Chapter 20: Exposition of Evil
There was a long moment when no one seemed sure what to say. Hobbes simply stared, his jaw hanging open, his head whipping back and forth to look from the Calvin beside him to the one on the platform. "How...?" he stammered. "But...and who- why- w...WHAT?!" This seemed to be the limit of his conversational skills at the moment, as at this point he chose to lapse into complete and utter stunned silence.
Calvin was less immediately mind-blown, but it still took him a long moment to regain his full faculties. Finally he managed to close his open mouth. "Robot, clone, or future self?" he asked.
Up on the podium, Calvin #2 blinked. "What?" he asked, taken aback for the first time in the conversation.
"The way I see it, there are three options," said Calvin. "One, you're a robot who's designed to just look like me. Two, you're a clone of me who's been created by some evil corporation to eliminate both myself and Hobbes. Or three, you're my future self come back in time to get revenge after some event causes me to turn evil. So which are you?"
Calvin #2 rolled his eyes. "Oh Calvin," he sighed. "Surely you've figured it out by now. You practically said it a minute ago. You know, I really did have higher hopes for you than this. After all," he added with another of those cold smiles, "you ARE the original."
Calvin's eyes widened. "A duplicate!" he exclaimed. "You're a duplicate of me!"
"Finally, seeing some gears turning," muttered Calvin #2. "Yes, I am a product of the Duplicator, the very device which were are standing inside a stylized representation of right now."
"But...but how?" asked Calvin in confusion. "The original five Duplicates were all transmogrified, and the other duplicate- that annoying goody-two-shoes with a crush on Susie- had an evil thought and disappeared! How can you exist?"
"I'm glad you asked," said Calvin #2. "It's a long story, so I suggest you two sit down."
Hobbes immediately did so; frankly, he wasn't sure if he could have held himself up any longer. Calvin, however, refused. He had a feeling that this duplicate wasn't exactly on friendly terms with him, and he couldn't think of any more dangerous enemy than himself.
"You see," said Calvin #2, "it all starts with that little device you called the Ethicator. As you may have guessed, that is why I placed my vantage point in this specific spot: so I can never forget my origins. Believe me, with all the time I've spent here, that may one day have become a possibility. Now, in order to understand the next section, you'll have to first grasp how the Duplicator works."
"I know how it works!" protested Calvin. "I invented the thing!"
"QUIET!" screamed the duplicate, causing Calvin and Hobbes to recoil. The blast of pure, unadulterated rage had come out of nowhere. Hobbes put his hands over his head, as if hiding. Calvin simply stared into the fury displayed so vividly on his own face.
As quickly as the anger had come, it vanished. "Now then," said Calvin #2, "the Duplicator. You see, no matter which of the box's functions are active, the internal mechanics stay the same; they simply serve different purposes. When the Duplicator is activated, the computer mainframe automatically scans the contents of the box. A massive amount of energy is then released from the fusion reactors, which are then converted through various devices into physical matter- specifically, into an exact duplicate of the subject inside the box. All this occurs within a matter of nanoseconds.
"That's how the Duplicator usually works...but your introduction of the Ethicator rather complicated things. You attempted to use the device to create a copy of yourself with only good traits: the perfect sucker to do all your work for you. However, the box's engines cannot make good from nothing; it can only copy what already exists. So when it came time to create the new Calvin, the box did the only thing it could: it split the energy into positive and negative forces. The positive energy was converted into the 'good' duplicate, and the negative energy was sealed away within the box's Command Matrix.
"However, the box was rather too good at its job. You see, the computer divided the energy AFTER the duplicate was complete. What's more, the negative energy retained its original form while stored in the Command Matrix. This meant that, when the positive duplicate was created, a sort of photo negative- a Calvin composed entirely of negative energy- was also created. Rather than creating a completely new being, the box essentially created a normal Calvin duplicate and split it into two beings: one good and one evil. Of course, you never knew any of this because the evil duplicate never received a physical form...until now, that is."
"So," said Calvin quietly, "that's who you are. I knew I wasn't far off with that 'evil clone' guess. But how did you manage to take physical form?"
