A/N: Welcome, everyone, to the third installment of Pulling the Strings!
Seeing as this is the third part of an ongoing series, I would heavily recommend that you go read PTS I (The Arrival) and PTS II (The Deceived) before continuing with PTS III, if you have not yet done so. They have recently been revised, correcting mistakes and whatnot, so be sure to check that out.
For new readers, I would also recommend you visit my profile, where a general summary of the series is found (if you're interested in knowing what you might be getting into), as well as an elaboration as to the peculiar format the series takes.
The Coming War is a big one at ~100K words, so you can expect quite the trip. I intend to put up a new chapter every other day, too, which is always fun.
I suppose that's all for now. As always, feedback of any kind is welcome. And just to tease, the prologue below gives insight into one of Fringe's most enigmatic characters...
Prologue: Of Millennia and Days Both
Humanity is naught but the collection of its moments and the sum of its parts. That some strike be used to counter others is as natural a selection process as the lion and the gazelle, Homo Sapiens and Cro-Magnon. In this there is comfort, should it be needed:
This is not a war of hatred and anger.
It is a battle of survival.
The words he had written long ago came back to him as he laboured absent-mindedly over the paperwork laid out on his desk. He was never meant for administration; for William Bell, purpose lied in the pursuit of knowledge – scientific, philosophical, historical, esoteric – and the dream of breaching the limits of what was possible, of transcending them. Alas, these bureaucratic affairs were yet another necessary evil he was forced to contend with in this life-long pursuit, and so he plodded on, much to the displeasure of creased hands aching of encroaching arthritis. He paused in his work, massaging them, even though he found no relief from the flaring pain. The day's load was unusually heavy, and he was growing tired of the interminable signing and approving and reviewing.
He was growing tired of many things nowadays, it seemed.
Bell arose from his leather seat to approach the window panes of his office, drinking from Manhatan's vast, sunlit panorama. He currently found himself on the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center's South Tower, which, along with the five floors beneath him, comprised the main administrative branch of BellMedic, the enterprise he founded upon first setting foot in this new world, so many years ago.
How amazed he had been when he first crossed over; while he had caught glimpses of another world in the heavy usage of LSD with Walter Bishop in the 70s, nothing could have prepared him for the sights that awaited him there. Even now, twenty-three years since that inaugural escapade, the novelty of the "Other Side" persisted still.
Yet in those twenty-three years, he had also acquainted himself with the grimmer facets of the Other Side's reality.
In a move as reckless as it was necessary, he sought to move behind enemy lines. His visits began as pure reconnaissance, learning about the world that stood as a potential threat to the safety of the other. In those days, the ripples of the Reiden Lake aftermath were fresh, and the first hints of the chaos to come were cropping up along the East Coast.
Exploiting this rising upheaval, he made his mark.
Aided by a most unexpected ally, he took advantage of differences in either world's technological advancements, patenting medical technologies otherwise commonplace in his world, the profits of which he used to form the BellMedic Corporation in late 1987. He would later apply what he learned there back home, creating a company by the same name five years later in his native world, a company that, following its appropriation of Fleming-Monroe at the dawn of the 21st Century, would come to be known as Massive Dynamic.
In those early days, he developed considerable influence, amassing wealth and connections in a short time. Yet while he enjoyed satiating his ambition in the domains of business and science, he never forgot why he traveled there to begin with, and his vigilance inevitably bore fruit. Quite soon – in the span of a few years, far sooner than Bell had anticipated – they revealed themselves to him, offering him a position in their fledgling operation.
Naturally, he posed as one of them, earning their favour by providing them unadulterated access to his intellect and wealth, and the three of them formed the GDC, quickly stocking their ranks with those loyal to their cause. What enjoyment he derived in the scientific breakthroughs achieved here were soured by how they would be come to be used, but absolute commitment was necessary to perpetuate the subterfuge and avert prying eyes; he had no choice but to assist them in their projects, spearheading the design and production of the Second-Generation Hybrids, whose success had cemented him as an indispensable asset.
If only he had known how powerful these people truly were.
