A bit of fun for my family. Mal: Content
Ashwin Campbell looked like an ordinary boy. Like most ordinary boys he was small and sometimes stinky. He was also funny and kind and generous, just like many ordinary boys are too. He was not ordinary of course. He was extraordinary.
It helps, if you wish to be extraordinary, to have an unusual upbringing, and Ashwin certainly had that. His mother, Smitha, was a superwoman who had raised her two sons singlehandedly. Although raising boys singlehandedly is difficult it does not by itself make you a superwoman. Smitha, however, was an actual super-woman. She herself had gained her super powers in childhood when she was raised (as some children are) at an Atomic Research Centre in Bombay, India. She was incredibly smart, beautiful and loving. She was the best mother any little boy could hope for. Her powers had embarrassed her at first and she had not liked standing out as being different so had flown away from her native India to the ends of the earth, trying to hide what she was. True power cannot long be hidden and she was quickly discovered by another secret hero, Ashwin’s father, Mal.
His father is not dead in case you wonder why his mother has raised him seemingly on her own. Nor had he run away. For that matter he had not been abducted by aliens, lost in time or falsely imprisoned. Nothing so silly or unfortunate had befallen him. He was however practically useless.
Fans of superhero stories will be aware that every hero has not just incredible powers but also a terrible weakness or flaw. Something that makes them vulnerable or, worse still, something that causes them to destroy themselves. Smitha, known as Rajkumari, famously wore her heart on her sleeve, which allowed her to share her love openly and overwhelm people with her passion and joy for life. It meant she could command the affection of children and babies everywhere and turn the unhappiest of people into smiling and contented friends. Of course wearing your heart on your sleeve can also cause problems. For one you cannot live in dirt or your heart may get infected and you will quickly become ill. Therefore you must ensure wherever you live it must be clean and tidy. Most importantly, and most sadly, your heart can easily be hurt, which means you may often be sad and miserable. These strengths and weaknesses exist in all people but are magnified in superheroes and Smitha’s woes would most likely break an ordinary person’s heart. Love is a powerful emotion and it can heal as well as hurt; one must always look for it to heal. There is a danger in allowing the fear of being hurt to rule you. If you give in to that fear then the next step would be to shut yourself away from the world so that you could never be hurt again. Thankfully, Smitha’s love was so great that all the people she encountered were so touched by her heart that they could never stay out of her life. If she was feeling hurt, the love she had shared with them would be magnified and reflected, shining back at her and warming her with the power and radiance of the sun. Thus she could never truly be defeated.
Mal had a heart but did not use it in quite the same way. It was tucked away and preserved with the rest of his body for later use. For the most part, his body was a distraction. It kept needing sleep and food which were a terrible inconvenience. This is why he decided what he really needed was to simplify his life. Ashwin’s father was a genius with a mind so vast it was often in five different places at any one time. Often it was not even just in one time but in the past and future simultaneously. Smitha would have liked it to be in the present more often as it meant he forgot a lot of the day-to-day practicalities like helping with the laundry but as a super woman she managed to stay on top of this too. I’m sure if you had super powers you wouldn’t want to use them sorting and folding clothes either so you can imagine that this made her cross on quite a few occasions.
As it happens Mal was no good at this task anyway since he had decided some years previously to live as just a head in a jar. When I said Smitha raised her sons singlehandedly this is because Mal no longer had hands. He could use his mental powers to move some things around and occasionally he used telekinetic powers to control a robot he had built to move him from place to place but for the most part he didn’t need to go anywhere as he could usually imagine what it would be like without actually going there. It wasn’t the most convenient option to choose when you are a father as it makes your cuddles fairly uncomfortable, although Ashwin and his younger brother Nishant did squeeze his jar tight every night as their daddy read them bed time stories. For the rest of the time it was a very practical solution as it allowed him more time to think and he no longer had to eat or sleep.
