Charlie Boone

by Geron Kees

The Sky is a Mirror, Charlie Boone! - Chapter 7

Misola and his men had been standing by their craft when the accident with D'eerth's transport occurred. In a single moment the tunnel opening had appeared, the borer had come out, and immediately moved to the side to make room. But then some amazing power had found it and pushed it backwards, even against the full driving force of its motivators. Misola's inner senses had simply pulsed alarmingly at the amount of energy involved in the drive backwards. In the blink of an eye the transport had moved back enough to block the tunnel opening, so that when D'eerth's transport came through at speed, it struck the rear of the borer, sending it spinning off in the other direction. But the transport had been in the act of shedding its momentum even at that point, and so the inertia of the strike had also been dissipated for the transport, if not the borer.

"D'eerth! Respond!"

For a moment there was silence; but then Misola heard the other's voice. "Well...that didn't go as planned."

Misola felt a sense of immediate relief. "Are there any injuries?"

"No. It would appear not. The inertial compensators in our seats dissipated the blow that made it past the overall inertial dump. The transport is showing some red indicators on the board, but none are critical systems."

Onath's voice suddenly arrived in the mix. "Check. No critical systems are involved. So I would suggest you exit the transport and deploy your forces. You're vulnerable where you are."

"Agreed," Deer'th returned. "Deploying the men now."

Onath's voice sounded tight. "That appeared to be a deliberate and hostile act on the part of the enemy. I am lifting the restriction against return fire without my orders. If you are fired upon, you may return fire at will."

Misola acknowledged, and Deer'th quickly followed.

But then Kil'brith broke in. "I would suggest your men not use anything more destructive than their rifles, Onath. At least until called for."

Onath's reply held the right amount of deference, but sounded strained even to Misola. "Your reasoning? Rifle fire is not as effective as some of the disruptive and explosive devices my people are carrying."

But Kil'brith's reply only sounded patient. "The use of disruptive or explosive weapons will only destroy the very treasures we seek to recover. Look at this chamber now. A shambles! Who knows what these artifacts might have been? They may have been irreplaceable technological treasures, Onath. If we are to stay and contest this world as a prize, destroying valuable parts of it is not an option."

Onath's voice sounded less willing to argue when he replied. "I see your reasoning. Very well. Misola, Deer'th, for the time being, no weapons more lethal than pulse rifles should be used."

Misola actually breathed a sigh of relief at that, his eyes again appraising the huge chamber. Large as it was, it was still confined, and the use of disruptors or explosive devices here could be as lethal to his men as any enemy fire. "Acknowledged."

"Acknowledged," Deer'th echoed.

"I am not going to try to command this mission directly," Onath said then. "I am not on the scene, much to my own regret. I am placing you in local overall command, Misola. I will be monitoring everything, and will certainly speak when I feel the need. And you may question me should you feel the need. But I cannot be second-guessing everything you do."

Misola felt some shock at hearing that, but also some relief. Not having to run every step before Onath would cut down their reaction time considerably. "Very well."

"Look!" One of the troopers suddenly pointed, and Misola jerked his eyes in the direction indicated. For just a second, before they disappeared into the forest of strange, dark spires that thrust up from the very floor of the chamber, a small group of strangely glowing lights appeared. They seemed to wax and wane as they moved, almost as if in response to the changes in light and shadow within the great chamber itself. But in the brief instant that Misola's eyes appraised them, he estimated size and mass, and noted by the way they moved that they seemed very much like people walking. Living things.

The enemy had come out into the open! But...glowing clouds of light? What sort of life was this?

Misola turned towards the squad. "Tif'tok. Take three of the men and head around the outer wall in that direction. Try to flank the enemy. The rest of you, come with me. We will pursue directly. D'eerth, you hear?"

"Yes. Sensors are obviously no good here. They display nothing, when your helmet imager clearly shows something there. I will deploy half my men along the other wall to flank from this side, and take the rest and go directly across the chamber after those we just...saw. We will meet up with you there."

"Get a move on," Onath urged quietly.

Misola waved at his men. Those assigned to flanking detail moved off along the wall at a trot, while the rest moved to Misola. He hefted his rifle, checked its charge a final time, and then started off across the vast floor of the chamber, his thoughts briefly entertaining a more respectable view of Onath. But then his training reasserted itself, and all he could think about was catching up with the enemy.

"They're close behind," Max said softly, throwing a thumb over his shoulder. "They're trying to get to either side of us, too, moving in from the outer wall."

"Should we run, to catch up with Ragal and Casper?" Adrian whispered.

"No," Ricky said immediately, turning towards his boyfriend. "Let them get to the command thing and put the mind in. We'll be the decoy for the Moth."

Max grunted. "I'm afraid I gotta agree. Catching up with Ragal will only take the Moth right to them."

"But can we hold off the Moth?" Adrian asked.

"I think so," Max replied, though even Charlie thought the elf didn't sound certain. "They got a lot of weapons. I think I can handle them, though." His glowing shape turned towards them then. "I do got a little surprise for you guys, though. Watch."

