"We are agreed then?" September asked April.
The two Observers remaining in existence were at the far end of time, wearing thick goggles to protect their eyesight as they watched a bloated, crimson sun start to consume the Earth. Although time is relative, they had both just spent a significant amount of it scouring timelines and dimensions finding and marking clones of William Bell. They met here, at the end of it all, to consult.
"Yes. We cannot allow William Bell to achieve virtual immortality through the use of clones and soul magnets," April replied.
September nodded, and the two of them watched with interest as the ocean flashed into a cloud of superheated steam. They morphed through time mere seconds before the scalding cloud reached them.
Etta spent a full week in the hospital, the boredom of complete bed rest interrupted only by daily visits from Simon in the morning, and from her father and grandfather in the evening. Not being directly employed by Fringe Division, Peter and Walter weren't as affected by the chaos of the Observers' departure as Olivia and Astrid. Peter always assured her that Olivia would have been there if she could have, but her duties kept her away.
Which brought on a flash of long buried childhood memory. Peter had been a constant presence in her life when she had been little, there when she woke in the morning, watching over her as she played with the cow at the lab, kissing booboos and tucking her in at night. Olivia had fluttered in and out of her awareness, a loving and welcome presence whenever available. It amused Etta that the pattern was repeating itself, twenty years on.
Etta insisted on checking herself out on the morning of her seventh day. The process took two hours, with the doctors and nurses insisting at every step that this wasn't recommended.
As soon as Etta left the hospital, she could feel it. A hush lay over the city, as if everyone were dreading what would happen next. There were few vehicles on the streets, and most of the ones she saw were Fringe Division armored personal carriers. Apparently all the Tactical Units had been deployed to keep order.
For all that, she saw no mobs, no burning buildings or vehicles, and no violence, or signs of any having previously occurred. It was already an improvement over life under the Observers. She hailed a cab and headed downtown, strode through the doors into Fringe Divison HQ and flashed her ID at the scanner on the wall.
"Acknowledged, Agent Blake," the speaker beneath the scanner said in a soothing, feminine voice. "Per the Director's orders, you are on restricted duty for medical reasons. The Director would like to see you as soon as possible. She is in her office on the tenth floor. Have a good day."
Etta wondered how Mom knew she'd left the hospital, as she moved to the elevators.
Olivia Dunham-Bishop, Acting Director, Fringe Division read the sign, in simple block letters, on the wall outside the only office on the tenth floor. Inside the spacious office, formerly that of General Broyles, Olivia was yelling at somebody on the video screen mounted in the wall.
No longer a field agent or rebel leader, she wore a power suit – navy blue blazer over a white blouse, gray skirt and high heels. It looked both strange and somehow, right.
"Vance," Olivia hissed, "...if I hear of even one reprisal against Loyalists, I'll have you on trial for terrorism inside of a week. I'll roll your entire network too – or have you forgotten that I know all of your cells, since I took them over from you?"
Olivia took a deep breath, then continued, "...we have to do this like a civilized society, Vance. Deep down, you know that. Otherwise, we'll have a civil war. Help me, don't fight me. There might even be a place for you, in the new government that's forming."
The burly man on the wall screen, nodded, still frowning. "I'll think about it," and the screen went blank.
Olivia turned at the sound of applause from the door, saw Etta clapping her hands and hooting encouragement.
Olivia shook her head. "Awful child," she muttered, before stepping forward to caress her daughter's cheek affectionately, "...how are you feeling?"
"Still a little tired, but I couldn't stand lying in that hospital bed any longer," Etta said with a grin.
"I was about to order lunch, do you want to join me?"
Etta nodded, "I could eat something."
In truth, Etta was famished. Since she'd planned to check herself out of the hospital today, she had refused the bland breakfast she'd been offered.
Olivia used the wall screen to order Chinese for two from a nearby takeout restaurant, then the two of them sat down to talk at the small conference table in the spacious office.
"So, what's the situation? I saw a lot of tactical vehicles on the way, but no riots or anything." Etta asked.
Olivia shook her head.
