Feb 14 2014 4:00pm
Check out Dangerous, a new action-adventure romance by Shannon Hale available March 4th from Bloomsbury.
When Maisie Danger Brown nabbed a spot at a NASA-like summer boot camp, she never expected to uncover a conspiracy that would change her life forever. And she definitely didn’t plan to fall in love.
But now there’s no going back—Maisie’s the only thing standing between the Earth and annihilation. She must become the hero the world needs. The only problem is: how does a regular girl from Salt Lake City do that, exactly? It’s not as though there’s a handbook for this sort of thing. It’s up to Maisie to come up with a plan—and find the courage to carry it out—before she loses her heart… and her life.
The warehouse was coffin dark. I put out a hand, feeling my way up the stairs.
I knew I wasn’t alone.
I strained to hear movement. A scuffed foot, the rustle of clothing. The clink of ammunition. Anything.
There was nothing. Just the sound of my own labored breathing.
If I had known all that would happen these past months, would I still have entered that stupid sweepstakes?
No, I thought. Never.
But my hand pressed against the tokens in my chest, protective.
I climbed faster.
Our team was shattered. Two of us left. Only one would walk away from this encounter. But I didn’t want to kill again. And I didn’t want to die.
Every superhero has an origin story. Mine began with a box of cereal.
“Mom?” I said, pulling a box of Blueberry Bonanza out of a grocery sack. “Really?”
I’d like to say I was helping her unload the groceries because I’m that wonderful. In fact it was an excuse to escape. When she’d returned from the store, I’d been working on Accursed Geometry.
“They were on sale,” Mom said. “I thought you’d like to try something different.”
I opened the box and poured some “Fruitish Nuggets and Marshmallow Fun” into my hand to show her.
“Oh!” she said. “I didn’t realize they were so blue.”
“Guácala,” I said. The Spanish word for gross sounded so perfectly gross.
“Guácala,” she agreed.
I was going to put the cereal in solitary confinement on a high shelf when I noticed the words “Astronaut Boot Camp” on the back of the box:
Sweepstakes open to U.S. residents ages
12– 18. grand prize includes three weeks
at Howell Astronaut Boot Camp.
“Thanks for the spontaneous help,” Mom was saying as she put away the fridge items. “Am I correct in assuming I’m saving you from geometry?”
“Now, Mom, you know I find nothing so thrilling as calculating the area of a triangle.”
I shelved the box, too ashamed to show Mom the sweepstakes. Since I was five I wanted to be an astronaut. But little kids always dream of being astronauts, princesses, or spies and then grow up to realize that’s impossible. I should have outgrown my space fantasy by now.
“Hey, Maisie,” Dad said, coming in from the garage. “Did you hear about the dog that gave birth to puppies in the park? She was arrested for littering.”
“Heard it,” I said. “Can you really not remember which puns you’ve tried on me?”
“I have a photographic memory, but it was never developed.”
“Heard that one too.”
Newly motivated, I hurried through math so I could get on the Astronaut Boot Camp website. In order to enter the sweepstakes online, I had to fill out a survey. It was crazy long.
“Wow, there’s something shockingly unnatural about bright blue food, isn’t there?” Dad called from the kitchen. How had he even found the cereal? “Did you know there’s no FDA-approved natural source for blue food dye?”
“The color blue is an appetite suppressant, our body’s primal instinct to warn us away from poisonous things,” he went on, in full lecture mode. “Blueberries are actually purple skin around green pulp. And red foods like maraschino cherries owe their color to the ground-up bodies of female cochineal insects.”
“Mom bought the cereal,” I called back. I started to feel guilty, as if I were lying to my parents, so I added, “Um, read the back of the box.”
“Oh!” Dad leaned around the kitchen wall. “Maisie, you know the odds of winning the sweepstakes must be astronomical, no pun intended. For once.”
“I know. I just thought, why not enter, right?”
“Okay then. When you grow up to be a famous astronaut, don’t forget your humble roots. Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.”
And the survey went on and on.
“This is weird…”
“What?” Dad was sitting on the couch now, reading a science journal and absently rubbing his bald spot. These past few years, the spot had degraded into more of a bald territory. He had only a rim of puffy hair left. I was afraid I’d hurt his feelings if I suggested he just shave it all off.
