Once upon a time, the sun was hot. It was so hot, in fact, that the planet Earth was just a ball of molten rock suspended in a cloud of noxious vapors. Mars, on the other hand, was doing fine. It had a rich atmosphere back then—oceans, rivers, trees, a wide variety of animal life… even people.
All things considered, the people of Mars didn’t look so very different from you or me. There was some variation in height, hair coverage, skull shape, and the like. But what are minor details like these among friends?
As the millennia wore on, much of the sun’s heat dissipated into the endless vacuum of space. It still had plenty of heat to spare, but only for its closest neighbors. The change on Mars was so gradual that hardly anyone even noticed. Life went on, as it will, adapting to conditions as they arose.
Oceans began to recede as more and more of their water found its way the Martian poles, settling into those sprawling reservoirs of ice. Eventually, a comfortable place to live could only be found in one of the tropical regions near the equator—and even they were getting a bit chilly. The people of Mars had to construct massive greenhouses to protect their crops from the increasingly frigid winds. It became common for more affluent families to reside in such greenhouses, while the majority of Martians moved into underground cities.
And all the while, Earth was coming into bloom.
Chapter 1. Falling: "If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world." —C. S. Lewis
Chapter 2. Liberation: "The day had a strange but comforting feel to it, like a rest between the end of one time and the beginning of another." —Jeanne DuPrau
Chapter 3. Stories: "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." —Philip K. Dick
Chapter 4. Disguises: "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." —Kurt Vonnegut
Chapter 5. Dangers: "Face your life, its pain, its pleasure. Leave no path untaken." —Neil Gaiman
Chapter 6. Protection: "What really matters is what you do with what you have." —H. G. Wells
Chapter 7. Civilization: "No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks." —Mary Shelley
Chapter 8. Plans: "We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already." —J. K. Rowling
Chapter 9. Dreams: "Not all those who wander are lost." —J. R. R. Tolkien
Chapter 10. Prison: "Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage." —Ray Bradbury
Chapter 11. Diplomacy: "People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons." —Ursula K. Le Guin
Chapter 12. Home: "I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then." —Lewis Carroll
Interlude: "In life, unlike chess, the game continues after checkmate." —Isaac Asimov
Chapter 13. Depths: "The reason most people are bad is because they do not try to be good." —L. Frank Baum
Chapter 14. Changes: "Doors are very powerful things. Things are different on either side of them." —Diana Wynne Jones
Chapter 15. Labyrinth: "Life is a long lesson in humility." —J. M. Barrie
Chapter 16. Reflection: "He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it." —Douglas Adams
Chapter 17. Travel: "We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far." —H. P. Lovecraft
Chapter 18. Fog: "The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it." —Terry Pratchett
Chapter 19. Wizardry: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." —Arthur C. Clarke
Chapter 20. Order: "Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win." —Stephen King
Chapter 21. Subversion: "Some things have to be believed to be seen." —Madeleine L'Engle
Chapter 22. Invasion: "He fought because he actually felt safer fighting than running." —Richard Adams
Chapter 23. Revolution: "Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken." —Frank Herbert
Chapter 24. Progress: "Having power is not nearly as important as what you choose to do with it." —Roald Dahl
Epilogue: "We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others." —Lois Lowry
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” —C. S. Lewis
By all accounts, Adaleide Batiste was a curious little girl. She’d taken pride in this reputation ever since her mother had first described her as such—although in truth, the sense intended was by no means complimentary. Not particularly brave or adventurous by nature, Adaleide cultivated her curiosity through sheer force of will. She made a habit of pushing herself toward the Truth whenever she caught its scent, no matter how perilous the hunt or unsettling its outcome.
Adaleide was a bright, pleasant child overall, though she did have something of a temper. Actually—and this was Adaleide’s secret—the temper didn’t really belong to her so much as to another little girl named Ada who lived inside Adaleide’s head. Ada wasn’t bad exactly, just a bit self-absorbed and out of sync with her surroundings. All the little things that other people took for granted felt unnatural to her: the countless particles of dust and water vapor floating through the air, the incessant roar of their tiny collisions, the constant movement of the planet… Such an onslaught of useless noise would take its toll on anyone.
