The problem with dystopias, Olivia thought wryly, was that you usually ended up on the wrong side of the system. In a world with controlling corporations and shady secret societies and governments that do everything but govern, it is easy to cry oppression and find yourself up against the law. For once, out of all of the realities that she remembered, she was not the underdog, not fighting the big bad bureaucracy, not dodging certain death. For once, she was on the side that was in control.
Oh, sure, there was still bureaucracy and paperwork and everything else, but she knew that at the end of the day, she would go home to her high security housing, systems enhanced by her surrogate mother and watched over by a man who was more of a father to her than her own ever was, be able to open up a bottle of something strong and sweet, and fall asleep in the arms of the man she loved while their daughter slumbered peacefully in a room of her own. All in all not a bad deal, even if the world itself had a few drawbacks.
She also made certain that her own sister did not feel the side effects of those drawbacks, or at least as much as was sensible. Rachel was not awarded full privileges, of course. The father of her children had a less than savory past in this reality, and an out and out abusive one in others. Rachel wished to stay with him and thus limited herself somewhat. Still, Olivia would visit from time to time and made sure they received the proper visas to visit her as well, and the three bedroom apartment where they lived was far superior to most of the other options that would have been available on the family’s rather limited income. Rachel seemed happy, if occasionally annoyed but that was normal for her sister, and Ella was guaranteed a spot at Quantico should she so desire when the time came, even if her younger brother may need further vetting to prove he was more like his mother than his father.
Speaking of being like both her mother and her father, Etta came barreling over to her as soon as she walked through the door. She picked her up easily enough, the faint hiss of the lock connecting in the background letting her know their home was secured. “Hey, sweetheart, did you have a good day?” she asked after placing a quick kiss atop her blonde head.
Her five year old extolled the virtues of school and learning and how she was fairly certain they were sneaking math in with art time because shapes were like math and Olivia smiled and nodded and dodged the flailing arms. One thing did draw her attention though, so she paused in the living room and set Etta on the couch, expecting to sit beside her for a moment while she asked, “What was that last part, honey?”
Etta was as animated as her grandfather though, and refused to sit down. She probably shouldn’t have let her stand on the couch cushions like she was, but she did tend to give into her rather easily now that she had her back and, besides, this way she could nearly meet her eye to eye while her daughter announced, “The park is gone! Ella told me that they took away her park. They shouldn’t do that – parks are important. Daddy says parks are important and he doesn’t lie and there’s trees and air and it’s important!”
Olivia pulled up one of the data displays on the wall and confirmed that, yes, the City of Detroit had scheduled the park nearest to Rachel’s apartment for rezoning. It was to house the offices of one of the intel units, but that was easily fixed. A call to Nina and a promise of dinner later that week, and Etta was happily bouncing and asking if she could call Ella to give her the good news.
Olivia let her run off to do just that and finally, finally, sank into the couch, letting the myriad of pillows cushion her aching head. She closed her eyes and was not at all surprised to hear a familiar set of footfalls a short time later. There was a clink of a glass as it was set on the table before her, and then the slight dip of a weight at her side.
She turned her head and open her eyes not because she wanted to know who it was, but because she already did and wanted to see Peter’s familiar – if worried – features. “Take these,” he directed, folding her hand around several little white pills.
She dutifully swallowed them down and settled back to wait for them to kick in. “Thank you,” she said, and meant it.
He smiled and ran a strand of her hair through his fingers, more playing than brushing it out of her face. “You don’t need to do this,” he told her, beginning an old argument, though there was no heat to his tone. “Not daily,” he amended. “I know you want to help, and your gift has saved lives and saved entire sections of the planet, really, but it’s hurting you.”
She shook her head, strand tumbling from his grasp. “I’m fine,” she insisted.
“If you were fine, you wouldn’t need the painkillers every night,” he countered. He leaned closer and massaged the base of her neck, the tension there melting under his touch as much as under the effects of the pills she just took. “Maybe scale back a little, limit your hours?”
“The work I do…” she started, but they both knew how it was going to end.
