The letters of the holographic billboard rotate above Peter’s head. From one angle, they read in English, another Spanish, another – some language he doesn’t know, something in a Cyrillic alphabet. From any angle, they advertise a “synthetic brothel.” He has only a rough idea what that might be and doesn’t care to learn more.
The street is clotted with a traffic jam so solid as to suggest permanence. Almost all of the cars look unbelievably old and junky to him, and they spit out levels of exhaust that make his eyes water and his throat itch. Overhead, small silvery teardrops whiz through the sky, thirty or forty stories up, perhaps a better way to travel for the better-off.
Peter is stuck on his own two feet, for now.
Rain begins to spatter down onto the filthy pavement; the streaking of the droplets makes the holographic letters shiver. He ducks into an alleyway between two tall buildings, where the rain hardly has room to fall. As his eyes adjust to the sudden darkness after the brilliance of the street, he realizes he’s not alone.
“What kind of coat is that?” The person talking to him looks as strung out and wrung out as Peter’s ever seen, or been. His pockmarked skin is stretched too tightly over his skull.
“It’s wool,” Peter says. “Looks like you’re wearing, what – plastic?”
“What’s a wool?”
“Tell you what. I’ll trade you. You can find out for yourself.”
The other man’s eyes narrow, unable to tell if he’s being cheated or offered a terrific deal. Peter hopes he won’t make the trade – the smell from the guy suggests the plastic coat wouldn’t be the cleanest thing he’s ever put on – but he steps closer, trying to sell it. “Check it out. Lots of pockets. Nice and warm. Waterproofed. Yours doesn’t look that warm. Hardly any pockets.”
“Fuck off,” the man says, and stalks away through the alley. As soon as he steps out of sight, Peter pushes back onto the main street, amid the soggy pedestrians trudging glumly through the storm. Rain beats down on his head and shoulders, but he doesn’t care. The important thing is that he vanishes back into the crowd before that guy realizes what just happened.
The wallet in Peter’s hands is woven out of something he doesn’t recognize – metal strands, maybe. He pulls out a $100 bill, one of several it contains; either that guy was wealthier than he looked, or he was mixed up in something illegal, or the inflation rate here is different. Regardless, he’s unknowingly provided what Peter needs to get started.
Peter looks down at the bill. An engraving of President William Jennings Bryan smiles stiffly back at him.
A dollar doesn’t go as far in this version of Boston, but Peter is able to rent a room in a cheap hotel. He’s been in rougher places, but one look at the grime in the bathroom he shares with the rest of the floor convinces him to sleep on top of the covers.
He’s able to rent some computer time at a dingy information terminal down the street, a place that looks like it mostly gets used to surf for porn or contact bail bondsmen. Everybody here is trying not to be noticed, and to notice no one in return, but a few of them glance at him anyway; his coat is decidedly out of place. He’ll have to spend some of the precious money on something new. Something plastic. It’s a small concern, though, and his focus remains tight.
The dull light of the screen renders Peter’s skin a flat, grayish, dead tone as he taps out OLIVIA DUNHAM.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
So much nothing that it’s something.
Assuming she was born in this dimension – and Peter refuses to consider the alternative at this point – there ought to be some information about her. A birth notice. A death notice. Embarrassing junior-high band photos posted on Facebook (which exists here). Instead there is nothing.
As if she has been deliberately erased.
Maybe her FBI work is top-secret, here. Or maybe whatever version they have of the FBI is a whole lot more secretive. Regardless, Peter knows a deliberate cover-up when he sees one.
He also knows there are always people who can get him information, for a price.
Peter searches for a few underworld contacts he knew back in the day. Chances are not all of them are on the straight and narrow here. He finds a couple of them hanging out on interesting boards that appear to be selling security-breaking services. He puts out a few feelers, directs them to the email account he’s set up, and then goes back to his hotel room to wait until morning.
That night, the two guys in the room next to his either have a knock-down, drag-out fight or the roughest sex Peter’s ever heard. As he lies there, staring up at the stained ceiling, trying not to listen to the guttural swearing in Spanish on the other side of the wall, he thinks about the last version of Olivia he saw. Her hair was a tawny brown with bangs. She came to him the night after his return, wanting to talk, wanting to do more than talk, and at first he was too wrapped up in her to ask questions.
He remembers her fingers in his hair, the scent of her skin.
He remembers the taste of her kiss.
That Olivia is now in a maximum-security facility and refusing to answer questions.
Walter hypothesized that Peter’s long survival in a dimension not his own had given him a certain flexibility, in terms of inter-dimensional travel. After the revelation that Olivia, their Olivia, had been left behind, father and son put the breach between them to one side to accomplish something far more important. Building a gate was easy enough, and the thought of his Olivia captive and alone made Peter more than willing to take the risk.
However, his “flexibility” meant that, when he went through the gate – there was apparently no way of telling where in the multiverse he might end up. Because this dimension is clearly neither where he came from nor where he was going.
So Peter has to find this Olivia. She’s the only one with the power to send him on his way – to send him forward, hopefully to the right place. To the right Olivia. She is both the destination and the path.
Two days later, as he walks down another crowded street, idly wondering if he should pick his next pocket before he’s desperate for the cash, a junker car rolls alongside him. Within a couple of steps, Peter knows it’s matching his pace deliberately. In the split second before he could start running, someone grabs his arm, sticks something sharp against his side and mutters, “Get in and don’t make a scene.”
This would be Peter’s cue to swing out of that grip hard enough to smash his captor into the nearest wall – except that the person hanging onto his arm is Rachel.
- In fact, Rachel looks fucking hot, which doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that she doesn’t know him at all.
“You don’t need the knife,” he says. “We can be friends here.”
“O.D. doesn’t make friends,” she says. “Neither do I.”
So he lets them shove him into the car, put a bag over his head and swear at him while they take various wrong turns and double-backs. Peter only feels calmer as this goes on. Nobody bothers trying to hide their faces or paths from somebody they intend to kill.
And it’s almost funny, hearing Rachel use that kind of language. He’ll tease her about it when he gets back.
Finally they walk him up some stairs, grab the bag off his head and shove him to the floor. Peter sits up, blinking, to see that he’s in some abandoned building – water-damaged walls, graffiti everywhere. He doesn’t try to get a look at his kidnappers, who are hurrying out the way they came. Instead he walks to the windows, where he sees the Charles River.
Peter realizes that he knows this particular bend in the river. He’s been there before with Olivia. A couple of times after difficult cases, when he could tell she was feeling worn down and discouraged, she didn’t drive back to the lab right away; she would come here for a while and look at the river in silence. Maybe it restored her; maybe it helped her forget. They never talked about it. But he understood, from the first time she brought him there with her, that she was allowing him to be a part of something deeply private.
The park bench she liked to sit on isn’t there; a pile of refuse covers that whole area. If Olivia wanted to see this place in the river, from this universe, she’d need to be – right here beside him.
He looks to his side and there she is. At first Peter thinks it’s his imagination playing tricks on him, but he never imagined this Olivia.
She gives him a hard, cool stare. Her hair is close-cropped, spiked and dyed a brilliant blue. The mesh shirt she wears hangs on her breasts in a way he tries very hard not to look at for too long. Multiple rings glint on every finger, and from several piercings in her ears and eyebrows.
“O.D.,” he says.
It comes out warmer than he expected, warmer than she expected either to judge by the momentary flicker of surprise in her eyes. But as different as O.D. is from his expectations, she is still somehow Olivia.
Already her surface has regained its hard glitter. “And you must be Peter Bishop. You want to tell me why you’re looking for me?”
Peter’s rehearsed several ways of leading up to this, none of which sound remotely convincing, but he’s just going to have to try. “Okay, this is going to sound … bizarre. Not realistic. But I need you to hear me out.”
O.D. frowns. “You from another time? Another dimension? Another planet? What?”
Deflated, Peter realizes that this universe’s definition of “bizarre” is maybe a little grander than he’s used to. “Oh. Uh, another dimension.”
“So why didn’t you just say you wanted a mover?”
The way she says it tells him he’s already found one. “You mean – you move people through dimensions regularly? That doesn’t screw with your own dimension’s stability?”