By itself this background does not mean that Ashwin would grow up to be extraordinary. His home life was unusual but then many people’s home lives are, yet many of those don’t grow up to be exceptional at all. Ashwin and his brother Nishant would not be those people though. They were definitely different from ordinary boys.
Their childhood was a happy one. They went to birthday parties, played football with friends, flew spaceships and all the other typical things young boys do. When Ashwin was eleven years old and had just finished his final degree at Oxford University, his professor suggested that he might want to do something interesting with his doctorate in science. Ashwin agreed and set up an experimental research company with his brother Nishant. Nishant Campbell was as precocious as his elder brother. His interest in science and business was flourishing again now that he had finished competing at the Olympic Games.
“There are only so many gold medals you can win,” he told his brother, “before it starts to get a little tiresome.” To be fair at this time Nishant was only six and he did have a short attention span. Ashwin nodded though, having won his Olympic medals four years earlier. He was glad Nishant wanted to try something new, especially as he wanted to explore Nishant’s ideas about transdimensional portals.
Many years previously, while Nishant had been rolling out some Play-Doh, he had layered several colours of dough together and squeezed them tight until they joined as one. “I wonder,” he had speculated, “whether the world might be like this. With us living in a layer of life like this red dough but not realising there is another layer just next to us, and maybe another and another under that.” It had been a simple, childish thought but Ashwin and Nishant had brooded over it for a long time afterwards until they finally decided to investigate the matter properly. This is how the idea for creating a connection to another universe was created and why they developed the now famous Campbell Corridor.
I don’t want to baffle you with science but please understand they were very, very, very, very clever. Not surprising when you consider who their parents were. You’ll also have noticed that they were pretty good at sports but didn’t really understand the fun of Play-Doh.
We all know now how successful their experiments finally were as the trade between the four Open Dimensions has been very successful now that the Vitari Empire has been vanquished. Although billions died during the First and Second Interdimensional Wars it is reassuring that we can get cheap clothes and Klovak milk since the signing of the new Great Peace.
A lesser known story about their youth is worth relating here. In the early days of their experiments, when they had set aside their gene editing programme for super power creation, there were some failures. This was to be expected as nobody had tried anything like this before and certainly not by working in a secret bunker they had build under their father’s shed . Superpowers are amazing gifts but if you don’t have planning permission the local council will still ask you to knock down any extensions or secret bases you have built in your garden or under your neighbourhood.
The most significant failure came late one evening when Nishant had stayed up past his bedtime. He was tired and grumpy and had misplaced his teddy bear. These factors combined to distract him while he was calculating the effect of the quantum gravitational pull on the “corridor” he was attempting to create. Then, while Ashwin was checking on equipment in the testing area, there was a terrible accident. An explosion ripped through the room where he was standing as several universes tried to occupy the same space all at once. The worst thing that could have happened would have been it created a black hole which would suck in everything around it, starting with the equipment, then the room, then the bunker, the town above it, then with increasing speed, the whole of the planet would collapse in on itself and be absorbed by the hungry hole in space. By the time it got round to swallowing the sun there would have been nobody left to care but certainly both Ashwin and Nishant would have been embarrassed by the trouble they had caused.
Fortunately the worst did not happen. Something stranger and more unpredictable happened instead. As Nishant rushed into the testing room he was surprised to see there was no damage at all and that Ashwin was perfectly fine. Both of him were.
Before him stood two identical copies of his brother. Nishant couldn’t decide whether that was a good or a bad thing but it certainly wasn’t right. Worse still, neither of the two could work out which was the real Ashwin. They both knew the same things, spoke the same way, thought of the same things and laughed the same laugh when someone said, “Bottom”.
For safety, Nishant kept both Ashwins in the bunker for several weeks. He made a fake brother out of papier mâché to fool his parents and pretended he was sick in bed. He filled it with electronics and a selection of gadgets so it would appear real and insisted on looking after his brother. Fortunately his father couldn’t move from his jar and his mother, as Rajkumari, was busy gathering thousands of orphaned children from various war-torn countries to help them resettle in a happier location. History lovers will recognise that these would go on to become the Army of Love which helped defeat the elite Vitarian forces after the betrayal of Summink I-8.
