Story1

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.

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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.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

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VOTING WILL CLOSE EARLY TUESDAY OCT 21 EDT

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Behind the Scenes 1

Anyone curious about how a serial gets written? Want to look behind the scenes of one? Then this post is for you! It may also be an attention grab. Please vote for my plot.

LynPlot1

WB: Writing Bufferless

If you don’t know what this is all about, I’m writing serial entries (of about 2,000 words each) from Tuesday to Saturday, posting them Sunday mornings, then giving 48 hours for you (the readers) to vote on what happens next. Basically, I’m “Writing Bufferless”. It’s been likened to a “Choose Your Own Adventure” in real time. How am I able to do this? Well, here’s a bit of what has been going on throughout the first six episodes/weeks.

WEEKS 1 & 2

The first thing I realized the week of Sep 1st was that I would need to refresh my memory about “Mason” and “Alison”, two of the voted-on characters (they came from prior role-play efforts); Para I already felt comfortable writing. I still had Alison’s files, but discovered Mason’s were on my old PC, running Windows ME. Booted it up, located the logs and pulled them onto my Mac laptop. Gave a quick scan through the first few files for both characters, along with their CharGen qualities.

I then knew I needed a reason for the group to come together, so “The Epsilon Project” and “The Hub” was born. For that, I needed to do some research to figure out what this “self-regulating station” that was “a shining beacon in space-time” might resemble. (Did you know that Babylon 5 was actually based on a real theoretical model, which is five miles long? Go fig.) I sketched my station out, and decided who ran it. (Which is something that hasn’t come up yet, and thus may change!) I then posted the Story1 index page on Thurs Sept 4.

On to writing the first part itself. The interesting thing about Mason and Alison is those are NOT their real names. But how could I convey this from the outset, so that this fact didn’t seem like some deus ex machina later on? By having this be their second encounter, of course! Para was the later addition to the group, as she was the last to reach the tied vote. (I sometimes monitor polls as they happen, because I guess I’ve nothing better to do.) Once all of the characters were together with the plot, I ended Part 1, and had my first vote.

The winner was: To explore the Hub. I was fine with that. I felt I needed to flesh it out a bit more anyway. The close second was using the TARDIS, so I decided that would be their departure at the end. I also decided to shift the character perspective to Mason for part 2, to damp down on Alison’s paranoia.

The writing came fairly easily, and I decided to make it about the same length as the first part (which is where the 2,000 words came from, basically). I even doctored up a photograph from “Back to the Future” to keep with the Roman Numeral theme, having decided I’d be going to Big Ben later. (For the record, the IV thing hadn’t been on my mind when doing initial plot votes.) I also elected to have my Week 2 vote be more character based, rather than plot based.

And that vote was a three way tie.

WEEKS 3 & 4

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Not having time to draw, I cast.
Here’s hoping they don’t mind.

Alison is a paranoid depressive, not a schizophrenic, so while I’d had reasons in mind for each of her reactions, engaging them all at once felt problematic. But I didn’t want to break the tie myself. So I needed some added context here, hence the decision to make Part 3 a flashback episode. To actually define Alison’s first meeting with Mason. I really did NOT have that in mind at the outset. This is also when I scavenged the internet for Katja Herbers photos, as I’d selected her as a casting choice for Alison back in 2011.

Moreover, that was a very busy week at school, so the pieces were only clicking in my head. (I do remember briefly looking up depression centres one afternoon at work, but it was for Alison, not me.) I didn’t get around to starting actual writing on Part 3 until Friday evening. But when I did, it all came together. And I decided the next vote had better take us back to the plot after all this characterization.

Only two people voted, and it was another tie, so for the first time I started actively flagging individuals saying “hey! you said something about this idea once! please break this tie!” After three more votes, it came down on the side of a villain. I even had two suggestions for names, so that’s when the side of evil developed a hierarchy.

