Valarie Frizzle was older than she looked. She was older than she liked to think about and older than most people could comprehend. Sometimes, her advanced age meant that she forgot the most basic of things, (like the laws of physics). Sometimes, her advanced age meant that old friends called in owed favors at inconvenient times. Sometimes, those favors involved students from the Van School for Gifted Boys.
"I knew I should have stayed home today!" Said the well dressed boy in the front most seat of the school bus to the friend who sat beside him, “Dom, we should’ve stayed home today!”
“And missed this!? No way!” ‘This’ of course, being the fieldtrip that Crazy Lady ™, (aka their substitute teacher), had just decided to take them on.
“But it’s impossible!” Said the well dressed boy whose name was Arthur. “The Large Hadron Collider is in Switzerland Dom. Switzerland isn’t in Ameica – and it’s not in Disney World either. How are we going to get to Switzerland and back in a school bus?”
“Magic of course.”
“But Magic’s not real!” Arthur argued.
Dom just gave him the look that said, “I’m six months older than you and that means I know better.” even though Arthur knew that that wasn’t true.
“Have a little faith.” Interjected the boy sitting behind them. His name was Eames and he was one of four exchange students from London. Eames got along famously with Dom and spent almost all his time with him. Unfortunately for Arthur, that meant he spent almost all of his time with Arthur as well.
“Go die, Eames!” Arthur hissed, punching his seat where Eames’ knee was pressed against the back of it. He knew Eames wouldn’t feel the punch, but at least this way he got to punch something.
In the driver’s seat, Crazy Lady ™, also known as Ms. Frizzle, cleared her throat before their argument could devolve any further. “Seatbelts everyone!” She trilled in a voice that almost sang. And then, as if it were the bus and not she who would be driving, said, “Bus, do your stuff!" At which point their school bus gave a violent lurch and Arthur, along with the seven other boys on the bus, screamed as the wheels carried them up and off of the pavement.
“We’re heeerrrrreeee!” Cried Ms. Frizzle cheerily as they landed not an hour later.
The eight boys, who had given up screaming about five minutes into the ride, followed her dazedly off of the bus.
“Now who,” she asked, “Can tell me what CERN stands for?”
Automatically, Arthur replied, “Organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire.” Before adding “We cannot actually be in Switzerland.” To Arthur’s annoyance, Dom just grinned and pointed at the building a yew yards away, (it reminded Arthur of a rusting golf ball), and the sign in front of it that said, ‘Square Galileo Galilee’ on it.
“But that’s not possible!” Arthur whined.
“Anything’s possible.” Ms. Frizzle said benignly.
“Yeah mate,” added Eames, ruffling Arthur’s hair, “you just need to dream bigger.” Arthur scowled. He tried to duck away from Eames’ hand but the stupid git grabbed him in a headlock. Arthur was about to give Eames a quick kick in the shin when he found his attacker suddenly pried off of him.
“Stop picking on him.” Ordered one of the other exchange students, who was also an Arthur. “It isn’t Chivalrous.” Exchange-student-Arthur glared at Eames, but only got a cool grin back.
“Oh come on, Wart, stop being such a kill joy. I stopped calling Merlin Big-Ears didn’t I?”
In the background Merlin, who really did have very big ears, joined Well-Dressed Arthur in his scowling.
Thankfully, at that moment, their tour guide arrived.
Dr. Toshiko Sato didn’t usually give school tours, but Ms. Frizzle had called to ask personally and there were only eight in the class after all. Tosh introduced herself to the boys and let them introduce themselves in turn. Two Arthurs, one Calvin, one Merlin, one Dominic, one Peter, one Eames, one stuffed tiger, and one blonde Barbie clutched in the hand of a bespeckled young boy named Gaius later, she finally led them into the Universe of Particles Exhibition.
“Does anyone,” she asked, “know how the universe was created?”
Calvin, whose stuffed tiger was currently balanced on his head, jumped up and screamed “BANG!” as loudly as he possibly could.
Tosh laughed, “Yes, that’s right. It started, with the Big Bang!”
“I like her.” Said Hobbes to Calvin, clutching at his friend’s hair as the lights went dim. Calvin wasn’t sure whether Hobbes meant Dr. Sato or Ms. Frizzle but he agreed either way.
All around them, the presentation started. A British woman’s soothing voice explained about helium and hydrogen and all the stuff that Ms. Nina had already taught them. Calvin didn’t listen, more interested in the flashes of different colored light. The points and whorls, and splashes of color that danced over his skin and Hobbes’ fur.
