Phantoms of the North: An Alice in Deadland Adventure (Alice, No. 6)

 

 

 

 

 

Phantoms of
the North

An Alice in
Deadland Adventure

 

By Mainak Dhar

 

Copyright © 2013
Mainak Dhar

All Rights Reserved.

 

www.mainakdhar.com

 

This is a work of
fiction, and all characters and incidents depicted in it are purely the result
of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
real people or incidents is purely co-incidental.

 

Table of Contents

 

Greetings
from the Deadland

 

Phantoms
of the North

 

Credits

 

About
Mainak Dhar

 

 

 

 

 

As always,

for Puja &
Aaditya

 

GREETINGS FROM THE DEADLAND

 

In late November of 2011, I uploaded my novel Alice in
Deadland to the Kindle store using Amazon’s KDP self-publishing program. I had
first discovered the tremendous opportunity in reaching readers worldwide
through the Kindle store in March, and after a modest beginning (I sold 118
ebooks in my first month), I was beginning to see some success, having sold
some 20,000 ebooks by November. However, nothing had prepared me for the
reception my story about a girl called Alice in a dystopian world called the
Deadland got from readers. Alice in Deadland quickly became an Amazon.com
bestseller and encouragement from readers like yourself led me to write the
sequel, Through The Killing Glass, which was published in March 2012.

As of November 2012, the two Alice in Deadland novels had
been downloaded by well over 100,000 readers on the Kindle store. This was the
kind of reception most writers dream of, and certainly more than I had ever
expected. I received more than two hundred reader emails and also started a
Facebook group for Alice in Deadland fans (at
http://www.facebook.com/groups/345795412099089/
).
The feedback I got was pretty unanimous—readers wanted to know more about the
world that Alice found herself in. How had our civilization been reduced to the
Deadland? What was the story behind some of the characters readers encountered
such as the Queen and Bunny Ears?

That feedback motivated me to keep the story alive, and I
wrote the prequel to the series, Off With Their Heads. As I interacted with
readers, I was inspired to take the story further. Many of my readers asked me
what would happen if Alice came back to the land her parents came from, the
land where the architects of The Rising were still entrenched—the United
States? That led to Hunting The Snark. A few readers asked me what had life
been like for Alice when she was growing up in her settlement? What had she
seen and endured that made her the girl we meet in the first Alice in Deadland
novel? This collection of shorts takes us all back to those dark years, and
together we will explore the experiences in her formative years that made Alice
who she became later as she dove into the adventures depicted in the other
books in the series. That led to the fifth book in the series- Deadland: Untold
Stories of Alice in Deadland.

This novel takes Alice’s tale forward, as she encounters
terrible new enemies and embarks on new adventures. You, dear reader, have been
a partner in this journey, and this series is as much yours as it is mine. I do
hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it.

 

Mainak Dhar

 

ONE

 

It had been a long time since
Alice had a birthday party. The mere fact that they were all able to gather in
the middle of Wonderland and sing songs and eat cake together with no worries
about Zeus troopers, Red Guards or air strikes told Alice just how much things
had changed.

Six months ago, she had returned
from the Homeland after her mission to seek out and destroy the threat posed by
the Snark missiles in the possession of the Executive Committee, after they had
used such a weapon to obliterate Shanghai. As Alice looked at the smiling
people around her, she hoped they all realized just how much had been lost to
buy them this freedom and security. She had seen the people of Wonderland fall
into complacency before, only to almost lose all they had fought for to the
plotting of the Central Committee. She would never let that happen again.
Freedom was most threatened when those who had it began to take it for granted.
Thousands had perished in the long struggle against the Red Guards and their
masters in the Central Committee; thousands more had perished in Shanghai in
the nuclear blast that ended their short-lived liberation, and in the Homeland
that had once been the United States, many more had died in the struggle that
raged till the last remnants of the Executive Committee surrendered.

The cost had been high for Alice
as well. She had lost her family, and many of her friends had perished fighting
by her side. She remembered birthdays back at their settlement, her mother
baking cake for her, his sister Jane hugging her, her father telling her she
was his angel. May fourth. That was the day she had been told she had been
born. In the world Alice had grown up in, calendars and months meant little,
but still it was nice to know that you had a special day all to yourself in the
year—a day when you could set aside worries about bandits, Biters and Zeus
mercenaries to celebrate with your family. Her chest ached dully as she
remembered her family, and she realized that half Biter or not, she could still
feel pain and sorrow.

Of course, having become half
Biter meant that she was deprived of many of the pleasures that came with being
a young girl—including enjoying her own birthday cake. She bit into it, but
tasted nothing.

A growl came from next to her
where Bunny Ears, her trusted companion, was watching her. Being a Biter, he
had no interest in the cake, and she wasn’t even sure that he remembered what a
birthday was, but as always, he was there by her side. Among the hundreds
gathered around her were many Biters, another sign of how things had changed.
Alice’s role as a unifying force, a very real symbol of the co-existence of
human and Biter, had helped, as had the fact that all the humans in Wonderland
were now vaccinated so that there was no longer the fear of them turning into
Biters. However, more than that, what bound them together was the shared
knowledge of just how hard they had fought and bled together for their freedom
and survival.

‘Folks, it’s almost showtime. In
ten minutes, you’ll see what my baby is capable of.’

There was a buzz of anticipation
as with that announcement a thin, bespectacled man made his way to the middle
of the group.

‘Aalok, just make sure you don’t
blow us all up.’