Despite not being as busy the week of Sept 22nd, I didn’t start in on the writing until Friday, and it was harder going. More plot points in the air here, maybe? I also realized that there were certain things I simply COULDN’T put to a vote, like the date for them to go to, because without at least the seed of an idea for each option, my writing would grind to a halt if the “wrong one” got chosen. I elected to put in a fake out vote, and then options I could work with. Doing that amused me, anyway.

Then for the second week running, only two votes, and another tie.

WEEKS 5 & 6

Unlike with week 3, I didn’t solicit specific people to end week 4. (I’m not special. If you’re busy, you’re busy, and if you’re not into the story, you’re not into the story.) I DID keep shouting into the ethernet all the way into late WEDNESDAY before closing the vote, for all the good that did. I then started writing, because the first weekend of October would be CanCon (Canadian Content Literature Convention), and I knew my time would be limited.

For whatever reason, it’s not difficult to write my characters arguing. Something else that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to put to a vote came up – the leadership of Alison. Despite Mason’s remarks, somehow she’s become the heart of this particular story for me. (This doesn’t mean I won’t kill her off, but it does mean I’ll be sad if it happens.) I even had something of a speech in mind for her when I put out the end vote for Entry 5.

That Week 5 vote is the first one that completely blindsided me. First, there were more than two votes without me poking individuals. Second, it was unanimous, for the first time ever. Third, the choice was not in any way the one I expected. Given the lacklustre response ever since the villains turned up (perhaps due to me not giving them visible backstory?), I figured we were headed for game over. Instead, the overwhelming response was for an escape.

I also realized that (without the temporal displacer) I had no way to get my trio back out of Big Ben’s Tower. So Alison (and her teleporting) came to my rescue again. Part 6 was another part I wrote early in the week – in fact I was finished by Thursday, since Oct 11th is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. Perhaps for that reason Part 6 has also been the part with the smallest number of views to date… only five.

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Site Stats 2014

Pictured above are the hit counts over the first five serial episodes – every grey area is a weekend. You can see the spikes on Sunday when I publish, trailing off to nothing mid-week. Granted, it’s not true that all hits are necessarily for the new post, some hits are for previous entries. Still, Sunday Oct 5th you can see was an anomaly (when I did get two extra Facebook shares). Not pictured above is how on Sunday Oct 12th, I got only 5 hits… so on average still 15? Oh well. You can still vote!!

ANY Qs?

Here’s where I’ll open it up to any questions you may have for me. Or to any commentary about things I’ve done which have surprised you… either with respect to the serial, the votes, or this post. I’ll also entertain suggestions (as always) about improvements.

Of note, some things that came up at CanCon: 1) Wattpad. Thing is, I can’t embed my polls in there. I’m also a no one, and need to find time to sift through the site; maybe republish personified math. 2) Posting on Friday, or early Saturday, might be better. Since heading into the weekend is when people might be more inclined to read. The problem THERE is that’s sometimes the only time in a week I have to WRITE, given I’m doing this on a weekly “no Buffer” schedule. (I teach high school, y’see.) To balance I’ve even kept the polls open into Tuesday evening, when I know I won’t have time to start the next part yet, but I don’t think that’s helping.

I guess like anything else, it’s a matter of learning through making mistakes – so hopefully you’re learning something through my mistakes too.

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)
Source here

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.”
WHAT’S NEXT?

OPTIONS:

VOTING WILL CLOSE LATE TUESDAY OCT 14 EDT

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1.05: No Plan

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NUMBERS GAME, PART FIVE: NO PLAN

“April 16th, 2005,” Mason noted. The lighting in his TARDIS switched from green back to standard yellow upon arrival. “Time, right after midnight. We can scan all day for temporal incursions… unless you have any other insights, Alison?”

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STILL ALISON (approx)
Source site

The brunette sensed that his tone was a little testy, probably after her insistence on the date. But she was sure that this was right – it made sense somehow, this collision of reality and fantasy. “I was actually thinking of arriving during the actual airing of the “Doctor Who” episode when Big Ben gets destroyed,” Alison admitted. “But being early works too.”  She smiled.

