“Please don’t tell him.”
Olivia looked at Walter. Walter looked back at her imploringly, desperately, guilty but not remorseful. Olivia didn’t know what to say.
She looked up as Peter came back down the stairs, now wearing his coat. “Ready?” he asked. She didn’t answer. The glimmer was still there.
Olivia felt hot behind her eyes, as if the light, Peter’s light, was burning her. Her stomach roiled. She realized she wasn’t breathing.
Peter noticed her distress. “You alright?” he asked. He looked between her and Walter. “What’s going on?”
Olivia turned and ran.
The cool night air felt good against her face as she sprinted for her car. The darkness was a blessing of blindness.
“Olivia?” she heard Peter call from behind her. “Walter, stay here. Olivia!”
Her car beeped as she unlocked it, and she wrenched open the driver side door and climbed in. Peter caught up with her as she was putting the car into gear, but she ignored him and pulled away. She ran the stop sign at the corner and headed for the main road.
After two blocks, she had to pull over.
She wrapped her arms around her stomach and rested her forehead against the steering wheel, breathing heavily. What the hell had just happened?
She needed answers. She felt betrayed—by Walter, by Peter, and by herself—and she had no idea where to go to figure it all out. Every piece of certainty, of safety, was being taken from her. She wanted to talk to Peter, but she couldn’t. She wanted to talk to Charlie, but he was dead. She wanted to talk to John, but he was gone.
Fine, she decided. If she couldn’t trust anything or anybody, then she’d just have to deal with people she didn’t trust. Wiping the tears hastily from her cheeks, she pulled out her phone and flipped through her address book. Finding the right entry, she hit send.
It may have been eight o’clock on a Saturday night, but her call was answered after only two rings.
Olivia steeled herself. “Tell me everything you know about Peter Bishop,” she said.
Peter stormed back into the house. “Walter, what the hell was that about?” he demanded.
“I don’t know, son,” he answered.
“The hell you don’t,” Peter accused. “What did you say to Olivia?”
Walter looked upset. He stared at Peter for a moment. Then he nodded and began to turn away. “I should start setting up the Monopoly game for when-”
“Walter!” Peter shouted, grabbing him by his shoulder and turning him back around.
Walter swatted his hand away roughly. “I did what I had to do!” he insisted. “She has no right to judge me!”
“Walter,” Peter repeated more calmly, holding a hand up to stop his father’s shouting. He took a breath. “Did you tell her something else about the Cortexiphan trials?”
“No.” He shook his head back and forth in small motions.
“Uh, guys?” came a voice from the doorway. Peter turned to find Astrid standing there, looking worried.
“Astrid, good, you’re here,” Peter said. “Something happened and Olivia bolted. I need to find out what’s going on.” He fished his phone out of his pocket.
“Something like a case?” Astrid asked.
“No,” Peter answered, hitting the speed dial. “Could you stay with Walter for a second?”
“Thanks,” he said, then ran back upstairs, taking the steps two at a time while the phone rang. He wasn’t sure she would answer, but just as the fourth ring was buzzing, her voice cut in.
“Olivia, thank god,” he sighed. He was pacing around his bedroom nervously. “Are you alright?”
There was a brief silence on the other end of the line. “I’m going to New York,” she said.
“I’m going to go meet with Nina Sharp.”
Peter was confused. “Olivia, what happened?” he asked.
“Your father is a sick, selfish bastard,” she told him, and the pain in her voice was obvious.
“Oh, god, Olivia,” he sighed. “What did he say to you?”
Another silence. “I have to go, Peter.”
“No!” he interjected. “Let me come with you. Whatever this is, I can help.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Olivia, you don’t have to do this alone.” When she didn’t reply, he added “I know where you’re going. Let me at least meet you there.”
“Please, Peter,” she whispered.
But she had hung up.
Peter cursed sharply and hurried back downstairs. “Astrid?” he called.
“Yeah?” she answered, poking her head out of the kitchen. Peter could see Walter behind her, facing away from him, staring out the window over the sink.
“Change of plans,” he told her. “I have to go to New York.”
“New York?” she repeated.
He didn’t stop to explain. “I need you to do me a favour.”
“Watch Walter,” she said. “Got it.”
“And see if you can get him to talk about whatever happened,” he added. “Olivia’s upset, and I don’t know why. Anything you can find out would be helpful.”
Astrid gave a worried little frown. “Sure, ok.”
“Thanks,” Peter said, squeezing her shoulder. He looked at Walter. He considered saying something to him but decided against it. He turned and left, heading for the station wagon.
Nina pressed the end button on her phone. She switched to her calendar, checking her schedule. She sighed and closed the program. She called another number.
“Linda, it happened. I have to go to Boston. Rearrange whatever needs it. And Agent Dunham is on her way here. Have someone keep an eye on her. I’ll be at the airport in an hour.”
Two weeks prior
Olivia looked up at the knock on her office door.
Peter was standing in the entryway. He took in the files that cluttered the desk. “How is it that you have so much paperwork to do for a case that’s getting buried?” he quipped.
“This isn’t for the Edina case,” she told him. “I’m doing research on Newton, looking for information that might lead me to wherever he’s hiding.”
“Any luck?” Peter asked.
“None,” Olivia replied. “Apparently reanimating a corpse doesn’t leave as much of a paper trail as you might expect.”
Peter looked her over. Her suit jacket was hanging off the back of her chair and her hair was in a messy ponytail. Two empty coffee cups sat near her elbow as she leaned against her desk. She rubbed the pads of her fingers against her forehead.
“I have an idea,” he said.
“Walter has finally stopped freaking out whenever he’s left alone for more than five minutes. You need a break from work, and I need something to shake off cabin fever. I know a great Vietnamese restaurant. My treat.”
Olivia looked uncertain. “I shouldn’t,” she said.
“Yes, you should,” Peter insisted. He flashed his best charming smile. “Vermicelli noodles have been scientifically proven to help overworked FBI agents catch bad guys.”
Olivia laughed. “Really?”
“Honest,” Peter replied. “It was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and everything.”
“Well, alright, then,” she said.
The restaurant was on a side street in downtown, and Olivia wondered how she hadn’t heard of it before. It was small, with bright yellow lighting and square tables covered in speckled laminate. The older woman who met them at the door gestured to them where to sit, smiling broadly.
Olivia looked up from perusing the remarkably large menu. “This is your idea of how to cure cabin fever?” she asked. “A tiny restaurant within walking distance of work?”
“Your work, not mine,” Peter reminded her. “And you haven’t been eating my cooking for two weeks.”
Peter made a face. “Not as bad as some of Walter’s. Or as messy. But with him too scared to even go to the grocery store, I wasn’t left with many culinary options.”
Olivia nodded. “I’m glad he’s doing better,” she said. “An unhappy Walter is never a good thing.”
“Amen,” Peter replied.
The older woman came to take their order. Olivia made sure she had some vermicelli.
Olivia had been driving for over an hour and she was certain that she was being followed. The black SUV had been tailing her since Providence, at least, and it was still there now that she was well into Connecticut. She had no idea who the driver was or why he was following her, but it seemed only appropriate to Olivia that someone was watching her at this point. Just another fact of her messed-up life. The hazy night prevented her from keeping track of the car at all times, but, in an especially bizarre move, every so often the driver would pull up right alongside her on the highway, stay there for a minute, then drop back amongst the other sets of headlights Olivia was steadily putting behind herself. She considered taking a detour, pulling onto a side road in the hopes of being able to confront the driver, but she was in too much of a hurry.
She was driving along the coast, almost at the Thames River when the SUV pulled up beside her again. The driver looked at Olivia, and Olivia looked back. Instead of dropping back, though, the driver swerved left, nearly slamming into Olivia’s vehicle. Olivia cursed and quickly moved out of the way, into the far left hand lane. It wasn’t really late yet, but there were no other cars in sight on the highway. The SUV swerved again, and Olivia slammed on the brakes to avoid being shoved into the side barrier of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge.
The antilock brakes made a grinding noise, but the car still fishtailed and swerved behind the SUV, back across nearly all four lanes of the highway, facing east by the time it stopped. Olivia immediately made to turn back around, but as she pulled the car in a semi-circle, she found the SUV stopped sideways in the middle of the highway, blocking her path.
“Crap,” she muttered. She scrambled to unlock the glove compartment and pull out her gun. She got out of the car swiftly, ducking behind the door as she opened it, then moving forward, aiming her weapon at the man who was exiting the SUV.
“Hello, Agent Dunham,” the man said genially. He was younger, in his mid-twenties. He appeared unarmed, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt under an open wool coat. He walked towards her confidently.
The bridge was high above the water, set on an elegant truss system. The wind blew in from the ocean and cut through Olivia, icy cold. It was well over a hundred yards in either direction to any kind of escape route.
“Who are you?” Olivia demanded.
“My name is Derek,” the man answered easily.
“What do you want?”
“I want to show you something.” He was smiling.
Olivia briefly wished she were holding a revolver so that she could cock it to indicate her lack of patience. “Who do you work for?” she shouted. “Is it Thomas Newton?”
Derek laughed. “No,” he said, “I do not work for Thomas Jerome Newton.” He indicated her gun. “You could shoot me—and I promise I’m one hundred percent human—but I really do think you want to hear me out.”
“And why is that?” Olivia asked. She mentally debated where she should shoot him. Ideally, she wanted to be able to take him in for questioning, so a shot to the lower leg would be best, but his statement that he was human, coupled with his apparent lack of fear and his knowledge of Newton, lead her to suspect that he was indeed a shape shifter, in which case she’d have no choice but to shoot him in the head. She kept her gun trained on his chest.
“Watch,” he told her.
Derek raised his left hand, palm facing forward. He seemed to concentrate for a moment. Then, suddenly, a small flame, maybe five inches high, appeared in midair between them.
Olivia stared. The flame only burned for a half dozen seconds, but when it went out, the darkness seemed more oppressive than it had been just before.
“Pretty cool, huh?” Derek said. “It’s harder to do without actually burning something.”
“How did you do that?” Olivia asked.
“You’re really hitting all the big questions, aren’t you?” he quipped. “What do I want, who do I work for, how did I create a fire in midair...”
“Well, start answering,” she replied, gesturing with her gun for emphasis.
“I’m getting to that,” he said. “We only have about two minutes, though, so please don’t interrupt me.”
He was still smiling, clearly enjoying his little game. Olivia forced herself to take a deep breath and wait for him to continue.
“The person I ‘work for,’ to use your words, is interested in what happened in New York last night. Specifically, he’s interested in the fact that the building that was pulled to the other side had no people in it. He thinks you might have had something to do with that, and he wants to talk to you about it.”
“Why?” Olivia demanded.
“He wants to help you,” Derek told her. “He wants to help you help everybody. What was written will come to pass, but it doesn’t have to play out across the entire globe. What you did last night was just the tip of the iceberg. You can save more innocent lives, millions more.”
Olivia was still pointing her gun. “How?” she asked.
Derek put one hand in the pocket of his coat and pulled out a small device. For a second, Olivia thought it was the same device the shape shifters had carried, but she quickly saw that it was different, round and cordless. Derek held it up, and it glimmered against the night sky. “You have to follow me,” he said.
Just then, a set of headlights broke over the horizon behind Olivia. She turned and squinted against the light coming from the approaching car. It was moving fast. She lowered her gun and backed up, moving around to the passenger side of her own vehicle.
The driver of the new car slammed on the brakes upon seeing Derek’s impromptu barricade. Olivia cursed under her breath as she got a better look at it.
It was Walter’s station wagon.
The car was barely at a stop when Peter got out. “’Livia,” he called. “What the hell’s going on?” The glimmer was still there.
Before she could answer, Derek spoke. “Peter Bishop!” he exclaimed. “You have excellent timing.”
Peter glanced at Derek, then back at Olivia. “Who’s he?” he asked her.
“And here we go again,” Derek sighed.
“He was following me,” Olivia told Peter.
“And now I’m asking her to follow me.” Derek held up the circular device again. “You’ll like this,” he said. “I promise.” He put it down on the ground and pressed a button in the centre.
Olivia watched carefully. The device emitted no noise, no light besides its otherworldly flicker. Slowly, though, that flicker grew, moving upwards, making the air in front of Derek shimmer. The light danced, shining in bizarre ripples that moved through each other in all directions. They gained speed, moving faster through the air and creating a depth in their image that Olivia couldn’t see the bottom of. Then the ripples coalesced, and Olivia realized what she was looking at.
She could see through reality. This was a portal to the other side.
Her knees buckled. She heard Peter shout her name somewhere, and a moment later his arms were around her waist, holding her up.
“What’re you doing to her?” Peter yelled. “Turn it off!”
Derek smiled. “Follow me, Agent Dunham,” he said, then disappeared into the light.
Peter’s hands were against her face. “’Livia,” he said. “’Livia, look at me. Can you look at me?”
Olivia tore her eyes from where Derek had disappeared to look at Peter. “Are you alright?” he asked. “What happened?”
“We have to follow him,” she breathed.
“What? Olivia, what are you talking about?”
Holding her gun in one hand, she grabbed Peter’s hand with the other. “Come with me,” she said, running them towards the light.
His protests were cut off when they hit the barrier. It felt like nothing.
Astrid was sitting in an arm chair in the living room, her legs gathered underneath herself. She was worried. Walter had been getting less and less responsive since Peter had left, nearly two hours ago now. After standing at the sink for a handful of minutes, he’d muttered to her about how, sometimes, things don’t go as expected, then wandered to his bed, sat down, and not moved. Astrid had tried asking him what had happened, but he just muttered some more without really saying anything. Eventually, she’d decided that reading to him might be a good way to get a response from him. She’d looked over the bookcase and chosen The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, thinking it might remind Walter of Peter’s childhood, a favourite topic of his. So far, though, he’d barely reacted at all.
But Astrid was clever. Remembering something Walter had said to her a couple of weeks ago, she flipped forward in the book. She found what she was looking for and continued to read aloud.
“Here was a gorgeous triumph,” she read. “They were missed; they were mourned; hearts were breaking on their account; tears were being shed; accusing memories of unkindnesses to these poor lost lads were rising up, and unavailing regrets and remorse were being indulged: and best of all, the departed were the talk of the whole town, and the envy of all the boys, as far as this dazzling notoriety was concerned. This was fine. It was worth being a pirate, after all.”
As she read, Walter slowly came back to life. First, his forehead creased, then his hands tightened into fists. His mouth turned down into a grimace. Astrid considered stopping, but decided it was alright to push just a little more. By the time she finished the paragraph, though, Walter was shaking. She put down the book and walked over to where he was, kneeling in front of him.
“Walter,” she asked. “Are you ok?”
He didn’t look at her.
“Walter,” she pressed. “What happened to Peter and Olivia?”
He took a breath, slowly through his nose. “When I was in St. Claire’s,” he started, then stopped and took another breath. “The entire time I was incarcerated there, I knew Peter was somewhere in the world. I knew that, no matter what happened, even when my wife died, Peter was alive and safe. Because I was where I was, and he wanted nothing to do with me.”
Astrid covered one of his fists with her hand. “I don’t understand, Walter,” she said.
“I knew someone would come, eventually. And I was too selfishly happy—too relieved to have a version of my life back—to care about what would inevitably happen.” He sighed and hung his head.