Max's hands came up, and Charlie looked around to see what effect it might have. So he happened to be looking directly at Kippy as the tortured light around him dissolved, and his boyfriend came back into view. Kippy immediately smiled, and Charlie knew that he was now visible, too. He looked back at Max. "They can see us now?"

"Not them. We can see each other now, is all. I made the light-shifting pattern non-random, and just based it on one of those really big prime numbers. Took a while to figure out. New magic always does. But we each got a key now, so we can see each other. But to the Moth's eyes, and their, um, electromagnetic gear, we still look the same. And they still can't detect us."

Kippy winked at Max, and pointed at Charlie. "What a lovely birthday present!"

Charlie laughed, and moved closer to give his boyfriend a brief hug. "I like this better, too."

Ricky, now visible, scratched his head. "So...what? We just stand here and let the Moth catch us?"

Max looked slightly embarrassed. " I suggest we start walking in the direction that Ragal and the others went. But not too fast. I do want to be near them in case something happens, but I don't want to take the Moth straight to them."

They continued on then, at a leisurely walk, as if they were strolling on a park path on a warm summer day. Kippy took Charlie's hand, and let their arms swing slowly back and forth as they walked. Kippy smiled at him. "This has been an exciting vacation. We'll have to do it again sometime."

Charlie gaped briefly at that, but then took note of the sparkle in Kippy's eyes. "Yeah, well...maybe. Not exactly the same, though."

"This has been a blast!" Rick said, falling in beside them. He and Adrian were also hand in hand, their arms swinging happily as they walked. "More fun than a box of cats!"

"I'll say," Adrian agreed. He leaned forward and looked past everyone at Max. "You sure know how to have fun!"

Max gave his head a brief shake, but his smile was obviously heartfelt. "I never had so much going on in my life before I met you guys!"

"But it's been fun, hasn't it?" Kippy insisted.

Max watched them a moment, and then nodded. "Yeah. Like Rick said, it's been a blast."

Charlie noticed something then, ahead of them. "Look! That pillar is broken!" Now that he really looked ahead of them, he could see broken pieces of the crystalline structures everywhere.

Max squinted ahead, and then nodded. "That's the hold up with Ragal. That borer busted up some of the pillars. But...this ain't over yet. I feel it."

Durapar and Sefton, behind them, suddenly hurried a little to get closer. "Observe left," the Molokar said quietly.

"And to the right!" Durapar whispered.

Charlie looked briefly both ways. Forty feet away, on either side of them, several armored Moth walked along, pacing them, disappearing occasionally behind one of the upright crystalline projections, but reappearing on the other side. Their rifles were held casually, muzzles down, but that the soldiers were watching them was plain.

"Just keep going," Max whispered out of the side of his mouth then.

They passed between two of the tall columns, and saw three of the Moth soldiers ahead of them.

"Fast on their feet, aren't they?" Charlie commented.

"Keep walking, same pace," Max whispered. "Don't act nervous. They can't see us, remember. We're just blobs of light."

They were past the midpoint of the chamber, and were into the other side, where Ragal and Casper and Horace were surely at the right crystalline pillar now.

Charlie looked over a shoulder, saw more of the soldiers behind them. They were effectively surrounded. He smiled grimly. Once, the sight of the tall Moth in their dark battle gear would have probably terrified him. But Charlie had changed in the past few years. Events had changed him. Events, people...and friends.

He glanced over at Max, and felt confidence in him. Max would do anything to keep them safe. Even kill the Moth, if he had to. Charlie didn't want him to have to. He trusted Max to find a more civilized way out of this predicament. He also trusted his friends to go the distance.

Kippy squeezed his hand, and Charlie squeezed back.

They arrived in front of the three of Moth soldiers, who watched them come with an evident mix of haughtiness, suspicion...and fear.

One of the Moth held up a hand, a clear signal for them to stop. Max spread his arms and they all stopped.

For a moment nothing happened. And then several of the Moth that had been following behind them slowly and carefully circled around to the fore of the group, to halt before them. One of them stepped forward, and watched them carefully.

"I am Misola, of the Moth High Guard, and of the occupation force of this planet." He waited for a reaction, any sort of response, but the glowing beings before him offered nothing in return.

"Very well. I ask that you make no threatening moves. My men will not fire unless fired upon first."

Again, there was simply no response. The strange beings before him simply waited, giving no indication they had even heard his words. He stepped back then, and a wary expression returned to his face. His eyes surveyed the enemy before him, and his reaction was again quite clear.

"So we have captured you, it seems. If that is to be believed."

Ragal set Casper down and surveyed the damage. Horace clenched his hands into fists, and shook his head. "I don't believe it!"

They had arrived at the correct crystalline pillar, where they needed to place the defensive mind, only to fine a scene of destruction. Nearby, a path of broken crystal material stretched away along a line, reaching into the distance. Twenty yards away, the broken body of the borer lay in the path, now apparently inoperative. That it had cut a swath through crystalline pillars after being sent flying across the chamber by the transport's impact seemed clear. Ultimately, the borer had struck a last crystalline pillar, and sent the remains of it hurtling into the very pillar where they needed to place the defensive mind. It still stood, but was pockmarked and chipped, and the hole they needed in which to place the defensive mind could not be found.