“It’s a marketing survey,” I said, “but listen to these questions: ‘How would you rate your memorization ability? How many languages do you speak at home?’ Here’s my favorite: ‘What would you do if you were in an elevator on the fiftieth floor of a building, the brakes broke, and you began to plummet?’”
Dad put down the journal. “What would you do?”
“I’d climb through the hatch in the elevator’s ceiling, take off my pants, wrap them around one of the cables and tighten until I slowed my fall, and then I’d swing onto a ledge and wait for rescue.”
“And put your pants back on, of course.”
I frowned at him. “I just escaped a runaway elevator, and you’re worried that someone will see me without pants?”
“Are you kidding? My baby girl is a teenager— I worry about everything. ¡Cariña!” he shouted toward Mom in their bedroom, which doubled as her office. “Can we hire someone to guard Maisie for the next several years? Maybe a Navy SEAL?”
“¡Adelante!” she shouted back. Mom was Paraguayan. Even though she’d been living in the States since she was eighteen, she still had an awesome accent. “Get a cute one with a full head of hair.”
“Hey!” he said, and she giggled at her own joke.
I thought my plan would work—that is, if I had two hands to grab the pants. In my mom’s uterus, amniotic bands had wrapped around my forearm, and I was born without a right hand.
It was my right arm’s fault I was into space. When I was old enough to dress myself, Dad replaced buttons on my clothes with Velcro, saying, “Velcro—just like the astronauts.” I’d wanted to know more, and a few library books later, I was a space geek.
“Howell Astronaut Boot Camp?” he said, reading over my shoulder. “I didn’t know Bonnie Howell ran a summer camp.”
Bonnie Howell was, of course, the billionaire who built the Beanstalk—the world’s only space elevator. Library books published less than ten years ago still called a space elevator “decades away.” But the Beanstalk’s very real ribbon of carbon nanotubes connected an ocean platform to an asteroid in geostationary orbit, thirty-six thousand kilometers up. (That’s twenty- two thousand miles, but I was raised on the metric system. A side effect of having scientist parents.)
“She said she started the boot camp to ‘ignite the love of science in the teenage mind,’” I said, scanning a Wikipedia article. “Hey, did you know she has a full space station on the Beanstalk’s anchoring asteroid? She uses the station for mining operations and unspecified research.”
Dad perked up. To him, “research” meant “hours of nonstop fun, and all in the comfort of a white lab coat!” He went off to call his science buddies for more details.
There was a single knock at the door, and Luther let himself in.
“Buenas tardes,” he said.
“Buenas, mijo,” Mom greeted him from her room. “Get something to eat!”
Luther shuffled to the kitchen and returned with graham crackers smeared with chocolate hazelnut spread. He was wearing his typical white button- down shirt, khaki pants, and black dress shoes. He sat in Dad’s vacated spot on the couch, setting his plate on the threadbare armrest.
“Did you finish Accursed Geometry so we can talk science project?” Luther scowled at me, but he didn’t mean it. He just needed glasses, but he refused to succumb to another stereotype of the nerd.
“Yeah, hang on a sec…” I answered the last question on the marketing survey and clicked submit. “Okay, your turn.”
I grabbed Luther’s arm and pulled him into the computer chair.
“Maisie, what are—”
“Wow, you’re all muscly.” My hand was on his upper arm, and when he’d tried to fight me off, he flexed his biceps. We’d been homeschooling together for five years. When had he gone and grown muscles?
I squeezed again. “Seriously, you’re not scrawny anymore.”
He pulled away, his face turning red. I pretended not to notice, filling him in on the sweepstakes. He laughed when I told him my answer to the elevator question.
“That only works in the movies. Never mind. Think science project. Could a lightweight car function as a kind of electromagnet, repelling the Earth’s magnetic force so it could hover—”
“Reducing friction, and therefore using less energy to propel itself? Definitely!”
Luther started sketching out ideas. I smiled and pretended enthusiasm, as I had been for the past year. Pretending.
My world felt like it was shrinking—my tiny house, my tiny life. Mom and Dad. Luther. Riding my bike in the neighborhood. Studying space but going nowhere. Why did everyone else seem fine but I felt as if I were living in a cage I’d outgrown two shoe sizes ago?
Luther had a big extended family with reunions and camping trips and dinners. They went to church, joined homeschool clubs, played sports.
