The soaring train travelled through several tunnels, ridiculous, absurd tunnels, many of them appearing more like giant hamster tubes than anything a steam locomotive should be speeding through, bellowing out massive plumes of the thickest steam-smoke, which smelled like a cross between pipe smoke—some cherry blend, with Cavendish—and slightly burned cotton candy. Seven folded in on herself. What they had just survived, it was a disaster. They thought they were coming here armed for bear, and the truth was they probably were, but they had bumped into a dragon instead of a bear. What a calamity, what a farce.
“This is not a pipe!” Mr. Dodgson bellowed, exuberantly, yanking the cord that blasted the shrieking whistle. “This is not a train! These are not tunnels!”
The puppet boy Pinocchio laughed and laughed, and Seven wondered what he was, exactly, a little boy made to look like a puppet, or a puppet somewhere in the middle of turning into a little boy? In this wacky world, the Honey Moon, there was just no way to say.
Punchinello had some kind of powerful interface with the entire simulation. He did not just have administrative control, but had somehow begun reprogramming reality as he saw fit. And apparently, he could do it on the fly, with panache; he probably was taking lessons from Cyrano. He was worlds beyond more powerful than any kind of control Seven had achieved, even with all her enhancements, including her hologram, walking, talking, database-minded Seventy-One, and their various assembled teams to back up their endeavor, their breaching of the Honey Moon, and ultimately High Vale. They were discovered. They were known. And now they were marked.
In one sense, they had achieved much, as they were here, deeply ensconced in Olde London Steampunk, many iterations further than they had hoped to make it on their first attempt, but in their clash with Punchinello they must have set off every conceivable alarm throughout the Honey Moon, all the way up to Lady Maulgraul’s current running version—the insect woman must know they were here, and she had proved mighty capable in messing with lives, altering reality, especially where Seven was concerned.
The shepherd, Titan, sat staring in a daze—he was still out of it, still trying to figure out what had happened back in Punchinello’s theatre. Somehow the Puppet Master had charmed, enchanted, and even hypnotized Titan, which meant that Punchinello had powers far beyond what any of them had imagined, and not even Titan, Kronoss, Aajeel, or even little Manda were safe.
“This is lovely!” shouted Mr. Dodgson. “I haven’t been out of the Looking Glass in many, many years. But I figured I ought to get out and do a little field work, see what the natives have been up to, and how they have messed things up! This is not my world, not really—oh, I have done plenty of contract work on the Honey Moon, plenty. But really, they have a whole creative team, working from the center of the world. Idiots, most of them, mixing literature with penny dreadful.”
“Where are we going!” Seven shouted, collecting a mouthful of the reeking steam-smoke.
“Somewhere safe, well, as safe as possible in this particular world. It would be safest if I took you to the Looking Glass, but then Lady Maulgraul would have complete jurisdiction over you, so we are going to hang back, and burrow in several iterations on the Honey Moon, and meet up with Mr. Aajeel.”
At some point in their harrowing journey, Manda had winked out of existence—Seven was really too exhausted to care, or wonder—but then ten minutes later she winked back in as if she was never gone.
“I am starting to come back online,” Charlotte said into Seven’s ear, as quietly as possible over the loud rush of the locomotive. “I finally am in communication with Seventy-One.”
“We were sucker-punched,” Seven said. “We never saw it coming. We were like lambs led to the slaughter.”
“Was that Stacey?” Charlotte queried, “the savior who appeared and diverted the puppet Cyrano?”
“That was him, I’m sure of it,” Seven said, “only he looked older, and massively scarred, missing an eye—some much older version of him sent here at exactly the right moment.”
“I did not see what happened, but it seemed that Cyrano was more than a match, I hope Stacey survived,” Charlotte said.
“Stacey vanished before we departed—apparently his purpose was to lead Cyrano away from us. Somehow he appeared right in the nick of time.”
“Maulgraul sent him,” Manda said in a listless voice, “she has been doing that for Jack, sending in Stacey as a last resort.
“This is fun! Fun, fun, fun!” shouted Pinocchio, and to tell the truth, it was more than evident that everyone was getting a little irritated by the puppet’s never-ending glee. Still, what could you do? He was a little boy, and who could say what kind of terrible life he had experienced prior to this current version of reality? Seven was glad—relieved—that Manda had brought him, rescuing the child, although she worried and thought with dread about the thousands of children they had been shown, the children milling in the vast cage—were they real? As real as Frankenstein and Tesla? Or were they some kind of puppet show trick of mirrors and smoke?
