Girl 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?
The 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.
“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.”
“My grandma told me this story all about how your dad built a motorcycle and rode all over the country on it,” he said.
“Really? I wonder why he said I wasn’t allowed to have one then?”
“Maybe you could invent something even better, like a flying bicycle.”
“That’s a really good idea, Austin.”
Astrid’s mind was spinning ideas the rest of the ride, and when everyone was done, Astrid had Austin bring the bike he had been riding up to her lab. Then she got on the phone.
“Do you have any idea how many hoverdisks my dad has?”
“He had at least fifteen made up,” she replied, “though a few of them were broken in testing.”
“Could you have someone send a couple up to my lab please?”
“I’ll get them right over, Astrid. Bye.”
By the time a lab technician arrived with a rolling cart holding two of Dr. Maxxim’s hoverdisks, Astrid had the bicycle up on her workbench, had removed both wheels and had built a pair of simple brackets in their place. The hoverdisks were two and a half feet in diameter and six inches thick. She attached one hoverdisk to each bracket. Finally she connected one of her large test batteries to the two levitation devices, securing it to the bike frame with duck tape.
“Alright Austin,” said Astrid, with Robot Valerie’s help, setting the bike on the lab floor. “Would you like to be the first person to ride on a flying bike?”
“You bet!” he shouted, climbing into the seat. “What do I have to do?”
“Just try to keep your balance,” said Astrid. Then she turned on the hoverdisks.
The bicycle immediately rose from the floor, at first just a few inches, then a foot, and then it continued upward. The girls shouted excitedly, but no more than Austin, who looked to be thoroughly enjoying himself. The hoverdisks were humming quietly, slowly pushing the boy higher and higher. Then suddenly he was at the ceiling and he had to tilt his head to the side. Immediately the bike flipped over. Austin flailed his arms, as the now inverted hoverdisks drove him into the floor.
Astrid quickly jumped forward and disconnected the battery.
“Are you alright?” she asked the boy.
“Did you see me? I was flying!”
All nine members of the Maxxim Board of Directors were seated around a very large oval table. Astrid’s mother left her to take a seat at the far end, leaving Astrid to face the entire group, and she was feeling very small. The girl inventor knew how it worked. Those at the table didn’t own all the shares of Maxxim Industries. In fact, she herself had quite a large block inherited from her grandmother. But these nine had been chosen by the shareholders to oversee the operations of the company, so they had tremendous power.
“These will be the new line of Maxxim Supercell Batteries,” Astrid started, lifting the cover off of the cart full of mock-ups. Mr. Brown had outdone himself. There were more than 30 different battery sizes represented—everything from tiny button batteries to large, square lantern batteries.
“Aren’t there already lots of battery manufacturers?” asked Astrid’s aunt Lauren, usually her harshest critic on the board. “Why would we want to get into a such a crowded business.”
“Our batteries will change the marketplace,” replied Astrid. “They will change the world. First of all, since they are made with our own, patented Astricite, their charge will last much longer than any other batteries. Secondly, again because of the Astricite, they can be made for far less. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they will be far less toxic than batteries made with lead, mercury, or cadmium.
“Every year Americans alone dump 180,000 tons of batteries into landfills where toxic contaminants leach out into the soil and water. Every year dozens of children are hospitalized because of ingesting tiny batteries, from which corrosive or poisonous chemicals are released.”
“Our batteries would be safe to swallow?” asked former Senator Charles Bentlemore.
“No,” Astrid replied. “There is still the problem of liquefaction necrosis, which occurs because sodium hydroxide is generated by the current produced by the battery.”
“But our batteries won’t leach into landfills?” asked board member Saul Smith.
“Correct. Astricite has a relatively short life, on the order thirty to forty years depending on the sample size. After that, it degrades into its component compounds, all of which are non-toxic.”
“How much money can we make on this?” asked Astrid’s uncle Carl, her father’s brother and Aunt Lauren’s husband.
“As my mother can confirm,” said Astrid, “batteries are a $64 billion dollar business.”
“How soon can we get these to market?” asked Mr. Roy Dillanson.
“I’ve talked to Mr. Gortner in production, and he says we can have a factory in place in fourteen months.”
“Why don’t we just use an existing factory in China or Mexico?” asked Aunt Lauren.
“We will discuss that after Astrid has gone,” said her mother. “You are finished, aren’t you Astrid?”
“I think this might make it till the week-end.”
“What’s in this box?” asked Toby, from across the room. “What’s Project RG-7, and why is it top secret?”
