(Whale image by Ciaran Duffy: used with permission)

Having recently returned from a sabbatical in the marvellous and the awe inspiring London's Natural History Museum, I've decided to call upon my inner sciencegeek to concoct a tale of high adventure for young readers.

In short, why not a story that attempts to be fantastical, but does so by relying only on the wonderful, strange, and (sometimes) frightening things that envelope this thing we call "science." Better yet, why not imagine a place where fantasy and magic is mistaken for reality, because this "science" is kept secret (both in practice and knowledge), and controlled by only a few and only those interested in power. And what would happen if two clever children, from our world, enter that place?

So, please do join Lizzie and Hobbes, the Popperfonts, as they embark on an adventure where synchrotrons are disguised as massive whales; where alternate realities may shed light on the mystery of their missing parents; where concepts like thermodynamics are powerful weapons; and where brave siblings attempt to bring back the scientific method in a world where the scientific method has long been forgotten.


Dave Ng

* * *


* * *


It was made out of five thousand paper clips and it was also as large as Hobbes. Inside, there was one red marble, buried in metallic lines, and it was slowly rolling on paperclip tracks twisting and turning and exploring.

Hobbes gave Lizzie a gentle shake. “Wake up sleepy head. It’s already ten in the morning. I want to show you something.”

Lizzie stirred slightly. She was actually still very sleepy, and for the briefest of moments, she wasn’t even sure where she was.

Hobbes shook her again, “Are you getting up or what?” Lizzie murmured into her pillow, and then half nodded. Slowly, she opened both of her eyes.

What she saw was a sparse room with two beds, and a huge wooden desk. The desk was unusual looking because the drawers were many and in a variety of different shapes and sizes, from one large enough to sleep in, to countless others that were tiny - perhaps no bigger than a pencil or two. On the walls, which were a drab sort of cream, there hung many pictures of pressed faded plants, some with flowers and some without, but all lovingly framed and mounted. Lizzie also saw massive wooden beams crisscrossing the ceiling, like something out of a medieval storybook.

England, she remembered, That’s right, I’m in England now.

“You’ve got to check this out!” Hobbes was speaking very fast. “I think flying here has completely messed up my sleeping. I was awake all night, and I found a whole bunch of stuff in these drawers. It’s crazy but this big one... it was just completely full of paperclips!”

Lizzie rubbed her eyes, gave Hobbes a squint, and stiffly pulled herself out of bed.

“Anyway,” Hobbes continued wide eye, “I couldn’t sleep so I just figured I should... make something.”

Lizzie then noticed the curious contraption of wire.

“See all the paper clips it’s made from! There are exactly five thousand! And see the marble?” Hobbes pointed at the marble that was still rolling inside. “It takes exactly eight minutes and thirty seven seconds for it to go from top to bottom!”

Lizzie found that she couldn’t help but watch the marble intently. There was a nice calmness to doing this. It was being guided confidently by tracks of paperclip wire, and it was tracing a path that appeared to visit every possible nook and cranny.

“Er...Lovely?” said Lizzie who was now a bit confused, “What exactly is it for?”

“Oh nothing really...” Hobbes replied quietly, “It’s just that I... I just couldn’t sleep...”

As Lizzie watched the marble, she soon found her thoughts drifting away. In her mind, she imagined floating high above and seeing herself, sitting there on the bed, looking slightly mesmerized. There was Lizzie Popperfont, the eleven year old big sister. Next to her was Hobbes Popperfont, her nine year old little brother. And being siblings, their faces shared a certain look: they had dark brown eyes that appeared almost Asian; a mouth and lips that looked prone to a nice sort of smiling; and noses of average built. Overall, Lizzie thought that they looked quite unspectacular, a little bit on the skinny side, and maybe just enough of something to consider themselves a little handsome. This, of course, didn’t include Hobbes’ hairstyle, which, as usual, was fashioned in a glorious form of “bedhead.”

“Is Aunt Charlie awake?” queried Lizzie, her attention coming back.

The marble finally reached the bottom of the contraption and clanked into a resting spot.

“Yes, that’s what I’ve been trying to say. She’s waiting for you to get up. She says she going to make us full English breakfasts for our first morning here.”

Hobbes picked up the marble, and put it in his pocket. “I’ll go tell her you’re finally awake.”

Once Hobbes had disappeared downstairs, Lizzie rummaged underneath her pillow and carefully pulled out a small and slightly frayed journal. She opened the journal, and flipped assuredly to one particular page. She stared at this page. Lizzie knew the entry well: It was dated February 13th.

It’s Valentines Day tomorrow! So looking forward to it! Hopefully, Lizzie and Hobbes will be amazed.

It was an unbearably short entry, but since it was written with the lush and flowing pen strokes of her mother’s hand, Lizzie couldn’t help but smile a little. She very much missed her parents. Then she paused, brushed the hair from her eyes, and then turned the page over. The new page in front of Lizzie was now blank. This seemed oddly fitting to her. It was literally the end, but it also felt like a new beginning.