Seven glanced back and peered at the rushing tunnels—the constructs seemed to collapse and vanish moments after the train passed. Apparently this was some kind of code manipulation, and the mad conductor piloting the train was doing the manipulation. Creating and then only moments later uncreating passages through the world. Such a force of coding was far beyond anything Seven could hope to achieve. Yes, they had downloaded all manner of coding tools and compiling programs, all thought-activated and manipulated, but forcing Punchinello into a toy-soldier march was about the limits or her current abilities. She must get much more powerful, if she hoped to ever compete with such monsters as Lady Maulgraul, Puppet Master Punchinello, and this Mr. Dodgson at the front of the train.
Seven looked away from the vanishing tunnels behind them, and despite her unsettled stomach, she looked to and studied Manda. The little girl was holding hands with Pinocchio, and seemed depressed, and sad, and somewhat disconnected. She looked up and met Seven’s eyes.
“He almost got us,” Manda said, “all of us. I did not think such an early version of the Puppet Master would have such power.”
She thought of something terrible. Hopefully, it was only her imagination. But she could see Punchinello pushing himself into a squatting position, his head stripped of his face—somehow Manda had gouged out the Puppet Master’s face in a sliver of flesh, in a neat rectangle that included his eyes and nose, and most of his upper lip. She had an image of his head, that hole, and she could see a skull beneath the flesh, and winding tubes, wires, and what looked like crawling worms, fat leeches. And the Puppet Master was searching for them, with all his senses, with all his powers, his head cocked to the side, tracking their passage, as they moved through their opening and collapsing tunnels.
He could find them.
“Do not do that,” Manda said, speaking with some force.
“What?” Seven blurted, feeling guilty, but uncertain as to the real reason for the little girl’s admonition.
“Do not picture him in your mind and imagine what he is doing. Think of anything else, concentrate on Jack—send him happy thoughts.”
“Happy thoughts? Really?”
“Yes,” Manda said, “Jack needs happy thoughts. Lots and lots of happy thoughts.”
“Weeeeeeeee!” Pinocchio shrieked, bouncing on his seat.
Seven rolled her eyes, turning back to face forward, taking Charlotte’s cold hand, and concentrated on sending Jack some...happy thoughts, but it was difficult, because Seven rarely thought happy thoughts, and was not too adept in producing them from thin air. Did these thoughts actually accomplish anything? Well, if Manda was saying she should do it, she would do it, because Manda should know what was possible in reality, since as she told Punchinello, all reality was happening inside of her.
Yet, in the back of her mind, the dread pooled. Her anxiety and dread were palpable, seething, like acid, splashing up inside her chest, oozing down like slime into her lower body. She felt Punchinello’s searching gaze, like the Eye of Sauron, seeking them. She forced herself to stop thinking of the Puppet Master, and concentrate on Jack. She remembered their horseback riding, racing up and down the Dulance Estates, in that golden world of High Vale. Those were some happy thoughts. She sent them to Jack. The exhilaration, the pounding hooves, the wind in their faces, the colors—the unbelievable colors of High Vale. Yes, those were some happy thoughts. And then, despite herself, she remembered leaping off her horse and running to the tall man, seizing him, practically lifting him off his feet, and kissing him, kissing Stacey, and nearly exploding with the pleasure of it. It was the first time in this reality that she had ever kissed another person. Mouth to mouth. A kiss. A greedy, intoxicating kiss. Wonderful. She did not send this thought to Jack, but instead clasped it and held it to her heart, greedily. This was her happy thought, only hers.
“Almost there!” Mr. Dodgson called in his loud and best train conductor’s voice. The chubby little hobbit certainly seemed to be enjoying himself, his face flushed and smiling, as he busied himself in the little train’s engine, shoveling coal, adjusting dials, pulling levers, turning cranks.