Adaleide’s father was widely recognized as a man of science, but beyond that, nothing was known for certain. He talked about stars and planets quite a bit, so he was generally assumed to be an astronomer. In the summer of Adaleide’s tenth year, Lord Prof. Batiste set out on a secret research expedition whose specifics were hidden even from his wife and daughter. All the family knew was that it required travel and would likely take several weeks. Months went by with no news. His loved ones feared the worst, but there was nothing to be done. The world went on without Pierre Batiste.
Uncertain of the future, Adaleide’s mother Sylvia took any odd jobs she could find, mostly involving mending other people’s garments and grooming their animals. Adaleide did what she could to help out around their Whitechapel tenement, but this turned out to be frustratingly little. Ada might have lent her support, but she always seemed to have more important things to do. Calligraphy, for example.
Winter passed, and the piles of filthy snow in the gutters gradually melted away. As London absorbed the warmth of spring, it began to regain something of its customary summer stench. Just before the worst of it, Adaleide’s grandmother showed up to whisk the girl away to their ancestral home in the western countryside. Sylvia had to stay in Whitechapel, unfortunately, but she promised to send frequent letters and urged her daughter to do the same. Someday, when Pierre returned from his expedition, they would be reunited.
In Adaleide’s opinion, the single best feature of Granny’s estate was a small, covered structure in the back garden. All along the bottom of its ornate roof hung delicate wind chimes, which sent an endless, never-repeating melody into the surrounding forest. As soon as Adaleide discovered the structure, she had to know the proper name for it, so of course she asked her grandmother.
“Well now, zat is… Comment dit-on… I’m not quite sure what you call it,” Granny replied in her melodious Sinti-Belgian accent.
“You don’t know what it’s called?” asked Ada, unbelieving. “How do you have a thing like that in your back garden and not know what it’s called?”
Seemingly unaware of the confrontational edge in Ada’s tone, Granny responded, “I do know what it’s called, you see. It’s a belvédère. Zis is what it’s called by ze French, at least. In Flemish, it would be a prieel. In German, a laube… in Spanish, a cenador…”
As she listed these translations, she took down a thick book and flipped through its pages until she found what she was looking for. “Ah! In English, it is called a gazebo. I must remember zat one.” She looked at Adaleide apologetically. “I know I am a bit… ignorant… scattered, slow to recall… Zis is why I take special care whenever I have a question, always to learn ze answer right away. If only I had a head like yours, hein?” To this, the old woman added a conspiratorial wink, which gave Ada the uneasy feeling of being mocked.
One morning, Granny slept a little late and rolled out of bed only when her room had grown uncomfortably warm from the sun. She ambled lazily into the parlor and actually looked surprised for a moment to see Adaleide, as if she’d forgotten that she now shared her home with her granddaughter. Looking out the window, Granny yawned and said, “Let’s have our breakfast in ze park, chère.”
Ada replied crossly, “By the time we get to the park, breakfast time will be over!” Then seeing Granny’s face, Adaleide quickly checked herself and added, “That’s fine. We’ll have brunch,” which met with warm approval.
“If it will be ‘brunch,’ as you say, zen I sink… champagne for me,” Granny laughed. She packed an assortment of cheeses, fruits, and sausage. Finding no champagne, she grabbed a bottle of plum eau de vie instead, and the two set out for their picnic.
As they reached the stony uphill path to the park, Adaleide began absentmindedly singing a familiar tune:
Home of the angels, melancholy star,
Whose fearful beams connect us near and far
And show the darkness they cannot dispel
How near we are to God, remember well!
A rainbow in the blackest pitch, behold,
Distinct though distant, clear but ever cold!
Prof. Batiste had the peculiar habit of reciting this verse after pointing out Mars in the night sky, particularly when he was alone or wistful from drink. The words had so captivated Ada that she’d insisted on learning them for herself. Together they came up with an unusual melody to turn the poem into a song. Imagining each dot of light in the sky as a new world waiting to be explored, Adaleide came to associate this little tune with distant lands, exciting and magical. Like the park, for example.