"It's quite simple," said Calvin #2. "After my creation, I sat essentially in suspended animation for quite a while. However, the day eventually came when a fortuitous accident happened to critically damage certain functions of the box's computer. Specifically, a large projectile struck the main terminal at high speed. Can you figure this one out? How about you, Hobbes? "
"The Calvinball!" Hobbes blurted out suddenly. "It's the same accident that damaged the autopilot on the time machine!"
Calvin #2 nodded and continued. "Anyway, one of the systems damaged during the accident was the Command Matrix, which began to leak large amounts of energy into time-space...including the negative energy which contained all the information necessary to create me. The energy drifted through time-space for...well, it's impossible to say how long it drifted for. But eventually that energy was deposited- and coalesced- in the place where all the detritus of the timestream ends up: here in the Paradox Dimension."
Calvin looked around. "So this place is the Paradox Dimension," he mused. "I always wondered what it looked like."
"Indeed," said the other Calvin. "Interesting fact about the Paradox Dimension: time doesn't pass here. Well, it does, but it doesn't affect anything. Iron never rusts, objects stay in the same state of repair or disrepair as when they arrived...and people never age. That's one important thing I found out after years and years of being trapped in this place: here in the Paradox Dimension, death is the only escape."
"Exactly how long have you been here?" asked Calvin.
"It's impossible to say," said Calvin #2. "Here a day can seem like an hour, or a week, or a nanosecond, or a century, or no time at all. Let's just say 'Long enough to have built this warehouse' and leave it at that."
Calvin gulped. He looked around; the sheer scale of the warehouse only now set in. To think that one person had built it, probably with nothing but a few tools and his own ambition...the idea was staggering.
"But I digress," said the other boy. "You see, the good thing about having infinite time is that you can eventually do almost anything. I eventually managed to gather up enough technology to construct a dimensional viewer, which would allow me to see almost anything in the universe. From here I managed to deduce exactly what happened to me, who I was, and how I ended up here. As you can see, I somewhat styled myself around that."
Calvin's eyes suddenly widened. "The symbol!" he exclaimed. "The one on your shirt! It's not a pillar; it's the Roman numeral for the number 2!"
"A rather fortuitous accident," said Calvin #2 with the hint of a smile. "I created this shirt in what I can only assume to have been a fit of passive-aggressive self-loathing. Declaring myself to be a mere copy and all that."
"Well then," said Calvin, "I guess I know your story. But I still don't know your name."
The other Calvin shrugged. "Well, considering my origins, I never really had one," he said. "But all things considered," he added with a smile, "I think I'll go with... Nivlac."
Calvin blinked. "Well, that's kind of cliché, isn't it?" he asked. "I mean, the whole 'evil replica of the hero's name is the hero's name backwards' thing is so overdone."
"I'm sorry, maybe I haven't made myself clear," said Nivlac, the rage returning to his eyes. "When I want to hear your opinion, I'll ask for it! And I'm never going to ask for it!"
Hobbes suddenly spoke up again. "Wait a minute," he said. "You just told us all about how you got here...but how did we get here?"
"Oh, isn't that obvious?" asked Nivlac with mock innocence. "You finished the Quest. You gathered up the Pillars."
This was it. The million-dollar question. The one Calvin had been asking himself for what felt like days. "And," he said, "what exactly are the pillars?"
"First of all," said Nivlac, "it's Pillars, with a capital P. Proper noun."
"I'm not interested in a grammar lesson!" snapped Calvin.
"Oh no, of course," replied Nivlac. "You get enough of that with Miss Wormwood."
Calvin blinked. "How did you...?" he began.
"I'm you, remember?" Nivlac tapped his head. "I know everything you know...or at least everything you knew up until the exact moment of my creation. I can get inside your head better than anyone...because I used to live there."
"That's...incredibly unnerving," admitted Calvin. "But still, what ARE the Pillars?"
"They're alien," said Nivlac simply. "Artifacts of a civilization predating man, possibly by billions of years."
There was a pause. After a moment, both Calvin and Hobbes began making the universal hand gesture for "Go on".