Over time both Ashwin “One” and Ashwin “A” were allowed out. They wouldn’t let themselves be called One and Two or A and B as it suggested that the one that was named first was the real one. Instead they took One and A as identifiers and even had to flip a coin to choose for that (Nishant called it as both boys always chose the same side). It was months before a real difference between them emerged. When it did, it was startling.
Everybody is more than one thing. You can give to charity and be unkind to a stranger in the same day and not think about it. No one person is just good or just evil. Over time the differences between One and A grew bigger. If good and evil could be people then perhaps that is what they were becoming. It is natural to think well of oneself and ones friends so we record Ashwin “A” as the true Ashwin, though perhaps both were `True`. Regardless, Ashwin “One” grew petty and spiteful, mean and jealous. He became afraid he was not real and afraid that, not being real, he might disappear at any moment. He was convinced that the universe meant for there to be only one of him, and that he, One, should be the only one to stay. These fearful thoughts led him to make an awful decision. He decided to kill his other self.
Killing yourself is a horrible thing and on the whole quite silly. Killing a self who is not you but is you is horrible and quite confusing. For those of you reading at home the general rule is that killing is bad and you ought not to do it. So unless the world government announce that alien killers are once more attacking our dimension we should live our lives without murdering anyone. With luck you will never need to use the boom sticks issued to you when you left school.
We know that Ashwin A did not die (unless you feel that One won and has become a nicer chap since then) but that does not mean the threat he posed was small. One did not target Ashwin A directly.
The two boys had seemed identical for so long they both assumed the other thought and felt as they did. Ashwin A, a warm, loving and carefree boy, felt nothing but kindness towards his new twin and, mistakenly, felt his twin felt the same towards him. One , however, was suspicious and distrustful and assumed Ashwin (as we will call Ashwin A now) would be also. As soon as he conceived of the idea to kill his double he was convinced Ashwin must be intending to do the same. He at least was aware they had begun to think differently although was unaware of the extent of those differences. For some time One had been lying in his conversations to those around him, knowing they would not approve of his ideas, suspecting they would report everything he had said and denying he had taken any of their sweets (which he actually had done but as Ashwin also said he had not eaten any Nishant assumed what they said must be true). In fact stealing sweets made him happy. He didn’t mind that others didn’t get to have any. He wouldn’t share them and hid the wrappers to cover up any evidence of the crime. He would even break in to other people’s houses to raid their cookie jars whilst they were sleeping.
One night, during a sleepless sugar-filled walk, he found himself in the old laboratories that he and Nishant had once worked on. Or perhaps the other Ashwin and Nishant had worked on, he could not be sure any more even though his memories felt so real. His plot to kill the Other, as he sometimes thought of Ashwin, had been tumbling over and over in his mind for several days and he knew he would need an advantage in a fight between them. If One could do something, then A could also. He needed to be better than A, to be different to him, and he had had an idea that would help him.
The gene editing programme for super power creation had not been completed but was advanced enough that it would probably work. He looked again at the plans he (or the Other?) had made and went to work at finishing the design. There was a chamber prepared that would spray a gas onto whoever was inside and trigger a change to develop their superhuman power. One already knew he was super-smart, he wondered what might happen if he gained even more powers. He doubted the Other would be able to defeat him then. One smiled as he programmed the machine. He set it to randomly generate a power to ensure that the Other could not do the same if he also thought of this. He smiled and imagined being the only One. Of being Ashwin and knowing it for certain.
He stepped inside.
