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Max Einstein: Saves the Future
By Chris Grabenstein
Illustrated by Beverly Johnson
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The Story So Far…
Max Einstein is not your typical twelve-year-old genius.
She hacked the computer system at NYU so she could attend college classes. She built inventions to help the homeless people she lived with.
She talks with her hero, Albert Einstein. (Okay, that’s just in her imagination.)
But everything changed when Max, a homeless orphan who’d never known her parents, was recruited by a mysterious organization known as the Change Makers Institute! Their mission: solve some of the world’s toughest problems using science. She led a diverse group of young geniuses from around the globe as they invented new ways to bring electricity to the farthest reaches of the planet and cleaned up an Indian village’s water supply.
But they can only continue to do good in the world if the sinister outfit known as the Corp doesn’t get to Max and her new friends first.
Because they’ll do whatever it takes to stop Max and her team of do-gooders.
Princeton, New Jersey, USA
The young couple placed their baby daughter in a cardboard box lined with a soft, brown flannel blanket.
“Stay put,” cooed the mother.
“We’re expecting a very special guest this evening,” added the father.
The mother nodded. “Our mentor! The one who got all of this started!”
She swept open her arms to take in the strange collection of electronic contraptions and lab equipment set up in the basement of their modest home on Battle Road, not far from the Princeton University campus, where both husband and wife were distinguished professors.
As physicists, they were extremely creative and inventive. Which is why the two geniuses created a playpen for their daughter out of a cardboard box.
The baby loved it. She smiled and gurgled and settled into her fuzzy blanket, watching her parents bustle around the room. They spun dials, tapped buttons, and shoved levers into their upright “on” positions—setting off a colorful array of blinking lights.
The baby oohed and brought her pudgy hands together. She stared at the blinking lights.
Soon, the whole basement began to hum.
“I suspect Professor Einstein will be impressed,” offered the father.
“I hope so,” said the mother. “After all, he inspired our experiment. This is all because of him.”
Back when the brilliant father and mother were graduate students at Princeton University (two of the youngest ever because they were both considered child prodigies), they’d heard the distinguished Albert Einstein give a lecture about general relativity. They’d been working on its practical applications ever since.
The thrum of turbo-charging electricity and spinning magnetos in the basement was now so loud, the couple almost didn’t hear the doorbell ringing upstairs.
“It’s him!” exclaimed the father. “He’s here. Professor Einstein himself!”
“Did you remember to pick up the orange cake and strawberries?” asked the mother as they both hurried to the basement’s wooden staircase.
“Yes, dear. We’ll need to whip the cream…”
“We can do that after our demonstration!”
They hurried up the steps to greet their guest, leaving their baby alone in the basement, mesmerized by all the strange sounds and the bright rainbow of blinking lights.
She crawled out of the cardboard box and made her way across the cold concrete floor, which seemed to be growing even colder as frost appeared on the insides of the basement’s windows.
The baby scuttled around stacks of wooden crates and made a beeline toward an open suitcase.
Taped to its open lid was a glossy photograph of a man with funny, frizzy hair. The shiny portrait reflected the dazzling light show and drew the baby closer. There was some kind of scholarly paper tucked into the suitcase as well. The baby, of course, couldn’t read what was written on it. All she wanted was to reach out and touch all the brilliant lights twinkling and dancing on the friendly face of the white-haired old man.
The water pipes in the basement ceiling groaned and rattled as they froze.
The windows were now caked with two inches of ice.
The baby could see her own foggy breath.
Suddenly, there was a flash of blindingly bright light. An arc of indoor lightning.
The noise ceased.
The cold vanished.
And the baby girl’s whole world would never be the same.
The Present London, England
Max Einstein strode through the fog of London, her open trench coat flapping behind her like a superhero’s cape.
Her mop of curly red hair was even frizzier than usual because, as she of course knew, the chemistry of human hair made it susceptible to changes in the amount of hydrogen present in the air and that, of course, was directly linked to humidity because all that foggy, airborne water was made up of two hydrogen atoms per molecule.
Thinking about the chemistry of her hair kept her mind occupied. For about two seconds.
Then Max was bored again.
