Covid

Well, I got Covid.  This despite having been fully vaccinated.  Getting sick is just one of the many perks of being a teacher.  I’m about halfway through it now.  It’s no fun at all.  Lots of body aches and lack of energy.  Thankfully, I don’t have the respiratory problems that so many have faced (probably thanks to the vaccine).  The worst is the loss of smell.  Nothing smells and nothing tastes, so eating just isn’t that much fun anymore.  On the plus side, I’m losing some weight.  Anyway, enough whining.  Another week or so, and I’ll be back to normal.

Please take this pandemic seriously.  Wash your hands often.  Social distance.  Wear a mask.  Get Vaccinated.  Listen to your doctor.  Use common sense.

Eaglethorpe Buxton and… Something about Frost Giants

Chapter Five: In which I save the town and others do some fighting as well.

I didn’t have time to speak to Ellwood Cyrene and Ellwood Cyrene didn’t have time to speak to me either. Seconds after we had jointly dispatched the first giant, which is to say, killed him together, we were set upon by another.  In a great acrobatic leap and using this new giant’s bended knee as a platform, Ellwood launched into the air, stabbing the monster through the left eye.  Ellwood was always showing off like that.  It was revolting.  I was so revolted, that I turned and went off to find my own giant to kill.

I didn’t have to look far.  Another frost giant was ripping the roof off of a small house.  I jogged over to him, but he took no notice of me, being, by this time, engaged in looking down into the house like a decent fellow would have looked down into a stew pot, having just lifted the lid.  I thought about leaping up into an acrobatic display that would put to shame anything that Ellwood Cyrene could do.  I thought about it long and hard.  In the end though, it just seemed like a waste of energy, so I stabbed up into the giant’s manly bits.

I can’t say for certain just how manly the giant’s bits may have been.  Had they been exposed, I certainly wouldn’t have looked at them, and they were completely covered.  On the other hand, I feel certain that they were quite manly, which is to say, large, or giant, or even Brobdingnagian.  Even if they were proportionately very tiny, they still would have been very large because he was a very large giant.  He certainly reacted in a very manly way, which is to say, he grabbed his crotch and screamed girlishly before falling.

In my dispatching that giant, I did prove that though they may have had very large brains, since they had very large heads, the giants were not proportionately smart.  If I had been a giant, fighting, for the most part, beings that were less than waist-high to me, the one article of armor upon which I would have insisted would have been a cod piece, which is to say that piece of metal which guards the family jewels.  But while many, if not all, giants wore helmets, I cannot recall ever having seen a giant wearing a cod piece.  How often do you suppose a frost giant is hit upon the head, unless it be by another frost giant?

I looked around.  The battle seemed to be over, for while I could see four giants in addition to the two that I killed, I could see no living ones.

“You killed one frost giant,” said Ellwood Cyrene, “and I’m not sure he’s dead.”

“Of course he is dead,” said I.

“Look.  He’s moving.”

I walked over and stabbed the giant in the neck several times.

“Are you happy now?” I asked.

“You still only killed one giant,” said Ellwood.

“One and a half,” I corrected, “for I knee-capped that one before you stabbed him in the back.  That was rather a rather cowardly blow, if I may say so.”

“I had to stab him quickly in order to save your life.  At least I didn’t poke him in meat and two veg.”

I shook my head and looked around.  The town had been lucky.  In addition to myself and Ellwood Cyrene, a mercenary company known as The Bloody Dogs were camping at the edge of the village.  Evidently, they were as unhappy as I to be woken in the middle of the night by marauding giants.  They had taken down two and had apparently wounded another, for there was a trail of blood leading away to the north.

“At least I saved the mayor,” I said, pointing to the house from which that the giant had torn the roof.

“The mayor’s house is down the street,” said Ellwood.  “That home belongs to the local wet nurse.”

“Even better,” said I.  “A wet nurse is far more valuable to a town than a politician.”

“I’ve missed you, Eaglethorpe,” said Ellwood, eyes filling with tears, and lip trembling.  “It’s been eight years.”

“It’s been six years, eleven months, and sixteen days,” I said, “and some number of hours, minutes, and seconds.”