Adaleide had completed this journey many times with her grandmother, and a few times all alone. She wasn’t quite sure if she was actually allowed to go so far on her own, so she had never asked for permission directly. She reasoned that she would probably be told not to stray so far from the house if she asked. But if she were caught in the act without having been specifically forbidden, she could always claim ignorance and beg forgiveness. So far, this strategy had worked well and afforded her many adventures.
Ada’s favorite part of the countryside was the gradual appearance of rock walls as they approached the wooded edge of the Shropshire Hills. Perhaps it was simply because stones became more plentiful in this area, but she liked to imagine that as they walked further uphill, they approached the homes of royalty and aristocrats who could afford to live in stone castles instead of simple wooden cottages like Granny’s.
More than anything, Ada wanted to live in one of these castles, all by herself. She often made tiny piles of pebbles, staring into the shadowy gaps that formed, imagining her true home hidden away in the stone. It wasn’t so much that she craved solitude. If anything, she was already alone a bit too much for her liking. She just wanted control of her own life. She wanted freedom.
For her part, Adaleide was tired of always sleeping in somebody else’s house and eating somebody else’s food. Adults seemed to take pleasure in parceling out clothes, toys… sometimes even money for her. They referred to these things as Adaleide’s, but she knew they couldn’t really be hers until she’d had a chance to earn them for herself. As long as she was a child, everything she tried to own would just be borrowed.
Everything, that is, except for what she kept hidden, secret. She understood Ada’s pebbles. They were hers.
Adaleide’s mind drifted among such topics as she walked, and before long, she and Granny had arrived at the park. They found the perfect spot nestled between two juniper bushes, the sound of a nearby stream competing with various songbirds as they effortlessly exhaled their melodies. The old woman carefully laid out a blanket for the picnic, remembering a time when she hadn’t been old at all—when Pierre was just a boy.
Granny Batiste wasted no time in devouring the hearty breakfast (technically a brunch, according to Ada). Once she had finished her food and drink, she was quite ready for a midday nap. While Adaleide was still picking at blackberries, attempting to eat only the juicy parts and leave the “cores,” Granny fell asleep on their picnic blanket, her plump, brown forearm resting on her brow for shade. This lack of supervision prompted Ada to begin collecting stones from the stream at the edge of the woods. Making several trips, she quietly piled them up a short distance from her sleeping grandmother, just close enough that she might be allowed to continue her work even if Granny awoke.
On one of these trips, a flash of movement on the other side of the stream caught Ada’s eye. It was a rather large white rabbit, just the sort you’d expect to see pulled from a top hat by a costumed magician. It looked to be searching frantically for something it had lost. Taking care not to alert the timid creature, Adaleide crept across the stream, stepping from stone to stone, her shoes dipping into the water a few times along the way. Halfway across, she lost sight of the animal, but she reached the opposite shore and climbed up the muddy bank just in time to spot the rabbit’s fluffy haunches disappearing into a hole in the gnarled base of a massive oak.
“Hare today, gone tomorrow,” Adaleide said aloud. Ada shrank back in embarrassment, trying in vain to distance herself from her sister.
This would have been the end of the chase, but for an almost imperceptible instant, the rabbit hole flashed with colored light. Exactly which color it was, Adaleide couldn’t have said. It seemed to be all colors at once, like a rainbow but not separated into bands. This was accompanied by a short clap of thunder, which caught Adaleide by surprise and made her jump. It was after all a bright, sunny day without a trace of a storm cloud in sight.
These two occurrences, which seemed to Ada to be connected in some way, prompted the girl to investigate. Such a mystery couldn’t be left alone under any circumstances. Without a second thought, she ran toward the hole, got down on her hands and knees, and peered into the darkness. It smelled of moss and dirt and rotting wood—not particularly pleasant but still wonderful in its way.
“Hello?” called Adaleide, attempting to get the rabbit’s attention. There was no reply, so after a moment she added, “Bonjour?” just in case it was a French rabbit. With this, she leaned in even further, and the ground crumbled under her palms, sending the child tumbling headlong into the blackest night she had ever encountered.