“I was going to show you guys next week,” said Astrid, leading the others to where Toby was standing beside the crate. “I guess you can go ahead and take a look now.”
Reaching up, she flipped open a latch and opened the side of the crate. Inside, packed with straw, was a metallic girl. She had bright silver skin, but was otherwise quite human looking. Her hair was the same metallic material as the rest of her, a solid hair-shaped mass rather than individual fibers, but she was wearing regular clothing. She had on a pink jacket over a blue t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers.
“Oh my gosh!” squealed Valerie. “She looks like me!”
“Yes, she does,” agreed Denise.
“That’s because I patterned her after you,” said Astrid. “She’s a Robot Girl 7.”
“What’s she… I mean it, for?” asked Austin.
“Well, who wouldn’t want a robot?” wondered Astrid. “She could be anything: friend, babysitter, maid.”
“Why did you make her look like me?” asked Valerie.
“She’s just a prototype. I thought you would be a good model for her.” Astrid stepped over to a table and pulled back a sheet. “What we’re going to do is hook you up to her and we’ll copy all the information from your brain into the robot. It will be much faster than trying to program it with a computer.”
“I don’t know…” Valerie took a step back.
“It’s perfectly safe,” Astrid assured her.
“What if it sends my brain into her body? What if I wake up and you’ve turned me into a robot?”
“That can’t happen,” said Astrid.
“That would be way cool!” exclaimed Austin. “Make a boy robot and copy my brain!”
The rest of the week went by quickly. Astrid spent most of her time after school polishing up the two papers that were due that Friday: one on The Count of Monte Cristo for her Independent Study class, and one on fungus for Biology. She did have one opportunity for fun with her friends in the evening. On Wednesday night her father had a barbecue and invited the Bundersmiths, the Browns, The Diaz’s, and the Harris’s, and two other families. Everyone ate heaps of ribs, chicken, and brisket and the kids spent hours in the pool.
Saturday morning, Astrid was back in her lab looking over the results of her battery experiment. It had gone far better than expected. She gave a quick call to Mr. Brown, Denise’s father, who was in charge of model-making at Maxxim Industries, and asked him to create a line of mock-up batteries in all the popular sizes for her presentation the next week. No sooner had she hung up the phone than Denise walked in the door, followed by Valerie.
Toby and Christopher weren’t with them, but Astrid knew right where they were. They were two of only a four freshmen at school who had their pilot’s licenses, so they spent every other Saturday at the Maxxim Industries airfield, trying to get enough hours to qualify on the newest aircraft models.
“Hey Guys,” said Astrid. “Right on time.”
“I’m still not sure about this,” said Valerie.
“Don’t worry. We’re just programming the robot to be able to follow some basic input. We want to be able to tell it to go here, or pick that up, or bring me that test tube. Programming it by hand would take weeks. This way, we can map out the entire command structure by copying the way your brain works. I thought you would enjoy this, being a part of history.”
“I guess it’s alright,” said Valerie. “You’re not going to fry my brain or anything?”
“Of course not.”
“Don’t worry,” said Denise. “I won’t let her do any mad science stuff to you.”
“What do I have to do?”
“Just sit down here on the table by Robot Girl 7,” Astrid instructed. “I’ll just put these sensors on your temples.”
She stuck a white circular sticky pad with a wire extending from it onto each side of Valerie’s head.
“Now I just throw the switch.” She flipped a switch on a nearby panel. “Feel anything?”
“No,” answered Valerie, a little shakily.
Even though they spent a great deal of time away from each other during the day, the whole gang always got together in the Quad at 12:00 for lunch. Astrid had been looking forward to lunch since she read the menu that morning just after the Pledge of Allegiance—Sicilian broccoli and cauliflower pasta with pine nuts, whole grain garlic bread, tossed salad, and yogurt parfait. Toby, Denise, and Valerie were already sitting at their usual table when she and Christopher sat down.
“So, how’s it going?” asked Toby.
“Fine,” said Christopher and everyone agreed.
“I heard Mr. Kramer is sick,” said Valerie. “I guess we’ll have a substitute today.”
“I don’t like substitutes,” said Denise. “We always end up behind. Then we have to work all that much harder the rest of the week.”
“You won’t get behind today,” said Toby. “My dad is your sub today, so count on extra homework.” He laughed. “I’m glad I don’t have Geometry.”
“You just wait,” said Valerie. “When my dad subs, he’ll have you swimming extra laps.”
