Rodney in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll and Eildon Rhymer
Down the Rabbit-Hole
Rodney was beginning to get very tired of sitting by his sister on the bank and having nothing to do: once or twice, he had peeped into the book his sister was reading, but it had no complex equations in it, and, worse, it had pictures, "and I grew out of books with pictures in when I was, like, five," Rodney thought, "when I designed my first particle accelerator using finger paints and glitter at kindergarten, and everyone else drew princesses and kittens, and yet somehow that made me the weird one – I mean, hello? Me? They should have nurtured my talent instead of packing me off for remedial lessons in emotional literacy using teddy bears and that freaky velveteen rabbit thing."
So he was considering, in his own mind (as well as he could, for the hot day made him feel very sleepy and dulled his intellect until it was only about twice as sharp as the common herd around him), whether the pleasure of berating his sister out loud about her choice of reading matter was worth her likely sharp reminder that he had forgotten her birthday last year, even though he had been engaged in highly important research at the time, which would have been completely derailed had he stopped to send a bunch of flowers and a trite verse in recognition of a meaningless landmark created by greetings card manufacturers, when suddenly a White Rabbit with bushy fur ran close by him.
There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Rodney think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!"; but when the Rabbit actually pushed a pair of spectacles up its nose, Rodney started to his feet, for it flashed across his mind that he had never before seen a rabbit with spectacles, and burning with curiosity, he ran across the field after it, and was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.
Rodney felt an unaccountable urge to follow it, even though the rabbit-hole was bound to be riddled with diseases, and then there was the question of how he would get out again, and Nobel Prizes were not won for the most part by following strange rodents down holes. (Rodney felt a sudden suspicion that rabbits were not, in fact, rodents, but biology, like medicine, was not a real science and therefore it mattered not one whit, and, besides, no-one was listening.) "You must be kidding me," he said. "I'm not going down there."
The urge grew stronger. The wind seemed to whisper with a voice that muttered something about it only being page two and about refusing to be defeated by a character's obstinacy, which seemed to Rodney quite odd, and he looked round sharply, because he needed a doctor right now, since auditory hallucinations were probably the first symptom of something hideous, and, speaking of hallucinations, there was a talking White Rabbit, for crying out loud, with spectacles.
The White Rabbit was inside the rabbit-hole, drumming its fingers and muttering in some strange language, perhaps Mongolian or Welsh or Czech or Australian. In another moment the wind gave Rodney a shove, and down he went into the rabbit-hole, "which is assault," Rodney cried, "and, oh no! oh no! I'm going to die!"
Either the hole was very deep, or Rodney fell very slowly, because he had plenty of time as he went down to panic. (Not that Rodney ever required time to panic; it was something he could do in a mere moment, with no preparation time at all.) "I am so screwed," he said. "I'm going to go splat at the bottom of a stupid rabbit-hole and they'll never find my body, and… huh! Posthumous honours. Mustn't speak ill of the dead, etcetera etcetera. They'll finally recognise my brilliance, that's for sure."
Presently he began again. "Of course, I'd rather not be hideously killed. A posthumous honour would be gratifying, but as a general rule, I would far rather stay alive. Alive, dead; dead, alive. Alive's better, and – oh! – a parachute! I should have taken to wearing a parachute. You never know when you're going to need it. It's all Jeannie's fault. Too busy reading her stupid book to even notice that I'm, oh, I don't know, busy dying over here. That is so much worse than forgetting a birthday."
Down, down, down. There was nothing else to do, so Rodney started talking again. "No, it's the White Rabbit's fault, really. It's quite irresponsible of it to go round enticing innocents to follow it like this. And what sort of idiot puts, oh, let's see, an enormous hole just inside its own front door?" And here Rodney began to get a little confused, as he tried to decide whether terror or righteous indignation was uppermost in his mind, and he was just about to settle on 'crashing despair' instead, when suddenly, thump! thump! down he came upon a heap of sticks and dry leaves, and the fall was over.
Rodney did not feel in the least bit hurt, but he stayed very still, because he knew that hideous injuries often lurked just out of sight, and you got up, thinking yourself entirely well, when suddenly the tiny injury in your back jumped out at you with a gleeful roar and, bang! just like that! you were paralysed.
He also thought that he might have a splinter.
The White Rabbit was still in sight, and Rodney saw it scrape a paw through the bushy fur on its head, and speak again in its nonsensical language, before adding in English, "Oh, my paws and whiskers, how late it's getting!"