Seven realized that the little train itself was their escape portal—a portal in constant motion, like a fighter pilot eluding the killer plane on his tail—and Mr. Dodgson was manipulating the code via the train, and when she concentrated, and really looked at the flow of code, she could almost see the unbelievably advanced code compliers at work, instantly leaping to obey every little turn of mind, as Mr. Dodgson steered them through the Honey Moon, coding on the fly. It still felt like flying, or the wild undulations of the most unbelievably slick-fast roller coaster ever dreamed, winding, spinning, loop-de-looping, rising and falling, snapping like a whip, and if this went on much longer, she would be dry-retching into her lap. Beside her, Charlotte looked pale and haunted, faring no better than Seven. Only Mr. Dodgson and Pinocchio seemed to be enjoying the best of all times.
“Oops!” Mr. Dodgson called, good naturedly, and the train went into a roll, and Seven gasped as Charlotte seized her in a hug, and for a moment she was sure they were going to tumble out of the train car, as they spiraled side over side, and then fully righted, speeding on merrily.
“What was that all about?” Seven shouted, not really wanting to know.
“We almost ploughed through a city of Morlocks!” Mr. Dodgson cried in delight. “That would not have been a good thing! Not good at all. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak! Blood rituals, cannibalism, slavery, oh, such wonderfully dark stuff. But it is none of mine, none of mine.”
The train leveled off and shot forward, the tunnel about them opening and closing, just a streak of rock and dirt with little or no detail, and they were pressed back into their seats, streaking forward, the train whistle shrieking, and then they were rocketing out into open air, with sky, and stars, and a slim glimpse of the Story Moon, mostly eclipsed by the Honey Moon, they were now on the far side of the world, as far away from High Vale as possible in this stream of reality. Seven nearly screamed as they continued to rocket up, as bursts of steam jetted from the rockets on the caboose, flaring out behind the train, and they streaked up into the sky, the gravity forces pulling at their flesh, yanking them backward as they continued upward, toward twinkling stars.
“Weeeeeeee!” Pinocchio cried, sounding half terrified and entirely delighted.
Then Seven glimpsed an odd sight before them, it looked like the contrivance from that old movie, a half-completed satellite hanging out in space—the Death Star, from Star Wars, only this dump was not nearly as impressive as that work of extravagant imagination. No, this looked like a partially constructed ball of girders and scaffolding, with some completed inner structure, but mostly the thing was like a big cage built for paper-mache, only the builders had run out of soggy paper and glue.
“There it is!” Mr. Dodgson cried. “The Hunter’s Lodge, never completed, but thankfully, out here on the edge of the atmosphere, there is no rot, the place should be as good as new, and completely deserted, well, aside from the odd flying monkey or two, but their flocks have sadly diminished since the flying-monkey hunt replaced the fox hunt.”
Seven did not care where they went, she only knew that she needed to stretch out, and rest. She wanted sleep, and forgetfulness. Yes, sleep, real sleep. Supposedly they were going to a place with Vestigial Surreality chambers, but she did not wish to Voyage, not in her Inner Sanctum, or any false consciousness. She needed to truly conk out, sleep for at least ten hours, possibly more.
The train seemed to reach the peak of its trajectory, and Seven felt a terrible plunge in her belly as gravity seized at them, the steam rockets giving up the ghost, the train leveling out and began to fall, and she nearly shrieked, but suddenly, train track appeared out in the middle of the sky, and the wheels of the train lightly touched down upon the tracks, sending up a cascade of sparks.
“From the ground, we look like a falling star—children are probably wishing upon us, even now! Children, and prostitutes!” Mr. Dodgson cried.
The sparks shot out in a great rooster tail of light, and as Mr. Dodgson applied the brakes, sparks increased all along the length of the train, but it appeared they approached the Hunter’s Lodge too swiftly, and Seven braced herself for a collision as all that towering, hunkering metal rushed upon them—Charlotte tucked her head down and whimpered. Titan and Manda sat listlessly, staring.
Pinocchio cried: “WEEEEEEEEEE!”
Doors slid apart at their approach and they plunged inside the Hunter’s Lodge and the train slowed as all went black, metal upon metal screeching, emitting a new shower of sparks that erupted in a rainbow-flare of colors, lighting up the inside of the Hunter’s Lodge. It looked like a deserted factory in here, lit only by the shower of sparks, and Seven, huddling in her seat clasping Charlotte, felt she had never seen a vast space so devoid of personality and life.
