mason

1.10: Reality Shows

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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.”

***

bell_1413014i

Inside the Tower.
Image source.

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.

LJousC

LISSA JOUS (approx)

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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1.07: Causality

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NUMBERS GAME, PART SEVEN: CAUSALITY

Mason exchanged a quick glance with Para before looking back at Alison. “What do you mean this isn’t the Earth where you grew up?”

“I’ll explain later,” Alison said dismissively. “As it is, we need to focus on catching Four I’s, aka Phillip Denomolos!”

“Oh! You figured out the name of the Denominator?” Para said in surprise.

Alison grinned. “Yup! Been sifting through data for over a day, as I said. I knew what he looked like, and when he was going on the tour of the Tower. Matter of being a genius with computers and cross referencing.”

Morgan_Freeman

MASON’S LOOK
Source: Paramount Pictures

Mason frowned. “But where could you have pulled in the raw data? I don’t keep records of every Earth activity in my TARDIS. These data banks aren’t like your internet! For that matter, the records I have stored are apparently not even for this Earth?”

“Truuue,” Alison admitted hesitantly. “But I discovered you can interface this ship temporarily with the internet out there.”

“Even so,” Mason asserted, “that would be the internet of the current time. 2005. Before tours were regulated, before this Phillip signed up.”

Alison coughed. “Potentially.”

Mason’s look became a glare. “You haven’t stayed in 2005.”

“Potentially.”

“You’ve been joyriding my TARDIS through time and space?!” Mason couldn’t even think of the number of regulations that this sort of an act would have violated. And he had let Alison on board, so this meant he was an accessory! He leaned in against the centre console, moving his face closer to hers. “When you picked me and Para up immediately after you left us – it was so that I had no time to PREVENT your actions, wasn’t it!”

“No!” Alison fired back. Her mouth twitched. “Though I grant that was a side benefit.”

The audacity of the woman! “Exactly where did you take–”

“Look, no TIME for this,” Alison interjected. “We’re currently headed back to the present, and by the time we get there, we HAVE to have a plan for stopping the alternator device that got planted in that Tower! I kind of used up any extra lead time with my research.”

Mason walked over to spin a dial on the console. “Time is a bad excuse. I’ve now adjusted our destination to be a few months previous to your setting.”

Alison frowned slightly. “Okay, knowing about that dial a day ago would have been useful information. Still, the alternator – it’s a serious problem! We can discuss my so-called joyriding later!”

“Here’s the thing about that technology,” Para chimed in, seemingly seizing the new topic in order to prevent an argument. “We don’t know what it does. Other than apparently build up a charge, for something like a decade.”

“Oh, an alternator alters the perceptions of everyone in it’s vicinity,” Alison offered. “That information WAS in this TARDIS database. In this case, I hypothesize that it will make people believe they’ve always seen four I’s on Big Ben’s clock, rather than an IV. It’s rather ingenious. Since the trigger ends up being activated retroactively – generally once enough people have been targeted – the newly affected population can then simultaneously convince anyone who was NOT altered over the last several years that reality’s been like this all along. Even historical records and web pages can be changed by unwitting people. Because as we all know, history is written by the victors.”

Despite his mounting annoyance with Alison, Mason was impressed by her deductive reasoning. In fact, he knew something about alternators too, and when coupled with a temporal displacer, they could help to alter local perceptions – so that no one would notice the arrival of the time traveller themselves. Though his being impressed quickly morphed back into irritation over the fact that she was now showing off all this otherworldly knowledge instead of him. “What, did you spend ALL your time alone doing research? Merely to justify your taking my ship wherever you wanted?” he demanded.

Alison’s jaw clenched. “No, not to justify! To resist the urges I had to throw myself into the Thames and be done with it!” she shouted, rounding on him. “Okay? You happy now? Because here I am, hungry, nearly out of meds for my depression, and it’s ONLY my interest in this ship and the technology element of this case that’s kept me going. To try and save a planet where my death won’t even register, because you know what? I don’t exist here!” Her eyes looked a bit like they wanted to tear up, but even so, she held Mason’s gaze.

