(The Looking Glass Chamber, The City, Wonderland)
'Ten of Clubs' was a title, not a name. His real name was Phillip. He'd managed to retain his rank and title by quickly and calmly switching his allegiance from the Queen – who frankly he'd always hated, capricious bitch – to Prince Jack Heart, now the new Red King of Wonderland.
With the title and the rank came responsibilities set by the King, and one of them was to monitor the ongoing importation of goods and intellectual materials from the Other World. So here he was, meeting with White Rabbit agents to ensure that all items wanted from the London portal were retrieved without problems.
Suits were sorting books into a carry case as Phillip spoke to the lead White Rabbit agent. "Any luck with the clean power source?"
"Negative," replied the agent. "After hydro-electric, our researches indicate wind still would be the best option. We can arrange to acquire a smaller unit for testing through the New York base."
"The King has in fact authorized a New York expedition. Once you confirm your team has returned, we can re-calibrate the Glass." The agent nodded and turned to complete final protocols with his team. A few minutes later he informed Phillip that all agents were present and accounted for.
"Very well," Phillip crossed the room to the Looking Glass head technician. "You may begin recalibration to the New York portal."
"Yes, sir." The technicians snapped to, disconnecting the London link up. But suddenly, lights and alarms started blinking.
"What's the problem?" Phillip asked.
"I'm not sure," replied the head technician. "It seems like we've picked up an extra portal, but that's not possible."
"An extra portal?"
"I'm guessing sir! But I think someone or something is coming through!"
With a blaring alert, the smooth surface of the Looking Glass rippled violently. Then, to everyone's shock, two figures tumbled through the Glass, landing hard on the ramp and rolling limply to the floor. Both were out cold. The young woman with short white-blond hair landed face up, but the other, a young dark-haired man, landed face down.
"How could this have happened?" snapped Phillip.
"I don't know sir, we're looking," another technician yelped.
"Calibration to New York is almost complete," called out a third.
"It should be impossible to come through during a calibration," said the head technician.
While others dithered about the Looking Glass, the lead Agent carefully rolled the unconscious young man over onto his back.
"Sir! Sir!" he shouted, drawing Phillip's attention. The Ten of Clubs almost gasped when he saw the slack face of the young man. "It's the Ha–!"
"Get me a Scarab, NOW!" roared the Ten, interrupting. "You, you, and you, carry them. We're going directly to the Castle. Hold additional missions until further notice."
Obedient suits lifted the unconscious visitors carefully.
(A guest chamber in the Castle of the King Of Hearts)
Three steps. It only takes three steps to go through an anomaly. You shut your eyes on the first step, because the light of the anomaly is so sparkling bright, it burns your retinas, and then you take the second step blind, but by the end of the third step, you open your eyes to an entirely different era of Earth's enormous history. There's no telling exactly when you are, because some eras can be 80 million years long, and there's a point when actual dating becomes completely meaningless. But then three steps back, and you're relatively safe and sound in the first decade of the 21st Century.
An anomaly had opened into the Eocene Era in a suburban neighborhood. A small troop of Adapidae Smilodectes, early proto-lemurs, had come through, and made a right mess of one elderly bachelor's home. Unfortunately, a few made it out the back door, and Connor and Abby had had a hell of a time rounding them up. But they managed while Jenny managed the neighbors, and Cutter watched over the anomaly. Finally, with a hand-truck of cat-carriers full of Smilodectes, he and Abby were to step through, let the creatures loose, and step right back.
First part worked. Second part, not so much.
Together, Connor and Abby took one step into the anomaly towards home, Connor pushing the hand-truck, their eyes closed involuntarily. Step two was always blind. And step three – but in that fraction of a moment between steps two and three, Connor felt something grab him, grab his entire body, and he yelped in surprise. He heard Abby shriek in that same moment, and then he was falling! Falling through skies and clouds and his mind raced in panic. Did they somehow step through the wrong anomaly? What the hell was going on? Were they falling from an airborne portal, and would splatter all over the ground when they hit?
The whistling wind tore at his eyes and stole his breath and he wanted to scream for Abby but he couldn't hear anything over the howling air around him.
Then there was a sudden full-body blow of landing, like hitting the surface of water from a height, and the blow knocked him into blackness.
The sense of touch returned first. He recognized he was lying down, on something soft, comfortable. A soothing something-cool lay on his brow, covering his eyes.
Then, sound. The sound of two people conversing quietly but urgently somewhere nearby. Smooth cultured voices, but not ones he recognized. It took an extra moment before he was able to decipher words.
"–ot sure what happened. But as soon as Ten makes contact, he'll return and inform us."
"It must be something significant. Something must have happened. There's no reason for the Hatter to return without her, or with some other oyster girl."
The first voice was male, full of authority. The second was female, lush and soothing.
"Well, we'll find out as soon as he wakes up, won't we? There had better be a good explanation for this." The man was irritated.
"Jack, please," the woman said cajolingly. "Do be calm."
"We should just shake him awake," the man muttered.
"Don't be silly," the woman replied.
Hating to be talked over like he wasn't in the room, Connor tried to wake up, letting out a small groan. Immediately, someone moved to his side, and he felt the bed beneath him sag, as if someone sat on the edge. The cool compress was removed, and fingers combed through the hair on his forehead.