She was in London impatiently awaiting the next Change Makers Institute assignment from the program’s benefactor, Benjamin Franklin Abercrombie, whom Max just called Ben. Hey, even though he was a bajillionaire, he was only two years older than Max. He was also extremely cute. And she especially approved of the way he spent his money—funding a league of kid geniuses to tackle the world’s problems without any interference from governments. How awesome was that?
Max thought about Ben for maybe a nanosecond then flipped back to being bored and frustrated because Newton’s first law of motion, sometimes called the law of inertia, never seemed to apply to twelve-year-old Max Einstein. Newton stipulated that an object at rest stays at rest while an object in motion stays in motion.
The problem? Max Einstein didn’t know how to rest. She craved action. Constant forward motion. Staying inert just wasn’t her thing.
Her mind flitted back to her decision not to wear a knit hat as she traipsed around London—some kind of disguise to keep her frizzy, floppy tangle of red curls out of sight because her hair was something of a homing beacon for any nefarious villains who might be searching for her.
And they were.
A shadowy group that called themselves the Corp was very interested in recruiting Max and her extremely high IQ to switch sides and play for their team. Even if it meant kidnapping her. Fortunately, Max’s London roommate, who used to work for the evildoers before he had a major change of heart, advised her that, according to his vast network of undisclosable contacts, “The Corp has no idea that either of us is currently situated in London, England.”
Leo, her roommate, always called it “London, England,” even though nobody else did. He was just a little odd that way.
With Leo’s assurance that she’d be safe, Max had decided to make her waiting time in London not feel like a waste of time. She would boldly venture outside of her cramped flat (what Londoners called an apartment) in a youth hostel (Ben’s choice) and visit all the spots in the city that her hero, Albert Einstein, had also visited when he was in London. She would occupy the same space, though not the same time, that the great genius had occupied. Maybe, Max figured, it would somehow bring them closer. Even if it didn’t, the experiences would be fun and educational. And like Dr. Einstein said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.”
Max longed to experience at least one new thing every day.
That’s why she was marching through the fog, headed for someplace she’d never been before: the Royal Albert Hall. Located in London’s South Kensington district, it was opened by Queen Victoria in 1871 and named in memory of her husband, Prince Albert. It was home to nearly four hundred performances each year, everything from rock and pop concerts to classical music and ballet to award ceremonies. Celebrated names from the hall’s history who were honored with stars and engravings around the outside of the building included Adele, Eric Clapton, Winston Churchill, Muhammad Ali, and, of course, close to door 5, Albert Einstein.
There was a concert that night, though Max didn’t have a ticket.
But she didn’t think she’d need one to get in.
Because she was in possession of something that she was confident would become her secret all-access pass.
Einstein once said that “reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
So Max had decided to create her own illusion of reality. That’s why she was carrying an empty violin case, which was also a small tribute to her hero. Albert Einstein started taking violin lessons when he was six years old and continued playing his whole life. He named his violin “Lina” and could play Mozart sonatas beautifully. Music, he said, helped him when he was thinking about his theories or working on a thought experiment.
Now Max hoped music would help her sneak into the Royal Albert Hall.
“Excuse me,” she said to the first security guard she saw. “Where’s the musicians’ entrance?”
She wiggled the violin case to make certain the guard noticed she was carrying one.
“Stage Door. Just around the bend there, past door number one. You can’t miss it. Cheers.”
“Thanks!” Max didn’t feel guilty about tricking the guard. She never said she was a musician. She just let him create that particular illusion of reality all by himself, and she didn’t even have to be very persistent about it.
The stage door allowed Max to skip the crowds lining up at the main entrance and, of course, the ticket takers. She acted like she knew what she was doing and, in no time, was standing backstage in the darkness of the wings.
This is where Einstein stood, she told herself.
No, I was a little bit to the left, replied Einstein.
Einstein wasn’t really there. This was just something Max did from time to time. She had wonderful, unspoken conversations with the imaginary Einstein in her head. To her, he wasn’t just a world-renowned genius—he was a funny, grandfatherly figure with a wicked sense of humor.
But standing right where (or close to where) her idol had stood on October 3, 1933, gave her goose bumps. That night, Professor Einstein spoke to a packed house about his fears for the looming crisis in Europe, where Adolf Hitler and fascism were on the rise. It was six years before World War II, but to Einstein and other Jews living in Germany the horror was already very real.
