Europa's fate hangs in the balance as Max races to solve the mystery of dead astronauts, stolen super-chemicals, and girls. #PitProm #mg #sf
Dear Royal Advisors,
I am honored to have been selected for the PitProm court. Based on your interest in science-fiction stories, I hope you enjoy my recently completed novel, EUROPA ACADEMY.
In a time when space travel is as common as a trip to the Bahamas, 13-year-old Max Parker’s biggest dream is to follow in the footsteps of his father’s space adventures. Unfortunately, his family doesn’t go to space anymore, not since his father’s disastrous final mission. When his parents suddenly change their minds and accept an invitation to move the family to the newly constructed city on Jupiter’s moon, Europa, it seems like all of Max’s dreams are about to come true. Unfortunately, Max can’t seem to stay out of trouble. As far as Max is concerned, trouble is just a code-word boring people use when they mean exciting adventure. And he has yet to meet an adventure he could resist. But when Max’s exciting adventures intersect with a real-world cold case of interplanetary proportions, he’ll have to decide whether his fondness for adventure and the possibility of saving the entire solar system are worth his life.
EUROPA ACADEMY is complete at 87,000 words. It’s a near-future science-fiction novel meant for an upper middle-grade audience. Imagine Andy Weir’s ARTEMIS (minus the profanity and sexual innuendo) mixed with Alexandra Monir’s THE FINAL SIX (plus actually reaching Europa), and you’d get pretty close to EUROPA ACADEMY.
Utilizing my background in mechanical engineering and extensive research of orbital dynamics, the book is a solid blend of accurate science and poignant family-centric storytelling. Through close contacts in teen blogs, local libraries, and school systems; I'm poised to reach my target audience at a grassroots level. This is the first in a five book series, though EUROPA ACADEMY has a self-contained story and can function equally well as a standalone novel. The other four books will continue the story of the struggle against the power-crazed Xenon League with four of Max's friends each having a book. Book 2 features an Asian protagaonist, Mei Li, as she and Max partner for Europa's version of the Iditarod.
I've included the first ten pages with this query. The full manuscript is available upon request.
First Ten Pages:
“Any last words?”
Max tore his gaze away from the towering heights of the old rocket hangar to look at his best friend, Jonathan.
“What kind of question is that?” Max shot back.
“You’re strapped to an antique jetpack!—That we rebuilt!” Jonathan pointed out. “The fuel lines might leak, the combustion chamber might explode, the nozzles might shear off—”
“I’ll be fine,” Max said, cutting him off. “Besides, we’ve got the safety line, right?” He tugged on the long rope snaking through the gantry railing high above him. “You’ll catch me if something goes wrong.”
Jonathan shrugged. “Maybe.”
Max smiled at his pessimistic friend and looked up at the cavernous space above him. Rays of late morning sunlight streamed in through the tall windows.
He had anticipated this moment for the last five months—ever since they had found the pieces of the jetpack and started reassembling it. He wasn’t about to let some minor details ruin his dreams of flying.
Jonathan’s voice brought him back. “It’s great that you want to take time to think about your craziness, but if we get caught in here, we’ll be grounded for the entire summer.”
“Pssh. I’ll show you craziness.” Max pulled his flight goggles down over his eyes and seized the control handgrips. “Let’s do this.” He squeezed the throttle, and the jetpack roared to life.
Max’s stomach dropped as he rocketed upward. The nozzles’ deafening blast drowned out his triumphant scream.
Take that, gravity.
Thirty meters up, he eased off the throttle to hover, but the jetpack lurched and bucked, fighting him for control.
Jonathan quickly pulled in the slack from the safety line.
“We need to fix the throttle,” Max yelled. “It’s way too sensitive.”
Jonathan nodded and shouted something in reply.
Max tightened his grip on the control-stick in his left hand and nudged it slightly. The jetpack tilted sideways as the vectored nozzles shoved him around the massive, empty expanse.
