Charlie Boone

by Geron Kees

Elementary, My Dear Charlie Boone! - Chapter 5

"This is Nara," Hendrik said, as the woman entered the room. "She's a teleporter. She will take us to the portal."

The woman was young, with red hair and bright green eyes. She appraised the group of people before her with a calculating stare, and then nodded. "A lot of people to move at one time, but I think I can do it."

"Will we be going far?" Robin asked.

Hendrik smiled at him. "I hope you won't mind if we keep some things secret from you for now. I have to obey the rules and laws of my people in this matter."

"I don't mind, actually. Um...I think it only fair to alert you beforehand that I am a teleporter as well, and that once I am taken to your portal, I will always be able to go back again on my own."

Hendrik frowned at that momentarily, but then shrugged. "Rules are one thing, and trust another. Ilessa has never been wrong before. We'll leave it at that." He turned to Nara. "We're in a hurry, please."

The woman nodded and waved her hands for everyone to come closer. "Gather around, please. The tighter, the better."

Charlie joined the others in circling Nara. The room blurred, and then they were all standing in a large chamber. Charlie looked around, taking in the compact forms of machinery arranged in a circle in the center of the room. Outside the circle, a large number of crates and containers were neatly stacked, as if awaiting their moment for transport.

"The crux of the matter, I would say," Robin stated. "I believe we've arrived, my dear Boone."

"I would say, my dear Hood," Charlie agreed, looking around.

Arrived now, their group moved apart, seeking breathing room. The tendency to gawk a little seemed universal, even Ragal staring with interest at the mysteriously humming machinery.

Kippy nudged Charlie, his eyes full of interest. "I expected some kind of tunnel, or something."

Nara, nearby, turned to look at them. "Actually, the interface is a point, not.a true opening as you might imagine." She smiled, and headed towards a group of people coming to meet them.

Ragal and Casper moved back to Charlie's side. "Quite an operation. I don't believe this sort of technology had been achieved, even in the old galactic empires."

Charlie was surprised to hear that. "How do you account for that? These people are only a century or two ahead of our Earth's technology."

"I would say that no else has ever had a pressing need to move between realities. This one was always quite large enough to keep people happy. The theories on alternate realities were well-understood, but no one seemed interested in visiting one."

"This machine is working well," Casper whispered. "I sense its contentment."

"How can a machine be content?" Adrian asked, looking amazed.

Casper laughed his little hamster laugh, which always made Charlie smile. "Machines display the same signs of distress that living things do, when they aren't operating properly. This one is doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing, and doing it well."

Ricky grunted. "Since it has to take us to an alternate reality, I hope so!"

The group of people reached them, and Hendrik and Ilessa brought them over to where Charlie's group was standing. "This is Dr. Izari and her staff," Hendrik explained. "They operate the probability index on this end."

Dr. Izari's dark eyes appraised them a moment, and then turned back to Hendrik. "They'll all be going?"

Hendrik turned to Robin questioningly. Robin smiled at Charlie, who nodded.

"Yes. We'll all be going," Robin told the man.

Hendrik offered a faint smile at the exchange. "I am not able to go with you. I am responsible for this place, and cannot leave. Ilessa will accompany you, in my stead."

Dr. Izari cleared her throat softly, as if asking for their attention. "I have several critical items I was about to dispatch home. Will it be alright with you if we send them at the same time?"

"I don't see why not," Hendrik replied. He turned back to Robin. "A few containers will be placed inside the circle with you. You won't need to concern yourself with them. A crew will be standing by at home to receive them."

"Not an issue," Robin said.

Horace leaned closer to Ilessa. "How does this thing work?"

The woman used a hand to indicate the circle of machines at the center of the room. "The portal was established from the other side. The main index in our reality keeps it open. The equipment here simply balances the transfer from this end to the other, and serves as an anchor in your reality to keep the index from drifting. We will simply step within the circle, and be moved from one reference frame to the next. The room in our reality looks much like this one. From there we can act as needed."

A group of men and women in coveralls appeared and began using motorized hand trucks to quickly move several large crates and containers inside the circle of machines.

"We're almost ready," Dr. Izari told Hendrik. "Once the crew is finished placing the cargo, all those awaiting transfer can step within the circle, and we can proceed."

Charlie had a brief sensation that things were moving too quickly now. What were they about to get themselves into? He turned, looking for Keerby, and found the elf nearby, watching him. Taking Kip by the arm, he moved away from the others and closer to where Keerby was standing. "What do you think of all this?"