As the years unfolded, he traveled back to his native world as often as he could, and after forming ZFT in 1993, he would relay key developments in the GDC's plans to them; but in time, his ability to transmit this information became impaired by the toll repeated crossings inflicted upon his body, as well as the increasing sophistication of communications technology on the Other Side, gradually diminishing the convenience of travelling in secrecy until he was no longer to supply information back home in consistent fashion, and all successful communiqués became so rare as to be almost miraculous.
They were as suspicious of him as he of them. Despite being a vital member in their undertaking, he was constantly being kept under surveillance. Even now, he could feel their rapacious eyes all around him, hounds wary of the foreign undertones in his scent. He was playing a dangerous game, he knew, a game made more dangerous by the fact that this wasn't the only world that rested upon his chessboard.
They were all but pawns in his match against time.
He had founded ZFT as a counter-measure to possible otherworldly retaliation – a retaliation he was complicit in – so as to give his native world an advantage and even the odds; yet knowing what he knew now, it was hard not to succumb to disillusionment. He could not have known that Walter's violation of the integrity of nature was only a spark that re-ignited tensions decades old. He could not have known the extents of the GDC's plans for Bell's native reality, plans he aided through the perfection of the Harvesters and the Titans.
And he could not have known that he would grow weary of wearing the self-appointed role of arbiter in the Silent War, forestalling potential destruction of either world for as long as it would be necessary.
There wasn't a morning where did not wake with the same question on his mind.
Was it all for naught?
The only thing that kept him going was the deal he had made with Weiss and his people, a partnership formed long before he began crossing over. The man whose current guise was Samuel Weiss had visited him on a few occasions over the years; never once looking a day older than when he'd seen him last, he would consistently assure Bell that he would be rewarded for his efforts to keep things in check for them, and that their deal still held.
Soon, he would say, as though a mantra. Soon.
He understood why they had to do it, why there could be no other way. But as delicate an operation as it was, he often wished they would hurry things up. He was still waiting after all these years; he had not heard from Weiss in almost a decade, and wasn't getting any younger. When would the time come? When would soon at last become now?
A sudden fit of coughing surged through him, the air in his office becoming unbearably thin. He stumbled to his desk, fumbling for his oxygen tank. The moment he applied the mask to his face and inhaled, his breath returned to him, and he sank into his chair in relief, knowing all the while that any respite would only be temporary. The effects of repeated crossings in his earlier years were just now catching up to him, the price for exploiting the lesser-known secrets of nature. He was now effectively stranded in an alien world, and crossing back, while possible, proved too fraught with risk in his frail condition. And even after the regular crossings had stopped, the very air of the parallel universe was eroding his being; for as an anomalous entity, he would never be in perfect sync with his environment. Even now, he would periodically be struck with time slips that left gaps in his awareness of observed reality. Not to mention the weariness that age brought with it. He would not last forever at this rate; time was running out.
A storm was coming. He could feel it in his bones.
But it didn't matter. When Weiss and his people had their way, there would be no more need for these futile war games.
At that moment, a series of pings – three sets of three – resounded in rapid succession from a small speaker affixed to the upper corner of the room. Knowing it could only mean one thing, he rose from his seat and sauntered to the other side of his office. The room was furnished with many paintings and artifacts and antiques procured in auctions and private sales over the decades – his wealth permitting him to indulge in his taste for weathered things – but there was one section in particular that drew his interest. In an indented portion of the walls was found a bookshelf, taking up most of the space save an exposed section of wall to the right, which ended where a column jutted out.
He removed a copy of Paradise Lost from the third shelf and slid his index over a concealed biometric scanner on the underside of the fourth shelf, and his identity recognized, the indented portion of the wall slid to the right, retracting behind the column, revealing an entryway that Bell promptly entered.
He pressed a button on the wall to close the door behind him. The small room, which was lit by a dim overhead light, contained nothing but a chair, a table, and what was by current technological trends a fossil of a computer. Upon seating himself, he glanced at the bulky monitor, whose green letters displayed a single line of text.