Eaglethorpe Buxton and… Something about Frost Giants

Chapter Three: In which I hear the story of Thurid Njärlbjörnsdöttir.

“So, my dear,” said I.  “How did you come to be sitting behind this tavern making pies, when I happen to know that your people live far to the north on the great icy glacier known as The Skagarack?”

“Aren’t all glaciers icy?” she queried.

“Not at all.  In the distant south there is a glacier they call Monoglyceride that is made entirely of oil.”

“If it’s oil, then why doesn’t it just flow away?”

“Oh, it does.  It just flows very slowly.  Not as slowly as ice, but slower than water.”

“That doesn’t sound possible,” she said.

“Many things that sound impossible, are actually possible,” said I.  “For instance, there is a giant animal in the fetid, stinking jungles of Ennedi called an elephant.”

“How giant is it?”

I looked at her.

“Well, not so giant that you would call it such, being quite large yourself, but it has five legs and horns growing out of the bottom of its head.”

“That doesn’t sound possible either.”  She climbed to her feet and stretched, before sitting back down.  “Now I don’t know what to believe.”

“All the world knows Eaglethorpe Buxton and all the world knows that he would never lie just to make a point.  But more to the point, or more to a different point, why are you here among humans instead of with your own kind?”

“You really want to hear my story?” she asked.

“If I don’t, then the title of this chapter makes no sense,” said I.

“Well, here is my tale, such as it is.  My clan lives in a fortress in one of the great rifts in The Skagarack.  We are just one of many clans of Frost Giants.  For as long as anyone can remember, the various clans would join together and go off to war.  We have always been naturally warlike.  We warred mostly with the Sky People and the Cloud Giants, but then they exterminated one another, and we had to go further afield to find enemies.  We went far to the west and attacked the lands of Catolan and Aerithraine, but the queen of that latter nation proved to be a match for our armies.”

“She’s a heinous bitch.”

I looked to see that Ethyl had returned from seeing to the horses.

“Did you see that the horses had oats and water?”

“Oats and water,” she said, rolling her eyes at me, “and ordered the stablemaster to give them both a good brushing.”

“I was just hearing the story of Thurid Njärlbjörnsdöttir,” said I.  “You can tell it’s an important story by looking at the top of the page.”

“Whatever,” said Ethyl.

She picked up a bucket of sand near the giant oven and turned it over, using it as a stool.

“Please continue, my dear,” I told the giantess.

“Well, with no enemies to war with, our people eventually went to war with each other.  My clan became embroiled in a bloody conflict with the Ice Peak Clan.  During one of the battles, we captured a dozen of their warriors.  Among them was the Ice Peak Jarl’s son.”

“Jarl?” I asked.

“It means king,” said Ethyl.

“I knew that, of course,” said I.  “I was just going to ask you if you knew it.  Thankfully you did, so we can continue the story without you having to be punished for ignorance.”

“You are a coxcomb,” said Ethyl.

“It is a term of affection,” I told Thurid Njärlbjörnsdöttir.  “Now, continue with the story.”

“We captured Gorm Birggersson, the son of the Ice Peak Jarl.  I was put in charge of bringing the prisoners their food.”

“I can see it already,” said I.  “The two of you met each day as you brought him his meals.  You talked.  You found out how much you shared in common.  Then you fell in love, a forbidden love, forever separated by the strife that separated your families.”

“No,” she said.  “That is not what happened.”

“Then what happened?”

“I brought him his food.  He told me that I was a horrible cook and that I was a fat ugly cow.  Naturally, I stabbed him.”

“Naturally,” said I.  “I hope he learned his lesson.”

“No,” she said.  “He just died.”

“This is the best story I’ve ever heard,” said Ethyl.

“It does have its charm,” I opined, “though it will need some major revisions to be suitable for the taprooms and alehouses of Lyrria.  I am thinking something along the lines that he fell in love with her so terribly that he committed suicide.  People like when someone kills himself over love.  Drunk people especially like it.”

“But he didn’t love me, and he didn’t kill himself,” said the giant woman.

“No, not yet,” said I.

