NUMBERS GAME, PART ONE: THE GATHERING
The central control room for the station was big. Large enough, in fact, to allow a person to park a car on the floor in front of the main viewscreen. Which was fortunate, all things considered, seeing as that’s where the taxicab from 1950s London began to materialize. It flickered insubstantially a couple of times, the “For Hire” sign flashing on and off in a strobe effect, before the vehicle’s existence finally stabilized. Seconds passed in silence. Then the door opened, and a brown skinned gentleman in a tan suit stepped out, idly stroking his beard as he looked around the room. He paused as he caught sight of the car he had exited, and he slammed the door shut. “I thought I had that circuit fixed,” he said aloud, his tone one of mild irritation.
The gentleman frowned, now faced with a decision. Should he bother trying to repair his Model 47 TARDIS, so that it would appear more inconspicuous? Or should he simply investigate the place where he had rematerialized, having traced an inter-spatial call for assistance to this location? As it turned out, those questions swiftly became moot, as a woman drew his attention instead. It happened the moment she appeared less than five metres away, in a cloud of purple and black smoke, along with the faint aroma of sulphur.
Alison stumbled post-teleport, pulling a hand up to her head. “Whoa! That did NOT feel right…” Her voice trailed off as she realized that she was not in her house, and further that there was a guy in a suit standing before her. The first question she had, namely ‘Who the heck are you?’ died on her lips. Because the guy looked familiar. And he seemed to be having a similar reaction upon seeing her.
“I’ve seen you before,” he affirmed, looking her up and down.
The brunette steeled herself, brushing some of her long hair off of one shoulder. She was glad she had chosen to dress conservatively today, sporting a knee length dress in black, with a pair of equally black stockings and unheeled shoes. Surely she looked just like any of a dozen other women. “Oh yes?” Alison said, even as she began to riffle through her own memories to place her companion’s face. She hoped that doing so would help in explaining her presence here, even as she wondered if the identification she had in her purse would match whatever this well dressed man thought he knew.
“Lucy Chadwick?” he said after a moment. “Is it you?”
“Uh? Not even close,” Alison fired back, relaxing a little. But having heard him speak again, she was able to connect the dots. There was a memory there, one she was a little leery of recalling, but she elected to speak up regardless. “But you, you’re Chief.”
He grimaced. “Mason. I don’t use the Chief title any more. Not since…“ His eyebrow went up. “You’re Alijda. Alijda van Vliet.”
Alison immediately tensed up again. “I’m Alison. Alison van der Land.”
“No, I’m pretty sure I got it right that time,” Mason said, crossing his arms and nodding. “It was that psychiatric unit on Earth, we both checked ourselves in on the same day.”
“Regardless, call me Alison,” the brunette countered. “That’s my name now. I can prove it.” She reached for her purse.
Mason waved her off. “I don’t care what your ID card says. If I’m right about you, you had a way with computers, while I probably have some psychic paper stored away somewhere. What’s written down is irrelevant.” He grinned. “If it makes you feel more comfortable though, I’ll call you Alison – so long as you call me Mason.”
“Mason? Like freemasonry?”
He seemed to consider the reference. “More like a reasonable approximation of my name in your English.”
Alison pursed her lips. “You still going on about being from another planet then?”
“I still am from another planet.”
“Riiight… that’s why you decided to visit an Earth psych ward.“
“It was nice and out of the way. Incidentally, did your issues with depression manage to sort themselves out?”
Alison purposefully ignored the question, deciding that it was high time to take in the rest of the scene around her. The room was big. Really big. Well, okay, not Roman amphitheatre big, but likely big enough to accommodate over a hundred people, even before you considered the high ceilings. School cafeteria style big, Alison decided. Yet the room itself wasn’t rectangular. It was shaped more like a cylinder.
One portion of the large curved wall seemed to be dedicated to a large viewscreen – a direction which Alison decided to denote as “North”. Opposite to it (“South”) was a large wall of computer banks and technical displays. Off to her left (“West”) was a small circular table, along with maybe a dozen chairs with wheels on their legs. A number of them were placed haphazardly, as there were too many to fit around the single table’s perimeter. And to the “East”, cutting across the circle like a chord, was a straight dividing wall. There was a door within it, slightly ajar, which allowed Alison to see what looked like an unlit area for storage. And, for just a moment, Alison fancied she saw movement in the darkness of that other room. She frowned.
It looked like the only way to get out of this cylindrical room, other than through that East door, was through a large ring device in the floor. At least, Alison assumed it was an exit – it looked functional, not decorative. Situated in the very centre of the room, it seemed to have been closed off with an iris, almost like an airlock. The ring device also had nine chevrons spaced at equal intervals around it’s perimeter, to what end Alison couldn’t fathom. Looking up at the ceiling, Alison noticed a similar device there, minus the chevrons. But there was no obvious ladder with which to reach the ceiling. How did they change the lightbulbs?
