Charlie Boone

by Geron Kees

The Sky is a Mirror, Charlie Boone! - Chapter 3

"It doesn't always come to me on demand," Durapar said, his eyes closed, a fierce frown now contorting his face. Charlie couldn't help smiling at that. The Andaleesian's alien physiognomy seemed almost designed to delight the human eye, offering each expression with a degree of exaggeration that immediately reminded of a comedian mugging before his audience. It was almost impossible not to enjoy, and Charlie noticed the varying degrees of smiles on the faces of the others. That Durapar was a hit with all the humans was obvious by now.

Even Max had a small smile in place as he watched the Andaleesian concentrate. "Do you always gotta go looking for this vision?"

"No. It comes to me at the oddest times, sometimes even frustratingly so while I am attempting to concentrate on other things. So of course I will be unable to locate it when I need to."

Max patted the alien on his narrow shoulder. "Just relax. We got all the time we need for this. The more relaxed you are, the better this will work."

Durapar nodded, his ears again spreading and waving at the humans, and Charlie heard a small, affectionate sigh escape from Kip.

"Oh...wait a moment. It's coming to me." Durapar suddenly sounded excited. "Yes, here it is. I can see it now."

Charlie dropped a hand on the Andaleesian's shoulder and closed his eyes, relaxing his own mind and attempting to interface with the alien's thoughts. He didn't expect it to work, but Max had wanted to try it first, just to see if Charlie's own abilities were sharpening with time.

To his surprise, he did see something in his mind's eye. Or...well, he sensed something. It didn't arrive as an actual image in his mind, but rather a lack of one. Instead he sensed a formless area of gray, marked only by the feeling that this was not something that had originated in Charlie's own mind. But it just sort of floated there, doing nothing, no matter how Charlie tried to turn it or make it clearer.

Charlie opened his eyes. "I see something, but it's just sort of like a gray cloud in my head. But I do feel like I'm getting it from Durapar."

Max nodded. "Hey, you're improving. Great! Okay, now move over and let Casper and Ragal get between you and Durapar."

That was done, and Charlie clasped Ragal's hand, while he clasped Casper's, and he clasped Durapar's. The Andaleesian looked astounded. "This will work? This...chain?"

Max laughed. "It's like a circuit, is all. But each person in the chain is isolated from anyone they're not touching. So Casper will hopefully see what you see, because one of his talents is looking into other people's minds. And Ragal, whose specialty is adaptation, will hopefully be able to translate what Casper sees into something Charlie can see. If that works, Charlie can travel to the place you see in your head. He will form a sorta mental roadway, or path. I can follow along that path almost to the end. With Rick's help pushing, and Kip and Adrian adding power, I can hopefully go all the way to the place you can see. Once I'm actually there, we'll come back here, and then I can transport everyone back to the chamber. Simple."

Durapar emitted a loud, barking, amazed laugh, that had everyone grinning. "If you say it's simple, I'll trust you. Very well, let's try it."

Once again the Andaleesian closed his eyes. " where did you go, little vision?"

Charlie smiled and closed his eyes. This was going to be interesting.

"Ah...there you are. I am again seeing the place inside Engris."

Casper sucked in his breath. "Oh, it's big!"

"You see it?" Max asked.

"Yes. It's a huge chamber, with a very tall roof of stone above it. The walls are stone, too...but they're polished. The floor is also polished smooth. And there are all kinds of...I think they're machines...standing around, but they don't look like anything I've ever seen before, and so I'm not sure what they are."

"That's it!" Durapar shouted, excitedly. "You've got it!"

"I can see it, too," Ragal said quietly. "Well...let me see what I can do about refining this image...a moment please...there." He grunted softly. "Well, well. Wait until you see this, Charlie."

Charlie was already feeling the familiar stream from Ragal. The man's mind was smooth as silk, powerful and patient and careful. The image formed slowly inside Charlie's head, a piece at a time, walls filling in with broad brush strokes of light, then the roof, and the floor, and then the weird-looking things that might be machines popping into place all around. Charlie looked around the completed image, and gave a soft whistle. "Man! It looks like the biggest underground train station I've ever seen!"

"You see trains?" Kippy asked quietly, but the surprise in his voice clear.

" Sorry. There's no tracks or anything, and no trains. But the room is huge like that, like Grand Central or something, only...even bigger."