The phone rang.
Astrid nearly jumped out of her skin. Leaving Walter where he was, she walked to the table next to the sofa and picked up the receiver. “Bishop residence,” she said.
There was a slight pause. “Agent Farnsworth?” a deep voice asked.
“Agent Broyles?” she said, surprised and slightly nervous. “Hello, sir. What can I do for you?”
“Are either of the Bishops with you?” he asked.
“Walter is, sir,” she replied. “Peter went to New York with Agent Dunham.”
Broyles sighed. “New York,” he said. “Do you know why they were going?”
“No, sir. Peter said something had happened, but he didn’t know what. He asked me to stay with Walter.”
“Agent Dunham’s car was found with Peter Bishop’s car and another SUV in Connecticut,” Broyles exposited. “All three vehicles were abandoned in the middle of the I-95.”
“What?” Astrid exclaimed. “What happened?”
“We’re working on that, Agent Farnsworth,” he told her. “Did Peter say anything else before he left?”
Astrid took a deep breath to steady herself. “He said that something had upset Agent Dunham, but he didn’t know what. He went upstairs and called her, and then he told me he was going to New York. He asked me to see if I could get Walter to talk. He seemed to think that Dr. Bishop had something to do with what happened.”
“He usually does,” Broyles muttered. “Any luck?”
“No, sir,” she said. “He’s upset, and I haven’t gotten him to say anything that makes sense.”
“Alright, stay where you are,” Broyles told her. “Call me if you find out anything more, and I’ll do the same.”
“Yes, sir,” Astrid said, and she heard Broyles hang up.
Peter’s head hurt. Badly. He could tell he was on the ground, but he couldn’t tell which way gravity was pulling him. Suddenly, his stomach clenched, and he managed to hoist himself forward before throwing up. He coughed, catching his breath, and forced his eyes to focus.
It was still night, and he was still outside. The February wind stung his face, pulling him out of his stupor. There was asphalt underneath him and a concrete half-wall beside him. He could smell the ocean. The bridge. He was still on the bridge where he’d found Olivia.
“’Livia?” he called.
“Here,” came her quiet answer from behind him. Peter twisted around to find her sitting a few feet away, her back against the barricade at the shoulder of the road. She looked relatively ok. Better than him, at any rate. Her eyes were closed, and she was rubbing her fingers against her temples, but she didn’t seem to be sick or hurt.
“What happened?” Peter asked. “Where’s the guy who was with you?”
Olivia shook her head, not opening her eyes. “He wasn’t here when we came through,” she said.
“Came through?” Peter echoed. Another wave of nausea gripped him, but he held his breath and it passed. He looked around again, this time taking in everything he could see. “Olivia, what’s going on? Where are our cars?”
“They weren’t here, either.”
Peter sighed and moved himself so that he was sitting beside her, facing her. “Open your eyes, Olivia” he said. “I need you to talk to me.”
Olivia squeezed her eyes more tightly closed. “I don’t want to,” she whispered.
“Because I glimmer on this side.”
Peter froze as understanding hit him. “You...” he breathed. “’Livia... You brought us to the other side?”
Her mouth contorted and she nodded.
“I don’t know,” she said, now shaking her head. “He had a device. Derek, the man on the bridge. He had something, and it glimmered, and it made the air glimmer, and I could see through what was real. And he went through the light and I grabbed you and followed him, and then he wasn’t here and you were unconscious and-”
“Shh, it’s ok,” Peter said, cutting off her frantic babbling. He brought his hands up to cover hers on either side of her head. “It’s ok, ’Livia.” Her eyes were still closed, so he leaned his forehead against hers. “It’ll all be alright.”
“I don’t know what I did,” she whispered on shaky breath.
Peter took a long, deep breath through his nose before pulling back, bringing Olivia’s hands away from her temples and placing them in her lap. He gave them a squeeze. “Please open your eyes,” he said.
She was trembling slightly, but she was able to calm herself down. After a moment, she opened her eyes to look at Peter.
“Hey,” he said, smiling at her.
“Hey,” she echoed back.
“You can do this,” Peter told her. She smiled weakly.
“Ok,” he said. “The first thing we need to do is get off this bridge before somebody comes along and runs us over. Do you know where we are?”
“The Thames River in Connecticut,” Olivia replied, looking around. “I think we’re closer to the New London side.”
“Good,” Peter encouraged. “Do you feel up to walking?” He wasn’t sure he felt like walking, himself, if he was honest, but hitchhiking his way through a parallel universe didn’t seem like the best idea.
Olivia looked back at him. She nodded and started to get up. Peter followed suit, though a little more slowly. Olivia led the way to the western end of the bridge, Peter close behind her. He watched her carefully. He still had questions about what had happened with Walter earlier that night, but this didn’t seem like a good time to bring them up. At least now Olivia wasn’t literally running away from him. Peter mentally cursed his father for whatever had gone wrong earlier.
They walked in silence for about ten minutes. They followed the exit ramp off the highway and left the road before rounding the clover leaf, ducking into a little neighbourhood not far from the river’s edge. They looked around apprehensively.
“What happened?” Olivia wondered out loud.
“I don’t know,” Peter replied. All the trees, the grass, the shrubs, were all dead. Even the evergreens that usually maintained their foliage through the winter were bare. He ran his hand through the skeletal branches of a lifeless weeping willow. “This doesn’t look natural, though.”
They kept walking, Olivia in the lead. Peter was about to suggest that they figure out what to do next when Olivia stopped, staring at something.
“What is it?” Peter asked.
“Those wind chimes,” Olivia said. She pointed to a mobile hanging next to the front door of the house nearest to them. Its chimes clinked gently against each other in their porch shelter from the wind. They seemed to be made from some sort of painted clay in a variety of shapes and colours. “I know those wind chimes. I helped make them. They’re from the daycare in Jacksonville. The Jacksonville we were in yesterday.”
Peter wasn’t sure which question to ask first. “I thought you didn’t remember anything about that daycare?” was the one he settled on.
“It’s starting to come back to me,” she answered, then shivered. “Let’s go see who lives here.”
“What?” Peter exclaimed. “Olivia, no.” She ignored him, striding quickly across the dead lawn. He hurried to keep up. “This could be a trap set by whoever lured you here. Let’s just find a payphone and call Broyles so that-”
Olivia rang the doorbell. Peter sighed.
They waited for a moment. The house had a very normal feel to it. A carved wooden sign proclaimed that this was 44 Grove Street. There was a bench to the left, and the wind chimes were cheerful. This didn’t seem to Peter like a place for any kind of interdimensional activity. He glanced around uncertainly, trying not to think of the irony of the street name.
A light in the foyer of the house came on, illuminating the curtains in the window beside the door. The sound of the deadbolt being unlocked was heard. The door opened.
“Hello, Olivia. Hello, Peter,” said the man on the other side. Both of them stared.
It was William Bell.
“Come in,” said Broyles. The door opened and Agent Pawluk entered.
“Sir, we got a hit on the fingerprints from the SUV,” she reported, handing over the papers she was carrying. “Derek Marshal. This is an odd one, sir.”
Broyles glanced up from the papers and arched an eyebrow at Pawluk.
“He was reported missing in 1987,” she said. “When he was three years old. He was taken out of his bedroom one night. Boston PD never found a single lead.”
Broyles frowned. He was about to reply when his office phone rang. He sighed and picked it up. “Yes?” he answered.
“Agent Broyles, Nina Sharp to see you,” came the voice of the evening security guard.
At that, he nearly cursed out loud. Instead, he said “Send her up.”
Hanging up the phone, he looked back at Pawluk. “Thank you, Agent,” he said. “Keep digging. I’ll be occupied for the next while.”
“Yes, sir,” Pawluk said, then excused herself.
Nina didn’t bother to knock before letting herself into his office. Broyles looked up from Derek Marshal’s file. “You got here fast,” he said.
“Agent Dunham called me three hours ago, Philip,” she said, taking a seat in one of the chairs next to the glass wall.
“And you didn’t notify me?” he accused.
“It didn’t have anything to do with you,” Nina replied, placating him. “Agent Dunham had some questions. She was having trouble adjusting to the changes she’d been through. She wanted to come to New York to speak with me.”
“And you were gracious enough to oblige?” Broyles asked sardonically.
“Agent Dunham is an asset to me, too, Philip. I don’t think you fully understand the magnitude of what happened to her in Jacksonville and New York.”
He glared. “I’ll let you stay long enough to get to the point if you’ll cut the crap.”
Nina gave a little sigh. “Fine,” she said. “I had my people keep an eye on her during her trip. Someone was following her. We didn’t see what happened on the bridge on the I-95, but we did find this left behind.” She pulled a circular device out of her pocket and held it up for Broyles to see. “I hope you don’t mind that I had somebody remove it from the scene. Having an official chain of evidence would have complicated things.”
Broyles stood up and walked around his desk to where Nina was sitting. She handed him the device, and he examined it up-close. It was a smooth black plastic disk, about four inches in diameter and half an inch thick. It had no markings, nothing on it at all except for a button in the middle of one side. “What is it?” he asked.
“We don’t know yet. It doesn’t seem to do anything perceptible to humans, but we haven’t had a chance to run any proper tests.”
With an appraising look, Broyles put the device on the table next to Nina’s chair. Glancing at her briefly, he pressed the button. He waited for several seconds, but nothing happened.
“Like I said,” Nina told him. “I’ll send it to Brandon, see if he can make anything out of it.”
“Thank you,” Broyles replied.
She picked the device up and pushed the button again, frowning at it, then put it back in her pocket. “Do you know who was driving the SUV?”
Broyles went back to his desk and picked up the file he’d been reading. “Prints came up as Derek Marshal, abducted without a trace at age three over twenty years ago.” He sighed.
“That does not bode well,” Nina said.
“No,” agreed Broyles. “It does not.”
“Please, come in,” William Bell said. He stood aside and gestured for them to enter the house. He had a small smile on his face.
Olivia glanced back at Peter with a look of suspicion on her face, then turned and walked through the door. Peter followed.
The house looked as normal on the inside as it did on the outside. To the left of the small foyer was an informal living room with taupe carpet and a pair of matching brown sofas flanking a coffee table. The walls were light blue. An older tube television sat on a carved mahogany stand in the corner, next to a brick fireplace. Down the hall, past a set of stairs leading to the second floor, a formal dining room could be seen. The large table was covered in papers and photos, and a small laptop sat in front of a pulled-out chair. To the right of the dining room was an arched entryway that ostensibly led to the kitchen. Peter noticed the scent of tomato sauce lingering in the air.
“Have a seat,” Bell said, indicating the sofas. “Would you like something to drink? Maybe some tea?”
Olivia glared, and Peter cut in with a “No, thank you,” before she could say anything that might cause even more trouble than they already had to deal with.
Bell looked at him directly for the first time. He smiled again. “Alright, then,” he said.
“Dr. Bell,” Olivia cut in, her tone harsh, “why did you bring us here?”
Bell’s face fell as he looked back at her. “I did not bring you here, Olivia,” he told her. He gestured again to the living room. “Please, sit. I’ll explain what I can.”
He walked to the sofa next to the fireplace and sat down. Peter and Olivia went and sat uncertainly on the other sofa, facing him.
Bell folded his hands in his lap and drew in a strained breath. Peter noticed an oxygen tank next to the sofa.
“Derek Marshal, the man who was following you, does not work for me.”
“Then who does he work for?” Olivia asked, still guarded.
Bell looked between them for a moment, then settled his gaze on Peter. He leaned forward. “He works for your father, Peter.”
“Walter?” Peter exclaimed in surprise. “No. No, that can’t be right. Doesn’t Walter work for the government on this side?”
“He does not,” Bell answered, shaking his head.
“He doesn’t work for the government, but he’s not in St. Claire’s?” Peter asked. “What changed?”
Bell looked back at Olivia. Peter followed his gaze, perplexed. Olivia looked even angrier than she had a moment before. Her jaw was clenched and her eyes were narrowed dangerously at the man across from them. “’Livia?” he asked. “What’s going on?” Olivia did not look at him.
“When you were a boy,” Bell said, drawing his attention back, “you got sick,”
“I know,” Peter replied. “Hepea, a nasty strain of flu.”
“That was the closest known diagnosis, yes, but it never quite fit.”
“I don’t understand. What are you getting at?”
Bell took another strained breath. “You died, Peter.”
“I... What?” he asked. He paused, thinking this through for a moment. “You’re telling me that, on this side, I died when I was six years old?”
“No,” Bell told him. “On this side, you were never sick.”
Peter looked back at Olivia. She looked away from Bell to meet his gaze. She didn’t seem angry anymore. An idea was forming in Peter’s mind, distant thunder on the horizon. Olivia returned his look with pain in her eyes.
“Earlier, you said... You said you glimmered here,” Peter said to her. She bit her lip. “Does he glimmer?” he asked, pointing at Bell.
“Do I glimmer?”
She swallowed. “Not on this side,” she whispered.
The truth bled slowly into Peter’s understanding. Walter’s obsession with his childhood. His experiments with making portals. The half-told stories about having lost something. His father’s eccentricities, things Peter had come to consider charming and useful, were actually insidious symptoms of an insanity that had manifested itself long before the fire. An insanity that Walter cherished.
“That’s why you ran,” Peter eventually said.
“Yes,” Olivia replied. “I’m sorry.”
Bell shifted his position on the other sofa. “It was a dark time for Walter,” he said. “He kept it to himself when he began working on a portal. If I had known what he planned to do, I would have done my best to stop him. As you can imagine, the Walter of this world did not handle the loss of his son any better.”
Olivia held Peter’s gaze while Bell spoke. She looked scared, an emotion Peter was certain she must be seeing in his own face. She reached out and put her hand on Peter’s knee, gave it a gentle squeeze. He tried to smile at her. She half-smiled back, then moved her gaze to Bell.
“What happened to Walter in this world?” she asked him.
“I’ll show you,” Bell told her, standing up. “Stay here—I’ll just be a second.”
He walked down the hall to the dining room table. From amidst a stack of papers, he pulled a round black disk. In his dazed state, Peter briefly thought it was a coaster. As Bell returned to the living room, though, he recognized it as the same device Derek had used on the bridge, the one that had seemed to hurt Olivia.
“This,” Bell said, putting the device on the coffee table and sitting back down, “is a training device.”
“Like the ZFT tests?” Olivia asked, looking at it with interest.
“No,” Bell told her. “The soldiers in this world have been developed to be a different type of asset.”
Charlie’s name hung in the air for a moment, unsaid.
“In a way,” Bell continued, “this device highlights the syntax of reality. It helps those with the ability to distinguish between pieces from different universes to see how those pieces are different. With this, people with a moderate amount of training can see and interact with the barriers between worlds.”
Olivia stared. “I saw one of these in use,” she said. “It made the glimmer spread, and Peter and I were able to follow Derek through it.”
“How does this explain what happened to Walter?” Olivia questioned.
Bell frowned. “In response to Peter’s loss, Walter became obsessed with a number of different aspects of fringe science that he believed could help him to get his son back. It took years to show any promising results, though, by which time he knew that Peter would have adapted to life on the other side enough that he could not simply be taken back. He settled for keeping tabs on Peter while he worked on a way to convince him that he belonged on this side. Meanwhile, he continued his research.
