“BEEP! MORP! BEEP!”
The robot spun in a blur of red on Tink’s desk in the middle of the seventh grade classroom. Ellie, Jessica, Fez, Tucker, and Ava gathered to watch as its foil hose arms whipped around like silver noodles. The small mittens taped to the end of each arm swirled in a flash of yellow.
“BEEP! MORP! BEEP!” the watermelon-sized robot repeated.
“Woah! Your robot is awesome, Tink!” Fez exclaimed. He waved his arms to imitate the robot.
Tink punched one of the twenty buttons on his robot remote. “It’s not supposed to do this!” One of the robot’s arms broke loose and shot through the air like a rocket.
“Eeek!” yelled Ellie as she transformed into a bat. POOF!
The robot arm whizzed to the back of the class, grazing Stephanie’s high ponytail, and hit the brick wall behind her. Stephanie jumped up from her desk chair.
“Sorry!” Tink said, clutching his eyes shut. “Are you okay?”
Stephanie blushed as she sat back down. “Yes, I’m- I’m okay,” she stuttered.
POOF! Ellie transformed back into a vampire and went to fetch the arm. “I really like your earrings,” she said to Stephanie as she walked past her desk.
Stephanie smiled as she touched one of the silver hoops. “Thanks!”
The robot was doing backflips when Ellie got back to the desk.
“Is your love robot supposed to do gymnastics?” Jessica asked Tink.
Tucker’s slicked-back hair didn’t move an inch as he threw his head back laughing. “Of course not! This would NEVER happen with the robot I built. He doesn’t just spin in circles and jump around either—he actually detects crushes.”
“Tucker, don’t be a meanie!” Ava said. “I'm sure Tink's robot does more than make people dizzy and hop around."
Tink wiped the sweat dripping down his forehead. "It does! Mine detects crushes too. He has sensors that detect excess sweating, blushing, rapid heartbeat, and even stuttered speech. All the things that someone might have around their crush. I just have to make him stop moving around…"
"Maybe you pushed the wrong button," Ellie suggested.
"DIZZY! DIZ-ZY!” the robot chanted as it continued to do backflips.
"There are too many buttons," Tink groaned. "I should have labeled them." He hit a lever, and the robot flopped face down on the desk. The only part that was still moving was the one spinning wheel underneath. Fez propped the robot back up.
"There you go, little guy," he said with a smile. The robot's bottle cap eyes flashed red.
"Crush. Detected. Crush. Detected," crackled the robot.
"Woah, I was just helping. I don't like you like that," Fez said. The robot's red eye beams scanned the circle of kids watching. He locked eyes on Ava.
Tink laughed. "He's not talking about you, Fez." The robot projected a heart on Ava's striped sweater. Next, it projected another heart on Tucker's green polo.
"Mutual. Crush. Mutual. Crush!" the robot exclaimed.
Ava's blushed. "No way! I do not like Tucker."
"It’s okay. I am quite irresistible,” Tucker said with an exaggerated smile.
“In your dreams!” Ava exclaimed.
The clock above the classroom door struck noon and the lunch bell rang.
“Thank goodness, I’m starving,” Fez said.
Ellie licked her lips. “Let’s go before they run out of blood pudding!”
“Agreed!” said Jessica as she grabbed her backpack. Ellie, Fez, and Jessica made their way to the door, but Tink wasn’t following. He mumbled something under his breath as he tightened a screw on his robot’s head.
“Come on, Tink,” Jessica said. She doubled back and took his hand. “We’ll grab lunch and then you can come back to fix your robot.”
Tink sighed. “I should just skip lunch. I don’t want him to malfunction like that at the competition this weekend.”
“But today’s soup is broccoli,” Ellie said in a sing-songy-voice. She knew that was Tink’s absolute favorite. Tink’s eyes grew wide and he bolted out of the classroom.
“What are we waiting for? Let’s go!” he yelled back at his friends.
At 12:15 the four friends re-entered the empty classroom with their lunches in hand.