“Some of ‘em bend better than others. This dimension bends well. But don’t change the subject. You didn’t explain why you were looking for me in particular.”
“I’m trying to find another version of you, in another dimension. I think she’s – no. I know she’s in serious trouble. And she’s being held by people who can keep her from shifting to her own dimension and reaching safety.”
O.D.’s eyes narrow. “You a cop?”
“Yeah. But back home, so are you.”
She snorts – this is the part of his story she finds hard to believe. Go figure.
He watches her think it over, clearly unsure of whether this is some kind of sting, or whether she should even care what becomes of some other version of herself. Her eyes finally seek his, searching hard; he can’t imagine for what. After a couple of seconds, she starts to smile. “Should’ve guessed. You look like my type.”
“Oh, yeah? What’s your type?”
“No damn good.”
Peter laughs once. “You got me figured out already.”
“Sweet-talking me isn’t gonna get you a freebie.”
He takes out the metal-woven wallet and hands it over. “That’s everything I’ve got. If you want this shitty plastic coat, you can take it too.” What does it matter, anyway? Chances are William Jennings Bryan won’t buy him much in the next universe over.
She thumbs through the few bills left in the wallet, swears once in disappointment, and shrugs. “Whatever.”
“So you’re good for it?” Peter’s suspicious. His Olivia’s more of a do-gooder than this one, and even she doesn’t hand out favors this easily.
“You don’t trust me?”
“Let’s say I think you usually drive a harder bargain.”
- “When I move you – then I’ll know.”
“Wish you’d be able to tell me.” Peter really means that. But he needs Olivia to be safe even more than he needs answers.
“When do you want to do this?”
“As soon as possible. Now, if you can swing it.”
O.D. pauses. “You’re scared for her, aren’t you?”
More silver teardrops whiz through the sky over the Charles River. He wonders what those people know, what they take for granted. He wonders if Walter is among them. Whether he himself is among them.
Peter asks, “Who am I, over here? You must have checked me out.”
“Couldn’t find you any more than you could find me. That’s one thing we’ve got in common, Bishop. We’re both that good.”
That’s one possibility, Peter thinks.
O.D. puts her hands on either side of his face. At first he thinks she’s going to kiss him, but her face is as still as stone. She’s reading him, he realizes. Taking his measure in a way he can’t define. After a few breaths, she says, “You’ve been away from home for a while, huh?”
“Born in one dimension, raised in another. Olivia’s trapped in my –“ He wants to say “home dimension,” but which is home? “The dimension where I was born. Can you get me back there?”
“Not sure. Those two dimensions – they’re not so different. They taste almost the same.”
He refrains from asking what “taste” means in this context, because he’s pretty sure the answer would be meaningless to him.
Finally, O.D. shrugs. Her hands fall from his face; he finds he misses their warmth. She says, “I can get you there. Or close to there, anyway. Within a couple layers.”
That’s as good as it gets, probably. But if he’s understanding her correctly, the next universe will be more familiar for him than this one. And if Olivia is here in this bizarre dimension, she will surely exist in the next one. Maybe that one will be able to take him the rest of the way. “Okay. That works. When can we do this? Where do we need to go?”
“Just step away from the window, okay? I don’t need SecCams footage of this.” O.D. puts her hands on either side of his head again, but not touching him – just close enough that he can feel the warmth of her skin. “I’ve got to fold this from the inside out. Takes me a second. Sometimes it makes me puke, too, so, you know – stand back.”
He studies her in these last moments: blue hair, piercings and all. In some ways she is as different from his Olivia as she could possibly be. And yet she has the same favorite spot on the river.
“What it is you see?” he says. “When you look out on the river from here.”
She stares at him, obviously not used to answering personal questions. But whatever she finds in his eyes convinces her to reply. Her voice is slightly softer now. Familiar enough to tighten his throat. “I just like it. That’s all. Isn’t that enough?”
“Yeah. It’s enough.”
Brusque again, once more herself, O.D. says, “Good luck busting me out.”
“Good luck getting me there.”
For him it feels like perhaps the final goodbye, and the beginning of a tremendous, dangerous adventure; for her, he can see, this is just another day’s work, only slightly stranger than most. He is to her what he is to Nina Sharp, perhaps all he is to the Secretary: an interesting test case, rather than a human being. So he says no more.
The space between her hands becomes electric, begins to glow. It is as if she is holding glass between them, a translucent window of gold that is both razor-thin and worlds deep. Peter doesn’t move, but he falls into it all the same – falling toward her, falling away.
2. The Last Lifeboat
Peter comes to with his back against a wall. Then he realizes it isn’t a wall.
He pulls away, some of the resin sticking to his damned plastic coat. As he skids farther from it, he realizes he’s been dumped on the street in front of the abandoned building he’d been in – though now the building looks like it’s been abandoned for years rather than months. The skyline is different too, almost exactly like the Boston he remembers, without any holographic billboards or silver teardrops in the blackness above. Just a single zeppelin, illuminated almost entirely by its own searchlights, which sweep through the city below.
And the entire Charles River, and an unfathomable distance beyond it, is encased as high as the eye can see in the sickly resin Peter has learned to identify as a dimensional rift.
He staggers backward, overwhelmed by the sight of it. Can the other universe – his native universe – have disintegrated so terribly in the brief time he’s been gone? Did his departure do this?
Something catches him across the waist – a line of rope or something. He turns to see crime scene tape, old and linty, marking off this spot “by authority of Fringe Division,” complete with the official seal. For one moment, Peter feels the thrill of victory and the renewal of urgency. He’s made it. He’s reached her.
But almost immediately he realizes it’s not right. This Fringe Division logo is similar, but not the same; it reverses the FD, rather than just the F, and has a honeycomb symbol behind it.
Peter’s shoulders slump in disappointment, but he reminds himself what O.D. told him. If this isn’t the right universe, it’s damned close. Olivia is only a layer away.
He hikes into the part of the city that’s still functioning. It’s like Boston on quarter power, with signs announcing scheduled electricity blackouts. A crumpled bit of paper he finds reveals that the government isn’t ordering citizens to move elsewhere, but suggests that it might not be a bad idea. There’s still a working communications network, though, complete with land lines and pay phones, and Peter finds enough spare change on the side of the road to make the call to Fringe Division.
“Olivia Dunham, please.”
“We have no one here by that name.”
Peter’s first impulse is to hang up and look for her elsewhere, but then he has a better plan. “What about Philip Broyles?”
A pause. “Sir, can I ask what your question is for Director Broyles?”
“Tell him Peter Bishop is coming to see him. Walter Bishop’s son. I have information about Olivia Dunham that he’ll want to hear.” At least one of those three names ought to draw Broyles’ attention, if this universe is so similar. “I’ll be there this afternoon.”
“Sir, without an appointment –“
“Tell Director Broyles what I told you, and I bet I won’t need an appointment.”
This universe, too, requires ID for public transit, and Peter hasn’t had time to steal or fake one. He could rob money from someone on the street for a cab, if he saw any cabs. Anyway, people are wary here. They scurry along as if it were a bitter winter day, instead of mild, cloudy spring; they clutch their bags tightly and look at Peter – at everyone – as if they anticipated an attack at any moment. Before long, Peter’s carrying himself that way too.
- He walks up to the front, is admitted on his name alone, and feels very proud of himself for the two minutes before guards grab him and hustle him into an interrogation room.
In this universe, Broyles has a full head of hair. It has not improved his temper.
“Explain to me what you know about Olivia Dunham.” Broyles’ arms are folded across his chest, and his gaze is as laser-sharp as ever. “And after that, we’re going to talk about … Walter Bishop.”
The small pause before Broyles says his father’s name isn’t because of unfamiliarity. It’s fear.
Peter remains focused. “First I should tell you that this isn’t my home dimension.”
“No shit,” Broyles says. “We’ve got dossiers on half a dozen Walter Bishops from as many dimensions, and I’ve never heard of any of them having a son. At least not one who lived. You’re going to tell us all about where you come from. But first you’re going to tell me what’s happening to Olivia Dunham.”
“You can reach other universes?” For the first time since he realized he wasn’t where he wanted to be, Peter feels a real surge of hope. Maybe the travel will be as simple here as it was with O.D. “Because I need to move on from here. The sooner the better.”