And Eseffa was nowhere to be seen.

Casper looked up at Ragal. "We came all this way for nothing!"

Ragal shook his head. "Maybe not. I don't feel it is over."

"I hope not," Horace said, turning and looking back the way they came. "For the sake of the others, especially."

"They are well," Ragal said comfortingly. "Max is decoying the Moth for us. He will be able to keep them there, hopefully for as long as it takes."

Horace blinked at that. "For as long as it takes to do what? The pillar is a wreck!"

But Ragal's eyes were moving now, and then he raised a hand and pointed. "There!"

He was indicating a section of the floor, even as it bubbled up into one of the characteristic doorways that the Madracorn used to get around. The sides of the bubble retracted, a column of mist appeared, and then Eseffa was with them. "I'm sorry I'm late. I was here earlier, but had to leave after the Moth machine shattered the room."

"Are we done?" Casper asked, looking mournful. "Are we beaten?"

The Madracorn looked sympathetic. "No. I'm sorry I wasn't here to meet you. I was initiating a healing for this room."

Ragal smiled, somehow having felt this journey was not over. "A healing? Is that possible?"

"Of, of course." Eseffa smiled. "This world is all of a piece, a single shape from one pattern. It needed to be ultra-precise for our requirements, and there was no other way. It only took a small deviance from the required core dimensional figures to make it unsatisfactory to use as a beacon for the dead. But everything else works just fine."

Casper looked overjoyed. "So what will happen now?"

The Madracorn looked around the room. "First the mess will be cleaned up. Then the operators will be regrown."

Horace stared. "Operators?"

Eseffa waved a large hand at the crystalline pillar before them. "These. The synapses of the brain of Lyrgris, as it were. A world cannot function without a brain."

Casper held up the small box he carried. "I thought I had the defensive brain right here."

"No. You hold the memories, the training...the handbook, if you will, by which the mind of Lygris can defend itself. The most basic of these functions is for the brain to be able to think. That function was enabled in the mind of Lygris long ago, but the key to the defensive mind - the tiny orb you now hold - was never turned. Once we deemed this world unusable, it seemed a waste of a valuable asset to place the full mind into operation. It now seems a very shortsighted decision."

"I think I'd agree," Horace said, smiling. "But I'm sure it was a reasonable assumption to think it would never be found in all the hugeness of the Cooee."

"The odds were against it," Eseffa agreed. "But having Engris found by the Molokar should have warned us. We were a bit too complacent, there in that other continuum. Events here seemed distant, and not very pressing." He laughed. "Being dead has its drawbacks."

Casper hooted out a squeaky laugh, which made Horace smile. "Then we are not done!"

"Not at all," Eseffa agreed. "I did want to warn you that things will become quite, here as the chamber heals itself. But you will be quite safe as long as you stay back from the pillars. Where you are right now should be just fine."

Casper's gray eyes grew wide. "What will happen?"

Eseffa chuckled. "Oh, a little bit of this, and a little bit of that. You should find it quite interesting, actually." He seemed to listen a moment, and then smiled. "Shouldn't be much longer. Now, brace yourselves. Don't be alarmed by anything that happens. You'll be quite safe, I can assure you."

Horace looked around the great chamber, a sense of events to come settling over him. But it was not a bad sense. Just a strange one. And maybe a wonderful one? Again, he praised the day he had decided to investigate the old octagonal house in the woods near Norwich, New York. The day he had met Charlie Boone, and his wonderful crowd of amazing friends.


Mor'ath spoke up. "They have stopped these beings, Commander. I have video, if you'd like to see them."

Kil'bruth and Onath had been comparing notes, but now both men turned back to face the console. There, the ones they had been pursuing were clear now, transmitted by Misola's helmet imager. It appeared to be a group, but even that was not definite. What they saw was a large mass of glowing, twisting lights. Kil'brith searched his display, and then looked across at his systems manager. "I don't see any analysis of this, Mor'ath."

"There is none," the other Moth said. "They do not register on any of our sensors."

"If we can see them, they exist," Kil'brith argued. "So why can we not also scan them?"

Mor'ath looked pained. "It...commander, it is my opinion that our sensors are being annulled. In order for our active scanning arrays to report, our directed sensory broadcasts must first interact with other things, either matter or energy, and then return to us. We have no returns for these beings because they are in some way preventing the active scans from interacting with themselves. Our strictly passive scans can only reveal data from emission sources. So in this case, the only data we are being allowed to receive is along a narrow band of the visual."

Kil'brith stared at the images in the display, impressed despite himself. Long used to the superiority of Moth technology over all others, it was humbling to encounter those to whom the technology was less than effective. These others, whoever they were, were not to be despised.

"Even their visual images are disconcerting."