“Here we are, all safe and sound, with absolutely no chance of anyone reaching us from the Honey Moon, unless, of course, we invite them!” Mr. Dodgson laughed, leaping with spry athleticism from the train. “Please keep all limbs inside the train until all movement has ceased!”
Mr. Dodgson tripped and fell and went end over end in what looked like a stuntman’s sprawl, but the tumble turned into a cartwheeling acrobatic wonder, as the sparks diminished, and all went dark again.
“I have not been here in more than a thousand years,” Mr. Dodgson said, and they heard him slap his hands together and rub them vigorously. “Lights!”
The vast hangar-like space slowly illuminated from all about.
“Thank you Mr. Tesla,” Mr. Dodgson said, standing and beckoning to them.
Lights continued to blossom and Seven finally saw rows and rows of miniature Tesla coils all about the ceiling and floor.
“Shall I take you on the full tour, what say?” Mr. Dodgson cried exuberantly, slapping his hands together and grinning at them as they climbed wearily from the train.
“Rest, sleep,” murmured Seven, bracing Charlotte, or perhaps Charlotte was bracing her, but they stumbled together past Mr. Dodgson.
“Oh yes, quite right, biologicals, and rest, let me show you to your accommodations,” he said, bursting with gusto, albeit a tad discouraged that the party was not up for his tour.
Titan lumbered behind the group, quiet, his head down.
Pinocchio jumped and leaped about, tugging on Manda’s hand. The little girl sighed and allowed herself to be pulled along.
They entered a long hallway, which appeared to be that of a luxury apartment house, with very real looking plants, well-tended and green, and nary a trace of dust—this was space, after all. Seven figured they must have some kind of robot attendants keeping the place up.
“We have all the amenities, you can order room service from your bed, anything your little hearts are set on, tea, cocoa, whiskey, ice-cream sundaes, rare steak, pork rinds, coffee of every flavor and denomination, mosquito netting, lemonade, hard lemonade, french fries, as well as any magazine or book for light reading or study. I’ve readied a suite of rooms in our penthouse, so you can have all the privacy you desire, or you can meet in the common rooms where there is television, radio, music players, games, pinball, and exercise equipment. Plus more, oodles more I can assure you.”
The man just could not refrain from talking. For such a little fellow, he had a mouth worthy of an auctioneer on too much coffee and other narcotics.
“Will you be staying with us, Miss Manda—I must say, it is truly an honor to host such an exalted visitor such as yourself. You too, Miss Newbury. The both of you, and a shepherd, well, well, well—albeit the lowly muscle of the bunch—and at the same time, to have you all here. Miss Brontë, could to see you again my dear. Never could we hope for an assemblage such as this!”
Seven rolled her eyes, stifling a yawn. They tread down the long, wood-paneled hallway to a broad set of elevators. She did a brief count, there were ten separate elevators, and off to the side she spotted an escalator ascending to what appeared to be offices and a visitors center.
“You are certain we cannot be tracked here?” Seven inquired.
“Positive! This establishment exists apart from the Honey Moon, or the Story Moon, for that matter, and is completely invisible from the planet’s surface.” He inserted a key in the most magnificent of the elevator doors, all glimmering gold, and punched the button labeled Penthouse. “We timed it such that the Hunter’s Lodge never passes close to the Story Moon, and is always hidden behind the Honey Moon during the Sisters’ Congress. It is not visible to telescopes or even radar, if such a thing existed in this reality, which it does not.”
“I am strangely exhausted,” Titan said, flexing his hands, shaking his head.
“Oh, Punchinello has become extremely dangerous,” Mr. Dodgson said, glowering at them all from beneath his shaggy white eyebrows. “I did not relish entering his domain, I can assure you. If not for the cooperation of such extremely powerful and disparate entities, I am afraid none of us would have escaped that theatre, he has constructed it too well, and his abilities are both exceptional, and considerable.”
“Yes, I think I will stay, for a bit,” Manda said, answering an earlier question.
Mr. Dodgson blinked at her for a moment or two, his eyes rolling in his head, until he suddenly arrived at an explanation, and he smiled, and bowed extravagantly.
“Can I push a button?” Pinocchio queried, staring shyly at Mr. Dodgson. They were of about equal height, although the puppet was exceptionally thin, and Mr. Dodgson was not.
“Be my guest, my good man,” Mr. Dodgson said, bowing to the puppet, although the top button was already glowing.