"That's it, wake up, Hatter," the woman's voice urged gently. "Open your eyes. You're safe and sound here in Wonderland."
Wonderland? Connor thought with confusion. "Abby," he groaned.
"Wake up, then, come on."
"Did he say 'Abby'?" the man's voice asked. "Who's Abby?"
"The oyster girl, I presume. Hush."
Connor managed finally to convince his eyes to open. But it definitely wasn't Abby leaning over him. This woman was a different sort of gorgeous, with an oval face of perfectly even delicate features, surrounded by a mane of golden waves. Her lush red lips smiled gently at him, pleased. "Hello, Hatter. It's about time you woke up."
"Who–?" Connor croaked. The woman immediately offered him a glass of water, carefully trickling a bit into his mouth.
"There now, it's just Jack and I. Ten brought you here as soon as he recognized you. It certainly wasn't your best landing ever."
Connor shook his head weakly. "No – who are you?"
She blinked, surprised. "Why, I'm Grace, Hatter. Don't you recognize me?"
Connor frowned weakly. His whole body was sore. "Who's Hatter?"
The woman leaned back in shock, and the man appeared in Connor's line of sight. He was tall and lean and serious looking, with equally golden hair. "Hatter?" he asked carefully.
"I'm Connor. Connor Temple."
A profound silence greeted his statement. The woman Grace and the man Jack stared at him. The woman slowly stood and stepped closer to the man.
"Forgetfulness?" she asked.
"Not possible, they don't have it on the Other Side," Jack told her.
"He's been damaged, somehow," she said urgently. "That wasn't even his cover name, was it?"
"No, the cover name is David."
"Where is Abby?" Connor demanded, struggling to sit up, starting to feel both scared and annoyed. "And what the hell is going on here? Who ARE you people?"
The woman gasped suddenly. "Jack!" The man nodded as she went on. "He's an oyster!"
"And yet the resemblance is remarkable."
"Would you please stop talking like I'm not here and tell me where Abby is?" Connor snapped. He wanted to stand – actually, he wanted to run, but he wasn't sure his legs would support him yet. "What the hell do you mean, oyster? Where the hell are we?" Finally working up to a hoarse shout, Connor yelled, "And where's ABBY?"
"Calm down," the man ordered as the woman retreated. "The young woman – Abby – is in quarantine, for both her protection and ours. As for where you are – you're in Wonderland."
Wonderland again, Connor thought. "Right, pull the other one, it's got bells on it," he snarked.
Before the man could answer – and that answer would have been interesting, given the expression on his face at Connor's irreverence – the door to the chamber opened.
"Sire!" called the newcomer. "Sir Charles is here."
"Send him in," Jack answered.
Now Connor was getting a little concerned; he'd apparently just mouthed-off to a ruler of some sort.
His newest visitor was a tall skinny elderly man with snow-white hair. His curled moustache and goatee seemed oddly appropriate over the silver chain mail and white surcote he wore.
"Sire, I have come at your summons," Sir Charles announced with a flourishing bow. "How might I – Harbinger!" That last was cried with delight in Connor's direction, and now the young paleontologist was starting to feel like he was in a madhouse, since everyone seemed to know him, but not know him. But the elderly fellow took three strides closer, and then his delighted expression turned suspicious. "Wait – this is not the Lady's vassal! What manner of foul jest is this?"
"It's remarkable, isn't it? This oyster looks just like Hatter." Grace said.
Sir Charles frowned, a mighty expression. "Some foul sorcery has made him so, perhaps in an attempt to spy on us, or lull us into some false sense of security!" The knight drew his sword, and Connor couldn't stop the yelp that escaped him as he scrambled off the bed and away from the sword-waving oldster. "Reveal thy foul purpose, you imperfect evil copy!"
"I don't know what the bloody hell is going on here, but you're all cracked, you hear me? CRACKED!" Connor shouted, trying to keep any furniture between himself and the crazy knight.
"Everyone please calm down!" Jack, a King apparently, ordered in a firm but somewhat exasperated voice. As the knight lowered his sword, the King went on. "Obviously, there is some mistaken identity here. Now then," he turned to address Connor. "You say your name is Connor Temple, is that correct?" Connor nodded, still keeping an eye on the armed nutcase in chain mail. "So you do not recognize the name 'Hatter'?" At Connor's negative head-shake, Jack went on, "How about the name 'Alice Hamilton'?"
"No. Never heard of her." Connor flicked his gaze over Jack and Grace as the knight seemed to relax, sheathing his sword. "Where in the blue blazes am I?"
"You're in Wonderland," Grace answered.
"That's a book. There's no such place," Connor denied.
"Well, we do prefer it that way. Makes life so much easier," the King said with a sigh.
Another knock at the door drew everyone's attention. "Sire – Ten has returned, and the Lady Alice and the Hatter are with him! They should be arriving any minute."
"Excellent, let's settle this. Send someone to fetch the girl, if she's awake. We'll meet in the Throne room." Jack spoke the orders with the ease of someone expecting obedience. "Come, Mr. Temple. I believe all questions are about to be answered."
Grace led the way, as Connor fell into step beside the King. He kept glancing over his shoulder at the crazy knight, though, not comfortable with a madman with a sword at his back.
to be continued...