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 4 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim 2The teen inventor always looked forward to Fencing. It was the last class of the day, and more importantly Toby, and Christopher too, took the class with her. When she got there however, she saw not only her two close friends, but Gloria as well. She was standing by the foils talking to Diego Martinez and Mark McGovern, the biggest bully in the freshman class. Once the class had donned their jackets, gloves, and masks; and picked up their foils, they faced off against one another. As usual, Astrid was paired with Bud Collins.

“Can I ask you a question?” he said, as they sparred.

“Sure. It’s not about Gloria, is it?”

“Do you know if anyone has asked Valerie to the Junior Prom?”

“No, I don’t. I would think that she’s waiting for you to ask, since you went to the Spring Fling together.”

“Well, that didn’t go all that well,” he replied.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I was trying to compliment her, but I think the opposite kind of came out of my mouth. She didn’t speak much after that.”

“What did you say?”

“I just said she should get her photograph taken…”

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” said Astrid.

“… with one of those fuzzy lenses.”

“Oh, yeah. Well I could see where that could go wrong.”

“I tried to fix it, but it just got worse.”

“Well, I’m sure she’s forgotten all about it.”

“Do you really think so?” asked Bud, hopefully.

“Not a chance,” said Astrid.

“All right everyone,” called Mr. Chevalier. “Time to pair up for some serious fencing.”

Astrid knew the ranking chart without looking. She was sixth in the class, right behind Christopher. That meant that they were usually, as in so much of their academic lives, competing against one another. Toby was ranked number one. When she looked up at the display screen above at the weapons rack though, she wasn’t paired with Christopher. The students weren’t matched by ranking at all. They were paired up alphabetically. And that meant that she was paired with her cousin Gloria.

“What the heck is this?” she wondered.

“I decided that today we should have a change,” said Mr. Chevalier, his Austrian accent becoming more pronounced. “Some of us are in need of a little challenge.”

“All right nerd,” said Gloria, taking her position in front of Astrid. “Time to feel my steel. En Garde!”

At the end of the day, the gang met near the monorail station.

“It wasn’t the most lopsided match I’ve ever seen,” said Christopher.

“Of course not,” replied Astrid. “We were perfectly matched. She was the pin and I was the pin cushion.”

“I honestly thought you would do better,” Toby told Astrid. “I’ve seen you fence much better than that. You need to stop letting Gloria intimidate you. You’re better than she is.”

“At least your match wasn’t as lopsided as Toby’s,” said Christopher.

Toby hung his head.

“I feel so bad about that. I like Bud, you know?”

“What did you do to Bud?” demanded Valerie.

“He crushed him like a bug,” said Christopher. “I thought he was going to cry.”

“I’d better go see if he’s okay,” she said, getting up and looking around.

“I tried to let him score,” continued Toby, as she walked away. “I all but stepped into his thrust, but he just wouldn’t touch me.”

“I guess some days you just can’t lose,” Astrid told him. “No matter how hard you try.”

“That might be a Toby Bundersmith problem,” said Austin. “But it has never been an Austin Tretower problem.”

“Come on, Astrid,” said Christopher. “It’s our turn to clean the school this week.”

Astrid Maxxim and her Undersea Dome – Chapter 3 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim 2The next morning, showered and dressed in her school uniform, Astrid found her parents in the breakfast room eating waffles. Her father got up from the table and intercepted her with a big embrace. He was a tall, handsome man, with just a touch of grey hair at his temples.

“Astrid, I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed you,” he said.

“Same here,” she replied. “But I had a great time in Cartagena.”

“I bet you did. Fortunately you had no trouble on your trip.” He spoke with emphasis and nodded his head conspiratorially toward Mrs. Maxxim.”

“Nothing, as long as you consider air-to-air missiles and sharks nothing,” said Mrs. Maxxim, setting a plate down at the table for her daughter.

Kate Maxxim was a tall, blond woman. Though it was still early, she was already dressed in a sharp blue business suit, her hair and makeup looking like something out of a fashion magazine.

“I’m not really hungry, Mom.”

“Eat one waffle,” her mother ordered.

Astrid ate quickly as her father filled her in on the production of several new products, the most important of which, as far as the girl inventor was concerned, were the components for her undersea dome. Before she knew it, she had finished her waffle.

“All right, got to go,” she called back as she dashed out of the room.

“Learn stuff!” called her father.

If her mother said anything, it was lost in the sound of her rushing out the front door.

