Braddock Manor at night. Please, Nightcrawler moans, perspiring, his face contorted in a grimace of fear. He can bear no more. Shoot him, put him out of his misery! Stop whining, another person orders. You fiend! he accuses that person. You are enjoying this… inhuman torture. Of course not, the other person snorts, and reaches for a medical implement. I just like playing doctor. Pity, a few snips and it will all be over.
Nightcrawler screams in pain as the other person goes to work in earnest. Eyes closed, he moans until the other person tells him he is finished already. Ooha, he moans relieved, massaging his leg that is finally free of the plaster. He thanks Kitty, the itch was driving him insane.
He’s lucky Professor Xavier said it was okay to remove the cast, she tells him. She’d have left it on for another month. To teach him the consequence of violence, he assumes. No, Kitty states. That’s a risk they all face. He carefully stands up. She means he is lucky that mutants heal so quick. An ordinary person’s femur would take about eight weeks to knit.
She checks his leg but finds no significant muscle wastage. How does he feel? Stiff and a little weak, he admits, mostly he is just off-balance. He has grown used to compensating for the weigh of the cast. He’ll just have to take it easy for the next few days, Kitty recommends.
He doesn’t have the time, Kurt replies. He received a letter via Jean Grey from an old friend, Jutta. She needs his help; he is leaving for Germany within the hour. Can she come? Kitty asks. Kurt thanks her, but it’s personal. Great, Kitty sulks, as Kurt begins to exercise his leg. He is leaving her alone in this spooky mausoleum.
He though she’d planned to examine the “new Widget” with Alistaire, Kurt reminds her. She apologizes. She is depressed. She misses Rachel. He somersaults but isn’t content with his landing. He tells her not to brood. Brian and the others will soon return. They went to help Dai Thomas track some missing people. Dai only requested Meggan’s assistance, but Kylun and Cerise went along, just in case. Just in case? Kitty muses. Dai Thomas has a knack for uncovering trouble…but what trouble can there be in recovering a few lost people?
She doesn’t know how her teammates fare at the moment, in this case Captain Britain fighting for his life against animals which are grown impossibly large. When he first became Captain Britain he saw his prodigious strength as a curse. In a world of frail humans, every gesture, every touch had to be gauged. Even in his foulest rage, he learned to pull his punches, bitter experience, the death of an innocent taught Captain Britain the importance of restraint, but that is not a concern today. Today the gloves are off. Survival is all.
The onslaught of animal fury is relentless. There is no time to think. Instinct guides Captain Britain’s superhuman reactions. Savage primal instinct. And though his situation seems without hope, he feels a surge of euphoric relief as long suppressed rage is released in devastating physical force. In the face of mortal danger, his spirit soars.
But when his rage fades, the monstrous attackers continue to stream from the infinite shadows. And if Captain Britain had time to think, he would think of escape.
Suddenly, the ground beneath him recedes and he falls into cold water. He looks for the surface but neither finds it nor any airpockets. He’s running out of air. So he tries to tunnel to the surface. But his strength isn’t enough, the rock is sold. There’s got to be another way! Suddenly, he sees a heavy chain leading to a plug. Crazy, insane but he has no option. He pulls the plug and is pulled along the flow… being poured out of a giant teapot into a cup onto a tablecloth and finally a meadow.
He coughs. Why so glum, chum? he is asked and finds that the asker is a grinning flower. You set the pace, ace. Want to rest, pest? Take a nap, sap. It blows its pollen at his face and painful consciousness dissolves in a perfumed haze. And memory fills the void.
Captain Britain’s memories:
He, Cerise Kylun and Meggan had accompanied Commander Dai Thomas to a small village. Dai explained that the entire population – 27 people, all over sixty years old – vanished without trace. Baths were left running, meals half eaten, TV sets still on. Whatever happened was sudden but there was no sign of foul play.
They wanted to go, Meggan suddenly announces. They were happy, she can feel it. They aren’t far away. Meggan begins to shapeshift into a form that possesses the keen tracking senses of a wolf. But somehow the transformation goes awry and she assumes the soft, fluffy aspects of a rabbit. She runs off.
Cerise tells Cap that when she metamorphed there was a burst of psychic energy like a signal. The three heroes follow Meggan. Brian surmises she is on the track of the missing villager, but Kylun points out she is travelling too fast to be tracking. She knows where she is going, namely down a rabbit hole.