Being in the same space where Einstein had been at a different time made Max muse about looking for a wrinkle in the boundaries of space and time. Wouldn’t it be great to step across that wrinkle and go back in time to meet her hero? He’d been here then. She was here now. If only their timelines could somehow overlap and intersect!
Then, maybe, together they could find another wrinkle in time and leap into the future, so Max could see what it held for her. Or maybe, Dr. Einstein could show her how to travel twelve years backward in time so she could finally figure out who her parents were.
Max had been an orphan for what seemed like her entire life. She had some vague memories of her parents. But they were fuzzy. The gray and blurry kind you can almost but not quite recall from your crib.
Even if Dr. Einstein couldn’t do all that, Max could at least warn him about the Nazi bounty hunters shadowing him on his 1933 London visit.
I read about it, she said to her imaginary Einstein. There was a plot to assassinate you while you were here.
Ah, replied the Einstein in her head, but it wasn’t a very good plot, was it? I survived until 1955! And don’t you think it’s nice that they call this the Royal Albert Hall? It was so kind of them to name it after me.
Max smiled. She loved it when the Einstein in her head made one of his corny jokes. It made him feel even more like a grandfather, something she’d never had.
Are bad people still following you, Maxine? Einstein asked.
Yes. The goons from the Corp. But, don’t worry—they’re not here in London.
And, of course, the instant she said that, two burly men dressed all in black stepped out of the shadows toward her.
“What are you doing back here, young lady?” asked one of the men. He had a curly communicator wire coming out of his ear. He also had arm muscles the size of most people’s thighs. His pumped-up partner looked exactly like him, except with a blond buzz cut instead of a brown one.
Max thought about replying, I’m communing with my muse, but she didn’t think the two men, who were wearing black SECURITY T-shirts, would appreciate that answer. So she held up her violin case again.
“I’m a musician?” Yes, she said it like a question, which is seldom a convincing way to give an answer.
“Is that so?” said the blond buzz cut. “Violin?”
“Don’t remember a capella groups such as this evening’s performers using violins. Typically, they just use their mouths.”
Max glanced to her left. A group of six singers had stepped into the wings. None of them were carrying a musical instrument.
“Let’s go, miss,” said the brown-haired bouncer, gently taking Max by the arm and escorting her toward the exit. “I’d love to let you see the show for free, but then I’d most likely lose my job. Cheers.”
Two minutes later, Max was back on the street outside the Royal Albert Hall. It was probably a street that Albert Einstein had walked but it just didn’t have the same magical feeling as being backstage.
Frustrated, Max stepped into one of London’s red phone booths (which didn’t have a phone in it) and pulled an encrypted satellite phone out of her trench coat’s deep side pocket.
It was time to call Ben. Fortunately, Max had his direct number. (He’d also paid for the very expensive Iridium Extreme satellite phone.)
Ben answered on the third ring. He always answered on the third ring.
“Um, hello, Max,” he said, without asking who was calling. Max figured he had the most sophisticated caller ID system in the universe. “How’s, you know, London?”
“Seriously? London? The one in England? There’s so much to do and see…”
“When do we start our next project?”
“Soon, Max. Be patient. I’m doing some very extensive research. This will be your biggest challenge yet. We don’t want you to jump into it unprepared.”
“Right. Just, you know, hang tight. I’ll get back to you. Soon.”
Max terminated the call.
It was one of those words that proved the relativity of time.
For many children, “soon” seemed like forever when it was Christmas Eve and they couldn’t open their presents until Christmas morning. For others, it seemed like an instant when the dentist came into the waiting room and said she’d see you “soon.”
Max was definitely in the Christmas Eve category. Soon seemed like forever.
Resigned to waiting, she began strolling back to the youth hostel near Hyde Park where she and Leo had their flat, which was, basically, a college dormitory room.
She saw a man pushing a grocery cart filled to the brim with plastic-wrapped sandwiches. Curious, she followed him as he rattled his cart down a cobblestone alleyway that was lit by a single misty streetlamp.
