Jeanette tried to remember whether the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland was bad or good--but no. No memory of it at all.
She simply didn’t know how to handle this--so she decided to tell the truth.
“Hi. I’m wondering if you’re an extremely alien being tapping into my thoughts in order to have a way to talk to me. Is that what’s going on here?”
The gorgeous woman in the red gown wrinkled her brow. “Mmm, I can see how it could look that way. Yes, I’ve tapped into your memories to build this room and this body--and this bunny, when you come down to it--in order to talk to you. But it’s not because I’ve never had any experience with humans--but because I’d lost it. Nearly all of it.”
The Queen stepped a little closer, and Jeanette--again deciding on the direct approach--got from behind the desk, took a couple of steps, and touched the Queen’s gown. It was real. The woman extended her hand to Jeanette, and she took it. It was real flesh, at least as far as she could tell.
Since they were actually doing a handshake of a sort, and since she had gotten used to the company of queens, she did a little curtsey-bounce and said “Pleased to meet you.”
Then she processed what the Queen had said. “Lost it? How?”
The Queen paused and smiled a little. “I’m still sorting this out a little--but I think I’m one of you. Or you’re one of me.” She smiled more broadly. “That didn’t come out right, did it?”
Jeanette almost forgot to speak, because suddenly a whole pile of pieces of her memory snapped together. She stammered, “You were a toon?”
The woman nodded. “I remember some of it. I was a powerful figure--inscrutable, sometimes ruthless, magnetically attractive. There was a strong--your words are a jumble here--erotic element to my power.”
Jeanette squealed, “You were PORN?”
“Not precisely, no.” She responded, amused, “or maybe yes. But I was a queen there, and the center of big dramatic stories. All loved me and despaired.”
She lowered her head. “But then the Exile came. I was cast out--but unlike you and your friends, I fell into no ordinary life. I found myself in a wild and beautiful world--but completely uninhabited. I became a spirit--maybe the spirit of that world. And there I stayed for a very very long time.”
“I think it may be that the more powerful the original character was, the further they were thrown. I was definitely cast beyond the web of worlds and entities you’ve been traveling among. The closest I came was that world of Grammar, because of that professor’s intellectual fascination with Agents of Imagination. I was incomplete and not quite aware--or quite sane--but I hungered.”
Jeanette found herself looking all over the Queen’s gown--there were all sorts of shades of red in it--but not at her face. This was a new kind of fear, but it was fear. “I think something like that happened in a world I stayed at--visited--It was so beautiful, and the world responded to my needs and desires--and my Father’s and Senhor Capoeira Capybara’s as well. But there were two graves there, with a rose tree and a briar. I think there were two lovers who were exiled together…”
“...but found no bodies. I went through that memory. I think--” she stopped and put her red-nailed hand on the side of her cheek, “--I think I might have known them. At least there seems to be a memory that isn’t from you.”
She sang in a pure, clear, sweet voice:
They grew and grew in the old churchyard
Till they could grow no higher
And there they tried, in a true lover's knot
The Red Rose and the Briar.
“They had each other, though, where I had nothing. Have had nothing.”
The voice would have melted Jeanette into a puddle no matter what she sang. It was all she could do to run to her and bury her face in the Queen’s dress. She stood there, wiped her nose on her sleeve and said “I’m sorry. What can I do?”
“Do? You’ve saved me, Jeanette. It’s true that I’m largely composed of a jumble of your memories and dreams--and the books you’ve read--but I’m alive. I’m human.”
The Queen stood close before her now. “And I know of the fight you’ve been fighting, against the thing that did this to me--and to you. I would fight alongside you, and your father, and the others, as an Agent of Imagination.”
“Then come! Come along!” Jeanette said, and added, “You’d have to find clothes that are a little more practical…”
“I don’t think I’d be able to--not yet. Not as long as I’m still more than half dreams and quotations. But I want to give you what I can to help you. This isn’t any magical prophecy, but things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.”
“Yeah, we could use something. That last monster--we almost didn’t defeat it.” Jeanette looked up. “But I know what I can do for you!” She went to the desk and got her wish-fulfillment teleporter. “Anything you want, as long as it’s not magic and not alive--pretty much from any universe--and you can have it! Especially books! Don’t say no!”
The Queen took the clockwork device. “And I’ll have your memories to guide me. Thank you, Jeanette--it’s a queenly gift.”
“What my true original power was, I don’t know, Jeanette Ransom. But in my present state I have the power of an entire world--undiluted by other beings save for the occasional bunny rabbit. All that power I put at your disposal whenever you need it.”
A chill ran down Jeanette’s spine as the Queen of Hearts handed her a red jewel. A world-jewel.
“Now you’re going to wake up underneath that tree and find that your father’s been calling for you. He’s not upset yet.”
The Queen kissed her on the forehead.
And she awoke. Despite her flat-out hatred of it-was-all-a-dream endings, this one seemed an exception. Her backpack was even on her back.
Returning to All Soul’s College, Jeanette found a great deal of commotion. In addition to Master Giancarlo, there were about five of his colleagues. They were about as heterogeneous as they could be: One was in what looked like hazmat garb, another one in a kind of Gandhi loincloth but with a big workbelt, a woman wearing something like fox-hunting garb and another in a graduation gown except the hat was triangular. They all surrounded a glowing hologram that was being whirled about so much, and was having grids superimposed, moved, resized, and removed so that it was impossible to see what was underneath. Her Father and the rest of her companions were looking on, and they all had strained and worried looks.
She tried to penetrate the gaggle of academics (whatever their clothing, they sounded just like Dada’s friends):
“Even if it doesn’t spontaneously disassemble, there is no way that it could be in an orbit around a gravity well!”
“It has to be a shadow of a higher-dimensional shape, but in that case it should be the size of the solar system!”
“No, a hidden framework of space-27 could change the gauge function of the weak force!”
“There’s no such thing as space-27!”
When she saw what they were looking at, she gasped, and ran to her father. “That’s--”
“--the physically-impossible neutrino ship.” Her father said grimly. “Somehow, they’ve found us.”
“We have to leave immediately,” said Grandmère Hutan.
“If it’s not too late already,” said the capybara.