“So, why the hell are you here?” asked my daughter.

“Ethyl!” I chastised her.  “Do not hurry a storyteller!”

I nodded toward the giantess.

“Killing a prisoner is against our laws,” she said.  “I was banished from my home.  And having nowhere else to go, I came south.  I had hunted as I traveled and took down several deer, so when I stopped here, I made a meat pie.  The townspeople were wary of me, but I shared some of the pie with them and they let me stay.  Master Turklewink offered me this job.  I have been baking pies for the last three days.  When I have enough money, I will build myself a cottage here.  There is plentiful wood in the forest, but I’ll need to buy some things to set up house.”

“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” said Ethyl.  “That guy in there is named Turklewink?”

“That is his name.  I believe his first name is Claud.”

“Claud Turklewink!” snorted Ethyl.

“It is late,” I told Thurid Njärlbjörnsdöttir.  “We have a room here, and with any luck, we shall be able to eat another of your pies on the morrow.”

“Good night,” said the giantess.

“Come along, Ethyl.  Let us turn in for the night.”

“You go ahead,” she said.  “I’ve got to find the outhouse and drop a clod and a turklewink.”

Eaglethorpe Buxton and… Something about Frost Giants

Chapter Two: In which I ponder the theoretical limit of piesmiths.

I was very full and satisfied by the time I had finished my slice of pie, or at least by the time I had finished that portion of it that I had eaten.  I would wager I had eaten a good ten pounds of that slice, and despite the fact that she had claimed to be sick of pie, I would wager that Ethyl had eaten more than I had.  Even so, there was far more of that slice left than there was gone, which is to say, we ate less than half of it.

“My good fellow,” I called to the tavernkeeper.  “I did not see an inn when we rode into town.”

“We don’t get too many visitors up these parts,” he replied.  “We’ve got two rooms to let upstairs though.  For a sovereign, you can have both rooms, and I’ll have you a hot bath drawn.”

“That sounds excellent,” said I.  “I did see a stable.  Can you have a boy take our horses over?”

“That I can, sir.”

“Have him tell the stablemaster to give them oats,” said I.

“And a good brush down too,” added Ethyl.

“That is a good idea,” said I.

“And check their hooves,” added Ethyl.

“Also, a good idea.”

“Never mind,” she said.  “I don’t trust anyone else with the horses.  I’ll do it myself.”

She jumped to her feet and left the premises, which is to say walked out of the tavern.

“Girls and horses have a natural affinity,” I told the tavernkeeper.  “Now, about this piesmith…”

“What about the piesmith?” asked the man.

“That was a clever use of an ellipses in order to demonstrate that I want to meet your piesmith,” said I.

“Oh.  Right this way,” he said, leading me through the room and into the kitchen.

I had expected to find said piesmith in the kitchen, and not only that.  I had expected to find some amazingly large oven in which to bake an amazingly large pie.  That was not the case.  The oven was a normal sized one, incapable of baking the pie that I had seen and eaten part of.

“This way,” said the tavernkeeper, leading out the back door.

Behind the tavern was an oven.  It was round and made of fitted stones.  Sitting cross-legged beside it was a giant woman, or more precisely, a giantess.  She would have been a good fifteen feet tall, had she been standing up, and she was proportionately large all over.  Long blond hair hung past her shoulders, and she wore a jacket and pants made by the sewing together of dozens if not scores of thick furs of various colors.

“This is Thurid,” said the tavernkeeper.  “She made the pie.”

“Thurid,” I repeated.  “What a lovely name.  I must compliment you on it and your pie.”

“The choice of name was not mine,” she said.  “My father named me.  My full name is Thurid Njärlbjörnsdöttir.”

She had a lovely voice, though a trifle deep for a woman, and a trifle loud for a human being, which she wasn’t, because she was a giant.

“But I thank you for the compliment on my pie, though I’m a bit ashamed that it was so small.”

“It was a very fine pie,” said I.  “I would not say that it was too small, though I am generally of the opinion that most pies should be larger.”

The tavernkeeper turned to go back inside, but I stopped him.

“You should introduce me.”