The others follow down with Cap as the last having trouble due to his size. He grunts but finally falls to the bottom. He calls out to the others with no reply. He doesn’t like this. Separated in a darkened cave and Lord knows what monstrous menace they are up against…. And that moment he was attacked. Then falling… drowning. And flowers talking. Just a dream. A bad dream.
Cap awakes. To find himself tied up by vines the strength of steel cable. The flowers assure him they are restraining him for his own safety. His own violence might cause him harm. Snarling, he orders them to let him go.
Suddenly, he hears someone singing twinkle twinkle, little star. It’s Meggan, wearing a blue dress like Alice and accompanied by the March Hare, the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse. No, no, the Dormouse corrects her, it’s Twinkle, twinkle little bat, how I wonder what you’re at.
Brian tries to call out to her, but the vines muffle his voice.
Up above the world you fly
Like a tea tray in the sky, they go on singing as they skip past.
The flowers threaten to gag him. To spoil another’s fun is not just. He’ll spoil their fun when he gets free, he mutters.
Temper, temper, a grin (without a cat) admonishes him. So much aggression indicates deep-rooted anxiety. The rest of the Cheshire Cat becomes visible. Perhaps as a child he felt emotionally starved, it suggests, in the shadow of his ever successful brother Jamie. And his lovely, vivacious sister Betsy. Brian could not compete with them, so he hid in his books, didn’t he?
Brian snarls that the might have been able to Brianwash Meggan, but their mindgames won’t work on him. He struggles against the restraining flowers and finally manages to tear off the vines. Better now? the Cheshire Cat asks. Has the mindless mutilation sated his violent appetites?
No! Brian replies he doesn’t like to be psycho-analyzed and especially by a Cheshire Cat and he wants to wipe that smug grin off its face. He hits it and knocks out a few teeth. Everything fades. And he continues to look for Meggan and the others.
He flies, finding Kylun peacefully fishing side by side with the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle. Somewhat further ahead Cerise is playing Flamingo Crocket with the court. He decides it has to be an illusion. All life is an illusion, a smiling caterpillar that suddenly appears in front of him suggests.
What the devil is he talking about? Cap demands. What’s going on here? Who is behind this? Each mind creates its own fate, comes the reply. Why is he wasting his time asking him questions? Brian asks. Because he doesn’t know the answer.
Things become clearer when Brian hears a familiar hyuk hyuk and sees Tweedledope running past. He should have realized the Crazy Gang were involved. All of this Alice in Wonderland imagery is their trademark. But none of the Crazy Gang has the power to create whatever this place is, he realizes as he follows the little monster. Someone else must be involved. Last time it was Arcade. But his Murderworld was never as realistic as this environment, not even with his Shi’ar technology. He knows he is underground but sees clear sky instead of the cavern’s ceiling. This place is huge, it must take enormous power to sustain it.
He flies to a medieval castle, following Tweedledope, and arrives at a tea party where he finds the Jester, Executioner and Knave seemingly relaxed, as is Meggan and the old people sitting at the table, dressed in costumes. No sign of the Red Queen, but the old folk in fancy dress are the kidnapped villagers, Cap surmises. He wonders what those lunatics have done to Meggan. She is acting like one of them.
Get away from her, you depraved maniacs! he shouts and flies against the members of the Crazy Gang. Confused, the Knave states they have not done any crimes. Cap smashes them to the ground, explaining kidnapping is a crime. Kid-nap-ing? they ask confused. What is…? Don’t act confused, Cap orders, grabbing the Jester by the throat. Who are they working for?
The Knave hits him on the head. The Jester protests they mustn’t fight. They are not criminals anymore. It is self-defence, comes the Knave’s reply. The Jester kicks Cap, recalling self-defence is okay.
Cap tosses the Jester against the Knave. He can defend himself too. While Tweedledope attacks the Jester is confused by the concept. But if both do self-defence, it is fighting. Right on the nose, Cap tells him and proceeds to hit him there.
The Executioner joins the battle, while Cap still insists they tell him who is behind this wonderland fiasco.
Meggan comes running, ordering him to stop. Exasperated, she shouts it’s like talking to a brick wall. That moment a brick wall appears between Cap and the Crazy Gang. Did she do this? he asks confused. Sort of, she replies. She wanted him to stop and thought of a brick wall.