The elf's eyes quickly surveyed the ring of equipment, and he nodded. "Pretty impressive."

Charlie laughed softly. "I mean, about moving to this other reality? If something happened to the machines, could you get us back here?"

"Oh, I think so. I'm in contact with Blinken right now. Hernackis move between realities routinely. He's sort of saying this one would be easy, because our reality and this other one have been so recently linked." The elf briefly glanced at Hendrik and Dr. Izari, who were watching the crates being moved, and then leaned closer to Charlie. "I let Max know what's going on. He's letting others at home know. Blinken can move them to this new reality in a hurry, if he has to."

Charlie frowned at that. "I would think he would want to come now."

Keerby briefly pinched his lips together, and then shook his head. "Max says you have this situation in hand."

Charlie's eyebrows bounced upwards. "I sure don't feel like I have it in hand!"

Kippy bumped his shoulder against Charlie's. "Let's wait and see. Don't go getting all nervous on me now!"

Charlie blinked at his boyfriend, and then smiled. "I am not nervous. I am scared. There's a difference!"

Kippy laughed, and hugged Charlie's shoulder. "We'll be okay."

Charlie nodded. "I think so, too. Things are just moving at a little bit of a blur right now, is all. When it gets going this fast, I have trouble keeping up."

Kippy rolled his eyes. "You say that every time we face danger, and then you go in and kick someone's ass."

Charlie grinned. "I would never kick anyone's ass. I just think that danger is not to be ignored, is all. I'm just remembering how easily Pyewacket tossed us into another reality, and how hard it was for Keerby to get us back home."

"I was just learning then," Keerby reassured. "Blinken has taught me a lot since."

"I know. I'm just thinking that we may be up against a lot of these dark energy creatures. It's a little unsettling, is all."

"You think too much," Kippy said, a gleam of laughter in his eyes. "You should just play dumb, like Ricky does."

"I heard that!" Ricky said, as he and Adrian drew up beside them. "What the heck is going on over here? And what am I being dumb about this time, Kip?"

Adrian laughed. "Be careful how you answer that!"

Kippy showed his teeth in a smile. "Oh, I was just taking the opportunity to pull your tail, sweetie. I saw you and Adrian coming over out of the side of my eyes."

"Can anyone be a part of this traveling zoo?" Robin said, joining them.

Charlie squeezed his eyes shut a moment, and then smiled. "Always room for another like soul."

Horace came over then, followed by Ragal, Casper, and Durapar.

"See!" The Andaleesian said, pointing. "I told you we were missing something important!"

Charlie sighed. "Okay, okay." He turned to Keerby again. "Any suggestions?"

The elf nodded. "Horace, I would appreciate it if you'd stay close to me. Your sensitivity to dark energy beings seems to be different than mine. I want every chance to see them coming."

The older man nodded. "I can do that." He looked around the room, and sighed. "I already feel that one watching us again. Or trying to. He's afraid, for some reason."

Keerby smiled tightly. "He knows I can see he's up to no good. And he senses my link with Blinken. Hernackis are at the top of the energy being food chain. The lowlife ones are scared of them."

Charlie had to smile at the very idea of a lowlife energy being! But it settled some of his unrest, and he nodded. "I don't know how much time we'll have when we get there. According to what you said, Kip, they want to try to keep us from getting there at all."

Kippy raised his shoulder slightly, and gave a little shudder. "I just hope these guys hurry!"

The crew moving crates finished then, and Ilessa came to join them. "Time to go. Just follow me into the center of the circle. The transfer will be immediate."

She started off, and Robin and Charlie led the way after her.

"Once more into the breach, my dear Boone," he said conversationally. "Time to imitate the actions of the tiger."

Charlie laughed at that. "I wish it were just a Shakespeare play I was worrying about right now."

"We'll be fine. My senses have a way of telling me when the odds are too great to attempt something. The centuries of my life have taught me to listen to them."

Charlie looked over at the man. "Really? You feel the odds are in our favor on this one?"

Robin took a deep breath and let it out. "Slightly better than fifty-fifty, in our favor."

Charlie stared a moment. "And that doesn't worry you?"

"No. It means the odds are still in our favor. That's enough for me. Chance favors the prepared mind, and all that."

"I don't think Pasteur was referring to fighting energy beings."

Robin smiled. "He was referring to observation, which I am now doing."

Charlie laughed. "Pasteur also advised not to let skepticism taint your thoughts. So, I guess I'll go along with your opinion at the moment."