“I’m still hesitant,” Para reiterated, shaking her head slowly, her bunny ears quivering. “I mean, linking the roman numerals plot to a specific fantasy show? I don’t think any people would exist at the intersection of those two wildly different things. Who would even read a news story like that?”

“That’s why Four I’s or Lissa Jous or whoever has done it that way,” Alison argued back. “Because no one would be interested. No one would see it coming! Even I’m not interested, yet I’m here!”

“About that,” Mason said slowly. He waited until both of them turned to him. “I’ve been wondering. Is it possible you’re not supposed to be here, Alison?”

Alison leaned in, hands on her hips. “Excuse me??”

Mason sighed. “You might recall the original message Para found read ‘I cannot directly interfere. But the two of you can.’ Now, I’m apparently here because of the time element, and how my history has a connection to this… TV show. While Para is here owing to her connections with mathematics and our adversary. So, Alison – how did you become the third of our twosome?”

Alison stared. Her eyes narrowed. “Mason, for the second time today, I don’t know whether to hug you, or smack you. I mean, props for thinking like me, but how dare you imply that I’m somehow here of my own free will?? Or are you implying I’m somehow associated with this Epsilon Project?!”

Para blinked. “I think he was merely implying you’re superfluous.”

“Not… really…” Mason began uncertainly, but Alison had already rounded on the blonde.

“Hey, I’m the only one who knew this was the right destination time, Bunny girl!” she reminded. “For that matter, I’m also the only human in this group! Maybe someone at the top level thought that would be valuable, hm?” She blinked, then scowled. “What am I saying? Now you’ve got me DEFENDING our abductors! The heck is up with THAT?!”

“Okay, look, calm down,” Mason sighed as Para shrank back under Alison’s increasingly aggressive stance. In fact, it looked like the blonde wanted to crawl behind the TARDIS’ centre console to hide. “What I actually meant,” he continued, “is if there IS a fantasy plot around us, why is Alison here? She’s grounded in reality.”

Alison made a face. “I teleport. Yeah, that’s so reality.”

“My hypothesis,” Mason charged on regardless. “Would be that she’s actually here for me. Owing to our previous encounter, someone may have thought Alison could draw me in, make me more amenable to temporal alterations, despite my preference for non-interference.”

“N-Non interference? W-Wait, are you now saying you don’t want to save the roman numerals any more??” Para said, her ears quivering and her blue eyes misting over slightly.

“It’s not that I think this situation should be ignored,” Mason assured her. “But I wonder… perhaps it should not be dealt with by us?”

Alison slapped her hand down on the edge of the console. “That’s WHAT I WAS SAYING! Back at Big Ben!” she reminded him huffily.

“Yes, and I’m finally agreeing with you,” Mason pointed out. “In particular, I noticed that this time trip to 2005 was a lot smoother than the one we took out of the Hub. Maybe that’s because we’re finally doing something they want us to do? It gives me pause.”

“Then is it too late to fail, or leave?”

“Stop! No one’s leaving!” Para’s nose crinkled cutely. “Though Mason, do you mean ‘They’ as in Alice and the Project who got us involved? Or ‘They’ as in Lissa and the Denominator who are behind the evil plot?”

Mason shrugged back at her. “The former?”

“Perhaps those two groups are actually one and the same,” Alison added suspiciously. “Maybe this is all some big testing ground! To see what we’re capable of. You really want to stick around for that, Bunny girl?”

The three individuals shared a series of uneasy glances.

“I… I can’t do nothing though,” Para said. “I just CAN’T! It’s NUMBERS, I have to help!”

Mason sighed. “And now that Alison has had me bring you here, I’ll feel responsible should anything happen to you while you’re helping.”

“Oh good! My fault again?!” This time Alison did reach out to smack Mason’s arm.

“More like you’re a catalyst,” Mason decided. “Which is good though – you seem to be speeding things up so that we finish this affair sooner.”

Alison eyed him uncertainly, trying to figure out if that was a compliment or not.

“D-Do we have a plan then?” Para asked. “For searching through the Clock Tower for temporal anomalies?”

