1.06: Lead Time

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NUMBERS GAME, PART SIX: LEAD TIME

Para glanced back and forth between Alison and Mason, ultimately turning to run after the man with the temporal displacer remote. The one calling himself the Denominator. “Stop!” she called after him. “What you’re doing – it won’t merely change this clock! It will cause problems for all Roman Numerals everywhere!”

“Hah! Lies,” the dark haired guy tossed back over his shoulder. He headed into the Clock Room, which contained most of the inner workings for the Clock Tower. Along with the tower bells, among them Big Ben.

“No! It’s not a lie!” she protested, following after.

“Proof?” he called out.

That brought her up short. She realized that they didn’t have anything aside from a lot of supposition and inference. Certainly nothing resembling a two column proof. As she stood there, trying to decide how to respond, Mason hurried past her. “Denominator! Temporal displacers are not safe,” he remarked. His posture remained relaxed, but his tone was becoming mildly strained. “There’s a reason you don’t see people from the future wandering around the past with them. I mean, why do you think that Lissa sent you, rather than go herself?”

“She trusts me,” he responded simply.

“How much do you even know about her?” Alison asked, joining them and crossing her arms.

“Enough.” And Para saw the Denominator remove something from the bottom of the remote device and toss it towards the clock’s mechanisms.

“But maybe Lissa doesn’t know what will happen either!” Para pointed out.

“No, I mean enough talking,” he countered, scowling at them. “You’re not going to stop me with speeches! I should never have said anything when I first saw you. It HAD seemed like you might understand me… I see now I was wrong.” His expression shifted into a half smile. “Besides, now that this alternator is building up a charge, you can’t stop it.”

“Oh? You’re very sure of yourself,” Alison observed, edging closer.

“Yep,” he answered. And, punching a button, he disappeared in a crackle of energy. Caught off guard, Alison leapt for him too late. Mason, who had taken another step forwards, stopped.

“All right,” the Time Lord murmured. “That could have gone better.”

“At least it also could have gone worse?” Para offered.

Which is when the bells started to toll for the top of the hour. Para, and everyone else, immediately clapped their hands over their ears. She was also unable to hold back a little shriek as she fumbled for her earplugs – Mason had suggested them as a cautionary measure before she’d left the TARDIS. Yet even after managing to get the plugs jammed in her ears, Para felt the bunny extensions of her hairband quivering, the ends curling up. She dropped to the floor, letting out a whine. Alison hurried over to take her hand, which she squeezed back thankfully.

Truthfully, the sound didn’t last that long – it was the loudness, and the surprise factor that shook her up the most. Then, in the silence that fell after the bells were finished ringing, Alison pulled back. And then she vanished in a cloud of purple smoke. “Wh-What?” Para said, confused.

“Hands where I can see them!” came a voice from behind her. She spun on the ground to see a security guard standing in the doorway. A quick look at Mason showed him gradually raising his hands up into the air.

***

In some of the old cartoon shows, a character running off a cliff wouldn’t be an immediate problem – Wile E. Coyote being the usual example. The victim wouldn’t fall until they became aware of their predicament. Alison, by contrast, began to fall immediately. Granted, it could be argued that she’d known this would be the situation when she’d laterally teleported herself out of the Tower, to a position some 60 metres in the air.

The fall from that height would be fatal. Even a second teleport immediately before reaching the ground wouldn’t save her, as teleport would preserve relative velocity, causing irreparable damage almost wherever she went. And, for a fraction of a second, her brain seriously contemplated ending her life that way. Hey, it was a viable way out of this situation, right? Then her survival instincts kicked in, and she executed part two of the fleeting idea she’d had, whereby she teleported down to a position about a metre above the Thames River. Now that she was outside, and could see it. More or less. It was still dark.

Thus Alison hit the water with the speed of someone falling only a few metres, rather than 60. It still hurt – just as she knew it would, having looked into the physics of such situations not long after gaining her abilities. Water was not soft and compressible. But she forced her body to relax, and to remain conscious as she plunged under. The water itself helped a bit with the latter, as it was cold.

She surfaced, gasped for air, and managed to tread water long enough to pick out a point up on the shoreline. Then, with another puff of smoke, she was standing, dripping wet, next to the Thames. She pitched a little to the left as she took a step, and righted herself. Perhaps she should sit down? “No, come on, Alison, MOVE,” she said aloud. “Your little adrenaline rush here is NOT going to last…”

With effort, she weaved her way back through an imaginary crowd towards Mason’s TARDIS, managing to re-enter the apparent taxicab and close the door again – before passing out on the floor.

***

Alison awoke to the sound of muffled voices. She pushed herself back up, shivering involuntarily in her wet clothing. She was alone in the room. The noises seemed to be coming from outside. Alison cocked her head to the side to listen; it sounded like someone complaining about the location of the taxi.

Perhaps, Alison reflected, she should simply walk out and give herself up to whoever was there. Honestly, her escape from Tower Security had been more of a paranoid reflex than anything else – and once she’d ended up 60 metres in the air, she’d been kind of committed to the actions which had followed. Or to her death. Though would death be preferable to being captured here, some ten years in the past?

