Astrid Maxxim and the Electric Racecar Challenge – Chapter 4 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim and the Electric Racecar ChallengeThey walked the carefully cultivated sidewalks that led gently down the slope of the hill. The trees were still empty of leaves, but the grass remained green thanks to irrigation. A slight breeze whipped around their feet, but they were warm enough in their school blazers. At the corner of Acacia and Fourth, Christopher waited for them.

“Where’s Denise?” wondered Astrid, pointing to her best friend’s house. Denise usually waited with Christopher.

He shrugged. “She decided it was too cold and had her brother drive her.”

“That girl is too skinny,” opined Toby. “She doesn’t have enough body fat on her to keep warm.”

“I was going to say she was too cold-blooded,” said Christopher, “but I agree with you.”

“On or off?” asked Astrid.

“What?”

“You and Denise.” Christopher and Denise were famous for their on-again off-again dating relationship.

“Um, on, I think,” Christopher replied. “I asked her to the Spring Fling, and she said yes.”

“Oh my gosh, I completely forgot about the Spring Fling.” Astrid looked at Toby, but he didn’t say anything.

The three friends walked down the short, sloping block to Fifth Street to the Diaz home. Robot Valerie stepped out the door as soon as they arrived. Except for her silver-blue metallic skin and her electric blue hair, she looked just like any other high school student, with a uniform blazer and skirt just like Astrid’s. The girl inventor of course now remembered that her friend was a product of her own RG-7 project, which had set a new technological standard for robotics and cybernetics.

“Valerie will be out in a minute,” said Robot Valerie. “She’s still working on her hair.”

The others nodded knowingly. After nearly ten minutes, the human Valerie Diaz emerged and hurried to join her friends.

“You look nice,” said Astrid.

“Thanks. I think Bud might ask me to the dance, so I couldn’t go out with my hair sticking any which way.” She put her hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry Astrid.”

The girl inventor’s face fell.

“I knew I looked hideous,” she sighed.

“That’s not what Valerie meant,” said Robot Valerie, casting an angry eye at her human twin.

“Of course not. I just meant… oh, I don’t know what I meant. You’re very cute Astrid, no matter what your hair looks like, and in a short time it will all grow back anyway.”

“This is one of those situations when everybody should just stop talking,” said Christopher. “Let’s get to the monorail station.”

Everyone else agreed. It took them only ten minutes to walk from Valerie’s house to the monorail station on Main Street. The top of the raised platform was where they usually met Austin, but he wasn’t present that morning. They did however run into Bud Collins and his younger sister Dot. Astrid now recognized Bud as the tall, thin boy with black hair that had visited her in the hospital.

“Hey Bud,” called Toby.

“Hey guys,” said Bud, but his eyes were focused clearly on Regular Valerie, who batted her lashes at him.

“Hello, Astrid,” said Dot. “I’m glad you’re okay. Your hair looks cute.”

“Thanks,” replied Astrid, elbowing Valerie. “That makes me feel welcome.”

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Astrid Maxxim and the Electric Racecar Challenge – Chapter 3 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim and her Hypersonic Space PlaneAstrid pressed the power button and felt the hoverbike hum to life as it slowly lifted off the ground. Driving it out the door of the pool house, she pulled back on the controls as she pressed her foot down on the throttle, and guided the hoverbike upward. Shooting over the top of the house, she zoomed through the sky toward the Maxxim Industries campus.

The girl inventor didn’t fly as rapidly or in as straight a line as she could have. She enjoyed the view below along the way, and munched on her breakfast burrito as she flew. It was more than an hour before she set down in front of the fourteen story, half mile wide R&D building. Few employees were on duty, but a security guard helped her bring the hoverbike indoors and put it in a storeroom. At the top of the glass elevator, Astrid found the desk of office manager Flora Purcell empty. Her father’s lab, just beyond, was equally as still. This wasn’t surprising, as he spent much of his time at the airfield or the rocket launch facility. He always had something interesting going on here though. Several large lasers had been set up for an experiment. Astrid looked forward to asking him about them. Just past her father’s lab, was her own, a smaller but equally equipped workspace. She smiled as she ran her hands along the top of the workbenches and checked the equipment.