The door to the interrogation room bursts open, and a man storms in – large, muscular and mad as hell. Possibly he met him in an earlier universe, Peter thinks, because he looks familiar, though this fact hardly matters compared to large, muscular and mad. “How long are you going to let this song and dance go on?”
“John, calm yourself.” Broyles’ face sets into deep oaken lines of disapproval. “This is not your interrogation.”
“If this jerk was sent here by Walter Bishop, and he’s threatening Olivia, that makes it my business.”
Olivia is here. Olivia is alive. Peter can’t help smiling, but this just infuriates “John” further. His scowl deepens until suddenly Peter recognizes him. It would have sunk in quicker if he hadn’t met the guy when he was lying on a slab, mostly gelatinous. It’s John Scott. Olivia’s John. The man they saved for her too briefly, the one who hadn’t betrayed her after all.
John wears a wedding ring. There’s absolutely no reason that should feel like a slap in the face to Peter, but it does.
Nobody here by that name, he remembers. In this universe, he shouldn’t have asked for Olivia Dunham; he should have asked for Olivia Scott.
“I’m not threatening Olivia,” Peter says. “I’m trying to save her, or at least, a version of her in the next universe over.”
“You claim to be connected to Walter Bishop,” Broyles says. “You made quite a point of telling us this. Explain how that’s not a threat, in any universe.”
Peter remembers a moment in the supermarket when Walter realized Jell-O was now available in individual-sized containers. Tears welled in his eyes, and his wrinkled hands clutched Peter’s lapels as he whispered, We live in marvelous times, son.
He says only, “The Walter Bishop who is my father is a serious threat. To me, to her, to anyone he crosses paths with. And right now, he has my version of Olivia. That’s who we have to get her away from.”
Broyles shakes his head. “We made the decision a long time ago not to interfere in other universes.”
“So send me back to mine,” Peter says. “The one I was born in. That’s where she’s being held. That way, I won’t be interfering in your universe either.”
That seems like a good argument, or at least it makes Broyles think. But John is unconvinced. “That’s not what you said when you called in.”
Peter shrugs. “Would you spill this to the receptionist and then expect her to put you through?”
The small joke enrages John. “You’re Walter Bishop’s son! You know what that means! There’s no way I’m trusting you with Olivia. Any version of Olivia. What, are you stalking her? Hunting her?”
“I’m in love with her,” Peter says, and it’s the first time he’s said the words aloud. John Scott stares at him. “No offense, buddy, but in my universe, you’re not in the picture.”
Broyles leans over the interrogation table, not-so-subtly putting himself between them. “Why should we help you?”
“Why shouldn’t you?” Peter replies. “The Broyles I know is a pretty decent guy. He’s ask questions first – but in the end, he’d always do the right thing.”
“And moving you through dimensional rifts is the right thing?” Broyles asks.
“Helping Olivia is the right thing. You guys can posture all you want, but I know, whatever universe this is, you believe that as much as I do.”
John and Broyles look at each other then, and Peter knows he’ll be moving on soon.
Finally, after a couple of hours, Olivia comes in. She is so like herself; this universe may be more like his native dimension, but this Olivia is very near to the one he knows. Simple suit, sensible shoes. Blonde hair, too, though the cut is slightly different in some way he can’t define. He manages not to stare at her wedding ring.
“So,” she says. “You don’t look a lot like Walter Bishop.”
“I take after my mother.”
“Lucky you,” Olivia replies, and she’s not talking about his appearance any longer.
“Yeah, lucky me. Looks like you’re doing okay yourself, on this side.”
He’s trying to be cool about the marriage – to show how much it doesn’t bother him, when it still, illogically, inarguably, grates on him every second – but his words wound her. Her eyes aren’t as guarded as those of his Olivia; when you hurt this one, you see it.
“This universe is dying,” she says. “Near as we can tell, it’s because of the rest of you passing through here on your way somewhere else.”
“I – I didn’t know.”
She shrugs with one shoulder. “None of you know. We’re not even as important as an afterthought. We’re just a dimension that doesn’t get to survive, because the rest of you are stronger somehow.”
Peter remembers the torn-up streets and wonders why he didn’t realize this before. He does what his Olivia would prefer and sticks to the less emotional side of the subject. “You know a lot about what’s going on in the other universes. More than we do. More than they do.”
“We’re so thin now, the walls are almost transparent. Sometimes I see through, whether I want to or not.” The softness of pain fades from her, leaving only harder resolve. “And I’ve never seen you.”
“I appear to be something of an odd duck.”
- Most of them didn’t call ahead.”
“You’ve been hunted.” The wrath of Broyles and John Scott makes more sense now.
“I appreciate being asked nicely. More than you know.” But she isn’t looking at him any longer.
Pressing his point, Peter adds, “Somewhere you have a chance to go on. A chance to get away from Walter and have the life you deserve.” Does that sound like he thinks she’d be better off with him than with John? If so, that was unwise. And he wouldn’t take it back.
She shakes her head. “If your Olivia is in the hands of Walter Bishop, she’d be better off dead. He won’t leave anything recognizable in her. Anything human. You have to understand that by now, right? You were too late to save her before you ever began.”
The conviction in her voice unnerves him almost more than anything else he’s encountered on this journey. “You can’t be sure.”
“I can. I am. You are too.” Olivia’s face gentles again, and her gaze is faraway. “But if it were me, John would try to do this. He’d try even though he knew it was no good. He couldn’t go on if he didn’t at least try. I’d want someone to help him – not for my sake, but for his.” Her eyes meet Peter’s again. “So I’ll help you.”
He wants to tell her she’s wrong so badly. He wants to argue at the top of his lungs, shout her down, drown her out. But he holds his silence because, he tells himself, the important thing is to keep moving, and to make it quick. An argument would only delay his departure.
He doesn’t admit that it’s also because he’s afraid she might be right.
“I should warn you – I never got very good at targeting moves.” Olivia leans her head into one hand, tiredly. “And now that we’re so weak, there’s no telling where you’ll end up. I’ll do my best, but there are no guarantees.”
Peter theorizes, extrapolates, realizes. “Every move you take part in brings this universe closer to the brink.”
Her smile is wan. “You’re basically boarding the last lifeboat off the Titanic.”
“Sank here too, huh?”
“That damned thing always goes down.”
It slips out, almost on impulse. “Come with me.”
“We made the decision years ago. No interference. No disruptions. No evacuations. We’re not going to do to anyone else what you did to us.”
For the first time, Peter realizes the war that began with his abduction hasn’t just destroyed another world – it has destroyed a better one. These people made a principled decision, the hardest one they could ever make, and stuck to it in the face of utter destruction. Their resolve is just one more thing the dimensions will rip apart. Another cobweb.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “For what it’s worth.”
“It’s not worth much,” Olivia says, and then the move is on him almost before he knows it.
3. Flying Machines
Two Days After My Arrival
I’m writing this on paper, in a leather-bound journal, with a goddamned fountain pen.
As near as I can figure, this universe is technologically and sociologically delayed in development by almost precisely 100 years. A few developments are here early, others are a bit late, but overall the parallels are frankly kind of creepy. Like, men wear straw hats (and yeah, I had to buy one to fit in). Three-piece suits, too. Women carry parasols. People ride those bicycles with the big front wheel, which turn out to be called pennyfarthings. A few cars out there, but they’re more curiosities than anything else, and you have to crank them by hand. Horse-drawn carriages outnumber them by far. And today I walked by an illustrated poster advertising the “Famed Songbird Katy Perry,” and there she was in ringlets and a frilly skirt. I’m sure some historians and social scientists would think this was fascinating stuff, but it’s mostly frustrating as hell.
How am I supposed to look for Olivia here? Forget searching in the phone book; telephones exist, but very few people own them yet, so phone books haven’t been invented. Her apartment building is a boarding house, but it only rents to men.
I’ve considered searching for this Walter instead, hoping that maybe he can lead me to Olivia, but that mentioning his name didn’t go over so well last time. I’m beginning to suspect that my Walter – the one who stole me, the one who started this whole damn pan-universal collapse – is somehow the least scary of the bunch. Which is not exactly a reassuring thought.