At the point where their two yards joined, Toby waited for her. As always, he was neatly dressed, and his hair was brushed with his brown bangs hanging down lazily above his eyes. His backpack was on the ground by his feet as he adjusted his tie.

“Back to the salt mine,” he said. “I was just getting used to going without a tie.”

“Here, let me,” said Astrid, sliding the tie’s knot into just the right position. “I kind of like wearing a tie.”

“Well, girls look better in them than boys do.”

“I suspect you think girls look better in just about everything,” she said.

“I do,” he agreed. “I really do.”

“Come on, Romeo. We’re going to be late.”

“You know that’s actually a misnomer,” he said, as they walked the carefully cultivated sidewalk, shaded by overhanging trees. “Romeo wasn’t smooth at all. He was kind of goofy, really.”

“See? And you thought you wouldn’t like Renaissance Literature.”

“Oh, I like Shakespeare.” He stopped, and placing one hand on his chest, lifted the other into the air. “But soft. What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Astrid is the sun. Arise fair sun and kill the envious moon, already sick and pale with grief that thou her maid art far more fair than she.”

“You better not have been looking in my window,” she said with a sly smile.

“Don’t be silly. Your room doesn’t even have a window. Besides, you’re supposed to be more impressed.”

“Oh, should I swoon?” Astrid placed the back of her hand over her forehead. “Oh Romeo, Romeo. Where for art thou Romeo? What’s the next line?”

“I didn’t memorize the girl parts.”

Astrid laughed.

“Seriously,” said Toby, suddenly looking nervous. “Wouldst thou venture forth with me unto the Junior Prom?”

“That’s still more than a month away,” Astrid pointed out.

“You told me not to wait until the last minute.”

“I did, didn’t I? Of course I will go to the Prom with you.”

“Thanks,” said Toby, suddenly not nervous at all.

Astrid Maxxim and her Undersea Dome – Chapter 2 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim 2Early Monday morning, the four young Americans arrived at the airport. Their plane was awaiting them, all serviced, fueled, and ready to go. The Maxxim Starcraft 170 was a sharp, if unusual looking aircraft. Designed by Astrid’s father Dr. Roger Maxxim, the 47 foot long Starcraft featured a long pointy fuselage with a small canard wing just behind the nose. The main wing was at the back of the aircraft, and carried twin turboprop engines, with the propellers facing rearward. These were known as push-props. The cabin, which could accommodate up to nine passengers, was more than spacious with just Astrid and Denise and their carryon luggage. Dennis and Toby took their places as pilot and co-pilot respectively.

An hour later, the Starcraft was soaring westward over the Atlantic Ocean. Though no jet, its cruising speed of 320 mph would carry them back in Maxxim City in under ten hours, even allowing for a short refueling stop in Atlanta. The girls carried on a spirited game of Toad Town using their MX-360 PDAs.

“Do you want to go sit up front?” asked Dennis, walking back down the aisle. “I’ve got to make a pit stop. Toby’s got the stick.”

“I told you that you shouldn’t drink so much orange juice right before takeoff,” said Denise.

Her brother ignored her and continued on toward the diminutive restroom at the rear of the cabin. Astrid unbuckled her seatbelt, walked to the cockpit, and carefully climbed into the pilot’s seat, strapping herself in.

“This is cool,” she said.

“I know,” said Toby. “By the time we get home, I’ll have enough hours to pilot one of these babies myself.”

“Good, you can fly us to Hawaii in two weeks.”

“I don’t know if I can go,” he said. “I haven’t asked yet. I know my dad will be fine with it, but Aunt Gerta thinks that I spend too much time away from home.”

Toby’s great aunt had come to live with him two years before, when his mother had passed away after a long struggle with cancer.

“What the heck is that?” cried Toby, as a loud beeping rang out in the small compartment.

“It’s the SAR,” said Astrid. “Somebody’s fired a missile at us.”

She pointed to the round radarscope at the bottom center of the control panel. It showed a blip coming up toward them from behind.

“What do I do?” asked Toby.

“I’ve got it,” said Astrid.

Taking the control stick in her left hand, she grabbed the twin throttles with her right, shoving them both forward. The engines screamed as they pushed the aircraft toward its maximum speed of 400 mph. Astrid didn’t take her eyes off the radar. The blip, indicating the missile, came closer and closer toward the center of the amber screen. At the last moment, she jerked left on the stick as she stamped down of the corresponding foot pedal and the plane rolled over onto its back. She and Toby watched as a missile shot past them, below the plane, and from their upside down perspective, just above their heads. It flew right through the space where the Starcraft had been.

