Once upon a time there was a young man.
He lived in a boring, average house, on a boring, average street in a boring, average neighborhood, in a boring, average world called Flatland.
His name was William Markus Sifras.
And he was discontent.
Which is how he destroyed his world and himself.
The Liberation of Flatland
Chapter One: He Was Discontent
Sixty degrees that come in threes...
Time: The 'Neo-Modern Age', 80 years post 'Flatland: A Romance Of Many Dimensions'
Place: Trikampis Village, Cyran Prefecture, Flatland, The Second Dimension
Bill Cipher wasn't always the Master of the Mindscape, The Cipher, Lord of the Nightmare Realm. He wasn't always the demon who tormented the Pines family in myriad dimensions throughout the Multiverse.
Once, a very long time ago, Bill Cipher was a mortal, a young man by the name of William Markus Sifras.
He lived in a small village in a place called Flatland, in the Second Dimension.
He was an Equilateral Triangle, the only adopted son of a childless but State Sanctioned Triangle family. This simply meant that due to their Perfection in shape, lack of viable offspring and socially acceptable behavior, they were allowed to adopt the Equilateral child of an inferior Isosceles couple.
The Triangle, Karolis and his wife, the Line, Louisa were grateful and loving parents. They weren't rich but money wasn't that important to the small family. Karolis was an assistant manager in a music store, a job he was expected to be content with and for the most part, he was. He didn't aspire to anything more and he never made an attempt to improve his lot. This wouldn't have been a particularly practical use of his time as Triangles were not expected to desire anything beyond their lot in life as simple, common men.
Respectable Equilateral Triangles performed jobs such as shop keepers, assistant managers, servants to the Higher Shapes, entertainers, civil and general office workers; positions that were only suitable for the most common of common men, occupations that no refined, genteel Shape would perform, yet were required for the proper functioning of society.
Triangles with unequal sides, the Isosceles, were not fit for proper company. They were the 'rabble', only suitable for jobs as soldiers, militia; anything strong, dangerous, stupid shapes were good for.
Even something Modern Spacelanders might consider as 'glamorous' as being an entertainer, in the Flatland of which we speak, was a job only fit for a commoner. In general, Flatlander entertainers were considered untrustworthy, less than reputable creatures that were only a step above common criminals.
Even their dubious reputation as vagabonds and charlatans notwithstanding, the Nobility: the Many-Sided and the Circles themselves, relished the decadence and 'wicked delectation' of their entertainments and as a result, such a profession was about the only way any common Shape could hope to find wealth above his station, regardless of what it was. Triangles and Squares were generally the only Shapes who were permitted to become entertainers, though Square performers were viewed marginally better than their three-sided counterparts.
William was much more ambitious than his father. He was handsome, clever, outgoing and smart, much smarter than he really should have been for a Triangle. If he had been of average intelligence, perhaps none of what followed would have happened. If he hadn't been ambitious, if he hadn't been an idealistic, passionate, flamboyant young man, perhaps he wouldn't have gained the attention from the Entities that led to his Ascension and his eventual encounters with the Pines family.
William desired to be a scientist. He craved it with an intense passion that was only matched by his desire to be a classical pianist.
In his lifetime he would only ever achieve one of those goals.
Beyond that, he would achieve everything he'd ever wanted and more.
So much more.
It all began simply enough.
When William was about thirteen years of age, he entered what we Spacelanders would call 'High School'. He was excited, of course, learning was one thing he excelled at and he couldn't get enough of filling his brain with music, history, science, art, mathematics and literature. Though he'd always found education easy, as a Triangle, he impressed his teachers with his capability for learning anything they were willing to teach; and many more things they were not.
As a child, Billy Sifras would boast to his family, his friends and his instructors that he would be the First Triangle Scientist, even when those people told him sadly, that Triangles did not become Scientists, they were not suited for such things. They were not capable of understanding advanced concepts like Physics, Biology and Chemistry.
Billy brushed these admonishments off with a childlike certainty that he would be different. He would change things. He, little Billy Sifras, would make the world see that even Triangles could think Great Thoughts and Create Great Science.
When William was a child, this was thought of as cute. Sad, yes. But cute.
When William grew older, it began to be less cute. More concerning.
Triangles did not rise above their station. Unless one was an entertainer but well-brought-up, Socially Acceptable Triangles did not do such things.
Granted, William's father did work in a music shop, which catered to entertainers as well as the more gentrified students of music theory, who never sought to perform music for money. Music was a respectable pastime, as long as one were studying it or listening to it or learning the intricacies of instrumentation. Only Squares performed in orchestras and only Squares received any kind of respect for pursuing a career in music. So while Karol enjoyed listening to music, he was not capable of playing an instrument.
William, however, was.
Not only could he play the piano, he played well.
He played technically challenging Classical pieces at the age of ten.
At thirteen, he was composing them.