Adaleide had the sensation of falling, but this faded after a moment. Without any visible evidence of things rushing past, she seemed to be floating through an endless sea of nothingness. The air felt uncannily thin, as if she’d been living her entire life up to that point submerged in a thick, syrupy liquid that was now inexplicably absent. This would have frightened the girl considerably if she hadn’t suddenly felt so exhausted. Being enveloped in total darkness made her eyelids heavy.
“Since there’s nothing to see either way,” Adaleide reasoned, “I reckon it doesn’t matter if I rest my eyes a bit.”
“You’d better stay alert! Whether we can see it or not, we’re bound to hit the ground soon,” retorted Ada. “How deep can this hole be anyway?”
But it was no use. By this time, Adaleide was already fast asleep. And despite herself, Ada soon joined her.
An instant later—or so it seemed to Adaleide—her limp body slammed into a damp, musty floor of stone. A burst of white light flashed in her eyes as the side of her head smacked against solid rock. Her chest ached for a moment as if all the air had been forced from her lungs. Once she had caught her breath, she noticed a sharp, stinging pain on her left elbow and hip. Her skin felt rough and a little sticky in these spots.
With a sudden rush of panic, Adaleide noticed the left side of her head was soaking wet. There was a large puddle on the ground that she imagined was her own blood. With the tips of her fingers, she prodded the side of her face and scalp. It was tender, but there didn’t seem to be a wound as far as she could tell.
“It’s just water,” said Ada flatly. “Blood has a smell to it. Don’t you know that?”
Adaleide was not reassured. “But… everything kind of smells like dirt in here. Maybe that’s just covering it up.”
“Look, I’ll show you,” replied Ada impatiently. She grabbed a wet clump of hair and brought it to her mouth. It had a bland, muddy, lifeless flavor—nothing at all like the mildly salty, metallic taste they remembered from losing their baby teeth.
Adaleide spat melodramatically, as if Ada’s tasting had been entirely unnecessary and most uncouth. After all, she hadn’t hit the ground that hard. It felt as if she’d only fallen from a height of a few feet. This was rather puzzling considering how long the fall had taken, but it was something of a relief all the same.
How long had the fall taken? Having slept through the bulk of it, Adaleide couldn’t be sure. She might have reached the center of the earth and come straight out the other side! The hem of her dress had got a bit wet in the stream, and Ada wondered if there had been time for it to dry. She felt along the edge of the fabric and detected moisture in a couple of spots, but that could have come from the puddle she’d apparently landed in. The real test would have been her shoes, which had been completely soaked when she crossed the stream. Unfortunately, they were nowhere to be found. Even her stockings were missing!
I must have taken them off in my sleep, Adaleide reasoned. And then she explained to Ada, “No one likes to sleep in soggy shoes.”
Still in total darkness—though somehow not quite as dark as it had been while she was falling—Adaleide carefully raised herself up and attempted to look around. Her eyes found nothing but the pitch black of what felt like a small cave. Her head was swimming, making her feel almost weightless. Not seeing anything else to be done, she let out a cautious “Hello?” just as she’d done before, when the rabbit hole swallowed her up.
Just then, Ada noticed a flicker of light that she was fairly certain hadn’t been there a moment ago. It began to bounce around wildly and gradually grew a bit larger. “Alo?” called a small, husky voice. Then with more certainty, “Seslis Alo! Ath mong?”
Ada recognized the strangely accented “hello,” but the rest was gibberish… or perhaps French. It did sound a bit like when Granny and her father thought no one else was listening, or when they were attempting to talk over Adaleide’s head. As Ada puzzled over the speech, the light, which she now recognized as a candle flame, rushed toward her so quickly that she jumped to her feet. As it approached, she heard the voice again, now more excited: “Yomba? Lep… Gowee!”
“Excuse me?” said Ada. She’d interpreted this last word as a command to “go away.” Emboldened by indignation, she added, “I have as much right to be here as you… I reckon. Who are you, anyhow?”
At this, the bearer of the flame leaned in closer, allowing the candlelight to reveal its face. It was the same white rabbit that she’d been following moments ago—though it seemed more like years—and it was talking! It furrowed its brow and began again with considerably less confidence: “O Tyro. By’o oth mon Mydghard?”
“Je ne comprends pas,” Adaleide replied, ashamed at her lack of understanding but proud that she at least knew how to say this much.