Astrid flipped the plane back right side up and banked right in a climbing turn.

“What in the world is going on!” shouted Dennis behind them. “Are you trying to crash us?”

“There was a missile,” said Toby. “She just saved all of our lives.”

“Now let’s see if we can find out who shot at us,” said Astrid.

They spotted several recently made contrails high up in the sky, but no other aircraft in their vicinity.

“I’m sure that was an air-to-air missile,” said the girl inventor. “Our attacker must have high-tailed it as soon as they fired.”

“Just a couple of weeks ago they were trying to kidnap you,” said Toby. “Now they’re trying to kill you.”

“Yeah,” mused Astrid. “I wish they would hurry up and make up their mind.”

Astrid Maxxim and her Undersea Dome – Chapter 1 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim 2Shark!

Denise Brown tapped frantically on her friend Astrid’s shoulder to get her attention. Astrid Maxxim’s focus, like the focus of her underwater camera, was fixed on the bright orange starfish, which rested on the top of the coral outcropping as if waiting for its picture to be taken. Astrid snapped a photo before turning to see what was agitating her dive partner. Denise pointed at the shark, and then to make sure that she was getting the message across, made a fin with her hand and put it on top of her head. Astrid held up her fingers about an inch apart in the universal symbol for small. Denise shook her head violently and shot up toward the surface.

In exasperation, Astrid blew out bubbles around her regulator, and then kicked her way back up to the surface of the Mediterranean. She spat out her mouthpiece and pulled the dive mask up onto her forehead.

“We’ve got fifteen minutes left before we’re done,” she said.

“Shark!” shouted Denise, scrambling up the ladder that hung from the side of the small boat.

“Shark?” said Toby Bundersmith, who was waiting topside. He threw aside his Batman comic and helped Denise up the ladder. “That’s lucky. I was hoping to see a shark when I was in the water, but I didn’t.”

“Come on, Denise,” called Astrid. “I still haven’t got a picture of a lobster yet.”

“There is a shark!”

“It’s only a little one,” said Astrid. “It is more afraid of you than you are of it.”

“That’s not possible,” said Denise. “And it wasn’t little. It was big—large, hefty, colossal, enormous, gigantic, mammoth, massive, oversized, tremendous, vast.”

Astrid tossed the camera up to Toby. “It was little—tiny, inconsequential, minuscule, petite, teeny, undersized, microscopic, miniature, did I say miniature already, no? runty, bitty, wee.”

“Come on,” said Toby, holding his hand down for Astrid. “I’m getting bored up here anyway. Let’s go in and have lunch.”

“Hurry up and get in the boat before that shark gets you,” said Denise, helping Astrid up.

“Honestly,” said Astrid. “It was the size of a dachshund.”

“I got bit by a wiener dog once and had to have five stitches,” replied Denise. “He didn’t have shark’s teeth either, just regular dog teeth.”

Astrid Maxxim and her Undersea Dome – 99 cents at Apple Books

Astrid Maxxim 2Girl inventor Astrid Maxxim and her friends are back. This time Astrid is building an observation dome beneath the sea. Will she complete her amazing construction project, or will she be sidetracked by underwater monsters, the evil organization known as the Black Hand, or her snotty cousin Gloria?

Astrid Maxxim and her Undersea Dome at Apple Books

Astrid Maxxim and her Amazing Hoverbike – Chapter 10 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim and her Amazing HoverbikeThe next morning, Mr. Bundersmith again took the kids to school. They didn’t go to first period this morning though, but collected in their team rooms with the seniors who would serve as their guides on the field trip. Then they loaded up onto the monorail train for the trip to the Saguaro Cactus Park, located deep within the Maxxim campus. There were 105 freshmen on the trip, divided up into groups of five. Each group was guided by a senior. Dennis Brown led Astrid and Christopher, as well as Alicia Noble, Madison Laurel, and Bud Collins. Each of them carried a small backpack, containing their lunches and their personal digital assistants.

Supervising the entire gathering was Dr. Franklin the Geology teacher, Dr. Ikeda the Biology Teacher, History teacher Mr. Hoffman, and five parent volunteers.

