Astrid Maxxim and the Electric Racecar Challenge has been revised and re-edited. If you purchase this book before, you should be able to redownload it for no additional cost. If you haven’t, then now is the perfect time to add this to your reading library. It’s just 99 cents wherever fine ebooks are sold.
The next day was less regimented, at least in the morning. That’s when Astrid realized that Miss Scacchi had gone a little overboard. Guests started showing up for a party. Eleven girls, all the within a year or two of Astrid’s age, arrived. Astrid couldn’t imagine how Miss Scacchi had come up with this particular list of girls. There were girls that she had always gotten along well with: Alicia Noble, Madison Laurel, and Joanie Blair. Then there were girls that she tried to have as little to do with as possible: Hannah Stark, Taylor Kirkpatrick, and Sierra Brightman. And there were girls she had hardly even ever spoken to: Diana Mills, Chloe Sergeant, Dot Collins, and Amelia Stark, who was back in town after having her appendix taken out. Finally there was her cousin Gloria. Astrid thought they had been getting on extremely well, considering. Why push it?
Miss Scacchi gathered everyone together in the foyer and then led them up the sweeping staircase to the third floor. She had transformed one of the large unused rooms into a vast game room. There was a pool table, two ping pong tables, and an air hockey table. Along one wall was a bank of classic coin operated arcade games. Along the other wall were small tables, each with two chairs, and set up with board games. The entire room was decorated with an Olympics theme. By the door, was a chart set up with progression ladders or score charts for each of the games.
The fifteen girls rotated around playing. Most of them were interested, though not overly enthusiastic, about the games. All that changed when Miss Scacchi rolled in a table filled with gold, silver, and bronze medals. Suddenly the competition grew fierce. They were playing so hard, they didn’t even notice they were hungry until Chef Pierce brought in a cart filled with snacks, including gold medal cookies, and torches made from sugar cones filled with buttered popcorn. By time for dinner, the girls were growing quite tired. Another nearby room had been arrayed with three folding banquet tables covered with the evening meal. Dinner consisted of gold-medal vegetable dip with crisp veggies, Olympic rings of pizza, Olympic rings of fruit pizza with a chocolate cookie crust, and a champion chocolate cake. When they were all stuffed, Miss Scacchi handed out 45 medals. Everyone got at least one. Astrid got gold in Ms. Pacman and Chess, a silver in Q-bert, and a bronze in air hockey. The medals turned out to be chocolate. Then they all watched Chariots of Fire. When vans arrived to take everyone home, the girls were exhausted but happy. And all of them proclaimed Astrid’s party a success.
“We should have had your party planner two months ago,” said Denise. “Compared to this, our birthday parties sucked.”
“Well Astrid,” asked Miss Scacchi. “What did you think?”
“It was the best party I didn’t even realize I was throwing.”
“I’d like to leave for Detroit on the 17th if possible,” she said. “That way I can come home on the 21st, in time to watch the Nova 4 launch and with plenty of time to finish my Christmas shopping.”
“Would you like me to arrange a first class ticket?”
“No, I’ll take a company plane. In fact, I think I’ll fly it. The guys have been bugging me to get my pilot’s license. This will give me enough hours and will count as a cross-country solo flight. I would really appreciate it if you could make sure that I have everything I need for the trip.”
“Of course. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“How about helping me set up a girl’s weekend with Denise, Valerie, and Valerie. I’d like to do something special next weekend—really fancy it up, with invitations and everything. I think I’ve been neglecting them lately, especially Denise.”
“Leave it to me, Astrid.”
“Um, one more thing. I need to get ahold of Governor Hardgrave and ask him to give me an age waver for a student pilot’s license.”
“I’ll call him right away,” said the assistant.
The first part of the week seemed to stretch on forever, as Astrid was looking forward to the first test flight of Ariel, her space plane. When the scheduled time arrived for the test, Thursday afternoon, she stepped out onto the tarmac of the Maxxim airfield in her flight suit. Just as she had told her friends weeks before, Astrid would not be piloting the craft, though she felt more than capable. Instead, two Maxxim test pilots Hugh Chase and Carl Williams would be at the controls. The girl inventor would be along for the ride though, as navigator and flight analyst.
As soon as the three of them climbed aboard and strapped themselves into their seats, Chase called the control tower for clearance. Once they received the go ahead, he ignited the engines. Ariel rumbled to life.
Monday it was back to school as usual. Astrid gave Tomiko Ikeda her schedule, so that she could start planning a meeting for the Calculus III study group. She took notes in her other classes and was starving by the time the lunch period arrived. She sat down with her friends and dug into her meal, which consisted of a lamb chop, confit of salmon, gazpacho, watercress salad, and a chocolate raspberry crumble for dessert.