“When you met Peter, Olivia, it piqued Walter’s interest. He knew that you had been treated with Cortexiphan, and he anticipated that you would discover that you had abilities similar to the ones the other subjects had demonstrated. When you saved those people in Manhattan last night, he knew you had developed the ability that would allow you to learn the truth about Peter. Walter believed that Peter would listen to you about where he came from, so he sent Derek Marshal to lure the both of you to this side, using this.”
He reached out and pushed the button on the device.
Just like the previous time, Peter didn’t notice the device doing anything. Beside him, though, Olivia leaned forward and stared at it intently.
“Oh,” she breathed.
“What do you see?” Peter asked her.
“Light,” she answered, furrowing her brow. “Like the air doesn’t fit right. It’s growing. It shimmers, and—oh!”
Peter looked over at her. She was still staring ahead, but her expression had gone blank. “’Livia?” he said. “What’s going on?”
Suddenly, her eyes went wide and she gasped. Her back arched and her head flew back. Peter grabbed her in time to stop her from sliding off the couch. “’Livia!” he shouted.
She fell over into his arms, unconscious.
(Two Weeks Prior)
They were walking back to the Federal Building after dinner when Peter suggested they head to a bar the next block over for a drink. Olivia protested, claiming she had work to do, but Peter was persistent.
“Come on,” he said, smiling. “I have to take advantage of the fact that I no longer have a curfew.”
Olivia gave him a wry look. “Does Walter have a curfew?” she asked. “Because I am not going to be held responsible for whatever he does when he goes wandering around at night in your absence.”
“When I left, Walter was singing along to his records and playing with my old baseball cards. I could probably leave him alone until next Tuesday and he’d be fine.” Peter touched her shoulder, leading her around a corner.
“You collected baseball cards when you were a kid?” Olivia asked. She knew that Peter was trying to distract her, but she was amused by the fact that he’d had such a clichéd hobby.
Peter smirked. “I liked to organize them,” he answered. “I had hundreds of cards, and I would sit at the kitchen table for hours, sorting them by different methods. I didn’t really care about the players or the game.”
“And here I thought it was Walter who liked to take traditional American culture to obsessive-compulsive extremes,” Olivia joked.
“Oh, please don’t remind me how alike my father and I are,” Peter said, grinning.
“Sorry,” she replied with a laugh. Something in his explanation had piqued her interest, though. “How many cards did you have?” she asked.
“Hundreds,” he told her. “A whole shoebox full.”
“Yeah, but what was the number?”
Peter gave her a puzzled glance. “Why do you want to know that?”
“Because I know you remember,” Olivia said.
He rolled his eyes. “Four hundred and eighty-three was the most I ever had,” he told her. “I lost some to various causes, though. The last time I counted them, I had four hundred and seventy-seven.”
Olivia stopped walking, a smile on her face. Peter halted as well and gave her a questioning look. “What?” he asked.
She considered him carefully. The crease was there between his eyebrows. She knew she had unnerved him with her question, but it was obvious that he was more concerned about her reaction to his answer. Despite how much of his life Peter had spent posturing to make himself look good, Olivia had noticed that his everyday behaviour was full of small lies and omissions designed to hide his extraordinary capabilities.
“You can’t scare me, Peter,” she said, still smiling. “I’m not going to freak out because you remember exactly how many baseball cards you had when you were ten, or because you know how to pickpocket, or because you were able to pull off pretending to be a chemistry professor, or any of that stuff.”
Peter looked at her. “How do you know I can pickpocket?” he asked.
He laughed quietly.
For a moment, they watched each other. They were standing next to the window of a closed shop on a mostly-empty sidewalk. The clouds reflected the city lights, giving the night an ambient glow. The sound of traffic hummed low in the air. Peter took a step towards Olivia, extending his right arm over her shoulder and resting his hand against the window behind her, closing her in. He tilted his head forward. She concentrated on holding herself still.
“So you’re saying,” he said, “that you’re not afraid right now.”
“Not of you,” she qualified.
“Well, that just ruins my advantage,” he said, smiling.
He brought his left hand up to touch her cheek. “I think I’ll manage, anyway.”
His intentions were clear. He stepped closer to her, moving his right hand to the small of her back, pressing them together. Suddenly, though, despite the fact that Olivia had invited this, she was seized by panic and uncertainty.
“Wait,” she said. Peter stopped.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I... I’m sorry,” she stammered, looking down.
“’Livia...” he whispered.
She closed her eyes, keeping her head down. “This is... This has gone... badly for me before.”
Peter let out a sigh. He tilted his head down, too, resting his forehead against her hair. “I’m not going to betray you,” he said.
“John wasn’t a traitor.”
“Well, I’m not going to die on you, then.”
Olivia gently nudged his head off of hers and looked up into his face. He was so close, and she very nearly gave in to the urge to kiss him.
“Tomorrow,” she said.
“More than this being right tonight, it matters if it’ll be right tomorrow. Kiss me tomorrow.”
Peter nodded and stroked her cheek with his thumb. “Tomorrow,” he confirmed.
They said goodnight at the Federal Building, not knowing that tomorrow he would try to kill her because he was dying.
“I was younger then! I was short-sighted and amoral and desperate! I didn’t mean to harm him or Olivia! I had no idea they’d eventually meet. I was so careful to keep Peter safe, but I made a mistake, and he got sick, and I couldn’t cure him! I hated myself for my failure. My wife hated me. The doctors at the hospital really hated me. I didn’t know what to do. There was no place in the world, no person that could help me.
“When Agent Dunham got Peter to release me from St. Claire’s, I wasn’t certain what she’d been able to learn about me or my work. I assumed that she knew the worst, but that, like me, she understood that the ends justified the means. She certainly seemed willing enough to do whatever it took to save Agent Scott. But Olivia’s integrity, her strength, was in her willingness to sacrifice herself for what was best for others, and she didn’t know anything about Peter’s childhood or the extent of my work.
“It was a mistake to lead them on, to pretend that a fire in the lab was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. I lost my son when he was seven years old, and that event defined me so absolutely that it split my life in two. Whatever I was on my way towards, whatever greatness I could have achieved, I sacrificed to get Peter back. And when Olivia saw Peter tonight, when she realized what I’d done, not just to her, not just to other children, but to my own family... It was one betrayal too many, and she ran.”
Astrid stayed still for a moment, absorbing Walter’s words. Peter had been sick. Had Peter really... died? It was something Walter had mentioned obliquely before, but Peter was alive now. What had Walter done?
And what about Olivia? She had learned to recognize the building that was about to be pulled to the other side. How would that let her see that Peter had died? Did Peter look different?
The answer slid into place.
“Oh, god,” Astrid breathed. She looked up at him. “Walter, you didn’t.”
“I did,” he replied. “I’m so sorry.”
She covered her eyes with her hand, wishing for a moment that when she looked again, she’d turn out to be someplace else. But she wasn’t.
“I have to tell Broyles,” she said. “This could have something to do with Peter and Olivia’s disappearance.”
Walter nodded mutely, not protesting her decision to report his crime. Astrid stood up carefully, slightly unsure of her feet under herself, and went to retrieve the phone from the side table. Walter stayed still and quiet. She walked to the other side of the room and dialled the Federal Building, then input Broyles’ extension number.
It rang twice. “Broyles.”
“Sir, it’s Agent Farnsworth. I got Walter to talk about what happened before Agent Dunham left. It probably has something to do with why she was going to New York.”
“Good. I’m putting you on speakerphone,” Broyles told her. She heard a click.
This took Astrid by surprise. “Uh, hello?” she asked. “To whom am I speaking?”
“Agent Farnsworth, this is Nina Sharp,” a second voice said. “Agent Dunham was going to New York to see me.”
If Astrid had been surprised a minute ago, she was now utterly flabbergasted. “What?” she exclaimed. Then, catching herself, she added, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand. Why was Agent Dunham going to see you?”
“Agent Farnsworth,” Broyles started.
But Nina interrupted him. “No, it’s alright, Philip,” she said gently. “Agent Farnsworth deserves to know what’s going on.”
There was a moment of silence during which Astrid was fairly certain Broyles and Nina were exchanging a look. She was glad this was a phone conversation—Nina Sharp had always given her the creeps.
“Fine,” Broyles eventually said. “Go ahead.”
“Agent Dunham had some questions for me,” Nina explained. “The ability she’d recovered in Jacksonville was having some unanticipated side effects, and she wanted information about the Cortexiphan trials.”
“Unanticipated side effects?” Astrid repeated. “Did she say what kind?”
“She did not,” Nina replied. “But she did seem upset. What did Dr. Bishop tell you?”
Astrid debated briefly how to phrase the news. She decided that being direct was best. “He told me that Peter died when he was seven years old. The Peter Bishop we know was abducted from another universe by Walter not long afterwards. Olivia saw him glimmer when she came over tonight.”
There was another silence, longer this time. It felt tense. Astrid began silently counting the seconds. When she was almost at 40, Broyles spoke again.
“Ask Dr. Bishop if he knows anything about a man named Derek Marshal,” he told Astrid.
“Derek Marshal?” she asked. She was beginning to feel like a parrot. A confused one. “Didn’t you hear what I just told you?” she asked.
“I heard you, Agent,” Broyles replied, and Astrid winced at the reprimand in his voice.
“One minute,” she said. “I’ll put you on speakerphone.”
She walked back over to the table next to Walter’s sofa bed. He was still sitting quietly, but he looked up as she approached. At least he was lucid, Astrid thought. She pushed the speakerphone button on the phone’s cradle and put the receiver back in place. “Go ahead, sir.”
“Dr. Bishop, this is Agent Broyles. I need you to tell me if you know anything about a man named Derek Marshal.”
Walter shook his head at the phone. “I have no memory of such a man,” he said in a small voice.
“He was abducted in 1987 at the age of three,” Broyles told him. “There was no trace of him until this evening, when we found his fingerprints in an SUV abandoned on the I-95 along with Agent Dunham’s vehicle and your station wagon.”
“I had nothing to do with his abduction, Agent Broyles, if that is what you are suggesting,” Walter replied. His tone was flat, not at all defensive like Astrid would have expected it to be in such a situation. She reached out and patted his arm reassuringly.
“I’m not suggesting anything, Dr. Bishop. I’m only asking for your input.” There was another pause, and Astrid could hear muffled movement on the other end of the phone line. “There was a device left at the scene. A black disc-shaped object, roughly four inches wide, with a button in the middle. Is this device familiar to you?”
Walter’s forehead wrinkled slightly in thought. “It could be any number of things,” he said. “Some sort of sensor, or a weapon. Maybe a container. Do you know what it was used for?”
“No,” Broyles said. “We’re sending it to be tested.”
“To my lab?”
“To Massive Dynamic.”
Walter nodded slightly. “I’d like to be kept informed of what they discover.”
“I’ll arrange to have the test results uploaded to one of our servers so that you can access them remotely from your lab,” Nina supplied.
Walter looked uncertain at that, so Astrid spoke instead. “Thank you, Ms. Sharp.”
“One more thing, Dr. Bishop,” Broyles added. “The abilities Agent Dunham has rediscovered since working with you. They’re not always under her control. Do you think it’s possible that something happened that caused those abilities to be activated in a way she wasn’t prepared for?”
“I most sincerely hope not,” was all Walter said.
“Olivia?” Peter exclaimed. “Olivia!”
“She won’t wake up,” Bell cut in.
Peter looked up at him in bewildered anger. “What the hell did you do?” he demanded.
“I’m sorry, Peter,” he said. “I promise you she will be fine.”
Peter looked back down at Olivia, collapsed in his lap. Her breathing was slow but steady. He pulled up one of her eyelids to look at her pupil. It was dilated and non-responsive. “What’s happening to her?”
Bell drew another strained breath. “I tweaked the training device slightly,” he said. “In short, it overloaded her expanded perceptive abilities. She’ll be fine, but she will be unconscious for a few hours, at least.”
“Why did you do that?” Peter demanded, looking up to glare at Bell.
“Because it was you that Derek Marshal was trying to lure to this universe, and you need to understand why.” He looked at Olivia’s prone form. “There are bedrooms upstairs. It would be best to move her to one so that she’ll be more comfortable.”
Peter debated refusing, debated insisting that whatever he needed to know, Olivia also needed to know. But he thought about the look on her face before she ran away from his house earlier, the way she held her eyes closed on the bridge after he’d woken up, and he decided that forcing her through more right now wouldn’t be good for her. Peter knew she would have objected to being left out if she were conscious, but for now, he decided to let her rest.
He nodded, moving Olivia so that he could carry her. Bell gestured for him to go ahead, so he stood and made his way upstairs. At the top of the stairs was a short hallway with four doors. The first door on the left was open slightly, and when Peter nudged it out of the way, he saw it was a small, impersonal bedroom, decorated in shades of green. Peter laid Olivia down on the bed, leaving her on top of the ivy vine quilt. He made sure her head was resting comfortably against a pillow and brushed some hair away from her face.
He heard Bell follow him into the room and turned to face him. “Alright,” he said. “What is it that I apparently have to understand?”
“Soon, Peter,” Bell told him. “First, I need you to look at this.” He held up what appeared to be a cell phone. Peter looked at it in confusion.
It started to flash.
green, green, green, red
green, green, green, red
green, green, green, red
Peter gasped in surprise as a hand was placed on his shoulder. He spun around, ready to attack whoever had snuck up on him, but his shot was blocked before he’d even gotten a proper look at the person he was trying to hit. Stunned, he staggered back, trying to get his bearings.
He was outside, in a park of some kind. It was daytime, but grey clouds coated the sky, diffusing weak sunlight under a low ceiling. The trees were all dead here, too, and what should have been grass under his feet was instead dusty ground with the occasional dead weed. There was nobody around except for himself and the person he’d tried to attack. He could only see for maybe a half mile in every direction, but the emptiness of the place felt absolute. No birds sang, no wildlife ran along the tree branches. They were alone.
“I’m sorry for startling you,” said the man who had awoken him. His voice was flat, and it made Peter’s skin crawl with unpleasant memories. He turned fully to look at him. He was wearing a grey suit and white shirt. His shoes were shiny black leather, and his bald head was covered with a fedora. He was carrying a black briefcase.
“You,” Peter gasped. “You’re the Observer. You were in the woods.” The man made no reply. “How did you find me?” Peter demanded. “How did I get here?”
The Observer tilted his head slightly, watching Peter. “When Derek Marshal lured you to this side” he said, “William Bell assisted me by attracting your attention and allowing me to speak to you alone.”
“Bell was in on this?” Peter exclaimed. “He tricked us?”
“William Bell has been a valuable comrade to us. I am sorry that deceit was necessary.”
Peter turned away, rubbing a hand over his face. He was exhausted and frustrated. It felt like all he had done since opening his front door to Olivia—how long ago now?—was ask questions. And the answers he’d gotten had only led to more questions. He tried to remind himself that his life often went like this, but that only aggravated him more. Unlike the cases he worked, this was about him specifically. It made him feel sick to his stomach to think that Walter and Olivia went through this on a regular basis. Peter wasn’t them, and he didn’t have the protection of insanity-induced amnesia or any abilities with which to fight.
