It was a mark of how worried she was that it took her until halfway through the woman’s sentence to realize that she was talking to Sheila as she walked through the cloisters, not Shakina. Really, the Diamond uniform should have been her first clue.
Focus, Alice. You can’t screw this up.
“Darrel stated passing around the word to his Suits, and after I got Shakina’s call about you, things sort of snowballed and now we’re all here- all the lower Suits, anyway. No one wants this to reach the Trumps or the Hearts, of course, though I saw Cricket sneak off in the direction of the Royal Wing, so I don’t know how long we have. None of the Eggmen would leave their posts, and only the off-duty Diamonds are around. Everyone’s more or less waiting in the amphitheatre.”
“You’re babbling, She,” Shakina told her twin.
“Oh, yeah,” Sheila replied. “I do that when I’m nervous. You might have noticed?”
Shakina rolled her eyes, but squeezed Sheila’s shoulder, and didn’t let go even as they made their way down the stairs.
“And here we are,” Sheila said as they stopped outside the large doors.
“Yeah,” Alice said, straightening her jacket. “Okay everybody, let’s look impressive!”
She pushed the doors open, which did look impressive, and nearly stumbled to a halt when she found that Sheila hadn’t been exaggerating when she’d said that everybody was waiting for them, which was less so. She recovered quickly, though; and strode into the middle of the amphitheatre with her head held high. She scanned the faces of those gathered around- the ones closest to the center were the highest ranking. They were missing Darrel, who would have left to let her parents and Charlie in by now, and as Sheila had mentioned, there were no Eggmen present and Cricket was nowhere to be seen. Almost every other Ten and Nine was present, though, and staring at her, from a very interested looking Otter, to a very steeped looking Freya. Her Spades filled the space between the amphitheatre door and the stage.
This was fine. This was great. So many people were here that as long as she kept them listening to her the window of opportunity for her parents to act in would remain open. She just hoped that the fact that Hatter wasn’t around either wasn’t a sign that things had gone horribly wrongward. He’d been adamant that he could handle himself, would in fact be out of whatever cell Darrel put him in within moments. She’d have to go check with the Ten of Clubs when she next got the chance. For now, she had the persuade the Queen’s most loyal, dependable citizens to rebel.
“Let’s start at the beginning,” Alice said. “Then when we get to the end, we can stop. First, what have you already heard?”
“You’re Alice,” Freya piped up before anyone else could say anything. “Aren’t you going to tell us we’re a pack of cards and disappear down a rabbit hole?”
“No,” Alice replied. “We all already know we’re nothing but a pack of cards to the Queen. That’s our problem.”
“We?” That was Dudley, who was looking angry, still stinging from the loss of his men.
“Yes, ‘we’,” Alice replied. “I wasn’t born here, but I’ve lived here for my than half my life. I’ve been all but running the Spades for years. ‘We’.”
“But if you’re Alice, you’re an Oyster,” Otter reasoned.
“…and?” Alice asked. “Come on, how long have you known me? I’d get my Dad to explain to differences, but he’s a bit preoccupied to foam about how few there are right now.”
“She’s different from normal Oysters,” Freya said confidently. “She’s special. They don’t normally talk, or think. I always thought her father might be part Wonderlander, he’s so-”
“The Oysters you work with are drugged,” Alice snapped. “Of course they don’t talk. Of course they can’t think. If they weren’t, the feelings from being kidnapped and taken away from their homes and families would trickle into your Tea, and you’d fall to pieces.”
Freya blinked, looking surprised and a little hurt as a small ripple nervous laughter went around the room. Someone coughed pointedly; the laughter died down.
“Listen to me very, very carefully,” Alice said. “I’m not asking you as an Oyster. I’m not even asking you as Alice. I’m asking you, as a Suit, as the Ten of Spades: do you think the Queen is worth the loyalty we’ve shown her? Because I don’t.”
A few people shifted uncomfortably in their seats. For a moment, no one met her eyes, then Dudley stepped forwards.
“And as a Suit, as the Ten of Spades, you have an option?” the other Ten of Spades asked mockingly.