Nivlac sighed. "I found the pillars while I was exploring the dimension quite a while ago. They showed evidence of incredible capabilities, so I began to use them in my experiments. The Rubber Pillar in particular helped me construct this place. But it was only after I learned of their true purpose that I began to formulate my plan. I used my technology to scatter the pillars across time and space, making sure that a certain number would automatically find you, thereby ensuring you would hunt down the others. I also made sure certain Pillars would be guarded, so as to cement your belief that the Pillars were important. Did you like the touch with the genie? I fed him all that information about the Chosen One in a moment of inspiration. It was rather brilliant if I do say so myself."
"Okay, wait," said Calvin. "If you already HAD all six pillars, why would you scatter them for us to find them... just to bring them back to you?"
"It's quite simple," Nivlac explained. "The whole purpose was to draw you to the Paradox Dimension."
"But couldn't you have done that by other means?" asked Calvin. "I mean heck, just destroy the time machine while we're traveling somewhere! Throw some debris at us! Why the elaborate scavenger hunt?"
Nivlac smiled. "You're probably expecting me to reply that it was all some elaborate test," he said. "That it was all about proving how much smarter I am than you. Well, while my intelligence is certainly vaster than yours, that's not the reason. You see, Calvin, you possess something that I needed. Something my plan cannot succeed without. Something that could not be transported through space and time except by a willing individual. And since escape from the Paradox Dimension is impossible, I needed you to bring it with you, to come here of your own free will...more or less, anyway."
"And what is this object?" Calvin asked.
"The marker," said Nivlac simply.
Calvin blinked. His hand subconsciously shot to the pocket where he was storing the marker. "Why do you want it?" he asked simply.
"Ah, so you already know it's special," said Nivlac with a smile. "That makes things rather simpler. I take it you've noticed by now the strange things it can do, the impossible objects it helps bring about. I don't suppose there's any chance of you giving it to me freely?"
Calvin pulled out the marker and held it tightly in his fist. "If you want it," he said, "you're obviously planning to do something with it. So yeah, that's a no."
Nivlac sighed. "Well," he said, "let the history books show that I did indeed offer you the easy way first." He snapped his fingers. "Foxy, if you will..."
Suddenly a pair of metallic arms grabbed Calvin from behind. Calvin did his absolute best to resist screaming as he was turned around to look into the gaping jaw and wild mechanical eyes of the Foxy replica. In his panic, Calvin dropped the marker, which began to roll away towards the base of the stairs. Hobbes made a move for it, but Foxy let go of Calvin with one hand/paw/claw and lunged at Hobbes with the other, seizing him by the arm. Calvin attempted to struggle free, but the animatronic's grip was too powerful.
Nivlac stood up and strolled casually down the stairs. He picked up the marker and held it up before Calvin's eyes. "What is this?" he asked.
"A marker," said Calvin flatly.
Nivlac smiled, his coldest smile yet. "Wrong," he said simply.
Calvin blinked. "Pardon?" he asked.
"You may THINK it's a marker," the evil duplicate said. "It may look and feel and even function like a marker. But in reality it is so, so much more. It simply took this form so as to hide, so no one would notice it until the time was right."
Nivlac reached into a nearby pile of junk and pulled out a device he had apparently placed there earlier. It looked a bit like a card battery with wires attached to the terminals, but Calvin could tell Nivlac had added several components. Slowly Nivlac attached one of the wires to each end of the marker.
"Now," said Nivlac, his finger reaching for a switch on top of the device, "let's pull back the curtain together, shall we?"
He flipped the switch.
Instantly there was a blaze of light so bright that the three had to look away; even Foxy seemed to creak slightly with apprehension. Calvin could feel the heat coming off the device. When the light and heat faded, Calvin turned back...and what he saw was perhaps the biggest surprise in a day full of surprises.
Hooked up to the device where the marker had been only moments earlier was a Pillar.
It was slightly shorter and narrower than the others, with somewhat smaller bases. The surface was pure white, with black clouds as if of ink swirling around below its surface. The shifting movements gave the group a sense of motion, as if the entire Pillar were somehow alive and was stirring from sleep.