“This is crazy,” he muttered angrily, turning back around.
“There are things I must tell you,” the Observer said. He gestured to a bench a short ways away that Peter hadn’t noticed. “Sit with me and I’ll tell you what you need to know.”
Peter let out a long sigh. This wasn’t fair. He had no clue where he was, so walking away was probably a bad idea. He was stuck. He nodded, giving in, and began to trudge towards the bench. The Observer walked beside him. Peter flopped down, resting his elbows on his knees and holding his head in his hands. The Observer sat upright, looking out at the dead park, his briefcase at his feet.
They were silent a moment. It was almost bearable.
The Observer began his explanation without preamble. “The Pattern, as you call it, is the result of interaction between universes,” he said. “The cases you investigate, the blight that has affected this world, the rapid advancement of technology—all of these things are caused by the introduction of inequality.”
Peter listened for more, but the Observer seemed to be waiting to continue. He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment before forcing himself to sit up and look at the man next to him. “Ok,” he said. “I’ll bite. What inequality?”
“The differences between worlds are subtle but unchangeable,” the Observer explained. “Something from one universe will never fit properly into another. However, the other universe can still interact with it to a degree, can still measure and use it. The reverse also applies—to a degree. The discrepancy between realities creates the inequality. The mass of a proton, for instance, can vary based on which world it is from.”
“I remember this,” Peter said, interested despite his better judgement. “Nina Sharp explained it once. The weak spots between universes are supposedly places where universal constants are changed.”
The Observer nodded. “Yes. Such places have been the sites of interdimensional activity in the past, which has weakened them and made them easier to permeate.”
“The barrier’s getting worn out.”
“Yes. And the increased amount of interaction between the universes has allowed for a rise in the number of Pattern events that cause the weakening.”
Peter frowned in thought. “You haven’t explained that one,” he said. “How do Pattern events weaken the barrier between universes?”
“Like I said,” the Observer told him, “the inequality. When a constant varies, the discrepancy can be exploited. If the mass of a proton both is and is not a specific amount, its mass can be determined to be any amount. This change to the laws of physics allows for the possibility of the impossible.”
“A fallacy of many universes,” Peter said. He understood. He understood, and the implications stretched out before him, grey and dead like the world he was in.
“That is an apt name for it,” the Observer said, giving him an appraising sort of look that Peter would have been insulted by were his mind not reeling. “The results, however, are compatible with neither of the universes that allowed for their creation. Elements of the two realities are twisted, weakening their fabric, and, by extension, the barrier between them.”
Peter took a deep breath, trying to focus. He ran his hand through his hair anxiously. “Pattern events are made possible by the forced interaction of incompatible systems,” he said. “And I’m a walking interaction.”
The Observer looked at him intently. “You are more than that,” he told him.
“More?” Peter echoed. “What, am I radioactive, too?”
“You are the only person from this world with a quarter century of experience in its neighbouring universe.”
“You mean I’m the only one whose sociopathic father abducted him when he was a kid and brought him to an alternate universe?” Peter asked sardonically. “Thanks for the honour.”
The Observer was undeterred by his comment. “You have an unparalleled aptitude for safely interacting with that universe,” he said. “Travelling between universes is very dangerous, as is spending time in a universe that is not your own. You’ve seen some of the effects this universe has had on William Bell. Your skill allowed you to live for decades in another universe with no ill effects to yourself.”
Peter grimaced at the explanation. “Even if what you’re saying is true—and my little trip earlier disagrees, by the way—what does this have to do with anything?”
“There are very few people who would have survived being pulled to another universe by a recruit using a training device,” the Observer assured him. Peter opened his mouth to object to Olivia being called a recruit, but he was cut off. “Your skill, however, is of immense use. You are aware that a war is inevitable.”
“So I’ve heard,” Peter answered bitterly.
“With the weakening of the barriers between universes,” the Observer continued, “each universe unwittingly becomes a threat to the other. Pattern events will increase in frequency and severity until both universes are destroyed. Unless one universe is destroyed first, before it can destroy the other.”
“And you’re saying I can change this?” Peter asked doubtfully.
“No,” the Observer replied. “But you can choose which universe will survive.”
Peter stared at him a moment, dumbstruck. “You’re joking, right?” he asked when he found his voice.
“I am not.”
“How the hell can I do that?” he asked incredulously.
“In this universe, offensive weapons have been developed in preparation for the conflict,” the Observer explained.
“By who?” Peter questioned. “Newton?”
“Newton has no such expertise.”
The Observer looked at him but gave no answer. Peter felt uneasy as his mind raced through the possibilities. Bell? Someone associated with Jones and Loeb? Walter? Bell had said that Derek Marshal worked for him...
As he considered that possibility, Peter was once again struck by the sensation that the Observer was inside his head, knowing his thoughts. Einai kalytero anthropo apo ton patera toy. His father was a bad man, selfish and uncaring about how his work affected others. Peter’s stomach clenched.
“These weapons use elements from both worlds.” The Observer continued, looking back out at the park. “They must be wielded by someone from this universe, lest they destroy their user, but their potency is determined by the aptitude their user has with the other side. Your talent would allow you to wield these weapons very effectively, insuring that the threat posed by the neighbouring universe would be neutralized.”
“Neutralized?” Peter echoed. “You mean the other universe would be destroyed.”
Peter shook his head. “No,” he said, pushing himself up from the bench and starting to walk away. “No, no, no. This is crazy.” He turned back to face the Observer. “I am not god!” he shouted. “Alright?! I can’t make decisions like this! I can’t just decide to come back to home sweet home and destroy the place I’ve lived most of my life. Nor can I decide to just go back there, putting myself and others at risk, and, I don’t know, try to destroy this universe, or let it get blighted, or something equally creepy and wrong!”
He stormed over to a nearby tree and grabbed one of its branches, taking satisfaction in the loud snapping sound it made when he broke it. He threw the branch onto the ground and it rolled a few feet before settling itself in the dirt as if it had always been there. God damn dead branch, Peter thought.
He didn’t hear the Observer move from his spot on the bench, but suddenly he was standing a few feet behind Peter, holding his briefcase. “Regardless of what your decision winds up being,” he said calmly, “it is important that you make one.”
“Why?” Peter demanded, turning back around. “What the hell does it matter to you, anyway? I thought you only watched, that you didn’t like getting involved.”
“This is an exception,” the Observer replied.
“Because your father has always been a friend of mine.”
“Which version of him?” Peter asked bitterly.
“All versions of him that are your father,” the Observer said.
At that, Peter just cursed and turned away again.
Olivia woke slowly. She felt cold. Opening her eyes, she saw that she was in a bedroom, lying on a rather uncomfortable bed. The room smelled musty, and a window to her left with sheer green curtains was letting in dull mossy light, creating the sensation that Olivia was in a cave.
She shifted on the bed, noticing that her muscles were sore, as if she’d overexerted herself the day before. Her mind felt fuzzy, and she tried to concentrate on remembering where she was and how she’d gotten there.
Then she noticed her glimmer, and it all came crashing back.
Walter’s lie. Driving to New York. Derek Marshal on the bridge. Crossing to the other side. William Bell. The training device.
She was standing in an instant, ignoring her protesting body. She dashed to the bedroom door and pulled it open, running out into the hall.
“Peter?” she called in a panic. “Peter, are you here?”
There was no answer. Olivia had no memory of going upstairs, no memory of anything after Bell showed her the black disc, so she hurried down the stairs, back to the last place she remembered being.
“Hello?” she called once she was on the main floor. “Peter? Dr. Bell? Is anybody here?”
There was nobody in the living room. She walked back past the stairs to check the dining room, but it was empty, too. She looked past the arched entry into the kitchen and found still nothing. Confused, she headed back upstairs, checking every room. They were all empty.
The cave-like green bedroom was the last place she checked, just in case. Finding it exactly as it had been a moment ago, Olivia sighed in frustration and defeat. She began to pace the small space in agitation. What had happened to Peter? Had Bell taken him somewhere? Was he alright? What happened to Derek Marshal? Not knowing what was going on made her want to kick something.
On her third lap of the room, Olivia noticed a folded sheet of paper on the bedside table. Taking a closer look, she saw that her name was written on it. A note left for her. She picked it up and unfolded it. It was written in a slightly shaky handwriting by what looked like a fountain pen.
Olivia, it said.
I apologize for leaving you to wake up alone. Peter will return soon. In the meantime, I imagine you would like a change of clothes to minimize the glimmer. There are clothes for both you and Peter in the closet. Please choose any you’d like.
I will not be able to return until later, but I’ve asked Brandon to come speak to you at noon. He will explain how you can return to your own universe. I’ll be back in time to see you off. In the meantime, make yourselves at home.
Putting down the note, Olivia looked around the room once more. The clock on the wall read 9:35. Had she really slept that long? What time had it been when she’d lost consciousness? At least she would be getting answers soon.
Looking away from the clock, she saw that the closet was to the right of the quilted headboard. She strode over to it and pulled open the door. It was empty except for a medium-sized suitcase. Olivia picked it up and carried it back to the bed. Opening it, she found that it contained an assortment of clothes and accessories, all black. She tried not to think of how Bell would have known to prepare this.
She stripped quickly, taking everything but her gun, which had been tucked awkwardly into the inside pocket of her jacket, and throwing it into the closet, then shutting the door to keep it out of sight. She dressed herself in a pair of trousers and a long-sleeved t-shirt. She found some cotton socks and a pair of sensible-looking shoes. There was even a little package of hair elastics, so she pulled her hair back into a ponytail, preventing it from glimmering in her peripheral vision.
She rummaged through the rest of the items, setting aside some things for Peter. Then she came across something she didn’t recognize. She thought at first it was maybe a pair of socks, but the fact that the little bundle seemed to be made out of leather made that unlikely. Unfolding it, she saw it was a pair of fingerless gloves, small enough for her hands. To cover the glimmer without getting in the way. Olivia pulled them on gratefully, making sure they covered her wrists so that no skin showed between the gloves and her t-shirt.
Examining the gloves on her hands, Olivia was suddenly reminded of Nina Sharp.
There was a noise downstairs, and Olivia jumped. She grabbed her gun off the bed and moved silently to the door of the bedroom, listening carefully.
“’Livia?” she heard Peter call.
“Peter?” she answered with relief. She put the safety back on her gun and tucked it into the back of her trousers while she ran downstairs. “Peter!” she exclaimed when she got to the main floor and saw him in the small foyer. “Oh my god, are you alright?”
He shook his head. “That isn’t quite the word I’d use, no.” He was leaning back against the front door, looking utterly defeated. He didn’t seem to be injured, but Olivia got the impression he might collapse any second. She approached him carefully.
“What happened?” she asked. “Where were you?”
“I’m honestly not sure,” Peter answered. “They hypnotized me.”
“Who?” Olivia questioned. “Who hypnotized you?”
“Bell,” Peter muttered, rubbing his forehead. “And the Observer.”
This brought Olivia up short. “The Observer?” she repeated.
“Yeah,” Peter confirmed. “He and I had a nice little chat.” Olivia opened her mouth to ask more questions, but Peter gestured for her to hold off. “Can this wait a minute?” he requested. “I need to regroup.”
“Okay,” Olivia replied, taking a small step back. “Bell’s not here, so how about we go upstairs so you can lie down?” Peter nodded and pushed away from the door, heading for the stairs. Olivia followed.
Peter trudged up the steps slowly, holding onto the railing. Olivia tried not to look at him too much, but his demeanour was worrying her. They reached the top of the stairs and Peter headed straight into the green bedroom. He stopped when he saw the suitcase on the bed next to the pile of clothes Olivia had set aside for him.
“Bell left them,” Olivia explained. “To cover the glimmer. There’s a note from him.”
Peter frowned. “I’m not glimmering, but my clothes are, aren’t they?” he asked.
“Don’t worry about it.”
He sighed quietly and took off his coat, but Olivia wasn’t sure if it was because of her or if he was just warm now that he was inside. He tossed it into the corner by the door.
“What did the note say?”
“Uh, that you’d be back soon, and that Bell won’t be back for a while, but Brandon—the tech guy from Massive Dynamic, I assume—will be here in a couple hours.” she told him. “I can handle that, though, don’t worry.”
Peter turned his head to look at her and gave her a weak smile. “Don’t worry about my worrying, ‘Livia,” he said. She nodded nervously, and the smile got a bit stronger. “Why is Brandon coming here?”
“The note said he was going to help us get back ho-” she stared, then caught herself. “Uh, get back to the other side,” she corrected.
Peter looked away. He closed his eyes and drew in a tense breath through his nose.
“I’m sorry,” Olivia said. “I shouldn’t assume that-”
“Olivia,” Peter interrupted. She stopped and watched him, even more nervous now. He opened his eyes and turned again, taking two steps so that he was standing in front of her. He looked at her sadly, and Olivia thought suddenly of the other night in New York, of what had gone wrong then. What had gone wrong before then. Every time they got close to this, there was another disaster.
Olivia wasn’t sure if she wanted Peter to kiss her right now, but she desperately wanted a life that didn’t prevent her from wanting it. But she wasn’t sure if that was possible anymore.
“Peter...” she whispered.
He didn’t look away. “My father wants me to use a weapon he built to destroy the other universe so that this one won’t be destroyed,” he told her.
The air was still in the wake of Peter’s declaration. Olivia had no idea how to respond. Confusion and shock tore through her mind, quickly followed by anger. Walter wanted what? She gaped at Peter silently.
“I’m so sorry, ‘Livia,” he whispered.
She shook her head. “No,” she said. “No, I don’t understand.” Peter opened his mouth to speak, but Olivia cut him off, letting words pour out of her without hesitation. “Walter wants you to be the prodigal son and lead an interdimensional war to destroy everything you’ve known for twenty-five years, everything that made you who you are, and you’re sorry? Why? You’re going to do it? You’ve finally found a version of your father who approves of being deceitful to people who trust you? Or are you just trying to save yourself? Just trying to escape accountability one more time by leaving.”
“No!” she shouted. “You know what else your father did? He trained me to fight. And I am not going to let you or him or Newton or anybody else win against me. If you want to stay here, if you want to fight this war against me, I swear to god that I will be the last one standing.”
“You know what? I was wrong earlier. The Walter I know isn’t selfish, he’s masochistic. To have you around all those years as a reminder of his failure, knowing that someday you’d be gone again. He would want you to be the one to end his life.”
“Stop!” Peter shouted. “’Livia!”
She glared at him, too angry to speak anymore.
He huffed out an agitated breath. “I don’t know what to do here, ok? That’s why I’m sorry!” he explained. “This is crazy beyond what even I’m used to! My father wants me to wipe out an entire plane of existence! I don’t know if I believe I’m even capable of that, and I sure as hell don’t want to do it, but from everything I’ve learned since getting here, I know that telling him no is not going to make him go away!”
As she listened to Peter’s explanation, Olivia felt the anger drain from her body, leaving her chilled. It was replaced by a tight knot of fear in her abdomen that burned slowly outwards, into her limbs and face, until her vision was clouded by its smoke.
“Olivia,” Peter said, quieter now. “Did you really think I’d abandon you for my criminally insane father?”