Technically there wasn’t a monorail station in the Saguaro Cactus Park. However there was a platform forty feet in the sky and a stairway leading down to the desert floor. The students and teachers climbed out of the train and made their way down to assemble into their groups at the foot of the stairs, as the monorail whooshed away.

“Alright guys,” said Dennis, taking charge. “We’re going to walk about two hundred yards due east. There’s an outcropping just above a dry riverbed there where I think you’ll find some great samples.”

The freshmen dutifully followed him through the sand, around rocks, prickly pear cactus and towering saguaros. Alicia and Madison happily snapped pictures of the various plants, squealing excitedly when they identified a teddybear cholla. Astrid made note of the various cactus varieties too, but she really wanted an example of the wildlife. She began looking in the many holes around the bases of the cactus plants.

“Watch out there,” said Dennis. “There are five different kinds of rattlesnakes around here and I don’t want either one of us bitten by any of them.”

“I don’t want to be bitten either,” said Astrid. “But I wouldn’t mind getting a few snapshots.”

When they reached the dry riverbed, she found not a snake, but a large chuckwalla lizard that had taken refuge in a crack on the rock face. She took a dozen photographs and recorded her findings on her MX-360. The beast was about eighteen inches long, and its orange colored body indicated that it was a male of the species. She tried coaxing it out of the crack, but the lizard closed its eyes and ignored her. By the time lunch rolled around, she had photos and notes on half a dozen different lizards—no snakes or tortoises though.

As the six students sat on a large rock, in the shade of the outcropping and ate their lunches of ham and cheese sandwiches, they compared their findings. Bud, who was the only student in the group besides Astrid working on desert animal life, had found and photographed coyote, rabbit, and kangaroo rat tracks. He and Astrid shared their data by bumping their MX-360s together. An hour later, Dennis guided them all back to where they had started, to find another monorail train waiting to take them back to Rachel Carson High School.

“I hope you found plenty of interest, Astrid,” said Dr. Ikeda. “I’m expecting something great from you.”

“I think I got everything I need,” replied Astrid.

Toby and Denise approached the staircase from the west and gave Astrid a wave. They both looked just as pleased with their field trip as she was. When she saw Austin trudging back in the rear of his group however, his face was clouded over by a frown. Once everyone was aboard the train and it was on its way, she stepped forward to where he was sitting to see what the problem was.

“Um, nothing,” said Austin. “I’m just worried about… um, putting all this stuff together. I never had to write a really big assignment, um, paper, like this before.”

“Don’t worry,” said Astrid. “You’ve got lots of time and I’ll be glad to help you.”

Austin nodded, but looked far from happy.

Astrid Maxxim and her Amazing Hoverbike – Chapter 7 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim and her Amazing HoverbikeThey had just finished eating when the phone rang.

“It’s for you, Astrid,” said Mr. Richards.

“Hello,” said Astrid, putting the phone to her ear.

“Astrid, please you must come at once. We need you.”

“Mrs. Diaz? What’s wrong?”

“It’s Valerie,” replied her friend’s mother. “She’s very sick.”

“Did you call Dr. Lower?”

“No, no. It’s my other Valerie.”

“You mean Robot Valerie?”

“Aye, si,” said Mrs. Diaz. “She feels week and she won’t eat ever since you turned her into a robot.”

“I didn’t turn her into a robot!” said Astrid, exasperated. “She’s always been a robot.”

“Please come and help her.”

Mr. Brown gave Astrid and Denise a lift over to the Diaz home where they found Valerie and her mother wringing their hands as Robot Valerie lay rather stiffly across the sofa.

“I tried to get her to eat some chicken soup,” said Mrs. Diaz.

“She can’t eat,” said Astrid, more exasperated than ever. “She’s a robot.”

“But she’s so week and she feels so sick,” said Valerie.

“Did you plug her in?”

“What do you mean?”

Astrid lifted Robot Valerie’s right arm and pressed a small recessed button. A compartment door opened and she pulled out a retractable cable. Unlike the rest of the United States which used NEMA 1-15 two prong or NEMA 5-15 three prong electrical outlets, Maxxim City and Maxxim Industries used an Excalibur interface plug, a smart plug capable of channeling a wide variety of power levels and data at the same time. Astrid plugged the tiny square plug into a matching outlet on the wall of the Diaz living room, right behind the end table.

“I feel better,” said Robot Valerie.

“I’m surprised you managed to go this long without a recharge,” said Astrid. “Why didn’t you plug yourself in?”

“I didn’t know I had to.”