“Oh, yes.  Thurid, may I introduce story-teller Eaglethorn Bucklenut.”

“That’s Eaglethorpe Buxton, with a thorp instead of a thorn and bux instead of a buckle and a ton instead of a nut.”

“Eaglethorpe Buxton,” she mused, as the tavernkeeper left us.  “I believe I have heard of Eaglethorpe Buxton.”

I liked the sound of my name when she said it, though truth be told, I generally liked the sound of my name, as long as it was pronounced correctly and not mixed with nuts and thorns and buckles.  When Thurid Njärlbjörnsdöttir said it, it sounded like it was being amplified by magic, or by being spoken by a really large woman.

“Perhaps you know me as the great and heroic adventurer,” I suggested.

“No,” she said.

“Then you must know me from one of my many wonderful tales, such as Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Mercenary Warrior Who Ought Not to be a Woman but Secretly Was.”

“I do not think so,” she said.

“How about Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Fury of the Monkey People?

“No.”

Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Fork of Destiny?”

“No.  I do not think I heard of you as a story-teller.”

“Well, some people know me as a playwright,” said I.

“I know,” she said.  “It was a human man named Eaglethorpe Buxton that caused a war between the Cloud Giants and the Sky People, which ended up destroying both their civilizations.”

“I remember it differently,” said I.

Astrid Maxxim and her High-Rise Air Purifier – Chapter 12 Excerpt

The Suncraft arrived in Honololu just before noon.  It took just over an hour to refuel and some of the passengers, Toby, Austin, Denise, and Penelope among them, went for a walk through the airport terminal to stretch their legs.  Christopher had fallen asleep just before they had landed, and nobody wanted to wake him up.  Astrid spent the time talking to the flight crew and going over the safety check with them.

“Look who I found,” said Penelope upon her return, pulling along a wiry young woman of medium height, with a strong nose, bright eyes, and massive waves of curly brown hair.

“Hello, Paige!” called Astrid, hurrying to give the newcomer a big hug.

“Hey, Boss.”

Paige Liebowitz looked much younger than her twenty-eight years.  She had been in charge of Maxxim world-wide construction projects for the past two years, but now, pending board approval, was the Senior Vice President of Construction, upon Astrid’s recommendation.

“Tell me you’re coming to Beijing with us.”

“I had to agree to come to stop Penny from whining about it,” said Paige, elbowing Penelope, whose sour face indicated that she was no fonder of Paige calling her by her childhood nickname than anyone else.

“Come on, boys!” called Paige, waving forward Austin and Toby, both weighed down with metal cargo chests.  “Here comes lunch, dinner, and snacks for the rest of this epic voyage.”

The five of them loaded the food into the plane’s kitchen area and were ready by the time the aircraft was prepared to return to the skies.

“Wait!  Denise came running across the tarmac, waving her hands.  “Don’t leave without me!”

“Where have you been?” asked Astrid, as the door was pulled closed and the two of them maneuvered toward their seats.  

Denise pointed to her face.  The tiny gold ring that normally hung from the center of her nose, just above her full upper lip, had been replaced by a ring, that while no larger, featured a tiny round coral bead in the middle.  It definitely made the jewelry more noticeable.

Astrid pulled out her phone and began typing.

“What are you doing?” asked Denise.

“I’m texting your brother that this wasn’t my fault.”

“No, you would never do anything as dangerous as help me pick out jewelry,” said Denise.  “You’re all about throwing me into shark infested waters or killing me in a…”

She stopped and looked like she was biting her tongue.

“What?” said Astrid.

“I was going to say killing me in a plane crash, but I don’t want to anger the aircraft gods.”“Good thinking,” said Astrid.

Astrid Maxxim and her High-Rise Air Purifier – Chapter 9 Excerpt

“You’re going steady?” said Denise with a frown, while looking around the Brown-Richards back yard.  “Is this the 1940s?  Have we gone back in time?  I distinctly remember telling you that I didn’t want to be part of your time travel experiments.”

She was seated, facing Astrid, as both relaxed in the family’s bubbling hot tub. “There’s no such thing as time travel,” said Astrid, “and quit making fun of us.  I think it’s sweet that he wanted to go steady.”