Olivia blinked, trying to see Peter through the haze in her mind. “I... I don’t know,” she answered. Her thoughts felt like they had trainwrecked into a twisted pile. She tried to pick her way through them carefully. “You’re from here. Even without Walter being...”
Peter looked down. “Yeah,” he muttered. “Even without Walter being crazy, I’d still glimmer on the other side.”
“No, that’s not it,” Olivia protested. “Wouldn’t you want to stay here?”
Peter’s head snapped back up. “Why would I want to stay here?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Olivia answered. “Don’t you?”
He was silent for a moment. “I don’t know,” he said quietly.
Peter stared at her. Olivia had no idea what to do.
Peter carefully moved forward and put his hands on her shoulders. “I don’t want to hurt anybody,” he told her. “It’s not safe for any of us if I’m on the other side, but it might be worse to stay here where I’m an easy target. I’ve got nothing but bad choices, ‘Livia.”
He slid his hands down her arms and tangled their fingers together. It wasn’t the first time their skin had touched since Olivia had seen the glimmer, but she was still surprised that it didn’t feel weird or wrong or painful. It actually felt perfectly normal, strong and warm like all of Peter’s small touches.
“I know I’ve screwed up before,” he continued. “But you are the only part of my life that I’m certain of any more. And I know that last night changed things between us, but I’m on your side, no matter where else I have to be.”
Their bodies were almost touching, and Olivia could feel the heat coming off of him. “This is all so messed up,” she whispered.
“Tell me about it.”
There were a million things making her absolutely terrified, but she met him halfway when he leaned forward to kiss her. There was nothing left to protect by saying no, only something to be created by saying yes, and when they connected they took on the burden of every potential.
Peter was careful with the kiss, something Olivia guessed wasn’t normally his style. He kept their hands down at their sides, and he didn’t let their torsos touch. They were almost holding still, as if trying to stay in this first moment for as long as possible.
Olivia was the one to move first. She leaned into Peter, deepening the kiss, tasting the sweet salt of his lips. She let go of his fingers and wrapped her arms around his waist, pressing her hands against the middle of his back to keep him with her. Peter brought his hands up to cup her face, reciprocating her increased intensity.
It was dizzying, the way he kissed her. The mixture of desire and certainty was something Olivia had never felt before. Peter wanted her. He wanted her so completely that it didn’t matter that they could end the world. Olivia let herself float in the realization.
They broke apart after a while to catch their breath. There were so many things Olivia wanted to say, but she had never been good at that. She was glad when Peter spoke first.
“Hey,” he whispered.
“Hey,” she echoed.
“You didn’t say no,” he murmured with a smile.
“I didn’t want to,” Olivia answered.
“Good. I hope you don’t change your mind.” And then his lips were on hers again. He moved his hands to tilt her head back, and her mouth opened to his tongue, desperate and hot.
A noise escaped Olivia’s throat, part moan and part exclamation of surprise. Her face flushed in embarrassed pleasure, and she tried to make up for it by pulling the hem of Peter’s shirt out from the waist of his jeans and running her hands over the muscles of his back. He pulled away from her long enough to yank his sweater over his head, and when they came back together, she went to work on the buttons of his shirt, eager to get that off him, too.
Once he was naked from the waist up, Peter tugged at the bottom of Olivia’s t-shirt. She held her arms up so that he could pull it off. Tossing it aside, he leaned back and looked at her body. He’d seen her in her underwear before, but the dangerous experiments being conducted on those occasions had seemed to be his focus. Now he was examining every part of her he could see, and Olivia was suddenly conscious of the details of her form, like the dip of her navel and the way her ribcage moved as she breathed.
“I wish I could see it,” Peter said.
It took a second for Olivia to realize what he was talking about. “The glimmer?” she asked, even more self-conscious now.
“Yeah.” He took each of her hands in one of his and pulled the fingerless gloves off simultaneously, letting them fall. “I wish I could see how we fit together.”
“Well, I guess you’ll just have to feel it, instead,” Olivia replied.
Peter smiled. “I’m good with that,” he said, then kissed her again.
They moved slowly towards the bed, kissing and fumbling with their remaining clothes as they went. Olivia tossed her gun onto Peter’s coat in the corner, then undid the complicated system of buttons and clasps on her trousers. Peter had an easier time with his jeans, but stumbled once they were around his ankles. Olivia might have giggled if she’d been able to get enough breath to do so.
When they reached the bed, Peter pulled the suitcase to the floor, where it landed with a loud thud. He then threw the pile of clothes intended for him on top of it while Olivia shimmied out of her underwear. Peter kicked his jeans and boxers out of the way and grabbed Olivia, one hand behind her head and one hand behind her knees, causing her to shout in surprise and fall gently onto the mattress. He climbed on top of her, straddling her hips, and she could feel his erection against her lower stomach, causing her to shiver in anticipation.
He bent down to kiss her neck, right under her ear, then nipped at the lobe, making her hiss in a sharp gasp. “You’re incredible, ’Livia,” he whispered.
Olivia searched desperately for something to say back to him, but nothing felt right. What could she say? You fascinate me? I wish I had half of your confidence and resilience? You’re always there to help me? I need you in ways I don’t understand? Olivia had spent so much of her life not letting herself need anybody that she had no idea how to deal with or describe what she felt now.
But Peter didn’t seem to need a reply—he simply continued to kiss his way down her neck, stopping first to lick her pulse point, then suck on a spot just below her collarbone. Olivia was grateful for his understanding.
Peter’s mouth reached her right breast, and Olivia moaned out loud. He circled her nipple with his tongue, then used it to flick the hardened nub back and forth. Little jolts of sensation shot through Olivia’s body with each flick. He moved to her other breast, giving it a similar treatment, and Olivia began to squirm under him. Recognizing her need and impatience, Peter rolled off her, propped himself up on his right elbow, and looked into her eyes. His left hand drifted down her stomach, tickling her lightly. Olivia opened her legs as he reached the curls of hair that covered his goal. His fingers skimmed easily over the newly-exposed area and found her wet and swollen.
Peter’s eyes lost focus as he fondled her. He dipped two fingers briefly inside her to coat them, then moved them upwards to stroke back and forth over her clit. The muscles in Olivia’s legs and stomach tightened at the feeling. “Oh, god,” she breathed.
“You like that?” Peter asked with an indulgent smirk, not stopping. Olivia nodded, not trusting her voice just then. “Good,” he replied. “But, just so you know, it’s not the only trick in my book.”
Olivia was panting for air. “Peter,” she gasped between breaths. “Peter-” She needed to get his attention. She needed to let him know that he was having much more of an effect on her than he probably realized. She needed him to stop teasing and just fuck her already.
Finally, he stopped. Olivia pulled him to her, kissing him hungrily. She rolled slightly, throwing her right leg over him and using her foot to nudge him to get back on top of her. He obliged, breaking the kiss and positioning himself between her legs. He looked down at her, spread and ready, and gave a low “Mmm” of appreciation.
He guided himself into her carefully, stopping once he was all the way in. Olivia took advantage of the pause to try to calm down her heartbeat. She was only a bit successful. Peter leaned forward to kiss her, and Olivia wrapped her legs around his waist.
“Christ,” he breathed. Olivia smiled and clenched herself around him, earning a choked cry from Peter. “That’s not fair,” he joked once he’d recovered.
“All’s fair in love and war,” Olivia quoted, then winced when she realized what she’d said. Peter winced, too.
They were silent a moment.
When Peter pulled back to start moving, it caught Olivia by surprise, and she gasped again. That seemed to be the kind of encouragement he needed, though, and he thrust into her enthusiastically, the awkward moment before forgotten.
They found a rhythm easily. Peter wasn’t quiet, so Olivia didn’t bother trying to stop her own noises. The sounds of their bodies filled the misty green room—their breathing, their voices, their hearts, the slick noises as they moved together and apart. It was a hedonistic arrangement, increasing in tempo as they went.
Olivia recognized it when Peter gasped and shifted, grabbing her by the ass and angling her upwards so he hit her just right. She let herself go, let the pressure inside her build, so that when Peter shouted and came inside her, pulsing and twitching, she was able to follow, arching her back with a scream.
Once Olivia had come down, she noticed that Peter had moved to lying beside her. She rolled over to look at him. He looked happy but exhausted. How long had it been since he’d slept? Twenty-four hours? Being hypnotized didn’t count.
“Hey,” he said drowsily.
“Hey,” she replied. She leaned over and kissed him softly. “Sleep,” she told him. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”
He nodded and closed his eyes.
Nina woke up to the warble of her phone and the grey of early dawn outside the window of her Boston hotel room. She reached out with her bare robotic arm and picked up her cell from the bedside table, touching the screen to answer the call.
“It’s Brandon,” came the voice on the other end. “Sorry to wake you up.”
“I asked you to,” Nina reminded him.
“Yeah, but, still,” he said. “What with you travelling last night, and dealing with the FBI, and Dr. Bishop being-”
“Do you have anything for me?” she cut in.
“Oh. Yeah,” he answered, and gave a little cough. “Sorry.”
Nina sat up and leaned against the headboard of her bed. “What were you able to get from the training device?” she asked.
“It’s pretty standard at first glance,” Brandon told her. “Our machines got the same readings from this one as from the other devices. But I figured that as long as I was going to drag my butt in at one in the morning, I might as well try something besides the obvious.”
“So, yeah, I broadened the scope of the tests, trying to see if this device did something else, maybe. And I found something—sound.”
“Sound?” Nina repeated. “What kind of sound?”
The excitement was obvious in Brandon’s voice as he spoke. “A high-pitched pulse, nothing anyone would be able to hear. What’s cool about it, though, is that it was transmitting a message in Morse code.”
Nina tilted her head in confusion. “What did the message say?” she asked.
“‘Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.’” Brandon quoted. “A quick search informs me that this is Proverbs 22:6.”
This did not sit well with Nina. “Oh, dear,” she said. “He thinks he’s got Peter, that it’s inevitable.”
“Sounds like,” Brandon replied.
“That man’s crazy.”
Brandon sighed. “What do you want me to do?” he asked.
Nina considered that for a moment. “Upload all the results from this device only to the public server, including the message. Dr. Bishop’s a smart man, it’s time he had some cards to play with.”
Peter bolted upright in bed, suddenly alert and on edge. Something was wrong. Where was he? What was going on? Suddenly, he was hit by a wave of dizziness as memories of similar questions and panic bounced around his brain, like reflections from two mirrors facing each other. He gasped and squeezed his eyes shut against the sensation. What the hell?
“Hey, hey, it’s alright,” he heard Olivia say. “You’re alright.”
Shaking his head to clear it, Peter exhaled sharply and opened his eyes. The dizziness abated as he focused his vision on the ivy vine comforter. He recognized it, and he groaned as he remembered where he was and why he was there.
“Oh, man,” he muttered.
Olivia touched his forehead and ran her hand back over his hair. “Sorry,” she said, quieter now. “I didn’t want to wake you, but the Brandon from this side is here, and he wants to talk to both of us.”
Peter rubbed a hand across his face. “What time is it?” he asked.
“Half past noon. You’ve been asleep for about two hours.”
“Great,” Peter sighed. But then he looked up at Olivia, and he couldn’t help but feel just a little bit stupidly happy. He smiled at her, and she smiled back. “I’ll be ready in a minute,” he told her.
“Okay,” she replied. “I’ll see you downstairs.”
Once Olivia left, Peter dressed quickly in the clothes she had set aside for him earlier. Only slept together once and already she’s picking out clothes, Peter thought. Then he reminded himself that it was pointless to make jokes when there was no one else around to distract. He tidied the room a bit, feeling some belated guilt at having used a stranger’s house as he had. He stopped to use the bathroom and wished he had time for a shower. Since he didn’t, though, he headed downstairs.
He followed the sound of voices to the kitchen and found Olivia and Brandon sitting at a small round table next to a pair of sliding doors that lead to what had once been a backyard. They stopped their conversation when Peter entered.
“Hey,” Brandon greeted him, smiling. He gestured to a cardboard box on the table, flanked by a couple of paper cups. “I stopped at Dunkin Donuts. Brought you some coffee and muffins.” Peter came closer and saw that Olivia had a plate in front of her with a muffin that looked more crumbled than eaten. Brandon had a plate with two empty muffin wrappers on it.
This was beyond surreal.
“Hello, Brandon. I’m Peter Bishop. I don’t believe we’ve met.”
“Oh! Sorry,” Brandon said, looking awkward. “I would have introduced myself, it’s just that I know we’ve met on the other side, and Dr. Bell was worried about you maybe being freaked out, so I was just trying to play it cool for your sake.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Peter said, taking pity on him. “I’m about as freaked out as I can get.”
“Okay,” Brandon said, nodding. “I’m gonna assume that’s a good thing, because I have some freaky stuff to talk to you about.”
This caught Peter off-guard. He looked briefly to Olivia, then back at Brandon. “What?” he asked. “I thought you were just going to help us get back to the other side.”
“Yeah, I am, but things with you are a little more complicated than normal,” Brandon told him.
“Well, opening a door between universes the normal way is kind of a big production,” he explained, “and we don’t want to be that conspicuous.” He was talking quickly, and Peter had to focus to keep up. “So Agent Dunham has to be the one to get you guys back, but having her take both of you is risky with her limited training. I mean, I was floored at how you guys made it over here, that was awesome, but it could totally kill you next time.”
Olivia winced slightly at that.
“Okay, then,” Peter said slowly. He crossed his arms and leaned against the kitchen counter beside him, settling in for what was likely to be a long conversation. “So how do we keep the trip from killing us?”
Brandon turned to speak directly to Olivia. “We’ve gotta enhance your abilities,” he told her. “Buff you up a little.”
Peter was immediately wary. “How?” he asked. “With Cortexiphan?”
Brandon looked back at him. “For starters, yeah. We’ll use other substances, too, and there are environmental conditions that will help.”
The wariness increased. “That doesn’t sound-”
“It’s ok,” Olivia interrupted. Peter looked at her, but stopped short of saying anything when he saw the expression on her face. It was one of grim determination that he’d seen before, usually before Olivia did something dangerous. “I’ll do it,” she said.
“Olivia,” he started.
“It’s nothing I haven’t done before,” she insisted, tilting her chin up.
“And it was a bad idea then, too,” Peter persisted.
“We don’t have a choice, Peter.”
“We’ll find another way!”
Their disagreement was interrupted then by Brandon’s laughter. Peter and Olivia both turned to look at him in bewilderment, and he stopped abruptly, red in the face.
“Sorry,” he said, still smiling. “But this is kind of ridiculously cool. You guys have been living on the other side, so it makes sense that you don’t really get what’s going on, but, to me, this is like watching Batman and Superman arguing over who’s going to save the day.”
Peter gaped at him. Olivia closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead.
But something caught in Peter’s mind. “Wait,” he said. “What do you mean, we don’t really get what’s going on?”
The smile fell off Brandon’s face. “Uh, yeah,” he stammered. “That’s the other freaky thing we have to talk about.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Peter muttered.
“No, it’s alright,” Brandon insisted, holding his hands up in a placating gesture. “It’s actually not even that freaky for you guys, probably. It’s just that Massive Dynamic, even as huge as it is, doesn’t have control over everything, so some of the environmental conditions will have to come from, uh, other sources.”
