The clock striking three o' clock PM and the ringing of the bell meant freedom for the students of Woodfall Elementary School. It was time to say goodbye to school for the day, play outside, have fun and enjoy childhood. At least, that's what the average child would see as enjoying childhood, though Shelby's idea of fun was hoping her new science teacher could provide her with a legitimate reason to attend elementary school. She tried to understand why her parents saw it necessary to make her progress through school like a normal child when her teachers all agreed that her knowledge was far beyond that of any grade-schooler.
Ms. Volquez will be vastly different from any instructor you've had thus far, Shelby recalled the principal saying. When I proposed the idea of becoming your one-on-one science teacher and showed her some of your, shall we say, "work", she smiled, rigorously shook my hand and said "I can't possibly miss the chance to teach a child who fully appreciates the beauty of scientific discovery!" and signed the paperwork without hesitation.
Scratching the hole in her light green pants with one hand and itching her red bangs with the other, Shelby paced around her homeroom, watching the buses drive off through the window. I wonder what Becky will do this afternoon, she thought, recalling bidding her witch friend farewell and watching her soar away via broomstick with her mother, violet pointed hat falling off in flight as usual. It's a shame we have to put off delving into her subconscious even longer than I intended, especially when I have my doubts regarding this teacher. Can she really satisfy my endless craving for picking the locks that keep humanity from learning all there is to learn in this world? Can ANYONE understand how much I yearn, no, BEG to pick every single lock until all of the universe's knowledge is tucked inside my brain?!
"Sure, life's always gonna have something new to learn, but if you just rush through all the learning you'll be missing out. Don't you wanna take the time to fully appreciate every new thing you discover?"
The words of her mother rang in Shelby's mind, and she couldn't help but smile when she remembered them. Mother may not fully appreciate my interests, but she still respects them. If I let my thirst for knowledge carry me too fast, I won't be able to embrace every sweet, succulent drop of glorious enlightenment.
The ringing of the phone pulled her from her thoughts, her green eyes watching the teacher pick up the phone and speak into it, gruffly muttering sentences such as "I understand" and "no, it's no trouble at all" before finishing the call with a dull-sounding "okay, you take care as well" and setting the phone down. "Shelby," the teacher said, standing up and scratching his brown mustache, "Ms. Volquez is quite caught up in her work at the science lab, so she asked me if I could take you down there instead of her coming here to pick you up."
"No need to exert energy you can save for a more valuable purpose," Shelby said, strapping on her goggles and heading for the door. "I can walk there myself."
"Well..." the teacher scratched his balding head. "I'm not supposed to let you into the hall unsupervised, but it's after school hours and you're capable of taking care of yourself."
Shelby nodded and left the classroom, curiosity flowing through her as she headed upstairs and made her way to the science lab. Hearing that her new teacher was too absorbed in work to leave the lab provided her with cautious optimism; she frequently lost herself in her research, so she loved already having a way she could relate to whoever was waiting in the science lab. As soon as she started to turn the doorknob leading to the lab, the door was pushed open so a pair of purple-gloved hands could hold up an orange hazmat suit and a blast of cold air could hit her. "Please put this o before coming in," said a soft voice. "When it comes to what I'm working with, protection is your best friend."
Without a word, Shelby took the suit, walked into the nearby bathroom, and entered the frigid science lab once she was suited up. As soon as she stepped inside, she partially understood why she wasn't allowed to enter immediately; hot pink smoke was emanating from a beaker sitting on one of the tables, its hot pink contents bubbling and leaking onto the plastic wrap-covered table. A block of cheddar cheese sat on a paper plate near the beaker; near it was a grocery bag filled to the brim with various items such as sausages and milk, and a pipette sat next to the bag.
"I'm sorry if I startled you," said the same soft voice Shelby spoke to through the doorway. "That certainly wasn't professional for a teacher introducing herself to a student, though to be honest I don't see the two of us as teacher and student." She walked away from the table. "I see us as two souls seeking Nirvana, two lowly servants trying to please our master, two knights questing to storm the dragon's keep and rescue the princess."
Shelby's eyes lit up at the final remark. "Are you referring to the beast of ignorance who stands between curious minds and the fair maiden of understanding?"
"Correct!" From behind the visor of her orange suit and her square glasses, Ms. Volquez's eyes were as wide and lit-up as Shelby's. The latter could make out short strands of straight hair lining her teacher's head, a tight bun tucked in the back and held up by a pair of ball-point pens. "By the way, my name is Gabi Volquez, and you can call me Gabi, Ms. Gabi, Ms. Volquez, Ms. V., or anything else along those lines." She extended her hand for Shelby to shake with her own black-gloved hand. "I've been very eager to meet you, Miss Shelby DeNigus, ever since the principal showed me the freeze ray he confiscated from you."