He flinched away first. “That… doesn’t make me happy,” was the only thing he could think of to say, staring at the wall. He idly reached up to touch his face, where Alison had slapped him during their first trip out of The Hub. That physical strike had been a lot easier to ignore than some of her more recent verbal blows. Yet it was difficult to make a connection with her. She was so unpredictable.

A challenge which he sort of appreciated. Perhaps Alison was right – he should have run off with her all those years ago.

“So how do we stop the alternator device?” Para said quietly, even as she moved to touch Alison’s arm. The brunette flinched back at the touch, but then resumed her earlier pose, taking in a shallow breath as she fired a weak smile back at Para.

back-to-future-unclock

Image from a six hour movie?

“I… I don’t know,” Alison admitted. “That’s why I had to get the both of you. I’m in over my head – I don’t know why it would cause problems for all Roman Numerals either.” She ran her fingers back through her hair. “If it helps, I’ve learned that Four I’s already used his device once before. On the clock tower in the movie ‘Back to the Future’. Yet the only thing to happen there was updates to all beliefs and online files reflecting the lack of an IV in their production. Unless that six hour movie already HAD four I’s on it’s clock, but then why would that girl Alice have brought it to our attention way back on The Hub??”

Mason pushed his increasing thoughts about Alison aside – particularly the fetching way her hair fringe now covered her forehead – to focus in on the more immediate problem. “Okay. The solution to stopping the problem might be in why the device malfunctions… either way, with all this time hopping, we’d better focus on that. Because if we’re not careful, we could end up causing the very problem we are trying to prevent, and be responsible for the current crisis ourselves!” He crossed his arms. “So ladies, throw out any ideas you have, nothing too ridiculous.”

“I thought maybe it was the scope,” Alison admitted, relief in her voice now that Mason had accepted the conversational shift. “Because so many people know about Big Ben, no matter what Earth you’re on. But I found nothing to back up that theory, or know how to deal with it.“

“Maybe it’s a problem with proximity to the Great Clock’s inner workings?” Para offered. “Plus there’s actually four clocks on the Elizabeth Tower, not one! Maybe the Denominator’s device wasn’t properly calibrated.”

Alison shook her head. “Seems like pretty basic stuff to take into account,” she objected.

“Hold on. Calibration. Would this Phillip have calibrated the alternator himself?” Mason mused. “From what we’ve seen so far, he doesn’t understand how dangerous this technology might be. He probably inherited it. Or had it presented to him by someone.”

“By Lissa,” Para asserted. “He’s said as much.” She frowned. “Alison, were you able to track HER whereabouts at all?”

“I didn’t get that far,” Alison said, shaking her head. “Kinda had my hands full already! But from what I read, Four I’s DOES have something of a technological background. He works as a computer tech. What if he tried to recalibrate the alternator on his own? To affect MORE numerals than just those in this one area? In fact – oh!” Her eyes got a bit wider, and she looked back and forth, seeking affirmation.

Para looked hesitant, but Mason nodded slowly, seeing what Alison meant. “This Phillip makes adjustments, failing to anticipate what would happen when he tries to influence all clocks in the country, not just the ones in the Elizabeth Tower.”

Alison shook her head. “No, no, you missed it! Not all clocks. A specific clock. Remember him ranting about ‘the latest Doctor Who opening’? Remember the connection to our date in 2005? Moreover, why do you think this guy’s first trial run was on a clock in a FICTIONAL film? He’s out to rewrite a television franchise. One which, incidentally, I have discovered to be something of a worldwide phenomenon.”

“But if he wants to change the show, why not just change the show?” Para objected, her bunny ears twitching in confusion. “Why change this actual iconic clock itself and wreck all of math in the process??”

“Perhaps because of how the Great Clock has been featured in the show,” Mason suggested, stroking his beard. “Or maybe he’s a bit mentally unbalanced. But even so, this is still mere supposition! We need to PROVE this link. If we’re wrong, our future actions could STILL be what causes the whole situation.”

“But the only way to be SURE is…” Alison stopped, looking thoughtful. Her fingers tightened a little where she was gripping the console. “Ooh. I have a new thought. But you’re not going to like it.”