Robin sighed happily. "Dueling with you is a pleasure, my dear Boone."

Charlie grinned. "Happy to oblige, my dear Hood."

They reached the circle of machines, and Ilessa led them to the center.

She turned then, and nodded at someone behind them. "Now."

The lights around them blinked, and their ears were suddenly assailed by the warble of an alarm of some kind. Charlie noticed then that the piles of crates and containers beyond the machines were gone, and that the roof of the chamber seemed much higher all of a sudden. And then he realized it was not the same chamber!

Ilessa turned to them, her eyes wide with alarm. "The mountain is under attack!"

Keerby pushed his way closer to Charlie, Horace in tow. "They're all around us! But they can't seem to come directly at us!"

"There are shields in place," Illessa said. "They were developed to keep the energy beings from entering the mountain complex. So far they have always worked well."

"Well, it sounds like they're under siege now!" Horace returned.

A woman raced towards them then, waving her hands at Ilessa. "Quickly! This way!"

Ilessa wasted no time arguing. "Follow me!" And then she took off at run, after the woman.

Charlie grabbed Kip's arm and followed, and the entire group set off at a run. Charlie felt a faint shudder run through the floor beneath his feet, and that only added to his speed.

They exited the circle of machines and ran towards the opening of a brightly-lit corridor. They entered that, and the two women ran only a few more paces before stopping at a doorway. The two massive doors pulled to each side, and they entered a large room with people seated at consoles covered with moving pictures and diagrams. A set of large windows looked back into the chamber they had just left, with the circle of machines that formed the portal at the center.

People glanced up at them as they hurried past, but no one seemed overly excited or afraid. Instead, they all looked grimly determined, and their actions seemed sure and practiced as they worked at their consoles. This was obviously a place that had seen and handled trouble before.

Ilessa took them to the center of the room, where a circular metal table stood under a soft light. The surface of the table ebbed and flowed as information and pictures moved before the four people bent over it, observing. There were no chairs to sit in - this table was plainly meant to be stood around and worked over.

A man looked up at them as they arrived, and smiled. "Ilessa! Bone revidi vin!"

The woman smiled in return. "Could you speak English, Verda? My friends here do not all speak Esperanto."

"Surely." The man stood straight, his eyes looking over the group. "I am Director Karn, in charge of the mountain complex."

"We're inside a mountain?" Robin asked.

"Yes. The Cheyenne Mountain Complex. I believe it exists in your reality, as well."

Charlie stared at the man a moment, and then looked around again with renewed interest. He had read about the massive military complex, built beneath the triple-peaked mountain in Colorado and capable of withstanding a direct hit by a nuclear warhead. It had long been the home of NORAD - the North American Aerospace Defense Command, an air force facility. He looked around at the people before the consoles, none of whom were in uniform. They were all comfortably dressed in similar gray coveralls, but there was no insignia of any kind present.

"This doesn't look like a military base," he said, automatically.

Karn nodded. "It's not. Nor was it built at the same time, nor for the same reasons as the facility in your reality. There was never much of a threat of nuclear warfare here."

"This place was built to defend against the dark ones," Ilessa supplied. "And to defend against the rogue members of our own kind." The last was said with a grim sadness that could not be missed.

Ilessa smiled then. "But where are my manners?" She introduced everyone, and then pointed out Robin to Director Karn. "That one is the leader." She then smiled at Charlie. "But that one is his chief advisor."

Robin smiled briefly at that, but said nothing. Instead he nodded at the director. "What's happening here?"

"The complex is under attack. The dark ones are trying to wrench us into another reality, something they have tried before. But the very nature of the probability index forbids that. It acts like an anchor with the mass of a world to hold us here, in this reality. Only if the index is shut down can they move us. So they attack the power sources, which are spread around the complex to keep them from being damaged all at once."

"We have shielding that limits their interaction with matter inside the base," Ilessa explained. "Being immaterial creatures, they require the manipulation of energy to accomplish physical goals. They attempt to form material manipulators - hands, if you will - from energy, to enable them to attack the systems inside the complex. Our shields ground their attempts to use energy manipulators, and prevent that. These same shields bend the gravity around us just enough that attempts to teleport matter inside fail. They act as a mirror, returning anything teleported inside to where it originated. These defenses have been a source of frustration for them for decades now."

Charlie frowned at that, and turned to Kippy. "Didn't you say the probability index was in danger now?"

Kippy nodded vigorously. "It is. And I feel that danger is getting greater!"

