NUMBERS GAME, PART TEN: REALITY SHOWS
Alison van der Land. Or rather, Alijda van Vliet. She was, Mason reflected, a force to be reckoned with. In the short time since their last visit to Big Ben, the woman had hijacked his TARDIS, flirted with a known criminal, befriended a personification of math, and apparently considered suicide. Yet through it all, she had managed to act in all their best interests – despite being, at least in his opinion, focussed primarily on herself. It was simultaneously infuriating… and captivating.
In the end, Mason decided that he had to trust her with his Transformer device. Given her teleporting ability, she WAS the person who could get it close enough to the Denominator’s Alternator to read the necessary frequency. Which would then allow her to undo the problem of Big Ben’s Great Clock displaying IIII instead of IV. Along with any other side effects, which might relate to TV opening sequences.
Mason DID hope that any such side effects wouldn’t include the Elizabeth Tower itself being erased from reality, as they’d previously hypothesized. Mainly because his ship would very soon be parked inside it.
“We’re on course for the location in the Tower near where we left the Denominator in 2005,” he told the others, checking his monitors. “Seeing as there won’t be time for climbing stairs.”
Para danced back and forth from one foot to the other. “Should… should I have had you make a security uniform for me after all? To blend in? Along with you? It’s just, I’m NOT used to wearing foreign clothes…!”
“Kinda late to bring that up, Para,” Alison noted. “Besides, not many security guards also wear cute bunny ears.”
“It’s fine,” Mason assured, as Para’s cheeks went pink. “No sense overtaxing my wardrobe, it doesn’t have infinite power to create outfits.”
“No? Damn. I was hoping I’d never have to go shopping again,” Alison lamented. “Not to mention this bra actually FITS properly.”
Mason glanced over. “Is that why you’re still wearing it, even though it’s padded out to Lissa’s proportions?”
“Actually, YES. Now eyes back up.” Alison shifted her gaze to Para. “Men. Alien or not, in some ways they’re all the same!”
“Right! Besides, you look fine at ANY proportion,” Para said with a smile.
The side of Alison’s mouth twitched. “I don’t. My inner self always makes me look hideous. But thanks for the compliment.”
Now Para seemed unsure about how to respond. “Okay,” Mason broke back in, having decided to return his attention to his TARDIS and ignore Alison’s jibe. “I figure I can head off anyone coming up the stairs. Para, you handle any security already in the Clock Room. Leaving Alison to locate the Denominator. Sound good?” He looked up. The others nodded. Mason hesitated, then added, “One more thing. We should consider the possibility that everything out there is really just a pocket universe, designed by this Epsilon Project to test our ability to work together as a team.”
Alison slammed her hands down on the side of the centre console. “Whoa! Ex-CUSE me??”
“Something I’ve been wondering about. It would explain why getting here the first time was such a rough ride,” Mason elaborated. “Also why Alison herself apparently doesn’t exist on this world, and why my race seems to be part of a television show.”
“You mention this NOW?!”
Mason turned to face Alison more directly. “I wasn’t sure about bringing it up at all, given your paranoia. After all, it’s only a theory. But maybe it’s important.” The TARDIS let out a whining noise. Mason glanced to the side. “We’re materializing.”
“Oh, sure! Just a theory! Mention it when we can’t talk!” Alison turned back to Para. “Seriously, men! What’s the deal with their thinking?!”
“Yeah!” Para said, nodding. She then pursed her lips. “Ah, just to be clear, we’re bonding here, right? This despairing about men, it’s not because you’re romantically attracted to me?”
Alison let out a small sigh. “Remind me to have another talk with you.”
There was a THUD as Mason moved to open the main door. “We’re here.”
Phillip Denomolos smacked the side of his temporal displacer. He’d been back for several minutes now, long enough to find a hiding spot, but for some reason he still couldn’t pick up on the alternator’s frequency. Was it malfunctioning? Perhaps he should have jumped back in time before this, to create an extra week for testing! But no. That black man and his female companions had been right about one thing. The technology could be dangerous. Lissa had been clear: One jump back, of minimum seven years in length, then a return to the present. Any more, and there would be risks to his health, not to mention time itself. He wouldn’t betray her trust.
Perhaps the problem was interference. He’d had to use the alternator briefly to get his devices past security. He nodded. Merely a matter of giving the displacer another few minutes to self-calibrate…
“Hey. Stop. Give me that.”
Phillip snapped his gaze up from the device in his palm to see a female security guard approaching, arm out, voice curiously deadpan. She seemed familiar somehow. “No, you stop!” he shouted back. “Don’t come any closer, or I’ll detonate this!” He held up his displacer, which had no explosive capabilities, but she wouldn’t know that.
The woman did stop, glancing down at a device she was also carrying – possibly a calculator. And the association clicked. “You’re one of the three from outside! Who were also in the past!” he accused. “Who ARE you people? Why are you following me?!”
She looked back at him. “We’re trying to help you.”
“Trying to help me change this clock?!” he challenged.
Her head shook. “Phil, we both know you’re trying to do more than that. And it’s going to mess with Roman Numerals everywhere. I’m sorry, but the parts you’re using in your alternator – they’re sub-par. They’re going to have a detrimental effect on reality. For the last time, I ask you to believe me. Please. Don’t do this.” To her credit, her expression seemed legitimately sad.