“Do you suppose we have visitors?” wondered Christopher. “This is a bit much, even for our lunchroom.”
“Stop complaining,” said Austin. “I’ll take your pork chop if you don’t want it.”
“It’s a lamb chop,” said Christopher.
“What do you mean, a lamb chop? They just call it that because it’s small, right? It’s not really part of a little lamb, right?”
“I’m afraid so,” said Bud.
Austin’s face turned pale and he jumped up and hurried from the quad.
“He’s so sensitive,” said Robot Valerie.
“Indeed,” said Christopher, nodding solemnly as he divided Austin’s food between himself and Bud.
“Did you know he would react that way?” asked Astrid.
“He once had a pet sheep,” said Bud. “It came up in conversation.”
In Ancient History, Mr. Hoffman announced the due date for their research assignment: the day before winter break began. This didn’t bother Astrid at all, as she was enjoying writing about the Sumerians far more than she had writing about The Last of the Mohicans. In American Lit, they finished up their discussion of that book, but as she was going out the door, Mr. Hall told the girl inventor that he needed to see her after school in his office. Wondering about it, but not really concerned, she spent the last hour climbing up the rock wall with Toby and Austin, the latter seemingly having regained some of the vigor lost at lunch.
After telling her friends about her visit to Mr. Hall and that she would probably go to her lab afterwards, Astrid said goodbye to them all and walked down to the English Department. When she reached Mr. Hall’s office, he directed her to a chair facing his desk, and he took a large leather desk chair behind it.
“First of all, Astrid,” began Mr. Hall. “Do you have anything to tell me about your paper?”
“No, not really. I guess it probably isn’t as good as some that you’ve read, but I did my best.”
“That’s not what I mean. You are aware that all work submitted by students passes through a cross check program.”
“Sure,” said Astrid. “I always thought that was kind of silly. I mean, you’re an expert on all things English. I’m sure you’d be able to tell if someone copied something just by looking at it.”
Mr. Hall shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
“I’m afraid that your assignment was flagged,” he said. “The system shows the same essay written by a student in California six months ago.”
“That’s not possible,” said Astrid. “I just wrote it.”
Thanksgiving had always been a fairly small family affair at the Maxxim household, so this year was quite a big departure. Uncle Carl, Aunt Lauren, and Gloria, joined them for the first time in Astrid’s life. Aunt Penelope arrived with them. The Bundersmiths were also in attendance. Toby and his father seemed natural enough, but it was the first time that Astrid had ever seen their Aunt Gerta anywhere that she wasn’t the primary cook. Finally, there were the Maxxim’s three new staff members, whom Dr. Maxxim made sure to invite. Of course Llywelya Pierce had to be there anyway, as she was cooking the meal.
Although it rarely got too cold in the American Southwest, the wind did whip up, making it slightly too cool to relax on the deck. Since the living room was currently out of order, Astrid’s mother had ordered some of the living room furniture moved to a sitting room, which was decorated for the feast, just off the formal dining room. Astrid couldn’t ever remember seeing the sitting room used, and she hadn’t even been in it since she was about eight. So, leaving it to the adults, she and Toby commandeered the family room and watched the parade on TV.
“What are you two doing?”
Astrid looked over her shoulder to see Gloria, followed by Penelope, entering the cozy room. They took seats on the recliner and couch.
“We’re watching the parade,” said Toby. “We’ve made a game of it. Every time anybody on TV says the word ‘balloon’ you have to jump up and shout ‘Huzzah!”
They watched a school group perform a dance routine to a Beyoncé song. Then the program’s hosts appeared sitting side by side on the screen. A small window popped up in the corner showing a partially deflated Peanuts character.
“Oh no!” exclaimed the female host. “Snoopy is caught up in the electrical wires.”
“Oh, you hate to see that happen,” said the male host. “This is the third straight year they’ve had problems with that balloon.”
“Huzzah!” shouted Penelope, jumping to her feet.
The other three stared at her and then burst out laughing.
“You three suck,” she said, sitting down with a pout. Then a moment later, “Who can we get next?”
“I don’t think either of my parents would jump up and shout, even if it wasn’t a joke,” said Gloria.
“Mine either,” said Astrid. “Well, maybe my dad.”
“My dad would probably fall for it,” said Toby. “I’ll go get him.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t play a trick on him like that,” said Penelope.
Gloria shot Astrid a knowing look. It was clear that she had figured out the same thing that Astrid had—Penelope was infatuated with Mr. Bundersmith.
