“Very impressive. For a “meek” librarian, I surely didn’t expect to see moves like that. I was worried that I would have to take over for you, but obviously you had things handled over here.”
Violet felt her cheeks grow hot. “I took some jiu-jitsu classes in college… it’s nothing.”
“No, no… credit is given where credit is due. Bay Bay may be shorter, but he’s no joke either. I challenged him one time when we were younger—nothing serious, just a playful contest —and he almost beat me then. Almost,” he said, grinning and shaking his head. “You definitely held your own against him.”
“Well thank you, it’s…” Violet began without thinking and then paused.
“Wait… You… you know him? ‘Bay Bay’ I mean?”
Shawty glanced at the pillowbeak laying on the floor. The muscles around his mouth twitched for a moment before he answered, “Well, yes of course. I mean, I do spend part of my time acting like my allegiances lie here.” He spread his long arms, indicating the expanse of the laboratory.
Violet bit her lip, still thinking. “Well, it sounds like you are… were… friends with him.”
Shawty’s eyes darkened, his mouth drawing into a fine line. “Yes, well, certain things have changed since…”
Shawty was interrupted as Robert Nickel nearly collided with him and Violet.
“Quick, you tie his hands and I’ll get his foot!” Robert bellowed at Violet. She stood unmoving for a second, unsure of who he was talking about until he stooped to grab Shawty’s ankle with his good arm.
“Excuse me, but what exactly do you think you’re…” Shawty began.
“Make sure you cover his mouth too! These things can emit one God-awful screech!” Robert added, wrestling with Shawty’s legs.
“Hold it… would you… Robert stop!” Violet said, finally grabbing Robert and yanking him into a full nelson.
“What… hey! I thought you were attacking the monkeys! I’m on your side!” Robert spluttered from her grasp.
“Well we were attacking the ‘monkeys,’ but if you were paying attention, you would have seen that this monkey,” Shawty said, pointing to himself, “was fighting alongside Violet, not the other way around.”
“Wait… you’re Violet? Violet Mahoney? Sven’s sister?” Robert hacked. Violet released her hold on him so that he could turn to face her. Maybe she shouldn’t have held him so tightly—his neck and face looked a little red.
“Yes, that’s me.”
Robert rubbed his neck. “Sven never told me that you doubled as a ninja after your daytime job.”
The corners of Violet’s mouth twitched upwards. “Yes, well, I’ve never had to act like one before now. Must be something about being in an alternate universe,” Violet said, heat rising in her cheeks again.
“As much as I’m enjoying listening to this heartwarming introduction, may I remind you, Violet, that we have work to do?” Shawty said from behind her.
Violet’s mind shot back to the task at hand. “Oh yes, the large hadron collider!”
Robert raised an eyebrow, “You know about the LHC? Well, well… Sven has been keeping you informed, I see. In that case,” he said, running back over to the keypad he had been typing on, “perhaps you can give me your opinion on this formula right here.”
“No, Robert… we’re not here to fix the collider. We’re here to destroy it,” Violet said.
“Destroy it? Why would you want to do that?” Robert spun around, jerking his head back in surprise.
“Because if not, your home is going to be demolished into oblivion,” Shawty snapped back. “It’s either collider or planet Earth, you take your pick.”
“Oh, come on now… I don’t think that Dr. O would go along with such a scheme. Sure, he’s a little…” Robert paused to find the right word, “Eccentric. But just because he’s so passionate about science doesn’t mean he’s out to destroy the world. That’s a bit cliché, don’t you think? Who fed you this idea, anyways?”
“The man in the clearing,” Violet said.
“Oh… very trustworthy,” Robert chided. “Some random man in a clearing. Does this man even have a name?”
“Why, yes, I do. It’s Dr. Gerstein, but you can call me Hans,” said the clearing man, striding through the same entrance where Violet and Shawty had just come in.
Sven laid his head against the cool white of the wall behind him. His headache had left him feeling fuzzy and exhausted. He still tried to make contact with Violet, but only a few words would come through to him every minute or so. He sighed. Nothing upset Sven more than sitting idle when there was a job to be done. Always advancing—that was the motto his office had set up back at home, and he followed it religiously.