William Sifras was, in fact, a genius. A musical and scientific prodigy at the age of thirteen.
And nobody knew it, except for his parents.
And for their safety and his, they wanted to keep it that way.
William did not.
He understood many things. What he did not, what he refused to understand, was why he wasn't allowed to learn and play and pursue his dreams simply because of the number of Sides he had. He didn't want to be miserable, forever seeing a star he wasn't able to reach and hold in his thin little hands.
So it all started one autumn afternoon as he was walking home from a particularly frustrating day in his freshman year of High School. He was angry, nearly to the point of tears but he'd be damned if he were going to let them show, especially to the pedantic lout of a Square who was his homeroom teacher.
"Come along, young man. Don't make this more difficult on your parents than it already is," a weedy voice sneered from the front walk of a house not too far from his position on the sidewalk.
Bill paused, curiosity peeking as he rounded the corner and saw an Official Ministry of Inspection car and a patrol wagon parked in the driveway of the house of a childhood friend, Laurence. On the walk stood several Ministry officials; Hexagon, a Square, several Pentagon Inspectors and a small group of the Isosceles Village Militia, surrounding the smaller figure of a Triangle.
There was no other word for it that Bill knew and he knew a lot of words.
He watched the scene play out in front of him. Laurence's parents, a quiet couple, who worked in the local grocer's, stood in the doorway of their home: silent, unmoving.
Laurence's mother was clearly struggling with tears, more afraid to make a noise than to voice them and his father was silent, stoic, one arm around his devastated wife.
Laurence was nearly hidden in the group of Shapes surrounding him as though he were a wanted murderer they had finally captured.
Bill understood. He didn't want to but he understood. The reality confronting him burned away his earlier humiliation in an instant.
"Hey!" he shouted, starting towards the little group of adults.
"What do you think you're doing, little boy?" the Pentagon who'd initially spoken said, turning his Shape to fully confront Bill. "Mind your business and go home."
"What do did Laurence do? Why are you treating him like a common criminal?"
Bill knew full well what they were doing. The inhumanity of it burned through him in a searing torrent of rage. He could hear the terrified gasps and murmuring of the frightened townsfolk, either hovering in their homes, doors cracked just enough to watch the horror unfolding in their quiet little neighborhood, or peering through carefully curtained windows.
He didn't care.
People were sheep. He was not one of them.
The weedy, skinny Pentagon approached him. His eye smirked. His words were cruel, condescending. "Don't concern yourself with this, little boy. Go home to your father and let us be about this unfortunate business."
"He's my friend," Bill snapped back, completely unperturbed by this supposed superior man and his arrogance. "And I don't think you oughta be takin' him away!"
The Pentagon nearly laughed in Bill's face.
As it was, he approached uncomfortably close and jabbed a skinny finger into Bill's chest, just below his eye. Bill didn't move. Not even a little bit.
He glared right back at the bigger, older Polygon.
"I'll have you know--"
That was the only sound that made the young man wince.
His father's voice.
"William Sifras, come home this instant!" Only Bill could catch the note of pure, unadulterated terror in his father's stern, angry tone.
The Pentagon nearly laughed. "Ah, yes, you should go home to your family, little triangle. You wouldn't want to attract undue attention, now would you?"
Casting an eye towards Laurence, Bill tried to see his friend, tried to catch his attention. Unfortunately the other boy had his back turned and Bill could see his Irregular angles trembling.
This was only making things worse for Laurence.
The Pentagon was smirking again.
"BILL!" the fear was evident now. To everyone.
Biting back a response with considerable effort, Bill stepped back, away from the Pentagon. He turned finally, angles slumping and made his way back to his father's house.
That wasn't the last time William witnessed an Inspection. Over time, more and more of his classmates were taken away. Some were simply there one day and gone the next. Nobody talked about them. Their families seemed to forget they even existed. Even their closest friends acted as though they never knew them.
Bill knew why of course.
Irregularity was not only illegal, it was viewed as the worst kind of mutation. It was as bad as chromaticism and in many ways, worse. His world was a world of Geometric Perfection. An Irregular Shape was an offense to the very Nature of existence. Irregularity was tolerated in younger Shapes, because it could be an affliction one could grow out of as angles matured and calcified into solid, Perfect frames. Occasionally, it could be repaired; angles broken and forcibly reformed until Perfection was attained.
Hospitals existed for such things though procedures like this rarely succeeded and the incurable were eventually killed through such procedures or simply died from the trauma.
In the past, this was the only way Irregularity could be possibly remedied and those few Shapes who achieved Perfection through medical science were relegated to shorter, pain-racked lives, living in State Care Facilities and eventually died in their early twenties. Perfection was achieved, however, which was all the Circles cared about.