“Your work is important,” Peter agreed. There was a hint of a smile, which either meant a fond memory or a plan she might actually like. In this case, it proved to be both as he suggested, “Do you remember the old cases? Just dealing with the random insane monster or diabolical plan?” He knew she did, knew their daughter had inherited her eidetic memory from her, along with several other traits. “How about we try for some of those? It’ll scare up the recruits for us to tag along, keep them on their toes, and might even be fun.”
She returned the smile despite herself. “Only you would consider getting covered in monster blood fun,” she teased, but definitely saw the appeal of it. Actually being back out on the street again instead of cooped up in an office until they needed her in a specific location. Actually using the skills she fought hard to learn instead of those gifted to her by some miracle drug pumped through her system. It might even help her better sync her abilities with the world around her. That world was constantly changing, and if she could see those changes with her own eyes, touch and feel them with her own fingers, maybe it would put less of a strain on her as she tried to sort through just what was going to happen next and how they could either stop it or use it to further the cause.
“You love it and you know it,” Peter said, and was not wrong. His hand was still working its magic, and so she blamed that for giving in to the possibility of the thought when he suggested, “Give them an hour or two a day and the rest is field work? We have the pull to make it happen.”
“And you’ll let me keep taking the injections?” she asked, knowing it was still a sore point. He didn’t see the need to continuously flood her system with the cortexiphan, despite the fact she had proved its worth time and time again. She had seen the other realities though, the ones where her system burned through it and left her with nothing, the ones that fell and failed because she couldn’t see what was coming, couldn’t use what she now considered her innate gifts to stop it when it came anyway.
Peter frowned, but she knew he was going to relent before he did himself. “You’re pretty much maxed out anyway,” he sighed. “If there were going to be any adverse side effects – other than the headaches that might just be from you being you and pushing yourself too hard – we probably would have seen them by now.”
That was the problem, really: they simply didn’t know. When Walter disappeared, he took with him everything he knew about cortexiphan and its possible long term effects. There was a chance that a version of William Bell still existed in one of the realities, but no one knew if he could be trusted, even if they could find him. Nina was trying to do her best with the little bits or research that had been left behind but Walter’s notes were as coherent as he was, which was to say not very. Her group had synthesized more of the drug though, based off of the research and the samples Massive Dynamic had still held in storage, and it was this that Olivia and several others were taking on a regular basis. The blood tests showed the levels stayed strong, but it had burnt out of her system untimely in at least two realities in the past, and she didn’t want to take that risk again, not when she knew what hung in the balance.
Well, had a fair idea of what hung in the balance, she corrected. She remembered several distinct realities, and had glimpsed at several more. There was the one where Walter had stolen Peter from, and the one he had stolen him to. There was the one where Peter had survived, and the one where he had died. Then there was the one he had been erased from, only to force his way back – that was the one where they were now. This did not even include the three separate futures she remembered, or the fractal fractures she occasionally caught sight of and had to try to either prevent from happening or nudge along based upon what she and the others saw and what the telepaths read as the current currents of humanity.
She’d say it made her head hurt to think about it all, but she thought it was more likely that her head hurt from actively searching them all, looking for threats, looking for what went wrong to create one and what went right to create another. She had proven to be the most effective with these tactics so far, though there were at least six others which did a fair job on their own. Peter often argued that she should let them do that job, that she had done enough already and deserved the rest, but she couldn’t stop the images, the memories of a world where so many things had gone so horrifically out of control, culminating in the Observers’ rule and the death of their child.
She wouldn’t let that happen again. She couldn’t let that happen again. If it meant a little tighter management – of both her abilities and the society around them – then so be it. The Fringe Division and Massive Dynamic were working to create a better world, a safer world, and the only way to succeed in that task was to prevent others from destroying their work. This involved education and observation in the most minor of aspects, and confinement and prevention in the more dire. Some people protested that it was too much, while others were just happy that they were provided for, even if it was not always as glamorous as it could be.
