This recording was originally intended for my Patreon supporters, but that site made it far too difficult to post a video, so here it is. I hope you enjoy the rather poor reading of the first chapter of my currently in-progress book.
It’s been three weeks since I last updated this page. It’s been a crazy month. Getting ready to teach virtual classes, and then to start teaching them has been crazy. But then, this has been a crazy year, hasn’t it. Who could have ever imagined something like this? Isaac Asimov? Arthur C. Clarke? Probably.
I’ve been plunking away at a couple of story ideas, only one of which will result in a publication this year– hopefully soon. I hope to have the next Astrid Maxxim book out by the end of the year, which will make three books for 2020. The last time I published three books in a year was 2016.
Next year, I will be devoted to getting His Robot Wife: Extreme Patience completed before anything else. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get some new stuff done after that.
In the meantime, stay safe and stay healthy. And thanks for your support.
“What do you need, Astrid?”
“Can you get both Mr. Gortner and Mrs. Trent from Production for me?”
Mr. Gortner was first on the line.
“Good afternoon, Astrid,” he said. “You caught me just as I was leaving.”
“Well, I don’t want to keep you; just one quick question. Do we have a supply of hydrophobic sand on site?”
“I’m sure we have some. How much do you need?”
“I’d like about a hundred pounds, if possible.”
“I’ll have it sent over first thing tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Mr. Gortner,” said Astrid. “And how is the battery facility coming?”
He laughed. “Don’t be too impatient, Astrid. We won’t even break ground till next month.”
Seconds after Astrid said goodbye to Mr. Gortner, Mrs. Trent was on the line.
“How is the hoverbike production going?” asked Astrid.
“We’re producing 200 a day,” replied Mrs. Trent. “Nobody seems to know how many we need though. Some of our accounts people are predicting an initial order of 10,000. But I think it could be ten times that many.”
“Well, I have a couple of other things that I need,” said the girl inventor. “I want to build a second undersea dome, with thicker Astridium panels. I’ll send you the measurements tomorrow. In the meantime, I’d appreciate it if you could send me a hundred pounds of ground Astridium.”
“I can send you all the ground material you want,” said Mrs. Trent. “I can just grind up some parts that aren’t up to spec. As for building another dome, Astrid, I’m afraid that’s out of the question.”
“We don’t have the capacity or the man-hours. I’ve got to finish this run of hoverbikes, and then your father has three different projects waiting in the queue. His work takes priority.”
“Oh, um, all right,” said Astrid.
She ended the call and stuffed the phone back into her pocket.
“Are you still here, Astrid?” Mr. Brown stepped into the lab.
“Yes, I’m here.”
“What’s the matter, Astrid?”
“Um, nothing. Why?”
“You look like somebody just shot your dog.”
Astrid laughed. “Nothing that horrible. I’m just not used to not getting my way. I guess I’m spoiled.”
“You are the least spoiled girl I know,” he replied smiling. “What are you not getting your way about?”
“Are you working on something new?” he asked.
“I was thinking about how hydrophobic sand was originally designed to clean up oil spills, and I thought that ground Astridium might work equally well. And since we might have extra after making hoverbikes, it could be repurposed to help the environment.”
Early Monday morning, the four young Americans arrived at the airport. Their plane was awaiting them, all serviced, fueled, and ready to go. The Maxxim Starcraft 170 was a sharp, if unusual looking aircraft. Designed by Astrid’s father Dr. Roger Maxxim, the 47 foot long Starcraft 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, was more than spacious with just Astrid and Denise and their carryon luggage. Dennis and Toby took their places as pilot and co-pilot respectively.
An hour later, the Starcraft was soaring westward over the Atlantic Ocean. Though no jet, its cruising speed of 320 mph would carry them back in Maxxim City in under ten hours, even allowing for a short refueling stop in Atlanta. The girls carried on a spirited game of Toad Town using their MX-360 PDAs.
“Do you want to go sit up front?” asked Dennis, walking back down the aisle. “I’ve got to make a pit stop. Toby’s got the stick.”