"I don't believe it to be their true image," Mor'ath returned. "I can analyze the visual stream, and it appears that what we are seeing is not a direct reflection, but rather a high-order diffusion of the original reflected light. A deception."

"Indeed." Kil'brith drummed his fingers on his armrest. "Or perhaps a natural occurrence of the way light interacts with these beings."

Mor'ath grunted. "It could be that, too."

"If there is nothing to be done about it, then all we can do is watch," Onath said, sounding unhappy "I should be there myself."

Kil'brith eyed the other, but didn't say anything. Too late for that.

Onath watched the display a moment longer, and then turned to face Kil'brith. "These aliens are on a mission of some kind. Their movements up until now have been purposeful, all leading to this chamber where our people are now. I feel that whatever task these aliens are up to, it will not bode well for our forces here if they are allowed to complete it. I think we need to stop them at all costs."

Kil'brith shook his head. "I cannot agree with firing upon them. Not yet."

"We don't need to fire at them," Onath argued. "Just keep them where they are now. Hold them up while our people investigate ahead to see what lies there." He slapped the armrest of his seat forcefully. "My feeling is that if they reach their goal, our mission here will be over."

Kil'brith considered that, and then waved a hand at Onath. "Inform Misola. Keep the aliens in place. If they move, fire ahead of them to stop them again and keep them there. But do not fire on them!"

"It's okay." Max said. "I got us in a sound bubble, so the Moth can't hear us. I just wanted to warn you guys not to get excited when stuff starts happening."

Adrian leaned forward. "What's about to happen?"

"Yeah. What stuff?" Rick asked.

Max held up his hands. "I don't know exactly. Ragal and the others reached the crystal pillar. But something ain't right. Eseffa is there, and I have a feeling this place is about to kick off. So don't get excited, no matter what happens." The elf smiled. "In fact...I think we can use this. Yeah." He grinned. "Okay, I'm gonna drop the sound bubble a little, but not all the way. We'll still be able to hear them, and they can hear me, but they can't hear you. Just play along with me, okay?"

Charlie nodded, a sense of exhilaration overcoming him. He grinned at Kippy. Something is up!

Max turned towards the Moth, who noted the change in his form, but had no idea of the cause. "Sefton, old buddy, can you come up here with me?"

"Yes." The Molokar moved forward, his giant glowing form causing several of the Moth to slightly raise the barrels of their rifles. But they were well-trained, and no one appeared to look like they had an itchy trigger finger.

"Great," Max said. "Now, I'm gonna do the talking, and you're gonna do the acting, okay? Just sort of follow me, if you can."

Sefton grunted, but an amiable look came into his eyes, and he smiled. "Sounds like fun."

Max nodded. "Okay. I wish I could make these guys see that big djinn that Casper made 'em see in the tunnel, but I can't quite get it. But Sefton here is almost as large. What I can do is that same big, loud voice that we used then. Okay, everybody, play along. Sefton, raise your arms wide."

The big Molokar did that, instantly drawing Misola's attention. Several more of the rifle barrels came up a fraction of an inch or two.

"Intruders," Max said, once again in the big voice he and Casper had used before.

Several of the Moth jumped, and Misola's eyes grew larger under the rim of his helmet. The voice was very large, very powerful. And very unsettling!

But the Moth soldier was no coward. "So, you do have a voice."

"You were warned in the tunnel that this was not over," Max said. "Yet here we are again."

Misola made a gesture of agreement. "We did not intend to enter into conflict. We only intended to salvage from a vacant world."

"And yet, you can see quite well that it is not vacant."

The Moth looked over at the man next to him, and then returned his gaze to Sefton's illuminated form. "My people are not convinced that you...or your people...actually have a claim to this world. There was clearly no sign of any sort of activity here when we first arrived. You came later. We are of the opinion that it is you who are the interlopers here."

"Turn from side to side," Max whispered at Sefton.

The Molokar complied as Max went on. "We feel no need to explain anything to you. This world is ours. As you are about to find out."

The timing was perfect. The floor beneath their feet quivered then, and a rumble was heard throughout the room. Nearby, what at first looked like a dust devil sprang up, but it quickly grew into a large, inky black tornado, which swept a path across the room, sucking up the shattered pieces of crystal that lay everywhere. The Moth soldiers now brought the muzzles of their rifles up all the way, some pointing them at the tornado, others pointing them at Sefton's figure.

"Point your finger at their boss," Max instructed, and Sefton complied.

"You fired upon me once," the big voice said then, sounding confident. "Do you somehow think those even smaller weapons will be more effective?"

Misola looked to be in discussion now, though, and Charlie assumed that someone was issuing orders, somewhere. The Moth were a bossy bunch, and every Moth seemed to have someone who was able to tell him what to do. Even T'ath had not been fully his own man, and he was at the top of his particular little heap. His existence was governed by advantage, and what other Moth barons were thinking, saying, and doing. If someone had told T'ath he was not a totally free man, he would have been amused. But it would have been true, all the same.