There was also an old British taxi parked in the room. Alison supposed that the ring on the floor was large enough to accommodate the vehicle, but why bring it in here? The whole place was very foreign, vaguely science fiction, and definitely not where Alison had intended to teleport. If she hadn’t recognized Mason as being someone familiar from her past, she might have been more creeped out by the whole setup. Though perhaps she should be creeped out anyway. Had Marshall Biochemical Engineering somehow stepped up their game? Was Chief, or rather Mason, now working for them? “So, have you abducted me?” she challenged.
“No,” Mason responded, leaning idly back against the taxicab. He now seemed to be watching her with curiosity, and a hint of amusement. “I gather you didn’t send the call for assistance that brought me here either.”
“No,” Alison fired back. It was tempting to try and teleport away, to simply return home, but that felt foolhardy until she knew why she’d ended up here in the first place.
“I didn’t do it either.”
Alison nearly jumped out of her skin, spinning to face the blonde who had spoken. The teenager – or perhaps early twenty-something woman – had seemingly emerged from the storage area; Alison shouldn’t have turned her back on it. This time, Alison’s knee-jerk accusation of ‘Who the heck are you?’ morphed as it hit her lips, becoming, “You’ve got bunny ears!”
The approaching blonde reached up to touch the fuzzy ears pointing straight up above her head. No, Alison corrected herself – not straight up, they were curved outwards slightly. In a parabolic manner. “Yeah – hi! I’m Para,” the blonde said, smiling hesitantly. As the bunny-girl reached them, Alison finally noticed that the long ears were on some sort of hairband. The woman had perfectly normal ears too, partly hidden by her long hair. Alison’s fears of this being a genetic engineering facility now briefly allayed, she eyed the newcomer a bit closer.
Para’s outfit consisted of a deep pink, almost purple dress. But unlike Alison’s more conservative choice in black, Para’s dress seemed designed to accentuate the blonde’s reasonably impressive curves. The fabric scooped down low, albeit not so low as to emphasize her cleavage, while the skirt portion rode high on her thighs, yet not so high as to risk flashing anyone. Her matching shoes had heels that helped to elevate the blonde to almost Alison’s height. In addition, Para’s hair was much longer, trailing all the way down her back, and then as if to play up the “bunny” look, Para had chosen to accessorize with a pink bow tied around her neck. Cute. Sexy cute.
Alison wasn’t sure they’d get along.
“Do you at least know what the problem is?” Mason was now asking Para.
“Maybe!” the bunny-girl responded. She held up a piece of stationary. “This was on the table over there when I arrived.”
Alison leaned forwards to look at the page, as did Mason next to her. The first thing that struck her was the letterhead. It didn’t read “Marshall Biochemical” or even “MBE”, rather it read “The Epsilon Project”. With the tagline, “The last, best place for hope”. Some new organization out to get her? Frowning, Alison scanned down further.
’Someone is stealing all the Roman Numerals of the world.’ (the letter read) ‘I cannot directly interfere. But the two of you can. Having determined where and when the next theft will occur, I have summoned you both here in the hope that you can intercede on my behalf. The consequences of inactivity could be disastrous. The coordinates for your trip are as follows:’ Which was followed by a sequence of numbers. The letter was simply signed ‘The Hub’.
“Did you write this?” Alison challenged the newcomer.
Bunny-girl shook her head. “No, I swear, I only found it on the table! I got here maybe five minutes before Mason. When I walked through the doorway to Maud’s bar, POOF, here I was instead. I was exploring that storage area over there when I heard the rest of you arrive.” Alison bristled, as she realized that this meant Para had heard all of her earlier personal information as well.
“Interesting,” Mason remarked casually. “Yet the letter says ‘the two of you’, while there’s three of us here.”
The blonde shrugged helplessly. “Yeah, weird! Maybe someone’s bad at math. I guess that’s all the more reason for me to help out!”
Alison made a face. “This is HARDLY comforting. If ‘The epsilon project’ is truly the ‘The last, best place for hope’… and it’s partially failed!”
“Failure is a part of learning – perhaps it will become something greater,” Para asserted.
Mason shrugged. “Well, there might be more information at those coordinates that were provided. Let’s get on board my TARDIS, I can attempt to navigate us there.”
Para blinked. “Oh, but The Hub here is all set to teleport us!” she assured. “I’ve figured out that much.”
Alison frowned. ”I think I want to know more about this place BEFORE we simply engage in whatever mission ‘they’ might have in mind.” She made a point of giving Para a very suspicious look.
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