Astrid Maxxim and the Mystery of Dolphin Island – Chapter 3 Excerpt

Astrid brought the Maxxim Starcraft 170 down on the runway at LAX. The 170 was a sharp, if unusual looking aircraft. Designed by Astrid’s father, the 47-foot plane 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, now seated only Penelope and Sabrina Scacchi and their carryon luggage. Astrid was, of course, up front, along co-pilot Don Herron.

Herron stayed with the plane, while the three young women disembarked and made their way into the LAX Private Terminal. Astrid was surprised to see her friend from France waiting just inside. Océane Feuillée was about an inch taller than Astrid and quite thin. Her pleasant face was framed in short black hair, cut in a cute little wedge. She reached out and embraced Astrid in a tight hug.

“Hello, Océane,” said Astrid. “I thought we would have to search for you.”

“You’re Miss Scacchi told me where to come.”

“And here she is. Océane, Sabrina Scacchi. Sabrina, Océane. And you remember my Aunt Penelope.”

“Oui.” The three women shook hands.

“So what is the big secret?” asked Astrid.

“Let’s find a quiet place, and I will tell you all about it.”

“I’ve reserved one of the private rooms here,” said Miss Scacchi. “It’s just down the hall.”

The small private room, enclosed in glass, was quiet and featured comfortable chairs. Astrid sat down next to Océane, and the other two sat across from them.

“So what’s going on?”

“I’ve been working with my friend Adeline Petit. She is a graduate student with my father, and she has been working on a special project for the past three years. So I decided to help. She is studying dolphins and their communication. It would be wonderful if you could create a device to translate their language to ours.”

“Of course that would be great,” said Penelope. “It’s not possible though.”

“Maybe it is,” said Astrid. “I’ve read about some work along that line that an engineer from Google was doing. It’s simply a matter of finding out what sounds are associated with what actions and objects.”

“You make that sound easy,” continued Penelope. “There could be millions of nouns and verbs to sort through.”

“Adeline has thousands of sounds recorded and identified,” said Océane. “She just needs the program and the computer. And it would have to be portable… and waterproof.”

“Is that all?” said Penelope.

“I think it can be done,” said Astrid. “What’s more, I want to do it. Where is she working? Hawaii?”

“No. She’s at a very small, uncharted island, in French Polynesia. It’s fifty miles east of Tahiti. She calls it Mokupuni Nai’a.”

“Dolphin Island,” translated Penelope.

“I didn’t know you spoke Tahitian,” Astrid remarked.

“I do, but that’s actually Hawaiian.”

“All right,” said Astrid. “I want to help, but why the hush hush? Why couldn’t you tell me all of this over the phone?”

“There’s more to it,” replied Océane. “Something is hurting the dolphins. There have been mass strandings every year for at least the last three years.”

“That’s horrible,” said Miss Scacchi.

“It is,” agreed Astrid. “But it happens all around the world. Why the secrecy?”

“We think it may be caused by the United States navy and their sonar. Adeline is afraid they will try to stop us from reporting it.”

“Well, I don’t think we really need to worry about nefarious Navy agents stalking us, but let’s agree to keep this all between us until we can figure out what’s really going on.”

“My flight leaves for Papeete Fa’a’ā in two hours,” said Océane.

“I need a while to get the necessary computer equipment together,” said Astrid. “Then I can fly the Starcraft out and meet you.”

“You can’t Astrid,” said Miss Scacchi. “Your mother said you must have an adult with you and I have to be back in Maxxim City by Monday.”

“I’ll go with Astrid,” said Penelope. “We’ll get you a first class ticket back home.”

“You don’t mind?” Astrid asked her aunt. “This may take weeks.”

“What? You need weeks to create a device to talk to another species? You must be slipping.”

Astrid laughed. “All right then. Let’s get Océane to her flight, get a ticket for Miss Scacchi…”

“Call me Sabrina please, Astrid.”

“Okay, but if my mother get’s mad, it’s your fault. A ticket for Sabrina. Then you and I, Aunt Penny, need to go to the computer store.”


Tesla’s Stepdaughters – Chapter 12 Excerpt

The local police had removed the robber’s hoods. They were all women in their early twenties. Andrews stood looking at them for a long time. When he found Ep!phanee standing next to him, he realized that he had almost forgotten she was there.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“Yes. I don’t think they even shot in our direction, did they?”