“Yeah, sweet like that artificial sugar substitute that makes you break out in hives.  We’re young, beautiful women and we should be out playing the field.  We should be serial dating, and not granola either but some cereal with lots of real sugar, that rots your teeth and makes you bounce off the walls like a hyperactive puppy.”

“Sometimes I wonder if even you know what you’re talking about,” said Astrid.

“I’m talking about dating.”

“But you’re dating Christopher.”

“That’s right; I am,” said Denise, “right up until I see somebody I want to date more.  And then I date that guy, unless I find out he’s not as good as Christopher and then I go back to dating him.”

“But you always go back to Christopher.”

“That’s because they never turn out to be better,” Denise grumbled.

“Doesn’t it bother you if he goes out with someone else too?” asked Astrid.

“No.  He can date Alicia all he wants… if he likes big butts and stupid faces.”

“Well, as long as you don’t mind,” said the girl inventor.

At that moment, Astrid’s phone rang from where her pants were draped over a patio chair.  She answered using her Maxxim Carpe wrist computer.

“Hello?”

“Astrid?  Hi.  It’s Michelle Pennington.  I hope you don’t mind me calling.  I got your number from Dr. Born.”

“No problem.  What’s up?”

“Arthur and I were going over our experiments and we think we have a winner.”

Astrid and the Pennington twins had, weeks earlier, set up an experiment to test a dozen compounds of Astridium to see which, if any, might absorb carbon from the air.

“You’re looking over the results now?  At school?  It’s Sunday.”

“It’s all right,” said Michelle.  “Dr. Born is with us, and Mrs. Frost is somewhere in the building.”

“Mrs. Frost,” grumbled Denise, evidently still upset about the aborted assault on her nose ring.“All right,” said Astrid.  “We can go over the results in class tomorrow and if it works out, we should start designing some kind of prototype device to use the product.”

Astrid Maxxim and her High-Rise Air Purifier – Chapter 6

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.

Christopher laughed.

“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.

Astrid Maxxim and her High-Rise Air Purifier – Chapter 1 Excerpt

Astrid Maxxim stepped up to the counter in the Maxxim City Police Station.  The officer, who had been busy writing, looked up.

“Oh, Miss Maxxim.  How can I help you?”

“I’m here to meet my friend Valerie Diaz.  She’s writing a report on the police department for school.”

“Right.  She’s with Chief Gillespie.  He said to bring you on back when you got here.”

Stepping out from behind the counter, he waved for her to follow and led her back down a hallway to a door.  He knocked once and then opened it for her to step inside.  The room beyond was a small one, unremarkable except for a large window filling up one wall, and a camera on a tripod pointed at it.  Standing there, looking through the window, which Astrid surmised was a two-way mirror, were the Chief of Police and her friends Valerie Diaz and Valerie’s cybernetic twin Robot Valerie.

Astrid Maxxim was a cute girl of fifteen.  Her shoulder-length strawberry blond hair set off her very large blue eyes.  Valerie Diaz had been Astrid’s friend for years.  She had a crewcut of black hair, as well as flashing brown eyes.  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.

“Come here, Astrid,” whispered Regular Valerie.  “We’re watching an interrogation.”

Astrid stepped over next to her to peer into another room where a female police officer and a man in dirty clothes faced each other over a small table.  Astrid knew Officer Cutler.  The policewoman had helped write the safety rules for Astrid’s hoverbike.  The man across from her, despite his clothes, had very clean hands and face.  He was bald, with a bit of a scraggly beard.

“So, let me make sure I have everything,” said Officer Cutler to the man.  “Your name is Thomas Eckles, and you’re from the future”

“That’s right.  Twenty-five years in the future.”

“But you lost your time machine.”

“I didn’t lose it,” he said with a sigh.  “The government took it.”

“Then you came here to Maxxim City.  Why was that again?”

“To get another time machine.  They invented it here.  I mean, they’re going to invent it here—any day now.”

“Are you working on a time machine now?” Chief Gillespie asked Astrid.

“Of course not,” said Astrid.  “Time travel is impossible.”