The black tornado was joined by another, and the two of them swept around the room, sucking up the shattered pieces of crystal. The noise they produced was considerable, and the chamber reverberated with sound. The Moth were agitated now, and drew together into circles, their rifles pointed outward. But such was their training and discipline that they held their ground.

One of the black tornadoes turned and made a beeline for the Moth. Despite the sheer awe and terror factor of having this monster leap at them, they really didn't have much time to react. It was instantly upon them, and the soldiers barely had time to duck as the tornado swept over them. It swept over Charlie and the others, too, but Charlie felt nothing as the whirlwind passed. But every scrap of shattered crystal on the floor around them was sucked up in passing, leaving the floor clear of any debris. What's more, the shattered stumps of those crystals broken by the borer's wild plunge also disappeared, leaving clean floor in their place, and no evidence that they were ever there at all.

The Moth circles drew back now, their weapons clearly pointed at Charlie's party. But they did not fire. It dawned on Charlie then that the Moth would only attack if attacked first.

He pulled Kippy closer to Max and suggested that idea into the elf's ear.

Max nodded. "Probably. I want to get moving towards Ragal now. Just follow me, and go slow, okay? Once we're between the Moth and Ragal and the others, we'll be in good shape."

They started to creep forward, and the Moth parted to let them come. Everyone seemed mesmerized by the twin whirlwinds as they swept the room clean. Communication was almost impossible, the droning of the two vortexes growing louder the cleaner the room became. But finally, with a last swish of their tails, the two tornadoes moved off and merged over the wrecked borer, visible now that so many of the broken columns had been removed, and consumed it completely. And then the whirlwinds vanished just as instantaneously as they had appeared, leaving a deafening silence in the room.

Misola came alive then as Charlie's party moved away another few steps, but his actions were not what Charlie expected. Instead of running to cut them off, the Moth leader waved his men into movement, and pointed away to either side. The Moth simply followed Charlie and the others for a few paces, and then split into two small parties that moved away to pace them on their flanks.

A number of fast, deep vibrations ran beneath their feet then, and every spot on the floor, now swept clean, that had once had a crystalline pillar in place, started to grow another one. They surged upwards in a smooth motion, crackling and spitting sound, a forest of new crystalline life emerging all around them. The sheer energy of the growth was discernible, and Charlie felt a vibration inside himself, almost as if his bones were oscillating in sympathy.

A new crystal sprang up explosively right in the midst of the group of Moth to their left, scattering them wildly in all directions. The Moth ran as if the devil himself was chasing them, and Charlie was surprised to see the fearsome masters of a stellar empire so frightened. It was an enlightening moment for him, as he realized that the Moth were used to being masters of a situation, and really didn't deal so well when events suddenly went south at speed. It was a moment he would never forget.

Another crystal sprang up directly in front of the other group, halting them in their tracks and sending several Moth running. Confusion briefly entered the opposing ranks, but Misola moved quickly to reform them. But Charlie's group was no longer bracketed, and Max now turned to yell to them. "We're going now! Start making for Ragal and the others."

The Moth that had been scattered by the stunning growth of the crystals seemed to be everywhere now, but their chief concern seemed to be to get back to Misola and reform their ranks, and not to interfere with the glowing alien party. Charlie's group passed several of the soldiers that were running back in the other direction. Those men cast indecipherable glances their way in passing, but made no move to stop them.

Sefton moved to the left, and they all followed closely. Charlie turned his head to look back at the Moth. Misola was regrouping his men now, but made no move to interfere with the movement of their foes, either under orders not to, or just realizing that he couldn't at this time. New crystals were sprouting everywhere now, and surging upwards with a growth amazing in its vitality and sound. Moth stragglers were still passing them, running back the other way.

It was then that Charlie and Kip circled around one of the new crystals, and as they came to the other side, they surprised a Moth soldier who, for whatever reason, was just standing alone there. That man looked shocked, and his rifle came up instinctively, pointed right at Charlie.


Before Charlie could even react, Kip had stepped in front of him, throwing up his arms as if to ward off the bolt that he was sure the soldier was about to fire.

But that didn't happen. Instead, the rifle was torn from the soldier's hands with amazing force, and sailed away towards the other side of the room, to disappear into the shadows there. The soldier spun about and ran.

Charlie turned and grinned at Max, who only spared him a glance as they moved on. Charlie grabbed Kip's hand and pulled him along, and they continued across the room at a run.

"Are we ceding the field to them" Tif'tok asked, watching as the strange glowing cloud moved off.

"No! Deer'th? Have you got your people back together?"

"Yes. What do we do now?"

"After them!"

"What do we do when we reach them?"

"Lay down a fire ahead of them. But do not target the aliens. I just want to stop them, understand? We don't know what they're doing, but their movements have been purposeful thus far, all leading to this place. Whatever they are up to, Onath feels it will not be good for our forces if they are allowed to accomplish it!"