Astrid’s phone rang from her pocket. Rather than pulling it out or answering it with her Carpé Aviatrix watch, she stepped around her desk and touched her hand to the screen of her workstation. Immediately a man’s face appeared. He was in his thirties, with sandy hair and glasses, and was wearing a Maxxim Motor Cars lab coat.

“Hello?”

“Oh, Miss Maxxim,” he looked startled. “I was expecting to get your voice mail.”

“Well you got me. What can I do for you, Mister…”

“Daystrom, Bill Daystrom. I was instructed by Mr. Maxxim, um… that is, your uncle, to update you on the batteries for the Meteor test frame.”

“The what?”

“The um, Maxxim Meteor.”

“Oh yes, my electric racecar. What about the batteries?”

“Well, they’re functioning perfectly, but we’re still having a problem with the charging time. As you know, the batteries will power the vehicle at full throttle for two hundred miles. Ordinarily, we would need to charge the vehicle overnight, but by applying high amperage DC power directly to the battery, instead of going through charging equipment, we’ve been able to reduce the time to eighteen minutes.”

“No, no, no!” shouted Astrid. “I’m going to be up against Tracy Shannon’s racing team. Do you understand? They’re going to refuel their car, change all four tires, and probably clean the windows too, all in seconds! I can’t sit there for eighteen minutes waiting for my car to recharge.”

Astrid Maxxim and the Electric Racecar Challenge – Chapter 2 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim and the Electric Racecar ChallengeAstrid spent the evening after her parents left being bored. The hospital staff wouldn’t let her watch TV, surf the web, or listen to the radio. They wouldn’t even get her a three year old magazine from a waiting room to read. Finally, after much begging and pleading, Niri the night nurse, a large woman with brown skin and blond hair, brought her a dog-eared Isaac Asimov paperback entitled The Naked Sun. She read two thirds of the book before bedtime.

The following morning, Astrid woke to a doctor, along with Amelia the day nurse, examining her.

“How are you feeling this morning, Astrid?” the doctor, a thin red-haired woman asked.

“How many doctors do I have anyway?” Astrid asked.

“More than is usual,” the doctor laughed. “I’m Dr. Crawford, your neurologist. I performed the surgery on your head. You also have an orthopedist and a supervising physician.”

“I hope all that’s covered by insurance.”

“You don’t need to worry about that,” said Amelia. “You’re a…”

Dr. Crawford stopped her, amid sentence, with a raised hand.

“Do you remember anything more this morning?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

“Well, there’s no guarantee, but I feel very optimistic about your recovery. In the meantime, I brought you something to occupy your time.” She set a notebook computer in Astrid’s lap. “I’d like you to try out this game. You might like it.”

“This isn’t really a game, is it?” asked Astrid. “This is a brain test. You want to see if I’ve got all my marbles.”

“Yes, it is a brain test, but it’s also a game. I want to see if anything besides your memory has been affected.”

Astrid spent the next few hours running through the various brain puzzles that made up the game. Just after noon, Amelia brought her a sandwich and soup for lunch, and afterwards gave her a sponge bath. Not long after that, she arrived to tell Astrid that she had more visitors.

“Shall I send them in one at a time, or do you feel up to seeing them all at once?”

“How many of them are there?”

“Seven.”

“I guess they can all come in, if there’s room.”

A minute later the room was crowded with teenagers. Astrid smiled when she saw her best friend Denise Brown. Slightly on the skinny side, with long blond hair and green eyes, Denise had been Astrid’s friend since they were little. Next to her was Christopher Harris, a tall handsome boy with chocolate brown skin and black hair. He had the highest grades of anyone at school, with the exception of Astrid. Then there was Austin Tretower, a sandy-haired boy, who despite seeming to be thoroughly average in just about every way, was one of Astrid’s best friends. Next to him were two tall boys. One was thin with black hair. The other was muscular and very handsome, with brown bangs that hung down just above his eyes. Finally, there were two other girls. Both were shorter than Denise with flashing eyes. The first had long black hair, while the other had blue hair and bluish-metallic skin.