At Rachel Carson High School, all parents were required to serve six days a year as faculty or staff members. For Toby’s father, who was a structural engineer, that usually meant teaching Math. Valerie’s father, head of security for Maxxim Industries, usually either taught a Physical Education class or served as a school safety officer.
“Hey, what’s going on over there?” wondered Denise, indicating a table across the Quad from where they sat.
“It looks like Mark McGovern is picking on that kid,” said Christopher. “He picked on me last year because I have dark skin.”
“He picked on me because my mother is from Mexico,” said Valerie.
“He picked on me because I have two dads,” said Denise.
“He calls me a nerd all the time,” said Astrid.
“Well, he never picked on me, because I’d sock him in the teeth,” said Toby. “Do any of you know that kid? He was in my Swimming class last hour.”
“He’s new,” said Valerie. “He was in our Art History Class.”
“I’m sick of Mark McGovern,” said Toby, and picking up his tray, he started across the common area. The others quickly grabbed their food and followed.
“Excuse me,” Toby told Mark.
“You’re in my way.”
When the boy stepped back, Toby sat down next to the new kid. The new kid was a little on the chunky side and had a buzz cut. Christopher, Valerie, Denise, and Astrid filled in the rest of the spaces.
“I didn’t know this was the loser table,” said Mark.
“It was,” said Toby. “But then you left and it wasn’t again.”
The boy balled up his fist and stared at Toby for a moment, but Toby just stared back. Finally, Mark turned and walked away and the gang all turned their attention to their new table mate.
“Hello,” said Astrid. “What did Mark the mook want?”
“He’s in my Algebra class and he’s been teasing me all day about my name.”
“What’s your name?”
“Austin’s not a funny name,” she said.
“Tretower is a bit funny, you have to admit,” said Toby. “That doesn’t mean people should tease you about it though.”
“It’s not any funnier than Bundersmith,” said Christopher.
“Bundersmith isn’t funny,” countered Toby.
“No, it isn’t,” said Astrid, who had spent more than a few hours pondering the possibility of being Astrid Bundersmith someday.”
“Stop it, Dad,” said Astrid Maxxim as she steered her father’s car.
“Somebody save me! For the love of Mergatroid, save me!”
“Stop it, Dad.”
“Oh, the horror! Oh, the humanity!”
“I’ve already stopped, Dad. The car is parked. It’s right between the yellow lines.”
“It’s really over?” asked Dr. Roger Maxxim, peering out the car windshield at the massive Research and Development Department building in front of them. “I’m still alive?”
“You are so very funny,” said Astrid. “You should have been a comedian instead of a mad scientist.”
“I’m an inventor,” said her father, as they both climbed out of the car. “I am an inventor just like your grandfather and your great-grandfather and your great-great-grandfather. And you will be too.”
“I already am.”
“Yes you are.”
They were parked in Dr. Maxxim’s personal parking space next to the R&D building, a half-mile wide, fourteen story structure that dominated the northwest corner of the Maxxim Industries campus. The campus, sprawling across 180,000 acres of the American southwest, featured machine shops, office buildings, factories, power plants, and its own airport. It was here, where for the past forty-two years, thousands of Maxxim products had been developed and produced, making the Maxxim family very wealthy and making the world a better place in which to live.
Dr. Roger Maxxim was a tall man whose brown hair was only just beginning to show a touch of grey at his temples. He wore a pair of sturdy glasses, behind which were creases that could more honestly be called laugh lines than wrinkles.
Dr. Maxxim’s daughter Astrid was startlingly cute, with shoulder length strawberry blonde hair and very large blue eyes. At five foot five, she was exactly in the middle of her class when they arranged themselves by height for their class picture, which still made her four inches shorter than her mother. Like her father, she wore a white lab coat over her street clothes.
“You see,” said Astrid. “Look at that parking job. That’s just about as good as a person could get.”
“It’s pretty good,” her father agreed.
“It’s good enough that I should be able to drive all the time.”
“I let you drive as much as possible, Astrid.”
“I could drive a lot more, if I had my own car.”
“Astrid, the minimum driving age in this state is eighteen,” replied her father. “You know this. You also know that you have only just turned fourteen.”
“But Dad, I could just drive here at Maxxim Industries. It takes forever to get around here. I wouldn’t drive anywhere else. Honest.”
“No,” her father said. “In the first place, Astrid, it’s against the rules. In the second place, what would I say to all the other people who work here and are parents of fourteen year-olds? And in the third place, your mother would kill me, so that’s really all the places that I need.”
The Senta and the Steel Dragon page has been updated too reflect the new series title– The Sorceress and the Dragon.
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