Director Karn looked concerned at that. "These are powerful users, Ilessa. I can sense that. But are they accurate?"

"I think they are. Their warnings should be heeded."

The man cast a last look at Kip's determined expression, and turned to one of the others at the table. "Bryer, heighten the alert. Deploy fighters to every room of the base. Leave no system undefended."

"As you say, Director."

Charlie marveled at the speed with which these people reacted. Like the elves at home, the people of this world had skwish in spades, and trusted and depended on what their powers told them. It was amazing to see people reacting so efficiently, without the worries and doubts that might have plagued his own kind at home. This was why Hendrik and Ilessa had accepted them so readily from the start. It was damn hard to hide from skwish!

One of the men at a nearby console looked up. "Director, there is something funny going on in the number six power center."

Karn turned to look at him. "Have the defenders arrived yet?"

"They are getting there now. They report all clear at the moment."

"Then what are you referring to?"

The man frowned at his console. "The randomness of the gravitational shielding there seems to be decreasing."

Karn looked alarmed at that.

"What's that mean?" Kippy whispered to Ilessa.

"The random factor of the gravitational distortions to the shielding is what keeps the enemy from teleporting things inside. These energy beings can counter most any energy system, but they have to be able to synchronize with them to do so."

Kippy gasped. "That's it! They'll be coming in there!"

Adrian spoke up then. "He's right!"

Keerby pointed at Ilessa. "Can you take us there?"

"Yes. Director?"


Ilessa waved a hand at Charlie and the others, and then turned back towards the corridor.

The room, when they arrived, was another large one. They entered onto a balcony that ran above the main floor. A row of hefty machines in steel cases hummed efficiently below them, while a dozen or so people in gray body armor and carrying short rifles walked alertly among them. Also present were a number of small, squat machines on wheels, that looked to be bristling with weapons. If they were supposed to be tanks, they were far too small to contain people.

"Robotic," Ilessa explained, at Charlie's question. "But heavily armed. We all became registered on the complex's security system upon arrival, and are marked as 'friendlies', so they will not fire on us."

"That's good to know," Ricky said, a touch of acid in his voice. "Who are the guys in gray?"

"Defenders. They're as close as we get to a military here."

Ricky nodded. "They look up to the job."

"Oh, they are."

Horace made a small sound then, and raised a hand to his forehead. "They're coming."

Robin frowned at that, even as a series of red lights came on overhead, accompanied by the wail of an alarm. Robin swore then, and raised his fists as if ready to fight. "Teleporters!"

Even Charlie felt the sudden peculiar shift in the way the room felt. Until then he had only been slightly aware of an energetic quality that pervaded the place, something that seemed an unseen counterpart to the steady hum of the power plants below. But while that sound continued unabated, the air of the room seemed to swirl about them and then just go flat. A sudden feeling of stillness inhabited the room then, totally apart from sound, but that somehow muted even the ready growl of the generators. Kippy and Adrian both took startled breaths then, and Kippy had barely raised a hand to point when several things happened at one time.

A circle of light appeared at the end of the room, and people in red body armor began to appear in groups. They were all armed with the same sort of short rifles as the Defenders, and immediately opened fire. In an instant the room was filled with a deadly hissing sound as the two groups exchanged fire. The small robotic tanks surged forward towards the people in red, their own multiple weapons systems unleashed. Tiny explosions appeared on the surface of the red warrior's body armor, and they began to go down in numbers.

Charlie sensed someone close by, and turned. Keerby plucked at his sleeve then. "This is a diversion! They're after us! We have to get out of this room now!"

Charlie didn't even have time to answer before another circle of light appeared up on the balcony with them, and more people in red armor appeared only a dozen feet away!

They immediately raised their weapons and pointed them at Charlie and his group...

Robin yelled and swung a hand, and the entire first two rows of the new group were swept over the rail of the balcony. Keerby jumped forward and raised his hands, even as those red warriors in the rear opened fire. More hissing sounds filled the room, and a collection of tiny dots appeared in the air in front of them and hung there. Charlie realized then that these were whatever sort of ammunition the rifles fired, stopped dead and immobilized by the shield Keerby had erected between them.

Kippy also swung his hands, and more of the red warriors were bowled over backwards. Something huge and ugly bounded past Charlie then, a monster in every sense of the word, that arrived among the red warriors in three great leaps. Charlie heard the shrieks of horror from the invaders as Casper's illusory terror waded in among them, sweeping long-taloned hands back and forth in blurs of reptilian motion. The motions corresponded with both Kip's and Robin's own efforts, so that each group of the red invaders swept over the balcony railing seemed a result of the monster's attack.