Yesterday, she was far away, and now, after a very long and tiring flight, and a restless sleep, she was in London, England. She realized that the events on Valentine’s Day had led to this, and that with the summer holidays beginning, they were brought to these new surroundings, to start a new life.

She took a deep breath, grabbed her pen, and went over to the bedroom window. Opening the latch, she gazed down at the street, busy with the movement of cars and people. She then wrote in steady capital letters, “JULY 5TH.” Thinking a moment, she also wrote underneath, “BE BRAVE.”

Lizzie thought that the streets of London had an air of excitement. She also noticed something very strange: Everyone, everyone, was walking in the same direction. In fact, not a single person was walking in the opposite way. It was one of those things that was easily missed, but when you saw it, it looked very odd indeed. Lizzie happened to be good at catching these sorts of things, and puzzled by this observation, she wrote down in her journal:

Why is everyone is walking in the same direction?

Then she put her pen to her lips, and gave this strange observation a bit of thought. It actually reminded her of the marble that was rolling through the paperclip machine. She thought it was similar to how time always committed to a single direction. She thought how lovely it would be if it could go backwards.

Closing the window, Lizzie put the journal back under her pillow, and headed down the stairs.

* * *

Aunt Charlie was clearly in full breakfast mode. She was shuffling bacon, sausages, and eggs in a large iron frying pan, all the while pulling down the appropriate levers on an assortment of toasters, can openers, and kettles. "Almost ready!" she exclaimed, as she scooped out baked beans.

"Do you need a timer for any of this?” asked Hobbes hopefully, “Maybe something that take exactly eight minutes and thirty seven seconds?"

"No need," said Aunt Charlie, "My head seems to keep time alright." She tapped her temple as if to further make this point.

Aunt Charlie was already dressed for the day. She had her gray hair tied back in a neat bun and she had on her favorite pink dress. It was not too bright, a bit faded actually, but still quite pretty. Because she was a full figured lady, Lizzie thought that if you blurred your eyes just enough, you might think that Aunt Charlie looked like a piece of anatomy from some massive creature - like the heart of a whale for instance.

Anyway, a heart would be fitting, because even though the children hadn’t known their Aunt for very long, they both liked her very much. She was friendly and warm, and always with a jovial look on her face. It also didn’t hurt that she always had something interesting to say.

Toast suddenly popped up. "Breakfast is now ready!" proclaimed Aunt Charlie, "Grab your plates and come here and get your grub!"

The children shuffled over to the stove, and on each plate, Auntie Charlie plonked a slice of toast with an egg on top. “Now go get your meat,” instructed Aunt Charlie.

Hobbes forked two sausages, and arranged them side by side (with the egg in between them). He then placed a single large slice of bacon over the sausages, so that it looked a little like a bridge. He scooped some beans, lined them on top of the bacon, and then declared, "The beans are the people!"

Lizzie, on the other hand, simply grabbed one sausage, a small slice of bacon, and piled them both haphazardly on top of her egg. She then sat down, and with her knife and fork, she cut her sausage into several uneven pieces. She also broke her yolk.

“Your plate looks like my bridge after a hurricane,” laughed Hobbes.

“Yes, I suppose,” replied Lizzie. “It’s a bit like entropy actually.”

“Umm... O.K...” said Hobbes. He was quite used to Lizzie talking in this manner. She had a habit of using fancy words that were either far too complicated to say or far too complicated to explain.

"What are you two nattering about?" interjected Aunt Charlie as she sat herself down. On her plate, she had made herself a face: two eggs for eyes, a sausage for a nose, and a smile made from a curved slice of bacon. "Hobbes, you seem to be a builder of sorts, and Lizzie, just turned eleven, and - did I hear that right – did you used the word entropy?" She ate one of her eggs in one bite. “That would be very impressive you know – takes a smart person to know what entropy is all about.”

“Well...” Lizzie fidgeted, “I just... sort of... like reading about these things... Sorry. I’ll try to stop doing it...“ Lizzie didn’t like to draw attention to herself. She was more the quiet thinker type.

“You’ll do nothing of the sort!” chirped Aunt Charlie. “Always a sign of excellence for someone young like yourself to think a little bit about how the world and universe works! A little scientific mumbo jumbo never does anyone harm, does it now?” Auntie Charlie was clearly very animated by this discussion. “In fact, I think you’ll both like where we’re going to visit today.”
Both children looked up from their food. “And where would that be?” asked Hobbes.

“We’re going to the Natural History Museum. It’s where I work, you know.” Aunt Charlie then ate her other egg, again with a single bite. “So come on - hurry up with your breakfast, and get yourself dressed. We’ll leave as soon as you’re ready.”