“Yes,” Alice replied. “We rebel.”
There was another buzz as people reacted instinctively to the idea with scorn and horror. There was more coughing too, but Alice thought that just meant that someone was coming down with a cold.
“And then I suppose we all join hands with the Resistance and live in peace and harmony?” Dudley shot back. “We’ve been fighting for years- we’ve killed how many of their people at this point? And they’ve killed how many of ours? We’d be going from the frying pan into the fire!”
“How many of your Suits are on the executioner’s docket today?” Alice challenged. “What about yesterday? The day before? Last week? We can put an end to it. As I told my deck earlier, all we need is one day. Just give me one day when you don’t follow the Crown’s orders, and-”
“Paging all available Spades, there is a security breach in the laboratory. Paging all available Spades-” The loudspeaker crackled to life, startling everyone into the room and provoking a particularly vicious coughing fit from someone. There was the sound of fumbling with the microphone as the nervous-sounding Club handed it over to someone, and then the King’s voice rang through the Casino’s speaker system. Jelly could hear his words echo in the empty corridor behind her.
“This is your King speaking,” he said. “Where are you all? What do you think you’re playing at?”
The room became deadly silent, except for the continued coughing fit.
“Unless you’re all planning to throw her a surprise unbirthday party, she’s not going to be pleased when she notices,” the King told them. “And the longer you’re away, the more likely it will be that she’ll notice. I can’t protect you if you don’t cooperate.”
“And if we cooperate this will never end,” Alice told them.
“You should stop trying to get their attention before you hack up a lung, Cricket,” Duchess’ voice carried across the room. The coughing stopped.
Alice spun around, and motioned for her deck to split to she could see who had been coughing. It was Cricket, rubbing the back of his neck with a sheepish expression of his face. Beside him was Jack, and Duchess was clutching him arm.
No, she realized as she faced the other woman. Grace was clutching Jack’s arm.
“She’s right, you know,” Jack said, as the room’s attention shifted to him. “The Resistance has promised amnesty to anyone who defects. And as you’ve already heard-”
“All available Spades are to report to laboratories.” The nervous Club was back on the speaker. Jack turned to Cricket and jerked his head; Cricket found a pole that was normally used for opening and closing windows, and hit the switch on the speaker box just as the Club was saying “Please?”
“As you’ve heard, their plan is already in motion,” Jack finished.
Dudley scowled. “And you trust the Resistance’s word?”
“I’ve known Caterpillar since I was twelve,” Jack said. “Believe me, he is far more trustworthy than my parents.”
“And Tortoise is my mother, who is apparently not dead” Alice said. Dudley stared at her, as did many of the people in the room who were old enough to remember Mom’s time as a Club. “She’ll keep her word.”
“And if it all goes wrong, just tell them you were acting under my direction,” Grace added. For moment, she her face twisted into the haughty, scornful expression Duchess so often wore. She swayed, eyes closed, and gripped Jack’s arm until her knuckles were white. “Jack might technically be the heir while we remain unmarried, but there has never been any doubt that I as the one being groomed for power. The idea that of I’ve grown impatient and decided to take advantage of this confusion to start a coup won’t be too difficult to swallow,” she spoke, her eyes still closed.
“Grace?” Jack asked.
She shook her head, once, and pressed her lips tightly together. Jack shot Alice a worried, guilt-laced look, which she took to mean that she was to take over the explanations from here.
“What we really need is for you to not do your jobs today,” Alice said. “Don’t answer your EPs, and any summons as all either. If you feel up to it, try talking to the Oysters, see if you can’t wake them up. It might be a good idea to get the kids and the people in the infirmary out now. Just in case.”
“Wake the Oysters up?” Freya asked. “Why? And would talking to them work?”
“If it’s about their families, or their homes, yes,” Alice replied, avoiding the question of why. Someone would probably put it together with the laboratory issue, anyway, but there was no need to confirm anything. Her parents were safer, the fewer people knew what it was they were trying to do. “Don’t they normally talk about those things when they start waking up?”