There was a brief flash, and one of the red invaders lit up as a small, directed bolt of lightning hit him. And then another man went down, and another, as Adrian poured his power into the fray.. The circle of light beyond the red warriors pulsed and danced as even more of the invaders appeared, throwing the balcony into a stark light of unearthly flavor that seemed like something out of a special effects movie. Charlie looked down at the floor below them, and realized that an unending stream of attackers were pouring into the room. The circle of light in front of them seemed also to have no finite end, as more and more attackers appeared in the room,

At this rate, they would soon be overwhelmed!

The circles of light were the key. These were the entrance tunnels in the shielding that the energy beings had created. They needed to be dealt with, and now!

Charlie closed his eyes, summoning the second presence from the well deep within himself, and propelling it towards the circle of light. It appeared to jump closer, and then he was within it. But what had at first appeared to be a tunnel of some sort proved not to be that at all. Instead, he became conscious of a sort of shell behind him, vast, tough, and impregnable. This, then, was the shield that protected the mountain complex. The circle of light was simply a hole, a place where great forces had converged to smash the randomness of the shield into a sort of order that could be breached.

But who had such power?

Charlie cast about looking, and quickly sensed the presence of others. But not human others. These were...boojums!

Three,, five of them, merged somehow into one super-boojum in action. Delicate threads of energy extended from the merged entity towards the shield, and these were certainly the energetic artifices through which the boojums had negated the screen. The combined energy beings radiated an almost palpable glee at their own cleverness, along with a satisfaction that now they would finally conquer the base and kill all those within.

They seemed totally unaware of Charlie's second presence floating nearby, or that he was both watching them and sensing their thoughts and intentions. They continued to bubble with dark happiness at the destruction they were enabling, and simply radiated a contempt for both their human tools and the human opponents they were after. All could die, and it would not faze these energy beings one bit. They were eternal, while humans were mortal. They would go on, long after all the humans were dead. And that was exactly what they intended.

It made Charlie furious to sense these things. The contempt for life was overwhelming! Here were the agents of evil that had been plundering the earth of this reality, who had been responsible for death and destruction on a scale unimaginable until now. And their reason for engaging in this warfare seemed to be nothing more than because they could. Charlie felt his heart pounding in fear and anger, wishing there was a way he could stop this. Wishing there was a way he could swat these enemies aside, and defeat them.

And then something Ilessa had said earlier returned to his thoughts.

Being immaterial creatures, they require the manipulation of energy to accomplish physical goals. They attempt to form material manipulators - hands, if you will - from energy, to enable them to attack the systems inside the complex...

A momentary bout of dizziness overcame Charlie as his second presence swelled around him. Something was happening, something he was not prepared for. Whatever it was, it taxed the very limits of his powers. For a moment he teetered on the edge of failure...and then suddenly felt another presence nearby.

"I'm here," Ricky's voice came to him. "Let's get them, Charlie!"

An influx of added power surged throughout Charlie's second presence, and he felt the sides of himself somehow bulging outwards. And then two monstrous arms reached out from either side of Charlie's immaterial presence; titanic, dark things, that rippled with sinews born of naked energy, and which were tipped with glittering talons of hardened light. They came at the combined boojum from two sides, far larger and darker than those creatures ever would be. Came at them...and then stopped, just short of contact. All that was needed was just a slight push, and...

Charlie took an immaterial breath, and smiled. "Hey, you!"

The dark mass ahead swirled in consternation as the combined boojum became aware of Charlie's presence. Shock and fear washed over him as they sensed the huge arms circled around them, and then a fury and hate washed over Charlie like he had never felt before.

It energized him, and he brought the two great arms together in a blur of motion.

The void ahead lit up with the light of an exploding sun, but the flash fled past Charlie without dazzling him in the least. A terrifying and terrified howl assailed him then, a shriek of pure fear as the arms grabbed the combined boojum and ripped and shredded it into millions of disassociated bits of starlight. The streams of photons, wrapped in eerily glowing lightnings, fled in every direction away from the boojum as its size diminished in veritable leaps and bounds of dissipated energy.

Charlie showed no mercy, tearing and sundering until there was nothing left to tear and sunder. The last flows of photons fled into the distance, and a strange sort of echo, as of vanishing thunder, trailed briefly behind and then died. The darkness returned, and with it a sense of peace.