“Huzzah!” said Astrid, jumping to her feet.
The others looked at her.
“They said ‘balloon,’ and it looked like fun when Penelope did it.”
Toby laughed and Gloria rolled her eyes. Soon they were all playing the game for real, and they had to jump up and shout six times as Underdog made his journey through Manhattan. By the time they were called to their meal, all four were exhausted.
Astrid was sad that she didn’t have any classes with Denise this year or with either Valerie, but they were all waiting for her at the lunch line. After a quick hello, they entered the queue and picked up their tray before heading to their regular table near the center of the quad. Lunch was chicken breast with white wine herb basting sauce, with garlic potatoes, sliced heirloom tomatoes, and green beans, and a raspberry white chocolate mousse for dessert.
“Yum, pudding,” said Austin, plopping himself down next to Astrid. “Or as we say in français, pudding.”
“The call it mousse in France,” said Denise. “And you know what? They call it that in America too.”
“It’s not my fault I don’t know about all this fancy food,” he said, as Toby and Christopher took their seats. “I’m just a poor orphan trying to make my way in a strange school. I’m like Harry Potter.”
“Austin is right,” said Astrid. “We don’t want to sound like food snobs.”
“Whatever you say, Hermione,” said Denise.
It was a cool breezy day in Maxxim City. As they walked the carefully cultivated sidewalk, the overhanging trees were now denuded of leaves. But living in the southwest, it seldom got very cold and no measureable snowfall had come to the area in more than forty years. When they reached the corner of Acacia and Fourth, they found Christopher and Denise waiting in the usual spot, right at the corner of the Brown family lawn. Though Christopher lived two blocks down, on Cyprus, he often met Denise at her door and waited with her for Astrid and Toby.
“Ask Astrid,” Denise told Christopher.
“Ask me what?”
“Whether you like the school uniform,” said Christopher.
Students at Rachel Carson High School wore the school uniform. Boys wore a blue blazer with the school crest, white shirt, blue tartan tie, blue slacks, blue tartan socks, and black Oxfords. Girls wore the same blazer, tie, and white shirt, along with a tartan blue pleated skirt, tartan blue knee socks and black and white Oxfords. Girls had the option of wearing blue slacks, but few did. It was all pretty easy because the school gave each student four shirts and two of everything else at the beginning of each semester.
“What’s wrong with the uniform?” wondered Astrid. “It’s the same as last year.”
“Other schools don’t have uniforms,” said Denise.
“Other schools don’t have a lot of things we have,” said Christopher.
“Don’t rock the boat,” said Astrid. “I have a hard enough time picking out my clothes on the weekend. Don’t ruin the rest of the week for me.”
The four of them walked down the short, sloping block to Fifth Street and were all shocked to find the two Valeries by their front door. Valerie usually kept them waiting while making last minute touches to her hair. From the Diaz home it was a short walk to the Main Street Monorail Station. Waiting on the platform were dozens of other students, including Austin and Bud. The train slid into the station and they all climbed aboard.
Astrid led the group away from the public area to one of the hangers. Using a key card, she let them in the side door of a large aircraft hanger. With a flip of a nearby switch, powerful lights suspended from the very high ceiling illuminated the entire building. Sitting in the center was the most remarkable aircraft they had ever seen—Astrid’s space plane. It was shaped something like a short arrow with a large arrowhead. The pointed nose arched back to a wide cabin. Then the fuselage narrowed, only to widen a bit in the back to contain powerful rocket engines, which had not yet been installed. Just in front of where those engines would be located, was a small wing on either side. In addition to a very large window in front of the cockpit, there were two large windows on either side of the craft.
“It’s not as pointy as I expected it to be,” said Valerie.
“She’s right,” said Toby. “Every supersonic aircraft I’ve seen is a lot more sleek.”
“And I thought it would be black, like a stealth fighter,” said Austin, “or maybe silver. This is beige.”
“It’s off white,” said Valerie.
“Eggshell,” offered Denise.
“It’s called ‘simply white’,” said Astrid, with a frown. “The astridium coating could have been made in any color. I chose this because it’s the same color as my first computer. I was feeling kind of nostalgic. The astridium, which covers a cooled nickel-titanium skin, is also why it doesn’t have to be quite so angular. It also allows for larger windows, since they are made from the same transparent astridium I used in my undersea dome, thicker though. I think she’s beautiful.”
“It will be supersonic though, right?” asked Toby.
“Hypersonic,” said Astrid. “She should be able to make mach-6 in the upper atmosphere.”
“How fast is that?” asked Austin.
“4,132 mph,” said Astrid. “Of course in space, she’ll fly at 30,000 mph or more.”