“We need to deal with Court as well,” Grace added. Some of the color had come back into her face, and her eyes were open. “They might not be able to accomplish much without us at their command, but they could still do damage.”
“We’ve accounted for that,” Jack assured her.
“That is why I brought a twelfth of my deck along with me,” Alice said. “Speaking of accounted for though; where’s Hatter?”
Jack shifted uncomfortable, as much as Grace’s grip on him would allow. “Jelly he- I tried to convince my parents that he wasn’t a threat, but he wouldn’t stop bragging. I-”
“Where is he?” Alice repeated, before Jack could do something like apologize. Already, this conversation was too close to the one they’d had when they’d both thought her mother had been executed.
“He’s in the Truth Room,” Jack said.
For a moment, Alice couldn’t breathe. She forced herself to anyway. She wanted to go after him that moment, but couldn’t leave her Suits without some preliminaries. “Uthar?”
“Yes, Ten.” Uthar replied.
“Take our Spades up to Court, and lock it down like we talked about. You’re in charge until I come back.”
She waited until she was out in the hall before she started to run.
The door to the Truth Room swung inwards, melting away into nothingness rather than banging loudly against the wall like she wanted it to. Then again, the Truth Room didn’t seem to have walls at the moment. It didn’t appear to have dimensions at all, but rather was a green, pulsing area of indeterminable length, width, or height.
Hatter was seated several cubits away from her, arms bound to the chair. His jacket, body armor, and hat were missing, his face was bruised, and he was bleeding out of his ear. As she watched, one of the Doctors shocked him with a cattle prod, exchanging giggles with his twin as Hatter screamed.
“Leave him,” Alice snarled. The Tweedles paused, as though unsure of what to make of their audience. Alice took the knife from inside her pocket and flicked it open. “I said leave.”
They left, the bottom dropping out of the spots they stood on. Alice rushed over to Hatter and began to cut through the ropes.
“Jelly?” Hatter asked, looking confused beneath the pain.
“You’re supposed to be in a cell,” Alice snapped. “You’re supposed to be in a cell which you can break out of easily.”
The Truth Room shuts off suddenly, giving itself white walls of specific dimensions in the process. Hatter is suddenly free and upright; he pat himself down, checking that he had all his clothes back as Jelly flicked her knife closed and put it back in her pocket. His eye was still swollen shut, and there was still a dried trickle of blood coming from his ear, but if he’d been as confrontational on the Scarab ride as he’d been in headquarters, it wouldn’t surprise her to learn that he’d had that before the Tweedles got a hold of him. He still seemed confused, and a little frightened, but that was to be expected from anyone who’d just been in the Truth Room.
“What-” Hatter began. Alice cut him off by throwing her arms around him. “Oh,” he murmured, surprised, and brought his arms up around her. “This feels good.”
“What were you thinking?” Alice asked.
Hatter broke the hug, but didn’t answer.
“We had a plan,” Alice pressed. “Why didn’t you stick with it?”
“I noticed we had a problem,” Hatter explained. “You have your executions at midmorning, which is- well, I’m pretty sure that’s passed. I’d like not to die, if I can help it, so I made myself seem valuable enough to be interrogated instead of executed.”
“Nope,” Alice said, after a moment’s thought. “I don’t buy a word of it.”
Hatter looked annoyed. “You know, I used to be able to lie to you. As I recall, it was something I did all the time and was very good at.”
The door opened at that point, and Grace poked her head in. “Can either of you think of a reason we would need the Tweedles?”
“…no?” Alice replied.
“Good.” Grace smiled, and left the door open behind her.
“And that was..?” Hatter asked.
“Grace, Jack’s fiancé,” Alice explained. “She’s fighting off whatever the Crown did to her, I think?”
Hatter shrugged, and began to move towards the exit.
“You still didn’t answer my question,” Alice called after him.
Hatter grimaced as he turned back around to face her. “Before I told them I’d killed those Suits, would you have owned up to it?”