"Just being cautious. The Observers have disappeared, the Loyalists are understandably nervous, some of the Resistance are itching for a fight, and in the midst of all this we have a new Director of Fringe Division, namely me. It hadn't sunk in that Fringe was the de facto national police force until Broyles gave me the job."
Presently, their lunch arrived, brought up from the lobby by one of the junior agents who manned the front desk. After they had distributed the cardboard and plastic cartons over the table, they started eating.
"How is General Broyles?" Etta asked, during a short pause where they traded dishes.
Olivia frowned. "They're keeping him comfortable. It won't be long."
After they finished their meal and disposed of the leavings, Olivia had to make another call, using the wall screen again. When is she finished, she joined her daughter at the conference table once again, and filled her in on current events.
"I gave Astrid a promotion and put her in charge of the west coast. She'll be running things out of the Los Angeles office. Your Simon is on the north side, checking out reports of looters at the power plant."
"My Simon? I think you and Dad are making assumptions about my relationship with him."
"Not really, but your father and I worked together for three years before we got together. And...you could do worse."
"I think I want to change the subject..." Etta said, making Olivia smile and nod.
"Okay. Peter and Walter are in New York, negotiating with Nina Sharp over the sale of their company," Olivia said with an impish, raised eyebrow.
Etta's eyes widened. In all of their visits, neither Peter nor Walter had mentioned anything about a company.
"What company? What went on while I was in the hospital?" she asked.
Olivia rolled her eyes.
"Peter insisted on forming a corporation, Bishop Energetics, to hold the patents to their antimatter technology. So that Massive Dynamic would be forced to buy them out, you see. It only exists on paper, really, and it's only assets are Walter and Peter. Walter could care less about the money, but I get the impression this has been a fantasy of Peter's for a while."
"How much money are we talking about, here?" Etta asked.
Olivia shrugged. "How much is solving the energy crisis worth? According to Peter, if it works out like he expects it will, the Bishop family will suddenly be very wealthy."
William Bell looked up from the hide he was tanning and frowned at his visitors.
September and April had appeared, together with a confused looking young man, about twenty years old, with a lanky build, long black hair and brown eyes. He wore a tie died tee shirt and shorts made of what appeared to be hemp.
"Who is this?" Bell growled to the Observers, as he returned to his chore.
"This," said April in the typical Observer monotone, "...is William Bell."
Bell nodded and sighed at this.
The young man squinted at each of them in turn, before speaking.
"Where the hell am I? Who are you guys? Who is this old dude?" he asked, growing increasingly alarmed.
"This," said September in the typical Observer monotone, "...is also William Bell. More precisely, you are a clone of him."
Young Bell boggled at the older version of himself. "Whaaa?"
In the midst of his confusion, the two Observers disappeared, which didn't help his mental state at all. He turned round and round, peering at the interior of the wooden fort that surrounded him.
"Calm down," growled Older Bell to the Younger, "...I'm afraid you're going to be here for a while."
"The drugs have to wear off sometime," Younger Bell stated with certainty.
Later that afternoon Etta unlocked the front door to the Bishop residence and stepped inside. She walked through the empty rooms and stared. With no one else here, not her parents, Walter, Astrid or even that old lecher, William Bell, the house just didn't feel like home.
She sighed and shook her head, went to her room and changed into a simple tee shirt and sweat pants, walked back out into the living room and laid down on the old couch. Paranoia led her to place her holstered hyper-v pistol on the coffee table nearby.
She laid back and closed her eyes...and was startled out of her dreamless slumber by the sound of the front door opening. She sat up and seized her pistol from its holster, pointing the muzzle toward the kitchen, where she heard the door closing.
"Etta? You here?" she heard Simon Foster call.
"Here!" she called back.
Belatedly, she noticed from the change in the shadows on the wall that several hours had passed. It was now early evening, and she had the fuzzy headed feeling of being suddenly awakened from deep sleep. She put her pistol back on the table and rubbed her eyes as Simon walked into the room. He was wearing full riot armor, save for the helmet.
"Is it that bad out?" Etta asked.