"I'm coming in," Max said, and Charlie felt the elf take his free hand. Charlie heard movement in the room, and knew that Ricky was taking a seat on the other side of Max, and both Adrian and Kip taking seats beside Rick.

"We're ready," Ricky said.

Max gave a ready sigh."Okay, Charlie."

Charlie nodded, and moved toward the image in his mind. In that moment, the huge room telescoped away from him, and the image of the tremendous chamber receded from his view, its place taken now by an arched hallway of gray stone. A light at the far end seemed to suggest that the great room was now there, at the end of the hallway. Unlike other times that Charlie had done this, this hallway seemed very short, probably because the room he was seeing was close by, at least as far as stellar distances went.

"I'm here," Max announced, and Charlie felt the elf in his mind with him. And then his image appeared beside Charlie at the hallway. "At least the path looks short this time."

"I'm assuming it's because the place that Durapar sees is right here on the planet, and not light years away."

"Works for me. Wanna take a little walk?"

Charlie smiled, and started forward in his mind, while Max fell into step beside him. They proceeded down the hallway together, arrived at the halfway point, and it was there that Max started to slow down. "I'm at the point of resistance. You coming, Rick?"

Charlie's magic and Max's magic moved in two different directions, each born of a different side of the same coin. They could work together to a point, but they had already found that when they traveled this way, Max needed help once he got about halfway to the end of the journey. Once the halfway point was reached. Charlie's magic began to push back against Max's, and as the resistance increased, Max found it harder and harder to move onward. Without assistance, he would arrive at the end of the short hallway and be unable to take the final step into the room beyond. But fortunately, they had an answer to that problem.

"I'm here," Ricky said, coming up beside them in the hallway. "Man! Will you look at this place!"

Charlie smiled. "Kip and Adrian?"

"Oh, they're with me, ready to help power this show." Ricky shrugged then. "I don't know how much we'll need them, though. The way looks really short."

"The resistance will build really fast, is all," Max supplied. "You'll see."

Max was right. They proceeded onward, and had only taken a few steps when Max grunted. "A little help?"

Charlie took the elf by the arm and started to pull him along, while Ricky fell in behind Max and started to push. They made good time that way, and soon arrived at the end of the hallway. Beyond them, the great room's extremities were draped in shadow, while the strange machines sparkled with light and colors. It seemed almost unreal, like a glittery palace from out of some fairy tale. And only a few steps away, too.

"Wonder who the decorator was?" Max managed, around a grunt of effort. "Looks like early atomic pile, from the inside."

Charlie laughed at that. "How are you doing?"

"I'm okay. A little winded, but nothing like that time we went to help Pacha and the others. Having Rick start to push early works wonders."

Charlie turned to his friend. "How about you?"

Ricky nodded. "I'm okay. This isn't a lot of work for me, for some reason."

"How about we take these last few steps, fellas?" Max pleaded. "Then I can catch my breath."

Ricky and Charlie exchanged grins, and then Charlie nodded. "On my mark. One...two...three! Heave!"

They surged forward, a sudden pulse of energy arriving from Kippy and Adrian that boosted their charge towards the room. And then they encountered a slightly rubbery resistance that threatened to halt Max altogether; but Charlie felt Kip and Adrian ramp up the power, and Ricky give an even greater push...and then they popped through the barrier and found themselves within the great chamber.

Ricky released Max and came around to stand beside them. "That was easy."

"Says you!" Max returned, sighing hugely. "Me, I'm ready for a nap!"

The boys laughed at that, and Max grinned. "Nah. Really, this was a whole lot easier than going after Pacha and the guys. Good work, fellas. You too, Kip and Adrian. You guys are getting really strong!"

"So we're really here?" Charlie asked.

"Enough for the location book. I can get back here now without help. What say we go back and get the others?"

They turned then, and retraced their path through the hallway. Going back seemed a lot easier, with Max almost propelled from behind by Charlie's magic until they reached the halfway point. From there it was smooth sailing back to the start of the hallway.

Charlie opened his eyes then, and let the breath sigh out of him, relieved at their success. He was again seated between Max and Ragal. Durapar, at the start of the chain, suddenly jumped to his feet. "Did it work?"

Charlie nodded. "Like a charm."

"It was close by, so it wasn't that bad," Max agreed. He grinned at Durapar. "But now I know where this place is, and we can all go there."

Durapar clasped his hands together in joy. "I know you mean right now, too!"

Max held up a hand. "Hold up a second." He looked around at the others. "Does everyone want to go?" His eyes landed on Sefton, who had been seated quietly the entire time, watching and listening. "What about you?"