Tink walked back over to the desk where he left his robot. “This soup needs to hurry and cool so I can figure out- OH NO!” His broccoli soup fell to the ground beside the scattered robot parts sitting in a puddle of black oil.
“Meep. Morp,” squeaked the robot before its red eyes faded to black.
“Oh no, what happened?” shrieked Jessica. The four friends fell to their knees, trying to make sure no broccoli soup got on the parts.
“I don’t know,” Tink said with a heavy sigh. “I even turned on his parking brake, so I don’t think he could have done this himself.”
Ellie gasped. “So you think someone did this on purpose? Like a mystery-crime?”
Jessica pulled out a small card from the soup puddle. “It might be. Look what I found.” She held a soggy Valentine card dripping in creamy soup. It said ‘Tink’ on the back, but the rest of the writing was smeared. On the front was a drawing of two love birds. And Ellie knew exactly who made the drawing.
“That’s one of the Valentine cards Ava made!” Ellie exclaimed. “She was mad that Tink’s robot detected her crush on Tucker, so maybe she broke it when we left.”
“Looks like we have our first suspect!” Jessica said. “And I know where she goes every lunch.” The four friends ran to the other side of the school. They scanned their student cards at the art room door to join the electronic sign-in sheet. Ever since someone stole all the art supplies the month before, anyone that entered or exited the room had to scan their ID. The door swung open and the smell of waxy crayons and paint filled Ellie’s nose.
Ava brushed a glob of blue paint across her elephant painting on an easel in the corner. The gang quickly explained what happened with the robot sometime between 12:05 and 12:15.
“Oh no, that’s terrible!” Ava said. “Tink, you worked so hard on your robot.”
“I know,” Tink said with a sigh.
“Then why did you break it? Just because it detected you have a crush on Tucker?” Ellie asked.
“First of all, I do NOT like him,” Ava said. “That robot needs work. Secondly, I’ve been here since before 12:05. Lastly, I wouldn’t do that to Tink.”
“But we found YOUR valentine card at the scene of the crime,” Jessica said. Ellie pulled it out of her detective jacket’s pocket.
Ava started painting her canvas again. “I’ve been selling those all week to other kids, so that means nothing. I sold a bunch earlier today to Tucker. See, if I liked him, I would have totally given them to him for free. Oh, and I wouldn’t tell you that his robot is nowhere near as good as Tink’s. Tucker can’t even get his to power on. So HA! Proof I don’t like him!”
“Okay, but can you prove you've been here since before 12:05?” Jessica asked.
“Check the sign-in sheet,” Ava said.
They went to the screen embedded in the door. Sure enough, Ava signed in at 12:03 and hadn’t signed out.
Tink’s shoulders slumped. “Dead end.”
“Not quite,” Ellie said as she looked at her notes. “Ava said Tucker bought some cards from her AND he lied about his robot. So maybe he was jealous and broke yours. Ooo! Or maybe he stole a part and broke it, so you wouldn’t know a part was missing.”
“Let’s go check the broken robot to see if anything is missing!” Fez suggested. His stomach rumbled. “And maybe grab some of the cafeteria food we left behind.”
Jessica rolled her eyes and laughed. “Oh, Fez.”
Fez shrugged. “What? Why can’t we be a multitasking detective squad?” Everyone laughed.
Before they reached the classroom, they spotted Tucker at his locker. The metal door squeaked open and he shoved his backpack inside.
“Look!” Ellie whispered. A black smear stretched across his polo.
“Could be robot oil,” Tink whispered. “But I can’t tell from here.”
“One way to find out,” Jessica said. The detective squad marched up to Tucker as he was pulling painted posters for the Valentine Dance out of his locker.
“I see you’re taking a break from ruining robots to hang some posters,” Tink said with a scowl.
Tucker laughed. “Ruining robots? Mine is so ready to go that I don’t even need to touch him before the competition.”
“That’s not what Ava said!” Jessica chirped. “She said your robot isn’t very good.”