Always advancing. Sven’s mind flashed to the large hadron collider sitting somewhere below him in the building. Even though he knew it was meant for a terrible use, Sven couldn’t help but cringe at the thought of destroying it. There was something beautiful about it—the soft whirring of the energy boosters, the coolness of the metal keypad beneath his fingers, that faint purple light that emanated from every crevice…
Sven snapped himself back to reality. No, Violet was right. It had to be destroyed… it had to. But his own reluctance caused Sven’s stomach to coil in on itself. What if Violet wasn’t right? What if she was wrong—wrong about the collider, about Dr. O?
Or worse, Sven thought, what if she was wrong about me? What if I am just like him?
Violet stared, mouth hanging open slightly in astonishment.
“What… what are you doing here?” Violet asked Hans as he advanced towards her. “What happened to Billy and his army of pillowbeaks?” she said, turning towards Shawty.
“They’re on their way, don’t worry,” Hans said, unperturbed.
Robert tore his eyes from the odd bodily contradiction standing before him. “Billy? Another one of these…” he lost his wording as his gaze again wavered on the pillowbeak-man.
“No, no. I am the only one of my kind fortunately. I would have hated anyone to go through the same transformation I endured. Ah well… all in the name of science, I suppose.”
Violet could not believe her ears.
“You? You’re a scientist too? Like this Dr. Octopi?”
“I would hope I’m not exactly like him,” he said. “That would make my efforts seem rather futile. But yes, I am a scientist. A particle physicist, to be exact. Though I have to admit,” he said, looking down at his lower half, “I haven’t always been the best one.”
Violet held her head in her hands. She tried to catalog the facts that were barraging her into separate files in her brain. She thought she had had Clearing Man—or Hans, she guessed—in the category of people she could trust, but now she could feel everything slowly slipping away.
She looked up in time to see Shawty peering at her, his head cocked to one side, eyes squinted. He then turned towards Hans, eyebrows drawn, and nodded.
“Shawty seems to think I should reveal to you a little more information, though I’m not quite sure. I withheld in the first place to avoid this kind of suspicion when you met Octopi, but I guess we owe you an explanation,” Hans conceded.
He drew in a breath, Violet doing the same, preparing herself for what she was about to hear. The stale air filled up her lungs, closed in on her, just like the surrounding dim room.
“You see, Octopi and I once had the same goal. Together, we created this alternate world. We established this domain for the advancement of science,” he said, puffing out his chest above his stocky pillowbeak legs.
Suddenly, it all clicked. Violet’s mind reeled backwards then slingshot forwards again.
“You were partners! The password… ‘Do you have one in blue!’ I knew I had heard that before!”
“Ah yes, is Octopi still using that as his password? We both liked the ring of that for a code phrase back in the day, and apparently it stuck.”
“But… if you and Dr. Octopi were partners… you obviously aren’t any more.”
“No, that is for certain,” said Hans. “He’s done one too many experiments on the collider’s effect on radioactive material, if you ask me. One day we’re creating pillowbeaks and the next day he’s decided that he needs to expand the dimensional boundaries of our world. As if one universe isn’t enough,” he said, shaking his head.
“So… so you were in on these experiments? This expanding of dimensional boundaries?” Robert spoke up.
“Of course not! I was quite content with our own world we had created, thank you very much. Not that I could go back to Earth looking like this,” he added. “Now, O. didn’t appreciate that very much, but I managed to separate myself and persuade a good amount of our pillowbeaks to go with me. This one included,” he said, nodding towards Shawty. “Others were a bit more... loyal to Octopi," he added, glancing at where Bay Bay and the other pillowbeak were tied up on the floor. "And Billy of course. I managed to persuade Billy, which was my ultimate triumph.”
“Will somebody tell me, who is this Billy character?” Robert interrupted again.
“He was one of our very finest… creations. You see, O. had discovered this other form of matter—this anti-matter if you will—and had begun creating creatures called mirrorlings from it.” Robert’s eyes widened in understanding. “And we had always wondered what would happen if you mixed some of this anti-matter with human matter, and well… we created our Billy. Part human, part mirrorling. He can travel through the space of this universe with unparallel ease, but he’s also quite volatile like the mirrolings he was created from. But trust me, he’s worth having on our side.”
“Why’s that?” Robert asked, arms folded across his chest.
Hans paused, exchanging a glance with Shawty. “You’ll see.”