“Hey, it’s not like anyone would miss you either way,” she found herself saying. “Singh can find someone else to organize his files, Marshall Biochemical can chase after some other powered human, the bank can take their property back… heck, Mason himself pointed out how you’re only here for him. That job’s been taken care of. So why not go throw yourself back into the Thames, Alison? That’ll solve everything.”

She stood. Some part of her brain reminded her that she was likely just entering a particularly depressive state of mind, which was not unexpected after everything that had recently occurred, and so she might want to take some of the medication she kept in her purse instead. She effectively ignored that thought, instead reaching out for the door. Which was when another part of her mind (or the same one?) questioned whether she really wanted to present herself to the law, or as a corpse, while wearing the same damp, black dress she’d been in all evening.

That thought was the one that annoyed her enough to make her turn around and head for the back room instead, the one where Mason had found the earplugs. There had been a wardrobe back there as well. She might as well see if there was anything better to wear. Of course, there wasn’t – unsurprisingly, the majority of it was men’s clothes – but there was also a mirror, and Alison found herself looking at her reflection. She posed briefly, attempting a flirtatious smile.

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MORE ALISON (approx)
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The image that met her gaze didn’t look flirty. It looked plain. Tired. Pathetic. So far from Para’s “sexy cute” that it wasn’t even funny. Not ugly, granted, but worse than average. Because inside, Alison knew was also a mess. A mess, who had brought her mess, and all that emotional baggage, down onto two others. Others, who had been forced to work with her. Against their will. They deserved better. Yet they had been captured, and needed her help.

Her brain jumped a track.

She WAS the only one of them currently free. Were they in trouble? Did they actually need rescuing? By someone other than her? Anyone other than her? “Shut up,” she whispered back to that doubting voice. Why? “You know you’re not as bad as you think you are. Not really.” Right, you’re worse. “Shut up. You’re all they’ve got now.” They can handle themselves. What can you do? “A lot. Now, do you want to let these ‘Hub’ people win? Or do you want to die knowing Mason and Bunny girl are still out there, ready to kick their asses?” Silence.

Alison strode back into the console room to find her purse. She dry swallowed a pill, then headed back to the wardrobe, peeling out of her dress and throwing on a button up shirt and slacks, tying them about her waist with the help of a belt. She looked at herself in the mirror again.

She still looked horrible. But simultaneously, she looked ready for action. “Okay,” she said, pursing her lips. “Let’s actually come up with a plan that works this time.”

***

Para looked uncertainly back at the security guard, finally raising her hands slowly to mimic Mason. She wondered what, if anything, she should say. Which is when there was a strange noise. A somewhat familiar strange noise. Like someone was trying to drive, except they kept pumping the brakes every three seconds.

“Excuse us for a moment,” Mason said to the guard, inching forwards and reaching down to take Para’s hand. “Our ride is here.” The guard for his part was now looking around, presumably trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. Or whether they had any more accomplices. Where had Alison disappeared to?

Then Para saw the outline of the TARDIS control room forming around her. Mason helped to pull the blonde up to her feet, as a wall flickered in and out of existence between the two of them, and the guard. Para then clearly heard the guard mutter “a taxi?” right before the wall went solid. Mason grabbed onto the centre console with his free hand as Alison, clad in a shirt and pants, threw a switch and danced around the five sided shape.

“Laten we gain!” the brunette exclaimed with a grin – Para later learned that was Dutch. Alison reached out to spin a dial, the noise continuing around them.

“How is it you’re flying my TARDIS so accurately?” Mason demanded.

“I’m beginning to think I can hack any computer system in existence!” Alison retorted with a smile.

“You HACKED my TARDIS?!” Mason’s tone made it difficult for Para to tell whether he was horrified or incredulous. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

“Well, only somewhat,” Alison yielded. “Bit of a blend of hardware and software here, and I’m more into the latter. Also, this thing seems to have a consciousness. But once I realized that, and was able to project my intentions, things progressed rather better.”

“What are you talking about, Alison?” Para asked, desperately trying to keep up. “How could you hack anything? You were gone less than a minute!”

“Nope. More than a day,” she retorted. “Speaking of, Mason, glad you have a washroom installed in your ship. Not as thrilled with the scarcity of food. When this is over, I’m going to want to stop for takeout.”

“So you travelled back in time to get us,” Mason reasoned. He released Para, tugging down on his suit jacket. “Using the tolling of Big Ben to pinpoint not only the time, but also the location. Clever.”

“Yep.” Alison stopped fiddling with the controls to stand back and put her hands on her hips. “So, you still think I’m not supposed to be here? Because I now think I’m the one who’s supposed to be leading this mission!”

The temporal connection finally clicked for Para. Yet there was one thing she still didn’t understand. “So why did you come back into the past for us?” she questioned. “Why not just track us down in what became your present?”

Alison frowned. “In short, I wasn’t sure I should leave you at the mercy of the locals. Because I’ve learned that this Earth… it’s not the Earth where I grew up.”
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