“You lied. And then you broke Tink’s robot because you were jealous,” Fez added. His stomach rumbled. “Now hurry up and confess so I can have my lunch.”
The smile dropped off of Tucker’s face. “What? I didn’t break Tink’s robot.”
“You even have oil on your shirt to prove it!” Ellie added, pointing her finger at the black streak.
Tucker looked down at the stain on his shirt. “This is paint. One of the posters I made wasn’t dry.” He held up one of the painted posters. There was black paint smeared underneath where he wrote ‘Valentine’s Day’. “Look, I did lie about the robot. Mine isn’t working, but once I figure out why the monitors aren’t connecting to the power, it will.”
Ellie pulled the Valentine card out of her pocket once again. The writing on the card was much more swirly than Tucker’s poster writing. She showed the gang that it wasn’t a match.
Tink hung his head. “Maybe my robot did just magically fall off the table.”
“If you need help putting it back together, I can help after school,” Tucker said.
“Why would you help him if you’re competing against him?” Jessica asked, crossing her arms across her chest.
Tucker shrugged. “Us science guys need to stick together… and maybe you can put in a good word about me to Ava?” His locker closed with a squeak. “I was going to invite her to the dance with a Valentine card I made, but then I forgot it in my locker when I went to ask her. I kept stuttering and mumbling about the forgotten card and she thought I wanted to buy some of her homemade cards. I was so nervous that I just bought a bunch of cards and ran off.”
“So you do like Ava!” Fez said.
Tucker nodded. “Of course, I never said I didn’t.”
With no more leads, the mystery team went back to the scene of the crime. They helped Tink sift through the pieces and put the robot back together as they munched on their lunch. Soon the robot was back together. He was a little dented and smelled like broccoli, but he was in one piece.
Tink held up a silver hoop to the light and adjusted his glasses. “I can’t figure out where this piece goes. I’ve looked everywhere.”
Jessica shrugged and took another bite from her apple. “Maybe you had too many pieces the first time.”
Tink shook his head. “That isn’t how robots work.” He plopped the hoop down on the desk in front of Ellie. “It isn’t an extra part—it must be something else.”
Ellie stared at the silver hoop as she shoveled the sweet and sticky blood pudding into her mouth. She scratched an itch on her ear and almost choked on her dessert.
“Oh my goodness!” she yelled, dribbling pudding all down her shirt. “I know who that belongs to. Which means I know who broke the robot!”
“Who?” Jessica, Tink, and Fez asked at the same time.
The bell rang and the classroom started to fill with students. With her high ponytail and books clutched to her chest, Stephanie walked through the door. And she was only wearing a single silver earring. Ellie ran up to her with the other hoop earring in hand.
“I think you dropped this,” she said. Stephanie’s eyes grew wide as one hand flew to her ear.
“Thank you!” she said, grabbing the earring. “These are super special, and I would hate to lose them.” Ellie pulled the Valentine card from her pocket. “I think you also dropped this when you broke the robot.”
Stephanie’s smile turned into a frown and all color drained from her face. “I didn’t-. I mean, I did-. I mean-”
“Why would you break my robot?” Tink asked. “He usually doesn’t throw his limbs like that. I’m sorry his arm almost hit you.”
“No, it wasn’t that!” Stephanie said. “I didn’t even mean to break him. I was just trying to leave you a card to ask you to the dance. Then my clumsy elbow hit him off the desk.”
Tink’s mouth gaped open. “Woah, you wanted me to go to the dance with you!?”
Stephanie dragged her toes across the classroom's checkered tiles. “I know. Of course you don’t want to go with me. Especially not after I broke your robot. I tried to find you to tell you, but then I got too scared. I didn’t want you to hate me.”
Tink shook his head. “No way! I could never hate you. In fact, I-”
“Look! It works again!” Fez said as he ran over with the robot. The robot's red eye beams scanned Tink and Stephanie. Then, it projected a heart on both of them.
“Mutual. Crush. Mutual. Crush!”