Charlie Boone

by Geron Kees

Elementary, My Dear Charlie Boone! - Chapter 7

Ricky Travers paced slowly back and forth in the room his adversaries had chosen as his prison. It looked to have once been an equipment storage room of some sort, and while whatever had been stored here was long gone, the racks and shelves that had held those items remained. His two watchman sat on a low crate that had been hauled in just for that purpose, while nothing had been provided for Ricky's comfort. He didn't mind standing at all, feeling that it kept him more able to react to anything that might happen. And, after talking to Charlie and knowing that his friends were on their way, he was filled with too much nervous energy now to just sit and stare at the wall, anyway.

Briefly, he felt again the feathery touch at the edge of his awareness, and knew the ghosts had come back to look him over. The boojums. He sensed their curiosity, and their alarm at him even being there at all. And, especially, he sensed their worry over the very effective shielding that Keerby had provided to protect him. Ricky got a sense of satisfaction from that. Elves were not people you trifled with, even if you were made of pure energy.

The touch came again, and he sensed a number of specific thrusts of some sort at his body; but each one glanced harmlessly aside. After a moment, the feathery touch moved away again.

Experimenting, he thought. And I'm the guinea pig!

Once again, he studied his two watchman. Or, the two current ones, as they switched at regular intervals. He was glad to be rid of the last pair - the one man, Gart, had been trigger happy, and had kept shooting at Ricky every time it looked like he was relaxing. Until one of the flechettes had ricocheted back and hit his buddy, Molin, or Mullen, or whatever, and left a small dimple in the front of his armor. There had been a heated exchange of words between the two in what Ricky presumed to be Esperanto, and Gart had settled back with a sullen expression on his face and not spoken again. Ricky had pegged the guy as a barroom brawler, the sort that liked to get drunk just so he could hit people. If he had to plow through one of the two in an escape attempt, Ricky wanted to make sure it was Gart he rolled over first.

But the two watchman he had now seemed far less temperamental. He hadn't caught their names because they had said very little, even to each other. He thought of them as Blondie and Red, for the color of their hair that was visible around the edges of their helmets. Apparently, warriors in the field didn't take time to get haircuts.

Blondie had simply watched Ricky for a time, and then tapped his buddy and closed his eyes. Red had nodded, and continued to watch Ricky, though with a sort of obvious detachment that suggested he was thinking about other things. But the pair had been non-threatening, giving more the impression that they were happy to be somewhere relatively safe for the moment than out in the streets being targets.

Rick looked around the room again, and hoped that the rescue would begin soon. Just standing here was getting old. He sighed. "This just sucks."

Over on the crate, Red looked up at him curiously. He glanced at Blondie, and seemed reassured by the man's slow breathing that he was asleep.

"You should've stayed 'ome," he said softly.

Rick's eyes snapped to the man as surprise filled him from head to toe. "You speak English?"

"Yah. Not a dead tongue t'all, least, not 'round 'ere."

Ricky nodded. "I would have stayed at home, if you people hadn't attacked us first."

Red narrowed his eyes at that. "You came 'ere. We dint go to you."

Ricky frowned at that. The man's English was clipped, some of the words not fully enunciated. But he was perfectly understandable. And his tone was a far cry from the bellicose mutterings of Gart.

Ricky took a breath, and calmed himself down. Actually, there was no advantage to talking to this guy. He had already seen the way those in red armor acted, and felt there was no use talking to them about anything. So, he let the silence drag on, while Red watched him thoughtfully.

"Good armor you got," the man finally said. "Can't see it, can't touch it, can't get through it." He smiled. "Wanna trade?"

For just a second, Ricky spied a human being there. He returned the smile. "I think I'll pass. You guys are too free with those rifles for my tastes."

Red looked down at the rifle laying across his legs, and then back at Ricky. "It's war."

Ricky shook his head at that. "Why?"

Red actually looked like he was considering that. But then he just shrugged. "Just is. Always been, in my life."

Ricky leaned forward. "You help the boojums against your own people."

The other man seemed confused by that. "Boojums?"

"Yes. The dark energy beings. You're helping them against your own people."

Red smiled at that. "Them? We dunt help them. They help us."

The difference seemed clear to Red, but it didn't change Ricky's perspective one iota. "It's all the same, isn't it? You and they are allies against your own kind."

Whatever answer Red had in mind, it was lost as a tremor of some kind ran through the floor beneath their feet. Blondie sat bolt upright, clutching his rifle; and then he and Red were on their feet

Ricky felt a familiar twinge at the edge of his awareness, and then there was a popping sound, and a man in red armor appeared in the room. Teleporter.

He stared at Ricky a moment, and then turned to the two others. "Ni estas atakitaj. Vi du devas observi la kaptiton. Ĉi tio povas esti ruzo por liberigi lin."