But he’d come this far. He couldn’t stop now. Besides, this woman couldn’t know what sort of parts he was using! The only person who knew all about that and his goals was… he froze. He pictured the security guard with pink looping hair and a tight blue dress. His mouth twitched. “You posed as Lissa.”
She visibly winced. “The remarks I made then were my own.”
“You POSED as LISSA!!” Phillip felt like he had been punched in the stomach. Maybe THIS is why he’d been tempted to stop and talk to her and the others outside! “WHY? No, no – HOW?? She’s someone IN MY MIND! Granted, I made sketches, but you couldn’t have even seen them until after we met! You never explained it that day I accused you, you simply ran off!” He almost took a step forwards to grab her, before realizing he should keep his distance. “Tell me, Fake Lissa, how long have you and your people had me and my apartment under surveillance?!?”
The brunette sighed. “Call me Alison. And we haven’t been spying. At least *I* haven’t.” She briefly glanced accusingly at the ceiling. He hoped that was merely a failed attempt to divert his attention, as otherwise, it had sinister implications. “All I know is that this whole deal is going to go sideways – and that’s why me, Mason and Para got called in.”
He stared at her, trying to figure out if she knew more than she was letting on. And for some reason, he felt compelled to state the obvious. “It doesn’t matter, Alison – I love her.”
“I know.” Alison’s expression became pained. “I’m sorry.”
The displacer in his hand let out a ping. “I’m not.” Without even looking, he reached down to spin the dial and hit the appropriate button.
She’d been trying to apologize for posing as the object of his affections. He hadn’t understood. That was all moot now, as whatever Phil had done must have activated the alternator. Either that, or he’d released some sort of hallucinogenic gas, as for a moment Alison could swear that the three dimensions around her managed to compress themselves down into two. The effect lasted less than a second, but forced her to gasp for air.
Then, it was as if… nothing had happened. That was it? Somehow, Alison had pictured something more drastic occurring. Though for all she knew, something drastic WAS occurring – somewhere else. The world was a big place. She had to act, had to undo things. She glanced down at what Mason had dubbed his “Transformer”. Readings told her to get closer. She took a step towards Phil.
“No, you stay THERE!” he insisted, now levelling the displacer device at her as if it was a weapon. She supposed it could be, depending on what else he’d done to it. It didn’t really matter.
“No,” she answered simply. And she teleported to a metre behind him.
In the time it took him to register her disappearance into the purple smoke, and then to realize that wafts of the same smoke from behind him was actually a tip off as to her new position, she’d gotten the data she needed. So as he turned and took a step back, she held her own device up. “This will fix it,” she remarked. “This will repair the damage.”
“Who ARE you people?!” he demanded again, this time with more frustration than anger in his voice.
Her heart went out to him. In a sense, they were both pawns in a larger game. “I’m someone who’s interested in returning home.” She shifted her attention back to the ceiling, regretting that she had no better way to communicate with her abductors. “You hear that, Alice back with the Epsilon Project?? I can repair everything… but I’m not going to! Not until you somehow guarantee safe and IMMEDIATE passage for me, my companions – and Phil here! Because as compensation for being caught up in this, I think he should also be allowed to go wherever he wants!”
Phil glanced up, then back down. “Who are you talking to?”
Alison decided that answering would only make herself seem more crazy, so she elected to continue shouting upwards. “You understanding me, Alice?? We can solve your little problem for you – in our own little screwed up way! So what was your endgame? For that matter, what proof do we even have that Phil’s actions aren’t correct for this reality??”
“Are you saying that your device can undo all my efforts rewriting the Roman Numerals?”
Again, Alison didn’t answer, though she began to wonder whether hacking some sort of communications channel on the TARDIS might not have been a better plan. Actually, scratch that, it definitely would have been a better plan – always go for the data! Somehow, personal interactions never went the way Alison hoped.
“Then you leave me no choice.”
For instance, she hadn’t anticipated that Phil might have a backup plan. As soon as he’d said that, she reached out to grab for him. To prevent whatever he was keying into his temporal displacer. To keep him from somehow escaping through time. Her arm connected with his elbow. There was again that momentary squashing sensation, as three dimensions seemed to become two. Then she reaffirmed her grip on Lissa’s arm.
Then she did a double take.
It wasn’t so much a physical double take as a mental double take. Her past didn’t make sense. Why had she dressed up like that guy named Phillip Denomolos in order to gain access to Lissa’s apartment? Why had doing so necessitated Mason’s wardrobe creating fashionable boots for her to wear? More to the point, why was she currently holding off on resetting everything for Lissa’s sake, when she really felt no sense of attachment to the woman?
“Alison!” Para called out from somewhere nearby.
Lissa grabbed for Alison’s arm, trying to pull her in closer, the woman’s other hand reaching for the Transformer device. Alison immediately teleported out of reach, making the conscious effort to do so ALONE, as was necessary when she was in physical contact with other people or objects. Though she made sure to maintain her grip on the object in her hand. And as soon as she had reappeared, and saw that Lissa was charging for her again, she keyed in the ‘Undo’ feature, setting aside her plan of blackmailing the Epsilon Project.
Whatever was going on, it had just become a whole lot bigger.
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