The giant slid forward and rose to his feet. "Interesting, what you did. I sensed path you took, but could not see, could not follow. But I wish very much to see depths of Engris in person."

"Everybody else?"

There were no dissenting votes. Everyone was going.

"Oh...we'll need some supplies!" Durapar said then. "Some food, and water, and --"

"No, we won't," Max said, waving a hand. "I can get all that stuff right to us. We can go pretty much as we are. Why carry a bunch of junk?"

"Oh." Durapar looked briefly confused, and then smiled. "I forgot you can do that." The Andaleesian leaned forward then. "Do you know how rare that talent is out here?"

Max shrugged. "Not where I come from. Are you ready?"

"Yes. What do I need to do?" Durapar thought of something else then, and barked out another laugh. "Oh, won't Mertril be confounded when we do not leave the shop through the front, yet cannot be found back here!"

"Leave the privacy doodad running, and she'll never know we left."

Durapar seemed to think about that, and nodded. "That would be best. I'd just as soon she not start talking to anyone about our sudden disappearance."

Max waved around at the others. "If none of you guys have anything else you need to do, come on closer, okay?"

"Do we need to touch you?" Durapar asked.

"No. It works best that way, but as long as everyone gets close, it's almost as easy. Just gather around, folks."

They all did that, and in a moment were standing in the vast chamber far beneath the surface of ancient Engris.

At first, no one said a word. Everyone just stared around them, taking in the view. The chamber dwarfed them, the dark stone ceiling at least fifty feet above their heads, and the far walls so distant as to show only by the sparkling light that rebounded from them. That light was supplied by hundreds of tall, crystalline structures, no two the same, that seemed to grow from the floor at random intervals all about the great chamber. It was the way they pulsed with lights of all colors, yet in a decidedly organized fashion, that suggested they were machines of some sort. The room hummed with a deep, smooth sound, that spoke of power and organization of some kind, and Charlie imagined these machines running just as they were now for the last half-million years of time.

"Awesome," Ricky said quietly.

Charlie grinned at that, and nodded. "As always, you're right on the money, Rick."

Kippy took Charlie's hand then and squeezed it. "Oh, I feel we are supposed to be here, Charlie." He turned to Adrian. "What about you?"

"I agree. And that we're just in time, too!"

"Magnificent!" Durapar breathed, his eyes trying to be everywhere at once. "To actually be here! I can scarcely believe it."

"It's some place, alright," Max agreed. "I can feel the power here. And it's a lot!"

"These are indeed machines," Ragal said, waving a hand at the pulsing crystals. "I've seen their like before. They are not strictly made of matter, but are a framework of energy fields supporting intelligent material inclusions." He smiled. "This feels like home to me."

Charlie licked his lips carefully. "Is it? Home, I mean?"

Ragal turned to smile at him. "Why, Charlie. Are you still suspecting that my people created Engris?"

"The thought did cross my mind. You come from the right period in time."

Ragal shook his head. "No, Charlie. This sort of technology was available in my time, but my people had nothing to do with Engris. As I told you before, Engris was not known of in my time." Ragal turned to look at the pulsing crystals. "Besides, this technology is several steps ahead of what I knew, I suspect. These constructions are far more elaborate than anything my people produced."

"What are they?" Charlie asked. "What do these things do?"

"They organize functions." Ragal smiled at the closest crystalline structure. "They oversee operations. They create rules. They change rules. They listen. They contemplate. And they act." He laughed. "I'm sure we are looking at the brains of Engris. Or part of them, at least."

"Looks like the high-IQ type," Ricky quipped, gawking around at the machines. "You think they know we're here?"

"They know!" Casper called. "They're watching us!"

"I would say they do," Ragal agreed. He turned to Max, and then to Charlie. "Anybody sense that? The feeling that something is coming closer?"

"I do!" Casper whispered. "A couple of somethings."

"I feel it," Kippy said, moving closer to Charlie.

Adrian just nodded, and wrapped his arm around Ricky's.

Charlie could feel it now, too. Almost as if he was standing at a window back home and watching someone come slowly up the front walk. Someone he didn't know, didn't recognize, but someone that was somehow familiar, nonetheless.

So he was surprised when Horace came to stand next to him, his eyes looking back and forth among the pulsing machines. "I think I feel something, myself. And it's something I have felt before." He smiled. "At one of the true hauntings I have been witness too, in fact."

