5 April 2014

Review, Excerpt and GIVEAWAY: Gears of Wonderland by Jason G. Anderson

Gears of Wonderland
Series: N/A, Standalone
Publication date: October 14, 2011
Publisher: CreateSpace 
Genres: YA Sci-fi / Fantasy
Format: eArc
Source: author through bookblogging
Pages: 224

James Riggs lives a normal life with a mind-numbing job, an overbearing boss, and a demanding fiancée. Then he witnesses the murder of his best friend. 

Saved from the murderer by a strange man in a white suit, James is cast down a hole and into a world he always believed was a kid’s story. Wonderland.

But things have changed since Alice’s visit. 

The Knave of Hearts has seized the Heart throne, conquered all of Wonderland with his steam-powered technological marvels, and rules the land with an iron fist.

Aided by the Mad Hatter's daughter, James journeys to discover why he has been brought to Wonderland and how the tattoo on his arm could be the key to Wonderland’s salvation—or its destruction.

The first thing I have to say about this book is that it's kind of short - I know 200 pages aren't that short, but if it had been longer the story would have had the space and time to evolve into something even better. Don't get me wrong - I really enjoyed this book, I just wish it was longer, more detailed and that the relationship between James and Kara would have had the time to bloom. 

I think the story is very intriguing, most of us already know about the incredible wonders of Wonderland and this story, somehow, takes that world to another level. 
I have never read a steampunk book before, but I dare say that I quite enjoyed it. I liked that only the first chapter took place in "our" world and the rest of the book is set within the borders of Wonderland. 
I loved how the characters from the original story was human's in this one, but still had some of the quirkiness that identifies them as a creature of Wonderland. I loved the Hatter (I always love Mad Hatter) I just wish we saw more of him - but he's not that important in this story, so I will let it slide. 

I loved the fact that this wasn't a story about love. I love reading love stories but I also love reading books with only a sprinkle of love instead of a whole pile of it. I loved that it took a while for James and Kara to for starters realize it and let alone act on it. 

I gave this book 3 hearts since I enjoyed it quite a lot, but still felt a little something was missing. 

This is the first chapter from Gears of Wonderland. It’s the only chapter that’s set in “our” world, and introduces the main character (along with his not-so-nice fiancee and boss).
For what felt like the hundredth time, James glanced at the clock on the far wall of the office. The grinning Cheshire Cat plushy sitting on top of his monitor appeared to mock him as he again confirmed it was past seven o’clock.
He cursed his luck as he typed. Officially, he’d started his vacation two hours ago. Three hours ago, if you counted his plan to leave work early so he could be home in time to finish packing. But as he had shut down his computer, his boss, Ian, had dumped a pile of work on him, work that he’d quickly discovered were reports Ian should have completed.
The thought of leaving them undone and making his boss do his own work had been tempting, but he’d quickly pushed the idea aside. He didn’t want to cause any trouble.