The protestors were often those who had caused unrest in other realities though, so perhaps it was just their nature to be unhappy and unfulfilled. The Fringe Division simply kept tabs on them, prevented them from gaining positions of power that could potentially undo all the hard work they had put in, nothing more. They were not harmed, not tortured like they themselves did to so many others in the various hues of the other universes and realities, but they were monitored, for the safety of others and possibly the safety of themselves as well.
Some called it oppression. She had seen oppression, real and true in all of its painful glory. She knew better, as did Peter, as did Nina and Broyles and Astrid. They had fought for this, and they would continue to fight to make sure everything they had obtained, everything they had lost, was not for naught.
She would fight to ensure no one lost their child nor their childhood to science, curiosity, or need for control.
Sometimes the fight was purely intellectual, and sometimes it was physical. That was what Peter was offering her now, the chance to actually hit the streets and possibly physically hit some mad scientists or their creations again. A smile slid across her face at the thought, and she knew he took it for what it was worth.
“Actual fieldwork sounds delightful,” she admitted. “Do you think Broyles will go for it?”
Peter kissed her temple. “Let me work on that,” he offered. “I’ll tell him it will keep your skills sharp, help you better identify threats, that sort of thing.”
“And Etta?” she prompted.
“Already has Nina-cam while at school. I’m sure she’d love some Grandma Time if we run late,” Peter shrugged.
Olivia leaned against him and reached out with her mind just that tiniest of bits. First, she verified that there were no ulterior motives, or at least none that she had to worry about. Next, she peeked into the pockets of realities that she always kept closest and verified that no one was obviously plotting or planning against them, at least for now. There were no shimmers, no flashing lights, nothing to hint at anything unraveling or reforming or being destroyed completely.
She thought about the last time she had been granted fieldwork, and the fun she had actually thinking and running and reasoning again. They had ended up crossing over twice, surprising the hell out of her counterpart and Lincoln, who still had trouble wrapping their minds around the fact she could make the transit sans giant, world-breaking machine. She had offered them cortexiphan of their own, knew she could trust at least them with it, especially since Walternate already had a version anyway. They had declined and looked almost concerned. That concern washed away though, when she showed them the vids of all the progress they had made, how their world was aligning with their own, but in a positive way this time. Both understood the need for structure and order in a world of chaos, and she had delayed the return trip home for several hours while they simply sat and talked and discussed better ways of doing what needed to be done.
She thought of bringing them over for a visit. Nina would say it was a waste of her abilities, and Broyles would question the need to potentially take herself out of the lineup for a few days while she recovered from the depletion, but she missed talking with someone who had actually lived in her shoes for a while, who reassured her that she understood what she was doing and why without grandiose declarations of the greater good and simply commented about what a mother would do for her child. Her counterpart was a parent now too, though she had only heard the tale via the simple black and white messages from the typewriter tucked away in the corner of the room. She debated resurrecting Walter’s window to their world, but knew the engineers were using the original as a template to build others to look into the other realities and reduce the strain on the few that could see without the aid of technology.
Peter's idea might actually help further connect the realities in the long run, now that she thought about it. If she was only using her abilities for a few hours per day, the strain would be far less. Either she would be able to make the trip to Walternate's reality and back again without it tiring her out quite so much, or Broyles' people would flail just the little bit less while she took a day off to recover as they would be trained not to rely upon a single source of data with the same intensity as they did now. It added yet another layer of appeal to the whole thing, even if coming home covered in monster blood would involve having to explain to Etta that monsters existed on more than just videos, news feeds and fairy tails, and possibly having to create a Walter-esque anti-monster machine for her room to ensure she slept at night.
She leaned back against the pillows some more, let both the pills and Peter's hands work their magic, and wondered if Astrid would join them in their little adventures even as she wondered how much backup Broyles would assign to them all the moment word got out that the old Bishop Gang was back on the street, not to mention how much tech Nina would assign them for the same purpose. She could just make out Etta and Ella's squeals of happiness echoing from her room and the timer from the kitchen that noted dinner was nearly ready to be served and sighed in contentment.
She had her family, she had her safety, and she had control over the choices that were most important to her in this life. All in all, she couldn't ask for much more from a dystopia, nor did she feel any need to try.