The police took both their statements and then released them. They climbed back in the car and the driver took them to the Royal Continental. Neither of them had much to say along the way. Once at the hotel, Andrews met briefly with Wright to fill her in and then he went to his room to begin filling out the inevitable paperwork.

When the Science Police officer opened the door to his assigned room, he decided that a major mistake had been made. Instead of the simple room that he had been assigned in the other hotels, and which had suited him just fine, he found a spacious suite. He stood at the entrance of a large central room with features of both a living room and dining room. A roaring fire was already burning in the gas fireplace next to a fully stocked bar. He realized for the first time that he was shivering, having been out in the pouring rain for most of the evening and not having had the chance to dry off.

He walked to the fireplace and held out his hands to warm them. He stayed in that position until the front of his legs became unbearably hot, and then he turned around and warmed his back. Just as his back was becoming too warm and his front was feeling once again cold, Ep!phanee walked in from the bedroom. She wore nothing but a gauzy nightie through which her tattoos were clearly visible.

“I don’t think I’m really in the mood,” he said.

“In the mood for what? Don’t worry. I know just what you need and I’m going to take care of you.”

“I didn’t realize that you were the ‘taking care’ type.”

“Of course I am. Look how well I take care of myself. First you need to take off those wet clothes. Portland isn’t like the Caribbean. If you get a little rain on you there, it dries off in minutes. Here, you’ll catch pneumonia.”

“It does kind of sink right into your bones,” he replied as he began peeling off his still damp clothing.

“You need to get into the hot shower,” she said, stepping behind the bar and filling two shot glasses from a whiskey bottle. “First have one of these.”

When Andrews came out of the bathroom, wrapped in a very fluffy complimentary robe, he found Piffy seated at the table with a pot of hot coffee. She had already poured him a cup. When he sipped it, he found that she had laced it with more whiskey.

“I think you need to get right to bed,” she said.

“I have paperwork to take care of.” He went to his luggage, which was sitting just inside the door and found his portfolio, bringing it back to the table. Halfway there he stopped and looked back at his luggage. “What am I doing in a room like this anyway?”

“I had you upgraded. If you’re going to be with us, you’re going to go first class all the way. It’s one of the perks.”

Andrews sat back down at the table and began filling out the seven forms necessary when an agent discharged his weapon, all of which required long written statements and all of which were sandwiched with carbon paper and other sheets so that they were produced in triplicate. When he finished the second, he stopped to warm up his coffee and noticed for the first time that Piffy was no longer in the room. He found her, once he was completely done, sprawled across one side of the bed, her bare, very white bottom staring at him from below her nightgown hem. The California king was large enough though that once he stripped off his robe and climbed in, he didn’t notice her presence the entire night. When he woke up, she was gone.

“Good morning.” Ruth walked into the bedroom carrying a tray. “Come on, sit up. I’ve bought you breakfast.”

“I could just get up.”

“No. You need breakfast in bed after the day you had yesterday. You need to be pampered a bit.” The tray contained two eggs, two strips of bacon, hash browns, a waffle with blueberries, milk, and a cup of coffee.

“I don’t know if I can eat all this.”

“Just eat what you want.” She pulled a chair away from the wall and sat down to watch him eat.

She was already dressed for the day, wearing hip-hugger bellbottoms and a halter-top, both of which resembled the Union Jack, white platform shoes, and a red headband holding back her dreadlocks.

“I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too,” he replied

“I’ve hardly seen you in three days.”

“Well, we’re together now. Do I get to spend the day with you?”

“Actually, we’re supposed to meet later this morning and work out the schedule, but Piffy thought you needed somebody to pamper you this morning.”

“And you thought you would be the one to do it?”

“I jumped at the chance.”

“I can take care of myself. I’m a big boy.”

“You’re telling me,” she said with a sly look. “Now don’t dawdle. Eat your breakfast.”

Andrews finished, though he had only a bite of his waffle, before even thinking to look at the clock.

“Good grief, it’s after nine.”

“Don’t be in a rush. The other girls won’t be up for at least another hour and our radio-vid interview isn’t until one.”

The Price of Magic – Chapter 17 Excerpt

Iolana stopped shoveling, and placing the tip of her shovel on the seam of the metal floor, she used it to prop herself up. Her blond hair was plastered to her head and her clothes were soaked through with perspiration. It was at least 130 degrees in the engine room, closer near the open furnace door, and she had been shoveling coal for what seemed like forever.