Max grunted. "Just stay cool, everyone. This doesn't feel bad to me."

"Something does come," Sefton agreed, his eyes closed. "Like at spirit domes, but...not painful."

Twenty feet away from their group, the stone floor bubbled upward in a circle an easy thirty feet across. As the bubble rose it parted at the center, and the sides retracted back to the floor, leaving a clean circle of darkness there that was geometrically perfect. Immediately, a mist started to rise from the new hole, split, and formed two tall columns of light that had tiny sparkles of energy winking about inside them. At the same time, they began to hear what sounded like a crowd of people around them, all whispering at once, but in a language that none of them could understand. Yet there was no one there, just the two misty columns coming closer.

"Amazing," Durapar breathed, clenching his hands in delight before him. "I do believe we are about to be contacted!"

Charlie agreed with that wholeheartedly. The two misty columns of light looked just like Billy and Will when they first appeared in the spirit domes, except that these two were at least twice the height. Even as he watched, they moved away from the new hole in the floor, and settled to earth not ten feet away from them.

Any slowly formed into...

They were not a familiar race. Charlie took an involuntary step backwards, and Kip with him, stunned at what they were seeing, and Charlie sensed the same reaction from a few of the others. The two aliens now before him were tall and lean - even taller than Ragal. Taller even than Sefton's eight feet in height. They appeared bipedal, with two long arms and two long legs, and a face that was almost like an inverted triangle, narrow at the bottom and widening at the top, and expanding into a large, domed skull above. Tall, pointed ears adorned each side of the skull, giving the beings a slightly demonic look.

The alien's eyes were large and round, without brows or lashes. They were like no eyes Charlie had ever seen, and in color were a soft brown, almost like the gentle eyes of a very big and very friendly dog. But these eyes held a sharp intelligence that could not be missed, and conveyed a sense of ages past that was undeniable.

Both of the new arrivals were dressed in simple white clothing, a shirt and a pair of pants, though neither looked quite like anything a human might be able to wear, even had they shared the alien's noble dimensions. The pants seemed to flow directly into some sort of footwear, which covered a heroically-sized pair of feet. But of a belt, pockets, or any other sort of additions, there was no sign.

One of the aliens raised an arm in their direction, and Charlie saw now that the five digits at the end were not like human fingers, but more like small, nimble tentacles, jointless and fluid in their motion. Both sets of alien eyes sought out Durapar, and then the alien mouths stretched in what could only be smiles.

"Durapar. You have come."

The voice was deep and strong, and Charlie had the weirdest thought that this was what a whale would sound like if it could speak English.

Durapar looked awed, and nodded his head almost comically, but the joy in his eyes was unmistakable. "Yes. After so long a time, I have finally arrived here!"

The second alien gave a slight bow to the entire group. "And Charlie, and Max, and Kip, and Ragal, and Rick, and Casper, and Adrian, and Horace. And Sefton, not the least of all."

Charlie took a step forward before he was even aware he was going to do so. "You are the people that built Engris?"

The first giant turned his way, and the smile seemed to somehow intensify. "Yes. We are the Madracorn, creators of Engris. Welcome."

Charlie turned over the unfamiliar word in his head, and had to smile at it. Madracorn! It sounded almost like some legendary fantasy beast out of human mythical lore. But...finally! A name for the people that had created Engris so long ago!

Kippy stepped up beside Charlie. "We're very pleased to meet you."

Charlie beamed at his boyfriend, the simplicity of his words seemingly incongruous to such a monumental meeting, yet so right, somehow, that it brought a swell of happiness to Charlie's heart.

"Yes," he agreed, nodding. "We are pleased to finally meet you."

The others chimed in in agreement, and Charlie grinned around at the others.

Max stepped forward then, and pointed a finger at the two aliens. "Stop doing that, right now."

One of the two Madracorns offered up a pleasant chuckle. "I did tell you that Max would find you out."

The other Madracorn managed to look surprised. "Yes, you did. And I didn't believe you." This one's eyes focused on Max now. "You were the wildcard, Max, and I see now it was a just judgment." But the great head bowed in a nod. "I will release you now."

Charlie, taken aback at Max's inexplicable conduct, felt a sudden lessening of his joy at meeting the Madracorn. It was still there, but lower down and honestly felt, and not the overpowering thing it had been only a moment ago. He cast an unsure glance at the two tall aliens, and then leaned closer to Max. "What just happened?"