"You did it!" Ricky said, his thought-voice filled with excitement. "You won! The circles of light, they're--"

But Rick's voice inside Charlie mind suddenly vanished then.

Charlie, still in a little bit of shock over what had just happened, now allowed his second presence to retreat, to return to his body. He opened his eyes, and found himself back on the balcony. The circle of light on their level had vanished. So had the one below. Those red warriors on the balcony with them were all fallen, lifeless. A few of the red warriors in the hall below remained now, trapped, and unable to teleport out. Even as he watched, several of them dropped their weapons and placed their gloved hands on their helmets.

Keerby appeared at Charlie's side, looking absolutely amazed. "What on earth did you do? Charlie! You're a boojum handler!"

Charlie, still a little stunned, simply stared at his friend. "A whatsum whosum?"

Keerby grabbed him and hugged him. "Charlie, that was wonderful! I couldn't have done half as good, even with Blinken's help!"

Charlie blinked his eyes, still not all the way back to himself...

And then he became aware of the scene behind Keerby. Adrian was down on his knees, his face in his hands, while Kippy knelt beside him, his arms around his friend. Horace and Casper and Ragal and Durapar were clustered close by, each with a hand on Adrian's shoulders. Robin stood off to one side, talking to a very unhappy-looking Ilessa.

It took Charlie a moment for all those things to register. And then another moment to realize who was missing.


"What happened?" Charlie said then, grabbing at Keerby and pushing him away. "Where's Ricky?"

The elf's look of joy faded. "I think he's been captured, Charlie."

Charlie stared at his friend. "You think? Where is he?"

Keerby gave a little sigh. "When you tore the boojum to pieces, the holes the enemy made in the shield to enter started to fail. A few of the invaders fled. But two of them disappeared, and reappeared behind our people. I took one out, but the other managed to throw his arms around Rick and teleport out with him."

Charlie felt a wash of fear at that. "They took him?"

"I'm afraid so. But look, Charlie. They can't hurt him. I couldn't quite stop the guy that took him, but I was able to encase Rick in a personal shield before they were gone. They can't lay a finger upon him."

Charlie nodded, and pushed past Keerby. He went straight to Adrian, and dropped to his knees before his friend, and gently took the boy's arms and pulled his hands away from his face. Charlie's heart nearly broke then, at the anguish he saw there.

"Listen to me," Charlie said, softly. "We'll get him back, okay? You hear me?"

Adrian nodded. "Oh, Charlie!"

Charlie nodded, and bent forward to hug the other boy. Kippy wrapped an arm around Charlie, and the three of them remained still a moment, sharing Adrian's grief.

"He'll be okay," Kippy whispered into Charlie's ear. "Keerby said he put some kind of shield around Rick at the last second. They won't be able to hurt him."

"He told me," Charlie acknowledged. "But it's small consolation."

Charlie kissed Adrian on the cheek, and then got to his feet and headed to where Robin and Ilessa stood.

"Charlie..." Robin began.

Charlie raised a hand to cut him off. "It's not your fault. We're big boys, and we knew what we were getting into." He turned to Ilessa, and then pointed into the hall below. "You captured some of their people. I want to talk to them."

"They're teleporters," Ilessa told him. "And they may have other talents. They will not be allowed to leave the room below while conscious. Even though the shield is back in place now and they cannot leave, they will not be allowed to see any more of the base."

"I don't care about that," Charlie returned. "I just want to talk to them."

Ilessa watched him a moment, and then nodded. "I can arrange it. Will you give me a few minutes, please?"

"Yes. But I'm going to talk to them, whether I get permission or not."

The woman nodded, and moved away from them. "I'll be back in a moment."

"I'm so sorry about Rick," Robin said, his expression tight. "It happened very quickly."

Charlie shrugged. "It's not your fault, Robin. It's not Keerby's fault - it's not anybody's fault. It just happened. What I'm concerned with now is getting him back."

"I would have followed them, Charlie, but those rings of light closed, and I couldn't teleport out."

Charlie stared at the man. "Followed them? How? You didn't know where they were going."

Robin licked his lips. "I can actually grab onto a teleport and follow it."

"You never mentioned this before!"

The man winced. "I know. It's actually incredibly dangerous to hitch a ride on someone else's teleport. But you had to know I could do this. If you remember, I followed you all back to your ship the second time we met."

"That was my second presence you followed!"

"Same sort of link, Charlie." Robin sighed. "We can talk about this later. We need to focus on finding Ricky and rescuing him."