Olivia gave Brandon an incredulous look. “The umbrella corporation for four of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies has to outsource its drugs?” she asked.
He shook his head in response. “Not drugs,” he said.
Brandon looked uncertain. “It’s hard to explain,” he said. He leaned towards Olivia. “You are unique,” he told her. “Completely unique.” He glanced at Peter. “You both are. Some of this was done on purpose and some of it happened by accident, but when your uniqueness became obvious, others tried to reproduce the results you’d manifested. It was like a race—they were trying to get everything figured out before you realized what you’re capable of.”
“And Massive Dynamic wasn’t one of the racers?” Peter asked sardonically.
“No,” Brandon replied. “Dr. Bell was adamant about that. We just kept tabs on the progress. Nobody got it right, but one person came close, and their work is the best bet for getting you back to the other side in one piece.”
“Who?” Olivia demanded. “Newton? ZFT?”
Brandon seemed troubled by Olivia’s sudden intensity. “Newton’s just a soldier,” he explained. “A General, but still a soldier. You need to talk to the person in charge.”
“The person in charge of ZFT has just graciously agreed to help us?” Olivia pressed, obviously unhappy now.
“Uh, yeah, I guess,” Brandon stammered. “It’s kind of a long story.” Peter almost felt sorry for him for being subjected to Olivia’s interrogation, but he was tired of not knowing what the hell was going on.
“Shorten it,” Olivia told him. “Who is it and why are they helping us?”
“Like I said, this probably isn’t even that freaky for you guys.” Brandon glanced back and forth between Olivia and Peter, settling on the person without the gun. “Your father is the one who can help you,” he told Peter.
There was a beat of silence, and then Olivia uttered a string of curses she probably hadn’t used since her military days. Peter didn’t really notice, though. He didn’t really notice anything aside from the white rage building inside him.
“That son of a bitch,” he growled. “That manipulative, selfish bastard. He set this up! That’s why Derek Marshal wasn’t on the bridge when we came through—Walter wanted us to come to him. He wanted to have something to bargain with!”
“Well, that and Derek likes to show off,” Brandon commented. “He probably loved pulling a Houdini on you.”
Olivia shot him a look that was equal parts confusion and anger, and he turned red again.
“Wait,” Peter said. “Bell knew about this, didn’t he? That Walter would have to help us? Hell, he knew about everything, and it was all about my father. How could Bell let him go this far?”
Brandon sighed. “Look, man, I’m just the tech geek,” he said. “And, yeah, I’m on Dr. Bell’s side, but even if I tell you why, it won’t make a difference to the situation you’re in, so you can either go see Dr. Bishop or not, up to you.”
“Peter...” Olivia said. He looked at her and saw that the determined expression was gone, replaced by one of compassion. She wasn’t going to force him. The decision was up to him.
“Fine,” he declared. “I’ll go see him. And hopefully, while I’m there, I’ll get the chance to kill him and stop this insanity.” He looked at Brandon. “When do we leave?”
Astrid was on her third cup of coffee of the morning. She didn’t usually drink so much of the stuff, but the previous night had not been terribly restful, to say the least. After talking with Broyles and Nina, Walter had gotten another burst of energy and insisted that they go to the lab immediately to wait for results from the tests being done on the black disc. Astrid had tried to explain that it would take a couple of hours for it to even get back to New York, but Walter didn’t care, so off they went.
Once they’d gotten to Harvard—and Astrid had logged in to Massive Dynamic’s public server to prove that there were no results yet—Walter had busied himself by setting up an assortment of electrical equipment, spending hours fine-tuning machines that Astrid was fairly certain were older than she was. By the time one a.m. rolled around, it seemed unlikely that Walter would hurt himself or burn the place to the ground, so Astrid decided to crash on the couch.
She was awake by six-thirty, of course, and with a horrible headache. Thankfully, she knew where Olivia kept her pain killers—top drawer of the desk in the back office. She had to wake Walter up to get at them, though, and even though she was glad he’d fallen asleep at the desk, rather than surrounded by machines of dubious safety, she was not so happy to have him go right back into manic overdrive. He’d spent the past hour tweaking his equipment and ranting about how he should have been the one allowed to examine the device because whatever flunky Massive Dynamic had gotten to do it surely couldn’t have his qualifications.
Astrid rubbed her temples. The headache medication wasn’t doing enough for her. She wanted to tell Walter to stop his diatribe, but she knew that she’d have no effect—he was too worried to calm down, and he felt too guilty to just let Massive Dynamic do their job. She was enormously relieved when the computer gave a loud beep.
“Oh!” Walter exclaimed, moving towards the machine. “Astrid! The results have arrived! Come look!”
Astrid got up from the couch and manoeuvred through the lab to where Walter was staring at the monitor. “What do they say?” she asked him.
He frowned at the results. “Well, this is unusual,” he said.
Walter turned to look at her with a perplexed expression. “The device is an electromagnet. It creates a small magnetic field when activated.”
“Okay,” Astrid said. “What’s so unusual about that?”
“The magnetic field appears to be... reactive, for lack of a better term,” he told her.
“Reactive?” she echoed. “What’s it reacting with?”
“That’s the unusual part,” Walter said. “It’s reacting with other magnetic fields.”
“Like how the same end of two magnets won’t stick together?” Astrid questioned.
“No, no, quite the opposite. Allow me to demonstrate,” Walter said, dashing off. Astrid followed, hoping the electrical equipment wouldn’t be involved in the demonstration.
Luckily, Walter went into the back office. On the wall was a metal message board, from which he pulled two red magnets. He held them up in front of Astrid.
“You see, magnetic fields are directional. Depending on the orientation of the poles, magnets will either repulse or attract each other.” He moved the red magnets away and towards each other as he spoke. “Opposite poles attract because each pole is pulled into the magnetic field of the other.”
“I know this, Walter,” Astrid reminded him.
“Yes, of course,” he said, waving his hand dismissively. “My point is that none of these laws apply to the magnetic field produced by the device.”
“What?” Astrid asked, confused. “If those laws don’t apply, then how is that magnetic field reacting with other fields?”
“That’s just it—the tests couldn’t tell us that.” Walter stuck the magnets back on the message board and hurried back to the computer, talking as he went. “All they were able to do was measure what happened to other fields, not how it happened.” He grabbed the mouse when he got to the machine and made a couple clicks. He pointed to the monitor.
“This is a diagram of a normal magnetic field,” Walter said. Astrid leaned over to get a proper look. The diagram was an odd design of organized-looking circles. It made her think of hypnotism. Walter clicked again, and another image came up. “And this is the diagram of a magnetic field that has come into contact with the one produced by the device.”
This picture was different. It was still comprised of circles, but the lines were divided into a multitude of small dashes, giving the image the overall impression of static on a television screen. “It looks broken,” Astrid commented.
Walter frowned. “I had been hoping to recreate the effect of the device using my own equipment,” he said. “But it would take far too long to decipher how it works.” He sighed and began to walk morosely away from Astrid.
She watched him with disappointment. “They can’t all be rice and plastic army men,” she commented, hoping to cheer him up with the memory.
“That one was particularly concise, wasn’t it?” Walter mused. “The poor fellow was swallowed up by an error of perception. Very thought-pro-... Oh. Oh, my.”
Astrid looked up. Walter was staring off into space, his eyes wide. “What?” she asked. “Walter? What happened?”
He looked back at her. “You said it looked broken,” he said slowly.
“Yes, yes, the picture.” Walter turned in a half circle, looking for something. He spotted it and hurried to the corner of the room, near the stairs to the storage room. He dug through one of the boxes that had contained some of the equipment he’d set up the previous night. Grabbing something from inside, he made his way back to Astrid.
“It’s not broken!” he exclaimed. He held out his hand, displaying one of the styrofoam peanuts his equipment had been packed in. He then closed his hand into a fist, crushing the small piece of foam. “It’s just not as solid as we thought!” he explained, shaking his fist victoriously at Astrid.
“The picture?” Astrid repeated, even though she knew it was pointless to try to be funny when Walter was like this.
“The magnetic field!” he replied excitedly. “The device made it visibly porous!”
“Walter, magnetic fields don’t have mass,” Astrid countered. She may not have been a physicist, but she knew that much.
This didn’t seem to bother Walter, though. “Of course not,” he said, gesturing with his hands as he spoke. The remains of the peanut went flying. “Magnetic fields are an organizational system for mass. They’re also one of the ways in which the laws of the universe manifest, and those laws are determined by the nature of the fundamental components—the building blocks, if you will—of reality.”
“Okay,” Astrid said. “But how does that explain the one magnetic field being porous?”
“The magnetic field emitted by the device perforated it! The laws that govern it must be different than the laws that govern normal magnetic fields, which means that the device itself must be fundamentally different than normal electromagnets. It is my hypothesis that the device is made of material from the other universe, and that the incompatibility of objects from one universe within another—the same thing that allowed Agent Dunham to see the glimmer—caused the electromagnetic field it produced to react with normal fields.”
This was a bit much for Astrid to wrap her head around at once. “Wait,” she said. “You’re saying that the device found on the bridge is from the alternate universe?”
“Yes,” Walter confirmed. “Or, at least its internal components are. It’s possible the exterior casing may be from this world in order to camouflage the glimmer.”
“And the electromagnetic field it produced did what, exactly? Tore up a field from this universe?”
“Not exactly. It probably did damage the other field, but not in such as way as to affect its function.” Walter squeezed his eyes shut, obviously trying to concentrate. “It’s like that children’s game,” he said. “The one with the tower made out of wooden blocks that you remove.”
Astrid blinked. “Jenga?” she asked incredulously.
“Yes!” Walter exclaimed as his eyes flew open again. “Even though blocks are removed from the tower—even though the tower is damaged, in a way—it remains standing. The only difference is that, after the blocks have been removed, the tower can be seen through!”
“So the device creates a magnetic field that makes other magnetic fields see-through,” Astrid stated to confirm.
She gave Walter another confused look. “Ok,” she allowed. “But what does that tell us? What can you see when you look through a magnetic field?”
“You’re forgetting, my dear,” Walter reminded her, “that a magnetic field is a manifestation of the laws of the universe. It is a form of reality.”
“So you’re saying that this device makes reality see-through?”
“For those who can perceive so, yes.”
Astrid almost didn’t dare to ask her next question—she was worried she already knew the answer. “What can you see when you look through reality?”
Walter grinned maniacally and, in a dramatic whisper, declared “The other side.”
Yup, that was the answer she’d been worried about. Walter didn’t seem worried, though. In fact, he looked absolutely thrilled. He doesn’t get it, Astrid though. He won’t let himself get it. Abruptly, exhaustion caught up with her. She slouched over, bringing her hand to her face to cover her eyes. The coffee in her stomach felt like battery acid.
“Oh, god,” she breathed. This was not good.
“Are you alright, dear?” Walter asked, sounding rather befuddled by her sudden change in demeanour.
“No, Walter,” she told him.
“Well, why not?”
She lowered her hand and looked at him, both slightly perplexed and slightly annoyed with him. It wouldn’t be fun to burst his bubble of sub-conscious denial. “Because I’m worried about why Olivia and Peter went to the other side.”
Walter stilled, his face frozen in its expression of confused concern. He didn’t speak. Gradually, understanding crept into his eyes and a look of terror overcame him.
“She told him,” he whispered. “I asked her not to, and she told him. How dare she?”
“You mean Olivia?” Astrid questioned.
“How dare she?!” Water screamed suddenly, causing Astrid to jump a little in surprise.
“Walter!” she shouted, bewildered. “What are you yelling about?”
“Agent Dunham!” he roared. “She told Peter that he’s from the other universe, and now they’ve both gone back and left me!”
“Walter, no,” Astrid told him. “Whatever happened, I’m sure they didn’t leave you on purpose.” He looked at her in response to this, so she kept talking in the hopes she could calm him down. “This happened in the middle of a highway, remember? And there was someone else there, Derek Marshal, and he probably brought the device. This wasn’t about you.”
The fury drained from Walter as she spoke, leaving dejection in its place. After a moment, he nodded weakly. “Yes, I suppose you’re right,” he said. Astrid was almost glad for a moment, but then Walter added, “However, the notion that they were kidnapped or otherwise forced to cross over is no better.”
Damnit, Astrid though, and her stomach gave another churn.
Walter walked around Astrid to the computer, which was still displaying the picture of the altered magnetic field. “Fat lot of good understanding did us,” he muttered. He put his hand over the mouse and closed the image, then walked away again. The computer went back to displaying the summary of the results.
Astrid sighed and gazed at the screen in defeat. “I should call Broyles,” she said. “Tell him what we’ve found out.” She turned to properly face the computer so that she could read the way the report explained the device, but then noticed something else on the screen. “What’s this here?” she asked. There was a paragraph near the bottom of the report, past the links to the diagrams, which was different than the rest. She read it curiously.
“Walter, listen to this,” she called. “The report says something else. It says that the device was also producing a high-pitched noise.”
“Noise?” Walter asked, perking up slightly.
“Yeah, it says that it was transmitting a message in Morse code,” Astrid read.
Walter hurried back over to her. “What kind of message?”
“It’s from Proverbs 22:6,” Astrid told him. “It says ‘Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.’” She frowned, considering the implications of that. If it referred to Peter... “That doesn’t sound good,” she said.
“No,” Walter breathed, and Astrid could tell he was thinking along similar lines as her. “It certainly does not.”
Broyles balanced the coffee tray on top of the files in his right hand so that he could knock on the door to Nina’s hotel room. The security protocol for the penthouse suite had required that his arrival be announced before he was allowed to go up to see her, so the door was answered promptly.
“Good morning, Philip,” Nina greeted him. She was already showered and dressed. In their long history of dealing with each other, Broyles had only ever seen Nina Sharp looking less than perfectly put together on a few rare occasions. Those had been interesting times.
He nodded at her and held out one of the coffee cups. “Double cappuccino, dry.”
“You know me too well,” she replied with a smile, accepting the cup. She gestured for him to enter, so he did, looking around. The suite was elegant and tastefully decorated, but the impersonal facade that denoted hotel couldn’t be escaped.
“You have results on the device?” Broyles asked as Nina closed the door. There was no point in exchanging pleasantries with her, especially now.
“I do,” she said. “I’m not sure what course of action they might suggest, though. Sit down and we’ll talk.”
Broyles sighed. It already felt like a long day.
Peter’s jaw was tight as Brandon drove down the coast to Walter’s beach house. They’d been on the road for an hour and a half, and the agitation in the car had been growing steadily the whole time. Olivia had spent the trip staring out the window and absently fiddling with her gloves. Every now and then, she’d narrow her eyes at something or glance at Peter, but she never said anything. Brandon had tried talking at first, but he’d lapsed into silence when his ramblings had been met with no response but hard looks. Peter almost felt bad for the way he was acting, but this just wasn’t the time for pointless chatter.
Being quiet was something Peter was good at. Being able to be quiet was just as important as being able to talk. Silence was a form of self-preservation, a way of showing respect for others, the best method for taking things in. Talk was a way of engaging people, of distracting them, of giving to them. Right now, though, he was focused on what was about to happen, and he had a hard time making room for other people. Olivia was beside him, and he didn’t need to say anything or hold her hand to know that.