“I guess we should come up with one,” Mason yielded.

***

Mason had again parked his TARDIS over in Jubilee Gardens, since the exterior still resembled a British cab, which would stand out inside the Tower itself. He began repairs on the chameleon circuit, as Para did some research on how best to gain access to Big Ben. After all, even though they were now back in the past, before the tours were restricted to only British Citizens – not to mention, to before the tower itself had even been renamed the ‘Elizabeth Tower’ – security was still tight.

“So why can’t you simply teleport us in, Alison?” Para asked as she read the monitor.

“I need to see the destination to get there,” Alison retorted, leaning back against the console next to the bunny girl, arms crossed. Her attention was on the corner where Mason was working. “Otherwise I can end up inside a wall. Which is why hacking into surveillance cameras has become a useful skill. Though in a pinch…” She stopped.

Para looked up. “In a pinch?”

Alison continued to stare into space for a moment, before turning to look back. “I hesitate to say. I’m not comfortable talking about what I can do, frankly – the only reason you know about my ability to start with, is due to it being tied to my arrival on that Hub.”

“Oh.” Para looked back down at the monitor. “You don’t trust me then. Okay.”

Alison let out a noise of exasperation. “Can you NOT look so adorable with, like, every other action you take?! It’s making me feel bad, now that I know you’re in a similar situation to me.”

“I’m sorry…”

“Don’t apologize, that’s worse!” Alison rolled her eyes skyward. “Fine. In a pinch, I’ve found I can teleport into the area shown by a freshly taken photograph. If no live stream is available. But it’s chancy, since the area in question must remain clear. It also hurts my head.”

“Oh.” Para paused. “In that case, Mason has that device that can photograph. And I now think that my ability to fly means I’ll be able to get tower access, up here, near the clock itself,” she said, pointing to an image on the monitor. “As long as I don’t try to do it right when the clock strikes.” She smiled. “Once I’m inside, I’ll send a picture image back here to you and Mason, and you can both join me.”

“That’s… plausible,” Alison yielded. “Except a flying bunny girl will attract attention.”

“Maybe we could arrange a distraction.”

A loud persistent ‘pinging’ noise began to come from the console. Alison quickly stepped away from it, holding up her hands. “Wasn’t me!”

Mason stopped his repairs, coming over to have a look. “No, not you,” he agreed. “I set up an auto-scan. There’s now residual temporal readings from the Clock Tower. Ones that are increasing in concentration, implying an echo coming back in time. Someone’s about to arrive.”

Alison smiled smugly. “Knew it. When, tonight?”

Mason shook his head. “In less than an hour.” Alison’s eyebrow went up as Mason looked to her. “So you’re a bit off, but as far as the date goes, it seems you were right after all.”

“Oh, and it’s still practically the middle of the night – I can fly now and no one will notice!” Para noted, clasping her hands. “If I hurry, I’m sure we can implement the only plan we’ve come up with!”

Alison grimaced, but an exchange of glances confirmed that none of them had an immediately viable alternative. Mason did make a point of grabbing something that he felt they would all need though.

ParaCoptC

PARA-COPTER

Less than five minutes later, Para exited the TARDIS with Mason’s “swiss army” Bardiche, preset to camera mode. Once outside, she reached up to tug down on the strands of blonde hair that fell past her ears, concentrating on the effect she wanted. Her rabbit ears compressed down, soon looking nearly perpendicular to her head, indicative of a parabola with a very low stretch factor. The ears then started to spin, sending the blonde up into the air like a helicopter, and she sped off towards the tower in the dark.

***

“Rgglfrgll,” Alison grunted, releasing Mason in order to drop to her knees and press both of her palms to the sides of her head. “I HATE using photos!” The purple smoke around her gradually began to dissipate.

“Interesting,” was Mason’s only remark following the teleport. He briefly looked around the Clock Room, before holding out his hand towards Para, who immediately returned his Bardiche. Mason swiftly switched settings, trying to track the temporal signal he’d picked up before. “Aha. The closer we are to the flashpoint, the easier it’s becoming to track,” he reflected. “Follow me.”