James worked frantically, the clatter of the keyboard echoing throughout the empty office. Forty-five minutes later, he typed the final words on the last report and hit ‘Send.’ He sighed with relief. They weren’t perfect, but they would do. He’d been afraid he was going to be stuck in the office until midnight. At least he was going to have time to finish packing.
As he threw his few personal items into his bag, he glanced at the calendar on the rear wall of his cubicle. Seeing the next two weeks blocked out with ‘Holiday’ gave him a feeling of comfort. His fiancée had been pushing for the trip for months, and his agreement had changed their conversations from how much she wanted to go, to what they should do when they went—a much more pleasant topic. Then, he noticed the note he’d scrawled on the calendar for today.
His heart leapt into his throat. The parcel! He’d forgotten all about it in the mad rush of the afternoon. The other reason he’d planned to leave early was to intercept it before Laura got home.
The bus ride seemed to take forever. A glance at his phone as he got off the bus confirmed that it was almost eight thirty. He hoped Laura had gone out with her friends for after-work drinks when he’d messaged her that he would be late. It was the only way he would get home before she did.
Rounding the corner onto his street, he breathed a sigh of relief. The lights in the small flat they shared were off. He was safe. Then, he realized he was looking at the wrong flat. His heart sank when he saw the lights of his own flat. Laura was home.
James climbed the stairs to the front door with trepidation. Outside the door, he took a deep breath, forcing himself to relax. Maybe the parcel hadn’t arrived. Maybe Laura had ignored it, seeing that it was addressed to him. Maybe everything would be all right. He opened the door, and stepped inside.
The open box on the floor of the lounge room told him it wasn’t going to be all right. Laura was sitting on the edge of the sofa, still dressed in her work clothes. She had a calm expression on her face, although she sat stiffly. His purchase rested on the coffee table in front of her.
He forced a smile and tried to keep his voice light and happy. “Hey. Sorry I’m late, Ian gave me some—”
She pointed to the box on the table. “What’s this?” Her voice had a hard edge to it.
“It’s nothing, really. Just something I bought for—”
“When we talked about it last time, you promised you would give it up. For me. For us. That you’d get rid of your childish habits and stop playing silly games. You agreed that you would put it behind you.”
He looked at the boxed chess set. He had paid a lot of money for it. The pieces were Swarovski crystal with flecks of red or white marble in the tops, and the board was made of etched glass with intricate patterns around the outside. He had stumbled across it online by accident and been captivated by its beauty. The plan had been to keep it hidden at work, so she wouldn’t find out about it.
So much for that plan.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t buy it to play, I swear. I thought the set looked pretty, so I got it to—”
“James, it’s still a chess set!”
He stared at his feet. “I’m sorry.”
“How many times do I have to tell you, James? We’ve been over this before. Chess is a game. Only children and pathetic no-hopers play games.” Laura stood and put her hand gently on his cheek, her voice softening. “You’re twenty-four now, an adult, soon to be married to a wonderful woman who wants only the best for you. It’s time to grow up and act your age. I know growing up can be hard sometimes, and we have to give up the things we loved when we were kids, but as an adult, we get lots of new fun things to do. You’ll do this little thing for your fiancée, won’t you?”
James sighed internally. His inner voice wanted him to stand up for himself and argue with her, tell her that it was his chess set, and he’d keep it if he wanted. But he knew that if he did, the fight would go on for hours. And he’d ultimately give in, anyway. He always did.
He put on an apologetic smile to satisfy Laura. “Of course I will. I’m sorry I upset you.”
“I know you’re weak, James.” She gave him a peck on his cheek. “That’s why you have me to be strong for you.” She picked up the chess set and walked toward the door. “I’ll put this in my car and dispose of it in the morning before we leave. We don’t want to keep it in the flat, do we?”
“I could always send it back and get a refund,” said James hopefully.
Laura shook her head. “No, the only way you’ll become strong enough to resist your urges is by learning that if you waste your money on things like this, it’s gone for good. You need to learn your lesson properly. It’s best for both of us if I get rid of it.” She flashed him another smile, then stepped outside.
James sighed. It had been a wonderful chess set. He would miss it. And he hadn’t even had a chance to study it.
His cell phone rang. He glanced at the number before answering. It was his boss, just the person he didn’t want to talk to.
“Hey, Ian. Don’t worry; I got your reports done. And I’ve left documentation with Al, so if you have any questions while I’m away, he should have the answers.”
