NUMBERS GAME, PART ELEVEN: TOUR DE FORCE
Para had never thought that she, a personified parabola, would one day be equated with a twenty something human male. But then she, Alison, and Mason hadn’t really thought through the finer details of their plan to capture The Denominator.
The tour for Big Ben had started at 4pm that afternoon, on the ground floor. There were 334 steps to climb, which were done in stages, the guide providing information along the way. The tour group would arrive at the top with time to hear the big bell chime, hence Alison originally figuring she had an hour, from 4 to near 5pm, to track down necessary information in their present. After all, The Denominator had appeared near the top of the tower in the past, so he had to have left from there, spatially speaking.
So when the group returned to that present, it was right after Big Ben rang to signify 5pm. Mason had assumed that Phillip’s untimely disappearance would have caused the tour to descend early. He was incorrect.
This meant that several people in the Elizabeth Tower were witness to the appearance of a SmartCar, as the chiming of the bells ended. They then saw two security guards emerge from inside of it, along with Para, in her usual garb of a bunny girl. Both groups stared at each other for a moment.
“Okay!” Alison declared. “Mason, I leave this to you.” She immediately hurried off.
“Wait! What’s happening here?” the tour guide demanded.
“Reality warp,” Mason answered, speaking with authority. “I’ll have to ask you all to move into that corner of the room until we can get this sorted out.”
The tour guide shook his head in response. “No – we need to clear the area. Someone’s gone missing, and a security sweep is necessary.”
“I’m security. I’m performing the sweep. Also, your missing person is right here. The reality warp transformed him into this blonde woman with bunny ears,” Mason countered. Para’s eyebrows went up. “So unless the rest of you want to be similarly transformed, please do as I say.” For emphasis, he reached into his pocket, pulling out his Bardiche. He tapped at it, and a band of blue light emerged from the swiss-army like device, a light which he began to train around the room.
There was another pause. “What if I’m okay with becoming a buxom blonde?” one of the people on the tour asked.
“Let’s get in the corner!” Para declared. Waving her hands, she tried to gently shoo everyone back to where Mason had indicated. There were skeptical looks, but with a shuffling of feet, they all complied, even the tour guide. Perhaps it was to get away from Mason, who continued to train his light beam around the area.
After about two minutes of this, Mason abruptly let out a “Ha!” and moved closer to the gated off mechanisms of the clock. He fiddled with his Bardiche again, the light switching off, the device now giving off a slight humming noise. He held it aloft, waving it in the air.
Para looked from Mason to the tour group, then back. “What–” she began, but before she could finish the thought, a small device flew through the air connecting to Mason’s Bardiche with a soft ‘clink’. Immediately thereafter, there was a sudden strange sensation – as if, for a fraction of a second, Para had been squashed back into two dimensions.
“Too late,” Mason sighed, demagnetizing his device and letting the flying object fall into his hands. Para realized it was Phillip’s reality-changing Alternator device. “But with this, I should be able to get everyone on the tour to forget about what’s presently going on – except I’ll need my Transformer back.” He looked to Para. “Here, take this to Alison. She can get the necessary readings off of it, if she hasn’t found The Denominator yet. Then bring her back.”
Para nodded, moving to grab the Alternator from Mason before heading off in the direction where Alison had vanished. As she departed, she heard the tour guide speaking up again, only to have Mason shush him.
Whereas the rewriting of reality had seemed to involve a squashing sensation, when Alison first activated the Transformer, she was overcome by a sensation of expansion. As if there were now a fourth dimension, putting her at right angles to herself. That curious effect also lasted less than a second, but it was enough to cause momentary disorientation. Fortunately, Lissa Jous seemed to be similarly affected, throwing off her attempt to knock Alison down.
The two women ended up staring at each other, an arm’s length away. Alison wondered how Lissa was even still there, given how reality had now – theoretically – been reset. Which is when she realized that indeed it HAD been Phil she’d been talking to, up until moments ago. When he’d been replaced. When his whole history had been replaced. Indeed, a part of her still believed that Lissa had been the one their group had been tracking for the last couple days! This reality altering technology was more powerful than she’d thought.
Lissa slowly shifted to an offensive stance, arms up, eyes cold. “I’m Lissa Jous. Former commander of the Bowditch. I know how to fight with nunchaku – and without. Teleport ability or not, you really think you’re capable of stopping me??”
“I don’t– wait, what’s that?” Alison countered, pointing behind Lissa.
Lissa smirked. “I’m not falling for–”
The Alternator executed a perfect parabolic arc in the air, smacking the pink haired woman in the back of the head. She stumbled forwards, turning to regard Para. Which allowed Alison the chance to lash out and smack Lissa upside the head with the Transformer. “Oh, bloody…” the pink haired woman managed to mumble before crumpling to the ground.
“I think we have to return to that ‘Hub’ place,” Mason concluded. “This is unsettlingly beyond me, and I still have their coordinates.”
Alison made a face. She didn’t like that option. It felt like admitting defeat, like they were putting their fate back into the hands of powerful, unknown people. Ones who were somehow pulling the strings. But if not even Mason knew how to restore Phillip to this reality, there wasn’t anything she could think of as an alternative.
After all, Alison reflected, the Time Lord had managed a lot already. He had been able to subtly alter the perceptions of those who had been in the Tower, to prevent any future investigation. (And when even the tour guide identified Lissa as being the missing person, not Phil, Alison knew they had a problem!) Mason had then parked his TARDIS back in the Jubilee Gardens, giving her time to cross reference external computer files with the ones in his ship, which apparently hadn’t been affected by the Alternator device. (It turned out Phillip’s identity was completely gone – all the files were for Lissa.) Mason had even worked out a way to undo the prior problem of that “Back to the Future” movie – apparently a trilogy – and restore that fictional clock to using an “IV” as well.