Charlie could see Ragal now, and Casper and Horace. And Eseffa! They were standing close to a giant of a crystal, which was still regrowing. The noise of crystals in rebirth was appallingly loud now, and so Charlie was astounded when one, and then another, reddish bolt of energy hit the floor before him. A wave of heat washed over him, and he turned to find the Moth directly behind them. And then Max was suddenly very busy, batting aside the energy pulses from Moth rifles before they even reached them.

"They're just trying to stop us!" the elf called. "Keep going!"

The Moth followed closely, but every attempt to get ahead of them was thwarted by Max. Moth soldiers would race up beside them to pass, only to smash into invisible walls and fall back. The rifle fire was thick, but Max was like a high-speed tennis player, belting each volley back. The red bolts were splashing all around the Moth, causing them to lose momentum, to waver, to weave from side to side in an effort to evade their own fire returned to them.

Charlie and Kip were almost to Ragal and the others now, and the crystal next to them looked almost completely regrown. Casper stood with the tiny defensive mind in his hand, looking back over his shoulder at them. Ragal looked ready to act the moment the crystal was fully formed.

Max continued to bat aside the energy bolts from the Moth rifles. The room looked like a frantically active pinball machine, with bolts of fire sailing through the air in all directions. Inevitably, one of the Moth was struck by a return bolt and went down. The Moth battle armor had screens that were proof against anything as powerful as their own weapons, and the soldier rolled over and crawled back to his feet, shaking his head uncertainly, as if not certain what had happened to him. He grabbed up his rifle, and stumbled forward. Charlie spied the man fumbling with something at his harness; and then a small ovoid was winging its way towards them.

Charlie heard Max curse again, and then a brilliant flash of energy erupted behind them. But it was immediately contained within a clear globe that expanded to a huge size, ceased its expansion, and then contracted suddenly and violently, to pop like a soap bubble as its diameter reached a point. A wave of some sort roared across the floor, sweeping everyone in the chamber off their feet. Charlie went down hard, Kippy falling on top of him.

For a second, Charlie was stunned. He rolled over then, and spied their destination crystal. Eseffa was there, his arms waving frantically at the others. Ragal was just sitting up, and Horace was rolling over onto his back. But beside Ragal, Casper jumped to his feet, and held one hand up high...but he could not reach high enough!

A new motion drew Charlie's eyes. Sefton, the only one of them but Max not brought down by the concussion wave, catapulted himself into action, raced to the crystal, snatched up Casper, and held him up high. Casper's hand darted to the crystal...

The room shook, the very air vibrated. The crystals came to life around them, pulsing with multicolored lights, drowning the shadows everywhere in vigorous colors. Something came at Charlie and swept over him, around him, through him, and passed without touching him. Not so the Moth. The nearly invisible wall drew inwards in a circle, and immediately surrounded them, swept them together into a tight knot, and then disappeared, taking the soldiers with it.

Aboard Ehiztari, Kil'brith, Onath, and Mor'ath watched the scene in the distant underground chamber with amazement. Events were moving so quickly they were almost a blur: Misola driving his men forward, trying to stop the escape of the strange, flickering life forms. A soldier, felled by a reflected bolt of energy, staggered to his feet groggily, and - against all orders - throwing a disruption grenade. Yet, incredibly, that force was somehow contained, squashed, compacted, with only a brief but vigorous backwash escaping at the end...

...that knocked all of their men off their feet. One of the incredible glowing aliens - the largest of them all, and possibly the leader, suddenly leaped towards one of the newly resurrected crystalline pillars, snatched a much smaller glowing creature from the floor, held it up high and pressed forward to the crystal...

...and the crystalline forest within the vast chamber pulsed into life, colorful lights dancing within the tall forms, spinning and moving about with a life all their own. A barely-seen force, a wall of soft light, that formed from nothingness and suddenly raced in from all sides, ignoring the enemy completely, yet gathering the Moth soldiers and sweeping them into a tight knot while the men struggled, unable to fight the incredible force, and then...vanishing!

There was a sudden sound of displaced air behind them, and Kil'brith turned just as a large, dark mass appeared and clattered to the deck. He blinked in amazement as the mass separated into men in armor!

Misola sat up then, looking dazed, his eyes glassy with shock. "What...?"

"I don't believe it," Onath whispered, mostly to himself.

Kil'brith took a moment himself to process what he was seeing, and then realized what had happened. Their entire force had been collected and teleported to the ship!

There was a sound from the display then, and Mor'ath, sitting in shock on the other side of the console, waved in alarm at the commander. "I think you'd better see this!"

Kil'brith and Onath both turned back to stare at the console. It now displayed a view of the dark zone above them, and a glowing orb that was growing in size even as they watched.

Kil'brith gasped. "Is that...?"

"It appears to be Engris, yes," Mor'ath agreed. "And coming up quite fast."

Kil'brith closed his eyes a moment, and then opened them filled with decision. "Prepare to up ship. Do we have a full count of personnel aboard?"

"It would appear so," Mor'ath returned, his eyes darting to Misola's force, still sprawled on the deck.

Onath made an angry sound. "So much to lose! We are running away from our futures now!"

"More likely preserving them," Mor'ath commented quietly.