She told them. And she was right – Mason didn’t like it. But he wasn’t sure whether to be impressed at her ingenuity, or horrified by the possible repercussions. Regardless, he decided that he had been right about one thing all along. Alison was definitely difficult to predict.

***

Phillip Denomolos turned off his music player and pulled out his headphones as the bus approached his stop. Normally music helped to centre his mind, but apparently the technical problems he had been trying to resolve today at work had pushed him beyond any place where music could help. Yet his invention was so close to being completed! Why this month, of all months, had his muse fled from him?

The twenty six year old got off the bus, pushing his way through the people waiting there with a sigh. He supposed he knew the answer to that unspoken question – with all the recent network problems, his mind was overtaxed. If only someone else could deal with fixing the damn computers! These days, when he went to bed, he was no longer in the right mindset (whatever that might have been) for her to seek him out.

Phillip smiled, now that he was thinking about her. Lissa Jous. His muse. His dream girl. The one who had so often visited him while he slept, speaking in his mind, whispering the hints that he needed. The hints that would allow him to finish assembling the device. The device that would allow him to set right what had once gone so very wrong.

His smile became a grimace at the reminder of the problem, and Phillip glanced down at his watch. He nodded. At least there, the Roman Numerals were done right. He shoved his hands back into his pockets, hurrying for his flat. Perhaps if he had a chance to meditate this evening, it would help? Or perhaps if he watched some reruns of his favourite television show? After all, his device was supposed to time travel too… maybe the connection would help! Certainly time travel was the only way to truly fix things. To show everyone the error of their ways!!

Becoming lost in his thoughts, Phillip was two steps away from the old style taxicab before he even noticed it parked in front of his building. By that point, the door was opening, with a woman stepping out to regard him. He froze. Her hair was pink, and done up in intricate ovals – or perhaps it was a wig? Either way, her blue dress sported a very similar wave-like design. It cut off at her knees, helping to show off her long legs and a pair of fashionable boots. “Four– Phillip,” she stated. “I have come here on a very important mission.”

“What?” he retorted, startled at the use of his name, pulling his gaze back up to her face. “Who are you?”

“My name,” the woman said hesitantly, “is Lissa Jous.”

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1.04: IIII

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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.

BenTower

LONDON, 2014

“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??”

back-to-future-unclock

SEE THE PROBLEM YET?

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–“

“Four I’s.”

“–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.

WHAT’S NEXT?

OPTIONS:

VOTING WILL CLOSE LATE WEDNESDAY OCT 1 EDT

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1.02: The Hub

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NUMBERS GAME, PART TWO: THE HUB

Mason watched as Para looked uncertainly back and forth between him and Alison. “I… could show you what I’ve discovered here?” the blonde proposed.

Morgan_Freeman

MASON (approx)
Source: Paramount Pictures

“Yes, let’s do that,” Alison asserted. Mason decided to say nothing, merely gesturing that Para could precede them to the computer bank section of the room. After all, despite offering to take them to the coordinates, he wasn’t in a rush to leave. He simply wanted to deal with the situation in a way which would minimize his interaction with the locals, since he considered his role as a Time Lord to be that of an observer, not a meddler. At least, that’s how he felt about it lately.

Para – the one with the bunny ears hairband – led the two of them back to the wall of computer displays. “You see, after finding the note on the table about the numerals, I investigated here,“ she stated. “This display was running, and as you can see it wants us to input coordinates. That graphic below, implies the system is tied into that ring on the floor, which must be some sort of teleporting device. And I presume these watches sitting on the shelf here with the similar symbol would keep us safe for the trip.”

She stood back with a tentative smile. Alison glared at the five watches, slid that gaze to Para, then turned her full attention to the monitors, poking at them to see if they were touch screens. As such, Alison didn’t notice Para’s shoulders slump, and the blonde biting down lightly on her lower lip. Which is when Mason realized something.

Para wasn’t quite human.