Rodney sat up carefully, and nothing seemed to fall off or blaze in sudden agony. "It's probably not a good idea to stay lying down when a freaky talking animal is present," he thought, for he had watched several unpleasant movies about sinister rabbits, like the one with the dodgy physics of time travel and the one with nasty sharp pointy teeth and the cartoon one with that totalitarian dictatorship, and the principal lesson was: if you see a rabbit, run the other way. (It occurred to Rodney that this lesson was one that would have been more helpful if remembered earlier, like before he had peered into the rabbit-hole.)
Rodney stood up. He thought there was a faint pain in his ankle, that was doubtless going to blossom into full-blown agony within a few hours. He walked a little way, but the Rabbit was no longer anywhere to be seen.
Presently Rodney found himself in a long, low hall, which was lit up by rows of lamps hanging from the roof. In the middle of the hall there was a little three-legged table, all made of solid glass: there was nothing on it but a little bottle, and tied around the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words "DRINK ME" beautifully printed on it in large letters.
"You've got to be kidding me!" Rodney exclaimed. "I'm not drinking anything out of strange bottles. It might have citrus in it. I'm deathly allergic to citrus. No." He folded his arms, shaking his head in firm (and perhaps even heroic) resolve. "It's all very well to say 'Drink me' but have you listed your ingredients? Hello? Food and Drugs Act mean anything to you? No open disclosure of ingredients, therefore, no drinking."
The wind whispered around him, and he felt a very strong urge indeed to pick up the bottle.
"There might even be citrus on the outside, due to people handling it with inadequate safety precautions, such as not bothering to wear gloves," Rodney protested, taking a step back. "Nope – no drinking."
The wind raged for a while, and suddenly…
Pig and Pepper
…Rodney opened the door and went in.
The door led right into a large kitchen, which was full of smoke from one end to the other: the Duchess was sitting on a three-legged stool in the middle, nursing a baby: the cook was leaning over the fire, stirring a large cauldron which seemed to be full of soup.
"There is certainly too much pepper in that soup!" Rodney said to himself, as well as he could for sneezing. "Or maybe… maybe it's nothing to do with pepper. Maybe I'm sneezing because…" He sneezed again. "Oh no! Oh no no no no! It's the first symptom of some horrible infection. Oh, God, maybe I've been poisoned. Maybe that 'drink me' thing was the antidote and I refused to drink it." He sneezed again. "Or maybe it is just the pepper."
There was certainly too much pepper in the air. Even the Duchess sneezed occasionally, and as for the baby, it was sneezing and howling alternately without a moment's pause. "Oh!" Rodney wailed. "I've come into a plague zone." It was most certain that the Duchess did not look very well. Her face was white and her eyes were strangely yellow. Strands of long white hair escaped from her ornate head-dress.
"Please tell me you haven't got some hideous infectious disease," Rodney said, "because you look terrible."
"I thought visitors," said the Duchess, "were supposed to be polite."
"I do don't polite," Rodney said. "I'm an arrogant man. Get used to it."
The Duchess sneezed. The only creatures in the kitchen who were not sneezing were the cook and a lean cat, which was lounging on the hearth and smirking in a most irritating fashion.
"Why does your cat smirk like that?" Rodney asked.
"It's a Cheshire Cat," said the Duchess, "and that's why."
"Oh," said Rodney. "I didn't know that Cheshire Cats smirked. In fact, I didn't know that cats could smirk. Cats favour a look of inscrutable intelligence. That's why I've always identified with cats. Wise, elegant, dignified, independent…"
The Cheshire Cat's smirk deepened, if smirks can be said to do such a thing.
"Most cats don't smirk," said the Duchess, "but this one's a contrary fellow; never does do what he is told."
"Oh," said Rodney, "I didn't know--"
"You don't know much," said the Duchess, "and that's a fact."
"Don't know much?" Rodney echoed. "Don't know much? I'll have you know that…"
At this moment, the cook took the cauldron of soup off the fire, and set to work throwing everything within her reach at the Duchess and the baby – the fire-irons came first; then followed a shower of saucepans, plates and dishes. "What are you doing?" Rodney shrieked, jumping up and down in an agony of terror. "Are you completely insane? You can kill someone with a saucepan, you know, and even with a wooden spoon when it's thrown in the right way, and stop stop stop!"
"If a certain person minded his own business," the Duchess said, in a hoarse snarl, "the world would go round a good deal faster than it does."
"Which is quite frankly ridiculous," said Rodney, cowering from the flying saucepans, "and betrays an ignorance of rudimentary physics that beggars belief, and I suppose you're going to tell me that you also believe in crystals and angels and star signs and fairies. The world, you see," he started to explain, demonstrating quite admirable patience in the face of extreme provocation, "spins on its axis…"
"And talking of axes," said the Duchess, "chop off his head."