POTEST FORTASSE TENEO QUATENUS POSSUNT VADO
With a detachment that suggested the activity was a routine affair, he typed the appropriate response:
POTEST FORTASSE TENEO QUATENUS POSSUNT VADO
TANTUM QUI PERICULUM IENS QUOQUE RECEDENTIA
Upon pressing the Enter key, a long string of code flashed on the screen, ending in a new message:
INCOMING TRANSMISSION [SENT 21/02/09 AT 8:47PM 83% ALTSYNC]. ENTER PASSWORD TO PROCEED.
He had debated whether placing an additional password requirement was perhaps too much, but he figured that given his situation, his paranoia was justified; one could never be too careful, especially here. He entered the password, and the message was relayed onto the black background in jade lettering.
Ordinarily, I would have sent you status reports on our ongoing projects, but something far more pressing has come up. It would seem that David Jones has escaped from his recent imprisonment at Wissenschaft prison. He has called our offices several times now, demanding to speak with you. We've tried to resolve the matter, but he's becoming increasingly harder to deal with.
What worries me most is that he has expressed his intentions to cross over and kill you.
I'm very concerned for your safety, William. I know you and Jones haven't always seen eye to eye, but I can't imagine what would cause him to suddenly act this way. Whatever the case may be, we both know what Jones is capable of, and he will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. I know you can't reply to these messages anymore - and sometimes, I wonder if you even receive them - but I implore you to take precautionary measures in the event Jones succeeds. I would ask the ZFT Captains to assist, but they have their hands full with North Woods and the First Wave; and since it would be unwise for Massive Dynamic to get involved, we can only hope that Fringe Division takes notice of Jones' further activities and tries to stop him themselves.
On the subject of Fringe Division, you should know that Jones has contacted Olivia Dunham, and has potentially activated her. She recently came to me, asking about Cortexiphan, and she now knows about her involvement in the Jacksonville trials. It seems that Jones is still interested in ZFT recruitment methodology, but I fear that he may try to use Olivia to his own ends. We will keep an eye on her, just to be safe.
Prepare yourself for anything. In the meantime, I will do what I can on my end.
Bell slouched back into his chair with a long sigh, deleting the message as he did with every other, erasing all traces of its existence. In a world where digital channels were always being watched by someone, analog technologies provided the only secure method of communication. The old computer, the physical alarm relay, the security implementations; all of it to prevent interception of his activities.
The archaic computer system configured to receive reports from Nina was connected to a similar one over at Massive Dynamic. Over the years, however, the disproportional rate of decay in the two universes made replying to Nina's messages increasingly difficult, until one day, the channel began to operate only one way, outgoing messages on Bell's end proving impossible to send due the Other Side's worsening state.
It would have been far easier to employ quantum entanglement in the matter of inter-reality communication, as did the GDC with their Selectric typewriter network. Yet while it conveniently solved the problem of asymmetric degradation, the process of entanglement on macroscopic objects was so complex and precise in required execution that the only way to achieve it was by using GDC equipment, and such an endeavour posed far too many risks to implement at that point; knowing them, they would have suspected something before he even began.
So as much as it pained him, he would be unable to reply to Nina's message. But if he could respond, he would have told her to do nothing.
Let him come, he thought; there were more pressing matters to tend.
But his annoyance faded as sudden remorse overcame him. How wished he could apologize to Jones for having taken him under his wing, only to disillusion him with promises that he was unable to keep; to Allie, for forcing her to leave him in this world when all she wanted was to stay at his side; to Walter, whose friendship he had often taken for granted, and who he had abused in his quest to subjugate the fates of twin worlds to his whims.
To Nina, for making things so hard for her.
He rubbed his wearied eyes, shaking his head. There was no use in dwelling in the past when the future called.
Upon returning to his office from the hidden chamber, the door to which left no hint of its existence upon closing, he resumed staring out the window pane, observing a languid Glatterflug Zeppelin docking itself at the Empire State Building. Two parallel universes, both just as real as the threat they posed to one another.
It would indeed be a battle for survival, but it was not a battle either side could win.
There could be no avoiding it, of course; and as heated as things were now, it was nothing compared to what was to come. All this time, the pieces were merely being put into place, and only now were the opening moves being made.
The real war – the Silent War – had only just begun.
PULLING THE STRINGS
Part III: The Coming War