“Oh my gosh!” exclaimed Astrid. “You’re a robot! Just like in The Naked Sun!”

“The naked what?” exclaimed the robot.

“Astrid, don’t you remember Valerie?” asked the black-haired girl next to her.

“Um, sorry. She looks just like you. Did you build her?”

“No, Astrid. You did.”

Astrid Maxxim and the Electric Racecar Challenge – Chapter 1 Complete

Astrid Maxxim and the Electric Racecar ChallengeAstrid opened her eyes. All she could see were shadows—human shaped shadows leaning over her. All she could hear were whispers and beeps and a swooshing sound. Every single part of her hurt. Then everything went black. When she opened her eyes again, things made more sense. She was in a hospital room. Light was streaming in through the window blinds. A woman in colorful hospital scrubs was leaning over her.

“Awake?” the woman asked.

Astrid tried to nod, but she couldn’t. So she tried to speak but the only thing that came out was a croak.

“Don’t try to move your head. It’s immobilized. Let me get you a sip of water.” She held up a cup with a straw and Astrid sipped. It was like swallowing razor blades. “I know. It hurts. Don’t worry. It will get better. Try another sip.”

“Are you… nurse?” Astrid managed after the second sip.

“Yes. My name is Amelia. I’m your day nurse. I’m going to get the doctor. If you promise not to try to move very much, I’ll unfasten your hands.”

Up until that moment, Astrid hadn’t realized it, but her hands were tied to the sides of the bed. She saw, once Amelia had untied them, that there were intravenous fluids going through a needle stuck in her left arm behind her left wrist. Her right arm was in a cast. The nurse left, and returned a few minutes later with a dark-haired, handsome man wearing a white lab coat.

“Hello, Astrid,” he said. “I’m Dr. Phillips. I’m going to take a quick look at you, if you don’t mind.” He looked at her eyes with a tiny flashlight and then examined the top of her head.

“Can you wiggle your fingers? How about your toes.” All of the appendages seemed to be functioning correctly.

“What happened?” Astrid’s voice was a whisper.

“Well, what do you remember?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing? Do you know your name? Do you know how old you are?”

“I’d know I was Astrid even if I didn’t remember. You just called me that. I’m Astrid Maxxim. I’m fifteen.”

“Where do you live?”

“I… I don’t remember. I… I live in a really big house.”

“Do you remember your school?”

“I… I’m a sophomore. I know that.” She clenched her fists in frustration. “Can you untie my head?”

“All right. When you started to come to yesterday, you began jerking around a lot in your sleep. We didn’t want you to send yourself back into surgery”

As the doctor removed whatever was holding her head, she reached up and touched her scalp, finding that her beautiful shoulder-length strawberry blonde hair was gone. In its place was an unruly mass of spikes about an inch long.

“When did I have surgery? What happened to me?”

“You had brain surgery three weeks ago. You had an accident. That’s all you really need to know right now.”

“Was anyone else hurt?”

“No, Astrid. You were the only one.”

Exhaustion suddenly overcame her, and Astrid closed her eyes and let sleep swallow her up again. In and out of slumber, time seemed to lose all meaning. Then she was awake again and Amelia was giving her a sweet, soothing drink.

“Astrid, there are a couple of people who really want to see you,” said the nurse. “Do you feel up to visitors?”

“Sure.”

Her nurse stepped out of the room, and a moment later Astrid’s mother stepped in, hurrying over to her side. Kate Maxxim was just as beautiful as ever, tall and elegant with the same shade of strawberry blond hair that her daughter now missed. She looked very tired. The blue business suit she wore was a bit crumpled. On her heels was a man in a white shirt with a blue tie.

“How are you feeling, Sweetie?”

“Better now that you’re here, Mom. It’s so disorienting to wake up and not know where you are or how you got here.”

“It’s all better now,” said Mrs. Maxxim. “Don’t worry about remembering the accident. The doctors said you might have a little trouble with your memory at first.”

“Yeah. It’s weird. I remember my room, but I c… can’t remember our address. It’s just right there. I just can’t quite get it. I want to talk to you about it. I know I can remember then.”