Charlie closed his eyes. "I can't believe this happened. He was helping me with the boojums. It probably didn't leave him enough attention here to see what was happening around him."

"Well, at least they can't hurt him. I caught a glimmer of the shield that Keerby whipped around Rick at the last second, and it's a doozy." Robin forced a smile. "With a little practice, I think I can replicate it."

Charlie managed a weak smile of his own. "I want to talk to the prisoners. They may know where Rick was taken."

"Good idea. What did Ilessa say?"

"That she would try to arrange it. But even if she can't, I'm going to do it."

Robin frowned. "I think they'll allow it. After all, we saved this place for them. Or, you did." Robin's eyes examined Charlie curiously. "Um, about what you did to the boojums...we all felt it happen."

Charlie was amazed by that. "You could see it?"

"Well, no. But we could feel it. Inside." Robin smiled. "Remind me to stay on your good side, Charlie."

Charlie shook his head. "I had no idea it would happen, and even now couldn't tell you what I did. And without Rick's help, I might not have been able to do it at all."

Robin drew back at that. "Really?" But then he smiled. "It doesn't matter, Charlie. Done one time, it's a talent that's yours now. The first time I hid myself with that perfect disguise of mine you like so much, it was by accident. I was being hunted, and very much did not want to be caught by the king's men. And, it just sort of came to me."

Charlie sighed. "It is a damn good way to not be seen." He frowned, thinking. "I tore that boojum to pieces. Five of them, actually. They were combined into one somehow. I was so mad at what they were thinking, I just lit into them."

Robin extended a hand and placed on Charlie's shoulder. "Anger is a great motivator. But it should be used...sparingly."

"I know." Charlie smiled. "Thanks."

Ilessa returned then. "I have permission for you to talk to the captives. If you'll follow me below?"

They formed a group and went to the end of the balcony, where a staircase descended into the big hall below. The Defenders stood in an alert posture around the captives, who had been divested of their armor and now sat in a group on the floor, their hands on their heads. The captives watched them come with stony expressions on their faces, while only one of the Defenders turned to greet them. "Ilessa. Longe, ne vidas!"

"In English, please, Rafael." But the woman leaned forward and smiled. "It's good to see you again, too."

"I'm told you wish to speak with the prisoners."

Ilessa turned to indicate Charlie and Robin. "These two will do the questioning."

If the defender thought that unusual, he did not show it. "The prisoners may not speak English. They're from outside, remember."

Ilessa nodded. "I can translate, if needed, though this one speaks Esperanto well." She smiled at Robin.

The one called Rafael nodded, and asked that they follow him closer to the seated captives. There were six of them, all looking quite unhappy at the moment. Yet they also showed no fear, and if any emotion could be ascribed to them, it seemed to be contempt for their captors.

"We have some questions," Ilessa announced to them, in Esperanto.

The six simply ignored her.

Ragal, slightly behind Charlie, leaned down to whisper into his ear. "I can help with this, I think."

Charlie nodded. "Go for it."

Ragal turned to Ilessa. "You must not be alarmed by anything you see or hear."

The woman looked surprised by that, but nodded. She then turned to the Defender, Rafael. "Hear that?"

The man grunted. "Whatever you do to them, it matters not to me."

The man's animosity toward the captives was plain. But, after a century of conflict, what else could be expected, Charlie thought.

Ragal nodded, and simply stepped past Charlie, into the group of seated captives, where he reached down and snatched one up by an arm and hauled him upwards to his feet...and then off them. The man squirmed in shock and fear as Ragal one-handedly jerked the man up to his level, so that their faces were merely inches apart.

The human face Ragal wore contorted into something frightening, and the tall alien emitted a hiss that made Charlie's hair stand on end. Ragal turned then, and walked with the man, dangling from one arm, back to them, and stood him on his feet in front of Charlie and Robin.

Robin, without missing a beat, smiled pleasantly at the stunned captive, and said in Esperanto, "La sinjorino diris, ke ni havas kelkajn demandojn!" The lady said we have some questions!

Despite his obvious alarm now, the captive again said nothing. But he was not ignoring them, either.

Robin sighed. "I can make this easy, or I can make this difficult."

Charlie saw the light of comprehension in the man's eyes, and knew that he could at least make out what was being said to him. "He understands English."

The man grimaced at him, another confirmation. Charlie leaned closer. "One of our people was captured in your raid. We want to know where he was taken."

A stubborn look appeared on the captive's face, and he looked away, obviously unwilling to speak.

"He won't talk," Rafael said then. "They're all that way."

