This is not an April Fool’s joke. I’ve completed the draft for Nova Dancer, a sci-fi space story. If you are wondering why this book is done and the others that I’ve supposedly been working day and night on aren’t, well, it’s like this. Nova Dancer has been sitting around almost complete for a couple of years. I reached a point where I needed a break from writing His Robot Wife, which is very dark, and I realized I only needed a couple of chapters to finish Nova Dancer. Of course the mood I was in, made it a little dark too.
Nova Dancer takes place in the far future (some 28,000 years from now) in an interstellar society that no longer remembers Earth as anything more than a myth. There’re aliens, starships, and lots of good old sci-fi goodies. I’m going back to writing my other books for a few weeks before I start editing. Look for Nova Dancer to appear within a few months though.
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.”
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.
Abbeyport was made up of some twenty-five or twenty-six businesses, and as far as I could tell fifteen of them were saloons of some sort. Among the few others, besides the single hotel, were a couple of general stores, at least two launderers, and an import/export office. All the others were trading posts specializing in selling to the natives, using a barter system with which they could purchase European or American goods. There were none of the sorts of shops I had seen in cities like New York or San Francisco, which catered to the finer things in life. The streets were all simple packed dirt affairs and one couldn’t help but kick up a great deal of dust just walking from here to there. The large colonial style homes sitting around these clapboard stores and saloons looked totally out of place, with their carefully tended gardens, white picket fences, and brightly painted verandas. Some of the inhabitants sat in chairs or beneath the shade fanning themselves and drinking cool beverages; the men dressed in white suits and the ladies in long dark dresses and white long-sleeved blouses, their hair piled high in carefully constructed stacks.
I didn’t stray too far beyond these houses, examining the native dwellings without wandering out among them. They were square constructions made by carefully intertwining twigs together and then topping the home off with very large leaves. I can only assume the roofs had to be replaced fairly often because most of them were still quite green.
Wandering back to the hotel, I hadn’t taken nearly as much time as I had expected to make an entire circuit of the area. When I stepped into my room, I was surprised to find a native man bent over one of my steamer trunks, which had been laid flat on the floor. I gave a shout as he plowed into me on his way out the door. I didn’t try too hard to stop him, and doubt if I could easily have done so, because he was quite a large fellow. I resolved then that I wouldn’t leave my possessions unguarded if I could help it. The thief had been unable to gain access to my belongings due to a complex locking mechanism that required not only a four-digit combination, but also the throwing of two secret switches hidden on either side of the luggage.
I went to what passed for the dining room in the hotel only long enough to grab a bowl of soup and a couple of slices of bread. Then I retired to my room and went to bed at an early hour, though darkness had firmly settled before I did.
That night the dream returned for the first time since I had left the United States, though before that it had plagued me for many nights. I found myself outside the door of my home in Boston. I turned the key in the lock, opened the door, and entered. Though I tried to move quickly, I felt as if the air was thick syrup. I stepped through the foyer and heard the voices coming from the parlor beyond. In my dream I couldn’t recognize the voices, though my waking self knew who they were.
In the morning, I had just washed, shaved, and dressed when the native boy, Saral, arrived at my door.
“Someone tried to break into my things yesterday.”
“Yes, there are many thieves. Not to worry. I will see your room guarded.”
“It has to be someone capable. This fellow was bigger than I am.”
“Not to worry. I will get my cousin Asika to guard your room.”
“As you think best,” I said, handing him another dollar. “Who can I see about arranging an expedition into the wilderness? I need bearers and… well, I don’t know what you call them here. Men with guns.”
“Guards yes? I can take care of all this for you. It will not be easy to find all the men you need. The great Roosevelt expedition has hired two hundred men.”
Last month I had a poll on which book should come next. The results were as follows:
His Robot Wife: Patience Under Fire 71.43%
82 Eridani: Voyage 14.29%
Senta and the Steel Dragon: For King and Country 7.14%
Rolo: time Traveler at Large 7.14%
Nova Dancer 0%
Astrid Maxxim and her High-Rise Air Purifier 0%
I think we had 14 people vote. Well, right now, it looks like I’ll manage to publish three books this year. Patience Under Fire is definitely one. As for the other two… I’m not sure. I’ve written parts of all of them except for Astrid Maxxim.
I picked up Nova Dancer the other day and realized that I it was halfway done. 82 Eridani is about half don too, but it’s a 125,000 word book, and Nova Dancer is a 40,000 word book. Senta is 2/3 done, but it’s probably going to be well over 150,000 words. So there you go. Watch this space for more information on which books will be coming when.