NUMBERS GAME, PART FOUR: IIII
The day was overcast. Mason elected to park his TARDIS, still in the form of a British cab, over in the Jubilee Gardens. He figured it would be out of the way. He then walked with Alison and Para over Westminster Bridge, and the three of them stood at the Elizabeth Tower, which housed Big Ben, for a good ten minutes. They spent the time alternately looking up at the clock, and at all of the people walking past. “Well, Big Ben is still there. Still a clock,” Alison said at last.
“Technically, Big Ben is the bell,” Mason observed. He’d done some cursory research in his ship’s databanks upon discovering their destination. “What we’re seeing is called The Great Clock.”
“But then what are we supposed to do now?” Para asked. “Join the tour?”
“We can’t,” Mason responded. “As of the year 2010, only British citizens are allowed through security to take the trip up, and even they have to apply months in advance.”
“Lovely. Then there was no point in us coming here,” Alison said, crossing her arms.
“Bah. Don’t you worry about not getting to see it up close,” came a new voice. Mason turned to regard the twenty something guy who had paused next to them to look up at the clock face as well. He had dark hair, large glasses, and was wearing jeans and a T-shirt which had a large DW on it. The guy shifted his gaze back to Alison. “That thing is a symbol of everything wrong with clockmaking.”
Mason raised an eyebrow. Something about this individual bothered him. “Good point,” he said slowly, despite not being sure what the guy was talking about. “But there’s a number of reasons for that, right? So what is it that stands out the most for you?”
The dark haired man turned to glare at him. “Seriously?” Mason glanced briefly towards Alison and Para before simply shrugging. The T-shirted guy sighed and pointed up. “We’re approaching 4pm. Look again! What hour is that?”
Everyone turned to look back up at The Great Clock. “It’s… sixteen hundred hours…?” Para ventured.
“It’s I-V,” the man retorted, growing angry. He adjusted his glasses. “That’s all WRONG for clocks. Proper timepieces do not follow the usual rules for Roman Numerals! They’re supposed to read IIII! And it’s about time someone dealt with this problem. I mean, have you seen the latest Doctor Who opening?! All those IV’s spiralling around the TARDIS… it’s wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong!!”
Mason flinched at the reference, even as Alison followed up with, “Okay buddy, calm down… the clock, it’s a piece of history. Right? It’s not like we can do anything to change what it looks like now.”
“Not like YOU can do anything about it,” he sniped back. “But Lissa Jous has given me the ability to change things. I’ve already managed it for one Clock Tower! And once I get up there, you and the rest of the world will already have seen the error of your ways – and you will have bowed to my wisdom! The wisdom of the Denominator!” He immediately took off running.
The three individuals sent out by the Epsilon Project watched quietly for a moment. Then Para cleared her throat. “Do either of you get the impression that that’s the guy we were supposed to stop?”
“Yeah, I got that vibe,” Alison admitted. “But he’s not trying to steal Roman Numerals. Just change them. There has to be more to it than him – what if he’s a plant, designed to lure us out?”
Para cocked her head to the side. “Good point. He mentioned a Lissa Jous,” she agreed. Her bunny ears twitched. “Oh dear, why does that name sound familiar?”
“Maybe it’s familiar for the same reason that his mentioning a Doctor and a TARDIS struck a chord with me,” Mason said, deciding he had no choice but to invoke the name. “Because there’s someone of my race who goes by The Doctor, and like me, he’s quite caught up in things involving time.” He rubbed his chin. “But who would he be opening for?”
Alison looked back and forth between the other two. “Okay, so… should we run after ‘Four I’s’ there and interrogate him after all?”
Mason shook his head. “No, you’re right, Alison. It would show our hand. Plus, did you catch his use of tenses? He spoke as if he would already have succeeded. There’s a temporal element here. That must be why I was called in.”
“Oh no. Does that mean I was called in because of Lissa? I don’t remember her!” Para said, wringing her hands. “If only we could communicate back with the… oh! Mason, that picture they showed us on The Hub, I think you snapped a photo, maybe there’s another clue there??”
Mason nodded, reaching inside his suit pocket for his Bardiche. Pulling up the recall feature, he used it to display the image of the two people standing at the clock face. Para leaned in close. Then she pointed to the clock numbers. “Look! That must be the first Clock Tower this Denominator guy was referring to,” she decided.
“Call him ‘Four I’s’,” Alison suggested again.
“Moreover,” Para continued undaunted, “I’m reminded of Alice saying she wasn’t sure if this ‘Back to the Future’ thing existed in our realities. Maybe that’s because it USED to exist… but was erased from any reality that couldn’t tolerate the change to the Roman Numerals there!”
“Hmm. Time CAN have funny ways of dealing with incursions,” Mason reflected.
“Meaning Big Ben could be erased from our reality if that sort of alteration is attempted here?” Alison postulated. Para bobbed her head eagerly in response.