It’s true that he probably didn’t need a cape or a costume, and it’s wrong to suggest that they are in any way bad as Rajkumari often wore her brightly coloured uniform and Nishant himself frequently donned a cape as part of his outfit, but it seems that this was the first thing which One thought of. He chose a grey cape and a strong red top over black trousers. Possibly the large green dollar sign on his shirt was over the top but he had decided that if there was something worth fighting for (apart from the right to be the only one of yourself in the universe) then it was money. Once the Other was dead he had decided he would become a Tetra-Quillionaire and then use that money to become richer. All the notes that were discovered about his plans afterwards indicate that he had some very creative plans to steal this money and blackmail others for more, yet the actual Ashwin made his first quillion a few years later with the perfectly legal trade in weaponry for the wars which began after the first Campbell Corridor was opened. Later the trade through Campbell Corridors made he and Nishant the richest men in all the Open Dimensions.
Nishant certainly found the costume helped separate the `good` Ashwin from the `bad` Ashwin. He only realised there was a `bad` Ashwin when One tried to squish him. One‘s superpowers had made him incredibly strong and as he strolled into the room where Ashwin and Nishant were dancing (this was part of a genuine experiment), he lifted up a metal cabinet and threw it at his other self’s head. Much to his surprise, nothing happened. Well, Nishant and Ashwin looked surprised, asked what he was doing and turned around to look at the cabinet which had flown straight through Ashwin’s body.
Nishant was shocked. They had been singing his song Bobbob, which had been number one in thirty four countries for several weeks, as part of a test he was running. He and Ashwin were both in different rooms but were communicating with each other via an experimental Holographic Encounter Jelly. HEJ, as you know, means “Hello” in Swedish and truthfully the jelly wasn’t needed to make the technology work but it made them laugh so they’d incorporated it into the designs because they liked it. Nowadays people hej each other all the time, even across dimensions, but few people realise that the J in hej stands for jelly. The name stuck but the jelly was removed as manufacturers had insisted it was impractical and it had tripled the production costs.
At that moment both boys were glad they weren’t in the room with One. They had meant to surprise him with their new invention and had been looking forward to seeing what he had produced in his time alone. Both had assumed he was working on something productive which is why he had not been spending much time with them recently.
“Did you drop the cabinet?” asked Ashwin, who could not believe that anyone would want to hurt him. One just screamed and charged, jumping on to his other self, intending to squash his skull. His great strength would have ensured his rival’s death but the change must have affected his intelligence too, or perhaps his perception, for he failed to realise that Ashwin was not actually there. He hit the wall on the other side of the room and cut his head instead. “Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrggggghhhhhhhhh!” he screamed (This is recorded in the secret base’s video records so we know for certain which words they used). “Why won’t you die? Where are you?”
However trusting and nice you are, there are times when you don’t need to be an actual genius to work out what is going on. That time has arrived. One rose up angrily and proceeded to search the base, ripping doors off hinges when he grew particularly cross. One very heavy door was later found twenty feet away from its frame after One stubbed his toe in that room.
The holograms were only programmed to meet and communicate in the room One had started in so Nishant decided he would stay `old-school` and phoned his brother to discuss the problem.
“We need to hide,” Nishant said as the good Ashwin answered the call.
“No,” his brother insisted. “Did you see the damage he did? I can’t do something like that. He’s changed himself. I think he’s added extra super powers. He must have finished the gene-editor we began.”
Nishant didn’t like that idea and gulped fearfully. He didn’t realise he wasn’t in any danger as he assumed that Ashwin One had simply begun a murderous rampage through the lab. The idea that One hoped to kill his other self and get on with life as normal didn’t seem reasonable or likely. You could argue that intending to do that isn’t reasonable but that is the main problem. Being unreasonable allows you to do all sort of silly and dangerous things. What One hadn’t considered was that other people would view his action as being bad. Too much fear and paranoia was clouding his mind. That and all of the sweets he was eating. Too much of anything is known to be bad for you.