Another tremor ran through the floor, and Ricky thought he heard a noise of some kind in the distance. A very strange sound, too, almost animal in nature, like a roar of incredible proportions. But it was unlike anything Ricky had ever heard before.

Even though Ricky didn't understand the newcomer's words, the man's attitude was clear. Watch the prisoner!

The new arrival handed something to Red. "Do vi povas rigardi. Rekopio estos ĉi tie baldaŭ. La kaptito ne rajtas foriri!" And then he disappeared again with another pop.

Red glanced warily at Ricky, then took the device he'd been given and pushed something on it. Ricky caught the barest glimpse of what looked like rays of light emitting from the thing, and then a large rectangle of air turned into a white cloud, and an image formed on it.

The two men in red reared back in alarm, while Ricky just stared in amazement at the image floating in the air before them.

It was a view taken outside, under a milky moonlight. The camera seemed to be on the ground, and was looking toward a pair of dark, decrepit-looking skyscrapers that were masses of twisted girders at their top floors. Just passing them was an immense figure, reptilian in nature, walking on two legs, and almost as tall as the skyscrapers themselves. It took another step, and again a tremor vibrated past them underfoot. The behemoth opened its mouth, and another of the animal roars, much louder, reached their ears, The sound made Ricky's skin crawl, but underneath the awe he was feeling was the sure knowledge that this just had to be a part of the plan to rescue him. Still...

Ricky turned his attention inward. "Charlie?"

"Here, Rick."

"Charlie, there is a very large and very pissed-off looking monster coming right toward the stadium."

Charlie's voice carried an undercurrent of excitement when he answered. "You can see it?"

"A guy in red just popped up here and gave my two guards some kind of holo gizmo. It's showing a view outside, and it looks like something that escaped from a Japanese science fiction movie is coming right at us!"

Charlie laughed inside his head. "Great, isn't it! How are your guards reacting?"

"I would say they are not happy to see this thing!"

Another tremor raced through the floor beneath Rick's feet. On the holo image now, bright blue flashes of light illuminated the night as batteries of some sort focused their fire on the monster.

"Whoa! Are they shooting at it?"

"They sure are!" Charlie laughed. "Quick pulses from some sort of directed energy weapons. See the flashes on the monster's hide? Casper is making it look like they're bouncing off, while in reality they just pass right through the illusion."

Ricky understood then. "Oh! So, there's not really anything on that holo imager? We're just seeing this in our minds?"

"Yes. Robin and I are heading in now. Don't be surprised by anything else that happens, okay?"

Ricky laughed. "What could top this!"

He had to ask! Just then an alarmed voice spoke from the holo imager, and the view slewed to one side. Ricky joined his captors in leaning forward and staring at the new focus of the view, which was in a different direction than the skyscrapers and looked out across an open, paved area towards the harbor. Something was happening there...

Ricky stared. A large section of ground in the distance had humped upwards, like a giant blister. It rippled in an almost living manner...and then slowly started towards the stadium. Anything on the ground in its path either rose into the air and passed over the huge blister, or simply collapsed or was tossed aside as it passed. It reached a paved area, and huge cracks appeared in the concrete-like covering, and the pavement simply shattered and tumbled aside as the monster blister moved forward. Its approach was far slower than that of the big monster, but here was something purposeful and frightening about the way nothing even slowed it for a second as it moved forward. A sense of malevolence touched him, an impression of evil in the ripples that crawled back and forth across the blister's surface, like something hungry.

A thrill passed through Rick's body, just as if the scene before him was real. The imagery was perfect, just what the doctor ordered to frighten. Rick recalled the horrifying imagery that Casper had used to defend himself when they had first met, and a brief shudder passed through is body. This is going to be something!

The view slewed back to the giant reptile, just as it opened its mouth again. Ricky expected to hear one of the huge bellows emerge, but instead a giant bolt of livid blue fire emerged, a jagged bolt of lightning that crackled across the space between the reptile and the stadium and was grounded by a huge metal light pole near the observer. The wielder of the camera cringed away from the tremendous flash just as a thunderous crack split the air, and sat down hard, almost losing his grip on the imager. They heard a frantic cursing and the yelling of several people, and the man holding the camera scrambled back to his feet and pointed it again at the monster coming towards them..

"Sheet!" Blondie exclaimed, hefting his gun and backing away from the imager. Red also took a step back, but turned to face Ricky then. "Your people, I think."

Ricky smiled inwardly, recognizing his boyfriend's touch in that lightning bolt. But he shook his head at Red. "I never saw either of those things before in my life!"

Red actually smiled. "And I believe you, ha ha."

