Eclipse made a successful landing at the Maxxim Airfield on the evening of Friday, October fourth. That gave Astrid a relaxing weekend before she had to be back at school. She finished up the small amount of schoolwork she hadn’t done in orbit, and spent several hours practicing her oboe.
Back at school on Monday, life seemed so much smaller than it had when she was zooming around the earth at 17,500 miles per hour. On the other hand, sometime Astrid just enjoyed being a teen-aged girl.
Mrs. Werner really worked the orchestra hard that morning, preparing them for their first concert which was that evening at 5:00. After all that, it felt great to throw Austin to the mat several times in Jui Jitsue class. By the time lunch arrived, Astrid was really looking forward to her meal of arctic char, butternut squash, snow peas, and cheesecake for dessert. When she got in the lunch line however, she was handed a tray with a chili dog, fries, an apple, and a chocolate chip cookie.
“Where is my arctic char?” wondered Astrid.
“The refrigerator died over the weekend,” said Monica de Leo, a senior who was helping to distribute lunches. “The fish and the cheesecake went bad.”
“What about the squash and the peas?”
“Chef wasn’t able to make them,” said Monica. “I think he had a breakdown. He kept kicking the refrigeration unit, calling it a donkey. Then he just started crying.”
“I hope he’s okay,” said Astrid. “After all, there are worse things than having to eat a chili dog.”
“This is the worst lunch I’ve ever had,” Denise was saying as Astrid joined her friends in the quad. “Look at these fries. They’re limp and pathetic.”
“I’ll eat yours if you don’t want them,” offered Austin.
Denise passed everything to him except for her apple.
“There are plenty of kids who have to eat lunches like this every day,” said Christopher.
“But think how much worse it is for me,” said Denise. “After all, those kids are used to eating horrible food. I’m used to the finer things in life, and now I’m not getting them.”
Christopher gave her a look that he usually reserved for people that thought school was a waste of time.
“Cheer up, guys,” urged Toby. “Eat your apple now, and then we can swing by the Malt Shop and get something on the way home.”
“This kind of makes me glad I don’t have to eat anymore,” Robot Valerie announced. “I’ve gotten used to just plugging in since Astrid turned me into a robot.”
“See there?” said Astrid, taking a bite of her apple. “Silver lining.”
She had long since given up trying to explain that she hadn’t turned anyone into a robot. She had merely built a robot and copied her friend Valerie’s memories into it.
“Say, Astrid,” said Regular Valerie. “Denise and Valerie and I were thinking that this year we should have a joint birthday celebration.”
“Really? Last year we all made such a big deal with our families about having separate parties.”
“But now you have Miss Scacchi,” said Valerie. “She has party-planning superpowers.”
“That’s true,” agreed Astrid. “On the other hand, I think I might be in China the week of my birthday.”
“You’re going to China?” asked Denise.
“Astrid has mentioned this before,” said Toby. “She’s going to the Beijing Auto Show. You weren’t planning on staying two weeks though, are you?”
“Probably not,” said Astrid.
“I didn’t know that China was a sure thing,” Denise frowned. “I kind of want to go to too.”
“Maybe we should all go,” said Austin. “I’m pretty popular in China.”
“And why would you be popular in China?” wondered Robot Valerie.
“Because of the game. Battling Princesses of Solaron is huge in China. I’ve made enough money from sales there to buy a private island.”
The others all stared at him.
“Well, a small island… in a lake… with a really big house on it.”
“We should all see if we can go to China,” suggested Christopher. “It would be an educational experience, after all.”
“I don’t think I’ll be able to go,” said Bud.
“I don’t think my parents would be too keen on me going either,” said Regular Valerie, “and I’m really sure they won’t allow Valerie to go.”
“I don’t think she should be going anywhere outside of Maxxim City without some serious security,” opined Toby. “For that matter, I’m not sure that Astrid should either.”
“I’ll be fine,” said Astrid.
“Yeah,” said Austin. “After all, she’s already been to Antarctica, space, and even Vegas. And if Valerie can go to China, I’ll be there to protect her.”
“It’s an awfully expensive trip though,” said Bud.
“How about this,” said the girl inventor. “Everyone ask their parents for permission. If it’s okay, we’ll all fly over together and stay as a group. Maxxim Industries will pay for our stay and for the appropriate security.”
The afternoon classes flew by. Meeting together at the monorail station, the entire gang all agreed that they were really hungry. Getting off at main street station, all eight made a beeline for the Maxxim City Malt Shop. Inside, they pushed two tables together and all sat around, arranging themselves boy-girl-boy-girl seemingly by accident. Anyone who knew them would no doubt notice, however, that they were not arranged by accident.
“I’ll place our orders,” said Denise, getting up and starting toward the counter. “I know what everybody wants.”
“We got here just in time,” said Bud, watching students entering through the front door in groups of twos and threes, and sometimes more. “I guess a lot of kids skipped their school lunch.”
“They’ve been spoiled by the fries here,” said Denise, returning to the table and taking her seat next to between Christopher and Toby.
“Are you sure you ordered what I wanted?” asked Austin from across the table.
“Seven cheeseburgers,” said Denise. “No onions on Valerie’s, no pickle on Bud’s, and no tomato on yours, Austin. Fries for everyone except Bud. He gets onion rings. Chocolate shakes for Austin, Christopher, and me. Vanilla for Bud. Strawberry for Val. Chocolate sodas for Toby and Astrid. And Robot Valerie, there’s a plug by your feet, under that little metal flip-up door.”
They looked back and forth at one another and then, all at once, nodded.
“I can’t stay too long,” said Astrid. “I have to get home and get ready for the concert.”
“Is there a concert tonight?” asked Denise.
“Um, yes,” said Astrid looking around the table.
“We all know you have a concert, Astrid. Everyone here is going to be there to support you. Even Bud is going to be there.”
“I have to bring my brother and my sisters with me,” Bud grumbled. Everyone knew that Bud was often pressed into service as a babysitter for his four siblings.
“I’ll help you with them,” said Valerie, batting her long lashes at the dark-haired boy.
“Me too,” added Denise. “Kids love me.”
A moment later, she got up and began ferrying their food to the table. Christopher jumped up to help her. Everything, as expected, was delicious, and everyone finished in plenty of time for Astrid to get home and get dressed in her concert gown.
The school theater was overflowing with students, parents, and faculty at concert time. The orchestra played Bernstein’s Divertimento and the Fantasy Overture of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, followed by the Kabalevsky Overture to Colas Breugnon and Bernstein’s Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront. The final piece was a medley of America the Beautiful and Colors of the Wind from Disney’s Pocahontas. The crowd gave them a standing ovation. Astrid couldn’t stop smiling the rest of the night.