“Can you fly it to the moon?” asked Regular Valerie.
“No,” said Astrid, “but she will fly much higher than the NASA space shuttles ever did. She’ll be able to reach geostationary orbit to repair telecommunications satellites for instance. That’s an altitude of 22,236 miles above sea level.”
“Can we go inside?” wondered Austin.
Astrid led them to the far side of the spacecraft where a set of steps led up to an open hatch. The interior was divided into a cockpit and an aft cabin. The former contained the flight instrumentation and seats for five crewmen. The latter, despite containing four workstations for mechanical and scientific work, was very spacious.
“So, nine astronauts?” said Christopher.
“The normal crew compliment is five,” said Astrid. “They would all be up front during takeoff and landing. Back here is the work and living area.”
“I don’t see any beds or a toilet,” said Denise.
“There is a zero gravity waste disposal system in the back. In space though, you don’t really need beds. The crew will sleep in sleeping bags that Velcro to the ceiling and walls.”
“So when are you going to fly it?” asked Robot Valerie.
“We’ll be installing the engines next week,” said Astrid. “Then comes the ground test. The atmospheric test flights should begin before the end of the year. But it won’t be me flying. I don’t even have a pilot’s license.”
“You should get yours,” said Christopher. “The governor would give you special permission like he did Toby and me, so not being sixteen yet won’t be a problem.”
“Besides,” said Toby. “I’ve seen you fly several times now and you’re better than any of us.”
“I’ll think about it,” replied the girl inventor. “In any case, it will be a trained test pilot taking her up for the first time.”
“Why do you keep calling it ‘she’ and ‘her’?” wondered Regular Valerie.
“It’s kind of traditional for ships and spacecraft to have a female pronoun.”
“Well, does she have a name?” asked Denise.
“Sure.” Astrid smiled. “I kind of have a fantasy about building a fleet of ten space planes, so I have ten names. The first one… this one… she’s Ariel.”
“You didn’t name them all after Disney princesses did you?” asked Austin.
Toby looked at his wrist. “Thirteen minutes.” He turned to show the device strapped to his arm to everyone else on the row. “See? I got my Astrid watch when I got my Astrid phone.”
“That’s not what they’re called,” said Astrid.
“Really? Because that’s what the guy at the electronics store called it.”
The wristwatch device that had been dubbed by marketing specialists the Maxxim Carpé was a high powered computer in its own right and when paired with the Maxxim Phone it was even more powerful. It came in about two-dozen different styles including the one that Toby had with a dark blue band and a blue and grey bezel—The Mariner. Astrid had originally designed the wearable computer as a Fathers Day present for her dad, but her work could also be found all through the phone. She had written part of the operating system for both devices and designed the batteries that powered them.
“That is so cool,” said Austin from the far end of the row. “My grandma said I could have one for my birthday if I promise not to lose it.”
“I hope you didn’t promise,” said Christopher. “There’s no way you’re not going to lose it.”
Austin had a history of misplacing all kinds of things, including his phone and other electronic devices. He was once bitten by a rattlesnake while looking for a lost PDA.
“That’s the beauty of it,” said Austin. “It has a built in app so it can’t get lost. Your phone will lead you right to it.”
“I confess to thinking of you when I wrote that app,” said Astrid.
“You’re welcome world,” said Austin.
“The countdown is at ten minutes,” said the voice over the loudspeaker.
“I love my phone,” said Toby, fishing it out of his pocket. “I’m surprised that Maxxim never made one before.”
“It’s a tough market, so I think my mother thought we couldn’t compete,” Astrid explained. “She’s probably right. We’ll never be the industry leader, but my dad and I think if we just make the best phones in the world, that will be enough.”
Toby held the phone up for her to see that he had set the wallpaper to Astrid’s new school picture. It was a good likeness, and picture day that year had been a great hair day, but still it made Astrid uneasy seeing her image looking back from the screen.
“Bow down before me,” she whispered.
“What?” asked Toby.
“Nothing. Um… I think it would be better if you took me off your wallpaper.”
“Well, um… somebody might find your phone and think it’s mine.”
“Then you could give it to me,” he said slowly, as if trying to find the meaning behind her words. “Are you mad because we haven’t been on another evening date since Junior Prom?”
“It’s just been such a busy summer, Astrid. I was in Europe and you were in Antarctica and then working. It just seemed like whenever we had time the whole gang should get together.”
“No, really,” said Astrid. “I’m not angry about that… or anything really. I just think you should put something else as your wallpaper—maybe something manly. You could put um… football or a truck or maybe Iron Man.”