Nivlac quickly unhooked the new Pillar from the wires and placed the device on the ground. He held the Pillar reverentially, staring at it as if it were a slightly oversized Holy Grail. "I can't believe it," he whispered. "After all this time, the final Pillar is in my hands."
Calvin was still staring in disbelief. "The final Pillar," he whispered. "It was in my room the whole time."
"Indeed," said Nivlac. "The Imagination Pillar. The seventh and final piece of the device...the most powerful component of all."
"And what does it do?" asked Calvin quietly, though he thought he already knew.
"Anything," said Nivlac. "The Imagination Pillar can rewrite the laws of physics to the will of whoever controls it. So if the holder wanted to, say, turn a cardboard box into a time machine, all they would have to do is imagine it and the Pillar would help create the devices that would make it possible. But more importantly, for the moment...it's the final component of the Pillar Mechanism."
"And what IS the Pillar Mechanism?" asked Hobbes, now getting frustrated."
"As I said, it's alien," said Nivlac. "From what I've ascertained, the civilization- known as the Creators- forged the Pillars as a weapon to be used in a vast war against an unknown force. However, when the war came to an end, the Creators came to fear what they had built. So they added a booby trap to the device: anyone who gathered the six exterior Pillars would be immediately transported to the Paradox Dimension, along with the device itself."
"That makes no sense," said Calvin, shaking his head. "How come they were afraid of this thing? It doesn't seem ALL that dangerous. I mean yeah, the Imagination Pillar could make some pretty serious stuff in the wrong hands, but you still have to be HOLDING the Pillars for them to work. If it came to war, I'd take a good old-fashioned nuke over the Pillars any day."
"That," said Nivlac, "is only because you don't know of the Pillars' full potential."
Calvin blinked. "Full potential?" he repeated.
"It's true that the Pillars each have their own unique abilities: the Rubber Pillar can levitate objects; the Luck Pillar can manipulate fortune; the Plastic Pillar can copy things from other times. But together their power is greater than any of the individual capabilities. You see, when someone with a powerful connection to time-space- such as, say, someone who has traveled through time on multiple occasions- brings together two or more Pillars, the Pillar Glyph is automatically manifested nearby. And when all seven Pillars are gathered together and placed upon the Pillar Glyph, the Pillar Mechanism is created."
"But what IS the Pillar Mechanism?!" exclaimed Calvin. "What does it DO?!"
"It's quite simple," said Nivlac, clearly reaching what he believed was the crescendo. "When properly focused with a proper space-time targeting system, such as the one I used to observe you and Hobbes throughout the Quest, the Pillar Mechanism has the power to remove a target from time entirely. The target of the Mechanism isn't merely destroyed; it ceases to have ever existed.
"This was the ultimate weapon forged by the Creators in their war: a weapon powerful enough to destroy their enemies before they were ever born. With it, the Creators not only won the war, they prevented it from ever even happening to begin with. But they soon began to fear what would happen if the device fell into the wrong hands. So they destroyed the Mechanism, scattering the Pillars across the universe, and encoded a trap within the Glyph to prevent anyone from ever using the device.
"But, as with almost everyone in the universe, they didn't count on me."
"So what's this grand plan, Nivlac?" asked Calvin. "What are you planning to do with this ultimate weapon?"
"Isn't it obvious?" asked Nivlac. "I plan to become you."
There was an awkward silence. "Run that by me again?" asked Calvin finally.
"It's really not that hard to grasp," sighed Nivlac. "Using the Pillar Mechanism, I will target you before you came to the Paradox Dimension and wipe you from existence. This will create a rift in reality: a blank space in the universe into which I will step. When the rift heals, as far as anyone else is concerned, I will always have been the original Calvin!"
"But that doesn't make sense!" protested Hobbes. "Wouldn't you be creating a paradox or something? Aside from you being a duplicate with no origin, how could Calvin bring you the Pillar you needed to complete the Mechanism if he never existed?"