“By Big Ben, do you mean the bell, the clock, or the tower?” Mason asked, feeling like a little clarification was needed. Alison shot him a look.
“Maybe it’s even worse than that,” Para breathed. “The Great Clock is so iconic, maybe IT vanishing is what triggers the loss of ALL the Roman Numerals in the world!”
“Interesting.” Alison frowned, but nodded. “Yet okay, let’s buy that as a working theory. Good job, Bunny-girl. This means we have to stop whatever ‘Four I’s’ is going to do once he reaches the top of the clock.” She paused. “ALTHOUGH, if we succeed, this ‘Epsilon Project’ might keep recruiting us. Maybe we should fail instead. What do you think?” She looked to Mason. “You can return us home either way, right? With your ship?”
“In theory,” Mason said, feeling unusually uneasy at the question. He repocketed his Bardiche. “But in practice, the rides have been a little rough lately for no reason that I can fathom.”
Para was now looking at Alison with wide eyes. “You can’t be serious. Suggesting that we should FAIL? That we should let Roman Numerals disappear??”
The brunette turned back to her. “What?” She waved her hands out in front of herself. “Oooh, oh no, some old style analogue clocks will have blank faces and we can’t tell what year movies came out. Not a big deal.”
“Think of the numbers used in enumerating major sporting events,” Para shot back, becoming visibly upset. “Oxidation states in science. Names of people, popes, and royalty through history – some of them existing as names of plays today. Page numbers in book prefaces. Shall I go on?”
“Personified math would know her numbers,” Mason reflected with a half smile, secretly pleased to see Para standing up for something.
“Mmph. Right, fine,” Alison sighed, turning back to face the clock. “I was only kidding anyway.” And Mason wondered if that was really the truth. “But exactly how are we supposed to get up there?” she continued unfazed. “I can’t teleport without a visual frame of reference.”
“I can fly!” Para noted. She glanced around the busy bridge. “But that would attract a lot of attention.”
“And we can’t get on the tour,” Mason reiterated. “But maybe we’re coming at this the wrong way. This Denominator–“
“–would have had to book the tour months ago. Despite that, his rant seemed very fresh.”
“So maybe Lissa picked him because he’d previously signed up for the tour?” Para hypothesized.
“Maybe,” Mason yielded. “But there’s also the fact that security is not going to let him up there with any suspicious equipment. And the fact that he said we would ALREADY have seen the error of our ways.”
“Then you’re thinking the equipment was planted earlier. In the past,” Alison reasoned. “Perhaps ‘Four I’s’ was even signed up for his visit back in the past. Meaning the only thing he’s going to be doing now is activating something.”
“Right,” Mason affirmed. “And I have a time machine. So if we travel back to when this was all set up…”
“But we don’t know when that was!” Para protested.
“Then we reason it out,” Alison decided. “But not here. Since even if we can’t, we’re not of much use standing about outside. Let’s get back to Mason’s ship.”
She began to stride away, Mason and Para turning to follow. They were stopped only momentarily when an individual moved closer to tap Para on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” she said timidly. “Could I get a picture of you in those cute bunny ears?”
Less than ten minutes later, the three of them were back on the TARDIS, Mason having synched his computer systems to pull up Wikipedia on his video monitor. It was hardly the sort of place you wanted to rely on, but he figured an eye towards present day data made for a good jumping off point. “There,” Mason suggested. “August 11th, 2007. A six week stoppage, bearings were replaced for the first time since installation. Someone could have slipped something into the mechanism.”
Para shook her head. “But look here. July 27th, 2012. The bell chimed 30 times for the Games of the XXX Olympiad. Someone had to engineer that, and it connects more directly to Roman Numerals.”
“You’re both wrong,” Alison asserted from her position behind them, eyeing the makeshift keyboard that seemed to control the web browsing. “I can find the date we need.”
Mason stroked his beard. “Three possible dates. Then what’s next? Put it to a vote?”
“No way. Because you’re both wrong,” the brunette repeated. She elbowed her way in closer and started typing. “Didn’t you notice HERE, where the page references an episode of that ‘Doctor Who’ the guy was ranting about? Apparently your Doctor friend is a television personality here, Mason. You’ve been browsing the wrong wiki.” A new page came up on the monitor as Alison navigated a search. “Aha! See? Right there, 2006, Big Ben gets partially destroyed. The episode itself aired…” More typing. “April 16th, 2005. That’s our date. Let’s get to it.” She stood back, smugly.
Mason found himself speechless for the first time in recent memory. Mostly due to seeing the evidence that pieces of his history existed in some sort of science fiction show.
“That’s a bit of a leap, Alison,” Para said hesitantly. “It would imply some sort of correlation between our reality and television fantasy.”
Alison lifted an eyebrow. “Look at the ship you’re in, and who you’re talking to, and say that again,” she challenged.
Without saying a word, Mason moved over to flick the requisite switches, before pulling on the lever to activate the temporal displacement.
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