"Oh!" Rodney gasped. "You don't want to do that. I… I'm quite attached to my head. I don't want to lose it. I…"
"It's the soup, you see," growled the Duchess. "Until recently, we fed on the life-force of petty humans, but then something changed, and all we're able to eat are things like fish-fingers and iced buns and marshmallows, but we can't buy such things, on account of this being a fictional world modelled on a dream, and thus lacking in a real-world economy, and so we can only eat what we can cook, and we never learnt cookery at school, only snarling, terror and face painting, hence it's soup, always soup, every day it's soup." She sniffed sadly. "One day we will master the issue of pepper quantities, and then, once again, the universe will be ours to conquer, but until then, we are lost in perpetual soup and sneezing."
"Oh," Rodney said, as the wind stirred angrily around him, muttering darkly about bad influences and about the rot spreading even to canon characters now.
"Here," said the Duchess, passing the baby to Rodney. "Take him. This obsession with capturing babies is so last year, anyway. See where it got Michael. Besides, I need to get ready for croquet with our new Queen." She snarled the last word, before sneezing.
Rodney looked down at the baby in his arms. "Uh… I don't do kids." The baby wriggled. "I mean, I really don't do kids. Uh…" He swallowed. "Coochie coo," he said. "There there. Uh, goo goo. God, you really are an ugly baby. What if…? Oh, what if I drop you? Oh!"
Rodney found himself being escorted to the front door and out into the open air. The baby grunted, and Rodney looked down into its face in some alarm. There could be no mistake about it: it was neither more nor less than a pig, and Rodney thought it would be quite absurd for him to carry it any further.
So he put the little creature down, and felt quite relieved to see it trot away quietly into the wood. Rodney wiped his hands on his clothes, because, hello? germs? when he was startled to see the Cheshire Cat sitting on the bough of a tree a few yards off.
The cat smirked when it saw Rodney. It looked good-natured, Rodney thought; still it had very long claws and a great many teeth, and it had the look of a creature that could be a killer under the right circumstances, even though it was hiding that under a casually-smirking exterior.
"Cheshire-Puss," Rodney began, rather timidly, "you don't happen to know where I should go next?"
"Huh," said the Cheshire Cat. "That depends on where you want to get to."
"Well, duh, home," said Rodney. "I fell down a rabbit-hole, you see, and have landed in this freaky world, and… and I know all about worm-holes, of course – I mastered the theory behind them at eleven – but I've never heard of it happening with rabbit-holes – and, oh! maybe I've stumbled on a new natural phenomenon, and worm-hole's a stupid name, anyway, and just imagine it: in fifty years, elementary school pupils around the world will be hearing about the great Rodney McKay's rabbit-hole theory of transdimensional space, and…" He sneezed on a speck of pepper.
The Cheshire Cat clambered to a higher branch. The breeze stirred its fur, pushing it into unruly spikes on the top of its head. "Then it depends on where your home is," it said, rather rudely ignoring Rodney's dreams of glory.
"You," said Rodney, sternly, "are quite vexing."
"Oh, you're only saying that to be nice." The cat's smirk grew even more smirky. Rodney watched nervously as it climbed to the very topmost branch of the tree, where it looked up at the sky, tail flying.
"What can you see?" Rodney shouted up the tree.
"Everything!" The cat sounded delighted. "Hey, McKay," it called down from its perch. "Wanna help me build a plane? Just a small one, cat-sized? Beats being trapped in this…"
The wind surged suddenly strong, drowning out the cat's last word, which sounded to Rodney like a two syllable word, ending in '-ory.'
As the wind buffeted it, the cat faded very fast indeed, leaving behind just a smirk and a few unruly spikes of hair. Rodney opened his mouth and…
A Mad Tea Party
There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head. "Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse," thought Rodney; "only, as it's asleep, I suppose it doesn't mind."
The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: "No room! No room!" they cried out when they saw Rodney coming. "There's plenty of room!" said Rodney indignantly, and he sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.
"This really won't do," said the March Hare sternly, pulling out a book from his pocket. "You shouldn't have sat down there. It is expressly against rule 29."
"What is rule 29?" Rodney asked.
"Rule 29," said the March Hare stiffly, "is the rule that says that impertinent people called Rodney must never sit down for tea without being asked."
"I don't believe that rule exists," said Rodney.
The March Hare drew himself up very tall. "You don't believe in the rules?" He waved his book around. "The Book is everything."