The car pulled up in front of the beach house. Peter could hardly believe that Walter still used this place. As he got out of the car, he noted that the house wasn’t boarded up like the one he’d been to less than a year ago. It looked to be in good repair—fresh paint, flower boxes, a screened-in porch. It was unsettlingly quaint.
He headed towards the front door with Olivia, Brandon trailing behind. It felt odd to ring the doorbell to what should have been his own house, but he decided that barging in wouldn’t be the best plan. There were footsteps on the hardwood as someone approached, then the sound of the lock being turned. The door opened to reveal Derek Marshal on the other side.
“Hey, guys!” he greeted them cheerfully. “Come in. You’re right on time.” He stepped aside, allowing them to enter. Olivia stared at him as she passed, but he did not return her look. “Hey, Brandon!” Derek said when he saw him. “Good to see you, man!”
“Uh, yeah,” Brandon replied with an unmistakable hint of annoyance. How ironic, Peter thought.
Once they’d all entered, Derek locked the door behind them, then turned to walk through the house. “He’s just upstairs,” he said over his shoulder. “Follow me.”
They headed up the narrow staircase in a line, the steps creaking with their weight. There were no lights on, and the shadows felt eerie and unfamiliar. At the top of the stairs, Derek led them to the first door on the right, to the room that used to be Peter’s. He pulled open the door without knocking and held it open for them to pass through first.
The room was nothing like Peter remembered. Instead of bedroom furniture, there were tables all along the walls, covered with various types of lab equipment. The window was bare, letting in the grey light of the weak, cloud-covered February sun. In the middle of the room sat a chair and an IV stand. The chair was similar to the one in the Harvard lab, with a headrest and straps to hold down the occupant. It made Peter’s stomach uneasy.
However, the majority of his attention was on the man standing behind the chair. This universe’s Walter looked surprisingly like the one he’d left last night. Considering their different histories, Peter had been expecting more to distinguish them physically. But, no, the stomach paunch was there, along with the greying curly hair, the lined face, and the white lab coat. Peter briefly wondered if this was a trick—if they’d gotten to the other Walter, too—but he dismissed the notion when he saw how this man looked at him. There was sadness in his expression, and a kind of joy, but, mostly, there was victory.
“Hello, son,” Walter said.
“Hello, Walter,” Peter replied.
He walked around the chair towards Peter and Olivia. “I’m glad to see you.”
“I’m sure you are.”
“I understand you’ve been talking to people,” Walter said. He hadn’t yet so much as glanced at anybody other than Peter. “Been getting the lay of the land, so to speak. Belly told you the sad tale of how I lost you, and how that drove me to desperation?”
Peter grimaced. “Something like that,” he said.
“He’s always had a sentimental take on things, yes.” An ironic smile crept into his expression. “I’d give you a hug if I thought you believed that was all there was to the story.”
There was no room to back up, so Peter settled for crossing his arms over his chest in a show of opposition. Behind him, he could hear Olivia’s tense breathing.
“Indeed, there was more,” Walter said quietly. “I lost you when you were seven years old. An event like that isn’t something that merely happens. It defined me. It defined me so absolutely that it split my life in two. Whatever I was on my way towards, whatever greatness I could have achieved, I sacrificed trying to get you back. But when I found I was too late to simply take you back, I knew I’d have to earn your trust again, and that inspired me to a new kind of greatness.”
“That’s what you call what you’re doing?” Peter asked bitterly. “Greatness? You’re responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people, for the death of a friend of ours.”
“Only in an effort to preserve this world,” Walter countered. “Your absence has changed things. I’ve had to act first to ensure that we wouldn’t be hurt. Surely you of all people can understand that logic.”
Peter gave him an unimpressed look. “You’re trying to preserve this world, huh? Well, you’re doing a hell of a job so far. By the way, I love the empty flower boxes out front.”
Walter gave a broad smile. “You’re right. This side isn’t faring so well. But that’s where you come in, son. You’ve been talking to someone about that, too.”
“Right,” Peter replied. “The Observer who says you’re his friend and I’m capable of destroying an entire universe.”
Walter took a step forward, holding his palms out to Peter as he spoke. “You’re capable of being the saviour of this universe,” he explained. “There’s no right and wrong side in this war. We’re not working to destroy others, we’re working to save ourselves.”
“That’s what you told your followers?” Peter charged. “You sold people like Newton—people like Derek, here—on the notion that you’re achieving greatness and protecting yourselves? That’s why your ZFT cult is full of such morally upstanding individuals?”
“The manifesto prophesizes a war, not an outcome,” Walter insisted.
“It also has a chapter of ethics. One I suspect you had removed in both universes so that you could justify your actions as nothing the other side wouldn’t do.”
“Dude,” Derek interrupted.
Peter turned to look at him incredulously. “Did you just call medude?” he asked.
“Of course,” he replied, smiling. To his right, Brandon gave an exaggerated eye roll. “But what I was going to say is that, while I do believe in Walter, I’d rather fight this war with you.”
Olivia brought her hand up to rub her face. Peter couldn’t tell if she was just exasperated or if she was in pain. He managed to catch her eye, though, and she explained in a low voice. “He glimmers on this side, too.”
“What?” Peter questioned. He whirled back around to face Walter, and was unsurprised to see that he managed to look guilty, but not remorseful.
“Derek has become very important to me,” Walter stated calmly. “When I realized that getting you back would take time, I knew that I would need to continue my work in the meantime. I chose Derek because he was the ideal age for Cortexiphan treatments and because he would blend in on the other side. Since, then, though, he has developed many useful abilities, not the least of which is his skill for staying in this universe for extended periods of time with no ill effects to himself.”
Peter glared furiously. “Your plan for getting me back involved replacing me?” he accused.
“I’m not your replacement,” Derek interjected with a slight laugh, causing Peter to turn back to him. Why the hell did the kid look so happy? “I’m your sidekick. Your co-pilot! What I can’t do, you can, and what you can’t do, I can.”
“My sidekick?” Peter repeated dubiously. “Seriously? You want us to be, what, like Batman and Robin?”
“Yeah, exactly!” Derek replied.
Peter looked at Olivia. “I guess I really am Batman,” he muttered bitterly.
“That would make me Superman, then,” she said, glaring at Derek.
“Indeed you are,” Walter said. Everyone turned to face him again. “Your abilities were repressed for decades, but the ease with which you’ve been regaining them—and managing them—suggests that you have the potential to transcend what even I could teach you.”
“Well, too bad I don’t have somebody to build a universe-destroying weapon for me to use,” Olivia retorted.
“Actually, dear, you’d be better suited to defending against such a weapon,” Walter corrected. “What Peter is cannot be taught or induced. Conversely, it would be unwise of him to attempt to learn the things you do.” He gave an almost wistful sigh. “How marvellous that you two should meet up. You would be welcome to live here, Olivia, should you wish to stay with Peter.”
“Are you rescinding your offer to teach me how to get back?” she questioned icily.
“Not in the least,” he replied. “In fact, yes, let’s be getting on with that.” He stepped back and gestured for Olivia to sit in the chair. She glanced and Peter, and he put his hand on her upper arm and gave an encouraging squeeze.
She sat down carefully, as if she was unsure the chair would hold her. Brandon moved forward to prep her while Walter opened a little cabinet on one of the tables and retrieved an IV bag of Cortexiphan solution.
“I’m sorry, Agent Dunham,” Brandon said, “but you’ll have to take off your gloves and pull your sleeves up. You’ll also have to give up your gun.” Olivia nodded and did as he asked. Peter stepped forward to take her gloves and gun, putting the former in the front pocket of his jeans and tucking the latter into the back of his waistband.
“You sure you’re ok with this?” Peter asked Olivia as Brandon strapped her down.
She nodded. “Yeah.”
“I’ll be right here,” he reminded her, and she smiled a bit.
Walter came back over and hung the IV bag, then pulled an assortment of filled syringes from the pocket of his lab coat. “We’ll start you off with Cortexiphan,” he told Olivia. “Then we’ll administer a combination of drugs to induce an unrestrained state of consciousness so that you may properly access your abilities. Once those have taken effect, I will guide you through the process.”
“What are you giving her?” Peter asked, eyeing the syringes.
“Don’t worry, son,” Walter replied, moving to write something down on a clipboard. “It’s nothing she hasn’t had before, though the doses are likely higher.”
Peter turned to look at Brandon, who was now inserting the IV. “Is that true?” he asked quietly.
“Probably,” Brandon said, nodding. “I don’t know what she’s had before, but this has been Dr. Bishop’s standard procedure for decades. He’s just ramping up the doses to give Agent Dunham more power.” He looked up from the IV to smile at Olivia.
“You look like you’ve done this before,” Peter commented.
“Once or twice,” he answered, his smile turning into a smirk.
“Alright,” Walter declared. “I believe we are ready to begin. Brandon, if you would please start the IV drip.”
He nodded and turned the little dial. Purple liquid flowed through the tube into Olivia’s arm.
“Close your eyes, Olivia,” Walter instructed. Instead of doing so, however, she looked at Peter, so he moved closer and put his hand over her own. “Right here,” he repeated.
She closed her eyes, and Walter began administering the other drugs.
No sooner had Broyles sat down for his discussion with Nina than his phone rang. He dug it out of his pocket, ready to silence the ringer, but he saw that the call was from the Harvard lab. He hit the talk button.
“Sir? It’s Agent Farnsworth. I’m sorry to call so early, but I think Dr. Bishop figured something out from the results Massive Dynamic got.”
Broyles adjusted his position on the sofa in Nina’s temporary living room. “That was fast,” he commented. “Can you put me on speakerphone again so that Dr. Bishop can explain the discovery himself?”
“I don’t think that would accomplish much, sir,” Astrid answered. “He’s not very responsive right now. Actually, he’s not responsive at all.”
“What happened?” he asked. “Is Dr. Bishop alright?”
“I think so,” Astrid replied, though she didn’t sound very certain. “It’s just that it was an unpleasant discovery, sir.”
Broyles sighed. “Alright. Let’s hear it.”
“First, sir, there was a lot of complicated theorizing involved, so I can only explain to a certain extent.” She gave a little huff, and Broyles got the impression this was a problem she dealt with frequently. “The test results showed that the device was an electromagnet, but that the magnetic field it created didn’t interact normally with other magnetic fields. Dr. Bishop believes that the device is from another universe, and that, because of that, the way its magnetic field reacts with normal ones makes the fabric of reality visible to people who have the perceptive abilities to see it.”
“People like Agent Dunham,” Broyles added.
“Yes, sir,” Astrid confirmed. “As best we can tell, the device allowed her to travel to the other universe with Peter and Derek Marshal.”
Broyles glanced at Nina, who seemed to be paying close attention to his conversation. William Bell was on the other side, he thought. William Bell, founder of the largest centre for innovation the world had ever seen. It could very easily have been him behind this.
“Agent Dunham’s been on the other side before,” he reminded Astrid.
“Yes, sir,” she said. “But there’s more.”
“More?” he echoed.
“There’s a message, sir,” Astrid told him. “A proverb. The device was emitting a high-pitched noise broadcasting in Morse code. It says ‘Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.’”
Broyles frowned in confusion. “You think this has something to do with the experiments conducted on Agent Dunham as a child?”
“Partly,” Astrid replied. “The ZFT manifesto discusses people like her in similar ways. But I think Dr. Bishop’s more upset by the implications this message has for Peter. Sir, this is only a hunch, but I don’t think Agent Dunham was the target of whatever happened on the bridge. I think she was a tool to get Peter to the other side.”
“Any idea why?” he asked.
“I don’t know why, exactly,” she told him. “But Dr. Bishop doesn’t seem hopeful.”
“Thank you, Agent,” Broyles said. “I have some avenues I’d like to explore. See what you can do for Dr. Bishop.”
“Yes, sir,” Astrid said. “I hope you get some answers.” She sighed, then added in a small voice, “I’m worried, sir.”
“Me, too, Agent Farnsworth,” he replied, then hung up.
Broyles put his cell phone back in his pocket and fixed Nina with a hard look. “You can forget whatever half-truth you were about to tell me,” he told her. “Instead, you can explain why one of my agents was used to bring Peter Bishop to the other universe.”
Nina’s facial expression didn’t change, but, after a moment, she gave a resigned sigh. “This was not my doing, Philip,” she said.
“Right, it was Bell’s doing. You’re just the one sent in to distract the FBI.”
“It wasn’t William’s doing, either!” Nina insisted.
“Then whose was it?” Broyles demanded.
Nina hesitated. “Are you sure you want to know this?” she asked. Broyles noted that there was no threat in her voice, just concern.
“Positive,” he told her.
She nodded. “Alright, then. This was planned and executed by Dr. Walter Bishop. In the other universe, he was never incarcerated in St. Claire’s institution, and he never worked for the Fringe Division.”
Broyles considered Nina for a moment. There were a lot of reasons why he shouldn’t believe her, but there were just as many reasons why he should. “Ok,” he decided, “I’ll go with this for now. So what has Dr. Bishop been doing on the other side?”
“Well, he’s been working to get his son back, obviously,” Nina said. “But he’s been doing so by devoting himself to making preparations for the war prophesized in the ZFT manifesto.”
“What kinds of preparations?”
“All kinds, unfortunately.” She grimaced and looked down briefly. “He made the device found on the bridge. He abducted Derek Marshal from this side and trained him in an effort to make him like Agent Dunham. He developed the technology to make soldiers. Thomas Newton is the head of his offensive regiment. And he created a unique variety of weapon. That’s what the proverb message is about—he believes that Peter’s abduction as a child and his subsequent stay in this universe have heightened an innate skill for operating these weapons.”
There was a moment of silence as Broyles took in everything Nina had said. None of it was good. “You’re telling me that Walter Bishop is the leader of ZFT on the other side?” he asked.
“Then who’s the leader in this universe?”
“There are... splinter cells here,” Nina told him. “People aware of the conflict who try to affect the outcome. But the majority of ZFT activity that goes on here is directed by either Dr. Bishop or William Bell.”
“William Bell, your boss?” Broyles clarified.
“The William Bell originally of this universe, yes.”
Broyles was surprised by how betrayed he felt at what Nina was telling him. She’d always had her own agenda, and he’d known that. There had been credible intel implicating Bell in ZFT. Who knew what he might have found out if he’d been allowed to continue his own investigation? He’d trusted Nina because he’d wanted to, because if she wasn’t his biggest ally, she was his biggest enemy. And he’d been wrong to do so.
“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t arrest you for belonging to a terrorist organization,” he said.
“Because, Philip,” she replied, “William has always been a friend of Dr. Bishop’s, even though he doesn’t condone what the man has done. The closeness that exists between them, however, allows a measure of supervision and control over Dr. Bishop’s activities. That’s why William relocated to the other side. He, I, and all of Massive Dynamic are doing everything we can to rein in ZFT.”
“By allowing him to abduct Peter?” Broyles accused, leaning forward on the sofa. “By allowing him to send shapeshifters here to kill my agents and innocent civilians?””
“We are not always as successful as we’d like to be. William did attempt to aid Agent Dunham in preventing the resurrection of Newton,” she reminded him. “And any loss of life is a deeply regrettable and unintended consequence. But there are some things we must allow to happen. Peter’s abduction is one of those things.”