“Ah, James, I’m glad I caught you before I left. Listen, I’m going to be away next week. Something’s come up, and I have to leave for Hawaii immediately. I need you to come in next week and cover for me.”
“What? But Laura and I are going to France tomorrow. I’ve had this vacation booked for months. The hotel is paid for, and I had to make a reservation six months in advance for the restaurant Laura’s been dying to try. I can’t cancel it.”
“Sorry, James, but you’ll have to put your holiday on hold. I need you to manage the Henderson project while I’m gone. Al knows the details, but I need you to provide the guidance. He can’t see the big picture like you can. I’m counting on you.”
“Ian, come on, please. Be reasonable about this–”
Ian cut him off, a hard note audible in his voice. “It’s a simple choice, James. Either you come in to work next week, or you don’t bother coming in to work at all.” Then, his voice softened. “You don’t want to be looking for work in an economy like this, especially with a wedding coming up.”
James gripped the phone tightly, then bowed his head. “Okay, I’ll get the files from Susan on Monday morning and get the project finished.”
Ian coughed. “Actually, Susan has had to take an emergency vacation. Something about a sick mother to look after. Good luck, James.” Ian hung up.
He stared at his cell phone. Susan didn’t have a mother. At least, not one who was alive. He remembered talking with Susan once about their parents, and she had told him her mother had passed away when she was very young, and she had grown up with only her dad. The lying son-of-a—
Laura returned to the flat. “Who was that?”
Trying to ignore the falling sensation in his stomach, James cleared his throat. “It was Ian. We need to talk…”
* * *
After the incident with the chess set, he had expected Laura to blow her top with the news he couldn’t go to France. Instead, she had icily informed him to find somewhere else to stay the night and think carefully about the choices he had made over the past few days.
He quickly realized that one of the choices he had made was to leave his wallet in his bag and, in the drama of being kicked out of his own flat, he had forgotten to pick it up. That made his destination options rather limited.
He decided to walk to Melvin’s house. Laura didn’t approve of Melvin—she didn’t approve of much anything James had done or enjoyed before she met him—therefore, he hadn’t seen a lot of Melvin over the past eighteen months, even though Melvin was his oldest friend. Despite the circumstances, he was happy at the chance to see Melvin again for more than a few stolen minutes during his lunch break.
The only downside was that Melvin lived some distance away, and James had little option but to walk. He was thankful the weather was reasonable—crisp, but not too cold, and with no sign of rain.
After an hour and a half of trudging, Melvin’s building finally came into view. His tiny flat was above an old bicycle shop. Melvin had lived there ever since James had known him, for reasons he couldn’t fathom. The place was a dump. Cold in winter, hot in summer, it had water pipes that spat brown-colored water, and an electrical system he was sure would cause a fire at some point. But Melvin loved the place. He claimed it had ‘character.’
“Excuse me, do you have the time?”
James jumped. He hadn’t noticed the man standing on the corner. He wore a white suit, with a wide-brimmed hat that obscured his face with shadow. His voice had a strange accent to it that James couldn’t place. To James’s bemusement, the man was looking at some sort of pocket watch.
“Er, sure.” James fumbled for his phone. “It’s just after ten. Ten-oh-eight, according to this.”
“Excellent; I’m not late. Thank you.” The man adjusted his watch slightly, then flipped the lid shut and put it back into his pocket. He gave James a faint smile, his mouth the only part of his face visible beneath the hat, and leaned back against the building.
“Yeah. No problem. Have a good one.”
Chuckling to himself, James crossed the street. The outfit the guy wore was unusual, even for London. It almost looked like a cross between what a nineteen twenties gangster would wear and a suit from Victorian times. And who used a pocket watch in modern society?
He put his thoughts about the man aside when he reached the building with Melvin’s flat and climbed the rusty stairs leading to the front door. He knocked loudly, trying to make himself heard over the loud sounds of the TV coming from within. After a few moments, the volume lowered, and he heard shuffling movements. The door opened slightly, a security chain stopping it from opening far.
“Who’s there?”
“It’s me. Sorry for the late hour, but I need somewhere to crash.”
“James!” Melvin closed the door to undo the chain, then opened it fully to let him enter. “I wasn’t expecting to see you. Come in, come in. What’s happened? Is everything all right?”
“Not really.” He entered the flat. “Laura and I had a fight.”
Melvin sighed, shaking his head, as he motioned for James to take a seat. “Was it a real fight, or did she just tell you the latest thing she thought you had done wrong?”
