Chapter One: The Hoverdisk Failure
“Help! Help! We’re all going to die!”
“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 two Maxxims stepped through the revolving door and into the steel and glass lobby of the building, stopped at the security desk to have their ID badges scanned, and then took the glass elevator up to the fourteenth floor. Directly across from the elevator was the desk of office manager Flora Purcell. As Astrid and her father walked by, she jumped to her feet.
“Before you go into your lab, Dr. Maxxim, there’s something you need to know,” she said.
“The boss is in there and she doesn’t seem like she’s in a good mood.”
“Well, we can’t put it off, can we?” he replied. “We might just as well face the music now as later.”
Astrid followed her father through the door into his private lab. The twenty thousand square foot workspace was divided into chemical, biological, robotics, and engineering work areas. Just inside the door, in a small lounge that had been created by forming several plush chairs and couches into a semicircle waited a tall blond woman in a sharp black business suit. She held a clipboard to her chest and tapped her foot impatiently.
“Good afternoon, Boss” said Dr. Maxxim. “Astrid and I just went out for lunch.”
“Your hover disc was a huge waste of time and resources,” the woman said without preamble.
“Nonsense. It’s twice as efficient as my father’s original design from 1956.”
“It only lifts seventy pounds and it uses up a J46 lithium battery in less than five minutes.”
“Exactly,” replied Dr. Maxxim with a satisfied smile. “And the original could only lift thirty pounds and had to use all thirty pounds for wet cell car batteries.”
“I was hoping that six or eight of them could be harnessed to lift an army tank, or at least a Hum-vee,” she said.
“Oh my. I never promised anything like that, Boss.”
“What am I supposed to do with a hoverdisk that only lifts seventy pounds and only flies for five minutes?”
“Perhaps we could sell it as a toy?” suggested Dr. Maxxim.
“The Maxxim Toy Division brought in $764 million last quarter.”
“That’s a lot of money.”
“Your research and development costs for the same period were $822 million,” she said.
“My new battery might make Dad’s hoverdisk more valuable,” said Astrid. “It’s going to be ten times as efficient as any battery currently available.”
“And you,” said the woman, turning to look at the girl. “I knew it was a mistake to let your father build you your own lab next to his. Your playing with batteries has already cost us $357,000 and now I have almost $200,000 in invoices for something called…” she looked at her clipboard. “Project RG-7?”
“I can’t tell you anything about that yet,” said Astrid. “It’s still top secret.”
“Top Secret! I’m the Chairman and CEO of Maxxim Industries!”
“Sorry,” said Astrid, with a shrug.
“There you go, Boss,” said Dr. Maxxim. “Now, run along. We have to get back to work. We only have one day in the lab this weekend.”
“Fine, I’m going, but you haven’t heard the last of this.” She stepped very close to Dr. Maxxim and looked him in the eyes. “And if you don’t stop calling me ‘Boss,’ you’ll be sleeping on the couch.”
“Astrid, see that both you and your father are on time for dinner. I’m tired of eating by myself.”
“Okay, Mom. We’ll be on time.”
“Wait till she sees my next project,” Dr. Maxxim told his daughter when his wife had left. “It’s going to be amazing.”
“What is it?”
“Can’t tell you. It’s top secret.”
“Very funny,” said Astrid. “Seriously.”
“Seriously, it’s top secret,” said her father. “It’s a little something I’m whipping up for DARPA.”
“The Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration? Well, she’ll be happy about that,” said Astrid. “The government always pays its R&D costs up front.”
Astrid left her father and walked down the corridor to her own lab. It was exactly half the size of her father’s but was set up in the same configuration with most of the same equipment. She went right over to the battery test, where her new invention was powering a small motor beneath a series of heat lamps. She pressed her face against the safety class and read the gauges. Two hundred degrees Celsius, far hotter than any place a battery would be used, at least on earth, and her little power cell was still going strong.
“Hey, mad scientist!” called a voice behind her.
Four kids her age, two boys and two girls, had just entered the lab. Valerie Diaz and Denise Brown were Astrid’s best friends. Denise had long blond hair and green eyes, and was a little on the skinny side, while Valerie was a few inches shorter with beautiful dark hair and brown eyes. Toby Bundersmith had lived next door to Astrid since she was born and was, at least in Astrid’s opinion, everything that could be good about a boy, with a tall muscular body, brown bangs just above his hazel eyes, and a broad smile. Christopher Harris was Toby’s best friend. He was tall, with chocolate brown skin and black hair. He was quiet but had the highest grades of anyone at school, with the exception of Astrid. All four kids had a parent who worked for Maxxim Industries—in Christopher’s case, two parents.
“Why are you wasting your time watching that test?” asked Denise. “I thought you said it was going to keep going until at least Tuesday.”
“I hope it does. I was just checking.”
“We’re going over to my house to go swimming,” said Toby. “Are you coming?”
“I’m supposed to remind Dad to be on time for dinner…”
“Mrs. Purcell can remind him,” said Denise. “And you can call him just to make sure. Come on.”
“Alright,” said Astrid, and followed her friends out the lab door.
Just before she passed through the portal, she cast a single quick glance at the crate in the far corner—the crate labeled “Top Secret. Project RG-7.”