The good news is that nobody has very advanced security or identification systems yet, so getting myself established hasn’t been too hard. Let’s just say that it’s easy to crack an old-fashioned safe, if you’re patient. And I am.
One Week After My Arrival
Some fun facts about this dimension and era I have learned:
Bill Clinton is in his second term as president, with both a mustache and a gut that would make Taft green with envy. He ran as the Bull Moose candidate.
Pennyfarthings are harder to ride than you’d think.
I’m about 90% sure this Coca-Cola still contains cocaine. Also, Coke here is green. Not sure why that is. Not sure I want to ask, either. The taste is about the same, though. Maybe even a little better.
What is it that throws me off the most here? Is it the unfamiliarity or the sameness? Whatever it is, this is harder to deal with than anyplace I’ve been before – though in a lot of ways it’s the safest and most stable of the dimensions I’ve been in so far.
And still no sign of Olivia.
A local library keeps high-school yearbooks from the area, but I haven’t found her in any of those so far, and I’m not sure how useful that would even be to me; it wouldn’t do anything for me besides confirm that she spent part of her adolescence in the area. The FBI doesn’t exist in this dimension – at least, not yet – so I started investigating local law enforcement. This place is so backward that they don’t hire women as police officers, but I thought she might be there typing or filing, doing whatever else would get her close to the action. No go.
It’s killing me, wondering what could be happening to her. And God knows what she’s going through is a thousand times worse.
But I try not to dwell on it. All that can do is make me crazy. Olivia needs me focused on getting results. I’ll get to her faster if I stay productive.
Although I haven’t really been looking for it, I notice that I haven’t turned up anything on another “Peter Bishop,” either. And sometimes I remember what Broyles said the last dimension back: We’ve got dossiers on half a dozen Walter Bishops from as many dimensions, and I’ve never heard of any of them having a son. At least not one who lived.
I keep remembering the strange page Mom showed me – the one where I seem to be on fire from the inside out. Charming illustration. When I first saw it, I told myself it was some other Peter Bishop. Another dimensional fold. That comforting thought is getting a lot harder to sustain.
But I don’t believe in a dimension without an Olivia in it. I just – don’t.
God, right now, I’m looking at the stupid flowery wallpaper of the boarding house and it’s like I can see her face in the pattern. If that’s not stupid, crazy love, what is it?
Wait. No. I see her. I also see an elephant.
Shit, the wallpaper is moving. It’s moving. Is this dimension breaking up or –
--this feels familiar. Like bad acid trips when I was a teenager.
There is definitely something in the Coca-Cola besides cocaine.
I think I should lie down now.
Two Weeks After My Arrival
Fuck patience. I can’t stand this. I hate walking around in the summertime wearing a three-piece suit. I hate the casual racism and sexism in every conversation, every moving picture, everything. I hate smelling horseshit everywhere I go. I hate that people stare at me every time I use an exclamation stronger than “Great Scott!”
And, of course, the main reason I let the little stuff get under my skin so badly is because that’s easier than remembering the real reason I can’t bear this: Every day I’m here is a day Olivia’s going through pure hell.
Running low on cash again. Simple enough to rob another safe, and these days robbing a bank outright feels like a great vent for frustration, but I’m starting to wonder what I’d do if I had to actually start over here. Create the modern assembly line? Write George M. Cohan’s songs?
Last night I started thinking about being a scientist, and I actually got really excited. Imagine the breakthroughs I could come up with. I’d be like Thomas Edison and Bill Gates wrapped into one. But the inevitable fortune isn’t what I thought would be so terrific. I figured, if I brought science ahead far enough, maybe someone could come up with a way for me to travel through dimensions. Then I could finally reach my Olivia.
That would take years, of course. Decades, probably. So I figured, hey, if we can travel through dimensions, eventually we should also be able to travel through time.
It’s a bad sign when “invent time travel” is starting to look like your Plan A.
Obviously there’s a little bit of Walter in me after all.
Three Weeks After My Arrival
I couldn’t take it anymore, so I went to the library and just flat-out asked them to help me look for information on a Walter Bishop. Everybody knows him here too, it turns out, but here the librarians were laughing at me for not knowing the greatest man of the age.
How could I not know the name of the inventor of the flying machine?
While I was still trying to get over that, they put a newspaper in front of me, one proclaiming Walter Bishop “Gravity’s New Master” and talking about all his wonderful accomplishments, and I could hardly see it. Because underneath was the announcement that he’s bringing his air show to Boston to prove to everyone how safe heavier-than-air planes can be.
- The caption: “BARNSTORMING BELLE: The renowned aviatrix Miss Libbie Dunham will perform aerial feats that must be seen to be believed.”
Last night a reporter from New York City came into Boston to cover the aerial show. Today, that reporter is sleeping off a hell of a hangover, and once he comes to, he’s going to realize he’s been swindled.
Peter stands in the press box at the show, carrying the reporter’s credentials and his heavy-ass camera, watching a biplane loop-the-loop.
After the show, he figures out how to take a picture; the camera bucks against his grip, and the flash-pop! of the bulb is almost startling. So are the questions they shout.
“Miss Dunham! What do your parents think of your decision to become a pilot?”
“When will you leave flying behind for marriage and motherhood?”
“Do you think that girls these days should give up being ladies and act like men?”
She’s meant to smile, simper and make little coy jokes, Peter realizes. And she does smile – but it’s a hard smile, one he’d know as hers anywhere. She points at each reporter in turn and says, “My parents are dead. When I’m good and ready. I think girls should do whatever their talents best suit them for.” Then she glances toward the sidelines, obviously hoping for rescue.
That’s when Walter strides out, and Peter nearly loses his grip on the camera. Walter looks … great, actually. He has a full curly beard, but it’s clean and well-trimmed, and his seersucker suit is obviously the height of fashion. This Walter is sane and sound, and yet he is also as boyishly happy as Peter has ever seen him.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” Walter says, holding up his hands. “Miss Dunham cannot answer for all women, nor all pilots. She can answer for herself and for her plane, and that she does rather skillfully, wouldn’t you agree?” There is a smattering of applause. Olivia – Libbie, Peter reminds himself – relaxes slightly. Her hair is bobbed; it makes her look younger. “Now, does anyone here have a question Miss Dunham hasn’t heard a thousand times before?”
“Miss Dunham,” Peter calls. “Is there one single place on the Charles River that’s best for watching the sun set?”
The other reporters look at him like he’s mad, as does Walter, which is sort of richly ironic. But Libbie smiles, a real smile this time. “PLACE TK,” she says. “It’s the loveliest place I know.”
All the other reporters scribble that down; the quote will probably appear in the papers as blather about the wonders of Boston. But Peter knows what it really means: That whatever it is he loves in Olivia, whatever it is that is essentially and fundamentally her, exists in Libbie too.
His first instinct—hell, his only instinct—is to get her alone as soon as he possibly can. However, Peter realized on his first day in this dimension, when he paid one penny for some Wrigley gum, that he was going to have to do more explaining this time around.
And this Walter looks like a guy who could be trusted to listen.
So as the press conference breaks up, Peter manages to get to Walter’s side. Walter glances up with no hint of recognition; to him, Peter is a stranger. In its quiet way, it’s more shocking than anything else Peter has encountered so far. But he keeps going. “Listen, I have a couple of … theories I’d like to discuss with you.”
“Plans for your own flying machines?” Walter smiles as politely as he can, but clearly he’s had to deal with that kind of thing too often.
“Think bigger. Like new theories of physics. Alternate concepts of reality.”
“Young man, you sound like a crackpot.” Walter’s face lights in a childishly happy smile as he claps a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “I love crackpots.”
They have their conversation at the local supper club, seated around a table on the porch that’s covered with fine white linen. Walter listens with increasing interest; Libbie reveals nothing of her reaction, only sips her lemonade. She’s wearing one of those newfangled dresses, the ones with the hem that only falls to mid-calf. Peter had no idea that simply glimpsing a woman’s ankles could be overwhelmingly sexy.
He talks about the theory of parallel dimensions, and when he doesn’t get shut down there, he specifically mentions the ability to move between them, and finally he speculates that, while technology could open certain gates between dimensions, there are probably people who possess the ability to do it on their own.
