(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

* * *


* * *


“We have to press the space bar,” said Lizzie. “We have to find out what happened.”

Hobbes looked at Lizzie but couldn’t say anything. He was visibly upset, and his eyes were a little bit teary. He signaled his agreement by nodding. The two of them then moved over to the computer and stared at the space bar.

“But is it safe...?” Hobbes asked in a whisper.

Lizzie lightly touched the space bar, but did not press it. Her mind was racing furiously. It was telling her that the smart thing to do would be to re-examine the blue whale more carefully, take notes, pictures even, and then try to figure out exactly what it was all about. She also thought that it might be a good idea to tell a grown up: somebody like their Aunt Charlie for instance. However, whilst her head was carefully planning these “best things to do”, her heart was telling her the opposite, telling her to just press the space bar. Press the space bar and you might find out what happened to your parents. Press the space bar and you might see your parents again.

Hobbes touched Lizzie’s shoulders. “You know you’re speaking out loud?” he said. Lizzie looked surprised, “Really?”

After a pause, Hobbes said, “I think you know what we need to do. It’s simple really. I want to find out about Mom and Dad. Don’t you?”

Lizzie took a slow deep breath, held out her hand, “Let’s hold hands then. We’ll press the space bar together...”

As soon as the button was pressed, the lights began to dim, and very quickly, the belly of the whale went completely black. The children couldn’t see anything. As well, the air within the belly seemed to change so that it “felt” heavy. Not hot or humid, but somehow thick, such that Lizzie and Hobbes thought that their senses were muffled as if they were cloaked in some sort of heavy but invisible fabric. Then, slowly - so slowly in fact, that at first it was almost unnoticeable - dim lights came on along the ground. They reminded Lizzie of an airplane runway, and they were pulsing as if to entice the children to walk in a certain direction. In fact, after a few seconds, they saw that the lights led over the walkway, towards the very center of the whale, and precisely over the middle of the giant wire tunnel.

Then, a soft but strangely emotionless female voice began talking: “The Collider Whale has been activated. Please ensure that you make your way to the walkway. The coil is now being warmed up.”

The children, still holding hands, followed the lights and made their way onto the walkway.

As soon as they reached the middle, the voice sounded again, “Countdown will now begin. Coil activation will commence in T minus 60 seconds. Please ensure that your senses are isolated from others, so that superposition effects can proceed normally.”

“Super what?” whispered Hobbes to Lizzie. His voice was slightly muffled but still comprehensible.

Superposition,” replied Lizzie. “More science stuff. It’s actually something I’ve read about before, but to be honest, I didn’t really get it. It was about things that are very very very small, and how at that size, strange and wonderful things can happen. Superposition had something to do with being in two places at once, but only if no-one is looking.” She then shrugged her shoulders for emphasis, having realized that her explanation was hardly satisfying.

“Anyway,” she continued, “I think it’s important that we don’t hold hands anymore. Also, we shouldn’t talk to one another as the countdown finishes. We have to act as if we’re standing here in isolation.”

“Um o.k.” said Hobbes and then hesitated, “Is that why, my head feels fuzzy, and for that matter, the rest of my body...” He seemed to be whispering now and he felt very light.

“Yessss...” said an equally light headed Lizzie. Her voice was starting to sound ethereal.

“T minus 30 seconds.”

“I caaann’tt ffeeelll mmyy hhhaannnnddss aannd ffeeeetttt…” Hobbes waved his arms up and down, and looking on, saw that they blurred when he did this.

Lizzie spoke but her mouth didn’t quite match her words. “Sssttoopp ttaallkkiinngg…”

They heard in the distance, the female voice uttering final instructions. “T minus 10 seconds… Please close all eyes, do not move, and suspend all senses as best as you can for maximum chance of success…”

There was a pause that probably lasted about five seconds, even though it felt much much longer. Then, quite unremarkably, everything went white.

* * *

It was eight o’clock in the evening, and by now, everyone was frantic. There were people pacing the living room, some in uniform, and others speaking into a variety of different cell phones. The atmosphere felt anxious.

The whole of Valentine’s Day had passed, and still no-one had seen or heard from Lizzie and Hobbes’ parents. It was as if they had just abruptly ceased to exist. It was only the night before that they were all together, laughing and hinting at the wonderful surprise that was being planned for Valentine’s Day. Lizzie and Hobbes had kissed them goodnight as they had always done before going to bed, but when they woke up, something was immediately different. Still, the children went to the kitchen like always, made themselves their breakfast like always, and watched a little television like always. It took a little time before the strange feeling took effect, hinted at by the lack of coffee aroma in the kitchen, and a morning that seemed too quiet. There were no questions about homework, about school, about what to pack for lunch, and no voices of authority telling them to hurry up or to get dressed. Next came a flurry of activity: the children running throughout the house, running to their neighbours, telephone calls being made.

Now, the children were huddled together in shock. They were confused and frightened, as words and conversation bounced around the room. “When was the last time you saw Mr. and Mrs. Popperfont? Was there any indication of why Mr. and Mrs. Popperfont might not be around today? Do you have any information that could help us with our investigation?”
It didn’t feel real. Both Lizzie and Hobbes felt like the day had passed as a blur, and in their minds, they had a single thunderous thought: Where were their parents?

Then, quite unremarkably like before, everything went black.