"Then why," Rodney asked, "are you having afternoon tea at eleven o'clock in the morning?"
"Because," said the March Hare, "we are both quite mad, and the pages of the Book have become muddled." He leafed through the pages. "Do not," he read. "Nuclear bombs… proper approval… safest response is just to say 'don't'… Rule 30 has become all mixed up with rule 53. Ravens… Writing desks… Why is a raven like a writing desk?"
"That is a nonsensical question," Rodney told the March Hare. He eyed his tea suspiciously, wondering if lemons lurked therein.
"No, it isn't," said the Hatter. He had been looking at Rodney for some time with great suspicion, and this was his first speech. "It makes perfect sense. The subject and the object are all present and correct. All you mean," he said, with an air of triumph, "is that you don't know the answer. You should say what you mean."
"I do," said Rodney. "It's not my fault if people with lesser intelligence fail to grasp my meaning."
The Hatter rolled his eyes. "There he goes again! You see what I mean?" he said to the March Hare. "You should throw the Book at him."
"And risk knocking over the tea cups?" The March Hare seemed quite perturbed by this suggestion. "I have no desire to mess up my nice new conference table."
The wind seemed to be surging quite urgently, making the table-cloth flap. It seemed to be muttering something about how people weren't even trying to behave now.
"Why are you called a March Hare?" Rodney asked the March Hare. It was, in fact, almost hairless on the top of its head, in a way that positively invited to be the subject of painful puns.
"Because it's November," said the March Hare curtly, rubbing its paw over its bald head.
"He's at it again!" cried the Hatter, flicking his ponytail over his shoulder. "Always with the criticising and the stupid questions. This place is a joke. If I were in charge," he said, "we'd have blue flowers on the tea cups."
The Dormouse stirred. "We're done meditating yet?" it asked.
The March Hare seemed to be rather nervous of the Dormouse. It was, Rodney noticed, a very large Dormouse indeed, as Dormice went. "No," the March Hare said, "go to sleep again. It's, er… rules, and…"
"Stupid rules," said the Hatter. "I'd do better if I were in charge."
The Dormouse looked around with surprisingly sharp eyes. "Anyone attacking us yet?" It pulled a knife out from its fur, but where exactly the knife came from, Rodney could not tell. Then Rodney blinked, and the Dormouse had another knife in its paws. Maybe it kept them in the teapot, Rodney thought, but he was sure he had never heard of anyone keeping knives in teapots before.
"Take some more tea," the March Hare said to Rodney, very earnestly.
"I've had nothing yet," Rodney replied in an offended tone, "so I can't take more."
"You mean you can't take less," said the Hatter: "it's very easy to take more than nothing."
"Nobody asked your opinion," said Rodney
"Well, how rude," said the Hatter. "This is precisely the sort of behaviour I have to put up with in this place."
"Oh, be quiet." Rodney flapped his hand dismissively. "You're wrong, too. In a mathematical sense, yes, I can easily take more than nothing, and I can take less than nothing, too, or can't your little brain comprehend negative numbers? When we come to the conventions of spoken language, however…"
"Wake me up," yawned the Dormouse, "when it's time to kill someone."
"You're just… just… idiots," Rodney told them all. "You think you're so clever, with your pretend logic and your…" He blinked. "Can a Dormouse really kill people?" he asked.
"Course I can," mumbled the Dormouse, from its bed next to the teapot. It sat up, and Rodney saw a flash of silver, and heard a scream from the far side of the clearing.
The March Hare cleared its throat. "I believe," it said, flicking through its Book as if it was looking for a rule that prohibited what the Dormouse had just done, "that you have just killed the Mock Turtle."
"And quite ruined chapter nine!" shrieked the wind. "Why are you all doing things wrong? You're fictional characters. You're supposed to behave."
The words were nonsensical. Rodney opened his mouth to say as much, but the wind surged, and…
The Queen's Croquet Ground
…When the procession came opposite to Rodney, they all stopped and looked at him, and the Queen said severely "Who is this?"
"I'm Doctor Rodney McKay, PhD," Rodney told her, "and, no, that isn't tautology because I have two doctorates, you know, and I bet that's two more than you've got, so I… I'm not afraid of you." His voice trembled a little despite his brave words.
"I believe," hissed the Queen, "that I should taste your defiance and consume it." She bared her teeth, and Rodney had to look away, because they really were quite repulsive.
"Indeed, my Queen," said the King. He had long white hair and a strange pattern on his cheeks, that Rodney thought should probably be hearts, although they looked more like zig-zags. "Or perhaps," the King said, "we should instead ask him to play croquet?"