The ground beneath the ship shook then, as if a last warning for them to leave.

Ehiztari leapt from the ground and raced into the dark night above. But it was scarcely a planetary diameter from the surface when the dark zone seemed to spin around them, and both the planet they had just quit and the ancient, mysterious world of Engris disappeared.

And for the Moth it would be forever, neither world ever to be encountered again.

"It's done," Eseffa said. "Engris is arrived, and the Moth departed."

Charlie patted himself, feeling for bruises. Kippy breathed a sigh of relief, and smiled at him. "You okay?"

"Seems so. How about you?"

"I guess. I won't really know until tomorrow."

Charlie smiled at him, then turned to Casper, who looked extraordinarily pleased. "You did good!"

Casper pointed at Sefton. "He got me up high enough to place the key mind. I wasn't tall enough!"

"We saw," Charlie agreed. "Thank you, Sefton. You saved the day." He laughed. "I'd never have guessed you could be so quick on your feet!"

The big Molokar offered up a stunning grimace-smile. "Home was in the balance, so acted without thinking much about it. Once Lyrgris safe, Engris also safe."

"You the man," Ricky said, patting Sefton's arm. "That was an awesome move!"

"What about the Moth?" Durapar asked. "What happened to them?"

Eseffa looked happy. "They left the surface, and Jorli used the resources of Engris to fling them rather far away into the Cooee."

"That was a neat trick, getting the Moth soldiers out of here," Max said, eyeing the Madracorn with a grin. "I thought you guys couldn't teleport?"

"We cannot," Eseffa replied. "But our machines are rather good at it, I would say."

Max nodded. "Let me guess. Your machines can't teleport people that are dead."

"Exactly so. Being dead does have its drawbacks. Nor can these machines operate beyond the confines of this world. An unfortunate limitation that may need to be rectified."

"And the moth borers?" Durapar pressed.

"Now that Lyrgris is fully operational, I have begun the healing of the entire planet. Everything the Moth left behind has already been removed. The tunnels they bored are refilling, the machines they moved are being replaced. Lyrgris has been set into motion, and will cruise the Cooee in the same manner that Engris does now."

"About that," Kippy said. "Is there any chance that Lyrgris could be used as a sort of haven, like Engris is now?'

The Madracorn laughed. "Lyrgris is identical to Engris, save that the spirit domes here will never be operational. Lyrgris will now also seek out those in need, which will guarantee that it will soon be found by many."

"Maybe we should put in a claim now," Ricky said eagerly. "Get us a spot to build a villa before the rush starts."

Eseffa laughed again. "As with Engris, there will be only one place that ships of space will be allowed to land. It is a large, circular port, just as exists on Engris, and it is there where any settlers that come will build a first city, just as they have done on Engris. I would be happy to erect a suitable structure for you there now. Let those that follow build around you."

"That would be amazing," Adrian said. But then he blinked uncertainly. "I mean, if it's not too much trouble."

"It is no trouble at all. It is our feeling that you have earned your places on both Engris and Lyrgris. I will see to it immediately."

Horace came to stand beside Charlie. "Touch and go there, for a minute or two."

"It was. We got lucky. Again."

Kippy reached out and patted Charlie's arm. "It's not just luck, Charlie. It's skwish."

Charlie laughed at that. "Whatever works. I'm just glad we made it. I was worried a couple of times there."

"I was not really worried," Horace said. "At least, not until that incredible wave of whatever it was knocked me off my feet. That sort of scared me. But then it was all over so fast, and we had won."

Kippy turned to look at Casper. "Thank Casper for that. And Sefton."

"It was good that Sefton was able to react so quickly," Ragal said, from nearby. Charlie smiled, remembering how excellent Ragal's hearing happened to be. "For I was somewhat stunned by the concussion wave that struck us in the aftermath of Max squelching that awful disruptor grenade. I actually did not foresee that happening."

"Nobody's perfect, Ragal," Charlie kidded.

"Is that what that was?" Adrian asked, sounding impressed. "A disruptor grenade?" He turned to look at Max. "I'll bet it would have really been bad if you hadn't stopped it."

"I was sorta busy," Max said. "Them trigger-happy Moth was firing their rifles all over the place. That grenade was an unwelcome addition."

Charlie walked over and patted the elf on the shoulder. "By the way, thanks. That Moth trooper looked like he really intended to shoot me."

"He wouldn't have been able to," Max said, grinning. "But it wasn't me that took his rifle away from him and heaved it. Kip did that."

A stunned silence dropped into place as everyone stared at Kippy.

"Me?" Kippy looked the most surprised of all. "I did that?"

"Yes, you. I told you guys you were gaining in power. This was just another talent that showed up because you thought you needed it."

Kippy put his hands on his hips and glared. "I did need it. That Moth turd was going to shoot Charlie!"

Charlie moved closer and put his arm around Kippy's waist. "About this stuff with you jumping in front of me when someone aims a gun my way. That was incredibly wonderful of you...but don't ever do it again."