Once he’s gotten all of this out, there’s a long silence at the table. The linen tablecloth ripples in the spring breeze, held in place only by their teacups. Walter bows his head, considering.
Libbie cocks her head. “Mister, I think you’ve been drinking some of that Coca-Cola.”
“Wonderful stuff.” Walter’s gaze is still faraway, but Coke earns a smile. Peter chuckles; he should’ve figured. “And don’t be so quick to judge, Libbie. They said I was a madman when I built my first flying machine.”
“Your first flying machine plummeted to the bottom of a canyon.”
Walter waves his hand airily – these sorts of details are clearly beneath his notice. His mind is working a million miles a minute; Peter knows the look. But he knows it as something usually cloaked in confusion or distraction. This Walter is sharper. Solider. Wholly present.
Finally, Walter looks squarely at Peter. “The way you tell your story suggests that you have more than a theoretical familiarity with the subject. That you know this to be true.”
“Got it in one, Walter.”
“And you call me by my first name as though you’ve done so before.” Walter points a finger at him, and when Peter nods, his father grins triumphantly. “I knew it!”
Libbie folds her arms; her scowl is so familiar that it almost breaks Peter’s heart. “Hogwash. You can’t assume that this fella knew you in some kind of … alternate dimension just because he says your name!”
Quietly, Peter says, “I knew to ask you about the river, didn’t I?”
Her eyes widen, and she becomes very still. This is the Olivia within Libbie – this absolute stillness in the face of the unknown. She doesn’t embrace, she doesn’t attack, she doesn’t run. She looks. She waits. She evaluates.
He keeps talking. “You don’t let people get to know you very easily, but once you let someone in, you love them forever. You’re too hard on other people, which would be annoying if the person you were hardest on wasn’t yourself. You love a challenge. You can’t stand to be talked down to. You don’t see the point of silly shoes or clothes, but of course, you have the luxury of being beautiful. And you like to watch the sun set from that place on the Charles. No reason why. You just like it. That’s all.”
Libbie turns from him to look at the path nearest them, where some bicyclists are wheeling by. But her breathing has quickened, and Peter knows she believes. She doesn’t want to, but she believes.
“You know us very well, don’t you?” Walter says, leaning forward. “Tell us more about this dimension where we all met as friends.”
Where to begin? Peter says, “It’s more technologically advanced than this one.”
“Obviously, given the dimensional gates.” There’s something in Walter’s voice as he says this – a kind of longing, and yet a hint of the darkness Peter has seen in other Walters. But that shadow dissipates in an instant. Peter realizes why this Walter is so much kinder and saner than the others: Here, technology has developed only far enough to inspire Walter, not far enough to tempt him. “But I meant, how do we all know one another? It’s nice to think that Libbie and I are friends in another world as well. I’ve known her since she was a little girl, at least on … this side, you might say.”
Peter tries to think of the simplest way of telling the truth. “You raised me after I lost my parents. Since I was eight years old.”
“Astounding,” Walter says. His smile is so gentle that it almost hurts to look at him; it reminds Peter of bedtime stories and the beach house and the times before everything went wrong. “Never quite found the time to get married, but I admit – I always wanted a son.”
Why did he have to say it like that? Peter bites the inside of his mouth, so that pain will override emotion.
“And me?” Libbie finally looks back at him. “How do you know me?”
“To put it in this dimension’s terms, you and I are – courting.”
She shakes her head no, but a faint smile is playing upon her lips. “You’re a slick one, mister.”
- “And if I’m ever going to get back to you – the version of you I’m courting, that is – I need your, as in your, help.”
“The grammar gets awfully strange, doesn’t it?” Walter’s eyes light up as he catches on. “Do you mean that Libbie is one of the gifted individuals you spoke of? One of the ones with the power to move you through dimensions?”
Peter nods. Libbie stands up from the table so fast that she bumps the corner and knocks over Walter’s teacup.
“Listen to me.” She doesn’t stab at him with her finger, and the little lace capelet of her dress catches in the breeze, but otherwise she might as easily be facing some bureaucrat asshole across an FBI desk. “Walter here has a weakness for fairy tales, but I don’t. Yeah, you know a lot about me, but there’s ways you could’ve found that out. And I don’t know what it is you want me for, but I bet it’s not just to show you the door somewhere else.”
“Liv, come on, hear me out.” The old nickname slips out, because she’s just so like Olivia that he can’t help himself, but it hits her like a slap. Libbie stalks off across the wide green lawn. Peter knows better than to try to stop her.
Once they’re alone, Walter clears his throat – as though he thinks Peter might have forgotten he was even there. “Did I ever teach you the coin trick?”
Peter takes a quarter from his pocket (again with the William Jennings Bryan) and flips it above each knuckle, then below, before palming the coin and holding it out to Walter.
Walter’s eyes do that misty thing again. “You’re telling the truth.”
“And Olivia – my Olivia – is in danger.” Peter leans forward across the table. “I love her. I have to help her if I can. And Libbie’s the only person I know with the power to help me.”
That’s not exactly true – there’s Nick Lane, after all, and several other Cortexiphan trial kids whose names Peter remembers and that he could perhaps track down. But Peter doesn’t know them. He doesn’t trust them with his life, and he damn sure doesn’t trust them with Olivia’s.
“Let me talk with her,” Walter says. “In this universe – such a turn of phrase – well. In this universe, I helped to raise her. She doesn’t listen to me, of course. But she listens to reason.”
“Yeah. That’s Olivia.”
They smile, a moment of perfect understanding – the kind of thing Peter’s never shared with his own Walter, either in his earlier darkness or his later insanity. He breaks it quickly, staring down at the puddle of tea in Libbie’s saucer instead.
He goes to that spot on the Charles, not really expecting to see her that evening. But standing there makes him feel closer to her, somehow. As the sun dips lower, painting the brown river gold, Peter tries to glimpse what she sees in it.
He doesn’t. It’s pretty, is all. The scene doesn’t speak to him the way it speaks to her.
Peter imagines them safe together someday, looking at the Charles. Their Charles, the one in the universe they’ll share. He’ll hug her from behind and ask her to explain what she sees when she looks at the river here. The vision flickers in his mind in great detail: the sun like this, the skyline modernized, the scent of her hair. It’s so vivid that Peter almost feels as though he could step through the dimensional barrier on his own.
Then she’s with him, right next to him – but it’s Libbie.
“Did you come to watch the sunset, or were you looking for me?” Peter says.
“Both.” She squints against the red sunset. “You know I’m not sure I believe you about this.”
“You don’t have to believe me. Just help me. If I’m wrong – then what have you got to lose?”
“A world that makes sense.”
Sighing, he says, “Believe me, I know the feeling.”
“You just have to crack wise, don’t you?”
“Yeah, kinda.” But the smile is already fading from his face; there’s a lost quality to Libbie behind her brassy exterior that reminds him so much of his Liv that it hurts. “I mean it. I do know the feeling – being thrown into total confusion. Not knowing who to count on or what to believe. But the Olivia I know would always rather deal with a hard, complicated truth than settle for the prettiest lie.”
“And you wouldn’t?”
God, how they both see through him. “No. That’s one of the differences between us. One way she’s better than me. One of several, I assure you.”
It’s as if he’s challenged her in some way. Libbie looks at her feet – encased in dove-gray little boots. After a few moments, she finally says, “Hard, complicated truth, huh?”
“Here’s another truth I don’t like: Everything you’re saying – it’s like these dreams I’ve been having lately. The last three or four weeks.”
Since the dimensions parted and paired to let Peter in? Or is it his presence that’s done this to her? Peter is careful not to react.
“Either you’re some kind of mesmerist who can get into my dreams, or what you’re saying is true.” Her smile is wry. “Guess my sane world disappears either way.”
“Sorry about that. All I can tell you is that the longer I’m around, the crazier things are likely to get.” Not much to be able to say for yourself, but there it is.
She steps closer, still unsure but more determined. “So exactly how do I do this?”
Peter goes through the whole process Walter described to him, hoping it will make more sense to someone with this dimensional ability than it does to him. Libbie’s increasingly deep frown lines suggest not. Then he recalls something O.D. said before she sent him on the first time, and repeats it: “Fold it from the inside out.”