Max turned to him and smiled. "They're power users, Charlie. That fella there was making all of you overjoyed to meet them."

"A precaution, only," the accused said, his smile not diminishing in the least. "In the past we found that our appearance is intimidating to some, especially the younger races in space, and I only sought to lessen the shock of it to you."

Max nodded, and smiled himself. "You're lucky you're telling the truth, because I know a liar when I see one." He laughed. "But you don't need that stuff with us. We've all been around a little bit."

"We apologize for doubting you," the first Madracorn returned. "I am Eseffa, and my companion is Jorli."

Charlie gave his shoulders a little shake, and smiled. He was still very happy to finally meet the builders of Engris, and it was a more satisfying happiness now that the overabundance of sweetness was gone. But just as a precaution, he turned to his boyfriend and gave a nod towards the two Madracorn. "What d'ya think?"

Kippy eyed the two aliens a moment, and then smiled. "I like them. But I also think they're both rascals."

Eseffa and Jorli both laughed, a deep and somehow genuinely pleased sound. "We are caught, Jorli!" Eseffa said heartily.

Durapar, who had been listening in plain disbelief, turned to Max. "They tricked us?"

"Oh, no," Max said, hastily. He smiled at the two Madracorn. "Power users all have talents that they use pretty much automatically when needed. These guys can...among a bunch of other things, I think...make it easier to meet them by making it a happy time, instead of a stressful one. Know what I mean?"

"It was not meant as a deception," Jorli said immediately. "I apologize if my action disturbed you. Its intent was to dispel any discomfort our appearances might generate among you."

Durapar placed his hands on his...sides, and managed to look a little indignant. "Friends do not do that to friends."

"I fully agree," Eseffa replied. "We misjudged you, and I am indeed sorry. It was just that we need your assistance so keenly, and we did not know any of you well enough to know how you might react to our appearance. The memories of past encounters still haunt us, I'm afraid."

"You are pretty big," Adrian admitted then.

"And a little bit intimidating," Ricky agreed.

"Yeah, but they're sweet," Casper said softly.

Ragal laughed at that. "There you go. There is no fooling this one." He patted Casper affectionately on one arm.

Horace moved to stand beside Charlie. "Imagine for a moment entering a dark cave back on Earth, and running into two such as these. Would it unsettle you?"

Charlie blinked at that, and then had to smile. "A little, I think."

Kippy tsked. "You'd be running as fast as me, Charlie Boone!"

Everyone laughed at that, and Charlie felt the new tension between the group and the two Madracorn evaporate.

"So let's agree to relax," Max said. He arched his eyebrows pointedly at the Madarcorn. "And get down to business?"

Eseffa gave a small bow of his head. "We agree not to attempt to influence you in any way save by our words. Right, Jorli?"

The other Madracorn chuckled. "Having been caught at it once? Never again!"

Ricky laughed, and leaned closer to Charlie to whisper. "These guys are different than what I expected."

"Our hearing is exceptional, too," Eseffa said, smiling at Ricky. The tall alien spread his arms to take them all in. "We are not unaware of the legends surrounding Engris, and those that created it. Ourselves. It would be impossible to live up to such stories, and I will tell you now that we will not even try. We are people, just like you. Our science was the result of time and persistence, and no exceptional brilliance on our part. If we are to work together to save Engris, we must do it as people, all working together."

Charlie leaned forward at that. "Is Engris in danger?"

"Yes. Not in immediate danger. That lies in the future. But the roots of this peril have sprouted even now, and now is when it will be the easiest to deal with it. To wait will place this world in certain peril, perhaps even within your own lifetimes."

"That's pretty soon," Casper said. He looked up at Ragal. "I believe him."

"I do as well," Ragal agreed. He smiled at Charlie. "Just a feeling I have."

Charlie laughed at that. He was feeling much the same, that they were exactly where they were supposed to be right now, doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing. That feeling had accompanied all of their adventures thus far, and Charlie trusted it now.

He nodded. "Okay. But...just one thing. You and are both, um, passed, right?"

Eseffa laughed. "You mean dead? Yes. For several hundred thousand years now." The tall alien struck a pose. "Do I look it?"

Everyone gaped a little, and then a round of quiet laughter circled the group.

"You don't look a day over a quarter-million to me," Kippy said, straight-faced. "Being dead must agree with you."

Both aliens seemed delighted at that.