“Keep shovelin’,” said her companion, as he threw another scoop into the furnace, the flame reflecting on the smooth sheen of his sweaty, shirtless body.

She imagined that it would feel so good to shed the khaki uniform blouse. It would certainly give the crew of the crawler a shock. She really wanted to do it. But she just couldn’t.

“I’m all talk,” she said to herself.

“No time to talk. Just shovel.”

“How’s it going, men?” called Tiber Stephenson’s voice from the engine room hatch. “Nice and warm in here, eh?”

“You’ve proven your point, Tiber,” said Iolana, staggering as she scooped more coal.

“That’s Lieutenant to the likes o’ you!” shouted the shirtless soldier.

“I’m not having you shovel coal to prove a point, My Lady,” said Tiber. “I’m having you shovel coal because that’s what makes this vehicle go.” He looked at the shirtless soldier. “How long till shift end, Swaim?”

“About forty more minutes, Sir.”

“Good. When your relief comes, bring our little stowaway up to the officers’ quarters.”

“Right you are, Sir.”

Though she managed to finish out her shift in the engine room and then march along behind Swaim to the front of the vehicle, when he left her just inside the door to the officers’ quarters, Iolana’s vision began to swim and she collapsed. If Tiber hadn’t been there, she would have fallen to the sheet metal floor. Instead, he caught her and carried her over to an empty bunk, laying her down. Then he opened a vent and cool, moist air from outside blew gently across her face.

“You look a little warm, My Lady.”

“Bugger yourself,” she said.

“Now that language is certainly not very ladylike.”

“I’m not a lady. I’m a grunt who works in the engine room.”

“Well, relax grunt, and when you’re ready, I’ll get you something to eat.”

Iolana was asleep before he finished his sentence. She didn’t know how long she slept, but when she woke, the sheet metal floor and everything that touched it was still throbbing with the energy of the steam engine. The buzzing of the saws still echoed through the metal walls. She slowly sat up; her arms and back crying out in anguish. She didn’t think she had ever done so much physical labor in her whole life. When she stood up, her legs, if anything, hurt even worse than her upper body. She moved like an old lady across the room and out the door. She turned and walked up the sloping passage toward the front of the crawler, her hand against the wall. She hadn’t gone very far when she saw Tiber walking toward her.

“I was just coming to check on you,” he said.

“How long was I asleep?”

“About fourteen hours. I was starting to get worried.”

“You mean I slept through our stopping for the night?” she asked.

“No. We haven’t stopped and we won’t. We have a crew of twenty-two officers and men so that we can run twenty-four hours a day.”

“What about the relief column that’s with us? The men can’t march all night.”

“Oh, they’re not traveling with us. They merely left at the same time. I imagine they’re forty miles ahead of us by now.” He took her by the shoulders, turned her around, and marched her back to the officer’s quarters. “They stop for the night, but then they move much faster than we do. We’ve only gone about forty-five miles from the city’s edge.”

“Forty-five miles?” wondered Iolana. “Then, when you found me, we couldn’t have been more than a long walk from town. You could easily have turned back, or even made me walk back myself.”

“You didn’t want to go back, did you?”

“No, of course I didn’t. Though now I’m wondering about your motivation.”

“Please, My Lady,” said Tiber. “I’m a gentleman, one little kiss notwithstanding. Now sit down. I have something for you to eat.”

Iolana took a seat in one of the two metal chairs that faced a small metal table between the two bunks. The young lieutenant hefted a canvas rucksack from cubby and dropped it heavily on the table.

“Well, you have a choice: beef stew, corned beef, or pork and beans. Take my advice and skip the stew. Heated up, it’s barely edible. You’re eating your food cold, and in such a case, it’s plain disgusting.”

“Pork and beans, please.”

“Here you go.” He handed her the tin can. While she peeled off the key and began opening the can, he continued. “You also have a block of cheese and a box of crackers. You might want to skip the crackers. You can crack a tooth if you don’t soak them in water or tea.”


Astrid Maxxim and the Mystery of Dolphin Island – Chapter 2 Excerpt

After breakfast the next morning, Astrid called her mother, who was already at work by the time the girl inventor had gotten up.

“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.

“Hey, genius!”

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.