“Not if it didn’t come up,” Alice told him. “And what does this-”
“But you would have, if someone had asked,” Hatter pressed. “Am I right?”
“They had families and friends who deserve to know what happened to them and why.”
“And that’s why I’m here,” Hatter said. “I was banking on you being pragmatic enough to let me eat the meal I’d cooked for myself, which saves you all the trouble that would come from you telling the truth.”
“And you couldn’t have talked to me about this before hand?” Alice fumed.
“Would you have listened?” Hatter shot back. Before she could answer he did it himself. “No, you wouldn’t have. You might have gone out of your way to avoid bringing the subject up, but when you get down to it, somebody killed those Suits, and you wouldn’t have pinned it on me. So I had to tell them it was me, and I had to act like I was the sort of person who would brag about killing people. Otherwise your sense of responsibility would have mucked this whole thing up, and the mess would have come down right on your head.”
“So you brought it down on yours first?” Alice retorted, gesturing at his bruised body. “And that’s better somehow?”
“Yes,” Hatter said fiercely. “I’m not about to let you do something without making sure you’d be okay.”
Alice stared at him. Hatter stared back. Jack cleared his throat, and the pair of them spun around to find him standing by Grace in the doorway. “Do you need a moment?” he asked.
“We should probably save this for later,” Hatter said apologetically, more to her than in reply to Jack. “Ready to bring down the whole house of cards, Jelly?”
“Alice,” she told him. He deserved to know.
He raised an eyebrow.
“It’s my name,” Alice said. “My original one, anyway. Alice Deborah Hamilton.”
Hatter stared at her again, less like he’d stared at her a moment again and more like she was Charlie.
“And apparently there are people who’ve been waiting for me to help with this since I was ten, so I think it’s about time, don’t you?”
“…okay?” Hatter laughed incredulously. “Sure, let’s go bring down the Queen of Hearts, Alice.”
They left the Truth Room, Hatter still giggling in disbelief until the four of them made it to the main corridors that serviced the Casino.
The Casino seemed very crowded. Jelly supposed that there weren’t very many more people in the corridors than there normally was, but normally, people were sure of where they were going, and what they were doing. As they went through the corridors today, Alice got the impression that no one was very sure of anything. The people they passed hurried by, their eyes downcast; when they went through the Casino rooms, they could here shouting as the Oysters began to wake and demand to know what was going on; a group of toddlers followed their teacher into the elevator, too excited enough by the prospect of going outside to notice any of the chaos around them.
At least, it was like that until the building began to shake. Then the screaming started, punctuated by the sounds of heavy objects crashing to the floor.
Change of plans Alice tapped out on her EP Take the Queen and Court outside. I’ll meet you there. Then, just to be sure, she sent a message to all the EPs, telling everyone to get out of the Casino now.
They took the stairs three at a time, joined by panicked Suits and, eventually, panicked Oysters as they made their way outside. They ran across the lobby that served as the Casino’s main ground entrance, and out onto the green of the clearing that surrounded Wonderland’s seat of power. They ran with the crowd up the hill, where there were already people grouped, watching the building shudder. They stopped when they reached the crest, slightly out of breath, and watched as the top of the building exploded in a shower of sparks and smoke before collapsing down on its base. The crowd wailed as one; Hatter arm wound its way around her back, and she realized that she’d stopped breathing.
“-ice. Alice! Ten!”
She turned around, and watched Alban elbow his way through the throngs of people. “Five?” she asked.
“We’ve got the Queen,” he said. “If you want- if you could-the Queen is-”
“Lead the way,” she replied. Alban did just that, seemingly grateful for the excuse to do something that didn’t require speaking. As he moved ahead of them, he was only distinguishable in the sea of Suits because he’d removed his jacket, and even then they had a hard time Alice heard the Queen before she saw her, her shouting something years of experience had made her sensitive too.
“-I’ll have your head. I’ll have all your heads, you insubordinate, inept idiots! How dare you even think of manhandling me?” The Queen jabbed her finger into Uthar face, causing him to lean back instinctively.