My parents believed in staying home.
I told myself I could survive without change. Things weren’t that bad. College wasn’t so far away. Then astronaut boot camp tauntedme. It could be a fascinating experiment: take Maisie out of her naturalhabitat, put her in a new place with astronomical possibilities(some pun intended), and see what happens.
You could say I regularly checked the website for updates, if regularly means twenty times a day. For weeks and weeks.
“Dad and I were talking,” Mom said one day, “and when—if you don’t win, maybe we can save up to send you next summer.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I said, but I knew there was no way they could afford it.
I had to win. The degree of my wanting alarmed me. I’d always been certain of four things:
- I wanted to be an astronaut.
- Space programs recruited the “able-bodied” types.
- I had to be so good at science my limb lack wouldn’t matter.
- Science requires objectivity, and emotions create errors. To be the best scientist, I needed to rid myself of cumbersome human emotions.
I winced my way through the spring, trying to become Maisie Robot. I thought I’d prepared myself for the inevitable disappointment when I came home from Luther’s one day to a year’s supply of Blueberry Bonanza on our front porch. The accompanying letter left no doubts:
YOU WON YOU WON YOU WON YOU WON!
It was happening. That huge, whooshing engine of anticipation wasn’t going to zoom past and leave me in the dust. I lay back on the stoop, hugging one of those boxes of nasty cereal, and stared up at the sky. At a glance, the blue seemed solid, but the longer I stared, the more it revealed its true nature as a shifting thing, not solid and barely real.
The sky seemed as artificial as the cereal in my arms. It wasn’t a cage. I wasn’t really trapped. I was about to break free.
You’ll be gone three weeks?”
“Oh.” Luther stared at his feet, tilting his shoe so his laces slopped to one side and then the other. “That seems like a long time.”
“Generally speaking, when your best friend wins a sweepstakes, you’re supposed to say congratulations.”
“Best friend…” He said it softly, and I realized that we’d never used that term before. After that, he avoided the topic of my departure till my last day at home.
We were working on a history project. Luther had thought we could compare mortality rates with urban cleanliness: the Poo Project. It had sounded more interesting before astronaut boot camp dangled so sparkly and enchanting in my periphery.
Luther shut his notebook. “I guess I’ll go home.”
“Hey—we can chat during my free hours, Sundays and Wednesdays at ten.” Cell phones weren’t allowed at astronaut boot camp, and Luther despised talking on the phone anyway, so my only option would be chatting online in the computer lab.
“Okay, so good- bye, I guess,” he said.
He reached out, and I thought he wanted to give me a hug, so I leaned in. It was only when I glimpsed the surprise in his eyes that I realized he’d probably been about to pat my shoulder or something. But stopping a hug almost enacted would be like trying to stop a jump when your feet were already in the air.
So I leaned in the last ten percent.
“Take care,” I mumbled against his shoulder, patting his back.
He hesitated, then his arms rose around me too. I still thought of him as the short, pudgy kid I’d met riding bikes five years ago. When had he grown taller than me? I could feel the pulse in his neck beating against my head, his heart slamming in his chest. I panicked, my entire middle from stomach to throat turning icy, and I let go.
“Don’t you dare finish the Poo Project without me,” I said casually.
“Okay,” he said.
That night I thought more about Luther than astronaut boot camp.
My parents drove me to the Salt Lake City airport early the next morning. We all got sniffly sad hugging by the security line.
I was missing them even more when I had to take off Ms. Pincher (as we called my prosthetic arm) to put it through the X-ray machine. A little boy behind me howled with fright.
I knew I was too old to be so attached to my parents. But as the plane took of, I imagined there was a string connecting my heart to theirs that stretched and stretched. I used my rough beverage napkin to blow my nose and kept my face turned toward the window. I was in the false blue sky.
In Texas, a shuttle took me from the airport far beyond the city. Howell Aeronautics Lab was completely walled in, guard turrets at each corner. Why did it look more like a military compound than a tech company? Inside the walls, the clean, white buildings resembled a hospital. A creepy hospital in the middle of nowhere.
For the first time, I wondered if this was an enormous mistake.
In Girls Dorm B, my dorm mates were changing into the jumpsuits we got at registration, bras in pink and white flashing around the room. I undressed in a bathroom stall. The jumpsuit had Velcro. I sighed relief.