Tesla’s Stepdaughters – Chapter 11 Excerpt

The next morning Andrews got up and disentangled himself from Penny’s arms and legs. The bed was really just large enough for one of them. He had slept well through the night, but now he had several pains in his neck and shoulders and he was unsure whether to attribute them to his workout the day before or to not having enough room in bed. He slipped back into his workout clothes and put on his wristwatch, checking the time. It was not quite seven. Stepping quietly out the door, he walked the length of the ship to the dining room and found an early continental breakfast. He grabbed a pair of Danish, two bananas, and two cups of coffee; and balancing them, carried them back to the cabin. He found Penny awake and putting on his robe.

“I brought you some breakfast.”

“Thanks, I’m starving.”

“Thank you for the card,” he gestured toward the greeting card still standing on the desk.

“Not from me.”

He opened it and looked again.

“Must be Piff,” said Penny.

“What are you planning to do today?” asked Andrews as they ate.

“I’m going to try and write. I’ve got a few songs, or at least pieces of songs, that have been rattling around in my head since New York.”

“I’d like to see that.”

“No you wouldn’t. It would be incredibly boring. I’m just going to pluck a few strings and jot down notes. It’ll be the most uninteresting thing you can imagine. Besides, it’s Piffy’s day to spend with you.”

“When do I get a copy of this schedule?” He sounded peevish even in his own ears.

“Ask her.”

Andrews did plan to ask her just as soon as he could, but when he finally saw her again, the question fell out of his brain and crawled away to some dark corner. When Ep!phanee saw him, she ran and leapt into his arms. She wrapped her arms around his neck, her legs around his waist, and her lips around his mouth. He couldn’t have gotten free if he wanted to, and he didn’t want to. They kissed for several minutes, and then at last, he set her down.

“Did you send me the card?” he asked.

“Of course. You didn’t recognize my P?”

“Well, you know… Penny?”

“Oh yeah. Well, she’s not likely to send you a card though, is she?”

“Maybe you could sign it with an F for Fanny?”

“You’re bad.”

“Or you could draw a little clownfish…”

“You’re very bad.”

“In any case, thank you.”

“You’re welcome. It’s because I missed you. That’s why it said ‘miss you’ on it.”

“Very clever. So what are your plans for today?”

“We can do anything you want to do. What were you planning?”

“I’d like to work out again in the weight room. And Penny gave me a book that I haven’t had enough time with yet.”

“What is it—Edgar Rice Burroughs?”

“H. Rider Haggard.”

Piffy rolled her eyes. “No wonder people think she’s a dyke. I’ll work out with you.”

Andrews changed back into his shorts and tee shirt and met her in the weight room. Piffy was waiting, wearing a pair of shorts that were so small they almost deserved some different and as yet uninvented name, and a tube top. Both articles of clothing were made of some shiny black material that he had never seen before. Even in a world where just about everything seemed to exude sex appeal, it had not occurred to Andrews until that exact moment that gym clothes could be sexy. They worked out for over an hour, and Andrews didn’t know if it was the weights which caused his heart to pump so forcefully in his chest, or if it was the sight of Ep!phanee’s remarkably toned body.

“You must work out quite a bit.”

“Yes, I have a fully stocked gym in my home at Thatch Cay. What is that?”

Spreading out below them was a great tan blanket moving across the landscape. It moved and undulated in swirling patterns. The dirigible was passing over one of the legendary caribou migrations. Tens of thousands of individual animals moved across the ground like a kaleidoscope of reindeer. Andrews set down his barbells and moved to stand next to the large window. Piffy followed him.

“Caribou,” he said. “The great plains of the United States used to be covered with buffalo like this. Now they’re extinct. I think women have done a better job of running the world than men did.”

“Say that when you’re flying through the black haze above New York, or when you’re outside your dome in Ohio and the acid rain is coming down.”

They spent the rest of the day together, comparing their lives up until that point, talking about their interests, and eventually getting around to the possibility of their shared future together.

“I was quite ready to find that you wouldn’t live up to my expectations when I met you,” he said, “not that I expected anything more than a professional relationship. But I like you. I like all of you. And the sex… well I really, really like it. It’s much better than I imagined it would be. But I don’t really see how our lifestyles are going to mesh. I don’t know if I can handle all the complications.”

“What do you want to do for the next ten years, John?”

“I want to continue with the Science Police. It’s exciting and I’m good at it.”

“And what is your concern about it… about your job and being married?”