“This is so cool!” He exclaimed. “Look Hobbes, we’re part of the universe!” He twirled a little, accompanied in his laughing by Hobbes. Doctor Sato shushed them, but gently.
“Calvin,” Hobbes asked a little later, while Doctor Sato explained about accelerating protons and moving at one third the speed of light before even reaching the accelerator and - “Calvin!”
“Does this mean they can make stars in there? Real ones?”
Calvin thought about it, then ran to ask Ms. Frizzle.
Peter Bishop had been to CERN before, so he wasn’t nearly as excited as the others to tour the LHC facility. Hard hats, lab coats – some boys got excited about the silliest things. (Peter would much rather go home so he could play cops and robbers with Olive who lived next door and Astrid from upstairs.)
It wasn’t that physics wasn’t interesting – because it was – or even that he didn’t want to see the LHC - because there was always something new to see. It was that his father was here, at the facility, and Peter hated having to explain to people about his Dad.
“Doctor Bishop!” Peter heard Ms. Frizzle call and cursed his luck that the substitute knew Walter. This was going to be so embarrassing. Or, it would have been if Peter hadn’t ducked behind a column just in time.
Instead of embarrassing, it was just kind of weird.
From the other side of the column, Peter had a perfect view of the catwalk below where Gaius, with the creepy Barbie he always carried around in one hand, was stacking binders and reference texts one upon the other so that he could stand on them and reach the console.
“These silly researchers are so limited.” He heard Gaius say to the Barbie. It shouldn't have been any weirder than Calvin talking to Hobbes, not really, but for some reason, with Gaius, it was. “I mean, don’t they realize potential here? What they could create?” He rearranged his stack as it slipped, stopping now and then as if listening to someone on the other end of a cell phone, then said “Well, yes, that. But, I mean, they’re not even trying. Think about what it could -.” But Peter didn’t hear the rest.
“Oh Bad.” He said to himself as he ran for wherever his Dad had lead the rest of the class. “Oh Bad. Oh Bad. Oh Bad, bad, bad!” Then he spotted them. “Walter!” Peter yelled at the top of his lungs. “Walter! I think one of my classmates is trying to create a black hole!”
Later, Peter decided that being outted as Crazy Doctor Bishop’s son was, all in all, much less embarrassing than waving around a Barbie yelling, “BUT SIX MADE ME DO IT! SIX MADE ME DO IT!” Whatever that meant.
“Well, as my great great great great great – oh, whatever he was, once said,” Miss Frizzle said after security had taken Gaius and his Barbie away, “It’s time to ride the Hadron Collider!”
Apparently, this was code for “Everyone get back on the bus.”
Except, the bus didn’t do what buses are supposed to do.
“This? IS SO COOL!” Calvin all but screamed into Peter’s ear as the world grew big all around the bus and they shrank to the size of an atom. Next to him, Calvin’s stuffed Hobbes looked like it was bouncing in its seat with excitement, though it was probably the electrons being stripped off of the atoms around them that was causing it.
In front of them, two of the exchange students seemed less than enthused. “Is this magic? Merlin if this is Magic my Dad’s going to kill us.” One said. Wart, if Peter remembered his name properly.
“No. No, no.” Said Merlin, who sounded a bit sick to Peter, “It’s Physics, not Magic. Just… really, really advanced physics. We haven't learned it yet.”
“But – how is that possible? I don’t think the Large Hadron Collider is big enough to fit people in it. And how does a school bus -?”
“I don’t know.” Merlin exclaimed, “How does Morgana’s hair always look so clean when she plays in the mud just like you and Gwaine and the others?”
Wart was silent for a moment. “How am I supposed to know?” He finally said, with much petulence.
“Well, I mean, it defies physics a bit doesn’t it? How she sort of repels dirt?”
“So maybe this works kind of the same way.”
Wart didn’t have a reply to that.
“Just…” Merlin paused for a second, “Just think of it like the world’s fastest roller coaster. You like those.”
Which, when Peter thought of it like that, sounded pretty damned cool.
Valarie Frizzle was older than she looked. She was older than she liked to think about and older than most people could comprehend. Sometimes though, new experiences still managed to take her by surprise. Like being a Woman. And Ginger. And having his best childhood friend (who then spent lifetimes trying to kill him) accidentally regenerate as a lizard. And be happier for it.
So yeah, new life experiences. Like these kids were about to have.
“Come on old girl,” She crooned at her Tardis, “lets go replicate the Big Bang!”