Para waited long enough to help Alison back to her feet, supporting her a little as the two of them moved off, trying to keep the Time Lord in view. As it turned out, they almost walked right into him, as he had stopped partway down the stairs. “It’s right in front of us,” he remarked. “In 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… … 0… negative 1…”

A being popped into view. They immediately recognized him: Four I’s. His eyebrows went up, upon seeing the three of them standing there. “What?!” he mumbled, looking down at a device in his hand. It resembled a television remote control. “This can’t be right. I left you people outside… in the future!”

“What a strange coincidence. Now, give me that temporal displacer,” Mason said, holding out his hand.

The resolve of their adversary seemed to grow at the request. “No!” he fired back, drawing the device to his chest before reaching up to adjust his glasses. “This thing is not only my ticket back to the present, it’s also what’s needed to retroactively change this stupid Great Clock back into the right format!” he asserted. “No matter what, you cannot stop – the Denominator!!”

“Okay, to be clear, are you saying that YOU are also the Denominator?” Alison said. “Because for me, it’s a little vague. Also, Four I’s has a nicer ring to it. Don’t you think?” As she spoke, Para attempted to edge closer to the crazy British man along the wall, but he saw the movement and threw a glare back at the bunny girl.

“You can scoff all you like,” he retorted. “You’ll never catch me! Besides, even if you destroy this temporal device, Lissa has more!” With that, he ran right for them, pushing through the group and heading the rest of the way up the stairs.

“Oh bother,” Mason sighed. He glanced over at the two women.

“Our plan really hadn’t gone much beyond this point, had it,” Alison reflected.
WHAT’S NEXT?

OPTIONS:

VOTING WILL CLOSE EARLY TUESDAY OCT 7 EDT

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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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1.03: Her Past

Previous INDEX Next

NUMBERS GAME, PART THREE: HER PAST

Alijda van Vliet had not had the easiest life. Going through high school in British Columbia, she’d often lacked focus, and showed little interest in social activities. Instead, Alijda’s time was spent daydreaming, or programming computers – or challenging societal norms, such as the time she’d been caught shoplifting. But it wasn’t until second year University, after her parents had moved away, that she finally decided that beneath it all, her real problem was one of depression.

That was when she’d first met Mason. Or rather, “Chief”.

***

“That place any good?” the dark-skinned man asked.

Alijda snapped her gaze over towards him, crumpling the page she was holding for the psychiatric retreat in her hand. She wasn’t sure why she bothered; he’d obviously already seen it. More to the point, why was there a man in a suit spying on people in this coffee shop? “Who wants to know?” she shot back.

“Me,” he responded with a half smile.

“And who might you be?”

He seemed to consider the question before responding. “My real name’s not easily pronounceable in English. I go by ‘Chief’. Mind if I join you?”

katja-herbers-770823

ALIJDA/ALISON (approx)
Source site here

Alijda glanced around briefly, taking in the rest of the tables in the establishment. There were a number of other seats available. “Yes.”

Chief tilted his head slightly. “Why?”

“Because,” she sighed. “I’m bad news. Run off and save yourself.”

“Saving myself is why I decided to come to this part of the planet, actually. In fact, I think I’ll join you regardless what you’re expressing verbally.”

Alijda frowned, peering a little closer at Chief as he sat down. Upon closer examination, she realized he looked… tired. Perhaps even a little depressed himself. Did she look anything like that? Wait a moment, the clinic WAS only a couple of blocks away. “Are you a patient from this psychiatric place??” she challenged, slightly uncrumpling the paper in her hands and laying it back down on the table.

“Not yet,” Chief said. “How about yourself?”

“No!” She looked down at the page, then back up. “No,” she repeated, softer. “And I probably won’t be. Places like this, they want referrals. Worried friends. Family members staging an intervention. I don’t have any of that. Nobody cares, least of all me. Besides, I probably can’t afford to sign up anyway.”