The Price of Magic – Chapter 16 Excerpt

Peter Bassington didn’t even notice that it was dark until it became impossible to read the book in front of him. He looked up at the clock on the wall and felt his neck complain. He had been bent over the books for almost five hours, and now his head was swimming with almost maddening thoughts. He glanced back at the text he had just finished.


She floated down from the sky, her huge, feathered wings outstretched. They were twelve feet from tip to tip and as white as the clouds, as white as newly fallen snow, as white as faith and hope. The rest of her body was smooth and supple and sublime and beautiful and naked. Her tiny feet came gently to rest in the soil beside the bizarre purple flowers, each of which looked up at her with a large eyeball in the center. Her face was beauty incarnate and her body was bliss. Long blond hair cascaded down her shoulders, impossibly thick, almost to her waist. Her eyes were spaced wide above her prominent cheekbones and small but perfectly formed nose. Her full lips smiled crookedly exposing straight teeth as white as her wings.

It was here, in this endless field of loathsome purple flowers, where she waited for them. And they came. They came to her. They retreated here from the world, when they rubbed the See Spice into their eyes. And here she took care of them; took away all their cares, took away all their fears, took away all their pain. She also took away their love, and their desire, and their sense of self. She left them the empty husks of what they had been and would never more be. They called her angel, and they willingly gave themselves to her, and she feasted on their insides like they were her own personal drinking gourds. But she wanted something more. She wanted to leave the endless nothingness of that place and come to the real world, where she would feast on the marrow of all that is good and pure and true.


The passage didn’t mention a name, but Peter knew to whom it was referring. Her name was Pantagria. She was an angel or demon that those addicted to white opthalium saw when they used their drug. He had heard her name uttered once or twice by addicts on the street or in opthalium dens. But most of what he knew came from Senta. Two and a half years earlier, while they were journeying to Birmisia from Brechalon, an addict, one of Pantagria’s minions here in the real world, had thrown white opthalium into Senta’s eyes. This transported her to that other world, where Pantagria had begged her to use her art to bring the angel to the real world. Senta had managed to escape.

The whole story had sounded like a fairy tale and Senta wasn’t above a bit of self-aggrandizement on occasion, so Peter hadn’t been too sure of the authenticity of every detail, but here it seemed to be verified in black and white—in a book written almost two hundred years earlier by a man named Viner. And there were other mentions of Pantagria going back a thousand years. Then there was the note scrawled in the margins of the Viner text “Nom 2:3-4”.

Peter pulled himself to his feet and walked from the dining room, through the parlor, and down the hallway to the library. It was so dark in the room, he had to feel around for the gas light sconce on the wall. Pulling a match from his pocket and striking it, he turned the knob, and the hissing gas burst into bright yellow flame, illuminating one side of the room, and throwing shadows of chairs and tables on the other. The young wizard retrieved a pristine copy of the Holy Scriptures from the bookcase and flipped it open.

“Bother,” he said. There were three books of Nom: The Writings of Nom, The Letter of Nom, and The Children of Nom.”

Looking at The Writings of Nom, chapter 2, verse 3, he found “I have need of you,” so saith the Lord. “I have need that you will sacrifice of yourself.” Not particularly inspiring or helpful. He turned to The Letter of Nom, chapter 2, verse 3. One thing I ask of the Lord only, and I hope with all my heart that he will grant my prayer: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. Finally he turned to The Children of Nom and as he read, he felt ice filling his belly.


  1. The Lord came unto the feathered one and the Lord said, “From whence comest thou?” And the beast answered the Lord, and said, “You know from whence I come. From going to and fro within my prison among the seeing weeds.”
  2. And the Lord said, “And there you must stay lest man should weep and all our works should turn to dust.”


Bloody hell. That was the Grand Scriptures too. They were, what? Three thousand years old? It was too big—too much to think about. He turned out the light and felt his way back to the parlor. Then he climbed the stairs and slipped into his bedroom. Peeling off his clothes, he dropped down onto his bed and passed into a fitful sleep.

The next morning, Peter, as usual, found Baxter and Sen at the table having breakfast. The girl had a toast soldier in one hand and her wooden dinosaur in the other. The man was sipping a cup of tea while reading from a small paperback book.

“What are you reading?”

Attack of the Zombie Women,” Baxter replied, turning the book to display a luridly illustrated cover picture, then he pointed at the occasional table against the wall. “I put your books all over there. I left them open to your pages.”