“Evening, Franky,” the man said to a shadowy lump on the ground. “How’s the family?”
The rumpled lump stirred. Max realized it was a man in a sleeping bag. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could see a clump of sleeping bags. Some quite small.
“Suppertime!” said the man cheerfully, dipping into his cart and pulling out a stack of shrink-wrapped sandwiches. “Sorry to be so late. Had to wait for the shop to close for the day. Wiltshire cured ham on malted bread for you and the missus. Bacon sandwiches for the kids.”
“Thank you, Charles,” said the man who’d been sleeping with his family in the alleyway.
Two little heads popped up from the bedding at the mention of food, and Max could make out their big smiles, despite their humble sleeping space. Kids were resilient, she knew, but seeing their little hands reach eagerly for the sandwiches broke her heart a little.
She was that kid, once.
When Max was living on the streets of New York City, finding food had been her primary objective every day. The quest sometimes led Max to eat things not as clean and neatly packaged as the sandwiches Charles was passing out. She guessed they were the ones his shop couldn’t sell before closing.
Max carefully backed out of the alley. She didn’t want the homeless family seeing her. Especially the kids.
She remembered the embarrassment and humiliation she sometimes used to feel while scrounging for food. Those emotions were strong. But not as strong as the hunger pangs in her belly.
When Max finally arrived home at her apartment building, she said hello to some of the other students staying there who were hanging out in the lobby.
“Thanks for the help on my homework, Maeve,” said a girl named Olivia. “Amazing how much you know about quantum mechanics.”
Max shrugged. “Just something I picked up.”
“You’re blooming brilliant, Maeve,” the girl gushed. “A genius.” (Maeve was the name Max had been using in the hostel. “M” aliases were always easier for her to remember.)
“Thanks,” Max told her. “Anytime.”
She headed down the corridor to her room.
When she unlocked the door and stepped inside, she saw her roommate, Leo, crouched on the floor in front of the far wall.
He had his index finger stuck inside an electrical outlet. Again.
“Just using this temporary lull in our activity level to recharge my batteries,” Leo explained when he saw Max rolling her eyes.
Leo was an automaton, or a human-like robot. A walking, talking mannequin with incredible AI (artificial intelligence) who looked like he just escaped from the boys’ department of a clothing store. He had been designed to resemble a twelve-year-old male in order to make him seem less threatening.
Leo, formerly known as Lenard, was built by the Corp to be a tool in their hunt for Max Einstein. Fortunately, one of Max’s colleagues at the Change Makers Institute, a sausage-loving kid from Poland named Klaus, was a robotics expert. After Max had captured Lenard, Klaus totally reprogrammed the bot’s AI and turned him into the very helpful, very friendly Leo.
“He’ll be the perfect roommate,” Klaus had assured Max. “You have a question, he’ll have an answer. And if he gets too chatty, you can always give him a swift kick in the butt to reboot him.” Because Klaus was something of a jokester, he’d positioned the robot’s reboot button on what people in London would call his “bum.”
“The temperature outside is thirteen degrees Celsius or fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit,” said Leo, sounding like a supercharged Alexa or Siri. “It’s mostly cloudy with sixty-seven percent humidity. Fog alerts are in effect for London, England, and the surrounding areas…”
“Thank you, Leo,” said Max. “But I didn’t ask for a weather report…”
“I do my best to anticipate your queries. The threat level is minimal. No Corp presence has been detected in our vicinity.” And then, Leo giggled. He giggled a lot. It was a programming bug that even a robotics genius like Klaus couldn’t erase from deep within the boy-bot’s silicon chips.
“I’m going to go to bed,” said Max. “Today was a rough one.”
“Would you like to listen to music?” asked Leo. “I notice you are carrying a violin case. Perhaps you are in the mood for Bach’s Concerto in D Minor for two violins? I could engage my synthesizer to provide the second violin…”
“Have you made your plans for tomorrow, Max? There are several more locations on your Einstein tour of London, England, list. If you would like to visit Waterloo Station, for instance, where Einstein was spotted during a July heat wave—looking cool in a thin white cotton jacket, a tennis shirt, and loose white trousers—I would suggest taking the N38 bus, departing every five minutes, from Hyde Park Corner to Green Park Underground station where you would board the Jubilee line, also departing every five minutes, and disembark at Waterloo Station. I would not suggest wearing a tennis shirt as this is not a heat wave.”