He felt like a bird! A strange metallic hummingbird that shot flames out its backside—but a bird all the same.
The jetpack’s exhaust swirled through the musty morning air with the pungent smell of a billion tiki torches.
Max maneuvered back and forth inside the huge hanger, testing his abilities.
The jetpack had freed him from the confines of Earth’s surface—from the curse of spending his entire life on the ground.
His heart and mind soared as he imagined streaking over the rooftops of his neighborhood. He would make a grand entrance on the first day of school, buzzing the front office and doing a low loop around the classroom windows before gently touching down on the front commons. Even the popular kids would know his name.
This jetpack would change everything.
He was now flying level with the bottom windows on the hangar door. Haltingly, he maneuvered over for a better look outside. The skyscrapers of downtown Houston dwarfed everything else on the horizon. Max squeezed the throttle, hoping to catch a glimpse of his neighborhood, when he felt a sudden lurch. Glancing down at the fuel indicator, he saw that the needle hovered above the large letter “E”.
This can’t be right.
“We should also double check the fuel gauge,” he yelled down to Jonathan. “It says I’m about to run out of—”
One of the side access doors clanged open. A tall, broad-shouldered man stood silhouetted in the doorway.
The man gaped at Jonathan then squinted up at Max, clearly trying to make sense of the bizarre scene.
They would have a hard time explaining their way out of this one.
Max instinctively squeezed the throttle, and the jetpack thundered, launching several meters higher. Then suddenly the pack sputtered—gulping its last drops of fuel—and Max’s stomach rose in his throat. The harness felt oppressive, like it wanted to drag him down with the dying rocket.
He was falling.
Sinking dread coursed through Max’s body.
The ground was so far down.
His brain had barely registered the idea that he was about to die, when the safety line brought his free-fall to an abrupt end.
Max looked down to see how close he had come to certain death. Jonathan dangled a meter off the floor, clinging to the opposite end of the line. He kicked and thrashed as he fought the combined weight of Max and the jetpack.
“See, I knew you’d save me,” Max said with a laugh. His body sagged with relief.
The jetpack belched one last fireball and fell silent. Max sunk even faster.
“Max. Do something.” Jonathan’s voice rose in unison with his body—several meters off the ground and still rising.
“Don’t let go!” Max yelled back as he grasped in vain for Jonathan’s side of the line.
“Gee, thanks. That’s a huge help.” Jonathan could be so sarcastic sometimes.
They both picked up speed—Jonathan up and Max down.
“Help us!” Max cried out to the stranger below them. At this point, he didn’t care if they got in trouble. He would gladly trade future trouble for immediate rescue.
The lean figure standing in the doorway shook off his bewilderment and rushed across the hangar floor. Rapidly covering the distance, he lunged and caught the free end of the rope.
Max jerked to a stop, grateful again that he had let Jonathan convince him to use the safety line.
Max and the jetpack swung lazily back and forth, like the pendulum in an old-fashioned clock. The two boys hung eye-to-eye, twenty meters off the ground.
Jonathan clung to his end of the rope glaring at Max as he swung past. “I blame you for this. Why can’t you ever think things through?”
Max shrugged. “Life’s too short for that.”
“Funny you should mention a short life.” Jonathan’s look shot daggers.
“You know, it would serve you right if I just left you two hanging there,” their rescuer called up to them, shaking his head in exasperation.
After an extended silence, the man chuckled then tugged hard on the rope. Max lurched slowly upward as his friend was pulled back down by the kind stranger. With Jonathan back on solid ground, the man fed the rope out, hand-over-hand, and slowly lowered Max and the jetpack back to the floor.
“Thanks,” Max said with a sheepish smile. The man would probably drag them to the nearest police station for trespassing. At least, that’s what the scowl on his face said.
“You two are in big trouble,” he panted. “Space agency facilities are still government property.”
Max looked around nervously, not knowing what to say. He glanced at his friend, who managed a feeble, “Sorry.”