"Could we?" Max asked, giving his head a little shake. But his eyes were bright with humor. "I mean, we're here for a reason, right?"

Eseffa offered a small bow of his head. "Yes. We'll save the kidding for later." His large eyes moved slowly over the group standing before him. "You all know by now that life is sequential. That it moves from one state to the next. It took our own science some time to discern this. The project that culminated in Engris was conceived to address this issue, as you well know. Once placed back in communication with those members of our race that had moved on, we were able to use the knowledge they passed to us to refine the processes involved. Engris, as you see it today, was the end result of many thousands of years of study."

"It's impressive," Charlie said. "No question about that. But I do wonder why we needed to come here to meet you. Why couldn't that have been done in a dome?"

"I'll take this one," Jorli said. "The domes are designed to interface the living with those that have passed on. But they are also specialized places, where sympathetic sciences are used to link the living user with those that they wish to meet with. The simple fact is, one cannot go straight to a dome and call up a complete stranger. If there is no link between the living and the dead, no meeting can be established."

"That seems a flaw," Horace said quietly.

Eseffa raised a hand and waggled his fingers, which seemed to be a form of agreement. "It is, unfortunately, the way the science works. But before you assume that no strangers could ever be met, let me correct that impression. A living user could employ any of the various information technologies available on Engris to familiarize himself with a departed person's life story, and enough of a link could be formed to allow for contact. One must know of the departed, at least, if not know him personally. It was a two-step process, and it worked well most of the time. However, even this method would not have allowed us to contact your group."

Ricky grunted. "No way we could know of you guys beforehand."


"So how is it you can contact us here?" Adrian asked, waving a hand at the immense room.

Jorli picked up the narrative at that point. "Engris was designed to be perpetual. Eternal. But even so, it was known that entropy exists even here, in the dark zone between realities. A tendency towards disorder. Even the best technologies are subject to the determined attempts of the universe to disorganize them over time. And while time here is very, very slow, enough of it passing can still add up. So provisions were made so that those of us like Eseffa and me...the passed, to use your term, could monitor Engris over time. Once our race had all passed in the normal universe, that is. It was thought that some millions of years down the line, adjustments might be needed in order to keep Engris running efficiently."

"But it's only been a half-million years," Durapar pointed out. "Did something go wrong?"

"No. Engris is not in need of adjustment yet. The reason for our appearance now concerns a danger to this world from the outside."

"Yes," Eseffa said now. "Provisions were made to the technology of return to allow us to appear in any of the spaces within Engris where the machines that keep this world in operation might be located. In this way we could make any necessary modifications needed to keep things running smoothly."

"But you're dead, if you'll pardon my bluntness, " Ragal said. "How can you effect change to material things in this universe?"

"We are power-users," Jorli said. "Like yourselves. Those talents do not cease with the death of the body. Our talents allow us to manipulate matter. Max understands this form of energy use."

Max grunted. "Yep."

"What about my vision?" Durapar asked. "Did one of you send that to me?"

"No." Jorli responded. "That was simply your own talent in action. We only put out the need for contact at this place, and yours was the talent that filled in the missing pieces. We hoped that someone on Engris would be responsive. We are pleased it was someone who would feel the need to act, and did."

"It took me some time to find the right people. I hope not too long, if this danger to Engris is as imminent as you suggest."

"It was not too long," Eseffa acknowledged. "Any danger to Engris from one of the normal space-time continua would be negligible, because of the differences in the flow of time between the two. This present danger to Engris is growing here, in the dark zone, even as we speak."

"We call it the Cooee," Kippy said, smiling.

Eseffa laughed. "As good a name as any. But because this action takes place here, in the Cooee, our opponents have as much time to work as we do, relatively speaking."

"Opponents?" Charlie asked.

"Yes." Jorli gave a very good rendition of a human frown, and then followed with a slight bow of his head. "Some history is in order."

Sefton, who had stood quietly by while the various exchanges had been occurring, suddenly raised a hand. "A question?"

"Certainly." Jorli turned towards the Molokar. "All of you...feel free to ask questions at any time. Sefton?"

"Yes. Must say that many Molokar, including self, have had painful experiences around spirit domes. Manifestations there cause pain inside head. Can explain?"

Jorli turned towards his companion. "You see? I was right about these Molokar. Their sensory abilities run very deeply."