"You sound quite certain that I'm Shelby DeNigus," Shelby stated with a raised eyebrow.
Gabi giggled nervously. "When I went to use the bathroom earlier in the day, I passed by a few boys who were talking about 'that redhead in the lab coat who treats science like her boyfriend,' so I made the connection when I saw you."
"Typical," Shelby groaned. "I bet it's those fifth graders who find amusement in the Neanderthal activity of spitball propelling. Those clueless clods should work on their marksmanship if they want to partake in such a pinheaded practice."
"In relation to work," Gabi said energetically, "I'm very eager to have you take a look at the new substance I've recently developed."
"New substance?" Shelby said skeptically. "Whatever it is, its volatile nature was noted the moment I entered this room. If hazmat suits are required to deal with it, does that mean whatever affects it can give a person are triggered almost immediately upon skin contact?"
"Splendid prediction!" Gabi said, clapping her hands and picking up the pipette. "What you see in this beaker is a chemical capable of doing something science has never seen at this point in man's ever-evolving history."
"Enlighten me," Shelby said, sitting on a stool close to the beaker, with Gabi sitting on the other one. "Act as a defogging machine built to purge my mind of ignorant mist."
Gabi giggled once more, and even with a visor on her, Shelby could tell she was blushing. "You're unlike any student I've ever taught, Shelby. When I first became a teacher, I hoped I would be able to show many young people such as yourself the beauty of science and what can happen when you dare to dream not big, but colossal, monumental, and logic-defying." She let out a defeated sigh. "Unfortunately, I've had my fair share of complaints from parents who believe I'm daring them to dream too big. They've chewed me out after coming home to see their kid trying to make their hairdryer into a space satellite, or attempting to cryogenically freeze their dog."
"Don't let them get you down!" Shelby said, sympathy in her voice. "When I hear you speak, I hear the words of a woman that's just like me: brave, bold, and ready to show the world something it's never seen before. Your mission to help children learn to do as you do is an admirable one, and you have my undying support!"
Gabi laughed at Shelby's salute. "Thank you," she said, "for acting far older than you really are. I was curious to see what you would be like when I was told you tried dissecting your class gerbil at the age of seven, and I must say you are living up to my expectations."
"And you have SHATTERED my own!" Shelby exclaimed. "I have found my other half, the one who I am destined to be with, the one who I shall learn from and share valuable information with!"
Gabi blushed once again. Genius she may be, but even she's too young to understand the implications of calling me her 'other half.' She rubbed her hands together. Still, I have an audience for my latest experiment, and I must put on a show worthy of being center stage!
"To be perfectly honest," Shelby said shamefully, "I'm very disappointed in myself. I should've brought one of my inventions to show you what I can do in person, but I was afraid I'd waste my time..."
"Understandable," Gabi said comfortingly. "I doubt you've had a science teacher like me, so I can see why you wouldn't find it necessary to bring an invention that the average human would scoff at. And let that..." she used the pipette to extract some of the hot pink substance, "serve as the segue into today's experiment." She cleared her throat and spoke loudly. "What I, Gabi Volquez, am about to do is..." she pointed to the block of cheese, "test a chemical substance that will cause two adjacent objects to transfer their molecular structures and exchange properties!"
"YES YES YES!" Shelby jumped up and down rapidly. "I'VE TRIED DOING THE SAME THING BUT EVERY TIME THE OBJECTS I TEST JUST SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST! WAIT!" She snapped her fingers. "IT MUST BE THE ROOM TEMPERATURE! THAT WOULD EXPLAIN WHY YOURS IS HOT PINK WHILE MINE WAS ALWAYS CRIMSON!"
"That's right!" Gabi replied with a wide grin. "Cooler temperatures are needed to keep this substance, which I just decided to call 'switcheroonius' off the top of my head because it describes what's going on and sounds humorous, from reacting in a volatile manner. I've also had experiments end in spontaneous combustion, as well as rapid growth of the objects being tested and total disintegration. This time, however, I'm confident the experiment will be successful! If it isn't I might not be allowed to teach here anymore depending on how exactly it backfires, but that's no problem at all. I'll gladly allow you to come to my humble abode, that is to say my laboratory, to see what else I can offer a fellow scientist. Of course I want to see your lab as well, but let's worry about that later and get to work!"
Shelby watched intensively as Gabi lowered the pipette; slowly, carefully, a pair of drops fell, landing on the paper plate and close enough to the cheese to spread and make contact with it. Like with her studying of Becky's subconscious, Shelby held her breath, hoping to see something she herself had failed to create. This is already a better attempt than all of mine, she thought somewhat bitterly. All of my objects burst into flames the moment I introduced the chemical, but Gabi has reminded how much I have to learn. She smiled and looked at her teacher. I only hope I can provide my fellow knight with the same blessing of intelligence she's bestowed upon me! The ignorant beast must FALL! ITS BURNING FOOLISHNESS MUST BE EXTINGUISHED! ITS UNEARTHLY UNAWARENESS MUST BE PURGED!
