Dangerous Page 4

“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 any- one 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, read- ing 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.”

“Who? Her?”

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.

Chapter 3

The folder switch forced me to track down Wilder at break- fast and ask him where I was supposed to be first hour.

He looked at me leisurely before opening my folder. “Astro- physics in 2-C. That sounds like a party in a jar.”

It did. If a party in a jar was a good thing. Would setting a party inside a glass container make it more amusing? Or was he being sarcastic?

“And you have navigation in 4-F,” I said, though he didn’t ask.

“I can’t just follow you to astrophysics? Sit in the back, pass you notes, sketch your profile on my desk?”

I was sure he was kidding. Almost sure. I should have done some homeschool projects on Teenage Social Life or Boys in General.

Wilder did not follow me to astrophysics. I looked around a few times, just to be sure.

For second hour everyone migrated to the auditorium again. The crowd hushed when a short white woman with frizzy hair clomped onto the stage. She was wearing a floral dress that was a little too big and a pair of heavy, wide sandals.

“I’m Dr. Bonnie Howell,” she said, her hair bobbing, her skirt swishing.

I started to clap, getting in three awkward slaps of my hand against my thigh before I realized no one else was clapping. I sunk lower in my seat. Maybe they didn’t realize that this was the Bonnie Howell, as in Howell Aerospace.

“I hope you weren’t expecting kiddie camp,” she said. “I don’t employ veteran astronauts and the top minds in science so you can eat marshmallows and sing songs. Did you know,” she bounced on the balls of her feet, “your teenage brain is a work in progress? If you want big, beefy brains as adults, you must learn to organize your thoughts, control your impulses, and ex- plore abstract concepts while you’re still a teenager. Challenge yourselves, for pity’s sake! By adulthood, any neglected areas in your brain will shut down. So sit back and stick to what you know, and you’ll be condemned to flimsy, pathetic little piñatas, frozen in form with no hope of establishing the connections you ignored as teenagers. Okay?”

And she left the stage.

If Luther had been there, I would have whispered to him, “I give her an A for Brain Trivia, B for Bounciness, and D for Closure.”

A large black man in a suit took the podium. Well, he stood behind the podium—but he did look capable of actually pick- ing it up if he wanted.

“I’m Dr. Dragon Barnes, Howell Aerospace Chief of Operations.”

His name was Dragon? That was almost as embarrassing as Danger.

“In addition to your classes each day, you will meet in groups of four we call fireteams. Your fireteam will complete timed and graded missions. The fireteam with the best cumula- tive score will win an exciting opportunity.” His voice was lead- en. I doubted he knew what “exciting” meant. “The last week of your stay, Dr. Howell and I are flying to the ocean platform that is the planet-side base for the Beanstalk. Usually only the Howell Aeronautics crew is permitted aboard the base. But this time—”

Prev Next