Simon shook his head.
"We're just being cautious. Apparently your mum doesn't want anybody to get themselves killed her first week on the job. How are you? I stopped by the hospital and you'd checked out."
"I'm okay. Still tired. Mom says I can't go back to work until I gain all my weight back."
She scooted over on the couch, and patted the cushion beside her. Simon raised an eyebrow, but sat down next to her.
"Don't you think that's reasonable? I mean losing fifteen pounds in the space of an hour just can't be healthy. I understand you think Peter and Olivia are too..."
Etta shook her head. "It's not that," she insisted.
Simon smiled kindly. "What is it then?"
Etta sighed and fidgeted.
"I just don't...do well without something to work for. Since I was fourteen, my goal in life was to find my parents. That's why I joined Fringe Division...I figured it was the best way to find information on them. And it was. But now here I am, twenty four years old, I've succeeded, and now I don't know what to do."
Simon cocked his head, a sympathetic expression on his face.
"Do you want to stay in Fringe?" he asked quietly.
Etta shrugged. "I don't know. But at the same time, it's the only thing I'm trained for."
Simon nodded, and looked her up and down before replying.
"An opportunity will come along. You'll just have to recognize and act on it. You're a smart young woman and I have confidence you'll find your way."
Etta looked at him, as if she seeing him for the first time, then gave him a fierce hug. "Thank you!"
Simon chuckled. "All right. I should get back to work. All these riots aren't going to suppress themselves."
The population of the compound back in the depths of time grew steadily over the following weeks, as the Observers repeatedly appeared and left bewildered clones of William Bell. The fort gradually became an all-male community of paranoid genius sociopaths of varying ages.
Naturally, they gave the fort the ironic name of Belltopia and attempted to design their ideal society. At first, it sort of worked, until the younger Bell clones started to realize that they were doing the majority of physical chores.
This was only natural, the population of older Bells explained – the younger Bells were more physically capable, after all. But resentment remained, and naturally factions began to appear. Then those factions fragmented, and began to segregate themselves along lines of varying philosophical beliefs. For a while, the Lockeish, social contract philosophers held power and things were fairly peaceful.
When the followers of Nietzsche showed up, it all started to go to hell, and the first fatal "accidents" started to occur.
Through it all, the Observers watched, unseen.
Later that evening, Etta was heating a can of turkey noodle soup on the stove when Walter and Peter arrived home from their trip to New York.
"...told you, it gave us an advantage in the negotiations," Peter was saying as he entered the house with Walter.
"Yes, you're far better at extorting money out of people than I am..." Walter replied, then hastily added, "...oh, I mean that in the best way, son!"
At first, she barely recognized her father. He was wearing a dapper smoke grey suit and trousers over a crisp new white shirt, had shaved...and was wearing glasses. Not sunglasses, but a pair of wire framed prescription lenses.
"Henrietta!" Walter crowed happily upon seeing his granddaughter, before heading straight to the refrigerator.
"Princess!" Peter said, giving Etta an affectionate hug. She kissed his oddly smooth cheek, and when he released her, tapped the bridge of his nose.
"What's this, Dad?" she teased.
Peter frowned. "Headaches. Olivia insisted I go to an eye doctor."
Etta chuckled then they both turned and looked at Walter, who was busy putting pickles and ice cream into the blender. When he noticed their stares, he sheepishly admitted, "Olivia got me hooked."
"So, how did the negotiations go?" Etta asked, changing the subject to an obvious one.
"Heh. Well, Massive Dynamic didn't have two billion dollars in cash on hand, so now Walter and I own 25% of the non-voting stock, between us, and we both have consulting jobs, working on the anti-matter tech."
Etta's eyes shot for the ceiling, and she gasped in surprise. "Holy...how much is that worth?"
Peter shrugged. "I don't know. I'll have to look at the stock price tomorrow. The thing is, now we have to buckle down and come up with a safe anti-matter device, one that can't be used as a bomb. They'd like to have something on the market in two years."
Just then, they heard a polite rap on the door and Olivia walked into the kitchen, acknowledging them with a nod and a little smile.