Her eyes light up. That means something to her, something he’d bet she couldn’t describe or explain. She’s seen the truth underlying all this weirdness – glimpsed the strange nature of their multiverse reality in a way Peter knows he never can. And as always, new knowledge energizes her. Gives her strength.
He wishes he could give her the kind of direction O.D. did – the ability to get him closer to where he needs to be – but he’ll settle for making the transition at all. Peter says only, “Good?”
- “I can fly.” And then it’s like he’s pinwheeling up through the air, straight into the sky.
- What Don’t We Do?
He opens his eyes to see Boston – one almost like the one he remembers, with electric lights and freeways and everything. A Burger King wrapper lies sodden in a gutter, and the sight of it makes Peter almost want to weep with gratitude.
Then he hears a siren start to wail.
Green laser lights mark out a space around him, about a block long and who knows how wide. In the nearby buildings, lights flick out and windows slam shut; he sees someone in a passing car pull over, then brace herself against the steering wheel with her hands above her head.
“Not good,” he mutters. Peter pushes himself to his feet – great, now he’s got to get around in a modern Boston in a three-piece pinstriped suit and straw boater – and looks for any way out. The green glowing lines marking out this perimeter might be nothing more than light, but he’s unwilling to just dash through. So he holds his hat out into the light.
It catches on fire.
Peter drops it and looks for a Plan B. Could he cut through one of the buildings? Though he runs from door to door, they’re all locked.
Calm down, buddy, calm down, you don’t know for certain that they’re coming for you.
Yeah, you do.
On one side of the street, a car appears with a red-and-blue emergency light on its dash; it’s streamlined, almost a teardrop like those he saw flying in the sky a few universes ago. It cuts through the green perimeter with hardly a ripple, rolling over the cinder ruins of his straw hat. Peter’s caught in its headlights, and he decides to go with this. Not much else he can do, really.
So he raises his hands above his head. In the glare of the lights, he can’t really see who gets out of the car, but he figures it must be some version of Fringe Division. “I’m looking for Olivia Dunham!” Peter shouts.
“Then it’s your lucky day,” Olivia says, striding toward him with a taser at the ready. It’s her – this version of her – and yet, God, so different. More even than blue-haired O.D., or barnstorming Libbie. It’s not the hair, which is long and blonde but slightly wavy, or the suit, which he thinks she owns in his universe, too. It’s the vicious smile she wears.
Then the taser fires, hitting him in the shoulder, paralyzing him and turning the whole world to white-hot pain. Peter can’t move, not even to blink, and his brain is incapable of coming up with any thought more complex than This sucks.
“Did I say it was your lucky day?” Her voice might be coming from miles away. “Guess not.”
By the time he’s back to himself, he’s in what seems to be some kind of high-tech paddywagon. The two things that surprise Peter most are the lingering metallic taste in his mouth and the fact that the paddywagon has television screens.
Somehow it doesn’t surprise him that the television here is apparently owned, operated by and primarily dedicated to the works of Massive Dynamic.
Apparently, here, Fringe Division has the power of a governmental entity but is a division of Massive Dynamic. The MD logo (very like that in his own universe) swivels between each “news” clip, all of which seem to involve the company in some way. Massive Dynamic designed the weapons being used to put down rebellions along the Canadian border and keep America safe. Massive Dynamic has announced a new line of subcutaneous biotags, which promise less skin irritation and fewer false boundary alerts. Massive Dynamic’s Fringe Division responded to an intruder alert in Boston and had captured the interloper within 10 minutes of dimensional penetration.
Ten minutes. That’s almost embarrassing.
Nobody asks any questions on their way to the jail or company or wherever the hell they’re taking him. Peter offers nothing. Instead, he listens as best he can to the conversation in the front – some guy he doesn’t know called Takashi, and Olivia.
Or, as he calls her, “Olive.”
“No ID on this one?”
“His face isn’t showing up on the fingerprint scans. So he’s unpaired, at least here.”
“Weird suit he’s wearing.”
“You’re one to talk, Takashi.”
“Don’t start on my ties.”
“As long as I have to look at your ugly-ass ties, I’ll say what I want about them.”
They’re both laughing, but there’s an edge underlying the banter. Takashi’s not at ease with Olive – which Peter gets, now that he has two taser burns on his shoulder and this damned taste in his mouth, apparently forever – but the reverse is equally true.
Either Fringe Division is a dog-eat-dog kind of place, or this entire dimension is. Peter doesn’t like his chances either way.
He lifts his face to see his interrogator when she walks in, and then he can’t help but smile.
“You shouldn’t be so happy,” Astrid says. Her hair is cropped close to her skull, revealing the fine lines of her jaw and the length of her throat. She dresses more simply but wears more makeup. It’s working for her.
“Sorry. You remind me of someone I know.”
“Whatever other Astrid Farnsworths you’ve known, in whatever other dimensions, don’t assume that their personalities or experiences have any bearing on mine,” she says crisply.
“Well, my Astrid has a sense of humor. I guess that counts you out.”
- “Let’s go over the basics.”
They do. As generic as his name is, Peter decides not to give it here, introducing himself instead as Gene Cowen. Other than that, he tells the briefest possible versions of the truth: He has no agenda, he just wants to return to his birth universe, he asked for Olivia because he knew she had the ability to move between dimensions. “But, honestly, I’m not too picky about how I get back there. As long as I get back there. You guys must want that too, right?”
Astrid keeps tapping on the table; only now does Peter realize she’s actually typing, on a keyboard that doesn’t exist – but he’d be willing to bet that something plugged into her can read what’s she’s writing just from the movements of her fingertips. “Please explain the role of Massive Dynamic in your home universe.”
Peter answers for the universe he’s most familiar with. “Big, powerful, rich, yadda yadda. Not like here, apparently, but trust me, it’s nothing to sneeze at.”
“Please explain your relationship to Walter Bishop in your home universe.”
Straight face. No reaction. Just like that poker game in Karachi. “Never met anyone by that name.”
“Please explain your relationship to John Scott,” Astrid continues, so smoothly that it’s all Peter can do not to sigh with relief.
“In my universe, John Scott was an FBI agent. He died a couple years back.”
Without missing a beat, Astrid says, “There is a less than .02 percent chance that you could have personal knowledge of an Astrid Farnsworth and a John Scott in a universe where you did not also encounter Walter Bishop.” When he stares at her, she says, “We study the nexuses. We narrowed down your potential fields through your knowledge of Olive Dunham.”
“The nexuses?” It’s a meaningless question, just a way to kill time while he tries to keep his heart from hammering its way through his sternum.
“The webs of interconnectedness. They’re remarkably stable, in a pan-dimensional sense.” Her eyes hold a glint of Astrid’s humor. “None of them include a Gene Cowen.”
Peter tries going on the offensive. “So who’s Walter Bishop in this universe?”
“Walter Bishop is the founder, president and CEO of Massive Dynamic.”
This is the universe where Walter rules the world.
That’s not so unlike the universe he wants to get to – just more extreme – and it’s that likeness that makes Peter try his next move. “I want to speak to Mrs. Bishop.”
Astrid sits back, and for the first time, he’s surprised her. “Mrs. Bishop? She – her involvement in Fringe Division is limited – ”
“I’ll talk to Mrs. Bishop. I’ll tell her – things you’d like to know, probably.” Who the fuck knows what this universe would like to know. But if he can just see Mom, look her in the eyes, Peter knows he can get through to her. She is capable of great wrong – he knows that because of the mother who condoned his theft from the mother who bore him. But she’s also capable of great compassion. He needs that. Maybe he can use it.
Or maybe he just really wants to see his mom again.
They leave him in the same holding room, save for one leg-cuff-shuffle trip to the john (which has more of the TV screens), for hours upon hours. Peter wishes there were a one-way mirror or a security camera, some way for him to see how he’s being watched. But Massive Dynamic must have come up with invisible forms of surveillance, here. He imagines he can feels eyes watching him from behind, beneath, above. His skin crawls.
