NUMBERS GAME, PART EIGHT: PERCHANCE ROMANCE
Phillip Denomolos frowned. The pink hair was correct, but the ovals didn’t seem to be the right size. The overlapping waves shown on the blue dress also seemed wrong, even if the boots were accurate. Or were they? “Lissa Jous?” Phillip repeated back to the woman.
Lissa nodded. “I’ve heard about your efforts. I’m here to help you.”
He wasn’t buying it. But at the same time, ‘Lissa’ had to know something, otherwise how could she look so much like the real deal? The one who had been appearing in his dreams? He kept his face impassive. “All right,” he said after a moment. “Join me upstairs.” It didn’t hurt that her features were easy on the eyes.
Yet the woman hesitated again at his invitation. “It might be better to talk somewhere more public, maybe a park…”
“All the stuff for my device is in my flat,” he pointed out. “I can even order us a pizza.”
Her lips pursed, and he thought he heard her stomach rumble. “Food would be good.”
“They’re going into the building!” Para realized, leaning against the central console of the TARDIS as she peered at the video monitor. “Can you still track them? Let us see into his apartment??”
“I’m not a magician,” Mason countered. “My Bardiche can act as a micro transmitter, but Alison elected not to bring it with her. And if we try to sneak in to observe in some more mundane manner, we might blow her cover.”
“But what if he sees through her disguise and assaults her or something?” Para protested.
“She can teleport away,” Mason reminded. “Besides, Alison is a grown woman. We have to trust she knows what she’s doing.” Even so, his tone implied he was still less than happy about her joyriding in his TARDIS.
“But… oh…” Para felt her shoulders slump. “I guess you’re right.” The blonde managed to resist the urge to rock on her heels. “I really hope I remembered the legend of Lissa Jous correctly.”
Mason leaned back against the console. “You want to take another look at the mathematical files I’ve got? See if they trigger any other memories?”
Para immediately shook her head. “No. First of all, seeing the people I know back home reduced to little more than lines on a grid, while understandable, is vaguely creepy. Second of all, some math legends like Lissa may be better left hidden – I don’t want to witness some kind of logical nightmare that I can’t unsee. And finally, if it turns out I DID screw something up in recalling Lissa’s appearance… at this point, I don’t think I want to know about it.”
Mason nodded. “Don’t forget, any visual errors might not be on you. While my wardrobe can custom make items, it’s only as good as the person programming it. And I haven’t had much cause to make outfits for women.”
“There’s that.” Para half smiled, remembering how Alison had refused to give Mason her measurements, demanding to be able to enter those numbers herself – despite the fact that he could probably look them up later, if he wanted to. The blonde looked back at the monitor, which still showed the building outside. She stared at it for a full minute. “Well, Alison hasn’t tried to make a hasty exit yet,” she concluded. “So if the Denominator’s not sold on her act, he’s at least going along with it.”
Mason nodded. “Want to help me program in our next little time leap then? I might not be able to impress Alison with my ship now, but you’re another story…”
“Whelp, we were wrong on a lot of counts,” Alison stated as she re-entered the TARDIS over an hour later. She closed the door behind her and leaned back against it.
Para resisted the urge to run and give the other woman a hug. She settled for a bright smile and the remark, “You’re safe, at the least!”
Alison nodded. “Also fed. Guy has good taste in pizza.”
“When you say we were wrong, do you mean you don’t look like Lissa?” Mason inquired.
Alison shook her head, the wire ovals of her wig wobbling slightly as she finally pushed off from the door to approach them. “No, I do look like her. Or I think I do. Or Phil thinks I do. But you remember how I thought that coming here would start the whole Roman Numeral process, closing up a causality loop? Ixnay on the ooping-lay. Lissa’s apparently been appearing in Phil’s dreams for months. So the sequence of events leading up to our future encounter might not have been altered too much by our showing up here.”
Mason let out a breath, his entire posture now seeming more relaxed. “Thank goodness. I was rather dreading doing a cleanup of the time streams.”
Para was rather more concerned by something else she heard. “Phil?”
Alison turned. “What, bunny girl?”
“Not Four I’s? Not even Phillip? You still call me bunny girl, but you’re now calling him Phil?”
Alison pursed her lips. “Huh. Interesting. Alright, yes, I suppose I am. I mean, we had a long chat and… he doesn’t seem like a bad person, really. In fact, he’s quite bright. If I were to explain the dangers of that temporal displacer to him in my current guise, I dare say he’d listen. I don’t think it’s his fault he was targeted. So it doesn’t feel right to use that nickname to mock him any more.”
Para wondered if she should reach out to grab Alison’s arm, but elected not to. “Um, you DO remember how this guy will rant about how we’re supposed to ‘bow to his wisdom’ though, yeah?” she reminded. “He could be psychotic.”
“He’s not,” Alison fired back defensively. “Or not any more than I am. Besides, I don’t want to blurt out ‘Four I’s’ when I’m in the middle of speaking with Ph– with him, do I? I mean, I almost did when I first saw him, and I need to keep up this charade through at least one more encounter. If not three or four.”
“Three or four?” Para protested. “I thought you said you’d only need a couple visits! The first to see where he was at, and the second to provide him with the devices he would end up with!”