“Hey, it’s not like that. I broke a promise, and she was upset. Then, my boss called and said I had to go into work next week or I’d lose my job, even though we’d already booked a trip to France. So she’s mad about that, and mad that I ordered a chess set after I promised her I would give it up. She wanted to be alone this evening.”
Melvin sighed again. “You need to learn to stick up for what you want, James. One day, it will be very important that you do.”
“I know, I know. I shouldn’t have let my boss browbeat me into going to work next week.”
“That’s not what I meant. But you already knew that.”
James looked away uncomfortably, then stood. “If you don’t mind, I have to use the bathroom.”
Melvin waved his hand. “You know where it is. I’ll make us some coffee. I have a feeling this is going to be a long night.”
James stepped into the small bathroom and closed the door. After he had finished relieving himself, he flushed the toilet and washed his hands, drying them on the threadbare hand towel. He was about to go back out into the living area when a loud crash startled him. It sounded as if something had smashed through the front door.
“You!” Melvin’s voice held a combination of surprise and fear. James opened the bathroom door a crack to see what was happening. A giant of a man, almost seven feet tall, stood inside the broken door. A tarnished metal mask covered the man’s face, and he wore black leather gloves and a long brown leather coat with the Ace of Spades symbol clearly embossed on the lapel.
His heart skipped a beat when he saw what the intruder held in his hands—two large knives, almost eighteen inches long with the blades curving up slightly to end in a lethal point. They weren’t blades intended for decoration. They were blades designed to kill.
Before James could react, the man slashed several times at Melvin’s neck and torso. Blood exploded from Melvin’s body, and he let out a sickening gurgle as he slumped to the ground. The murderer stared at Melvin’s collapsed form for several moments.
James stood frozen in fear. His hand slipped on the door handle where he had been holding it after opening the door, and the handle flicked back with an audible noise.
The killer raised his head and stared directly at him.
James took one look at the man who had killed his best friend and did the only thing he could think of. He slammed the bathroom door, flung open the window, and threw himself onto the fire escape. The intruder crashed through the bathroom door, but James was already halfway down the fire escape and running for his life.
He’d hoped the killer would let him escape. After all, as he wore a mask, James couldn’t possibly identify him. But as he reached the bottom of the fire escape, the killer began to follow.
For the second time that evening, James cursed the fact that Melvin lived in such a remote area of the city. Anywhere else, there would have been other people around, forcing the murderer to leave him alone. But the deserted street offered no chance of safety. He knew if he went to one of the surrounding houses to get help, he would be dead before anyone could answer the door. That was if they even answered the door.
His legs hadn’t had a chance to recover from the long walk to Melvin’s place, and his leg muscles almost immediately burned from the exertion. With no option left, he fled down the street, hoping to reach a busier area with traffic and people before the killer caught up to him.
He spied a narrow lane he remembered Melvin leading him through once. They had used the shortcut after going out to grab some takeout food. He risked looking behind him. The murderer was fewer than twenty yards behind and closing in fast. He could see the glint of the knives in the moonlight and knew if the killer caught up with him, he would be as dead as Melvin. He threw himself around the corner into the lane.
He nearly lost his footing as he realized the man in the white suit from earlier stood around the corner. Almost casually, the man lunged forward and tackled him.
“I’m sorry for this,” the man said. “But I need to keep a promise to an old friend.”
James braced himself to hit the ground, but the ground seemed to disappear beneath him. He felt as if he had been knocked into a deep hole. Or off a cliff. The man pushed him away, then disappeared in a bright flash of light.
After a moment of shock, James screamed as he fell. Thoughts flashed through his mind, all the hopes and dreams he had held for his life.
It took him a few seconds to realize he hadn’t hit the bottom of the hole. He stopped screaming and began to take notice of his surroundings. Then, he blinked a few times, trying to make sense of what he saw.
Cupboards and bookshelves lined the walls of the hole he was falling down, along with pictures of places, people, and maps hanging on short pegs. Most of the cupboards and shelves were empty, but a few contained various small items—jars, books, even a few dolls and other stuffed toys.
The thought that he was dead and having his final hallucinations crossed his mind.
He noticed a bright light far below him. Focusing on it, he realized with a sinking feeling that the bottom of the hole was fast approaching. He couldn’t make out what he would hit at the bottom. Not that it mattered. He wouldn’t survive landing on anything after falling such a long way.
For the second time, James screamed.