Chief leaned forwards. “I don’t have any of those things either, yet I’ve decided to give it a try,” he remarked. “Maybe that’s why I was drawn to you.” He clasped his hands together on the table. “So, did you have a strategy for your initial approach? Because if you won’t use it, perhaps I can try it out instead.”

Alijda almost retorted that her plans were nobody’s business, but checked herself. No need to be such a downer if he was a depressive too. “I doubt you could,” she snorted instead. “Seeing as I figured I’d march in and say ‘Hi, I’m Alijda van Vliet, university dropout and computer hacker extraordinaire. I hate people, myself, and society in general. Kill me now.’ Not pretty, but it would doubtlessly provoke some sort of reaction. What do you think?”

He grinned. “I think I like your flair for the dramatic. Pity I’m not meeting you under better circumstances.” Something about his tone caught Alijda off guard – he was speaking soberly, not snarkily like her, but with the same aura of truth about his words. Who was this Chief?

There was a lengthy pause, as the two of them did nothing but silently regard each other. “I’m seeing three options here,” Mason continued at last. “First, we both go our separate ways, me to counselling, and you to wherever. Second, we both go and check ourselves into that establishment for tips on grief, depression, the works. Third… I take you to my spaceship, and we take a trip among the stars.”

Alidja’s heart sank. ‘Crud’, she realized, ‘This guy is a loon.’ “Spaceship?”

“I’m actually from another planet.”

“Riiight…” Alijda pressed her fingers to her forehead. ‘What did you expect, dummy? That you’d actually attract the attention of someone worthwhile?’ What particularly annoyed her was how, the way Chief spoke, some part of her still felt like his words retained an element of truth about them.

She slid her fingers back off her forehead, raking her hands back through her hair. Fine. If this ‘Chief’ was indeed some sort of madman, he needed help. And, as much as Alijda didn’t like to admit it, she also needed help. She had come this far. Why not see things all the way through, for “Chief”’s sake if nothing else. “Let’s take door number two then,” she stated.

Mason opened his mouth as if to protest, but then closed it again, nodding. “Right. That’s probably best,” he said after a moment. “I really need to start observing more, and doing fewer parlour tricks for the locals.”

“Uh huh.” Alijda downed the remainder of her (now cold) tea, and then rose. “Then let’s both get to it, before I change my mind again.”

***

At the time, the therapy had helped. As had the prescription medication. By the age of 24, Alijda had become more social, even to the point of getting a job as a typist/secretary for a local company. But through it all, she remained something of a computer hacker, which occasionally got her into trouble… and was the reason she discovered that the company she was with had become involved in some rather less than legitimate business practices. Of course. Who else would have hired someone like her, after all?

It made her question her life choices all over again. In fact, it made her question whether she even wanted to continue being the woman that she was, since she’d already been toying with a new online identity. As such, she made her decision. Within one week, Alijda had embezzled money away from the already corrupt company, and then disappeared.

Some time later, Alison van der Land turned up south of the border, in Seattle, along with a letter of reference from the private detective “Liam Doyle”. According to computer records, Alison had been his secretary in LA for the last few years. Not long after her arrival, she got another secretarial job, this time for a college Professor. In fact, after a couple more fairly positive years mood-wise, Alison decided to settle down, going so far as to buy herself a house.

If the accident hadn’t occurred, giving the brunette teleportation abilities, and making her a person of interest to Marshall Biochemical Engineering, her mild paranoia over her past catching up to her might have even faded away. Of course, if that accident hadn’t occurred, she might not have attracted the attention of the Epsilon Project.

The project that led to her meeting “Chief” once again.

***

“Seriously?” Alison shouted. “And you only mention the problem now??” Which was when the lighting in the TARDIS control room switched from green to emergency red. This was all becoming far too much for Alison to handle. She felt her fingers curling into fists. First, this ship was larger on the inside. Second, Mason apparently really was from another planet. Third, this ship was LARGER on the INSIDE. Fourth, Mason apparently REALLY WAS from another PLANET.

“Mason,” she continued with an edge on her voice, “do you have any idea what you’re making me feel like doing?”