“I told you that you shouldn’t drink so much orange juice right before takeoff,” said Denise.
Her brother ignored her and continued on toward the diminutive restroom at the rear of the cabin. Astrid unbuckled her seatbelt, walked to the cockpit, and carefully climbed into the pilot’s seat, strapping herself in.
“This is cool,” she said.
“I know,” said Toby. “By the time we get home, I’ll have enough hours to pilot one of these babies myself.”
“Good, you can fly us to Hawaii in two weeks.”
“I don’t know if I can go,” he said. “I haven’t asked yet. I know my dad will be fine with it, but Aunt Gerta thinks that I spend too much time away from home.”
Toby’s great aunt had come to live with him two years before, when his mother had passed away after a long struggle with cancer.
“What the heck is that?” cried Toby, as a loud beeping rang out in the small compartment.
“It’s the SAR,” said Astrid. “Somebody’s fired a missile at us.”
She pointed to the round radarscope at the bottom center of the control panel. It showed a blip coming up toward them from behind.
“What do I do?” asked Toby.
“I’ve got it,” said Astrid.
Taking the control stick in her left hand, she grabbed the twin throttles with her right, shoving them both forward. The engines screamed as they pushed the aircraft toward its maximum speed of 400 mph. Astrid didn’t take her eyes off the radar. The blip, indicating the missile, came closer and closer toward the center of the amber screen. At the last moment, she jerked left on the stick as she stamped down of the corresponding foot pedal and the plane rolled over onto its back. She and Toby watched as a missile shot past them, below the plane, and from their upside down perspective, just above their heads. It flew right through the space where the Starcraft had been.
Astrid flipped the plane back right side up and banked right in a climbing turn.
“What in the world is going on!” shouted Dennis behind them. “Are you trying to crash us?”
“There was a missile,” said Toby. “She just saved all of our lives.”
“Now let’s see if we can find out who shot at us,” said Astrid.
They spotted several recently made contrails high up in the sky, but no other aircraft in their vicinity.
“I’m sure that was an air-to-air missile,” said the girl inventor. “Our attacker must have high-tailed it as soon as they fired.”
“Just a couple of weeks ago they were trying to kidnap you,” said Toby. “Now they’re trying to kill you.”
“Yeah,” mused Astrid. “I wish they would hurry up and make up their mind.”
“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.
If any of you have looked for me on Facebook, either for my personal page or my author page, you haven’t been able to find me. I have cancelled my Facebook account, and all the associated accounts, like Messenger or Instagram.
I have never been happy with Facebook. While it’s nice to be able to connect with family and friends, I was never pleased by the great flattening the occurred. In other words, everything on Facebook is equal. As far as Facebook is concerned, a message to you from a guy you went to Elementary School with is just as important as the last words from your grandmother. Conspiracy theory is just as important as factual news. I never liked that, and I used it less and less every year.
Ultimately though, I discontinued Facebook because of its business model. When you go to McDonalds, you are the customer. When you use Facebook, you are the hamburger. Their entire goal is to find out as much as they can about you and use that to sell advertising to people who want to sell you things that aren’t necessarily good for you. I don’t need that in my life, and the things that Facebook gives me in return, aren’t worth it.
I had the great pleasure of joining the gentlemen of Science Fiction Remnant for a discussion of His Robot Girlfriends. Please check it out. And check out their other fascination episodes.
In For King and Country, the final installment of The Sorceress and the Dragon saga (Senta and the Steel Dragon), Birmisia Colony is threatened by a new pantheon of dragon gods. As life continues under the threat of destruction, the citizens look forward to a visit by the King’s youngest son and his new wife, the former Terra Dechantagne. Cousin Iolana is also ending her self-imposed exile for the promise of a position in the new university. Meanwhile Police Chief Saba Colbshallow sees his career and family threatened by a murder investigation against him. Finally, as sorceress Senta Bly waits to face off against Voindrazius the dragon-god, other forces plot her death.