Chapter 2 from Gears of Wonderland, where James finds himself in a strange new place, and makes a new “friend”. We also get to meet the current ruler of Wonderland. You can read chapter 1here.
James landed heavily, the fall knocking the wind out of him. The overpowering smell of rotten food and other things he didn’t want to think about assaulted his nose. The sound of indignant squeaks and lots of creatures scurrying away told him he wasn’t the only occupant of whatever he had landed in. He opened his eyes, unable to believe he was still alive after such a fall, then blinked in confusion.
He lay in an alleyway in the middle of a huge pile of rotten garbage. Unfamiliar buildings loomed on either side, and past them, he could see the night sky, with no sign of the hole he had fallen down.
“Must have been dreaming,” muttered James. He suddenly remembered the events before the imagined fall and looked around urgently for the killer or the man in white, but saw no trace of either one of them.
“Cops. Gotta get the cops.” He hauled himself out of the garbage pile and shook off the few items clung to his clothes. He pulled out his phone. No service.
He cursed the phone—the only place it ever had a reliable signal was inside his flat—and put it away. Figuring there would be a pay phone nearby, or maybe an open store, he hurried toward the end of the alley.
Reaching the street, he almost collided with a woman crossing the entrance to the alley. He managed to stop himself in time.
The woman seemed as surprised to see him as he was to see her. She wore a costume that looked vaguely Victorian, dark blue, with a full skirt but tight bodice. Her long black hair and slim figure suited the costume, but the thick leather belt around her waist with the large leather pouch attached didn’t match the rest of the outfit. But it was probably the perfect place to keep her money and phone.
His brain finally caught up with the idea that she might have a phone.
“Please, I need to use your phone. My friend’s been attacked, and I need to call the cops. An ambulance, too. He might still be alive.”
The woman looked at him as if he were mad. “Phone? Cops? What are you talking about?” She looked him up and down. “And who the bloody hell are you, anyway?”
He stared at her in disbelief. She was either drunk—although she didn’t sound drunk—or stupid. He was going to have to find someone else to help him.
A loud noise interrupted his thoughts. It sounded like a steam train coming down the road. He turned to see a strange sight. Four lights, nothing like the lights of a car, hurtled toward him.
The girl grabbed him and pulled him back. “Quick! Into the alley, you idiot.”
The cry of annoyance James had been about to loose died on his lips as the source of the noise became visible. The vehicle was like nothing he’d ever seen. The shape was similar to a horse-drawn carriage, but instead of the usual wood finishes on the side, the carriage was made from a weird lattice of metal bars meshed together in a way that suggested function, instead of comfort or design, had been the overriding theme. No horses pulled the contraption. Instead, the vehicle had a huge engine on the back, with a smoke stack billowing a noxious black cloud. His nose burned as the smoke reached him. The lights he had seen were lanterns, and they illuminated the carriage enough for him to see the man sitting in the driver’s seat—a man who appeared to be wearing a ‘red coat’ British soldier’s uniform from the 19th century.
As James tried to take in the strange carriage, he began to notice other details of his surroundings. The street on which he had emerged looked nothing like the main street he expected. The light level was low, with only a handful of street lamps visible, and the street lamps had been replaced with old-style gas lamps more fitting in a museum. They created just enough illumination to make out several of the buildings opposite. Unlike the shops and flats he knew, the buildings were small Victorian terraces. No, that wasn’t right. Paying closer attention, he realized that the details were wrong. They looked more like someone’s idea of what a Victorian terrace house should look like.
“Thanks for almost getting me caught, idiot.” The woman fixed him with a contemptuous gaze. “You know there’s a curfew in this section of the city. The guard can execute us on the spot.”
“Curfew? Guard?” It was his turn to repeat words as he struggled to come to terms with the odd view.
The woman rolled her eyes. “You really are a moron, aren’t you? I should have guessed from your clothes. What are you? Some village idiot who’s come to the big city to try and make his fortune?”
“Hey, you’re the one in the fancy costume.” He’d only just met the woman, but she was already beginning to get on his nerves.
The woman opened her mouth to respond, then closed it. She stared fixedly at his left arm.
Suddenly, she grabbed his arm, and before he could react, she pulled on the sleeve near his bicep. The shirt ripped without effort. Her grip on his arm became vice-like.