The man was built like an Olympic sprinter and looked to be in his twenties. He had dark brown skin, short-cropped hair, and wore the gray-green uniform of a fighter pilot. The name above the pocket said Tucker.
“Where’d you get this jetpack, anyway?” their rescuer demanded.
The boys glanced at each other, reluctant to confess their secret project.
“Uh, we found it, sir,” Jonathan offered.
“You found a jetpack. Lying around?” He clearly didn’t believe them.
“Actually, we found the pieces, and we put it together,” Max chimed in.
The man raised an eyebrow. He looked more closely at the boys. “You’re what . . . twelve years old?” he asked.
Max puffed out his chest. “Actually, I’m thirteen now.”
“Not that it’s improved your decision-making skills,” Jonathan muttered.
Max glared at his friend.
“You two . . . built a jetpack?” The man thought it was a joke.
“Well, it took us a long time,” Jonathan added.
“No kidding?” The stranger’s expression of disbelief melted into a smile. “Let’s take a look at it.”
He helped Max wriggle out of the harness, and then he turned the jetpack over for closer inspection.
“This is a JB-19.” The man sounded like a kid on Christmas morning. “I didn’t think any of these survived decommissioning.”
“We found it in some old boxes in an abandoned shop,” Jonathan explained.
“Wow. This would be so much fun to fly.” He seemed to have forgotten Max and Jonathan were even there.
Max still wasn’t sure if they were in trouble or not.
Finally, the man set the pack down at his feet and straightened up.
“I’ll need your names so that I can report you to the proper authorities.” His voice was all business.
Jonathan sighed. “Jonathan Perez,” he said pointing dejectedly to himself, “and Max Parker.”
“Wait, we’re actually in trouble?” Max exclaimed.
“If you’re sons of Perez and Parker, the astronauts, then you’re definitely in trouble.” The man gave them a stern look, though Max could see a grin tugging at the corner of his mouth. “What would your father say about your horrible piloting skills?” he asked Max.
“Uh . . .” Max wasn’t sure what to say.
A huge smile broke out on the stranger’s face, and he started to laugh.
Max and Jonathan cautiously laughed with him.
“He would say Max’s little sister could fly better,” Jonathan said with a wicked grin.
Max shot his friend a dirty look, but that only made the other two laugh harder.
“Ha ha. Very funny.” Max couldn’t help smiling.
“Jake Tucker,” the man said, shaking hands with the boys. “You are one lucky kid, Max,” Mr. Tucker continued, “and not just because we got you down in one piece. If anyone else had caught you in here, you’d be in deep trouble.”
“You mean . . . we’re not in trouble?” Max asked.
“Oh, you’re in trouble, just not deep trouble,” Mr. Tucker said.
Max’s slowly lifting hopes came crashing back down.
“I’ll need to talk to your fathers about this when I see them,” Mr. Tucker continued. “Luckily for you, I just got back from flying a long mission, otherwise we’d go tell them right now.”
“Flying a mission, like in space?” Jonathan said.
“You’re a pilot?” Max asked in awe.
“Yep,” Mr. Tucker replied. “I fly one of the new Catarium-drive shuttles.”
“Wow!” Max exclaimed. “Can you take us up for a ride sometime?”
Mr. Tucker chuckled. “Another time. OK?” He glanced at his watch. “Hey guys, I’ve got to be somewhere in a few hours, and I’m hoping to get some rest first. You boys better get out of here.”
“Right,” Max said.
He and Jonathan hefted the jetpack and lugged it toward the door. “And thanks again for saving us, Mr. Tucker.”
“Hold on a sec.” Mr. Tucker jogged over to them.
Max tensed, wondering if they were in trouble again.
“First off, you don’t have to call me Mr. Tucker. My friends call me Jake.”
Jonathan laughed. “We can’t call you—” Jake gave him a stern look, and Jonathan caved. “—OK, OK, Jake it is.”