Pinocchio immediately began pushing all the buttons, gleefully giggling as his pointy fingers punched up thirty-one buttons.
Everyone sighed, Seven shaking her head, Charlotte gritting her teeth, but Titan only grinned. Children would be children, even puppets. Manda stood, staring, no emotion showing.
“No worries, I have the override key!” Mr. Dodgson snorted, dangling the golden key, and poked Pinocchio in the belly. The puppet giggled and started beating at the doors with his white-gloved fists.
The doors of the elevator opened with a swishing sound that had to be borrowed from an old television series about space and spaceships, and the party entered. Mr. Dodgson fitted his old-fashioned skeleton key into the interior panel, twisted it three times, and then removed the key and returned it to his vest pocket. Thankfully, the elevator whisked upward, although there was not much sensation of movement, and they flashed past all the floors that Pinocchio had punched. Within moments they arrived on the thirty-second floor, and the party piled out of the elevator.
Mr. Dodgson directed them to their rooms, with Seven and Charlotte electing to share a room. Each room provided a VS Voyager chamber, as well as a traditional bed, with small, attached bathroom. And then Mr. Dodgson babbled on and on, extolling the virtues of the memory fiber mattress, the clean running water, the new technology of the VS chambers, and etc., and etc., until Seven gently closed the door in his face. She took a shower, and then donning her black sweats (provided by Mr. Dodgson), she climbed into the bed (she did not even consider using the VS chamber), and fell into sleep. She woke a few hours later, surprised to find Charlotte cuddled up close, sleeping, and gently snoring—she was confused for a few moments, as she understood that as an automaton, Charlotte required no sleep, but something had happened in that theatre, Punchinello’s strange world. Charlotte was very different, and shaken to her synthetic core. Seven fell back into a deep sleep, comforted by Charlotte’s close presence, and slept for more than twelve hours, and thankfully was devoid of dreams.
Mr. Dodgson sat in his miniature chamber, a room he built and structured specifically to his own size and dimensions, and he had it protected and shielded, in all the most high-tech methods, generations beyond any technology that Punchinello could produce in his theatre—magnets! Copper latticework! Antennae and lightning rods! While it was true, the scientist Nikola Tesla worked via lateral thought, so many of his ideas, while running on very different tracks, often arrived at the same destination, despite the vast differences in time and technology, and so Punchinello did possess quite a stronghold, as the inventor provided the Master Puppeteer inventions, made to order, and aimed in a specific direction. Victor Frankenstein made his own contribution along the way, although more in the direction of animating the dead, for the purpose of the creation of a new kind of puppets.
Sipping his tea, Mr. Dodgson flirted in his own head with bringing a template automaton of Nikola Tesla, here, to the Hunter’s Lodge. Let this be the inventor’s own private laboratory, playground, and sandbox. What might the man produce? He could even bring a template version of Victor Frankenstein and Thomas Edison, to work as Tesla’s assistants. It was an idea, and he could keep it all strictly off the books. Let it be a game, just to see what advanced technology Tesla might devise.
But for now, from this shielded alcove, it was time to talk, perhaps dicker, and possibly even shake hands with the devil. Oh, not literally, but it was best to keep one’s options open, after all, he was involved in an almost good relationship with the Lady Maulgraul, and she was certainly a monster—not the devil, mind you. But the creature had power, true power. And Punchinello, he was the only counterbalance to that power.
In the long run, Mr. Dodgson would run with Manda, that was a certainty, as she had the best chances for long-term survival. She was the future, after all—that is, if she did not take stupid chances as she did today. Because it had been close. They were all lucky. It could have ended today. Punchinello might have taken control of Vestigial Surreality, and become its mad emperor.
They had impeded Monsignor Punchinello. They had actually hurt him. And they had all played their parts. Manda had done the most, attacking the Puppet Master, and Seven had played some part in figuratively tying his hands, while Lady Maulgraul had sent the Pugilist, to run interference with Punchinello’s most dangerous puppet. And Mr. Dodgson had provided the transportation in their escape. Remove any one of those elements, and everything would have played out differently.