That comment came from Arjun, who
had been a shoe salesman before The Rising, and became a guerrilla fighter
alongside Alice in her struggle against the Red Guards. Today, he was
effectively the leader of their settlement at Wonderland. When she had returned
from her mission to the Homeland, she had seen how well he had run things in
her absence, and while she was young in years, she knew that people needed a
very different kind of leader in times of peace than in times of war. Arjun was
the kind of leader Wonderland needed now. Alice’s own special skills might
still be needed, and she would talk to Arjun after Aalok was finished with his
demonstration. With all the hype he had built up, she sincerely hoped he would
deliver.

They had chanced upon Aalok three
months ago while on a routine recon sweep a few miles outside the borders of
Wonderland. He had been dehydrated, starving, and with feet bloodied raw from
walking for days on end.

Aalok’s arrival at Wonderland had
been a mixed blessing. It turned out that he had been a scientist before The
Rising, and was by far the smartest man Alice had ever met. He asked questions
that others didn’t even think of, and had used his newfound freedom to repay
his liberators with a slew of innovations. He had improvised a running water
supply at a big public toilet complex he created, and Alice was amazed at how
excited some of the older residents had been at getting a toilet that flushed.
She had never seen one growing up in the Deadland, and she didn’t quite
understand the excitement that surrounded their unveiling, but she was glad to
see their joy.

Today, Aalok had an even bigger
enterprise on his mind. He had spent much of the last two months scouring
through the ruins of what had been Delhi, scavenging the wrecked and deserted
remains of factories and offices for the parts he needed, and today he was
ready to show the people of Wonderland what he had been able to achieve.

‘Alice, would the birthday girl do
the honors?’

Alice smiled as she took the
string Aalok was holding and tugged it hard. The cloth that had spread over a
large area in the middle of the square was pulled back revealing dozens of
gleaming black squares that were arrayed end to end. Alice had heard rumors of
how he would harness the power of the sun, but she wasn’t sure she understood
much of how that was supposed to work. Now she was about to find out.

‘Let there be light!’

Displaying his usual penchant for
the theatrical that seemed to go hand in hand with his brilliance, Aalok
flipped a switch and all the buildings around them lit up. He had installed a
single bulb in each of them, and there was a collective gasp all around as
people understood what he had done. They could now have electricity without
depending on unreliable generators and precious fuel supplies. With solar
power, they would have all the light they could want. A couple of the older
folks started talking about fans and coolers and many reached out to shake
Aalok’s hand.

Alice had never seen her people so
excited in recent times, and it was also a reminder to her that while she had
led their fight for freedom, creating a life for them, one that mimicked all the
comforts and conveniences of the life they had known before The Rising, was
something she could not do on her own. At times like this, she wished her
parents had been around to see just how far they had come from their settlement
in the Deadland. Wonderland was now home to close to five thousand souls,
spread over a few city blocks in the middle of what had once been Delhi.

Aalok joked with some of the men
that this was a demonstration—his first priority was installing a working set
of streetlights which would allow them to continue their chores after dark.
Then would come electrification of all the homes. He was beaming when Alice
came up to him.

‘This is fantastic. Thank you so
much.’

He smiled down at Alice.

‘It’s the least I could do after
you picked me up from out there. Now, have you considered my request?’

As he was swept away in a crowd of
more admirers, Alice stepped aside, glad that she had not had to answer his
question yet.

Arjun had heard the exchange. ‘I
think we should talk. Whatever we think of it, Aalok is now a very popular man
here, and he has been talking to others. Word is spreading of what he says, and
we need to have a plan before people start drawing their own conclusions.’

That evening, they met in the old
library that they had made their meeting room. Arjun was there, as was Danish,
who was in charge of all their communications with the outside world through
his center at an old temple that he called Looking Glass. While he would not
take any part in the discussions, Bunny Ears was there, as always by Alice’s
side. If anything, after the fighting they had seen in the Homeland on their
last mission, he had become even more protective of her.

There was a knock on the door, and
Arjun opened it to reveal Dr. Edwards and Aalok. The Doctor had returned to
Wonderland with a consignment of vaccines two months ago from the Homeland and
had opened a medical center to treat people. He had bonded instantly with
Aalok, both having been men of science before The Rising, and both having been
on the run when they had been taken into Wonderland. These were the men the
people of Wonderland had chosen to lead them, and Alice’s inclusion was
automatic, given the role she had played in starting it all. She normally
stayed out of their administrative duties, as they were better qualified than
her to decide water supplies, crop planting and resolving domestic disputes,
but the issue they needed to talk about today was right up her alley.

‘Alice, there are many out there
like me. I wouldn’t have imposed this responsibility upon you, but after
hearing your story and what you and the others here have achieved, you are
their only hope.’

In his first few days at
Wonderland, Aalok had been fevered and weak, often shouting deliriously in his
sleep, talking of slave traders and warlords and of a woman called Sayoni. When
he had recovered, he had kept to himself, but then after knowing the full story
of Alice, he had sought her out and confided in her. He told her of slave
traders who herded people like cattle in the remote mountains near the border
with what had been Pakistan, an area they called the Wasteland. He told her of
people disappearing into the mountain passes never to return. Alice and the
others had been horrified, but as Arjun had pointed out to her, the Central
Committee had been interested in the Deadland because of the human settlements
near the old city and the large farmlands they could use to feed their people
back in the Mainland. The border areas and what had been Pakistan had been
devastated by nuclear strikes during The Rising, and what happened there, or if
people even lived there at all, had been a matter both unknown and of little
concern to the Central Committee.

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