He finally regained his wits. “Hey, let go!” He managed to wrestle his arm away from her. “Do you have any idea how much this shirt cost?” He looked at the sleeve to assess the damage. She had almost torn it off.
The woman said nothing. Instead, she reached for the pouch on her belt, and pulled out a gun unlike anything he’d ever seen in magazines or movies. It looked like it belonged in some sort of sci-fi TV show, but it was unmistakably a gun.
James quickly raised his hands. “Hey, now, let’s calm down here. There’s no need to get violent. We’re both adults. I’m sure we can work something out. I don’t have any money, but I have a phone. It’s the latest model. Did you want my phone? It’s all yours.”
“Who are you?”
He couldn’t interpret the strange tone the woman’s voice had taken. “James. James Riggs.”
“Not your name.” The woman waved the gun slightly. “Who are you?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
The woman stared at him, then motioned with the gun back to the street. “You’re coming with me to see my father.”
“Now, look, I’m sorry I called what you’re wearing a fancy costume.” He took a step back. “It’s really nice. There’s no need for any of this. I’ll just be on my—”
The woman’s voice was hard. “You’re coming with me to see my father right now. If you try to run, I will shoot you. Any more complaining, and I might shoot you anyway. Understand?”
He looked at the woman, at the gun, and back to the woman. “Yes ma’am.”
* * *
Lahire sat back in the throne, thoughtful as he looked over the dimly lit room. Even in the limited light, the extravagance and splendor of the throne room was obvious. Marble floors and columns, gilding, huge and complex tapestries, and more than a few inlaid gems combined to create a throne room both impressive and fitting for someone of his status. It had brought him a sense of great satisfaction when the new throne room had finally been complete, allowing him to demolish the old room where his mother had held court for the two centuries of her reign. But the joy he normally felt from sitting on his throne and looking out over his creation had faded that evening. He’d expected Taxard to return from the errand an hour ago, and he didn’t like to be kept waiting.
Finally, the door to the throne room opened, and a figure moved into the room. The light from the hallway silhouetted the figure’s tall frame before the closing door removed the light source.
The newcomer moved smoothly across the throne room floor, stopping several yards from Lahire and kneeling with a bow. “Your Majesty.”
“You’re late. I trust everything went to plan.”
Taxard straightened. “The target is dead, as you ordered.” He paused. “However, there was a complication.”
“What sort of complication?” He leaned forward in annoyance. He didn’t like complications. Complications disrupted the neat order of the society he had forged.
“A witness. A native of the world. He managed to escape.”
“You’re slipping. You’ve never left any survivors before.” He waved his hand. “It doesn’t matter. The authorities in that world can do nothing. They may even believe the witness was the one responsible for the murder.”
Taxard shifted slightly. Lahire recognized the movement. He had seen it many times from subordinates bringing him bad news. But he had never seen it from Taxard.
Lahire narrowed his eyes. “What is it you’re not telling me?”
“The witness. When he escaped… he escaped to Wonderland.”
“What?” Lahire was on his feet in an instant. “Explain yourself!”
“The witness, a male, passed through a portal. It closed before I could get a precise fix on its destination, but I managed to track him as far as this city.”
“You’re sure that it was a native of the Otherworld, and not another fugitive?”
“Yes, Your Majesty. He had the aura of a native. There was no mistake.”
“You allowed an outsider to come here? You fool! Find this man. Find him at once. Mobilize the entire guard and have them do a house-to-house search. This outsider is a threat to the society I have built, and I will not tolerate it. The last thing I need is for the rebels to find him and use him as a symbol to rally behind. Or worse.”
Taxard bowed low. “I will do as you command.”
He fixed Taxard with a steely gaze. “See that you do. Go.”
Taxard bowed again and swiftly departed the throne room. Lahire glowered after him for a moment, then turned and left the throne room via his private entrance. Taxard had made a mistake, but he knew of another who had some explaining to do.
He moved quickly through the castle’s hallways. The sounds of the Heart Guards’ frantic activity filled the castle as they carried out his orders. He was confident the outsider would be found. As long as the outsider hadn’t made contact with the terrorists, everything would be fine. The executioner would do his job, and order in Wonderland would be maintained.
At least, that was what he told himself.