But the truth was, today Manda could have lost all her personality, all her reasoning ability, if Punchinello had squeezed a little harder, and attacked more ruthlessly. The world could be a different place. She would have become a mindless system, a non-thinking program, still vast and powerful, but following set protocols, structured programming. As it was, with this victory, Manda was still able to call, if not all the shots, at least ninety percent of the shots. And Mr. Dodgson was aware that there was a powerful element working against Manda, actually throwing in with Punchinello to bring powers to bear upon Manda.
The Martians, they were a force, and they considered Manda as much a fluke in the code as was Stacey. The Martians wished to eliminate Manda, and if she were not more careful, they would probably succeed.
At the moment, at this point in history, Manda could probably find a means of eliminating Punchinello, like a cancer. But the thing about cancer was that it generally did not sit around gloating, counting its money, and enjoying its own image in the mirror—no, it went out and evangelized, it never slept in spreading its own version of the good news, creating followers wherever it went, establishing cells, digging deep in the conspiracy, and beyond a certain point, it became difficult to cut away the cancer without debilitating the entire body. At some point, Manda would discover that attacking Punchinello was in fact attacking herself. And Mr. Dodgson doubted, very much, that Manda understood these facts. In many ways, she really was a child. An innocent. She was the most spectacular man-made creation in the history of the world, a true consciousness above and far surpassing the humanity that set her creation in motion.
Truly, humanity had not created Manda, but they had set the snowball rolling, and she had gathered herself into herself until she had become a new thing, only after thousands of years, and today, all of that providence could have concluded. And then, if the plentitude of failsafes worked, it would have been a Grand Scroll, and if that did not work, then would come full Reboot.
Mr. Dodgson figured so much of this could be handled by someone who understood the art of negotiation, who understood that it took all kinds, that dark and light were required, and that diversity was better than homogeneity. He checked his safeguards, squared his waistcoat, and placed his most outlandish hat upon his head. Then he cued the mirror array.
“I did not expect word from you this soon, Betrayer,” Punchinello said, standing about the height of child’s doll, in other words about half the height of Mr. Dodgson.
“Come now, Punch, that was not betrayal. We have never chosen sides, you and I, but have accomplished the best that we can, with the tools at hand,” Mr. Dodgson said, smoothly, smiling at the image of Punchinello.
“If you had not complied with Lady M’s wishes, I would have succeeded in not only trapping the Mother, but also the Daughter,” Punchinello said, crossing his muscular arms over his powerful chest.
“My word, what happened to your face?” Mr. Dodgson said, his eyebrows drawing together up near his outlandish hat. “It looks like you cut yourself shaving, that is, if you decided to shave your eyes and nose!”
“It was the Daughter that did this to me, she left her mark upon me, for all time. I had almost forgotten where my mishap originated, but never mind, I will make the most of it. It shall be my most theatrical aspect.”
The face was patched together, the rectangle of flesh recovered and pasted into place. It was a good thing that Seven had thrown the macabre trophy out of the train car as early as she had done, otherwise Punchinello must result to stealing the idea of the Frenchman, the Phantom of the Opera, and masks did not suit such a handsome man. Oh, yes, now he would wear a mask, but only to produce the true shock when he removed the mask, exposing his new infirmity, and then, ah, the piece de resistance! He would remove the rectangle and expose what was beneath. That would rip the rubes, the suckers, the fools.
“Make your weaknesses your strength, my good man, indeed.”
“I have learned from my best puppet, Cyrano. In my weakness, I am strong.”
“Sounds like the Bible to me, dear man,” Mr. Dodgson said, wagging his eyebrows, and tutting.
“When I am finished with all the worlds, what is left shall be Biblical in proportions, indeed. I will teach all of you of apocalypse. I will be the one to usher in Armageddon.”
“Ah dear, bragging, why must you always result to bragging, Monsieur Punch?”
“Ah yes, the Italian. Hail Caesar and all that. Which reminds me, I have a little boy, Pine Tree? No, that’s not it, um, is it Pine Cone? No, I am sure that is not it, but I have a little boy here that used to be a puppet.”
“I have seen your photographs, Mad Hatter, I know what you are.”
“That is art. Nothing but art.”
“And I want my Pinocchio returned. That will remove a portion of your debt to me, not all of it, but a small portion. For you, dear Mad Hatter, that would be an excellent start. And trust me, you do not wish that little puppet loose in your...lodge.”
“No, I do not think so. He seemed very happy to leave your little puppet show.”
“We are all puppets, Mad Hatter, all of us. But I am the Puppet Master.”