Broyles glared at her. “And why is that?” he demanded.
“Peter has to make a choice,” Nina said. “And it’s not as simple as choosing between to universes or two fathers. There are things he must understand in order to be able to come to a decision. As soon as we found out that Dr. Bishop intended to abduct Peter, we implemented precautions to insure that he could not pose a threat to his son. William met with Peter and Olivia shortly after they crossed over, and they’ve been under his care the entire time. He’s preparing them to return here as soon as possible. Of paramount importance, though, has been educating Peter. Dr. Bishop and William are not the only ones with an interest in the outcome of this situation.”
Broyles cursed under his breath and rubbed hand across his eyes. “Who else does, then?” he asked.
“William was asked to facilitate a meeting with Peter for the Observer,” Nina told him. Broyles dropped his hand and stared at her in surprise. “There’s more going on here than just a mad scientist,” she continued. “More even than the fates of two universes. And, as much as we do know, we don’t know it all.”
There wasn’t much Broyles could think of to say in response to that. He couldn’t think of anything to do about it, either. A disturbing sense of powerlessness was spreading through him. He wondered absently if this was how Agent Dunham had felt when she first came back from Jacksonville.
“Is there anything that can be done?” he asked.
Nina smiled fondly at him. “If everything goes according to plan, Olivia and Peter should be returning to Dr. Bishop’s beach house sometime this afternoon. The men reporting to Newton might not be happy about this, so you’ll need to be there to insure the safety of your people.”
Broyles nodded, glad to have a task to focus on. Suddenly, though, a thought occurred to him.
“Why tell me all this now?” he asked Nina. “You could have falsified the results on the disc. Why let Dr. Bishop and Agent Farnsworth figure anything out, and why admit it all to me?”
“Because when Peter makes his choice and returns here, he and Agent Dunham will need to maximize every resource they can,” she told him. “And Dr. Bishop can be a great resource.”
The drugs had kicked in—that was obvious. The monitors showing Olivia’s vital signs all gave abnormal readings, her breathing was accelerated, and her eyes darted behind closed lids. Peter silently worried that it was a mistake to mix Cortexiphan with hallucinogens, but there was no going back now. In the corner by the door, Derek was watching the procedure with great interest.
Walter noted the monitor’s readings on his clipboard and looked up. “I believe we’re ready to begin,” he announced.
They formed a triangle around Olivia. Brandon was on her right, keeping an eye on the machines. Peter was on her left, still holding her hand. Walter stood in front of her, his hands behind his back and his expression intent.
“Olivia, this is Walter Bishop speaking,” he began. “Can you hear me? If you can hear me, say yes.”
Her small motions stilled as she seemed to focus. “Yes,” she said quietly.
“Good,” Walter replied. “It is very important that you pay close attention to my voice and what I say. Do you understand?”
“Good. I’m going to talk you through the process of accessing your abilities. This will be facilitated by the drugs in your system, but you must remember what you do so that you can repeat the process on your own. Do you think you can do that?”
“Good. Now, I want you to imagine you’re walking up a long flight of stairs. You can’t yet see what lies at the top. As you climb, you feel anticipation build. There is something of great importance at your destination. You’re approaching the last of the steps. Ten... nine... eight... seven... six... five... four... three... two... one... You arrive at the top. What do you see?”
Olivia’s eyes moved, and her eyelids twitched as though she were blinking, though her eyes were still closed. “A park,” she said after a moment.
“Describe what it looks like,” Walter instructed. He began to pace back and forth in the small space.
“It’s grey,” Olivia told him. “All the trees are dead, and there’s no grass or flowers. There are clouds in the sky.”
Peter froze. Had he told Olivia where he’d been with the Observer? He thought quickly. No, he definitely hadn’t.
“Are there any landmarks?” Walter asked.
“I can’t see any buildings,” she replied. “But there’s a bench nearby.”
“Alright,” Walter said. “Olivia, I’m going to speak about various things. As I’m speaking, I want you to wander around the park. Go wherever you wish. Interact with anything you wish. But make certain you can always hear my voice, and tell me if anything changes. Do you understand?”
“Good. You may begin wandering.”
Olivia made no response. Brandon noted something on the clipboard Walter had been holding earlier. Peter held his breath.
“The fundamental differences between universes are physical,” Walter started. “But in cases where those differences make little to no difference in terms of what is possible—cases like Earth in our two universes—it becomes choice that distinguishes one place from another. It may seem like chance in many cases. Things like the weather are often thought of as being beyond the control of humans, for instance. But if you trace the causational chain far enough back, there is always choice involved. Millennia ago, the choice was made that our two universes would interact.”
Peter watched Olivia carefully for a sign that something had happened, but nothing crossed her face. He had no idea why Walter was rambling on about the things the Observer had told him. If that’s all it took to help Olivia, Peter could have done it himself.
“Yours is a problem of perception. You were an exceptionally gifted child, and the treatments you received when you were young allowed you to retain your gifts. But new abilities build on old ones, and what you need now is not something you were ever able to do. So we must reawaken the rest of your dormant abilities that you’ve been slowly uncovering.”
“Oof!” Olivia exclaimed then. Everybody not already watching her turned at the noise.
“What is it?” Walter asked.
Olivia frowned. “I tripped on a branch on the ground. I didn’t even see it at first.”
This made Peter’s head reel slightly, and he barely heard Walter ask Olivia if she was hurt. How the hell did she wind up where I met with the Observer, he wondered.
“I’m fine,” Olivia said, still not opening her eyes. “It just startled me.”
“Good,” Walter replied. “Keep wandering, please.”
More to reassure himself than her, Peter gave Olivia’s hand a squeeze, and he was glad when she squeezed back. Brandon wrote another note.
Walter resumed pacing as he began to talk again. “The ease with which people understand things is often used as a measure of their intelligence. Those who are especially gifted are said to be able to see through things, to understand them the moment they come across them. They parse information quickly, discarding what’s irrelevant and following the implications of what’s relevant. As a man of considerable intelligence, myself, I can tell you that I understand concepts easily, but I have never seen through anything others cannot see through.”
Peter looked up to glare at Walter. This was going nowhere. He was leading them on, waiting until they were all sufficiently distracted, and then he was going to whip out a ray gun, or have Derek light the house on fire, or maybe the whole place would be stormed by soldiers from Newton’s army.
“You’re not getting anywhere,” he hissed angrily.
Walter looked at him. “Don’t worry, son,” he said quietly. “She’s almost there.”
Peter opened his mouth to question how Walter could know that, but he was cut off.
“Olivia,” Walter said at normal volume. “Turn around and tell me who’s in the park with you.”
Her eyebrows drew together briefly, but a happy expression quickly replaced her confusion. “It’s Charlie,” she said.
Peter was dumbstruck.
“Is he human, or is he a shapeshifter?” Walter asked.
“He’s human,” Olivia replied.
“How can you tell?”
She hesitated for a moment before answering. “I can just tell,” she said.
“And is he from your universe or mine?” Walter questioned.
There was another hesitation, and the happy expression fell off Olivia’s face. “He’s from your universe,” she eventually replied.
Walter nodded. “Alright. Olivia, I want you to do something. I want you to take Charlie’s hand and move through the park in such a way that the plants come alive and the sun shines. Do not wander—I want you to do this with your mind, simply by focusing on making it happen. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Olivia said. A determined expression settled into her features, and she was silent. All eyes were on her. The tension in the room ratcheted up slightly with every breath she took. Peter’s hand was firm on hers.
After a moment, Peter felt an odd sensation. It felt like something shifted somehow. He glanced around, but no one else seemed to have noticed anything. Weird, he thought.
A few seconds later, it happened again, but stronger. He startled a bit, then brought both his hands up to run through his hair in an attempt to clear his head. Halfway through the motion, though, he was struck a third time, the hardest yet, and he doubled over in shock.
The others looked away from Olivia to stare at him in confusion. “Are you alright?” Brandon asked.
Peter nodded, standing up straight again. He was about to say that he had no idea what had happened, but at that moment, Olivia spoke.
“I did it,” she said, smiling again. “I shifted through the park so that everything is alive again.”
Her choice of words caught Peter by surprise. He stilled, trapped in thought.
“Excellent, Olivia,” Walter said. “Is Charlie still with you?”
“Does he glimmer?”
Olivia’s smile faltered slightly. “Yes,” she answered.
“That’s a good thing,” Walter assured her. “It means you took him with you when you travelled between universes. Does he appear hurt or injured?”
“No, he’s fine.”
“Excellent,” Walter repeated. “Brandon, if you could you please administer counter-agents for the drugs in Agent Dunham’s system. It seems that the experiment was a success. She has broken past her mental barriers and can now move between universes at will.”
Slowly, Peter began to understand. He gazed at Walter in wonder. “I felt Olivia’s mind move,” he said.
“Quite possible,” Walter replied. “She is a part of the other universe, after all, and she made the opening between the two worlds while physically remaining here, in your universe.”
“This is part of the affinity the Observer told me I had with the other side,” Peter realized.
“Very good, son,” Walter said. “You’re beginning to understand your potential. This is how you will be able to save the world.”
And he could—Peter knew he could. He could feel how the two universes fit together, how they co-existed, that they had once been uncorrupted. The reality of what was around him, of his body and himself, was absolute, and the reality of Olivia in the chair beside him, of her actions, while different, was just as absolute. She could see both of the universes and manipulate their interaction like no one else, and he could manipulate them individually, right down to their differences, like no one else.
‘Safely interacting,’ as the Observer had put it, was only the beginning.
He looked down and saw that Olivia was properly conscious again. “Hey,” he said. “How’re you feeling?”
“Alright,” she answered, smiling. “A little hung-over, but good.”
Peter smiled back. “Is there anything you need? Water? Your gun?”
“I want to stand up. Can you get me out of these restraints?”
“Oh!” Brandon exclaimed. He had moved a few feet away after administering the counter-agents and removing the IV and various monitor pads, but now he hurried back to Olivia. “Sorry about that,” he said. “I’ll get those for you.”
Olivia thanked him. When she was free, she pushed herself up carefully, ignoring Peter’s hands, ready to catch her if she fell. She stretched her arms above her head and rolled her neck back and forth.
“You doing alright, there?” Derek asked from his spot by the door. He was smiling fondly at her.
“Yeah,” Olivia replied.
“Awesome,” he laughed. “Do I still glimmer?”
She considered him for a moment. “It’s deeper than that,” she eventually said.
Derek nodded. “Awesome,” he said again.
“Very well, then,” Walter announced. “Why don’t we give Peter and Olivia a moment to say goodbye?”
There was a beat of confusion. “Excuse me?” Olivia questioned.
“Oh, yes, I’m sorry,” Walter said. “You were recovering from the effects of the drugs while this happened. While witnessing your breakthrough, Peter came to understand how he is capable of being a help to our world. He intends to stay.”
“What?” Peter and Olivia asked at the same time.
“Well of course you do, son. You can’t think of abandoning us now that you truly know what’s at stake.”
“The hell I can’t,” Peter told him.
Walter’s expression turned confused. “But you’ve spoken with Belly,” he said. “He assured me that you would make the right decision once you understood.”
“William Bell said I would stay with you?” Peter asked.
“Yes, of course. I allowed him to see you first so that your opinion of the situation would not be clouded by any misguided antagonism you might have felt towards me for the steps I’ve had to take to protect this universe.” Walter shook his head. “Belly’s been trying to help me ever since he came here...”
Oh, crap, Peter thought. Bell’s lies were coming apart, and he wasn’t around to deal with it.
Then, as if on cue, the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it,” Derek said, then hurried out of the room. A moment later, voices could be heard downstairs, followed by footsteps as Derek and the newcomer approached the room.
William Bell entered with a serious expression on his face. “Hello, Walter,” he said.
“Belly,” Walter replied. “It seems that Peter is having some doubts about the best course of action. You promised me that you could sway him to stay with me.”
“No,” Bell corrected. “I told you he’d make the best decision. There are things that neither you nor I understand, Walter, but Peter now does.”
Peter frowned, trying to figure out how what he had learned would indicate which decision was the best. It felt like he was still missing something.
“But he has to help me if we’re to win,” Walter said. “I’ve been doing everything I can to keep this world going.”
Bell nodded. “And you have made immense advancements, my friend. Without you, this universe would succumb.”
“Then why isn’t he staying?!” Walter shouted suddenly.
“Calm down, Walter,” Bell said.
“I will not calm down!” he bellowed. “My son is abandoning me!” His eyes were wild. “You lied to me!” he screamed at Bell, then launched himself across the room to attack him.
Peter reacted on instinct, pulling Olivia’s gun from his waistband and pointing it at Walter as he tried to pass him to get to Bell. Walter froze at the sight of the weapon, then stared at Peter.
“Son?” he asked. “Son, what are you doing?”
“I can’t let you attack him, Walter.”
“So you’re going to attack me? You’re going to kill your own father?”
This missing piece fell into place. Peter had three choices. The first was to kill Walter now and let this universe die. The second was to agree to help Walter and cause the death of the other universe. Neither of these choices appealed to him. The immense amount of death and destruction either would entail made him feel dizzy. More than that, though, Peter felt that the understanding he had reached about his ability to deal with two distinct universes equally well had not happened so that he could decide to destroy one of those universes. And if Bell was to be believed, discovering his gift was supposed to encourage the right course of action.
That left Peter’s third choice—to leave this universe as it was and return to the other one so that he wouldn’t be forced into anything by staying here. He didn’t know if it would help end the war, but he did know that, thanks to his ability, it wouldn’t hurt the other side. So it was what he would do until he understood more.
“No, Walter,” Peter said. “I’m not going to kill you.”
A small spark of hope lit up in Walter’s eyes. “Because you’re going to help me?” he asked.
Peter shook his head. “Because there are things that none of us understand, including me.”
He lowered the gun and handed it back to Olivia. Walter didn’t move.
“Come on, ‘Livia,” Peter said, holding out his hand. “Let’s go home.”
Olivia didn’t need to open her eyes to see where she was because she hadn’t needed to close them to get there. Peter’s bedroom in the beach house looked normal, like any kid’s room.
“Wow,” he said from beside her. “That’s amazing, Olivia.”
She smiled at him and squeezed his hand. “It’s just a trick I picked up,” she joked, and they both laughed. Olivia studied Peter carefully. “Are you alright?” she asked.
He seemed to consider his reply for a moment. “I think I am,” he eventually said. “I mean, there’s an interdimensional war going on that you and I somehow wound up at the centre of, but I’ve learned to deal pretty well with weird since joining the fringe division.”
“I’m glad,” Olivia said, then leaned forward to kiss him. The kiss was sweet and gentle, but they had to break it when they heard voices downstairs. Olivia picked out Broyles’ distinctive bass. “Sounds like people are waiting for us.”
Walter’s voice suddenly cut through the babble. “Are they here?” he shouted. “Are Peter and Olivia alright?”
Olivia was uncertain what to do. “Do you want to see him?” she asked Peter.
Again, Peter took a moment to consider. “Yes,” he answered. “He’s my father, and he’s a good man.”
Olivia nodded, and they headed for the door.