Ragal gave the man a shake, and then leaned down towards Casper and spoke to him in a language that Charlie could not understand. But he recognized the lengthy compound words as belonging to Casper's own tongue, and Casper's ready acknowledgement was proof that he understood.

Ragal smiled at Charlie. "We'll be right back."

He simply raised his arm again, taking the prisoner off his feet a second time, and then he and Casper walked away from them with the prisoner dangling in mid-air, and disappeared around the corner of one of the large generators. Charlie and Kip exchanged glances, each wondering what their two friends were up to. For a moment nothing happened...and then they heard a scream of pure fear and pain, and a weighty thunk as if something heavy had smashed to the ground.

Kip, next to Charlie, clamped a hand on his arm, but Charlie shook his head quickly at his boyfriend in warning. "Let them be," he whispered. "They know what they're doing."

Ragal reappeared again, the captive still dangling from one hand. Charlie gasped then; the captive's face was blue and purple, and blood poured from his nose and eyes. "How about now?" Ragal asked the man. "Ready to talk?"

The captive was plainly unconscious, and unable to respond. Ragal pulled him closer, looked into his face, and emitted an almost theatrical sigh. "That's not what I want to hear."

In a lightning-like move, he reached up with the other hand, grabbed the captive's other arm, and simply ripped it from his body. The sound was awful to hear, a wet and meaty crunch-and-pop of tearing muscle and breaking bone, and Ragal simply tossed the arm back behind the generator and out of sight. "How about now? Ready to talk?"

The seated group of prisoners were now staring in disbelief at what was happening. Blood was jetting from the torn socket, and Ragal sighed in apparent disgust and tossed the entire body out of sight behind the generator. He turned then, and came back to them.

"That one refused to talk," he said loudly. "I need another one."

The five remaining prisoners bolted to their feet, and might have run had not the circle of Defenders simply pointed their weapons squarely into the men's faces.

One of the men turned to Charlie and Robin. "Ni venis el Ĉikago! Via viro estis rekondukita tien!"

Robin smiled. "He said they came from Chicago, and that Rick would have been taken there."

Charlie leaned forward anxiously. "Where in Chicago?"

The man heard him, and waved a hand anxiously. "La malnova stadiono. Nia bazo estas ĉe Soldier Field!"

"He said their base is at Soldier Field." Robin frowned. "That's a stadium in our world."

"It was one in our world, too," Ilessa explained. "But it has been deserted for close to two centuries. The parts of Chicago not fortified into forts have been left to themselves for a long time now. They are filled with rot and disorder, and the criminal element of both sides."

Casper peeked out from behind the generator casing then. "Ragal? He's waking up now."

Ragal turned then, and strode back to the generator and disappeared around the corner. In a moment, he and Casper reappeared...along with the prisoner, once again dangling from Ragal's grip, but whole and totally unharmed!

The tall alien marched back to the group of prisoners and basically handed the one he had to the two closest ones. "He's your problem now."

Ilessa waved a hand at Rafael, who looked as stunned now as everyone else. "Remove them to a corner, and watch them!" The Defender nodded, and he and his men moved off with the shocked prisoners.

Ilessa shook her head at Charlie, her eyes finding Ragal, and then shying away from him. "What terrible power is this?"

"Illusion," Charlie said, smiling. "As you can see, the man was not harmed in any way."

"It was so real!"

"It was meant to be that way," Ragal returned, smiling. He turned his smile to Casper. "Wasn't it?"

Casper laughed his hamster laugh, causing even Ilessa to smile. "It was good enough to get what we needed!"

Ilessa still showed disbelief. "But was it good information?"

"I sensed it was the truth," Kippy spoke up. He sighed, and hugged Charlie's arm to his breast.

"I did, too," Adrian managed. "He's there, and we have to go and get him!"

Robin turned to Charlie. "So. Now we know where to go."

Charlie nodded, a sense of urgency taking hold of him now. "We need to get to Chicago," he told Ilessa. "Quickly."

She blew out a doubtful breath. "Our cities are incredibly dangerous places outside of the fortified areas. It won't be easy."

"It never is," Horace said quietly.

"We have to rescue Rick," Adrian repeated, adamantly.

"We will," Charlie reassured him. He grimaced at Robin. "What do you think?"

The man shrugged. "Soldier Stadium, huh? Fancy a game of football, my dear Boone?"

"Maybe, my dear Hood." Charlie sighed, and turned to Kip. "You know, I may just be ready now to kick someone's ass!"

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