What have they done to her? he asks. He thought she was Brianwashed. She explains the Crazy Gang aren’t criminals, they were just having a party. Everybody has fun here. It’s a happy place. Fun? Brian asks. He’s been attacked, drowned, bound and gagged. That’s because he expected trouble, she explains. So he found it. Wishes come true here. But not in the way he thinks. They get mixed up with secret thoughts.
Cap begins to understand. Their conscious and subconscious thoughts are being scrambled, filtered through this fairytale fantasy and given reality. But how? Why? Who is responsible?
The Red Queen, she begins. What? he shouts. She means that ugly psychotic cow who’s always screaming “Orv wif is head.” He mimics her expression and Meggan giggles. That’s how she used to be, she explains and tells him to look. Some distance ahead they see the Queen slumbering peacefully with an equally serene looking Joyboy on her lap.
Meggan explains Tweedledope brought him here. It still doesn’t explain this, Brian insists. Joyboy’s power is to take a person’s fondest desire and twist it into nightmarish reality. How has that evil ability crated so much beauty? Then he gets it. It’s a double negative. They cancel each other out. The Queen’s insanity distorts the fairy tale imagery of “Alice in Wonderland” into a snake pit of dark fantasies. Joyboy reverts the distortion.
Meggan explains that they are both very happy. Their minds have joined. They are locked in a symbiotic psychic embrace, he agrees. It’s ironic. Two unstable, potential menaces have neutralized each other. And something wonderful has been created in the process.
Cerise and Kylun join them, Kyln boasting about the seven trout he caught with just a bent pin and a worm. It is truly a dream come true. You can have too much of a good thing, Cerise observes.
Anyway, they came here for a reason, Brian reminds them. The Knave and the Jester look anxious, pleading for no more fighting please. Or self defence. They will not do crime anymore. Everything they want is here. The world outside is confusing, cold, cruel. And violent!
He thought they had kidnapped the villagers, Cap remarks. How did they get here? They were invited, the villagers explain. The Jester adds the villagers have been nice to them. They wanted them to share in their joy. The people apologize they forgot about time. They can go home and defuse the crisis. There needn’t be any trouble.
The Knave asks not to tell, this is their secret. Meggan assure him everything will be fine and looks at Cap pleadingly. He supposes so, he agrees hesitatingly. As long as the Crazy Gang stay here and stay out of trouble. They can always come to check up on them. Anytime, yes, the Jester happily agrees. For tea and cake and singing, the Knave adds.
Meggan hugs Brian in relief. She thought he was going to be difficult. He acted like a thug when he came here, he muses. Kurt wouldn’t have. He thinks before he acts. He deserves to lead Excalibur. This crazy place has made him look at himself. He doesn’t like what he saw. He needs to speak with his sister, Betsy.
Back at Braddock manor, Alistaire Stuart and Kitty are examining the new and improved Widget. Alistaire exclaims this new Widget is even more of an enigma than his “Kermit” incarnation. The head, shoulders and fingers are all a metal sort of alloy, but the body for want of a better word has no measurable mass. Yet it displaces air. And it has an internal temperature of seventy-two degrees below zero. Is she listening? he asks.
Kitty apologizes. She wasn’t paying attention. Yeah, he knew she’d be more interested in the organic circuitry that covers the caverns. It was grown from a node of the Omniversal Computer, he explains. Brian’s dad brought it from Otherworld. She knows, Kitty replies unenthusiastically. But it’s dead now, so it can wait.
Finally, he asks what is wrong. Kurt is, comes the reply. He only just left, Alistaire reminds her. If he runs into trouble, he’ll call. It’s not what he might run into, Kitty clarifies, it’s what he’s running from. He feels responsible for what happened to Rachel. She tried to talk with him about it and he changed the subject. Alistaire suggests she give him time. He needs to work it out for himself.
Suddenly, Lockheed gasps. Widget is active. The field of his body begins to glow in all colors. And he begins to speak. n…en.inels att.ck… stop.stop…stop Tangerine! The Trackers! Katherine! Look out!
With those words, a look of shock on his face and an explosion of light, Widget disappears leaving only a crater. Kitty phased herself, Lockheed and Alistaire to safety, but what happened, they wonder. Did Widget disintegrate or teleport? And what was he shouting about? Good question, Kitty replies, but she has a feeling they won’t like the answer.