There was a clearing around her, as everyone who wasn’t a member of Court or a Spade she’d ordered to keep the Court under guard gave the Queen a wide berth.
“Jack!” She’d spotted her son. “Jack, I demand to know what’s going on! Make them listen to me!”
“It isn’t obvious what happened?” Jack replied. “There’s been a coup, and you’ve been deposed.”
“You’re under arrest too,” Alice pointed out.
The Queen focused her attention on her, nearly glowing with ire. “How dare you, you insolent whelp! Who do you think you are?”
Well, she had the perfect answer to that question, didn’t she?
“I’m Alice,” she replied. “And you should have left my family alone.”
The Queens mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out.
“The Stone, mother,” Jack prodded.
The Queen shifted her focus back to her son. “My own son. You ungrateful little-”
“I’d like the Ring, mother,” Jack interrupted. “There are a great many people who need it to go home.”
The Queen stared at Jack for a moment, before spitting out “Your father’s dead. He refused to leave the Casino.”
Jack pulled himself up straighter, and said “Then there will be one less person to agitate for your release.”
“I could just cut it off,” Hatter offered.
“You’d have to cut off her finger,” Grace told him.
“That was kind of what I meant,” Hatter replied.
Alice reached back inside her jacket pocket and pulled out one of her knives. “You can borrow this one.”
“Thanks, love,” Hatter said, flipping it open.
The Queen scowled, and handed the Stone over. Alice started clapping, and her Spades followed suit, until the whole of the people amassed on the hillside had broken into applause.
“Congratulations, Your Majesty,” Alice told Jack. “Wonderland’s yours.”
Jack smiled, and slipped the ring back on his finger. “Well, the good news is there’s nowhere to go but up,” he said. There was a loud thrumming noise as a fleet of Scarabs- ones that were normally docked in the City- began to arrive. “And there’s our ride to it.”
“You’ve already got your timing down,” Grace observed.
There was a flash of white in the crowd, and Alice let out of breath she hadn’t known she was holding as her parents rushed into view.
“I’d just like to say,” Uthar said in a strained tone, before she could fling herself in her parents’ direction. “That when you said the Casino was going to fall today, I didn’t think you meant it literally.”
They didn’t go back to Earth right away. The other Oysters did-had to really. Her father had argued to keep them under surveillance; some of them had been hooked and plugged into Oyster beds for years, and there was no telling what sort of affect that would have. But in the end, there was no room for them to stay, and no good way to contain them should their anger about being kept from their homes and families rise. As a compromise, they were sent off only after they’d registered certain essentials, like their names, addresses, and the dates they’d been kidnapped.
Jack set up his new government at headquarters, with the surrounding area serving as makeshift apartments for the Suits and their families. It was all a temporary situation while he got more pressing matters sorted out, but there were so many matters that were pressing that it quickly moved to being semi-permanent. He spent most of his time working with her mother and Caterpillar to weld together something functional out of the remaining government infrastructure and the various Resistance branches. It was a fine line to walk even before the Resistance’s rather heterogeneous politics were factored into it. The Resistance people needed to see that someone was held accountable; and to that end, trials that were more revenge than justice were arranged for the former Queen and those who’d been closest to her: the Trumps, the Courtiers, and the Hearts, and a few others like the Walrus whose actions had cast them in an unflattering light. At the same time, the Suits had been promised that there would be no reprisals; Jack released statements about the conditions Suits had lived under, and the knowledge that many had been acting less out of malice and more under fear had brought them, if not forgiveness, then at least the time necessary to begin proving themselves.
Grace had been right there with him, at first. But as the stresses began to pile upon them, she became less and less Grace and more and more Duchess. Eventually, she placed herself under the care of the doctors at the Hospital of Dreams, and from what Alice had heard she was there still.
Charlie had disappeared, worrying everyone who knew him well enough to worry until Alice went back to the City of the Knights. As it turned out, he was in a panic over something Jack had said about trying to rebuild the Knights, and he was absolutely terrified that he wasn’t good enough to teach the future generations. Alice eventually managed to talk him back into contact with the government using the sentiment that if he didn’t at least try, there would be no others.