"Mom! We're rich!" Etta said brightly.
Olivia nodded. "I heard..." Then she sighed tiredly.
"Hon?" Peter stepped forward and cupped Olivia's cheek in his hand, getting a loving smile in return, "...you okay?"
Olivia nodded, then shrugged. "I got the call from the hospital before I left work. Broyles died."
A glum silence settled over the family, which was interrupted by the oblivious Walter turning on the blender. After he finished blending, he poured the light brown concoction he'd just created into a tall glass, which he handed to Olivia.
"Pickle and strawberry ice cream shake, dear," he said with a wink and a smile.
William Bell pursued his quarry through the thick undergrowth, occasionally stopping to check the trail for blood. Moments before he had skewered some sort of proto-rabbit with a bolt from the handmade crossbow he held; unfortunately the accuracy of the weapon, or of the wielder, left something to be desired. The bolt had only wounded the rodent, thus he was required to chase after his slowly exsanguinating lunch.
Society had broken down in the Bell compound. No longer content with mere accidents, several open murders had been committed. It was safer to move out of the compound and live on your own, which Bell had done two weeks ago.
Of course, each Bell clone had come to the identical conclusion. In the space of a fortnight , the compound had been abandoned.
Hearing a rustle in the bushes, Bell raised his weapon and stepped off the path to investigate. Two steps later the ground gave way he plummeted into a pit trap made for big game. Some other ambitious Bell clone was making a living in the area.
A shadow covered him. Bell looked up into the unsympathetic eyes of another William Bell, one of the youngest, clad only in a loin cloth.
"So it's come to this," growled Bell, "...Lord of the Flies, and all that."
Bell raised his crossbow and fired. This time his aim was true, the bolt hit the younger clone in the throat.
Nearby but unseen, April scribbled in his notebook, and nodded toward his companion.
"This is a fascinating experiment," he commented to September.
"Yes. But I suspect it shall have run its course very soon."
Etta Bishop opened the door the house, called "I'm home!"' dumped her backpack on the kitchen table and headed for the basement.
When she had announced her intention to enroll at the newly reopening MIT to pursue an engineering degree, Peter had broken down laughing so hard that he was unable to stand.
"Peter..." Olivia, six months pregnant with her little brother and showing, scolded him, "...you should encourage her, not..."
"What? You think I can't cut it at your alma mater?" Etta had demanded, crossing her arms.
Peter gasped for breath.
"No, Princess it's just...oh, the irony!" Peter started laughing again.
When they explained the whole story - Peter dropping out of high school, faking a chemistry degree to teach at MIT, being erased from time and then given fraudulent credentials from MIT upon his return - yes, it was funny.
The next day, Peter and Walter had presented her with a trust fund - more than enough money to pay for her education. It seemed opportunity had knocked.
The basement of the old house had been converted into a combination laboratory and daycare, so that Walter and Peter could work on the antimatter reactor project and keep watch over the latest addition to the family, while Olivia was at Fringe HQ. One side consisted of an expensive set of computers installed by Massive Dynamic, while the other side was an elaborate play area.
Etta glanced over at Walter and Peter examining a holographic 3d schematic of one of their designs, then snatched her little brother out of his playpen and went to join them.
Charlie the Giggle Monster, as Etta liked to call him, was now six months old.
"Hey, Princess, how was school?" Peter asked.
He gave her a peck on the cheek and ruffled his son's fuzzy blond hair. Charlie giggled and drooled happily.
"Great. I feel like it's where I belong," Etta replied with a smile, as she shifted her baby brother to a more comfortable position on her hip, and peered over her father's shoulder at a simulated matter-antimatter annihilation.
This was where she'd always belonged.
Thus ends the story. I'd like to thank my beta DixieGirl, whose skill at editing made my story a lot less incoherent. I'd also like to thank my friends at fringe board for encouraging me, and you, my readers. I may have a side story or two to tell, set in this alternate universe, but for now I'd like to sit back and relax and see what the new season reveals. CorwinOfAmber