Kippy pouted at that. "I thought he was going to shoot you."

"And you thought it would be better for me if he shot you instead?"


Charlie turned his boyfriend towards him and laid his forehead against Kip's. "It would have killed me just as dead to have lost you."

"Oh, Charlie."

Max sighed. "You guys are somethin'." He smiled then. "Kip, we'll work on your new talent. There will be more from all of you coming, I think. But for now...I say we all head back to Engris and finish that vacation we started. What do you say?"

"Works for me," Charlie said quietly, smiling into Kippy's eyes.

"Um...yeah," Kippy said softly, smiling back.

Eseffa waved a hand around the crystalline chamber. "Everything here is now in order. The interior of Lyrgris is now shielded from prying eyes, the planet is on the move, and I can return to Jorli. Max, you can teleport everyone back?"

"Sure. I'll take us right back to that room in back of Mertril's shop where we ate before we left. No problem."

"Then I will see that the shuttle returns to Engris on its own. Thank you all for your part in this. We owe you a debt of gratitude for safeguarding our portal into this continuum, and for securing the safety of all those that call Engris home."

"We try," Ricky said, grinning.

Eseffa smiled around at them again. "If you ever need our assistance, you need only visit the control chamber on either world. We are unable to come to the surfaces of either planet, but we can always be contacted there. So for now, farewell."

The Madracorn faded to a mist, returned to his hole in the floor, and both vanished.

"I could use something to eat," Max said then. "Gather around, you guys, and I'll get us back to Engris."

Zistha had come and taken their orders, the food had arrived, and now their bellies were full. Mertril had been unaware that they had even left the room, just figuring that their conference was an unusually long one. But after a while she beeped Durapar on the control console, and asked how much longer they would need the big tasting room.

"I have a party of Um'zoomth coming later in the day, and I don't think they'll all fit in any of the smaller rooms."

"We will be done shortly," Durapar assured her. "Go ahead and schedule your party." He cut off the com then and smiled his goofy smile around at them. "She's a good friend. I don't want to put her out when it comes to her business."

"It was a great meal." Max said, patting his belly. "I could get fond of this place in a real hurry!"

Durapar looked pleased. "I'm so happy that this turned out so well. I never thought that odd vision of a distant room would ever yield such a fascinating journey."

"We all learned a lot," Charlie said. "About Engris, especially. And meeting the Madracorn was worth the whole thing." He laughed then. "And, it was especially cool to learn that the Moth aren't quite the super bad guys we thought they were. I think we scared them pretty good!"

"We did," Ragal agreed. "It just goes to show that people are much the same all over."

"Never thought I'd see a Moth running away," Ricky agreed. "They don't seem so scary now."

Kippy leaned closer in his chair and pushed his shoulder against Charlie's. "Did you get the impression that Eseffa and Jorli were a pair?"

Charlie laughed at that. "Well, they did seem to be happy working together. I did sense that they were both guys, but I certainly don't know that for sure."

"Well, I felt it. They felt like Billy and Will, when they're together. Two people, one heart."

Charlie laughed at that. "I'll take your word for it."

"You'd better, Charlie Boone!"

Kippy leaned his head over then and offered a kiss, which Charlie accepted joyfully.

Kippy let it go on for a bit, and then giggled. "I was thinking."

"I'm not surprised. About what?"

Kippy drew back, his eyes smiling at Charlie. "You think Durapar has ever seen fireworks?"

"Probably not. Are you thinking of inviting him back to Myer's Hill for the show?"

"I was sort of considering it."

Charlie shrugged. "We'd have to ask Max if it's okay. But I see no problem with inviting him."

"Um...Sefton, too? And Ragal and Casper? And certainly Horace!"

"Yes. Certainly Horace."

Kippy sighed, and rubbed his face against Charlie's cheek. "I love you, Charlie."

"I love you, too, Kip. Always and forever."

Kippy sighed. "I love fireworks. I love what they do to the sky. And I love the sky, too. It's such's like a mirror, you know?"

Charlie considered that, and then nodded. "I can see that. When I look up at the stars, I see us. You, me, Rick and Adrian. All our friends out there. The places we've been, the places we want to go, and all the things we've done. All of it, everywhere, everywhen. A reflection of what we are and who we are."

Kippy laughed. "That's exactly what I meant, too. See? You and I do think a lot alike."

Charlie laughed. "Scary, isn't it?"

Kippy drew back and sighed. "So we can ask them?"


Kippy squeaked happily and jumped to his feet, and went directly to Max to ask him. The elf listened a moment, and then his eyes moved to touch Charlie's, and the smile they held was clear. Then Max looked up at Kippy and nodded.

Kippy returned, looking happy.

"He said 'yes'?" Charlie asked.

"He said 'yes'."

Charlie waved a hand around at those seated at the table. "Then ask them."

Kippy stood and raised his hands to get everyone's attention, and Charlie sat back in his chair and smiled.

He and his boyfriend did think alike. Share the wealth. Something for everyone. What's the Fourth of July without fireworks?

And friends to share them.

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