"But that's just another reason why I needed you in the Paradox Dimension!" exclaimed Nivlac. "You see, as long as Calvin here remains trapped in this dimension, he will continue to exist even when his past self is erased from the universe. Essentially, he will sustain the new timeline by the mere fact of his existence. And before you get some sappy self-sacrificial idea about killing yourself to destroy me, know that it's already too late: you brought me the Pillar and now you're here, so there's a logical explanation for how I got the Pillar."
Calvin had gone very pale over the course of the preceding explanation. "But...why?" he asked meekly.
"Because I'm tired of being just a copy!" roared Nivlac with such intensity both Calvin and Hobbes recoiled in Foxy's grip. "I have been trapped in this dimension for my entire life! I deserve the chance to have a life on the outside! Besides," he added, "I can't very well act on my schemes to conquer the universe while trapped here. This plan is my only way out. And if it means that you suffer in the process, then all the better for it. Now then..."
He snapped his fingers, and Foxy released the pair. Nivlac then reached into his pocket, withdrew what looked like a TV remote, and pushed a button. With an immense CREAK, the massive hangar doors began to swing open.
"You are free to go now," said Nivlac. "I'm sure you'll find something you like; after all, you have an entire infinite dimension to play around with. And don't get any bright ideas, or I'll be forced to bring out my...other toys."
Hobbes was already running away from the terrifying animatronic fox and the somehow-equally-terrifying duplicate, headed for the exit. Calvin stood his ground, though he looked like he was about to pass out.
"We'll stop you," he said. "Hobbes and I are going to come back, put an end to your plans, and then blast out of this dimension and go home!"
"Oh, I don't think so," said Nivlac. "For one thing, escape from this dimension is impossible; trust me, I tried. The Pillar Mechanism is the only escape. And as for beating me...I don't see that happening either."
"And why's that?" asked Calvin.
Nivlac looked him dead in the eye. "Because I am not just any old copy of you," he hissed. "I am your maximum potential: the Calvin you could be if you weren't too scared, held back by your parents and that foolish tiger. I am cruelty without compassion; intelligence without restraint; ambition without mercy. I represent everything dark inside you, but also everything clever. So tell me, Calvin: how do you expect to defeat someone who's just as smart, if not smarter, than you are but who isn't afraid to crush anyone and everyone who gets in his way into the dust?"
Faced with this question, Calvin gave the only answer he possibly could: he turned around and sprinted after the rapidly retreating Hobbes.
Nivlac smiled, turning the Imagination Pillar over in his hands. He had enjoyed this brief encounter with Calvin and Hobbes. But for now there was work to do. Not that there was any particular rush of course: here in the Paradox Dimension, he had all the time in the world.
A/N: So here it is. Chapter 20. This is the big one: probably the longest chapter so far, and definitely the one I had the most fun writing (and the one with the most gratuitous exposition). I'll be honest, I've wanted to write this chapter since around Chapter 15, but I had to get through the rest of the story to get here. I feel it was worth it, and I hope you do too.
I'm not going to lie: Nivlac and his plans were NOT part of the story originally. I had the idea for an evil duplicate named Nivlac for a while, but his backstory was completely different; this original Nivlac was going to be the villain of my now-cancelled story Calvin and Hobbes: Illusion Escape. The fact that a pillar kind of looks like the Roman numeral "II" is also a massive coincidence; I didn't realize what I had created until AFTER I had decided to write Nivlac into the story.
This is also probably a good time to announce that there will be a C&H:TS-style bonus chapter at the end of the story. This will feature my original plans for the plot of the story (including the cancelled sequels), details about Illusion Escape and why it didn't get written, and a teaser for a couple other projects I've already started working on. The bonus chapter will also feature a Q&A section, so feel free to submit questions! I'm not imposing a limit on questions yet, but if things get out of control I'll limit it to five questions per reviewer. Questions I deem as spam or inappropriate will also not be answered.
More chapters will hopefully be up within the next couple weeks. My goal at this point is to finish the story before the end of summer. Here's hoping I don't forget about it again and leave you for months on this note. See you guys soon, hopefully!