She seemed to be becoming increasingly distressed by the way Alison was reacting to her, and her mannerisms suggested to him that she believed that SHE was the problem, rather than the situation they found themselves in. More to the point, Para seemed to be looking to Alison for nonverbal cues that she could mimic, as if she was trying to figure out how to fit in – and she either wasn’t finding those cues, or wasn’t able to duplicate them. Was Para actually a rabbit of some sort then? Or an artificial life form, designed to make them feel more at home here?

Regardless, being a Time Lord himself, Mason knew a little something about looking the same on the outside, yet being different inside. He moved up next to the blonde, as Alison continued her technological playing around.

“I have two hearts,” he remarked quietly, attempting nonchalance but rather hoping to get a reaction. “Beating inside my chest.” He was rewarded with a wide-eyed look. “Embrace who you are,” he continued with a smile. “Humans aren’t terrible role models – for the most part, anyway – but don’t feel you have to become one of them to fit in.”

“But I’m not popular! I’m personified math!” the blonde blurted back. Her cheeks gained a touch more colour at the admission.

Mason lifted an eyebrow, wondering as to his best response. He elected to go with, “I’m a Time Lord, nice to meet you.”

Para smiled tentatively once again, then glanced uncertainly down at her hand and back up to him. Mason reached out to take the hand. “Time Lords can also shake hands,” he assured her, doing so. Her tentative smile became one of relief.

“Okay! Here we go,” Alison remarked, now typing on some sort of virtual keyboard. “NOW we’ll find out what’s really going on!” She grinned a bit evilly. “I feel like I rolled high on this attempt, so to speak.”

Mason looked over as the display flashed briefly, and then changed from awaiting coordinate inputs to what looked like a graphic of a rotating wheel, with the central hub area in indicated in red. Mason nodded… a central hub, so signing “The Hub” at the bottom of that letter made some sense. “Okay, we’re on some sort of SPACE station,” Alison realized, her finger idly tracing through the air to mimic the spinning motion seen on the display. She looked down and began to type again. “But we’re not in orbit around a planet. We don’t even seem to be in normal space…”

The virtual keyboard vanished from beneath Alison’s fingers, and the video screen went blue. The brunette looked back up as the voice of a woman came from a set of nearby speakers. “Okay! Hacking, that’s a little rude,” the voice said. “If you need more information than what was outlined in the letter, ask politely.”

“What? Who are you?!” Alison demanded, seemingly looking around for a microphone to speak into.

“I’m… ooh, hm. Let’s call me Alice,” the voice answered her. “But rest assured that such a name does NOT relate to the Umbrella Corporation. Nor is the name “The Hub” referencing some splinter group off Agents of SHIELD. The Epsilon Project is it’s own little group. Don’t panic, as they say!”

“You realize saying that to someone like me will have the complete opposite effect?” Alison challenged. “Now, why have we been brought here??”

A pause. “You want context, is that it? Okay. Check out this image.” A picture flashed up on the monitor, replacing the blue screen. Mason took a step closer to get a better look. It seemed to picture two people in Western clothing standing on either side of a clock face. He reached into his inside suit pocket as the disembodied voice of Alice continued with, “Back to the Future. I forget if it exists in your realities, but this was our first sign of a serious Roman Numeral issue. You see the problem?”

back-to-future-unclock

SOMETHING’S WRONG HERE

Mason didn’t, actually. A glance at Para showed no immediate recognition either, whereas Alison simply seemed ever more agitated. So Mason finished pulling Bardiche out of his pocket – which was how he referred to his portable device. Granted, it resembled what humans called a “swiss army knife” more than it did a long poleaxe, but Mason figured a poleaxe might one day become one of the options available. Tapping at a couple buttons, a small camera extended from Bardiche’s interior mechanism. Mason used it to take a quick picture of the image on the monitor.

“I’m hoping your silence is agreement,” Alice continued. “Of course, too late to deal with that incident, those movies are now one six hour long saga. BUT our plan is to send you somewhere a bit more conspicuous, higher chance of success… though we’re not quite sure how it will all play out. Hence the limited data. Understand now?”

“No one is going ANYWHERE until you explain how I ended up here in the first place!” Alison challenged.