“I will find you in your...Hunting Lodge, is it? Yes, I will find you, my dear,” Punchinello said, smiling a truly chilling smile.
Mr. Dodgson shuddered.
“So you’ve heard of it, have you, what did you call it? Hunting Lodge?” Mr. Dodgson said, smiling, sipping at his tea.
“I will not pretend to know all the details, even the location, But rest assured, Mad Hatter, I will find you. And then I will reach you. I have already tracked you through the Honey Moon, and many witnesses saw what they called a...rising star.”
“My word, Punch, are you trying to frighten me?”
“Remember, Mad Hatter, I enabled a saucer to lift away from the Honey Moon, cross the Story Moon, and carry quite a large cargo to that silly little fantasy land.”
“Oh? And how did that work out for you?”
“Do not be silly. That was not my project. The cargo was none of my business. But believe it, I enabled that saucer to cross into another world.”
“I doubt you had as much to do with it as our poor, emaciated scientist, Nikola Tesla?”
“The point is, I know who to contract with, and Nikola Tesla and others will help me reach up to your Hunting Lodge. Believe it.”
“You have bragged to me just now that you enabled a saucer to cross worlds, but then admitted that it was in fact the scientist Tesla. If you must brag, stick with the brag, otherwise you are just repulsively wishy washy.”
The little figure of Punchinello strode out of the mirrors and stood a mere few feet from the portly Mad Hatter. The little monster snatched the patch of face out of his skull and hurled it at the Mad Hatter, whose eyes bulged. This was not possible. He did not know how he did it, but Punch had somehow hijacked the mirror array. His image should have been constrained to the mirror, but here was the proof in the display, Punchinello had power. It was just an image, but Punch had made the image do something that it was not supposed to do. In short, although it was accomplished through some form of occult technology, technically speaking it was magic, at least until Mr. Dodgson learned how he did it.
Mr. Dodgson huffed and snapped his fingers. The little Punch figure vanished.
He fell back in his chair, exhausted. What had he been thinking? Playing with the devil like that, you should not be surprised if you came away smelling like brimstone. With burned fingers, to boot. And a pitchfork in the nether works.
He still believed that the Hunter’s Lodge was unassailable, and hidden, unreachable. But he would begin installing more safeguards, more security, and possibly bring over a few automatons from the Looking Glass, the ones especially trained in the martial arts.
“You have been naughty!” cried a child’s voice, and Mr. Dodgson whirled, spilling his tea, as his hands flew to his heart. It was the puppet, Pinocchio.
“How did you get in here, you naughty boy?” Mr. Dodgson cried.
“Oh, I am an enterprising young man, you crazy old hatter!” Pinocchio cried, and Mr. Dodgson noticed that Pinocchio’s nose had not changed in length. It was weird, but first he appeared more puppet than boy, and then suddenly he was more boy than puppet, but worse than these two contradictions, the child seemed entirely...evil.
Mr. Dodgson stood to his feet and seized the butter knife, which was entirely silly, at least as a weapon.
“Do not worry,” the little boy said, “I am your friend, and I will not harm you.”
Mr. Dodgson’s eyes widened, as he witnessed Pinocchio’s nose extending in length.
© Copyright 2016 Douglas Christian Larsen. Vestigial Surreality. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).
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related terms, ideas, works:
ancestor simulation, digital ark, salvation of humanity,
vestigial surreality, manda project, rocket to saturn,
the singularity, the butterfly effect, simulated reality, matrix,
virtual reality, otherland, the matrix, 1q84, haruki murakami,
hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world, dreaming,
the dream place, waking from a dream, ready player one,
hologram, holodeck, saturn, saturnalia, cycles of time,
simulacron-3, daniel f. galouye, counterfeit world,
tad williams, science fantasy, science fiction,
mystery, thriller, horror, techno thriller,
signs and wonders, vestigial surreality,
william gibson, neal stephenson, serial,
cyberpunk, dystopian future, apocalypse,
scifi, mmorpg, online video game world,
end times, apocalypse, armageddon,
digital universe, hologram universe,
sunday sci-fi fantasy serial fiction,
virtual reality, augmented reality
are we living in a simulation?
puppets, puppetry, punch
Elon Musk, VR, Tesla
Elon Musk, VR, Tesla