“Hm?” he responded, apparently a bit more interested in something on one of his flashing display screens.

Alison flexed her hands. She pushed herself back up into a standing position. Then, in a puff of purple smoke, she teleported over so that she was standing right in front of the alien man. To his credit, he looked a bit surprised at that, even as she threw her hands around him in a hug. “This is for being honest with me all this time,” she breathed near his ear. “And for being smart enough not to talk about whatever this ship can do back where they were monitoring us.”

She pulled back, and then smacked him soundly across the face. “But THAT’S for not making me goddamn believe you back when we first met! To think I could have run off with you and avoided all of my… my… everything!” To her shock, she felt tears starting to roll down her cheeks. Great, now her depression meds were malfunctioning. “I mean do you have ANY idea how much better things would be now if I could have simply left my life back then before I… I… well, left my life?! But no, now I’m a new person, one with crazy abilities, who has been hijacked by a mysterious group, and we’re on a crashing spaceship, and I’m going to die with an alien and a rabbit aren’t I, oh GOD FINE just LET IT END ALREADY!!”

The TARDIS lurched again, and Alison didn’t even try to catch herself, collapsing onto the floor once more. She closed her eyes to try and stop the tears from coming, but they stubbornly continued to fall. She sobbed openly. Her whole life was a mess again.

A hand touched her shoulder.

It was Bunny-girl. Alison knew that without even opening her eyes – the hand was too small, the touch too tentative for it to be Mason. “I used to make cuts on my arms,” the girl said quietly.

The non-sequitur was enough for Alison to crack an eye open. Bunny-girl – Alison couldn’t quite bring herself to assign the cutesy name Para – was now sitting on the floor next to her, regarding her with sad eyes and a hopeful smile. “You?” Alison found herself answering. “Miss Sexy Cute? You think you know what I’m going through here?!?”

The blonde quickly shook her head. “Oh, no. No way. I’m not even human. What I DO know about is getting down on oneself. About believing that the world is out to get you. Because as a personified quadratic equation, I know there are a lot of people out to get me. Or who simply wish I’d never been created.” She paused. “I also have a conic clone, which gives me occasional inferiority issues. It’s complicated.”

“It’s always complicated.” Alison fished in her purse for a tissue, realizing that the bizarreness of the conversation had stopped her from crying. “Also, you’re a what? How does that even make sense??”

“How does any of what’s happening make sense?”

Alison supposed she had to grant the bunny at least that much. Which was when the lighting shifted from red back to green, and Mason let out a loud “HA!”. Alison looked over in time to see him collapse down a tool in his hand, and place what looked like a swiss army knife back inside his inner suit pocket. “No one’s going to die now! Or, not due to my TARDIS anyway.”

The ride smoothed, even as a background noise filtered in. Like someone was trying to drive, except they kept pumping the brakes every three seconds. The tube in the centre of the console now also seemed to be pulsing in time with the noise. Mason rubbed his chin. “I wonder if that’s why he does it that way,” he mused aloud.

Who does what?” Alison asked. Next to her, Bunny-girl stood, offering a hand to help Alison up. After a momentarily hesitation, she accepted the blonde’s offer.

“Let’s not speak of him,” Mason decided. “Concentrate more on the fact that we’re landing.” He put his hands in his pockets, leaning back against the console. “But for the record, Alison, I wasn’t going to abduct you that first time we met. Just give you a little adventure. You might have ended up in your present situation either way. Or even worse off.”

“Oh yeah?” Alison mulled that over for a few seconds. “How comforting.” Though it really wasn’t.

“Where is this ship landing then?” Bunny-girl asked, seemingly looking to change the subject. “Do you know what’s at those coordinates ‘The Hub’ gave us?”

Mason turned to peer at a small monitor before looking back at them. “We would seem to be arriving on Earth. England. The Elizabeth Tower. Also known as the tower housing Big Ben.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

OPTIONS:

Feel free to name the villain or suggest the “someone”.
VOTING WILL CLOSE EARLY TUESDAY SEP 23 EDT

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