These hoverbikes are all new and have the same internal workings. Won’t the winner just be the person who is lightest?”

“Yay, I win,” said Denise.

“Racing isn’t just about top speed,” said Austin. “It’s about skill and strategy and knowing when to accelerate and how to move into a turn. Didn’t you guys ever watch Cars? Besides, it’ll be fun.”

“Where do you want to race?” asked Christopher.

“Let’s race around that island,” replied Austin.

Two hundred yards from shore was a small island, little more than a bit of rock sticking up just above the surface, to which clung a bit of soil and a few weeds, along with a single yucca plant. It was so small that a single individual would have been hard-pressed to find a spot to sit down.

“You want to race over the water?” asked Denise.

“Sure, it’s better than racing around this desert,” he replied. “If we fall, we get wet. If we fell anywhere else, we’d be covered in cactus needles.”

“Valerie can’t race over the water,” said Denise. “What if she fell in?”

“She’d get wet,” said Austin.

“I mean Robot Valerie. She’s made of metal. She might rust.”

“I’m mostly plastic,” said Robot Valerie, defensively. “I still can’t race over the water though.”

“No you can’t,” said Astrid. “I’m surprised at you, Austin. That’s like asking you to fly over a pit of lava.”

The boy stuck out his lip and frowned. “I didn’t… I don’t want her to get hurt. It’s only I wanted to race.”

“Why don’t you three boys race,” said Astrid.

Christopher rolled his eyes, but then nodded and he and Toby walked to their hoverbikes and put on their helmets. Austin, anxious to get started before anyone had a chance to change his mind, was at the shoreline waiting for them. The four girls walked down to the lake’s edge to watch.

“All right,” said Toby. “Once around the island and back to this point. First one to cross the edge of the shore wins. Put your helmet on, Austin.”

The three boys lined up and got ready. Astrid held up her hand.

“Ready… steady… go!”

The three hoverbikes took off across the lake. Austin’s blue bike took the lead, skimming just feet from the water, leaving a path in the waves beneath him. Even from the shoreline, it was obvious that he was pushing the bike near its 40 mph top speed. Christopher was racing nearly as fast, though his green hoverbike was flying about twenty feet higher.

“Toby’s losing,” said Regular Valerie.

“He’s just letting Austin win,” said Astrid.

Austin, now firmly in the lead, leaned right and made the turn around the little island. He had just finished the maneuver, when suddenly something reached out of the water and hit the bottom of his bike. The sleek blue hoverbike flipped over end on end, tossing the boy into the lake.

“Holy macaroni!” shouted Denise.

Astrid Maxxim and her Undersea Dome – Chapter 5 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim 2Just after five, she pulled her phone from her pocket and called Mrs. Purcell, the office manager.

“What do you need, Astrid?”

“Can you get both Mr. Gortner and Mrs. Trent from Production for me?”

Mr. Gortner was first on the line.

“Good afternoon, Astrid,” he said. “You caught me just as I was leaving.”

“Well, I don’t want to keep you; just one quick question. Do we have a supply of hydrophobic sand on site?”

“I’m sure we have some. How much do you need?”

“I’d like about a hundred pounds, if possible.”

“I’ll have it sent over first thing tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Mr. Gortner,” said Astrid. “And how is the battery facility coming?”

He laughed. “Don’t be too impatient, Astrid. We won’t even break ground till next month.”

Seconds after Astrid said goodbye to Mr. Gortner, Mrs. Trent was on the line.

“How is the hoverbike production going?” asked Astrid.

“We’re producing 200 a day,” replied Mrs. Trent. “Nobody seems to know how many we need though. Some of our accounts people are predicting an initial order of 10,000. But I think it could be ten times that many.”

“Well, I have a couple of other things that I need,” said the girl inventor. “I want to build a second undersea dome, with thicker Astridium panels. I’ll send you the measurements tomorrow. In the meantime, I’d appreciate it if you could send me a hundred pounds of ground Astridium.”

“I can send you all the ground material you want,” said Mrs. Trent. “I can just grind up some parts that aren’t up to spec. As for building another dome, Astrid, I’m afraid that’s out of the question.”

“What?”

“We don’t have the capacity or the man-hours. I’ve got to finish this run of hoverbikes, and then your father has three different projects waiting in the queue. His work takes priority.”

“Oh, um, all right,” said Astrid.

She ended the call and stuffed the phone back into her pocket.

“Are you still here, Astrid?” Mr. Brown stepped into the lab.

“Yes, I’m here.”

“What’s the matter, Astrid?”

“Um, nothing. Why?”

“You look like somebody just shot your dog.”

Astrid laughed. “Nothing that horrible. I’m just not used to not getting my way. I guess I’m spoiled.”

“You are the least spoiled girl I know,” he replied smiling. “What are you not getting your way about?”

“Oh, nothing.”

“Are you working on something new?” he asked.

“I was thinking about how hydrophobic sand was originally designed to clean up oil spills, and I thought that ground Astridium might work equally well. And since we might have extra after making hoverbikes, it could be repurposed to help the environment.”