Her mother sat down in the chair on Astrid’s left side.

“We’ll have a nice long talk right now. We’ll talk about anything you want to.”

“Great,” said Astrid with a sigh. She pointed to the man with the blue tie. “Let’s let this doctor check me out first and then we can talk without being disturbed.”

“Astrid, this isn’t a doctor,” said her mother, suddenly looking alarmed.

“Astrid, don’t you know me?” the man asked.

She looked up into his friendly face and kind eyes behind horn rimmed glasses. He was handsome with his brown hair just turning grey at the temples.

“I don’t think we’ve ever met,” said Astrid.

“Honey, this is your father,” said Mrs. Maxxim.

“Is he?” asked Astrid with wonder. “Then… um, are you two married?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Maxxim’s voice cracked when she answered.

“It’s nice to meet you,” said Astrid, looking up at him. A tear slid down his face from behind his glasses. “Should I call you Dad or Daddy?”

“You call me Dad.”

“I do? You mean we’ve met?”

“Yes Astrid. We’ve lived together all your life.”

“Um, Dad? Do you think I could talk to Mom alone for a little while?”

The man nodded and quickly left the room.

“I feel really bad,” said Astrid. “I probably really hurt his feelings, but I don’t remember him at all.”

“It’s okay, Honey. Don’t feel bad. Your memory will come back and everything will be fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” said her mother forcefully. “I’m sure.”

“Okay. Please, Mom. Tell me what happened to me. I know I had an accident, but I don’t know anything else.”

“I can tell you some of it, Astrid. The doctors don’t want us telling you anything except what we know for sure. They think you might create false memories based on what you hear from us. That might make it harder for your own memories to come back. The truth is, I don’t know all the details. All I know is that you were on a field trip with your class and you fell while climbing and hit your head. You were bleeding into your brain and the doctors had to rush you into surgery to relieve the pressure. You also broke your arm and two ribs, and you have a couple of other hairline fractures.”

“It was Outdoor Survival.”

“You remember?”

“No. I don’t remember falling or even a field trip. I do know I have Outdoor Survival seventh period. Austin sits next to me.”

“You remember Austin?” asked her mother.

“Sure,” said Astrid. “Oh no! I didn’t miss his birthday, did I? It’s February third.”

“Oh, I’m afraid so. That was a week and a half ago. Would you like Austin and your friends to come visit you? They’ve all been asking about you.”

“Sure, that would be great.”

“Can we have your father come back in?”

Astrid nodded. Her mother went out and returned with the man she said was Astrid’s father. They both sat down and the three of them talked about home and about their work at Maxxim Industries. Astrid really couldn’t remember anything about her father, but she liked him. They began discussing Astrid’s inventions, but at some point in the conversation, Astrid drifted off. When she woke, her mother was gone, but her father was still there.

“You invented the hoverdisk, didn’t you?” she asked him.

“Did you remember that?”

“Not really. I deduced it. I remember building my hoverbike and using hoverdisks. I didn’t invent them, so they had to come from somewhere. I know my mother isn’t an inventor, so it must have been you.”

“Brilliant as always,” he said, smiling weakly.

“Can I see your phone?”

He pulled it from his pocket and unlocked it with his fingerprint, before handing it to her. Once she had it in her hand, she flipped open the photo app and began scrolling through it.

“Lots of pictures of me,” she said. “It’s a good thing I know you’re my dad or I would think you were some kind of weird stalker.”

“When I come back tomorrow, I’ll bring your tablet and then you can look through all your pictures. That might spark some memories for you.”

“Can’t I just come home?” asked Astrid.

“The doctors say not for a few more days.”

She held up the phone with a picture of two men sitting together.

“Are you Uncle Carl’s brother?”

“You remember Uncle Carl?”

“Yes. It’s so strange. I remember Uncle Carl and I remember he’s married, but I can’t remember anything about his wife.”

“Do you remember his daughter?”

“Uncle Carl has a daughter?”

“Yes, and yes, Carl is my brother. Do you remember Aunt Penny?”

Astrid shook her head.