Geometric Perfection was how all Shapes eventually attained the Ultimate Perfection that was the Circle. Through carefully monitored State Sponsored reproduction, Equilaterals might eventually produce Squares, who, with the Blessings of the Circles, would produce Pentagons and so on.
This was more commonly the way Shapes were created in the past. In Bill's time, this method was not as successful. Equilaterals, more often than not, produced other Equilaterals, occasionally Isosceles or rarer, Irregulars like Scalenes and such.
The Circles, the Perfection of the Universe on Earth, proclaimed that this was simply because in the Past, enforcement of Inspection was due to their ancestors primitive understanding of Medicine and much more lax tolerance of those afflicted. They determined that the only way to ensure the correct propagation of the species was to more strictly control and excise the Irregular from the population.
Thus, Inspection came for the young men and women of Flatland, twice a year. Once in Autumn and once in Spring. This created an almost constant climate of fear for the young Shapes which peaked during the Inspection 'Holidays' (as the Circles called them). It was spun, relatively successfully, into a positive campaign to promote Perfection of Form, with the more 'distasteful' aspects of the Inspection Holiday purposefully diminished to create an environment of celebration rather than fear. For the privileged classes, it was, for the most part, as, in these Modern Times, Irregularity amongst the wealthy was rare. Due of course, the Circles said, to the great advances in modern science and social manipulation, as well as the Natural Perfection of the Polygonal Shapes on the whole.
However, the Young Lesser Shapes never saw this as a party.
Junior Year, Cyran Prefecture Public Secondary School
The library was empty this time of day.
William knew the schedule by heart.
Quietly, he pushed open the door and slipped inside. The Librarian was taking his regular coffee break while the entire student body was in their daily Circular Briefing, a mandatory assembly all students were required to attend. Bill knew secret ways throughout the school and could avoid being missed quite easily. He only needed to ensure he was counted at the beginning and end of the assembly. Being a Triangle, he could easily mix in with the others and slip away.
He did this quite often. It was the only way he had been able to continue his advanced education in the sciences and mathematics he was denied otherwise.
This day, he'd crept into the section, returning books he'd stolen earlier, seeking the next in the series, anything that would help him learn. In the beginning of these secret trips, everything he thought he ever wanted was at his fingertips in the pages of the books surrounding him. These few, secret hours in the depths of the stacks were the only times he was truly happy.
He'd been denied the piano, denied his music, once he reached his second year and the true secret of his genius had finally been discovered. While Triangles could be musicians, his school's parochial, elitist faculty were firm in their assertion that no student of theirs would ever sink to the depths of being an entertainer. Thus, for his own good, Bill was to be directed away from the temptation of such unwholesome debauchery and focused towards the respectable life of a Tradesman, as were all the other young Equilaterals in their care.
His only solace now was in Science and Mathematics. He could find beauty, poetry and even music in the equations, in the theories and in the astonishing ideas they created in his brain. There was so much more to learn and what he couldn't find, his own brain was swiftly piecing together. He knew there was so much more than the frustratingly limited ideas these books were attempting to shed light on.
Bill's passion for more only increased the more he realized how antiquated the knowledge was.
As he looked over the volumes, his hand brushed against a loose book, which toppled to the floor with a resounding bang that sent wary shock waves through his angles. He went stock-still, hardly even breathing, hoping that, should someone else be in the library, they hadn't heard.
Silence filled the space around him, thick and heavy.
After an oppressive, timeless moment, Bill took a deep breath, opened his eye which almost immediately widened.
In the place on the shelf, where the loose book had been, was a tiny, nearly hidden space, a kind of alcove. Which wasn't empty. The glint of worn brass bindings shimmered in the dim. Curiosity warred with excitement and he reached his hand into the mysterious darkness.
It was a book.
A slim volume, a tiny, hand-lettered book, clumsily but lovingly bound in brass wire.
Bill nearly lost the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding as the title glared up at him in all its humble, handwritten beauty.
By Arthur Square, Esq.
A journal of an Extraordinary encounter with a Being from Spaceland.
Bill gulped softly.
It was treason, this book he held. Treason of the worst kind. He could be executed simply for the accident of finding it.
What it was doing here in his school library, he wasn't at all sure. He didn't even know if this was the Flatland, written by Arthur Square himself, or if it was simply a copy made by an admirer. Either way, it was death he held in his slim, young fingers.
A thrill rang through his Shape and he shoved the book deep into the bottom of his satchel. Reading it here was not even an option.
He'd take it home, wait until his parents were asleep and read it under the covers of his bed with a flashlight.
And read it, he did.
Cover to cover. Over and over until the pitiful little thing's ink was blurry, until it was falling apart, until it disintegrated in his hands.
By then, he'd committed it to his considerable memory. By then, William had penned his own copy in a code only he knew, in a journal of his own.
It was the first of many journals he would keep over his lifetime.
It was the first of many Ciphers he would create, keep and hold close to his heart for millennia to follow.