Her mother spent whatever time she wasn’t in session with Jack to finish grooming Sylvie to be her replacement; likewise, her father divided her time between devising ways to make Tea withdrawal more bearable and teaching Snapper to be his replacement. For herself, well: she was the Oyster who’d been a Suit who’d helped the Resistance overthrow the Queen. She was Alice. When she hadn’t been handling Charlie, she’d been making sure that Uthar could handle the police deck under the regime, calming protests before they could get out of hand. She was at every press statement to answer questions, the number of correspondents growing with each release. She’d gone to visit the families of the Suits she’d killed to apologize, and managed to dodge most of the heavy objects that were thrown at her. It was a small wonder the three of them had managed to see one another at all, but they managed.
Hatter, though, had gone back to see if his shop was still standing and for all that she’d seen and heard of him from various parts of the new government, he’d not sought her out since. She wasn’t sure what to make of it. They’d been through quite a lot together, tumbled into each other’s secrets, and fought for each other’s lives; but what did that make them, exactly?
She’d almost given up on finding an answer to that question when the day they were to return to Earth finally rolled around. They’d decided against going back to the date they’d been kidnapped; it would be too difficult to explain the fact that Dad had gone grey overnight, or the wrinkles around Mom’s eyes developing in the same time frame, let alone Alice’s sudden transition from child to woman. They picked the day after Agent White had found Jack, instead, and were just waiting for the Eggmen to finish with their adjustments when Hatter finally arrived.
“Hello!” he said cheerfully as he walked into the Looking Glass room. “I, uh- I got your note.”
“Did you get my present?” Alice asked.
“Yeah thanks,” he told him, smiling nervously. “I needed new body armor.”
They smiled at each other, more out of social nicety than anything else. This… wasn’t actually resolving anything at all.
“I brought you something too,” Hatter said after a moment, and Alice belatedly realized that he was holding a book. She took, smiling genuinely when she saw the title: Alice in Wonderland.
“I figure this belongs to you,” Hatter said.
“Thank you,” she said.
“No, really,” Hatter took the book back for a moment and opened it up so she could see the writing on the inside cover. “I’m pretty sure this is yours.”
Her father had never had the neatest of writing, so it took her a moment to decipher the words. For my own Alice, and all the adventures she’ll have. Love, Daddy.
Alice stared at it as she tried to swallow past the lump in her throat.
“I, uh,” Hatter looked past her, to where her father was standing. “I’ve got your copy of Mother Night too, I think. But I’m sort of in the middle of that, so I’ll have to-”
“We’re ready for you now,” the technician interrupted.
“Oh, really?” Hatter said, sounding disappointed as she took the book back and helped her parents collect their bags. “I was just- well, goodbye then.”
“Goodbye Hatter,” Alice replied. “And thanks. For, you know, everything.”
Hatter nodded, and rubbed the back of his neck, before gesturing to the Looking Glass.
“Just remember to breathe,” the technician said, placing his hand on Mom’s back and gave her a push forwards.
Frag this. Alice decided. I’m going to be on another planet, if this doesn’t work out I can always avoid him.
She turned around as her father went through and called out, “Hatter!”
Hatter had been walking towards the door, but her spun around at her cry. She dashed towards him; her duffle bag bumped against her back when she skipped to a stop right in front of him. She wound a hand around the back of his head and pulled him down for a kiss. For a moment, he froze, but before she could regret it, he surged forwards, one of his hands coming to rest on the small of her back to press her closer.
They pulled apart after a minute, flushed and breathless.
“…are you still leaving, Alice?” the technician asked pointedly.
“Are you coming to return Dad’s book?” Alice asked Hatter.
“Oh absolutely,” Hatter said fervently. “You just try to keep me away.”
“Then,” Alice pulled back. “I’ll be seeing you.”
“See you later,” Hatter replied as she returned to the Looking Glass.
Alice spared him one more look over her shoulder; the giddy expression on his face was the last thing she saw before she plunged through the Looking Glass and fell back to Earth.