"Croquet," Rodney declared, "is a waste of time, in common with all competitive sports. People only spend time perfecting their performance at sports because they lack the intellectual ability to use their time more constructively. By which I mean yes," he added hastily, when the Queen's hand reached out towards his chest, "yes, of course I play croquet. Love the game. Please don't kill me."
"Come on, then!" roared the Queen, and Rodney joined the procession, wondering very much what would happen next. "Get to your places!" shouted the Queen in a voice of thunder, and people began running about in all directions, tumbling up against each other. This seemed to put the Queen in a passion, and soon she was stamping about, shouting "Off with his head!" or "Off with her head!" about once in a minute.
"I need to get out of here," Rodney thought. "I don't want to lose my head; it's a particularly fine one. I owe it to the international scientific community to keep it intact."
He was looking about for some way of escape, when he noticed a curious appearance in the air: it puzzled him very much at first, but, after watching it a minute or two, he made it out to be a smirk, and he said to himself "It's the Cheshire Cat: now I shall have somebody to talk to."
"What's going on?' said the Cat, as soon as there was mouth enough for it to speak with.
Rodney waited until its ears had come before replying. "I think I'm about to be hideously killed."
"Who are you talking to?" said the King, coming up behind Rodney.
"It's a Cheshire Cat," Rodney said, shrinking away from the King.
"Ah," the King hissed. "Chesssshirrre Pussssy." His lips moved as if he wanted to hiss something else completely.
"I can't call you King," said the cat, shrugging as well as something that was just a disembodied head could shrug. "What about Ted?"
The King stalked away. "Hideously killed?" Rodney reminded the Cheshire Cat. "Imminently?"
"Oh, that," said the Cheshire Cat. "Close encounters with death happen all the time round here, I'm afraid, but I won't," it said, its smirk fading, "let you die. No-one dies on my watch."
"Er…" Rodney swallowed. "I think you might want to tell the Dormouse about that." Because while the Cheshire Cat had been talking, the Dormouse had come running into the croquet ground, its fur slightly stained with tea, hurling knives at the Queen's court.
The Cheshire Cat disappeared, and reappeared in the air above the Knave of Hearts, knocking him over with a swish of his whiskers; the unruly fur on its head, though, Rodney noticed, was not disturbed in the slightest by the sudden movement. The Dormouse pulled yet another knife out of it shaggy fur and hurled it at the Duchess, who had just appeared, still sneezing and lamenting about perpetual soup. The Duchess fell to the ground. The White Rabbit, Rodney saw, was hiding behind a rose bush, desperately fastening a message to the leg of a carrier pigeon.
The wind seemed to be in a certain amount of consternation. It was shouting something about there being several chapters to go, and about how next time the main cast wasn't available, it was just giving up, rather than accepting substitutes.
"There!" The Cheshire Cat rematerialised above Rodney's head.
The March Hare appeared, waving its Book in spluttering fury, and the Mad Hatter was desperately scribbling down notes, looking totally disapproving of the entire affair. The Dormouse had found yet another knife.
"Off with his head!" the Queen screamed, then stopped and looked around. With the exception of the White Rabbit, her entire court appeared to be lying dead, their white hair stained with dark blood. "That is a relief," she said, and pulled off her wig; Rodney could see that she was rather a beautiful woman underneath. "The subterfuge worked. But did you have to kill so many?" she said.
"They looked at me," said the Dormouse.
"Hey, I killed some, too, buddy," the Cheshire Cat said.
"And I watched," Rodney said bravely.
The wind stirred furiously, roaring around them. This seemed to please the Cheshire Cat very much, and he started flying above their heads, just a disembodied smirk carried fast by the wind.
"How's about we fight some more?" called the Cheshire Cat from above. "There's a whole other bunch of them through the looking-glass."
"Sounds good," said the Dormouse.
"That does indeed sound attractive," the Queen said.
"Come on, then," said the Cheshire Cat, and Rodney followed them, and the wind screamed, and…
…and somewhere far away, yet another author was carried away, having learnt too late the vital lesson: By all means work with children or animals, because they are not the worst, my friends. No, they are not the worst.
But the author, too far gone, merely gibbered.
Note: In case anyone's wondering what happened to chapters 2 to 5, they failed to materialise, due to the fact that they would have been totally dominated by various items that demanded to be eaten or drunk, and Rodney refused point blank to co-operate. The cake at least tempted him, but the mushroom, home to a talking caterpillar, almost caused him to walk out of the entire story in disgust.
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