"LOOK!" Gabi exclaimed, clapping her hands. "IT'S BEGINNING!"
Both of them watched the hot pink splotch on the plate and cheese vanish, and after just one blink of the eye, the cheese melted until it perfectly covered every inch of the plate. A flat, gooey circle sat on the table, its center rippling like a body of water hit by a skipping stone. After a few seconds that saw total silence from Gabi and Shelby, something began to emerge from the rippling center; a white rectangle that sat perfectly in the middle of the yellow circle, which stopped rippling and quickly hardened.
"YOU'VE DONE IT!" Shelby hi-fived Gabi and clapped her own hands together. "WHERE I'VE FAILED, YOU'VE SUCCEEDED! ON THIS DAY I, SHELBY DENIGUS, HAVE BEEN BLESSED BY THE GODDESS OF SCIENCE! TOGETHER, GABI, YOU AND I ARE GOING TO TAKE THIS ACCOMPLISHMENT AND USE IT AS A SPRINGBOARD TO LAUNCH OURSELVES INTO GREATER, MORE EYE-OPENING, EARTH-SHATTERING, LOGIC-CRUSHING-"
A loud sound halted Shelby's declaration; the sound was caused by the rectangle exploding and showering both brave knights with shreds of paper. The cheese plate melted again, spreading across the plastic-wrapped table and dripping onto the floor. Shelby stood in shock as Gabi grabbed paper towels and started to clean up the mess.
"OH NOOOO!" Gabi frantically tried to clean up the spreading cheese. "Everything was going so good and then it just had to blow up in my face!" The cheese kept spreading, and she gasped in dismay. "I thought I had finally done something right, and then it turns out wrong again!"
Shelby said nothing, merely staring at her teacher. Gabi guiltily hung her head and shook it in shame. "I may love science, but I've had a large share of failures. My first freeze ray exploded when I fired it, freezing me in place. Then I built a jetpack that I let my best friend try, and it sent them backwards through my neighbor's house and into their swimming pool. And of course that time in high school when I tried showing off my prom dress that can take any form and color it wants only for the dress to melt and leave me on the dance floor in my underwear..."
"You failed," Shelby said bluntly. "This experiment was a failure."
"After all my talk," Gabi moaned, "after how much I got you excited to learn from me, I screwed up and proved I'm really a-"
"TRUE LOVER OF SCIENCE!" Shelby proclaimed. "You could've given up after all of your failures, yet you've kept on trying, even when your experiments go haywire. Also," she smirked and pointed to herself, "you think YOUR first freeze ray was bad? Mine shot out ICE CREAM. And how about that jetpack I tried on my poor dog, who's probably well out of our solar system by now?"
The cheese finally stopped spreading, and Gabi was about to open her mouth when the door was opened by the principal. "What on Earth is going on in here?" He asked, dark eyes widened and hand tightly gripping the doorknob. "I heard what sounded like an explosion! I know you're the eccentric type, Ms. Volquez, but surely you realize a school is no place for such extreme-"
"You're right," Gabi finished, taking off the helmet of her hazmat suit, revealing her hair as white and her eyes as yellow. "The switcheroonius is not something that should be allowed on school grounds. If someone were to get it on their skin, it could rub against their shirt and take them on quite a trip! Their skin would turn into fabric and they'd have a shirt made entirely of flesh! Why do you think Shelby and I are wearing these suits?"
"Then why is it in this building?!" The principal half-screamed, clutching his head.
"FOR THE NAME OF SCIENCE!" Shelby chimed in, removing her helmet as well. "ONE MUST TAKE RISKS FOR ITS GLORIOUS NAME, AND BECAUSE GABI HERE TOOK A RISK, HER AND I ARE ONE STEP CLOSER TO SLAYING THE DRAGON AND RESCUING THE PRINCESS!" She took Gabi's hands. "Brave knight, wouldst thou accompany me to my quarters so we may strategize our next attack on the hostile keep?"
"By all means fellow knight," Gabi said, reaching down and picking up a plastic wrap dispenser from one of the stools. She wrapped up the beaker, picked up her groceries and followed Shelby out of the classroom, leaving the principal to try and chase after them only to slip in the cheese and fall.
"I try to encourage a young mind to learn how she learns best," he mumbled, "and where does it get me? Face first in cheese." He took note of the taste and moaned. "And it's cheddar, too! That always upsets my poor stomach..."