“That was before I knew he was pretty much inventing the things himself, as opposed to receiving them,” Alison countered. “Granted, some of the materials he’s using have been scavenged in rather suspicious, even mystical ways…”
“To that end,” Mason interrupted. “Do we actually have confirmation that this Phillip will be messing with the alternator device? Trying to change the Great Clock along with rewriting the Roman Numeral opening for this television show he likes?”
Para pursed her lips, not sure she wanted to move on from the topic of Alison’s interpersonal relations with ‘Phil’ – but Alison was already answering Mason before Para could even figure out how to vocalize her concerns.
“Yes and no,” Alison stated. “He definitely wants to fix clocks to have four I’s, Big Ben in particular. He’s also obviously a fan of this ‘Doctor Who’ – he’s got merchandise, T-shirts, all that stuff. But I’m not sure he’d screw with the alternator to try and do it all at once. He would know that it’s risky, even after a trial run.”
“Unless…” The other two turned towards her as she spoke, making Para flinch a bit. She tried to quickly unscramble the thoughts in her brain. “Unless maybe he felt he had to do it? To impress someone? Humans can do that sometimes. I know of one guy who suddenly started studying me – well, parabolas – very intently, merely because he wanted to be smart enough to tutor someone else.”
Alison frowned. “You think Phil is going to screw up all the Roman Numerals in the world because he’s trying to impress a girl?” She shook her head. “Kindly keep your romantic notions out of this science fiction story.”
Para was almost tempted to fire back with ‘I will if you will’, but she restrained herself. “It doesn’t have to be romance. Maybe he’s got a dying relative who really hates the show’s new opening sequence, I don’t know. I’m just saying, humans can be driven to do crazy things.”
There was a slightly awkward silence. “She’s got a point,” Mason finally offered up.
“I guess,” Alison sighed. “Okay. Let’s do the time hop, two weeks forward, as scheduled. Once there, I’ll get more from Phil about his family and friends, along with whether he’s had any more dreams about me. About Lissa,” she amended quickly. She then looked to Para. “And I shouldn’t change dresses? You math personifications, you always wear the same clothes?”
“Not the SAME,” Para corrected. “But we have multiple copies of our outfits, yes. After all, changing clothing styles generally means a form change, like standard to vertex. Not something you’d do on a whim.”
“Mmm. All right then,” Alison concluded. She pointed her toe out. “Though personified math might want to reconsider it’s clothing policy. Trying new styles can lead to new discoveries – for instance, I’m liking these boots a lot more than I thought I would.”
“He knows I’m not Lissa.”
The admission hung in the air until Para finally asked, “How?”
Alison rubbed her nose, then headed from the TARDIS door through the control room, towards the wardrobe area. “Lissa apparently appeared in Phil’s dreams again last night, telling him it was time to test the alternator. I obviously didn’t know this, and was unable to fast talk an explanation.” She paused to lean against the wall near the back doorway, the corners of her mouth twitching. “Truth be told, I think he’s suspected me of being a fraud since our second meeting. Maybe even the first.”
Mason cleared his throat. “Do we at least know whether–”
“Yes, yes, it’s confirmed, Phil’s in love with Lissa,” Alison cut in, anticipating the question. Para almost fancied that Alison wanted to add ‘and not with me’, but what she actually said was “So yes, it’s equally likely that his upcoming acting like an idiot with technology is an attempt to impress her.”
“He’s in love with a personification of math,” Para said, feeling like she actually had to say that out loud in order to believe it. “That’s so WEIRD. Most humans HATE us!”
Alison crossed her arms. “Put on a bikini, go to a beach, and then tell me how much the guys HATE you, Miss Sexy Cute,” she countered. “Heck, appearances aside, even I like you more than I thought I ever would.”
Para took in a deep breath, deciding to finally call her out. “Yet… I notice you’re still not calling me Para.”
Alison’s gaze darted over to a random corner of the control room. “True. But at this point, the fact that I’m using pet names to your face, rather than behind your back, is probably more of an attempt to push you away from me. For your own good.” Para felt her eyes widen at the admission.
“Regardless, this means Phillip is going to play with technology he doesn’t understand,” Mason summarized, steering the conversation back to their mission. “Leading us to the question of whether we can prevent that, without interfering with events as we’ve already seen them.”
Again, Alison’s remark implied a follow up that never came. Para exchanged a glance with Mason. He shrugged. “Well?” Para ventured again.
Alison looked back at them. “The problem is actually with his alternator. He’s swapped in some parts, which he doesn’t think will affect the shielding – but I have my doubts. And if there’s bleedthrough, more than just clocks will be affected. In fact I’m starting to suspect “Back to the Future” wasn’t a six hour epic, but rather a series of movies, separated by Roman Numerals.”
“Okay,” Mason said slowly. “But then what’s your solution to preventing the problem?”
“We repair his device,” Alison stated. “So it works properly. Or, if you prefer, we sabotage it, so that it doesn’t work at all. Or we use what I know about it to devise some countermeasures, fixing the problem after it occurs!” She spun on her heel. “Whatever, I don’t care. I’m going to change. No peeking.” With that, she completed her march out of the room.
Para took a step after Alison, but upon realizing she didn’t know what to say, thought better of it and looked to Mason instead. “Well, you’re the time expert,” she observed. “Which of those options do you think is the best?”
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