I looked pale in the mirror. Just what would this girl in the orange jumpsuit do?
I was entering the auditorium for the introductory session when I heard a redheaded boy whisper, “Man, did you see her arm?”
The jumpsuits had short sleeves. My arm was swollen from the airplane ride, so I hadn’t put Ms. Pincher back on. I had some regrets.
The redhead repeated the question before the dark- haired guy beside him asked, “What about her arm?”
“Then the answer is obvious—no, I didn’t see her arm.”
“Look at her, Wilder. She’s missing half her arm, man.”
The dark one looked back at me, his eyes flicking from my naked stump to my eyes. He smiled and said, “Cool.”
Cool? Was that offensive or kind?
He wore a braided leather wristband, sturdy flip-flops, and appeared to be comfortable even in an orange jumpsuit. I wanted more information.
After the session, he looked like he might be a while chatting with some blond girls, so I picked up his folder from his chair.
NAME: Jonathan Ingalls Wilder
ADDRESS: 21 Longhurt Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
FATHER: George Theodore Wilder
OCCUPATION: President, Wilder Enterprises
MOTHER: Alena Gusyeva-Wilder
He cleared his throat dramatically. I noticed that the blondes were gone.
“Just getting to know you,” I said, flipping to the next page.
“‘Hello, what’s your name?’ is customary.” He had an interesting voice, kind of gravelly.
“Does philanthropist count as an occupation? Oh—” I said as I realized. “You’re rich.” He wasn’t one of the sweepstakes winners. His parents could afford this place.
He sighed melodramatically. “Poor me, burdened with billions, shackled to my father’s shadow.”
The room was empty but for us, everyone else headed for dinner.
“Jonathan Ingalls Wilder?”
“My mom read the Little House on the Prairie books in Russian when she was a kid. I think she married my dad for his last name.” He grabbed my folder and started to read. His eyebrows went up.
“Yes, that’s my real middle name,” I said preemptively.
“Maisie Danger Brown. What’s the story there?”
I sighed. “My parents were going to name me after my deceased grandmothers—Maisie Amalia— then in the hospital, it occurred to them that the middle name Danger would be funny.”
“So you can literally say, Danger is my middle—”
“No! I mean, I avoid it. It’s too ridiculous. It’s not like anyone actually calls me Danger. Well, my mom sometimes calls me la Peligrosa, which is Spanish for Danger Girl. But it’s just a joke, or it’s meant to be. My parents have to work really hard to be funny. They’re scientists.”
“Father, Dr. Nicholas Brown, microbiologist,” he said, reading from my info sheet. “Mother, Dr. Inocencia Rodriguez- Brown, physicist. Researchers?”
“Dad is. Mom works from home editing a physics journal and homeschooling me.”
“A homeschooled, black-eyed Latina.” He whistled. “You are turning into a very ripe fruit for the plucking.”
I blinked. No one talks like that. But he was so casual about it, so self-assured, as if he owned the world. And for all I knew, maybe he did.
We walked toward the cafeteria, reading.
“Your elective is…” I searched his class schedule. “Short-field soccer.”
“You almost managed to keep a judging tone out of your voice.”
“Why would you come to astronaut boot camp to play soccer?”
“Because I’m unbelievably good at it. And yours is… advanced aerospace engineering?”
“I’m not wasting my time here. I’m in training.”
“Wilder!” The redheaded boy came charging from the cafeteria. His name tag read fowler, and I wondered if it was vogue for all rich boys to go by their last names. “Hey, I saved you a seat at our table.”
“In a sec,” said Wilder. “It’s not every day I meet a future astronaut.”
Wilder nodded, his attention returning to my papers.
“Are you delusional?” Fowler asked me. “You have one hand.”
“Then I guess I’ll be the first one-handed freak in space.”
“Whatever.” He turned back to Wilder. “So, if you want to join us…”
Wilder started into the cafeteria, still reading, and Fowler followed.
“Hey, you’ll need this back.” I held out his folder, but he shook his head.
“Yours is more interesting.”
That was probably true. Wilder’s papers had the barest info. He hadn’t filled out the survey or included a personal essay, and his academic records only showed he’d attended five schools in the past three years. I wondered what he was hiding.
Dangerous © Shannon Hale, 2014