“If you say so, but I’m standing here next to a robot.”

“Well, it’s good to know that Maxxim City is still here in the future,” Officer Cutler told the man.

“It is, but it’s different,” he replied.  “It’s very different.”

“Come on, let’s get you girls on your way,” said the Chief, waving them toward the door.

“You’re going to get a psych evaluation at the hospital,” said Cutler, from the other room.  “If they say you’re not a threat, you’ll be free to go.”

“I understand,” replied Eckles, if that was really his name.  “I’m not worried.  This is before things got bad.  If this were my time, they’d throw me in the reeducation booth.”

“Wait.  What did he say?” asked Astrid, who had just stepped out into the hallway.

“Just more gibberish,” said Gillespie, closing the door after them.  “Let this be a lesson to you girls—don’t do drugs.”

“We wouldn’t do that,” said Robot Valerie.

“Um, I wasn’t really worried about you,” he clarified.  

“The future is always dystopian, isn’t it?” asked Cutler, still in the interview room.

“It’s because of the Internet,” replied the so-called time traveler.  “Once someone controls all the information, robot stormtroopers are sure to follow.”

Astrid looked back through the mirrored window.

“I think I want to hear more.”

“Don’t get too invested,” said the chief, guiding her by the shoulders out of the room.  “There are a lot of crazy people in the world.”  He looked at the Valeries.  “I hope you were both able to get all the information you needed.  We’re a small-town police department, but we’re proud of the job we do.”

“I think we did,” said Regular Valerie.  “Thanks so much for taking the time to give us the tour.”

“You’re welcome.”  

The chief led them to the lobby and then, bidding them farewell, turned and marched back toward his office.

“That was really fascinating,” said Robot Valerie.  “I think I might want to go into law enforcement someday.”

“I like your new shoes, Astrid,” said Regular Valerie looking down, “but if you don’t keep them tied, you might fall on your face.”

“Oh,” said Astrid, following Valerie’s gaze to see that her left shoe was untied.

She dropped down into a squat to tie it.

“Governor!  How did you find me?”

Astrid turned to see that Officer Cutler had led the man calling himself Thomas Eckles, his hands cuffed behind his back, into the lobby.  Now he was staring at Valerie.  Astrid stood up.  Eckle’s eyes turned to her and suddenly his face drained of color.

“No!” he wailed, dropping to his knees.  “No!  I didn’t tell them anything!  I swear I didn’t tell them anything!”

“Johnson!” called Officer Cutler, to the other officer on duty, who ran around from behind the desk.  They each took one of the man’s arms and lifted him up, pulling him back down the hallway.  “You girls go on out,” she said.

As the two police officers half carried/half dragged the man away, Astrid could hear him shouting.  “No!  Don’t you understand?  We’re all dead!  Nobody crosses the Supreme Ruler and lives!”

“I hope they get him the help he needs,” said Robot Valerie, once they were outside the station’s front door.

“Unless he’s really from the future,” said Regular Valerie, “in which case, I hope he gets another time machine.  I guess you better hurry up and invent it, Astrid.”

“Time machines are not possible,” said Astrid, with a frown.

“Just because nobody’s made one before, doesn’t make it impossible that they might someday,” said Valerie.  “Nobody thought a rocket to the moon was possible, but they built one.” 

“You can go to the moon, because the moon is there.  Time isn’t.  Time isn’t a place you can go.  It’s not really like another dimension of space.  The past is just what has already happened, and the future is just what hasn’t happened yet.”

“Didn’t Stephen Hawking say time travel was possible?” wondered Robot Valerie.

“That was theoretical,” Astrid replied, “under very confined parameters, and only at the quantum level.  Why does nobody seem to get that?”“Because nobody knows what any of that means,” said Regular Valerie.

Astrid Maxxim and Her High-Rise Air Purifier

Now available where ever fine ebooks are sold– Astrid Maxxim and her High-Rise Air Purifier, the seventh book in the Astrid Maxxim: Girl Inventor series. Astrid takes on kidnappers, global warming, Chinese conglomerates, and high school. 99 cents in any ebook format. Look for the paperback edition at Amazon.