Disclaimer: Electronic Arts (EA) and American McGee hold all copyrights to American McGee's Alice

Chapter Twenty-Four: Crazed Clockwork

Squeezing out from between the tight rubber flaps, I walked into what seemed like a small antechamber, behind the actual factory and its clangourous workings.

At the far end of the room was a large glassy viewing glass, which contained a copper machine covered in numerous turning cogs and wheels. Fitted with a long wide mouthed pipe, it bent downwards to a glass-crafted, cylindrical container not unlike the sensory deprivation chambers shown in movies, used by mad scientists to create evil mutant chimeras or to keep the eldritch creations under control.

Looking to the travellator, I saw that it too ended above the cylindrical tank. Then there was a muted hum, and the conveyor belt inched forward, bringing with it one terrified Oyster. As the child reached the end of the belt, the grasping arms released him right into the tank.

Immediately the young Oyster started trying to climb out of the impossibly smooth walls in vain, and clear liquid gushed out of the pipe into the tank while the machine spat what seemed like random bits of metal trash into the tank. Miniature robotic arms extended from the bottom of the tank and secured shut a lid.

Out of the blue, the "trash" seemed to gain sentience of their own, extending a wide range of cutting, drilling and piercing parts from their innards and began to carve at the Oyster energetically and enthusiastically…except the poor child was clearly not deprived of any sense.

I looked on, horrified, as he trashed in the confines of the tanks violently, knowing that the agony he was being subjected to by the slicing blades of the machines must be unbearable to his young body.

Sensing resistance, robotic arms extended from the upper and lower sides of the tank to restrain his limbs, pulling them outwards until he was in a spread-eagled position so tight he could barely buck his torso without rending it in half.

He didn't have to worry about that, though — the mini-machines were hard at work, excising layers of skin and muscle, pulling them back for another machine to fit in robotic components and lay wires connecting the parts; deftly severing accurately measured squares of flesh and replacing them with weaponised or tool-fitted units, the blood that was spilling out into the tank not affecting them at all.

Finally, they ripped the child's eyeballs out, slotting two glowing crystal orbs into the sockets. Electricity crackled, and I shielded my eyes against the flash. When I removed my arm, the cylindrical tank gurgled, sucking in the bloody water, then hissed open, releasing the child-turned monster—a Crystal Cyborg. Its vision crystals flashed, and it turned, marching rigidly out of my view. Moments later, the belt hummed again, carrying yet another fearful child, ready to make yet another killer robot out of him.

"No! Stop!" I commanded forcefully, trying to smash my Blade into the glass. It didn't even make so much as a tiny crack on the transparent surface.

"Ah, Alice, don't waste your effort trying. It's missile-proof glass, for Hearts' sake. And since the Hatter made it, it is quite obviously the strongest there is in the realm...Mally! Wake up! Someone's come!"

Thackery Earwicket and Mallymkun, obviously, I thought. Sneaky of them to enter without me noticing. "Were you impolite at the table? Did you slurp your tea, or talk while chewing? Confess your crime!"

"We've done nothing of the kind!" rebutted Thackery indignantly. "It's the Hatter — he's gone quite mad, I do say so! Speaking of which, how is the Red Queen not like a typhoon?"

"By the way, how is a Raven like a writing desk?" I shook my head sadly at the distant memory, remembering Tarrant's kind wit and humorous nature. But times and things had changed — Wonderland grew up, and so did I.

"Both are powerful, destructive, and, from what I've witnessed, indiscriminately cruel. But the typhoon doesn't mean to be."

"Good answer! Wrong, but good! Now undo us, please, from this contraption!"

"Or you could give us tea, if you prefer..." interrupted Mallymkun dreamily. Something in Thackery's tone caught my attention, and I swivelled to face the directions of their voices.

What I saw would have shocked me to no end if I hadn't already witnessed worse. Pinned to wooden dissection tables like oversized specimens, both Thackery and Mallymkun had been largely replaced with automated limbs or body parts, the organic portions of their bodies reduced to such a pathetic percentage that basic life support had to be taken care of by the unfeeling machinery.

An overworked hydraulic pump fought to keep the lungs in Thackery's cut up rib cage contracting and relaxing. Complicated arrangements of intravenous drips ran from many points on Mallymkun's torso and arms, to supply sufficient nutrients to provide energy for the survival of the only remaining living parts of his body, which had been removed from the stomach down, substituted my twitching steel legs and a tail.

"Oh, I beg your pardon! You are in real danger! Where is your host?" I exclaimed.

"Real danger? Are we? Really? Thackery, I wish to go home. Evidently I have worn out my welcome..." sighed Mallymkun.

"The Hatter will be here at six! Sharp as clockwork!" stated the Hare firmly.

"Misses no opportunity to deny us out tea! Most cruel, I'm sure...and his medicine makes my sleepy..." Mallymkun yawned deeply, and fell silent, his faint snores adding to the silenced cacophony of the Crystal Cyborg production line.

"How do I get to the Hatter?" "Oh, here or there, there or here..." Thackery murmured dozily, motioning at an odd lever set in the ground. I pulled it backwards, and a ladder descended slowly from the ceiling. Unable to do anything for my slumbering friends, I ascended, disturbed.

The Hatter stomped into the room, a tiny clockwork device perched on his shoulder like a ridiculous mechanised parrot. Grabbing his crystal communicator, he hissed at his Crystal Cyborg General's bust.


"Yes, my liege?" asked the General with all wide-crystal innocence.

The Hatter grimaced slightly at the robotic idiocy of his creations.

"There's been no sign of this character?" he enquired sharply while uploading the digital image files of Alice, as though he hadn't done so dozens of times already.

"Well...none that you would wish to know of, my liege. Her appearance was, in our opinion, the direct cause of the demolition of at least half a dozen Clockwork Automaton Terminators (CATs), not to mention the numbers of resident Boojums or Phantasmagoria. The manner of the CATs' decommissions point conclusively to the creature Alice being responsible, judging by the efficient way she eliminated a squadron of my Crystal Cyborgs at one of the prison out houses."

"Well, she's nothing if not lethal. Where was she last?"

"Inactive CATs and dead Crystal Cyborgs have been recovered from the Highly Alarming Tenants (HAT) Wing."

The Hatter frowned. That section of the Factory housed Thackery Earwicket and Mallymkun and...Razerious. His former tea partners were floundering foibles, more a threat to their own machine-ridden body than any Crystal Cyborg of his — hardly terrorising characters.

But Razerious was no idle beast, being one of the two objects the Red Queen had placed in his especial care.

Only by a triple-layer of self-regenerating missile-proof glass, energy shackles binding his powerful feet and wings, and an Arcane reversal field muzzle that did not impede speech but cancelled out any attempt to fire a blizzard from his mouth could they keep him under control. If Alice managed to free him...the Hatter didn't know what to worry about more — their combined combat skills or the Queen's wrath.

"General, I will be handling this unwanted intruder personally. The Queen happens to insist on it." Since you useless things have displayed such gross incompetency when you fell by the dozens at a mere touch from her.

"You have my health monitor built into you. Send down heavy guard to the Mechanized Altercation Domain if and only if my readouts red line. I trust I do not have to instruct your troops on how to deal with the girl while I lay badly injured."

"Understood, my liege."

Pausing to pick up his self-made ebony cane, he stalked towards the metal gates leading into the Domain and slotted his staff into the complicated lock. There was a series of clanks, of assorted metal pieces locking into place, and the door magically folded in upon itself.

The Hatter stood scowling at the clock face on the ground, which currently showed that the time was five minutes to six from the tall watchtower. He reached for his crystal infocomm device.