Jake smiled at the boys, then looked down at the jetpack. His expression turned guilty. Max tightened his grip. “I’m sorry to say this, boys, but I need to take that . . . for safekeeping.”
Max protested. “But Mr. Tucker . . . Jake . . .”
Jake held up his hands. “I know, I know. You boys have worked real hard on this, but I gotta be the adult here.” He reached for the harness and pulled the pack away.
Max’s arms weren’t the only part of him that felt empty.
Jake considered them for a moment. “Listen, I’ll make you a deal. If I can make sure the pack is safe, and if it’s OK with your parents, then we’ll figure out a way you can fly it without killing yourselves.”
Max felt a little better. They weren’t in trouble, and maybe they would fly the jetpack again.
As they headed to the door, Jonathan asked Jake, “So are you keeping it for our safety or for the jetpack’s safety?”
Jake looked down at the gleaming, rocket-shaped pack, then flashed the boys a broad smile.
“Maxwell Scott Parker! Why didn’t you answer any of my messages?”
Max let the front door swing shut behind him. His mother stood in the doorway to the kitchen with her hands on her hips.
“Oops,” Max said sheepishly.
“Oops is right, young man. We’ll talk about this later. Go get ready. We’re going to be late.”
Just then, Max’s older sister, Kelli, rushed past, her long brown hair—normally in a ponytail—cascaded behind her. She looked ready to go to church. Then Max noticed that his mom wore her Sunday best as well.
“Where’re we going?” he asked as he headed for his room.
“The funeral. Hurry.”
Twenty minutes—and one high-speed car ride—later, Max was sitting quietly at the back of a graveside service. They really had been late. His parents almost never used the Rush setting on the car’s guidance system.
A dozen rows of white folding chairs stretched out in front of him under a large tent awning. Unfortunately, the last row of seats didn’t quite fit under the tent, and the hot Texas sun beat down on the back of his neck. There was no breeze to speak of, and the thick, humid air smelled of fresh cut grass.
Jonathan sat with his family in the row in front of them, but not close enough that they could talk. Max contented himself with sending Jonathan messages reliving their morning’s adventure and asking whether Jonathan had gotten in trouble for making his family late to the funeral. Max smiled at Jonathan’s description of being forced to change his clothes in the car on the way to the funeral—luckily he only had brothers.
Max was about to swipe a response when Kelli elbowed him.
“You’re being rude,” she whispered.
“C’mon, what am I supposed to do?” he whispered back. “This is so boring. We didn’t even know this girl.”
She pointed to the printed program. It was on actual paper, which Max thought was weird. “Her name was Mindy Baker. She joined the space program at twenty-one, and she was twenty-three when she went on the Europa exploration mission.” She put the program down. “And it’s still rude, even if we didn’t know her.”
Max stuffed the phone back in his pocket. “You can’t tell me this is how you wanted to spend your first day of summer vacation.” Max kept his voice low. “I mean, the least they could do is have the casket open. What’s the point of coming to the funeral of someone who died in space if we can’t even see the body?”
Kelli gave him a warning look.
“Now you’re being rude and insensitive. Besides, I doubt the body would be suitable for a viewing after fourteen years in space,” she said in a barely audible whisper.
“Humph.” Max folded his arms and slouched down in his chair.
There were so many other places he’d rather be at this moment. He gazed out across the cemetery. The first-quarter moon rose over the tree line. He’d much rather be there on the moon than sitting here, dressed in a shirt and tie, baking in the afternoon sun.
His dad had been to the moon about a dozen times during his career as an astronaut. His parents had even gone to the Lunara Bay Resort on their honeymoon—sort of what you get when you marry an astronaut.
But ever since his dad retired from the space agency after returning from Europa, no one in their family had so much as left the atmosphere. He had classmates who had been to space—mostly to the SpaceDisney station. Yet Max Parker, son of a famous astronaut, had never flown higher than a regular supersonic transcontinental. It was embarrassing.
Welcome to the final round of pitches!
Agents and Publishers,