One did not agree with this (another symptom of his unreasonableness) and wanted more and more sweets. This thought had been growing as he stomped about destroying the building until he became distracted in his search for someone to kill and began searching cupboards and drawers for sugary snacks instead. This distraction is probably what allowed the famous Ashwin Campbell to survive and grow into the founder of Campbell Interdimensional Defence Applications (CIDA), amongst his many other achievements. The difference between the two boys had grown so great it was almost inevitable that one would triumph over the other, except that the difference was such that it had blinded One to the greatest strength that Ashwin had: Love.
Whilst it’s true that his mother, Rajkumari, had her true strength in the power of love, it was not the case that Ashwin had love as a super power. But his heart was strong and he fiercely loved his family and friends and would defend them if he felt they were threatened. He felt they were threatened now.
Ashwin knew it was important to stop One. His sweet-addicted counterpart seemed to have taken on all of his worst qualities and magnified them a thousand fold. He shuddered at the idea that any of One could be part of him, even if they shared the same face. He wondered what to do.
Since there were security cameras all over their base (necessary to keep an eye on things and prevent industrial espionage), the most obvious place to go would have been the Control Room where all of the feeds from the cameras could be monitored. From there Ashwin and Nishant would be able to track One’s movements and plan a counter attack. Ashwin therefore sent a quick message to his brother: “Avoid Control Room. Hide from cameras.” The fact was that his first thought might still be One’s first thought and if he or Nishant headed there then they might just run into the evil they were trying to track. He did need to find him, true, but only once he was ready to stop the fiend, and he didn’t feel he was ready just yet.
Nishant messaged back. “Have an idea, come to gym.”
The gym, which is an essential part of any young athlete’s life, was a state of the art facility but still smelled of body odour as the robots that cleaned most of the base were only programmed to look for dust, dirt and debris. If young boys are asked about smells they’re unlikely to find a solution but instead laugh and make some more. Truthfully neither Ashwin nor Nishant ever noticed the pongs they created and their mother had never been to the base to complain. Had she done so she would have had recurring nightmares and needed years of therapy to escape the memory. Only the decontamination shower prevented the two young men from permanently reeking like a skunk’s backside.
Nishant was already there, performing a handstand on the balance beam. His red face suggested he’d been in that position for a while.
“Are you working out?” Ashwin inquired.
“Seemed a waste of time just sitting around, “Nishant replied. “I would have used the treadmill but I thought there might be running later.” Such clear thinking is lost on many of the youth today who are happy to sit for hours on end with no tangible achievement at the end of their efforts at all. The ability to keep a calm head and continue one’s regular routines whilst adapting to disaster is almost a lost art. The Campbell brothers had mastered it nonetheless which no doubt contributed to their enormous successes later in life, whether in the invention of the best-selling board game Ensign or the foundation of the Training Inter-Dimensional Youth (TIDY) programme. Acknowledging the wisdom of this Ashwin began a series of press ups as they their discussed strategy.
Nishant had been able to repurpose a health monitor in the gym and hack into the security feeds to allow observation of the base from their location. He had recorded a scene of the empty gym which was playing continuously should One try and observe that room. Reasoning that his unhealthy food obsessions were unlikely to make him health conscious Nishant had determined the gym as the safest place on the base. One knew there would be no sweets or snacks there, had no reason to think they would go to the gym and if Ashwin had not thought of it then One likely hadn’t thought it also.
They replayed some of the events that had occurred and agreed that genetic alteration seemed likely. His advanced strength, speed and endurance were probably what triggered the need for extra calories. Unless sugar also corrupts the mind (which is possible but no research exists on this as people really don’t want to know). One option they came up with was to simply close the base, hide all sweets and snacks and wait. One would simply tire himself out and fall unconscious. Military historians have agreed this would have been the neatest and simplest way to end the conflict. It is often taught at Officer Training to demonstrate how victory need not always come through violence. Unfortunately, as they also teach, the enemy is often not so kind as to provide simple solutions for you. Whilst the base did have a limited supply of sweets the world at large did not.
One had left the building.
