“Mom, I’m going to Los Angeles after the board meeting, Friday.”
“Astrid, you’re fifteen. You can’t take off on a five hundred mile trip without permission and without adult supervision.”
“I’ll take Miss Scacchi with me.”
“I suppose that’s all right. How long do you plan to be in California?”
“Probably just a day,” replied the girl inventor. “Océane wants to meet me there. She said she needs my help, but she didn’t give me any details.”
“Well, I know that Miss Scacchi will keep me informed of any pertinent information.”
Astrid found the family’s personal assistant willing to make the trip.
“I have to be back by Monday though,” she said. “I have several events that I’m working on for your father.”
“I don’t think that will be a problem,” replied Astrid. “We’ll leave tomorrow, right after the board meeting—say ten o’clock.”
Chef Pierce made Astrid a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch. Since both her parents were at work, she took her food into the family room and ate while watching the financial news.
“Maxxim Industries stock is up three and three quarters, as the market anticipates the seven to one stock split set to occur at the close of trading tomorrow. This as the company is projecting record sales on the back of their transportation division, which includes the amazing Maxxim Hoverbike.”
Astrid looked up to see four of her friends entering from the hallway to the living room. The one who had spoken was Denise Brown. She had been Astrid’s friend since they toddlers. She was five foot six and a little on the skinny side, with long blond hair and green eyes. Next to her was Valerie Diaz, who had been a close friend for almost as long. A couple of inches shorter than Denise, she had luxurious black hair and flashing brown eyes. And right next to Valerie was a robot version of her. Robot Valerie was the result of one of Astrid’s experiments a year before. She had a metallic blue polycarbonate skin and long blue hair, but was otherwise very similar to Regular Valerie. The fourth arrival was Austin Tretower, who had joined Astrid and her friends when he had moved to Maxxim City as a freshman. His brown hair, once in a buzz cut had grown out over the summer and a recent growth spurt had added a few inches to his height.
“Hey guys!” said Astrid, hopping up. “Hey Austin. Hanging out with the girls now?”
“Um, no,” he replied. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
“We just bumped into him on your front step,” said Robot Valerie, her tone and her body language indicating that she thought this was an extremely fortunate turn of events.
“We came hang out,” said Denise. “I don’t know what he’s doing here.”
“Um, Astrid,” said Austin. “Can I talk to you in private?”
“He has a secret project he needs help with,” confided Robot Valerie.
“Sure. Let’s into the living room,” said Astrid, taking him by the elbow. “Why don’t you girls load up Minecraft while I’m gone?”
“So what’s this about a secret project?” she asked him when they were alone.
“I’ve designed a game,” he said. “It’s going to be an app for phones and tablets. But I need somebody to do the coding for me. Do you think you can do it?”
“What’s your idea, Austin?”
“It’s all about these princesses that battle each other. They get stronger and cooler as they gain experience.”
“I suppose these princesses will be scantily clad.”
“Well at first, but then they get this cool armor—they’re still super hot though.”
“Hmm,” said Astrid. “I’m really too busy, between my work on the Board of Directors and my experiments.”
“You don’t like my idea, do you?”
“I’ll be honest with you, Austin. It all sounds a little sexist, but I suppose boys might download it—cause, you know… boys.”
“But it’s a game for girls,” he said, somewhat deflated.
“I really am too busy, anyway,” continued Astrid. “Why don’t you see if Christopher can do it for you? He’s at least as good a coder as I am.”
“All right, I guess,” said Austin. “I’ll see you later.”
Astrid felt a little bit bad as he walked toward the front door, his shoulders slumping, but she really was too busy, especially with her surprise trip to meet Océane Feuillée.
She went back to the family room and joined the girls in a game of extensive game of Minecraft. Later, Astrid and Denise talked while the two Valeries played Ms. Pacman.
That evening, Astrid and Toby went to the movies. The Cinema was a small theater, originally built in 1937 in a town in Kansas. It had later been moved to Maxxim City and rebuilt. Because it had only had one screen and seats for only 122 movie viewers, the Cinema seldom showed the newest movies. It was almost always the classics like An American in Paris. Astrid thought the movie was just as good as Toby had indicated. When he dropped her off at her door, he kissed her on the corner of her mouth.