“Well, at least you remember somebody from my family,” he said.

“I’m really sorry, um… Dad.”

“That’s okay, Astrid. Everything will be all right.”

Astrid Maxxim and her Hypersonic Space Plane – Chapter 17 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim and her Hypersonic Space Plane“Ariel spacecraft, this is Houston.” A new voice sounded from the radio speaker.

“Go ahead Houston,” Astrid said.

“Ariel, we have a message for you, but I’m pretty sure you’re going to ignore it.”

“What is the message?” wondered Astrid.

“Your mother says ‘turn around and come home’.”

“Well, I couldn’t really, even if I wanted to.”

“Ten-four on that, Ariel. We would however like to know your plan.”

“Plan,” said the girl inventor. “I knew I forgot something. Well, my intention is to rescue Nova 5, but I have to be honest. I don’t really have a plan.”

“Well, we have a few suggestions for you.”

“I thought you might,” said Astrid. “Can I ask who I’m speaking to?”

“This is Eric Foley.”

“I’m familiar with you, Eric. You were a mission commander to the ISS. I’m Astrid.”

“I’m familiar with you too, Astrid. So here are the possibilities. Number one: You can rendezvous with Nova and nudge her up into a sustainable orbit. The problem is we don’t know how much that will help. She appears to be badly damaged. Number two: You could rendezvous and latch onto Nova with your robot arm, towing her to the ISS. The problem with this one is it might be dangerous to both crews, since her current orbit is pretty steep. Finally, you can rendezvous and Nova’s crew can transfer in their suits to Ariel and abandon their ship. This sounds easy, but it’s not. It’s difficult to get around in space, even when it’s not an emergency situation.”

“Well, I’m going to be honest, Eric. Since right now, there’s just a big empty space where Ariel’s robot arm goes, we have to go with option three. Can you tell Nova’s crew to suit up? We’ll rendezvous in 116 minutes.”

“Relaying that information now,” he said. “Just so you know, that’s cutting it close. They’re dusting some atmosphere now. We estimate that they have a window of only 121 minutes.”

“That’s just craptastic,” said Williams.

Ariel shot through space essentially flying herself. Astrid ran through calculations, eventually deciding that she could accelerate enough to gain 19 minutes, without taking herself off course and without cutting into the fuel that she would need to make it home safely. Unlike the Nova capsules, which maneuvered through space with very little fuel and then just dropped back to earth, the space plane had to maneuver through the air and fly down to a runway landing. Pushing the throttle forward, she guided her creation across the sky. Carl Williams meanwhile gathered the emergency gear.

“Nova 5 on alert radar,” said Williams, back in his seat.

“Got it,” she replied. “I see her! There she is!”

Astrid Maxxim and her Hypersonic Space Plane – Chapter 16 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim and her Hypersonic Space PlaneEveryone was back in school for lunch, which was butternut squash soup, yellowfin tuna ribbons with avocado and spicy radish in a ginger marinade and hamachi sashimi with avocado, yuzu, and radish, alongside mushroom risotto with citrus foam. Dessert was peanut butter torte with caramel.

“I don’t think my fish is done,” said Austin.

“It’s supposed to be served rare,” said Christopher.

“Yeah, but mine’s still going like this.” Austin formed his lips into a fish mouth, opening and closing.

“If you don’t want it, I’ll eat it,” offered Bud.

“I didn’t say I wasn’t going to eat it.”

Astrid was only paying half attention. She was busy sending an email memo on her phone. “Attention all Maxxim Employees. The correct name of the launch facility located on the Maxxim campus is the Maxxim Spaceport. Any official use of the term ‘Startopia’ is prohibited. Signed, Astrid Maxxim Co-Chairman of the Board, Maxxim Industries.”

“What are you doing?” asked Denise.

“Um, just texting.”

“Who are you texting? We’re all right here.”

“I’m texting my chief of design that his daughter is a nosy-Rosie.”

“Fine,” said Denise. “No need to be snappish.”

The rest of the day was pretty routine. Astrid rode home with her friends, who said goodbye and parted, one after another, until only she and Toby walked the last leg up the hill. When they were halfway home, Toby reached out and took her hand and held it until they said goodbye near the poplar trees where their yards touched.