“You ever heard the expression TMI? Too much information?”
“Yes. One time when Klaus was cataloguing his wide variety of burps for me. He called that exercise ‘TMI.’”
Max nodded. “Just try to remember what Einstein said: ‘A theory is the more impressive the greater the simplicity of its premises.’”
“Understood. In the future, I will attempt to adhere to a protocol of simplicity in all things.”
“Cool. Good night, Leo. See you in the morning.”
“Sleep well, Max. As I mentioned earlier, the threat level from the Corp is currently at zero point five six nine percent. It is minimal.”
Of course, what neither Leo nor Max could know was that, at that very hour, in a secret subterranean hideaway in West Virginia, a meeting was taking place.
To increase that threat level significantly.
The Corp’s headquarters was hidden in a cavern, deep within the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia.
An emergency board meeting had been called.
“We have it on good authority that something big is coming from the young do-gooders at the Change Makers Institute,” said the chairwoman, who, when she wasn’t attending Corp board meetings, ran one of the world’s largest entertainment conglomerates. In fact, all the members of the Corp board had very important positions at major corporations. Ringed around the massive oval table were representatives of big banking, big pharma, big oil, big media, big agriculture, and every other big industry in the world. The members of the board were united by one thing and one thing only: greed.
They wanted to make money. As much as possible. Because money bought access to power. Money wrote laws. Money could buy elections so, therefore, money could mold and shape the world the way the members of the Corp wanted it molded and shaped.
No politician dared oppose the Corp’s will or might. No media outlet, either.
The only real threat to the Corp’s dominance was a group of nerdy young geniuses, led by a twelve-year-old girl named Max Einstein, that was financed by a mysterious benefactor known only as “Ben.”
“The CMI’s do-gooder projects continue to interfere with our money-making plans!” protested a man in a business suit and cowboy boots. He slammed his Stetson hat down on the table to emphasize his disgust. “And I want Lenard back! Them little brats stole our robot. There should be a law against that.”
“Not if the automaton was being deployed for what some might consider nefarious purposes,” counseled one of the board’s many lawyers. “They could claim self-defense.”
“I don’t care,” shouted the man with the Texas accent. “I want Lenard back so we can melt him down and make candles out of his waxy head.”
“Lenard’s retrieval should, indeed, become a top priority,” said a German banker on the board. “After all, we invested heavily in his creation and manufacture. We did not do it so the other side could utilize his incredible artificial intelligence for charity missions.”
“And, might I remind you all,” said the chairwoman, “we would still like to, how shall I put this, convince Max Einstein to come to work for us. The girl is a genius and could become the shortcut we’ve been seeking to ensure that we will be the first to market with a quantum computer.”
“Do you still think Dr. Zimm is the one to bring her in?” asked a woman from Australia whose family owned multiple TV networks around the world. “Does he still have the skills and expertise we require?”
The chairwoman shook her head. “No. We have lost all confidence in Dr. Zimm. He has found Max on several occasions only to fail in capturing her. And it was Dr. Zimm who lost Lenard—not to mention our very profitable bottled water subsidiary in India. In short, it is time for Dr. Zimm to go.”
“So who will head up the hunt for Max Einstein?”
- PRAISE FOR THE MAX EINSTEIN SERIES:
"Max Einstein is everything you hope young girls can dream to be: smart, brave, creative, and able to inspire others to be the same. I love this book for all kids who want to dream big and imagine even bigger!"
—Mayim Bialik, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Girling Up and Boying Up
"Any young readers out there interested in science and adventure...this book is brilliant!"
—Major Timothy Peake, Astronaut
"If you're interested in science, mysteries or courageous heroines, this is a must-read!"
- "This fast-paced story features a diverse team of protagonists that realistically tackles some of the world's most pressing social-justice issues."—Kirkus Reviews
"[A] fast-paced, science-filled caper."
—The Wall Street Journal
- "Lively and astute...the story is an entertaining and thoughtful exploration of perseverance, friendship, creativity, and identity."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Aug 31, 2020
- Hachette Audio