Ricky heard another sound then, and the door to his room opened. Four men in red armor entered, followed by two more that carried a large blue metal cylinder with handles on the side between them. Red and Blondie looked alarmed at that, but stood aside as the crew entered the room. The two carrying the cylinder took it to the far side of the room and set it on the floor. One of the men said something in Esperanto to Rick's guards, and they both nodded. The four others in red armor simply stood there, their weapons aimed at Ricky, there expressions wary. The two men by the cylinder bent over it, and began working on a panel of some kind at the top.

Ricky took a step towards the blue cylinder, and every gun in the room came up to point at him.

But one of the newcomers immediately raised a hand and yelled, "Neniu pafado! Via municio nur resaltas de ĉi tiu. Vi eble difektos la aparaton!"

Ricky swore under his breath, wishing they had remembered to bring their translators. But it seemed clear that man was warning the others not to shoot. Still, Ricky decided to stand still until he better knew what was happening. "Charlie?"


"Some of these red jokers just came into the room carrying a big blue cylinder. I don't like the looks of this."

There was a pause before Charlie answered. "That doesn't sound too good. Robin and I are on our way. Should be there in...well, I don't know. This is going to be different from the time Max and I did it at Pacha's ship, and Max's magic fought with mine. Robin and I are fairly harmonious in the magic department, and I have a lot better control of my second presence than I did then. But...I'm having more trouble following your link than I thought I would."

Ricky felt a sense of alarm at that. "But you'll get here, right?"

"Yes. Keerby would have been a better help here, after all, but he was needed to keep all the diversions running."

Ricky smiled at that, turning back to the holo image floating in the air. It had split into two images, showing two different directions. The giant monster and the spooky blister in the ground had both come a lot closer to the stadium. Both were being fired upon by some heavy batteries, and the landscape around the two illusions was being torn up wholesale. A great many of the men in red armor were visible, too, adding their fire, but nothing seemed to be disturbing the sedate progress of the two behemoths.

And as if to accentuate that fact, the floor beneath their feet trembled once again.

Ricky shook his head at that. "Casper and Keerby are doing a great job! How are they making the ground vibrate like that? I can feel every step that monster takes!"

Charlie's voice sounded pleased. "Great effect, isn't it? It's a gravity trick Keerby learned from Max, who got it from Pacha'ka. He just alternates the gravity in a single spot up to about a hundred G's and back down again, real quickly. The earth in that spot compressing and expanding again is what you're feeling."

The two men by the cylinder finished working over it, and backed away from it. The four men watching backed away from Rick, heading for the door of the room. They reached it at the same time as the two from the cylinder, opened the door, and backed into the hallway. Blondie turned and followed, and stopped at the door to turn back to Red. "Venu nun! La tempigilo estas mallonga!"

Red licked his lips, and started backing towards the door, his eyes on Ricky. As he reached the doorway, Blondie ducked through it into the hallway. Red stopped, and gave his head a brief shake. "Sorry, friend."

And then he was in the hallway, and the heavy door slammed closed.

Ricky leaped after it, and grabbed at the handle and yanked with all his might...and his hands promptly slid off, unable to find a purchase. The shielding, it seemed, worked both ways.

He turned and hastened to the blue cylinder, and bent over it. He saw motion there, and leaned even closer.

On a tiny screen, numbers appeared to be ticking down.

"Charlie! They've put a bomb in here with me! The soldiers have left, and locked me in!"

"A bomb!"

Ricky peered at the tiny screen. The numbers were familiar, the kind he knew. "Yeah. It looks like it was set at six minutes. One of them is almost gone."

"They can't hurt you," Charlie told him, sounding desperate. "Even if you're right next to the thing when it goes off, it won't hurt you!"

Ricky looked at the walls of the room, and then up at the heavy ceiling, all made of gray concrete. He could only imagine the mass of the building above him. "Charlie, it may not kill me, but it's going to bury me alive!"

Charlie paused a moment on the white walkway they seemed to be traveling on. Beside him, Robin stopped and looked over at him. "What's the matter?

Quickly, Charlie related Ricky's plight. Robin looked alarmed, and then turned to move ahead. "We've got to hurry!"

The plan to rescue Ricky hadn't gone quite to plan. Following the link that Charlie had established between himself and his friend was not the same as following a teleporter's memory of a place, or going to somewhere they had been before. There was no clear direction to walk in, and they had found themselves on a meandering path deep within Charlie's second presence, one that seemed to vary in direction rather than head straight to a certain point. He should have known that the newness of the communication talent he had established with Rick would come back to haunt him.

Five minutes left...

There had to be a way to accelerate this process. "Rick?"


"The way we are traveling to get to you isn't straight. We need a way to intensify the link between us, somehow. I need to come straight to you!"

"I don't know what to do!"

Charlie took a deep mental breath, let it out. "I need the magic mechanic in you now, Rick. You've got to use your talent to analyze this, and figure out what I'm doing wrong!"

"I'm...I'm not sure..." Ricky's thoughts paused a moment and then returned. "I'm on it. Give me a minute or two."

Charlie nodded to himself. Were they down to four minutes now?


Back at their command post, Kippy was seated between Robin and Charlie, holding both their hands. "I'm here, Charlie. Anything wrong?"

Charlie decided not to alarm his boyfriend. "We're getting to the big moment soon, I may need all the power you can give me."

"I'll be ready. Just say the word. Charlie?"


"I love you. I know you can do this."

Charlie felt some of the tenseness ease out of him. "I love you, too, Kip. Just wait for my word, and then give me all you have!"

"I will!"

Robin had been standing patiently next to him on the white mental path, but that patience was showing some strain now. "Anything?"

"Waiting on Rick."

It seemed like an eternity, but could only have been another minute, before Ricky's thoughts came back to them. "Charlie?"

"Here, Rick."

"Did you say that you and Robin were walking?"

Charlie's head tried to step ahead on that question, to speculate what it meant; but he reeled his thoughts back, returning them to Ricky. "Yes. We're walking on a path, much like I did with Max that one time."

"You've set yourself a limitation in speed by walking, Charlie! Just because you did it that way the first time, doesn't mean you have to do it again! You and Robin need to fly!"


Charlie looked around the formless white void the had been walking through. The path they had been traveling was the only indicator of direction at all. He looked upwards, trying to sense a direction, and could sort of feel which way Ricky's thoughts were coming from.

"Quickly, Charlie! Time is running out! You're in control of that place. If you want to fly, you will!"

A new determination came over Charlie. He turned to Robin. "Give me your hand!"

The man complied immediately. Charlie looked up again into the white void above, and thought to himself, we need to fly to Rick, and right now!

The pathway under their feet simply vanished, as well as any sort of imagined tactile sense that they were in contact with anything. A sense of extreme speed came to Charlie, but the white void gave no indication that they were passing over, under, or through anything at all.

And then something appeared ahead of them. It grew quickly, became like a rectangular window stood on end, one covered with a single sheet of glass. Charlie knew that barrier: it was the one that stood between where they were and where Rick was. When he and Max had first tried to breach a similar barrier to get to Pacha and their other friends aboard their ruined ship, it had simply stretched, not allowing them to pass. Charlie had finally breached it with an act of will, but Max had not been able to do the same. Only when Ricky had come along behind Max in the thought world and given him a final push had the elf been able to go through.

They couldn't afford a repeat of that delay. Even though Robin's powers were more aligned with Charlie's than some of Max's had been, there was no guarantee that they could just cross the border unhindered.

Faster, Charlie directed them. "Kip! I need everything you have!"

Charlie and Robin surged forward, and the window grew and was before them. They hit the barrier between their immaterial state and the location Ricky was imprisoned, and it stretched instead of breaking. Charlie yelled and drove forward with all his might, and the barrier suddenly parted, dumping him and Robin on a hard concrete floor. Charlie was momentarily stunned by the fall, but Robin jumped to his feet, turned until he spied the blue cylinder, and raced over to it and clapped a hand on it. Both man and cylinder vanished with a pop of displaced air. A moment later Robin reappeared, alone.

He smiled at a stunned Ricky and Charlie. "Wait for it."

The sounds of the battle outside the building were suddenly added to by a far-off booming sound, which echoed eerily through the old structure around them.

Charlie sat up and shook his head. "Where did you take it?"

Robin grinned. "Dropped it on the road at that spot we first came down, a few miles outside town. Sounded like a pretty big bang, didn't it?"

"Yeah. It did." Charlie got to his feet, and turned to Ricky. He had to smile at the look of just plain shock on the boy's face. "Hi. I'm glad we weren't late."

Ricky blinked, found his control, and beamed at him. "Me, too."

Charlie held up a finger. "Wait a sec."


"Charlie! What happened? We heard the explosion!"

"It wasn't here, Kip. We got Rick."

"Oh Charlie! I'm so glad!"

Charlie nodded. "Real quick, Kip. Can you ask Keerby to take this time thing off Rick?"

"I will, right now, Charlie."

Charlie walked over to his friend and gave him a poke with a fingertip. His finger slid right past, and Charlie laughed. "Man! That's something."

Robin came over and stood beside him. "I do believe this leg of the venture has been concluded in a satisfactory manner, my dear Boone."

Charlie grinned. "Quite the deduction, my dear Hood."

Ricky rolled his eyes. "Will you two quit it!"

Just then, a series of sparkles roamed over Rick's outline, and were gone.

"It's done!" Kippy called across their link.

Charlie simply stepped forward, and put his arms around Rick, and embraced him. Ricky returned the embrace, holding onto Charlie fiercely, and they stood in silence a moment, just feeling the joy of being reunited.

"I think Adrian would like a shot at that," Robin reminded quietly. He stepped forward and put his hands on their shoulders, and the dimly-lit concrete room vanished from around them.

The aircar flew through the gray morning sky, while rain fell below them. Charlie sat next to Kippy, his arm around his boyfriend, their heads leaned happily together. Most everyone in the aircar was asleep, or at least drowsing. Beside them, Ricky and Adrian sat together in much the same pose, both of them looking happy. Robin sat across from them, looking like he was asleep. But Charlie suspected that the man would be awake at the slightest movement. The others looked tired and sleepy, save for Ragal, who never seemed to need sleep at all.

After Robin had returned them to their base in the museum, they had put on a good show for the men in red on the ground. It just wouldn't do to simply pull the plug on the whole theatrical event and have everything just vanish. Casper was all for continuing the show, saying it was the most fun he'd had in ages. Since everyone was tired, and they had yet to decide on their next move, Charlie felt a good movie might cheer them all. Not to mention terrify the enemy a little, in a well-deserved fashion.

So, the two diversions that Casper and Keerby had created were allowed to discover each other. The huge reptile had at last spied the large blister creeping toward the stadium, and turned to it with a bellow of pure rage. Keerby managed this feat by simply causing the air to vibrate tremendously at specific wavelengths, rendering a scream of epic proportions that would have curdled the soul of the most dedicated monster movie watcher alive. The huge blister reacted to that by rearing upward to such a height that it finally tore open, revealing an even uglier behemoth with jagged horns and glaring red eyes, that would have looked right at home ravaging Tokyo on any given eerily cloudy day.

Adrian, too involved with kissing Ricky just then, handed his part over to Keerby, who managed to cook up a few impressive pyrotechnics of his own. The two monsters finally came together with an epic crash that made the ground bounce beneath their feet, and those men in red armor closest to the encounter simply turned and ran for their lives. The monsters ignored them, trading blows at first, and then superheated streams of fire, and even atomic blasts of white-hot breath. The way that Keerby let bursts of heat roll over the countryside in accompaniment to these exchanges was Oscar-winning in ingenuity. They could feel the brief rises in temperature even within the museum!

But, all good things come to an end. At long last the two monsters, obviously tired of the scrap, plunged together into their own atomic breaths and vanished with an explosion that rocked the countryside. The sudden quiet that descended on the world then was almost as frightening as all the noise had been. But that the battle was over and done with seemed clear.

Casper and Keerby, obviously tired now, settled down together to compliment each other on their visual and pyrotechnic artistry. Ragal, who had been instrumental in adding polish and continuity to Casper's long production, tossed a happy smile Charlie's way. Are we having fun yet? it seemed to say.

Over at the stadium, the men in red slowly began to emerge from their hiding places and return to the interior. A few went out to where the epic battle had been fought, but there wasn't even a displaced stone to mark that an altercation had ever taken place. Because it hadn't, of course.

Horace found Charlie and Kip talking to Keerby, and stood patiently by until Charlie smiled at him. "What's up?"

But Horace turned to Keerby. "The boojums are riled up."

The elf nodded. "I know. They know they've been bamboozled by now. But they can't tell exactly where we are. Blinken's cloak is working well to hide us from them."

Horace nodded, and smiled at Charlie. "An exciting rescue, I have to admit."

"I think so, but I would be perfectly willing to never have to do it again."

Horace frowned then. "Well, I have an observation I want to share...but I'm not sure how to explain this."

Charlie put a hand on the man's shoulder. "Just blurt it out."

Horace smiled at that. "You know, having known Gretchen for such a long time, I have a very good feel for these creatures. A genius loci is not a boojum, believe me. Gretchen is a gentle spirit."

Charlie nodded. "We understand that."

Horace turned to Keerby. "While the show was going on, I was sensing the boojums all around us. They couldn't pinpoint us, and that made them frantic. But something else was scaring them, too."

The elf looked interested. "What was that?"

Horace pointed at Keerby. "You."

"Me?" The surprise on Keerby's face was clear. "They can't know me."

Horace nodded. "Not you, personally. They recognized Your methods, your ability...who you were. They knew you were an elf."

Keerby looked astonished now. "I don't see how boojums in this reality could recognize me by my work. There are no elves here."

Horace licked his lips. "The impression I got was that there are. Or...that there were."

Keerby looked stunned. "I...I would sense them if they were here. I don't!"

Horace looked unhappy. "I'm just saying what I was feeling. They recognized that an elf was here, and it scared them."

Keerby turned to Charlie, and shook his head slowly. "I cannot detect the presence of my people here."

Charlie held up his hands at that, totally at a loss. "I certainly know less about it than you do. But...if we were back in our world, how would you sense your people there?"

The elf grunted. "I would just know. Their activity would be plain to me. Everything they do leaves a signature. An elf has a vast general awareness of what is going on around him. We can't pay attention to it all, because it's just too much. But we are always aware of it in the background." He leaned forward emphatically. "The sense of it is plain. All that skwish activity leaves an enormous signature."

Kippy shook his head. "But you're feeling that activity from the elf world, not the human world." He turned to Charlie. "Remember when we visited Twombly, and learned about Eustace and his group, who wanted to close the portal between the elf world and the human world? And then Nicholaas appeared among them, and that made them so scared they tried to destroy the portal?"

The story came flooding back to Charlie then. "Yes. They were terrified that a human with magical powers had appeared in their world. They organized a plot not to just close the portal, but to destroy it forever. It was Nicholaas that detected the attempt and warned the elf council."

Keerby gasped then, and all eyes turned to him. "That's it!" the elf whispered, shaking his head. His eyes came up to meet Charlie's. "I can't detect anything from the elf world because there's nothing coming across to detect. If there is a portal here, it's closed." A horrified light reached his eyes then. "Or destroyed!"

"Okay, Charlie said evenly, looking around the table at everyone. "Let's get this meeting going."

The ten of them, along with Ilessa and Director Karn, sat around a large table in a secure room in the Cheyenne Mountain Complex. They had eaten, and despite the feeling of urgency that possessed them, rested as well. Some of them had been ready to drop, and the few hours of sleep had made a lot of difference in the way everyone felt.

"This entire affair has been a very mixed bag from the start," Charlie continued. "To say that we had no idea what we were getting into would be an understatement."

Director Karn drummed his fingertips on the table. "What you told us earlier has been a revelation. We had no idea that this second human race existed until now."

"The portal between the two worlds has existed here, too," Keerby ventured. "That much I have now been able to learn. I know how very hard it would be to actually destroy it, so I am guessing that it has just been...sealed, some way, is the best description I can think of."

"Who could do that?" Horace asked. "My sense that the boojums were afraid of you came with a distinct impression that they had met your kind before, and that the memory was not a good one for them."

Keerby smiled thinly. "In our universe, we don't tolerate them hanging around. Most dark energy beings are indifferent to all lifeforms that exist in their realities, but some seem drawn to us, and some that are drawn to us are mischief-makers of the worst kind. So we tend to be short with that variety, when we encounter them. Turn a few inside-out in front of their friends, and it tends to make the whole gang head for the hills."

Charlie smiled at the description, figuring that the actuality was much more involved than that. "So they have good reason to be afraid of your kind."

"The ones that don't bother anyone get along with us," Keerby acknowledged. "The ones at Blinken's level, the hernacki, they aren't interested in corporeal life at all. You have to work seriously hard to get the attention of one, and to try to make friends with it." He smiled. "But once you do, you have a friend for life."

"Could Blinken help with this portal thing?" Kippy asked.

"He probably could. It's getting him to focus on things that's the hard part. Hernacki have a very different concept of the physical universe than we do. In their existence, all time and all places are the same."

"That would be hard to keep up with," Robin noted, seriously. "If your immaterial friend can assist, we would welcome his help. But if it is not something that might appear quickly, we have to consider ourselves on our own in this. So, what can we do now to investigate this portal problem?"

Charlie cleared his throat. "Something else is bothering me." He frowned at Robin. "Do you sense Nicholaas here?"

The man looked surprised. "Sense him? I...hadn't thought about it."

"Well, I have, since we realized that Keerby's folk might actually be here in this reality after all, just locked away somehow from traveling here from their, uh, room."

Keerby smiled at that. "It's actually a partition of the same reality, Charlie. Our world is like yours, just for elves."

Director Karn's eyes widened. "Excuse me, but did you say...elves?"

Charlie sighed at that. "It's just a term we use for Keerby's people. They are not in any way like the elves of imagination."

The man blinked, looked at Ilessa, and then nodded. "I see. Just so we are not going to also be bringing Santa Claus into this affair, as well."

Charlie wasn't the only one that tried hard not to laugh. "We would never do that," Charlie managed.

The look that Keerby turned on Charlie plainly said, Oops! Sorry! Charlie just nodded, and turned back to Robin. "Do you sense Nicholaas here?"

Robin closed his eyes a moment, and then popped them open. "I don't." The surprise in his voice was clear.

Adrian pointed across at Charlie. "I can't sense Nicholaas. I didn't know you could, either."

Charlie rubbed at his forehead. "I have never felt that I could sense the presence of Nicholaas in our world." He looked across at his friend. "I think what I am sensing instead is that he is not here in this one."

Robin sighed. "I have worked with them enough now to have a sense of him and Ronja, both, and I can't feel their presence in this reality, either."

Kippy's jaw dropped. "Are you saying there is no Nicholaas in this reality?"

"I believe I just did."

Kippy turned to Charlie. "Nicholaas is the one that firmed the resolve of the elf council to stick with us when Eustace and his bunch wanted to close the portal. He's the one that detected the plot to destroy the portal. If he doesn't exist here --"

A feeling of sadness came upon Charlie then. "Then maybe the fearful ones among the elf council won out in the end. Maybe they were successful in their bid to close the portal between their world and this one." Charlie shook his head then, the painful feeling deepening. "But I'm also thinking of all the small and wonderful kindnesses that have not been handed out in this reality, if Nicholaas really does not exist here."

For a moment no one spoke, and a somber mood descended on the room.

Ilessa picked up on it immediately. "Who is this Nicholaas?"

Charlie struggled to provide an answer. "He's... a man. A human like us, who lives in our world. An extraordinary power user, and a great man of peace and kindness." He nodded. "If he does not exist here, it may be the defining reason your world is suffering from this boojum plague now."

"A chain of cause and effect," Robin said, sounding fascinated. "Now, what can we do about this?"

Ricky looked at Keerby. "You can look back in time here and see what happened, can't you? See what caused Nicholaas not to be here?"

"Maybe. It will depend on how complex the chain of events is that leads to him not appearing here. Such a chain could go back, literally, to the dawn of your species in this reality."

"There has to be a faster way," Ricky insisted. "We don't have years to be looking back through history!"

But Keerby smiled. "Actually, we do. We can take as long as we need to, and return home with scarcely a moment past. If that is what we need to do."

Charlie squeezed his eyes closed a moment, and then reopened them with a sigh. "No. We can't meddle with the past of this reality. If Nicholaas is not here, we need to find a workaround, not go back and change history so that he appears."

The table fell silent at that.

"You're right, of course," Ragal said quietly. "And I am glad you arrived at this conclusion before I had to state it aloud, Charlie." The tall alien looked around at his friends. "The history of this reality is not ours to change. We are here, in the now, and so have a legitimate part of events here. We can act upon the future, just as any other participant in the present here. But the past is theirs, and not ours to tamper with."

Kippy sighed. "He's right. It's's just sad to think Nicholaas is not here."

Ragal placed his hands flat down on the tabletop. "And not just him. The possibility exists that some of us - or none of us - exists here, either. This is a different world, a different flow of time, a different reality, as we have already learned. It must be left to itself. We can assist these people with their future, but we must not remake their past. To meddle could conceivably negate" -- he spread his hands to take in the room -- "all of this."

"I don't think we'd like that," Director Karn put in solemnly. He shook his head. "You people talk in concepts I have never even dreamed of. My feeling that you are actually capable of the things you suggest only worries me more. These are very large ideas, but that does not make them right. Not for here, not for this place." He looked at Ragal. "Yours is a sane voice. We cannot destroy even this dismal present to remake the future. Some way must be found to move on from this point, without looking back."

Charlie nodded. "None of us meant to even suggest that we would act here without including you, or without your explicit permission. We're just thinking out loud now." He smiled. "But I have to say, if Keerby's people exist here, and we can somehow establish contact with them...they could be a wonderful boon to your world."

"They can handle these boojum hooligans, that's for sure," Keerby added. "So, you really should consider letting us try to find them."

Director Karn laughed, looking amazed "I am simply the director of this mountain facility. I am not even a member of the world government. I don't have the ability or the authority to grant you permission to do anything."

Keerby leaned forward. "You sense us?"

The director looked surprised, but nodded. "Yes. I am quite sensitive, actually."

The elf nodded. "Then look deeply within us, as deeply as you can. And tell me what you see there."

Director Karn frowned, but then nodded, and closed his eyes. Everyone sat quietly, watching him. It took a minute, and then two...and then the man smiled. Smiled, and opened his eyes. "Very well. I'm convinced that all you mean is good for us. And that your ability to help us is probably greater than our own ability to help ourselves." He sighed. "And still, I have no authority to give you permission to do anything at all."

Robin smiled at that. "Well, let me ask you this: do you feel any official need to stop us from acting?"

The other man looked askance at that. "You mean...?" He frowned then, stared at Robin, and then Charlie, and then turned to Ilessa, seeming surprised. "I don't believe I have any orders at all that cover people from the other reality. None have ever been here, and the issue has never come up. I have definite orders and rules to follow regarding the security of this mountain, and all those within, but those orders and rules do not extend one millimeter outside these walls." He suddenly smiled. "Actually, I have no real authority to act one way or another regarding these people, beyond the requirement to keep them from acting in a manner harmful to others here, or to the complex itself."

Ilessa also smiled. "You do have a requirement to act if you feel anyone is a danger to the welfare of the world, however."

Director Karn shrugged. "But I already know these people intend no harm to anyone here. I know that their aim is to assist. Therefore, in my judgment, I have no reason to intercede at this time."

Charlie smiled at the wonderful simplicity of making even complicated decisions in a world where everyone had skwish. "So?"

The director smiled at him. "I would like to kept aware of your plans, but for now see no reason to interfere with them."

Kippy sighed happily. "I wish it was this easy at home."

Durapar offered a gentle sound of agreement. "I wish it was this easy everywhere!"

Charlie turned to Keerby. "So...what about this portal? It would seem to me that the first order of business is to find it and see what's up with it. Right?"

Keerby tugged absently at one ear. "I wish it was that simple. When it's open, it is of course simple to detect. All of your group here have passed through it at one time or another."

Durapar held up a hand. "I don't think I have."

Keerby's eyes twinkled. "Most of your group has passed through it at one time or another."

The alien smiled. "Thank you. I still have hopes of going through it one day!"

Charlie waved a hand. "But closed?"

Keerby sighed. "Closed, it simply no longer exists."

Adrian whistled. "Isn't that the same as destroying it?"

"No. Closed, the portal becomes a non-dimensional artifact, able to be recognized only by the probability that it can exist once again. This probability is what I have detected, and which assures me that the portal once existed here. If it had been destroyed, the echo of its one-time existence would have been so randomized as to disallow its existence again."

Charlie shook his head at that. "I don't quite get that, but I don't need to. What would be involved with opening it again?"

The elf made an uncertain grimace. "Um...I actually don't know the answer to that. It's never been more than a mental exercise in non-dimensional mechanics until now."

"So can we even open it?" Kippy asked.

"I don't know. All I know is that it can be opened again. I'm just not sure how, or..."

When the elf didn't go on, Charlie leaned forward. "Or...what?"

Keerby held up a helpless hand. "Or if it can even be opened from this side. I suspect it was closed from the other side. It's possible it can only be reopened from that side, as well."

"That won't do us any good," Robin stated firmly. "We'll just have to figure a way."

Keerby drew back at that, but then smiled at Robin's intensity. "Okay. I can try conferring with Blinken about it. It anyone might know, it would be him."

Robin smiled then, to show he wasn't being unfair. "Need to borrow my cell phone?"

The elf laughed. "No. I will need a quiet place to sit for a little while. For deep discussions with Blinken, I need to get as much of his attention as possible. That takes a lot of focus on my part."

"We can provide you with a comfortable and quiet room," Ilessa promised. "There are several directly across the hallway from this conference room."

"By all means," Director Karn agreed. "My facility is at your disposal."

Keerby looked over at Charlie. "Shall I go?"

"Do you need any help?"

"Not yet. Maybe Ragal and Casper a little later, and Horace, too." he smiled. "All of you, at some point."

Horace raised a hand. "Just say the word."

"Yes," Charlie agreed. He sat back in his seat and nodded. "I don't know what the rest of us can do just yet while we wait."

"You're free to use this room, and the rooms across the corridor," the director said. "I should be getting back to the monitoring center, but Ilessa can get me at a moment's notice."

They stood then, and the director left the room.

"I like him," Charlie told Ilessa. "Leadership is definitely an art."

She nodded. "We have many good people in leadership positions. The bad ones seem to all have gone over to the other side."

Kippy put his arm around Charlie's and sighed. "This is getting about as weird as things get."

"I know. Opening non-dimensional doorways is something I missed in science class."

Ricky and Adrian joined them, both looking happy and content again. Charlie smiled at that. Amazing, what just being with your favorite person could do for your soul.

"Crazy situation," Ricky said. "It would be amazing if there were elves here that would help these people get rid of the boojums and get this reality back on the right track."

"If they're here, I'll bet Keerby finds them," Adrian added. "That boy is sharp!"

They all smiled at that. Keerby was not one to admit defeat without a hell of a lot of noise and upset first. The elf's abilities had grown tremendously since they'd first met him, and were simply stunning now. And, he was getting better all the time. Experience will do that to you!

Kippy sighed. "Question: how do you find a bunch of elves that don't want to be found?"

The question was meant lightly, but it suddenly hit Charlie on a different level. A stream of ideas flowed through his mind, popping up with incredible swiftness and quickly coalescing into something that looked very much like an idea. The pleasant effect of that neural activity was to induce a sudden and quite dazzling smile.

"Uh oh," Ricky said, grinning. "I know that Britannica Brain smile when I see it!"

Kippy looked amazed. "Was it something I said?"

Charlie turned to his boyfriend and hugged him. "I love you so much! And I wish I was half as smart as you are!"

Kippy returned the hug, and then pulled back and smiled. "Oh, with a little practice..."

"What did he say?" Adrian asked. "Was it asking how you find a bunch of elves that don't want to be found?"

Charlie nodded, his smile broadening. "How do you find any critter that's hiding?"

His three friends stared at him, until Kip finally sighed. "You gonna tell us the punchline to this joke?"

Charlie sighed, and nodded. "You put out bait!"

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