Eseffa briefly bowed his head. "Yes. Sefton, a rather complex series of events occurs in order to allow the living and the dead to meet inside the domes. Your abilities run strongly to interpretation. You have a native ability to read other people, and to sift and analyze the events that surround you. It is my suspicion that the pain you feel at the domes when they are in operation results from an innate attempt to follow what is essentially a near-infinite stream of micro-events that come into being, mutate, and then expire in the course of a meeting between the living and the dead."

"Infinite micro-events?" Charlie repeated.

"Yes. This is the reason Engris needed to be placed in the Cooee. To utilize the nearly negligible lapse of time here in relation to the operations involved in establishing the link between this reality and the next. To perform such an operation in the universe we know would take...well, almost forever."

"That's a long time!" Ricky said, shaking his head.

"It isn't actually forever, though," Jorli explained. "It is simply of such a duration that the living member of the meeting would certainly expire before the contact was established."

"So is no way to mitigate experience?" Sefton asked.

"I'm afraid not. It is your own talent that is the source of your pain."

"Yet feel no pain here."

"This is not a dome, and our contact has not been initiated in the way a dome initiates contact. Eseffa and I can come to this place at will, without anyone being here at all. You being here at the same time means we can communicate. But the processes are different. No input was needed from your end to make it happen. Thus you will feel no pain."

"Ah." Durapar looked delighted. "It all seems clear now!"

"You were going to tell us some history?" Max put in, patiently. Charlie smiled at that. Max did like to get to the heart of things quickly.

"Yes." Eseffa waved one of his hands around the room. "What you see here is the fifth attempt by my people to construct a place such as this. There are four other worlds similar to Engris, here in the Cooee."

Adrian suddenly reached over and tapped Kippy's shoulder. "Hey! Remember when we picked up Bobby? He said he'd been kidnapped by a flying saucer and taken to a planet that was inside the Cooee!"

Kippy looked excited. "Yeah! And it was some kind of weird time rate there that made him lose1957 when he returned to normal space. He wound up in our time, instead!"

"Meergris," Jorli supplied. "The first attempt to create our project. We already know that it has been found and is being used by others for some harmless purpose."

"Pirates," Charlie supplied. "Or thieves of some kind, from what Bobby said." He looked up at Eseffa. "Is this important?"

"It is not. Meergris is simply a world afloat in the Cooee. The only technology the world has is the ability to stay here in the dark zone. It was deemed insufficient for our needs after being placed here, and abandoned."

Ricky grunted. "Your insurance must be outrageous!"

The two Madracorn looked at each other, and then smiled at Rick. "We don't understand that reference," Jorli said.

Ricky looked slightly embarrassed. "Doesn't matter."

Max rolled his eyes. "The history lesson?"

"I'm sorry," Eseffa returned. "It's easy to get distracted. We haven't spoken with the living in a very long time."

Jorli chuckled. "We don't get out much."

Charlie smiled, not sure how much of what was being said was serious, and what was humor. Kippy appeared to be right in his description of the Madracorn: they were rascals!

"Anyway," Jorli continued, "that accounts for the first such project we placed in the Cooee. There are three others before Engris."

"So you said," Max returned. "This problem you're having concerns them?"

"One of them," Eseffa agreed. "Lyrgris, the fourth of the world ships we constructed."

"World ships?" Adrian asked.

"Yes. That's actually what these constructions are. World-sized ships, able to voyage the Cooee indefinitely. The first three were judged inadequate almost as soon as they were placed within the Cooee. Construction facilities are of necessity located in our normal universe, where materials and industry are readily available. There is simply nothing within the Cooee at all. These world ships were constructed in the normal universe and later placed here in the dark zone. The Cooee, rather."

"But there was some problem with them?" Horace asked.

"Yes. There is a specific geometry and resonance that the core of the world ship must have in order for the process of spirit induction to work correctly. Building a ship the size of a world allows for anomalies to creep in. And, once it is placed into the zero-gravity environment of the Cooee, any imperfections can become exaggerated."

Charlie frowned at that. "Zero-gravity?"

Jorli chuckled. "Yes. The Cooee is a universe in size, Charlie. And totally, completely, forever empty of matter. Gravity has never been born here, so there are no gravitational waves to propagate. Our own universe is teeming with matter, and gravitational affects are everywhere, even if relatively minute in strength at any one given location. But all matter is affected to some extent by the other matter in our universe. Here, it is not so. So when the first three world ships were placed here, their structures were changed incrementally by the lack of gravity here. In each case it placed the geometry and resonance characteristics of the all-important core into the negative end of optimum operational parameters. Rather than try to move ahead with a flawed construction, they were simply abandoned."