Another pause. “Okay, look, I can be down there in under ten minutes.” There was a click, as if the line had been shut off, and the display reverted back to the coordinate input screen.

Alison immediately spun to face Mason. “You said you could navigate us away on a TARDY or something? Let’s do that. Now.”

Para blinked. “But now someone’s coming! And you said no one was going–”

Alison turned back to the blonde. “I lied. Or maybe I’m lying now. They’re obviously listening to everything we say! We have to get out of here, it’s not safe to even talk!”

Mason stroked his beard, as he realized something else. “Alison, by any chance do you have mild paranoia as a character trait?”

She turned back to him. “By any chance do you have ‘show off elite psychoanalysis skills’ as your own trait? Now are we leaving or not??”

Mason repocketed his Bardiche, doing so with deliberate care to allow him a moment to contemplate Alison’s request. All things being equal, he would prefer to wait for that Alice to explain more. But things were not quite equal. After all, if he were to be transported via “The Hub”, he would likely be separated from his TARDIS, which was something he would prefer to avoid. Besides, he was interested in the reactions the two women would have upon seeing it.

“I’m still willing to check out the co-ordinates under my own power,” he decided. “Get in my taxi. Use the driver’s side door.”

Alison immediately marched over to the vehicle. Para remained standing near the computer banks, looking torn, glancing from Alison towards the watches they were leaving behind. “But… oh…” She wrung her hands.

“Sometimes being human means not doing what you’re told,” Mason remarked to her. “That said, you’re welcome to stay here and give our regrets.”

“Nngh…” The bunny girl did a cute little dance from one foot to the other. When Mason turned to go though, she quickly dashed ahead of him. “Following all the rules leaves a completed checklist,” Para said breathlessly. “Following your heart achieves a completed you! Ray Davis. Inspirational quote I picked up somewhere.”

“If you say so,” Mason chuckled. He followed – but was forced to pause at the TARDIS door, as both Alison and Para now stood in the way, gaping. Para was the first to move inside, allowing Mason to follow and look back at Alison’s expression. He was pleased to see that instead of the usual suspicion or annoyance, her expression had morphed into one of surprise – perhaps even admiration.

Mason took a moment to admire the control room for his ship too – he supposed it had become rather commonplace to him. This despite it being only moderately smaller than the room they had just exited, albeit in the shape of a pentagon. The door leading inside faced one of the five corners, the one which had two exits on either side, leading deeper into the ship. The wall design followed an irregular pentagonal tiling pattern, and the central control console was also five sided; some work by Mason had eliminated the need for a sixth operative.

“This is not a normal taxi,” Alison managed after a moment.

“I told you, I’m not human.”

“Mmm… larger on the inside,” Para agreed. “Extra dimension involved?”

“In a way. Time And Relative Dimension In Space. TARDIS,” Mason answered, now grinning broadly. “Close the door, please, Alison. Para, you have those coordinates?”

The blonde nodded, ceasing her own look around to hand him the letter. Mason began to throw some switches to input the information, and after Alison shut the door, he pulled down on the largest lever on the main console.

The lighting in the room changed from standard yellow to green as the ship departed. Mason then turned his attention towards fine tuning the route they were taking. Which is when there was a lurch, throwing all the occupants off balance. It was followed by a larger one. Mason looked to his stabilizer – it seemed to be functioning. So why the rough ride?

“Is that supposed to happen?” Para questioned, grabbing for a convenient railing next to him on the central console.

“Not exactly,” Mason admitted. “But come to think, I ran into this turbulence on the way into that Hub place too. Ah!” He snapped his fingers. “That’s probably what knocked out my chameleon circuit, reverted the TARDIS back into taxi form.” He smiled again, pleased at having made the deduction, only to have the biggest lurch of them all throw Alison down onto the floor.

“Seriously?” the brunette shouted. “And you only mention the problem now??” Which was when the lighting in the room switched from green to emergency red. “Mason,” Alison continued with an edge on her voice, “do you have any idea what you’re making me feel like doing?”

WHAT’S NEXT?

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VOTING WILL CLOSE EARLY TUESDAY SEP 16

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