It took a while to confirm this as they were scanning multiple cameras from the display on an exercise bike. Given that One’s intention was to kill them (or so they both thought) they had not considered that he might go elsewhere. Elsewhere meant up, and up led to their home. Geniuses and entrepreneurs though they might be their first thought was `We’re in trouble now. ` For this meant their parents would find out what they’d been doing. However noble their intentions, all young boys dread being caught.
By this stage the secret was already out. Upstairs their father had encountered One.
Mal had never dreaded being caught as he had never really understood shame. He did what he did and that was basically it. Others would adapt and change or they wouldn’t. If he couldn’t control it he generally didn’t pay it any attention. Until “it” was his wild-eyed child and “being caught” meant having his jar stolen. This was particularly important as he was still in the jar.
“Give me sweets or I’ll smash the jar!” demanded One.
Mal couldn’t comply with this and had no sweets at all as he didn’t see the point in them anymore. When he had had a body he ate lots of sweets, pastries, cookies and other unwholesome things to the point where his body hadn’t been at its best and his dentist cringed each time his name was added to the appointment book. Some people with eating problems would have their stomachs stapled to make them smaller and force them to eat less. Mal simply removed his stomach (along with his torso and other appendages), which had an even more effective success rate. Records prove he has not gained any weight in the 873 years he has lived following the removal of his body. Attempts to copy Mal’s treatment, a side effect of which appears to be immortality, have consistently failed leading to a number of grieving families suing the various medical professionals who had promised they could carry out the surgery successfully.
Mal opened his mouth to explain the problem, but before he could speak a voice called out, “Okay. We’ll bring sweets. Just wait while we gather them up and bring them to you.”
Changing what he had been about to say, Mal quickly deduced the situation. “That was your voice promising sweets but here you are demanding them. That puts you in two places at the same time with two conflicting goals. You therefore must be one of two identical sons of mine and – given your threats against me – the “evil twin” of the two. I don’t know what you’ve been up to Ashwin but one of you is in trouble for this. I deduce you’ve been conducting dangerous scientific experiments without my knowledge or permission.”
One glared at his father. “I just want sweets. Do you think telling me I’m in trouble or calling me evil is making it more or less likely that I drop your jar?”
“My son does not just want sweets,” Mal retorted. “He wants love and friendship, praise and respect. He wants success and achievement. He wants to explore and discover, to learn and understand, to help and defend; to elevate all mankind. And he wants security and adventures, forgiveness and understanding, boundaries and freedom, stories and experience. He wants a million things, not just sweets. Although he often does want sweets.” Mal looked at One, knowing him in an instant (for he had the power to read people’s minds just as if he were reading a book). “If all you want is sweets your life will be very empty indeed.”
It was hard to have a conversation with Mal when he wanted to talk. He could be a fantastic listener, which is always when he was the best conversationalist as no one enjoys a conversation more than when the other person is fascinated by everything they say, but should he decide to take on a topic himself he would readily find himself conducting a lecture instead. One remembered this and put Mal down on a shelf facing the wall so he didn’t have to look at him anymore. He found his father’s words unsettling and did not want to look him in the face anymore. Moreover he found it hard to think of Mal as his father. All he wanted right now were sweets: colourful wine gums with embossed edges, pure white chocolate, soft chewy Haribo, smooth chocolate mice, jet black liquorice sticks, hard-boiled lollipops in yellows and greens, tangy sugar coated cola cubes, sleek pied coke bottles, popping candy that exploded and crackled on your tongue, crunchy hard-shelled chocolates, softy jellied rings, speckled eggs with unexpected flavours, multi-coloured gobstoppers to make your jaw ache, powdered pink bonbons, swirling shiny mints, toffees with chocolate centres, strawberry laces, aniseed balls, sugary laddu balls, sweet sticky jalebi, silvered burfi, pistachio kulfi… the list of sweets dizzied his mind and he began to salivate at the thought.
Mal was facing him again by the time he regained his control (a clever manoeuvre he’d mastered by wiggling his ears). “I love you too,” he said, though One had said nothing of the sort