Astrid’s mother wasn’t home all evening and of course her father was in space, so Astrid did her homework, which she was three weeks ahead on, and sat down to dinner by herself. Chef Pierce baked a fish pie; something Astrid had never tried before, though she had heard people in Britain ate them all the time. After an hour of TV and an hour playing her oboe, she climbed into bed and slipped into sleep.

An annoying sound woke Astrid from a deep slumber. It took her a minute to realize that it was her phone. Staggering across the room, she picked it up and pressed it to her face.

“Hello?”

“Astrid, have you seen the news?”

“Who is this?”

“I’m sorry. This is Tomiko Ikeda. Astrid, you’ve got to turn on channel 25.”

“Now?”

“Yes, right now. Channel 25.”

Astrid flipped on the all-news channel and tried to shake the cobwebs out of her eyes. There was a male news anchor in a grey suit talking to the screen.

“It is confirmed now. There is an emergency in space. Nova 5, the privately funded manned spacecraft of Maxxim Industries has experienced a catastrophic failure. The vehicle has lost all power, is in a decaying orbit, and is venting oxygen into space. Indications are that the ship was hit by an object, though whether that object was a meteoroid, a piece of space junk, or some type of space weapon is unknown at this time. Houston has confirmed that the three crewmembers, billionaire industrialist inventor Roger Maxxim and two veteran NASA astronauts are alive and in no immediate danger, but how long that will continue to be the case is unknown.”

Astrid Maxxim and her Hypersonic Space Plane – Chapter 15 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim and her Hypersonic Space PlaneThe second day of the new year, Astrid, along with pilots Hugh Chase and Carl Williams, took her space plane for another test flight. This time they broke no records for altitude or speed. Instead they pushed Ariel through a series of complex maneuvers, carefully measuring the structural integrity of the craft. She came through with flying colors.

The girl inventor was still at the airfield when her Maxxim Carpé signaled she had a phone call.

“Hello,” she said, tapping the screen to pass the call from her phone to her wrist device.

“Hi Astrid,” Toby’s voice came through the speaker. “How did your test flight go?”

“She’s got it going like a turbo vet.”

“Did you just quote Sir Mix A Lot?” he asked.

Astrid laughed. “What can I say, the man’s a poet. Seriously, Ariel is 100%. I’m ready to declare her airworthy, but we’ve still got two tests planned.”

“That’s great,” said Toby. “Another Astrid Maxxim success. The reason I called was to see if you had plans for tomorrow night?”

“Not that I know of. What’s up? It’s not another party, is it? I’m just about partied out.”

“No. Not a party, but a date.”

“I’m listening,” said Astrid.

“They’re showing a Charlie Chaplin double-feature at the Main Street Cinema and I thought we could have dinner afterwards at The Great Wall.”

Astrid was so excited about her date, she decided to stop by the Main Street Dress Emporium and purchase something new to wear. She found a cute tunic dress with bright colors that she paired up with black leggings. She also bought a pair of black heels to go with the outfit. They weren’t particularly high, but since Astrid seldom wore heels, she practiced walking in them for about an hour.

The Cinema was located at the east end of Main Street. It was a small movie theater. Originally built in 1937 in a town in Kansas, it had closed down in the fifties, and had been scheduled for demolition, but was bought and moved to Maxxim City. This was the case with many buildings on Main Street, a feature of the town that made it seem to have far more history than it actually did. Because it had only had one screen and seats for only 122 movie viewers, the Main Street Cinema seldom showed the newest movies, and never anything with digital or surround sound. It was almost always the classics. But sodas were a dollar, candy fifty cents, and all-you-could-eat buttered popcorn was included in the price of your ticket. Toby and Astrid tried not to stuff themselves too much as they watched Chaplin tramp through The Kid and Modern Times.

“It’s amazing how well Charlie Chaplin films hold up,” said Astrid, as they walked hand-in-hand down the street to The Great Wall.

“I think a lot of the great old movies hold up,” said Toby, “if people will only give them a chance.”