Astrid Maxxim and the Mystery of Dolphin Island – Chapter 1 Excerpt

The space plane lurched violently. At first, flames were the only things that could be seen through the thick windows. Minutes later though, the flames dissipated, revealing blue skies.

“Transferring control to manual,” said Astrid. “How does it feel?”

“Pretty sluggish,” replied Toby. “Is it always like this?”

“At this point, yes. It’s a lot like flying a brick until we’re ready to throttle up.”

Astrid Maxxim was a startlingly cute girl of fifteen. Her shoulder-length strawberry blond hair set off her very large blue eyes. She sat in the copilot seat of the Constellation, the newest of her hypersonic space planes, as it blasted its way back into the Earth’s atmosphere. Toby Bundersmith occupied the pilot’s seat. Though it was difficult to tell in his spacesuit, he was tall and muscular. His brown hair hung down in bangs just above his hazel eyes. He turned and gave Astrid a nervous smile. While he was a skilled pilot, this shakedown flight was his first trip to space. Astrid, in addition to being a world-famous inventor, was already a veteran of three previous orbital flights.

“Descending to ten miles altitude,” she said. “Prepare to throttle up.”


“Throttle up to sixty percent power.”

“Roger,” replied Toby, pushing the thrust control forward.

“Houston, this is Constellation,” said Astrid into her microphone.

There were a few seconds of static before a reply came through her headphones.

“Constellation, Houston. Welcome home.”

“Thank you. Now that we’re safely back in the atmosphere, we’ll bid you farewell and switch over to Maxxim Tower.”

“Roger, Constellation. Happy landing.”

“We’re passing over Southern California,” said Toby. “It’ll be a few minutes before we’re ready to ask for a landing clearance.”

“That’s a fact,” said Astrid, as she unfastened and then removed her helmet. “Do you want some help with your helmet?”

“No, I’m going to leave it on,” he said. And then a few seconds later, “No, I want to take it off. As soon as you said something, my nose started itching like no tomorrow.”

Astrid helped him remove it, stowing it, along with hers, in the appropriate compartment. Toby immediately scratched his nose with a gloved hand, before returning all his attention to the controls.

“I pointed out that we had a few minutes,” said Toby, “to highlight the fact that we have a bit of time to talk.”

“What did you want to talk about?”

“My cousins are coming to town next week and I thought maybe you could help me plan some activities for them.”

“Event planning is not really my field of expertise,” said Astrid, with an arched brow. “Are you just asking me because I’m a girl?”

“No!” Toby exclaimed. “Absolutely not. I was asking… What I really should have asked… It would really be cool if they could take a flight into space.”

“I’m sure it would be cool for them,” said Astrid. “They’d probably think you were the best cousin ever. I’m afraid it can’t happen though. You remember all the training you’ve gone through, and even our passengers have six weeks of rigorous training before they fly on one of the space planes.”

“Yeah,” said Toby. “I guess I already knew the answer to that. I’m just getting worried that they’ll be bored. They live in Berlin and I live in a little town in the Southwestern U.S.”

“Maybe Jürgen and Sabine aren’t looking for a wild time. It seems to me that most Europeans visiting the states enjoy the great natural wonders we have here. Take a trip up to the Grand Canyon. Fly over to Mesa Verde and show them the Ancient Pueblo ruins.”

“I’m sure that would be great for Jürgen,” he said. “I’m worried about Sabine. She is really into the German nightlife. Maxxim City is going to seem really tame.”

“Well, if you have to, you can always fly them to L.A. You can take them to a disco and visit Disneyland on the same trip.”

“Well, that sounds pretty good. Does that mean I have free access to a Maxxim Industries plane?”

“A Starcraft 170 and all the fuel you can use.”

“I guess it pays to have a girlfriend who is the CEO of a major multinational corporation.”

“I’m just the co-CEO, said Astrid, “and are we saying the B and G words?”

“What? Boyfriend and girlfriend? I’m saying it. I say it all the time. My girlfriend Astrid. Astrid, my girlfriend.”

Just then the space plane lurched.

“Pay attention to the controls, boyfriend,” said Astrid, climbing back into her seat.”

“I am. It was just a pocket of turbulence.”

“Maxxim Tower, Constellation,” said Astrid into her microphone. “Requesting a landing vector.”

“If I crashed us,” said Toby, “I’d be grounded for a month.”

“Only a month?” asked Astrid with a grin.