But restoring Phillip Denomolos was another story. They had handcuffed Lissa and locked her up in the wardrobe room. She wasn’t talking. And they had no idea how to uncouple her from the fabric of this world.
“The Epsilon Project obviously has more knowledge than us,” Para ventured, looking tentatively towards Alison, perhaps sensing her reluctance. “It may be the only way we can help.”
“Let me try talking to Lissa one more time,” Alison decided.
Mason shrugged. “I’ll start on some calculations, in case talk doesn’t work. I anticipate another rough ride, but maybe I can smooth it out a bit this time.”
Alison nodded, then marched for the door leading out of the control room. She heard Para trailing along after her.
The pink haired mathematical woman looked up as they entered. Lissa was stretched out on the ground, arms elevated, her hands cuffed around a piece of the wardrobe. Her expression was neutral. It looked like she’d tried to pull free, unsuccessfully.
“How do we fix this?” Alison demanded. “How do we send you back to where you came from?”
Seconds ticked by, and it seemed like Lissa still wasn’t inclined to say anything. Alison continued to try and stare her down. Lissa scowled. “Even assuming I knew, why would I tell you?” she said evenly.
“Because, if you hadn’t noticed, you’re on an alien ship. Maybe we have something you want. Maybe we can even work out a deal.”
Lissa sniffed haughtily. “Please. There’s only one thing I might be interested in knowing.” Her gaze shifted past Alison, to look at Para. “How did YOU get out?”
Para blinked, startled. “I- I don’t know. I was just here, with them.”
“PARA!” Alison almost shrieked, spinning on her heel. “That was our bargaining chip!!”
The bunny girl looked stricken. “Oh! I… I didn’t think, I just spoke…”
Alison resisted the urge to shake the blonde, or to go to the wall and slam her own forehead into it multiple times. Instead, she turned back to Lissa, who now simply lay there with a smug smile on her face.
“Fine,” Alison ventured. “At least answer me this. Did you actually love Phil? The same way he loved you? Because he apparently loved you enough to give up his own life, his own existence for you! Can you say the same?”
Lissa’s eyebrow arched. “Please. Even if we assume he was my Rory Williams, do I look like Amelia Pond?”
Alison stepped forwards and slapped Lissa. Lissa didn’t react, other than to slowly turn her head back to face her. Alison flexed her fingers. “You’re why a woman like me can’t have nice relationships.”
“Hmm. We both know that’s not true.”
Alison clenched her jaw. It was becoming a lot harder to resist that urge to slam her head – or Lissa’s – into a wall. She turned to Para. “Let’s get back to the Hub.”
The central control room for the station was big. And unlike the last time the TARDIS had materialized there, this time the computer banks had an operator. Alison stared at the apparent technician via Mason’s monitor long enough to register the long, brown hair, T-shirt, and jeans, before storming out to confront her.
“Answers. Now,” Alison demanded, reaching out to spin the other woman around by the shoulder.
Her adversary blinked back, and when she spoke, Alison recognized the voice of ‘Alice’ from their earlier computer communication. “What could I possibly tell you that you haven’t already figured out?” Alice asked politely.
Alison gaped. “How about what is this place? What was the deal with that Earth where I didn’t exist? Where Phil now ALSO doesn’t exist? Where personified math DOES exist? Can you teleport Lissa home, and Phil here? Hell, is it even me who’s supposed to be here, or were the ‘two’ you originally specified in your letter only Mason and Para?! SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.”
Alice frowned slightly, sliding a hand into her pocket as she contemplated Alison’s outburst. “Huh. Okay,” she decided after a beat. “I meant what could I possibly tell you about the Roman Numeral plot. Seeing as you’ve successfully repaired the damage and all.”
“Not all the damage!” Alison countered. “Reality’s still rewritten.”
Alice quirked an eyebrow up. “Um? Oh, Phil? Yeah,” Alice agreed. “We’re still trying to figure that one out. Did you bring Lissa back for analysis?”
“Even if we did, you’re not GETTING her until we get some answers!”
“Hum. Alice, is it?” came Mason’s voice. Alison glanced over to see him approaching, along with Para. He obviously hadn’t felt the same urgency about dashing out to catch the technician before she could escape. Though to be fair, Alison supposed that Alice wasn’t acting like she was in a hurry to go anywhere.
Alice turned and nodded slowly in response to Mason’s question.
“Or is your name actually Alison?” Mason continued. “Because I notice you bear some resemblance to OUR Alison, and when you first introduced yourself, you said to CALL you Alice… not that it was actually your name.”
Alice half smiled, glancing to her fellow brunette. “Ooh, he’s good. Or he’s very aware of how the two of us violate the One Steve Limit.”
Alison felt like she’d been punched in the gut. Yet again. “You… you don’t mean you’re really… me?!”
“Oh, nothing THAT dramatic,” Alice answered, waving her hands in a cancelling motion. “But consider. What if you could find brand new worlds, right there on Earth? Where anything is possible. Same planet, different dimension! And what if you, Alijda van Vliet, subconsciously tapped into one of those other dimensions when you were setting up your fake identity, hmmm?”
The technician returned her gaze to Mason. “It’s true, my name is Alison Vunderlande. Former secretary to Angel Investigations. Presently recruited to the Epsilon Project, the multiverse’s last, best place for hope.” She idly brushed off her jeans. “Now then, any final remarks before I send you back to your respective dimensions?”
VOTING WILL CLOSE EARLY TUESDAY NOV 18 EDT
THE NEXT PART WILL CONCLUDE “STORY 1: NUMBERS GAME”
(Any lingering questions unaddressed at this point, place them in the comments!)