He reached his destination and descended the stairs to the lab area he had first created, and since expanded many times, over a century ago. The stairs opened out at the bottom into a huge cavernous room, filled with all manner of devices and sounds. The room was hot, but for once the air wasn’t filled with steam or smoke. Electricity crackled to his left; however, he walked toward the voice straight ahead.
“No, you imbeciles! I told you to connect the dilator to the converter, not the convector. Are you trying to kill us all?” A whip cracked loudly, followed by a whimper. “Take it apart and do it again.”
Lahire strode past the tables and half-built frames of various creations to the open central area. The thin and hunched form of Dr. Keron stood in front of a large engine of some kind, while two round little men frantically worked on it. Like all of his creations, it looked like a jumbled collection of parts jammed together in the middle of a large metal frame.
He had to admit the doctor had produced results over the years. He had designed all the war machines in Lahire’s army, and his creations had been instrumental in the final war. But lately, his work had not been to the same standard. The terrorists had created a number of devices recently that had surprised and confused the doctor. Lahire was beginning to suspect that soon he would have to find a new head of research. Perhaps even the one currently working for the terrorists.
The doctor stopped berating his two assistants and turned to face him. “Your Majesty! You come at a fortuitous time. In a few more minutes, I will be ready to demonstrate—”
“I thought you told me no one could travel to the Otherworld anymore. That it was now sealed off?”
“That’s correct, Your Majesty. Travel there is now impossible.”
“Then, how do you explain an outsider arriving in Wonderland?”
“An outsider? Impossible. The only way they could have come through is if another brought them while the barrier was down.”
“What do you mean, ‘while the barrier was down’?”
“Well, obviously you still require Taxard to travel to the Otherworld. While he is gone, the barrier is disabled. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to return.”
“You never mentioned this to me!”
“I thought it obvious.”
One of the assistants let out a sudden cry of surprise. A loud screeching noise filled the air.
“Take cover!” Despite his apparent frailty, Dr Keron moved at lightening speed to dive behind a large rock slab covered in scorch marks. Lahire, no stranger to the doctor’s mishaps, was right behind him.
A loud explosion caused the ground floor to shake. Smoke filled the air, causing him to cough. The doctor, apparently unaffected by the smoke, stood and moved toward what had become twisted wreckage. His two assistants lay on the ground nearby, their clothes scorched and burnt in places.
The first one sat up, apparently unharmed despite the damage to his clothes. “I told you to turn the fitting clockwise. You turned it the wrong way!”
The second one rose, staring furiously at the first. “Nohow! I was standing opposite to you, so obviously I had to turn it counter-clockwise. Besides, you gave me a wrench when I specifically asked for a spanner.”
“A wrench is much better than a spanner! It doesn’t repeat any letters in its name.”
“Contrariwise, spanner is much easier to spell. Imagine if I had to write what I wanted, instead of speak it, and you—”
Dr Keron removed a whip from beneath his coat, and flicked it at the two men. They cringed back from the loud crack.
“Enough! Another word from either of you, and I’ll cut your food rations. Get this mess cleared up.”
The two men leapt to their feet and rushed over to the wreckage. Lahire managed to get his coughing fit under control. The doctor, seemingly unconcerned, took a notebook out of his pocket and made some notes. Lahire crossed to where he stood.
Dr Keron looked up. “My apologies for the inconvenience, Your Majesty. Tweedles aren’t too bright, but as you just witnessed, their resilience to physical damage does mean they have their advantages.”
Lahire stabbed a finger at Dr Keron’s face. “I should have you executed for your recklessness. I could have been killed!”
“And yet, you weren’t, Your Majesty. You are still safe and sound. And more importantly, I have some new data that should improve the speed of our latest fliers by fifteen percent.”
Lahire stopped, impressed at the news despite his anger. “How soon can you have the improvements out to the navy?”
“The first fliers will be modified before the end of the night. The rest of the fleet can be upgraded over the next three weeks.”
He nodded. “Do it.” His mind returned to the original reason he had come down there, but continuing the topic with Dr. Keron was pointless. He had learned everything he needed to know.
Someone had known the schedule for when Taxard left for the Otherworld, which meant a spy was present in the castle. 

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