This universe is used to intruders. They’re good at catching them, have a whole protocol for that. But so far as he can see – which admittedly might not be far – this universe is strong and steady, not damaged. Has this Walter, with this Massive Dynamic to fund and empower him, developed ways of making this dimension invulnerable? Or is this one of the worlds O.D. spoke of, one that “bends” well? Peter hopes Mom gets him out of this before he has time to find out.
Finally, he hears footsteps approaching, and the door to his holding room opens. A guard says, “We’ll be outside, Mrs. Bishop.”
“Thank you,” says Nina Sharp.
No. Nina Bishop.
He didn’t even have time to hope.
Nina’s hair is as brilliantly red as ever, her lips as firmly and darkly lined. Peter thinks both arms are real this time, though, or the prosthetics are even better on this side. She studies him – but with the air of someone who has more answers than questions.
“Never knew you and Walter had a thing,” he begins.
“We usually don’t. In most universes, we simply work together. But I’m happy this universe worked out differently.” She cocks her head and smiles without showing any teeth. “Though, of course, this means our universe is without you, Peter.”
Of course she knows who he is. This is one of the better-informed universes, unluckily for him. But that means he has a chance to glean some of that knowledge. “There seems to be a lot of that going around.”
Nina nods, and her pleasure seems genuine. “Then you’ve traveled enough to see that very few universes create a Peter Bishop.”
“And in most of those universes, he doesn’t survive.” He ventures this, unsure what to expect, but isn’t surprised when she nods again.
The surprise is what she says next. “In all of those universes. All save for one.”
“You are the only adult Peter Bishop. The one and only. By that I mean you are not only the only Peter Bishop – you are the only individual we’ve ever identified as unique in any given universe. You wouldn’t believe the cross-checks we’ve run. Random suburbanites. Members of minor European royalty. Infants who died before their first birthday in remote provinces in China. They all have duplicates, triplicates, versions so numerous they could be considered legion. Universes where they don’t exist, universes where they lead entirely different lives, universes where they lead entirely the same lives except, one day in their 17th year, they chose to wear different color shirts. Multiplicity upon multiplicity. Except you.”
Peter thinks again of that illustration – the one where he’s catching fire – and a shiver passes through him. “Mind telling me what that means?”
“You are the singularity,” Nina says. “The only Peter Bishop who survives to adulthood. The only such individual in all the worlds. We suspect that’s for a reason. That the universes can only hold one of you.”
The flames consuming him. Blazing upward from his eyes. It was only a drawing, he told himself, now he knows what it really was.
It was prophecy.
“There’s not a damn thing I can say that’s going to convince you to let me out of here, is there?” Peter says, giving her his best lopsided grin. It works on most women.
It never worked on Nina Sharp, and it doesn’t work on Nina Bishop, either. “You’re a precious commodity. Too precious to lose. We can use you, Peter.”
She doesn’t say “use” as though she’s trying to recruit him. More like she’s found the wrench she was looking for in the toolbox.
Once again, he makes a bid for information, though he’s not sure what good it can do him now: “You have more than one precious commodity. You have Olivia.”
“She’s unique too.”
“Actually, there’s a lot of Olivia Dunham to go around.” And yet, it seems, not enough.
“Precisely, Peter. There is only one singularity in the universes; that’s you. And there’s only one person who always is born. Who always grows to adulthood. Who always, inevitably, finds her power. Here, of course we’ve trained her, groomed her – made her so much more than she is anywhere else. But Olive always finds a way.”
Trained her. Groomed her. Peter remembers the old tapes of a drugged, frightened little Olivia, hugging her knees to her chest in terror. That’s how he knows what “training” and grooming” really mean.
Nina looks almost sentimental. “Olive is the one thing we all have in common. Bringing the two of you together creates some … intriguing possibilities.”
It’s the most frightening thing he’s heard yet.
“We’ll let you get some sleep.” Nina smoothes her coat and gives him her best, PR-ready smile. “Big day tomorrow.”
- But no way in hell is he going to get any sleep tonight.
He lies in his cell for hours afterward. As disquieted as he is by Nina’s revelation about his uniqueness – his singularity and the potential implications – what she’s said about Olivia is even worse. It suggests reasons why his father wants to keep a tight hold on her. Experiments he might perform upon her. Maybe he’ll kill her just to see what the universe does in response.
And there’s something about the two of them together, something Nina Bishop wants to investigate. Peter hates the idea that the connection between him and Olivia could be used in some sick way. In a dark moment, he asks himself if what they’ve come to feel for each other is no more than their subconscious recognition of the roles they play in this interdimensional mystery.
No. Peter knows better than that. He holds onto this knowledge fiercely, desperate for one thing that is true in any universe.
The TV screens have their sound turned down for the night. Nice gesture. Peter occasionally glimpses Walter’s face in the Massive Dynamic news clips. The sight both fills him with hatred and with yearning, both of which are directed at the Walter who raised him.
Suddenly his door swings open. The soundproof seal breaks, and the guard’s saying, “…authorization codes should have been input.”
“Relax, Ivor.” Olive grins at the guard; her stride is easy and relaxed. She’s wearing skinny black jeans and gold chains and a apple-green satin shirt open almost to the waist, as though she came here from a nightclub. And yet still no lipstick. “You know I have the authority.”
Peter props up on one arm. It’s strange, distrusting her, but he doesn’t want to let her see how it’s shaken him. “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”
“Punching you in the nuts if you can’t come up with a better line than that.” She leans against the doorjamb, and Peter has to work hard not to openly stare at the expanse of skin bared down the center of her chest. Olivia, his Olivia, is very much a bra kind of gal. And while he wouldn’t ever want her to change into this Olive, he doesn’t mind the view. At least it distracted the guard. “Come on, Peter Bishop. We’re about to take a ride.”
The guards let her walk right out with him; Olive wasn’t kidding about her authority. Her wavy hair bounces in the evening breeze. In the parking lot is a metallic emerald Ferrari. The motor is idling.
“You leave a car like that running in a parking lot?” Peter says.
“Not without my baby behind the wheel.”
He clambers into the back seat expecting to see John Scott, or maybe that tool the false Olivia says she lives with in his birth dimension.
Astrid is in the driver’s seat.
His surprise must register, because Astrid smiles and says, “So you’re from one of the boring universes.” Then she steps on the gas even before Olive’s even shut her door.
The Ferrari goes zero to 60, 70, who the hell knows. Every once in a while, there’s a green laser field, but something on the dash clicks just before they reach them, and the fields go dim in time for the car to zip through.
“You sure about this?” Astrid says to Olive.
“Absolutely sure.” Olive turns to the backseat, where Peter’s sitting with his knees pressed against his chest. Ferraris aren’t known for their back seats. “Tell me what you want.”
“I want to get back to the dimension where I was born, to rescue another version of you,” he says, keeping it simple. “Will you send me there?”
“… that’s it?”
“That’s my whole agenda. Nina Sharp … Bishop probably has some other ideas.”
Olive grins. “Baby, take us to the nearest weak spot.”
“You got it.” Astrid floors it. Who knew this Ferrari could move even faster?
Peter can’t even take a blessing this great on face value. “Why are you doing this?”
Olive rolls her window down partway, so that her wavy golden hair streams out all around. Over the rushing of the wind, she shouts out, “To piss the fuckers off.” Then she jabs at the stereo with one finger, filling the car with deafeningly loud club music.
He believes her.
- Travel must be restricted
As they get out, he hears Astrid whisper, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
- They always let it slide.”
“You’re pushing back harder, these days.”
“Because I can, now that someone’s got my back.”
Peter glances over to see them kissing passionately. Mixed in with his jealousy is something else: I will NOT have a sexual fantasy about this, these are both professionals I totally respect, and so I will NOT have a … oh, goddammit, too late.
They part. For a moment, Olive cradles Astrid’s face in her hands, but she’s all business again once she turns back to Peter. “Ready to go?”
“Can you send me where I need to be? I’ve taken a few wrong turns so far.”
“I’m the best there is.” Her cocky grin makes him wonder if they’ve actually checked, if this version of her really has the strongest powers of all. “You’ll be back before you know it.”
As close as he is to his goal, she’s still some version of Olivia, and so he has to say, “You know what they’ll do to you for this.”
Her grin calcifies until it’s almost a snarl. “Nothing they haven’t done to me before.”