The rabbit looked worried (as much as the face of a rabbit can display such an emotion) and seemed to think a moment. “Loo… come hilla,” it said with some effort, standing on its hind legs and beckoning her to approach. Despite resistance from Ada, Adaleide felt compelled to comply. She moved slowly toward the creature until it held her head between its paws. Again she felt sleepy, but this time, she didn’t let it overtake her.
In a moment, the rabbit no longer seemed an unfamiliar stranger, but a friend… her friend Tyro. Adaleide felt she knew this rabbit quite well, though he’d introduced himself only a moment ago. She could still recall his words: “I Tyro. Come ye from Earth?” As Tyro released his grip, fear crept back into Adaleide’s mind, but she still felt compelled to answer the rabbit’s question. “Qhan, by’o o mon Mydghard,” she responded, surprised at her sudden fluency: “Yes, I come from Earth.”
“Apàthris Apàlu,” Tyro said under his breath. Ada half understood this as something like “Lord God!” though the pronunciation seemed a bit funny. “Listen…” Tyro continued in what she now knew to be the Gowee dialect of Ozghard. “None o’ this real. Ye hit yer head when ye fell into me den, an’ right now ye just dreamin’. Rabbits can’t talk, ye ken.”
“O’ course I ken that,” replied Ada in a haughty tone. “I just imaginin’ ye, so ye can’t tell I nothin’ what I don’t already ken.”
“Quite right,” returned Tyro, much relieved that the child turned out to be so easy to convince. His stern countenance relaxed a little—but only a little. “Now then… Since ye fallen asleep an’ had this rather unpleasant dream, all what remain be to fall back awake again.”
“Ain’t sure I ken how to fall awake,” Adaleide admitted. “Or even how to fall asleep, really. It just happen.”
Tyro smiled warmly and said, “O’ course, o’ course. I can help ye fall awake. Just need to fetch me magic potion. Then ye take a drink, an’ ye’ll be back to Mydghard in no time!” With this, he scampered away, taking his candle with him and leaving Adaleide alone in the dark.
Ada felt uneasy at the idea of accepting a “magic potion” from a stranger, talking rabbit or not. Once she was sure Tyro was gone, she whispered, “Do you reckon we can trust him?”
“Well,” Adaleide replied, “I’m not sure we have much choice. We’re all alone here, and Tyro seems to be our only chance of getting back home again.” Stating the facts so bluntly made her realize they were actually true, and she began to sob quietly.
Ada was not so easily whipped. “Home to ‘Mydghard’?” she muttered sarcastically. “If we’re just dreaming and imagining everything, then how do we know things now that we never did before? I’d never heard Earth called ‘Mydghard’ before, had you?”
“No, I suppose not,” said Adaleide glumly.
“And how do I know what ‘Mydghard’ means?” Ada continued. “And ‘Ozghard’, too! I know the word ‘oz’ has to do with time, like something that lasts a long time. So it seems like Ozghard is a place that’s been around awhile. Longer than Earth, I reckon, since ‘myd’ just means an extension… or a second part… an annex, like at the library! Does that sound right to you?”
Adaleide thought a moment and said, “I reckon you’re right about the names. That seems to be what they mean.” Though in reality, Adaleide was thoroughly flummoxed—and fairly certain she’d never heard the word “annex” before in her life. It was just like Ada to make an academic exercise out of this calamity. It was as if she didn’t realize they could die down here, cold and alone. Or maybe Ada just didn’t care. She possessed a cold, otherworldly detachment that even Adaleide found creepy at times.
As Adaleide considered her misfortune, sinking ever deeper into hopelessness, Ada went right on theorizing and pontificating. Adaleide didn’t feel like arguing, but she had to say something, or this could go on forever: “But if we’re dreaming, then couldn’t we have just made all of that up? That sort of thing happens in dreams. I suppose we can’t really know for certain either way. At least not until we get back to Granny’s and see what she has to say about it.”
Just then, as Ada was thinking of a way to dispute Adaleide’s dismissal, the ground began to rumble ever so slightly. And then all at once, it collapsed out from under her feet, and the poor child found herself falling once again.