MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
It was the day of the school science fair, and the eyes of the world had once more turned on the sleepy town of Sitting Duck.
Well, not the whole world, obviously. That would be silly. Everyone in the whole world hadn’t gathered together to watch a small school science fair. They wouldn’t all fit in the hall for a start, and the line for the bathrooms would have been a mile long.
In fact, if I’m honest, there were mostly just teachers and students wandering around making the place look untidy—but if you hold your school science fair in a school, what else can you expect?
Tables were lined up inside the hall, each one displaying a different project. A lot of them were modeling-clay volcanoes that fizzed white foam out of the top when you poured vinegar in. But, in an interesting twist, one was white foam that supposedly shot vinegar out of the top when you dropped a volcano in. Although no one had thought to bring a volcano with them, so it couldn’t be put to the test.
As well as all that stuff, there was one thing even more important in the school hall that day—friendship. And heroes.
Okay, that’s two things.
In fact, here come a couple of those friendly heroes now: Sam Saunders and Emmie Lane.
What can I say about Sam that hasn’t already been said? Well, he’s probably about your height, actually, or maybe a bit smaller. Or taller. Depends what height you are, really. He’s roughly around your height—let’s just say that.
Sam loves sports. Like, really loves them. Whether it’s baseball, football, soccer, basketball, or dodgeball, he can’t get enough of that stuff. When he’s not playing sports, he’s hanging out with his best friends, being liked by everyone he meets, and saving the frickin’ world!
Emmie, I’ll be honest, isn’t liked by everyone. But that’s fine, because she doesn’t really like everyone, either. It works out quite well, actually, as it means most people try to avoid talking to her in case she shouts at them or something.
Her hobbies include being angry, plotting elaborate escapes from her great-aunt Doris’s house, and leaving sarcastic comments on YouTube videos. Oh, and saving the frickin’ world!
Sam and Emmie were strutting like a pair of champions through the hall, clutching their own science projects and checking out the competition. As they approached one table, a creature with a dozen eyes popped up from behind it and let out a high-pitched squeal. Instinctively, Emmie lunged at it, ready to wrestle the thing to the ground, but Sam caught her just in time.
“Relax,” he said. “It’s just Phoebe.”
“Like, of course,” said Phoebe. “And what do you mean ‘just’ Phoebe?”
Phoebe Bowles was Emmie’s all-time worst enemy, and considering Emmie had recently battled a power-hungry mad scientist with a brainwashing machine, that was really saying something. Emmie was very much your average running-around, climbing-trees, punching-supervillains-in-the-face type of person, while Phoebe loved nothing more than … well, herself, really.
“What are you wearing?” Emmie asked, her eyes drawn to Phoebe’s hat. It was a fluffy blue beret, but sticking out from it at all angles were six metal arms. At the end of each arm dangled a little mirror, making it look like a hundred eyes were reflecting outward.
“It’s a rotating mirror hat,” sniffed Phoebe, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“What’s a rotating mirror hat?” asked Sam.
“Are you kidding me?” Phoebe snorted. “It’s, like, a hat with mirrors on it. So you can see yourself from every angle. It’s my science project.”
Sam spotted Emmie’s fists clenching.
“Right!” he said. “Good luck with that.”
“What have you made?” Phoebe asked. “Something lame, I bet.”
Sam produced a deodorant can and sprayed it into the air. Phoebe sniffed, then immediately stumbled back, clutching her nose and mouth.
“Eww! It smells like something died!” she said, grimacing.
“Exactly,” said Sam. “It’s antizombie deodorant. One spray and you can pass yourself off as one of the living dead!”
“Why would you want to do that?” asked Phoebe.
“In case zombies ever come back,” said Sam.
Phoebe frowned. “Zombies?”
“Yeah,” said Sam. “Like last time? Remember?”
Phoebe stared blankly at him.
“Hundreds of them. Arms dropping off and stuff,” Sam continued.
Phoebe shook her head.
“You turned into one,” said Emmie. “And ate an old woman.”
“Oh, that time,” said Phoebe. “Gotcha.” She turned to Emmie, peering down her nose. “What did you make?”
Emmie held up what looked like a TV remote. “It’s an alien detector.”
“Aliens?” said Phoebe. “There’s no such thing.”
Emmie and Sam exchanged a glance.
“Yeah, well, if they ever do turn up, an alarm in this thing will go off,” Emmie said.
Suddenly, the alien detector came to life, and a very loud alarm rang out. So loud, in fact, that half a dozen volcanoes erupted throughout the hall.
“Shut that thing up!” yelped Mr. Nerdgoober, a science teacher who definitely had a bit of an alien look about him. It was his eyebrows, mostly. And his pointy ears.
Emmie whacked the device on Phoebe’s table, silencing it instantly. Mr. Nerdgoober nodded curtly and then scurried past.
Sam and Emmie left Phoebe with her mirror hat and went to see Arty, the third member of their little band of hero-friends. Arty is all about science, so the science fair was right up his alley. If Arty had to choose between science and candy, he’d choose candy. But science would come a very close second—that’s how much he loves it.
Arty had kept his project a closely guarded secret, so Sam and Emmie were intrigued when they saw the bulky shape hidden under a sheet at his table.
“Ready for the big reveal?” Arty asked, bouncing from foot to foot with excitement.
“We’ve been ready for weeks!” said Sam.
Arty gathered up the sheet and pulled it away with a flourish. “Ta-da!”
Sam peered closely at the hunk of metal and wires, trying to make sense of it. “Wow!” he said. “It’s … it’s…”
“Bits of metal junk bolted together?” asked Emmie.
“It’s not junk!” Arty protested. “It’s CHARLES.”
At the mention of its name, the pile of definitely-not-junk whirred to life. Wires twitched and metal unfolded, until Sam and Emmie were staring into a pair of LED eyes and a series of lights that looked like a smile.
“I am CHARLES,” said the robot in a voice so cheerful it made Emmie’s hair stand on end. “It stands for Chore Helper and Really Lovely Electronic Pal!”
Emmie went over the letters in her head. “Surely that would mean you were called CHARLEP?”
“I couldn’t exactly call him CHARLEP, could I?” Arty said. “What sort of name’s CHARLEP for a robot?”
“What does he do?” asked Sam, leaning in to get a closer look.
“Chores!” Arty said. “All that dull stuff like tidying your room, ironing your clothes, whipping up cream. You’d never have to do any of them again! And he’s gonna win me this science fair!”
Just then, Mr. Nerdgoober clambered up onstage and tapped the microphone to get everyone’s attention.
“Ladies and gentlemen. And children. And pets,” he began. “The judges have deliberated, and it’s time to announce the winner of this year’s fair.”
“This is it.” Arty beamed. “The greatest moment of my life…”
“With a fantastic entry sure to inspire generations of scientists to come, it’s Miss Phoebe Bowles and her miraculous rotating mirror hat!”
A squeal went up from behind them, and Phoebe made her way to the podium. A steady smatter of applause filled the hall.
“Still the greatest moment of your life?” Emmie asked.
“No,” Arty replied. “This is the worst!”
Charles Character Profile
1. LED lights on face can display a range of emotions, from happy to not-quite-so-happy.
2. Whisk attachment. For whisking.
3. Thermonuclear power core housed in an old soup can.
4. Trendy robot sneakers, for the robot that’s really going places.
5. Legs like metallic licorice laces.
6. Can’t remember, but it looks important.
7. Deeply flawed and easily damaged artificial intelligence chip.
Text copyright © 2017 by Hothouse Fiction, Ltd.
Illustrations copyright © 2017 by J&D Creative (based on an original artwork concept by Jamie Littler)