Peter remembers that “Olive” was the name his Olivia had when she was experimented on as a child. Here, the experiments never ended. What are they doing to his Olivia now? How much worse can it possibly get? He sees the shadows of it in Olive’s rebellion, in her eyes.
“When you find your Olive,” she says, “tell her to wrap the darkness around the light. And then they won’t ever be able to push her around again.”
He simply nods and stands up straighter. It’s the only signal she needs.
5. The Destination and the Path
This transition is so smooth he hardly feels it. The world around him simply flickers, becoming slightly darker, and the bridge he’s standing on is derelict again. He doesn’t lose consciousness, doesn’t even get dizzy.
Either I’m getting better at this, or Olive really knew her stuff, Peter thinks. He suspects it’s the latter.
Peter starts walking from the bridge to the shore, or he tries to. There’s something stuck to his shoe.
As he looks down, his eyes widen. What’s sticking to his shoe is the road.
His first thought is that they resurfaced the bridge with tar, but tar only melts in heat, and it’s a cool night here with a wind that smells like rain. No, it’s the bridge itself. As he looks up, he realizes that the steel beams forming the arch above aren’t as sharp as they might be. There’s a liquid sheen to the surfaces. Peter peels his foot free and runs back to land, hearing a slight squelching beneath each footstep.
Yet he doesn’t panic until he looks up and sees the stars – why can he see stars over Boston?
It’s worse when the stars begin moving. Some dim; others brighten. The seams are coming apart.
This universe has no more time.
He’s back where he was before, Peter thinks: The universe that was on the verge of death, the one where she is Olivia Scott. For all her know-how, Olive got it wrong – but then, this one was only a layer or so away from the goal, according to O.D. There’s a cavalcade of Olivias in his memory now, all of them informing and advising him. And every single one of them would agree that he is extremely, probably permanently, screwed.
His lone chance is to find Olivia Scott and get the hell out of here while he still can. To begin the journey over.
Later, Peter thinks, he’ll scream with frustration. Now, though, he’s got to run.
So he runs as fast as he can, ignoring the occasional pull and catch of his shoes against the road or ground, the flickering of the streetlights that glow a pale blue in the night, and the stitch jabbing him in the side. Every muscle protests; he’ll pay for this tomorrow, if there is one.
Occasionally he hears screams – of fear, or pain, or terrible garbled cries that seem to be coming from animals, or at any rate creatures no longer wholly human. Those, Peter can’t ignore. But he can keep running past them, and he does.
You’ve held up better than I would’ve thought, William Bell said to him. His words haunt Peter, though up until this second his fears were all about melting, collapsing in on himself and turning into another David Robert Jones. Now it’s the reverse. What if the disintegration that should affect anyone traveling between dimensions doesn’t affect him at all? He’s leapt through half-a-dozen universes in the past three months, and he feels fine, except for the fact that he’s running so hard he wants to puke. What if the singularity is his invulnerability to that disintegration?
And what happens if he’s stuck in a universe that disappears around him – leaving him in a void he can’t imagine? Or doesn’t want to. He’s not thinking about this right now, Peter tells himself. He’s running.
His path toward the Fringe Division HQ in that universe takes him past Olivia’s place on the river, which makes him look for Olivia Scott automatically.
And there she is, sitting on a bench, hugging her arms.
“Olivia!” he screams. She glances up, her face dirty and tear-streaked, almost blank of recognition. A navy stocking cap is pulled down over her hair, as though she’s trying to disguise herself. From whom or what, he doesn’t know. Or maybe it’s the cold – goddamn, this universe is cold, or has become so, he doesn’t remember it from before. Whatever it is, it makes her shake, but when he comes closer, Olivia doesn’t run.
He skids to a stop in front of her. “It’s me. Peter Bishop. From – before, I don’t know how long before – you remember me, right?”
She nods once. Is she in shock? God only knows what she might have seen here.
“I – we have to get out of here. You can do that for us still, right?” He looks up at the horrible melting constellations overhead. “I don’t think protecting the stability of this universe is still a concern.”
“No.” The word comes out hoarse, reminding him of that time she had the flu and wouldn’t go to the doctor.
Peter squats onto his heels in front of her. Though he wants to take her hands, he’s not sure whether touching her is a good idea right now. This is a woman in pain, and no wonder, given the Armageddon around her. He wonders if John Scott is already among the lost.
Gently, he says, “Hey. You’re all right. Talk us through it. How long has this been happening?”
“Since he showed me.” She takes a deep breath, struggling to calm herself – to be herself. It cuts his heart open. “Since he showed me what I could do. But he didn’t show me how to stop.”
“Walter. Not Walter.” Olivia swallows hard. “The Secretary. Your father.”
This is not the universe he saw before. This is not Olivia Scott.
He’s in the right place. And this is his Liv.
Peter exhales so sharply it’s almost a sob. What have they done to her? What have they done to this world? How long do they have? What does this mean for the universe they’re going back to – the one where Walter’s bent and Rachel is Ella’s mother and John Scott is dead and Gene is their cow, the one that he’s finally absolutely sure is home?
Those questions all press in on him from a thousand directions, and they’re all pretty damn urgent, but nothing matters as much to him as the fact that he’s found her, she’s alive, and they can go back to where she’ll be safe.
“You escaped,” he says. It’s a logical guess, and he hopes it will remind her of her own power. “You got away from them on your own.”
The wind catches the long strands of her hair, blowing a few across her face. She doesn’t bother brushing them back. “They kept trying to show me what I could do. And then I – I showed them.”
Her hand makes a small, abortive moment toward the side of the street, where Peter realizes that some of the dark gelatinous spots he sees aren’t just signs of the disintegrating ground. They’re what’s left after you burn a human body at very high heat. Again, he thinks of the videotape of little Olive – and of the scorch marks on the walls all around her.
This time, the burns went deeper than any fire. Olivia did something that has torn this universe in two. Peter wonders if that means his universe won, though he’s not sure what “won” means anymore. He does know, finally, that his universe is where he grew up, and where he was forever and always set apart. Until it became the universe that brought Olivia to him.
He holds out one hand, so she can take it if she feels safe, if she remembers. He speaks the words he most remembers. “You belong with me.”
“I didn’t mean to do this, Peter.”
“I know, Liv. I know.”
Her fingers slide across his palm, and he folds his hand around hers. In the distance, he hears a roar, a shattering – a building collapsing, maybe.
“I’m more dangerous than you realize,” she says. Her eyes are clear once more.
“Well. That makes two of us.”
The corner of her mouth lifts in an almost-smile, and Peter could laugh out loud. She’s still in there – bruised but not broken. Indestructible. Olivia.
“We’re stronger together,” she says. Does she mean emotionally or literally? Doesn’t matter, since it’s true either way. Peter nods.
In the near distance, a police siren starts to wail.
Her hand clenches around his so hard his skin feels burnt. “Oh, God, it’s them.”
“Take us away. Take us home. Together.”
The red and blue lights appear – more than one car, from several directions. Peter takes her in his arms, but not for comfort; he’s hanging on for dear life.
“I have to stop them, or they’ll stop us.” She says this like she’s certain; they might have a way of preventing the dimensional jumps here. “I don’t want to do the things the Secretary showed me again.”
What else can they do? Peter remembers the last thing Olive said to him. Slowly, he repeats, “Wrap the darkness around the light.”
“Wrap the darkness around the light.” It sounds like something she’s remembering.
“Do you know what that means?”
“I do now.” She swallows hard. “Peter, I’m scared.”
So unlike his Olivia, and yet, she’s said those words to him before, hasn’t she? Nothing scares her but failing the people she loves, or running afoul of her own limitations.
He holds one hand to her face and says, “I trust you.”
Olivia kisses him. The howling around them is both the sirens approaching and the disintegration of the sky. Peter closes his eyes. He feels strangely, surreally calm.
When he opens his eyes again, Olivia looks at him for one long moment, then turns her face upward at the ruin of her own creation. The energy pulsing through her warms him against the night’s chill.
Peter is unafraid as they hold one another and watch the darkness swallow up the light. Either the world is ending or they’re going home. Either way, there’s nothing else to fear. He’s already home.