"Wow," Adrian said.

Ricky whistled. "Just the first three were defective?"

Eseffa bowed his head slightly. "The fourth world was close enough to the optimal operational parameters for further construction to proceed. While the first three world ships had their drives installed and nothing else, the fourth world ship was much more completely outfitted, with operational and defensive systems placed, and cities constructed on the surface. It was only as these events were underway that the added mass finally pushed the world out of operational parameters again. The project was halted, and eventually abandoned. But we had finally learned enough at that point to create a fifth project that was ultimately successful. That would be the Engris you see around you."

Kippy raised a hand. "The fourth world ship is the problem, I sense."

"Yes." Eseffa again bowed his head. "Our people were--" He broke off and glanced at Jorli.

"Careless," that one supplied, bluntly.

Eseffa looked pained. "Yes. Lyrgris was abandoned, but no provisions were made for its defense. The defensive systems are there, but the directional key that would guide them was never set in place. At the time, it was simply thought that the sheer size of the Cooee was defense enough. That no one would ever find Lyrgris, lost as it was in an entire, empty universe." The Madracorn's eyes focused on Charlie. "We were wrong."

"Somebody found it?" Charlie asked.

"Yes. We should have begun to worry when Meergris was found, but it was considered an amazing bit of chance, and nothing else. We should have moved at that point to secure Lyrgris."

Ricky waved a hand. "What's wrong with it?"

"As I have said, operational and defensive system were installed, but never activated. With no operational defenses in place, there has been nothing to prevent these people that have found Lyrgris from landing and attempting to locate and study the systems that are in place."

Jorli leaned forward then. "We are able to go to Lyrgris just as we are able to come here. We have been observing those that have now based themselves on the world ship. We have listened to their plans."

Eseffa also leaned forward now. "Their goal is to learn the defenses of Lyrgris, so that they may later tackle the ones here on Engris. Their ultimate goal is to seize Engris."

The vast room's humming was the only sound heard then. Charlie looked around at the others, and saw the same consternation upon their faces. Seize Engris!

Ricky balled up his fists. "We can't let that happen!"

Kippy squeezed Charlie's arm. "We won't. We'll think of something, won't we, Charlie?"

"We will need to," Ragal said then. "To have Engris fall into the wrong hands might be catastrophic to the five empires. And certainly to the people that live here."

"Like us!" Casper put in, sounding angry. "We'll fight!"

"Whoa, whoa," Max said, raising his hands. "We don't even know who these people are, or what their motives might be."

"I believe you do know them," Eseffa countered. He raised a hand, and a round section of the air before them colored and went dark. It immediately filled in with a picture then, of a part of one of the magnificent cities that the Madracorn had left behind. The graceful towers were there, fading into the darkness beyond, and a spirit dome was nestled between the two closest ones. But unlike the cities of Engris, which were illuminated with a ghostly glow, this city was completely dark. So was the world around it. What light that there was came from a ring of spotlights on a ship grounded on the wide area of pavers before the city, and from other lights set up around an encampment that bustled with activity.

The view moved in, and some of those moving purposefully about came into view.

Kippy sucked in his breath then, and Charlie froze.

The aliens were very tall, very black, leathery-looking beings, with great, shiny black eyes that were hooded by large ridges in their bony skulls. Below the eyes, there was no nose, no mouth, only more of the black, leathery flesh. Where the mouth would have been in a human, a series of wide, bony ridges stood out, between each of which was a hint of red, as if some soft tissue lurked within.

Their figures seemed somehow indistinct, almost as if a dark mistiness swirled about them, one that tried to push the eyes away, even as Charlie fought to keep his gaze fastened upon them. The view moved in closer, arriving before one of the aliens standing at the base of the ship's boarding tube, as he silently watched the business progressing about him. The cool intelligence within the eyes of this one was plain. Another of the aliens came closer, said something they could not hear, and then looked away as the first raised a hand and pointed. Charlie saw then that there was an area of dark webbed flesh beneath the alien's arm, like the wing of a bat.

"Shit!" Ricky said softly.

Charlie had to agree. Yes, they did know these people. They had tangled with them once before, far away, in another part of the galaxy, and the experience had not been a pleasant one.

"I see you do know them," Jorli said quietly.

Charlie nodded, and turned back to gaze at the dark alien in the view.

The Moth had found Lyrgris.
Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead