by Geron Kees
Elementary, My Dear Charlie Boone! - Chapter 8
"Blinken has helped me to locate the signs of the portal," Keerby told them. He looked a little resigned then. "I guess it's easier if you're a hernacki!"
"But he did say it was still there, right?" Charlie asked. "The portal?"
"He showed me where it once was in existence," Keerby corrected. "But his reference points are simply interstices in time and space. Holes where dimensions tend to slide past each other. I'm having a little trouble relating them to my own view of space-time."
"So that means you can't find it?" Ricky asked, sounding disappointed.
"No, now that I know it was there, that's all I need."
Charlie nodded at that. "We don't have to be right in front of it for the bait idea to work."
Keerby smiled at that. "Elves are not mice, Charlie."
"I agree. But elves are bright, and curious, and if we give them reason to open the portal to take a look at something, they will."
The elf's face worked uncertainly a moment, but then he smiled. "They might."
"We just need something of such great interest that they can't refuse," Kippy said.
Charlie looked over that statement from every angle before focusing on another question. "I have to ask before we even get started - will the elves be able to sense anything going on beyond the closed portal?" He eyed Keerby thoughtfully. "I mean, you can't sense them at all. Could they sense you outside the portal?"
"Yes. There are a lot more of them than there is of me. Magic is a group thing, remember? While you would think that would mean it would be easier for me to sense the huge number of them than it would be for them to sense the one of me, that isn't true. Their group sensitivity is many orders of magnitude greater than my own. They undoubtedly know I am here in this reality, already."
Keerby frowned then. "Something else you need to understand is that the portal is not a doorway, with a finite location. We aren't actually looking for it in a place. So there can be no putting something in front of it, or someone being outside of it. When open, it becomes a condition that allows elves" -- he smiled -- "and others, to move between the two worlds. So we don't have to go anywhere, or search, or do anything like that. Access to the portal, when it's open, can be gained from every single point on the surface of the planet."
Charlie whistled. "That simplifies things a lot! I was thinking we'd have to head to the north pole or something."
Keerby grinned at that. "No. Think of your world and the elf world as two identical planets that occupy exactly the same place. If you're on either world, it seems like the only one. But they are actually the same world, just not in the same moment."
"So, it's a time thing?" Ricky asked.
Adrian frowned. "I don't think we ever got into this subject before. We just sort of took it for granted that the elf world was in a different place."
"It's actually the same place. So those on the elf side are able to sense any sort of skwish activity here--" He stopped, looking surprised. "Oh, of course! That could be it!"
"Could be what?" Kippy asked.
Keerby closed his eyes a moment, and then nodded to himself. "The people that comprised the no contact crowd that Eustace once led in my world were all concerned with humankind's inability to get along, and that their violence might extend itself into our world. That was their reasoning for wanting to close the portal." He opened his eyes. "Here, in this reality, the entire human race are skwish-users. Their danger would have been magnified even more to people like Eustace. They wouldn't have just been seen as dangerous neighbors, they would have been viewed as competitors."
"But the humans here are not anywhere near the same level of users as elves," Ragal pointed out.
"It doesn't matter. Just look at the mayhem that has been caused here by even a part of the population out to run the world, and having little or no conscience about how they do it. Their abilities to cause trouble are hugely magnified by the sorts of talents that skwish-users tend to possess. The elves here probably looked at the potential for trouble to be caused by allowing the two peoples to mix, and decided they didn't want any part of it."
"But just because the humans here are skwish-users doesn't mean they could go to the elf world, does it?" Ricky asked.
"Some would surely find their way," Keerby countered. "Nicholaas did, in our reality."
"Yeah," Ricky agreed. "So, they slammed the door here, and hard. That sorta sucks."
Keerby sighed. "In our reality, elves feel protective of humans. You're not that good at taking care of yourselves, and need someone to watch out for you. We do that, without interfering in your affairs most of the time. But here, the risks to the elf world at having the portal open to a race of similar skwish-users would have been something to think about."
Charlie winced at that. "So, it's possible that nothing we do will get them to open the portal again?"
"Yes. That is a possibility." Keerby turned to Charlie. "I can't imagine what sort of bait might make them react, if any of what we are speculating on is true."
Charlie rubbed at his nose, a little hesitantly "I can. I was thinking of you."
The elf looked surprised. "Me?"
"Sure. You're an elf, like them. They would know that, right?"
"Well...yes. I'm sure they already do."
Charlie sighed, hating the sense of detachment from emotion he would need to go with his plan. It would put them all in danger, not just his elf friend. "I know how tight your people are. If they knew you were in danger here...they might come."
Keerby suddenly looked interested. "What sort of danger?"
"Well, like a full-on, knock-down, drag-out fight with the boojums? There must be hundreds of them here, messing with things, and helping the reds."
"Thousands," Keerby corrected. "Even perhaps tens of thousands."
Charlie rolled his eyes. "Even better."
"Are you sure, Charlie?" Kippy asked. "Could we even hold against that many of those things for any period of time? So far, only the cloak that Blinken provided to Keerby has kept them from really finding us and attacking."
Charlie could only turn to Keerby for that answer. "What would our chances be?"
The elf looked amazed. "Seriously? If we actually dispense with the cloak and let them get at us? Not very good."
"There has to be a way we can stage a ruckus with them that would bring your people to your aid."
Keerby simply laughed. "You don't want much!"
Horace raised a hand. "I have another idea."
Charlie laughed, happy at the change of topic. "Tell us!"
Horace looked thoughtful, and turned to Keerby. "You said that Blinken was able to show you where the portal had once been open. Did that give you any clues on how to reopen it?"
The elf looked surprised by that. "Well...I have a pretty good understanding now that it was closed from the other side. And what would be entailed in closing it. As to how that relates to reopening it...um...it would all be the biggest guess I ever made."
Horace smiled. "That sounds very positive to me."
That garnered a few laughs, and also caught Charlie's interest. "What have you got in mind?"
Horace nodded. "Your idea is based on showing the elves on the other side that one of their own is in danger, and having them open the portal and come to his aid."
When the man paused, Charlie nodded. "That's about it."
"Well, let's look at it in a more familiar light. Say you live in a house in a very dangerous neighborhood, and you never open the door at night. But you hear a commotion outside, turn on the lights, and you spy a distant relative on the sidewalk out front, scuffling with a thug, while hordes of other thugs stand around watching. Your dilemma then is, do you open the door and rush to the aid of your relative, thus introducing the possibility that all the other thugs might rush into the open door and sack your house, or do you weigh the two, and decide to just watch and do nothing?"
Kippy frowned. "Elves are the most compassionate people I know!"
"In our reality," Horace reminded. "This is a different place. The elves here have already displayed a limit to their compassion by closing and locking the door in the first place."
"Oh." Kippy looked unhappy. "Yeah."
"So what's the answer?" Adrian asked. "If we can't lure them out, what do we do?"
Horace nodded. "Let's go back to our familiar scenario. The relative is scuffling with thugs outside the door, there are many other thugs out there, and you have decided not to go to his aid." A glimmer of mischief entered the man's eyes. "But then, to your horror, your relative breaks away from the thug, whips out a large pry bar, and runs to your door, trying to jimmy it open. The other thugs crowd closer, and you began to hear the wood breaking in your door. What do you do then?"
Charlie laughed. "I wouldn't wait for the guy to break the door open! I'd grab a shotgun, open the door, and head outside, shooting."
Kippy gently slapped Charlie's arm. "Oh, you would not. You wouldn't shoot someone, not if your life depended on it."
Charlie sighed. "No, Kip. I would shoot someone, or at least at someone, if my life depended on it."
Kippy sighed, and hugged Charlie's arm. "There goes another cherished illusion." But he turned his face up and smiled at Charlie. "I know you would do what was needed to keep us safe. I would, too."
"And so would the people in the house, I'm hoping," Horace said. "If faced with having their door torn down, they would more than likely at least open it long enough to stop the relative with the pry bar."
"That might not be a good thing, though," Keerby said. "It would really depend on who it was that responded."
"But the portal would be opened," Horace argued. "Some kind of response is better than none. It at least gives us something to work with, right?"
The room was quiet for a moment.
"I think it's a good idea," Robin said then. "I have always found direct action preferable to coaxing someone into doing something. Leave the opposition no choice but to act, and give them very limited options to respond, and they will almost always do one of the things you are expecting."
Keerby looked annoyed. "The elves here are not the opposition."
Robin looked unapologetic. "I'm sorry, but in terms of what we want and what they want, they are in an opposing position. We have to get them to our side, and if we need to be a little sneaky about it, I say do it."
Keerby considered that, and then looked resigned. "It does seem a plan that has a chance of working. I will need to confer some more with Blinken about trying to open the portal again. I have to do something that at least looks like I'm breaking the wood, to use Horace's analogy, or they will just ignore that attempt, too."
Casper sighed. "It's a shame that illusion doesn't work on elves. I'd just make them think you were about to tear the door down."
Keerby narrowed his eyes at that, and then smiled. "Hmm. Let me confer with Blinken some more, and then we can talk again."
Charlie nodded, feeling better now that they at least had the outline of a plan. He turned to Ilessa then. "I don't want to try this from here inside the mountain. For one thing, your shields will keep our thuggy boojums at bay, and we want them pressing more closely and threateningly. And secondly, this place is important to your people, and we can't risk damaging it."
Ilessa looked relieved. "I have to agree with that."
"So, we will need a place, preferably a large, open area, from which to operate. Any ideas?"
The woman looked interested. "I'll need to talk to some people. But I'll see what I can come up with." She stood and turned to go, and then paused. "Indoors, or outdoors?"
Charlie turned to Keerby. "Which would be safer? Or, does it matter?"
"I don't think it does." He smiled at the woman. "Just not out in the rain, please."
She returned the smile, nodded, and left the room.
Charlie sat back in his seat and closed his eyes. At some point, he would need some real sleep.
"We haven't exactly been handling this case in a Sherlockian manner, have we?" Robin said, from next to him.
Charlie opened his eyes and turned to smile at the man. "It's not really the sort of case that Holmes would have tackled, I guess. Doyle was much more at home in the streets of English towns and cities than he would have been on a decimated earth in another reality."
Robin smiled. "And yet, we have followed the trail of the clues, and still arrived at this point. I think Doyle would have been more satisfied with this outing than you imagine."
Charlie also smiled, secretly pleased. "You think?"
"I do. One thing I am coming to understand is that the investigators at Third Planet Inquiries seem to know their investigating."
Kippy, listening on the other side of him, squeezed Charlie's arm fondly, but didn't say anything. Charlie smiled, nevertheless.
Keerby stood, and waved at Charlie. "I'm heading back to my room to talk with Blinken. Don't let the world end without me."
Charlie laughed softly at the gallows humor. "We'll save you a place, believe me."
Keerby grinned, and left them.
Kippy sighed. "I sure love that guy. Brains, ability, and cute-as-hell, all in one package."
"He's heading for greatness," Charlie agreed. "The same sort of greatness that Max has, and maybe better, someday." A thought came to him then, and he frowned.
"What's the matter?" Kippy asked.
"I was just thinking that Max knows what we're doing, and he hasn't shown up to help. That only tells me he is trusting us to be able to do this, and feels we must not be screwing it up to the point that he needs to intervene."
His boyfriend nodded at that. "I'd kind of forgotten about the elves back in our own reality. But you're right, I think. If Max was worried about us, he'd be here."
"I guess. I guess he could just come here, if he wanted. But you know...I don't know that for sure? Keerby said he could get us home after he got here, but that's not the same as saying he could have come here in the first place without these folk's probability index machine. I'd better ask him that."
Kippy patted his arm. "I'll bet Nicholaas could get here without any old machine. We're here now. He's always been able to find us before."
There was some consolation in that. Nicholaas was simply the ablest power-user there was, at least in their own reality. But no one was omnipotent.
Robin patted Charlie's other arm. "Relax, Charlie. It's not time yet for the cavalry to ride in."
Charlie smiled at that and nodded, but deep inside, he knew he wouldn't have minded hearing the charge of a great many horses just now, either.
"What do you think?" Charlie asked Robin, looking around the open space.
"Well, it's big," the man responded, smiling. "No one is going to creep up on us here."
"It was an air center of some kind," Ilessa supplied. "Back when they used to use those immense aircraft to shuttle people from place to place. They would take off and land on these long strips of pavement. I know it's hard to imagine now, but they once needed a lot of room to arrive and depart."
Charlie smiled at that. "Yes. It's hard to believe." He looked around. "I think this place used to be called O'Hare."
"Yes, that's right." Ilessa smiled. "I don't know why, though."
Used to be was definitely correct here. The once bustling airport was now a collection of crumbling runways amidst the barest remains of buildings, interspersed with areas of tall grass. It was early morning, and the sun was well up into a clear blue sky, promising a nice day. There was a breeze, not too intense this day, though Charlie had read that the airport in his own reality was often plagued by high winds that made operations more difficult. The breeze ruffled the tops of the tall grasses, and made choir voices in some of the ruins; but the silence that hung over the great open space was sobering. It was the sort of silence that accompanied failure, and death, and the loss of things known and cherished.
They had done a scan before landing, and their pilot had told them that the probability was high that there were no people in the area. The other side possessed most of the same technology that Ilessa's people did, including in the area of scramblers to hide their locations. But Ilessa's people were a little better at detecting the operations of these very same disguises, and their pilot could find no indication that anything was being hidden in the area. Keerby had done one of his own scans, a far better one than any mere device could ever hope to mimic, and pronounced the pilot's assessment of the area as sound. There was no one around at all, and the sound of the wind gently wailing for the lost world was the last word they needed.
"Creepy place," Rick decided, tightening his arm around Adrian's shoulders. "Gives me the willies."
Adrian shrugged. "It's lonely, alright."
The aircar had settled to earth where two wide lengths of ancient concrete crossed, giving them plenty of open space to move around. They didn't need any props for the job they had to do, and so had brought nothing with them. The pilot had handed each of them a large square of plastic as they had exited the aircar, which, when a stud was pushed, quickly inflated into a sturdy and comfortable cube they could sit on. They arranged these in a circle, and everyone sat down, facing inward.
Keerby, looking tired now, but also seeming filled with an excitement he was barely able to contain, looked around at them, and smiled. "Okay. I want to run over what we're going to do, so that everyone is prepared."
Keerby had spent a long time conferring with Blinken, but had emerged from his room looking happier than Charlie had seen him in days. He had asked that they leave immediately for the place Ilessa had chosen for them, and they had done so, and so they had not yet heard what he had been able to come up with. He looked around at them now, and gave a little sigh.
"I never fail to be filled with wonder at the amazing forces of nature that exist in our universe. Our universe, and all the realities that fill it. I think what we will be trying here today has never been done before, anywhere in space or time. To actually be the first to do something is a truly rare gift, one that most people will never experience.
Kippy sighed, and leaned up against Charlie. "This sounds better than I hoped for, already."
Charlie had to agree. Keerby seemed almost elated, a far cry from where he had been earlier. His new confidence had seeped into all of them, and the atmosphere among their group had improved markedly.
Robin, seated to Charlie's other side, looked briefly into the depths of the sky, and then returned his gaze to Keerby. "A beautiful day for a fight. What have you come up with?"
Keerby looked from face to face, his eyes traveling around the circle, to stop at Robin's. "Today, we will become a hernacki."
That revelation was met with total silence. Until Ricky looked around at his friends, then raised a hand and patted the top of his head. "I'll bet my hair's a mess, too."
Adrian laughed, then brought a hand up to cover his mouth. "Sorry."
But it did lighten the mood considerably.
"Can you explain that?" Charlie asked.
Keerby clapped his hands together. "I'm about to. Very simply, what we will do is all pile into Charlie's second presence, and go for a ride in a hernacki."
Charlie turned to look at Kippy, who simply shrugged. "If he says we're going to do that, I believe him!"
The trouble was, Charlie did, too! "I have no idea how to connect my second presence to your friend Blinken!"
Keerby raised a finger. "Ah. But he does!"
Ragal leaned forward, his expression one of fascination. "These hernacki are supposed to be at the top of the order of dark energy beings. Are you suggesting this is a deliberate plan by your friend to assist us?"
The elf nodded. "You seem surprised."
"I am. The distributed nature of hernacki intelligence has indicated thus far they are very hard to gain the attention of, and even when you manage that, to actually retain their focus long enough to do something united."
"You're right," Keerby replied. "It's very hard to get their attention, let alone their full attention. But I found a way. I promised Blinken something he has never experienced, in the millions or billions of years of his existence. A chance to know what it is like to be one of us." He grinned. "Or, actually, many of us."
Durapar clapped his hands together. "Are you suggesting some sort of communal, or even a symbiotic, experience?"
Keerby nodded. "Our group has experienced the communal aspects of Charlie's second presence already. We know what it is like to join in that very special form to travel about and to perform tasks together. What we will be doing is taking that experience one step further, and merging it with an extension of Blinken he has offered us to use."
"An extension?" Casper asked. "What is that?"
Keerby tapped his fingertips together. "Hernacki, and all dark energy beings, are unlike anything we can really imagine. Their forms are immaterial. They are not bound by the same physical laws that we are, not confined to one time or one reality. They are, as Ragal has stated, a distributed life form, capable of existing in more than one reference frame at a time. The boojums are on the low end of that scale, and their abilities commensurate with that level of life. They can move about time, travel between realities, and manipulate the many forces of the natural universe. They are a potent life form by our standards, but only by our standards." Keerby smiled at that. "Consider them the hyenas of the dark energy world."
Charlie felt a bit of distaste at that notion of the boojums as hyenas, but only because it was an insult to the hyenas. Those animals were viewed unfavorably by many humans, but were actually valuable parts of the ecosystems they inhabited. Boojums, by and large, seemed to have no redeeming features at all.
"Hernacki, on the other hand, while similar in form to boojums and those dark energy life forms that fall between the two, are more like the blue whales of the dark energy world. Immense, not confined to land, able to range to every corner of their world, which is simply all of space and time. From what I have gathered from Blinken, parts of him exist at the very formation of the universe, and parts of him exist at the very end of all things. And in every instance in between."
"The idea is astonishing," Ragal said. "But in line with the idea that it is very hard to get their attention, because that attention is so spread out."
Keerby looked excited now. "But I have found that I can get enough of Blinken's attention that he can choose to give me more. And he has now chosen to do that. But we must act quickly, before that attention wanders away. Being witness to all events in space and time has to be a little distracting!"
Charlie took Kip's hand and squeezed it. "So, what do we do?"
The elf looked around at them. "I wanted a circle so that we could all join hands. Charlie will then take us into his second presence, and we will go from there.'
"What about us here?" Ricky asked. "Will our bodies be safe here?"
"Yes. We will remain beneath the cloak Blinken has provided, which I must tell you now is even better than before. And, Blinken has assured me that he will provide a time barrier to go with the cloak, like the one that Ricky wore when he was captured. We will be safe here."
"Why the open area, then?" Horace asked. "Couldn't this have been done just sitting in a room somewhere?"
Keerby leaned forward. "Because we will have access to some rather interesting processes, some of which may be energetic enough to damage the surroundings." He smiled tightly. "We're going on a boojum hunt. and then, we will be knocking on the door of the elf world."
Casper laughed his squeaky laugh. "It sounds like fun!"
Durapar was beside himself with glee. "I'm so glad I met you people!"
Charlie waved his hands for silence, before everyone got carried away. "Is there any danger involved, Keerby?"
The elf considered that. "There is always some danger in trying something new. But I consider the danger to us in the form of your second presence to be minimal."
Charlie looked over at Ilessa, seated in the circle with them, and then at the pilot, standing by the door of his ship. "What about them?"
The elf smiled. "They are welcome to join us, if they wish."
Ilessa seemed excited by the idea, but the pilot shook his head. "This is way beyond my pay grade!" He reached into the open door of the aircar and withdrew one of the short rifles, and pulled the strap over his head. "Besides, someone here should be alert, to watch the ship and make sure there's no trouble."
"There won't be," Keerby assured. "But, as you wish. Charlie, are you ready?"
Kippy squeezed his hand, and reached for Adrian's next to him, who reached for Rick's, and the entire circle joined hands. Robin was seated on Charlie's left, and grasped his hand firmly. "Hell of a show you put on, my dear Boone. Most excitement I've had in centuries!"
Charlie simply laughed and nodded. "You can thank me later, when it's all over and we're still around."
The man smiled. "We will be."
The circle joined, Charlie closed his eyes, and reached into the deep well of his inner self where his second presence lived. It seemed anxious to be out, somehow, and he joined with it and felt its power surround him. An indistinct globe of light formed around him, and rapidly filled with the presences of the others, until all were joined.
"What is this?" Ilessa breathed, sounding completely amazed by the experience.
"It's a method of going places," Charlie told her. "You don't need to do anything. Just relax and enjoy the ride. Keerby?"
"What do I do now?"
The elf issued a small sigh. "This is the tricky part. I need to summon Blinken's extension, and we will have to merge with it."
Charlie laughed nervously. "Oh, is that all? I hope you know how to do that!"
"Relax, Charlie. You'll do fine."
Charlie felt then something new, something he had never felt before. A dark shape drew nearer outside their globe of light, and quickly surrounded them. Charlie gasped as dark tendrils suddenly bored through the skin of the sphere, twisted like living roots around the holes they had made, and plunged tiny daggers of darkness into its skin. But rather than hurt, or do damage, a new kind of strength flooded through his second presence.
An immense strength, like nothing he had experienced before. Charlie felt that strength flow throughout the sphere, and then into each of them, filling them. For a second, he felt as if he had lost control of his immaterial body, as if his muscles twitched and worked, and as if his eyes moved about on their own. He felt as if one of his hands raised, and his fingers gently flexed and touched each other in wonder. He became aware of Kippy then, somehow right next to him, and the felt the warmth and comfort of his presence.
And then, filled with this new power, something tickled his awareness of the world around him, joined with it, and caused him to relax.
"We're joined," Keerby said. "Amazing, isn't it?"
The sphere around them cleared, and it was as if they were in the aircar, hanging high above the desolate expanse of O'Hare. A blob of darkness was there on the runway, where their aircar was parked and they sat in a circle. Charlie knew then that nothing could penetrate it, nothing could harm it.
"How are we going to fight the boojums?" Ricky asked. "They must be all over the planet."
"They are," Keerby agreed. "We are going to get them to come to us. We are going to begin the procedure for reopening the portal between worlds. Once we begin, they will know, and I can guarantee you they will want to stop us."
Kippy released a quick breath. "You know how to reopen the portal now?"
Keerby laughed. "No. Not exactly, anyway. Blinken has scoped out seven probable methods for doing it. We would have to try each one, and even then, they are only probable methods. Only the elves on the other side know the true sequence."
"Then why are we doing it?" Horace asked.
"Because all seven methods begin the same way, and do not diverge until halfway through the process. So to the boojums, and to the elves on the other side, it will look as if we know something, anyway. The boojums will want to stop us, and the elves will hear us knocking, and rather loudly, with our pry bar. Someone, I hope, will react to that."
The sphere of their joined presence spun, lifted, and moved away down the length of the runway, some distance from where their aircar was parked, and then stopped.
"No use advertising our true location by hanging above it," Keerby explained.
"How did you move us?" Charlie asked.
"I didn't. You did. You are in complete control of your gift, Charlie. However, joined as we are, your second presence will accept input from me and act on it providing you are not against the idea."
"That works for me, as I have no idea how to do this," Charlie told him.
He felt the elf's delight. "Each of us has similar input to the extension. Each of us can use our gifts, if needed."
Their view of the day beyond was delightful. The sun was high now, but its brightness subdued by the enclosure around them. The blue sky supported rafts of clouds in several directions, all moving upon the wind.
"And now, we'll begin," Keerby said.
A tiny flash moved away from their sphere, expanded, and suddenly wove itself into a complicated pattern of lines, shapes, and peculiar voids. Some of the angles were eye-stretching, to say the least, with lines and shapes twisting back on themselves like a drunken Escher drawing. At the same time, a titanic musical note rolled away over the countryside.
"What the hell!" Ricky breathed.
"We have begun building the keyhole," Keerby explained. "It will take some time, but not too long."
Another flash of light moved away from them, expanded, and wove itself into a different and equally complex pattern, and joined with the first one, projections in the new pattern locking into the voids in the first one, to create a new, larger, and even more complex pattern hanging in the sky. Again, a musical note, slightly higher on the scale, rang out over the waving grasses below.
"That got their attention!" Keerby called. "They're coming!"
Charlie became aware of a buzzing sound...no, a feeling, inside him, as if a swarm of bees were hiding beneath the surface of his skin. The sounds were upset - frantic, even. And they seemed to grow, until all his skin was abuzz with vibration..
From every horizon, dark clouds suddenly seemed to be racing towards them. Charlie gasped at their numbers. "Can we stop them?"
"They won't attack, at least, not right away," Keerby promised. "They're scared now, and in a hurry, but when they get here and fully sense Blinken's extension, they will be even more scared. They will know a hernacki is present, and that will terrify them."
Another flash of light sailed away from them, another complex pattern formed, and added itself to the growing shape before them. It was becoming hard to look at now, not because it was ugly or frightening, but because the many convolutions and amazing angles played havoc with the eyes. And again, a clear, bell-like note of tremendous sound radiated outward in all directions.
A thought came to Charlie then. "These notes, like the ringing of a huge bell? Are these the knockings on the portal you mentioned?"
"Very good, Charlie. By now the elves here are aware that we are attempting to pry the door open again. Each tone we hear, they sense as another pull on the door handle, another probe at the hinges. They know someone is knocking, definitely."
"I have a question," Horace said. "Can elves handle a hernacki? I mean, I'd hate for them to get angry, and come here and just destroy this thing, with us inside it."
"No." Charlie could almost sense Keerby shake his head. "Even if the elves here were not nice about it, they cannot destroy a hernacki. And I can't see them wanting to do that, anyway. Unless the elves here are of a radically different order than the ones I know, hernackis are very much respected members of the universal family."
"Look at 'em come!" Ricky called.
The horizons all had turned dark now, filled with the angrily buzzing forms of boojums. They had set themselves a limit, it seemed, and would draw no closer at this time. But their numbers continued to increase, until it looked like a black wall in the sky completely encircling them.
"They're sacred," Keerby said grimly. "But they're more mad just now than they are terrified. This is their sandbox, their playland, and we are trying to take that away from them. They will wait until they are all arrived, and then come at us en masse."
"Bum rush!" Ricky said. "The bastards! They don't even fight with any honor!"
All the while, flashes of light kept leaving their sphere, opening into new and complex patterns, and joining with the building pattern in the sky before them. The construct tugged at the eyes now, and Charlie couldn't look at it for more than a few seconds without becoming dizzy. With each new joining of the pattern, another clear, bell-like note radiated outward.
The buzzing under Charlie's skin had reach terrifying proportions now. The only thing that kept him from hollering with it was the knowledge that it was something he was feeling, and not something that could harm him. How he knew this, he wasn't even certain.
Suddenly, there seemed a brief pause in the sounds assailing him, and then the walls of darkness around them rushed in.
And just as suddenly, he heard voices inside of him, calmly suggesting, advising, sharing ideas, and understood that these were all of his friends, and that their input was a collective reaction to the attack. Charlie took this input and added it to his own experience, and so when the black clouds of the boojums arrived, he was ready for them.
Where the last time he had fought the immaterial creatures, he had extended two arms and ripped at them; this time that seemed far from enough of a reaction. It was time to go hard! The sphere around them gave off a soft, pleasant note, and several thousand tentacle-like whips extruded outward, energy flails of immense power, that all began waving until they were a blur of motion. The sphere resembled an enraged sea urchin now, the deadly flails finding the boojums and ripping them to shreds as they neared.
So frantic and maddened had been the rush of the dark energy beings that they didn't manage to stop until hundreds of them had already met their ends. And then the dark clouds of them swerved aside and fled back the way they had come, regrouping and reforming the black wall around them. The buzz inside Charlie's skin now was intense with fear and hatred, and he could sense the dark creatures trying to nerve themselves for another attack.
"Something's not right," Keerby said then.
Their sphere swung around, until they were facing back the way they had come. The dark blob that their aircar and their group was hiding under was just visible, and Charlie could see the black shapes of boojums circling around it. "I thought they couldn't see us there!" he cried out.
Keerby grunted fiercely. "Even boojums have some sports among them! Some that have extra or different talents. They seem to have found where we're hiding!"
The sphere surged forward, and darted at the boojums circling the blob of darkness with tremendous speed, the flails reaching out for them as they arrived. Some of the enemy were shredded into nothingness, but many escaped, swirled away, and reformed into groups. These groups suddenly released smaller orbs of darkness, that shot like arrows at the blob of darkness hiding their real bodies, and when they exploded with tiny vortices of fury against the cloak and shield, Charlie felt the impact somewhere inside himself.
Another flash of light left the sphere, traveling back the way they had come, and turning into yet another pattern that joined with the ever-growing, eye-distorting shape of the keyhole. Another graceful tone radiated outwards, sounding completely at odds with the desperate nature of the moment.
The walls of dark energy beings were closing in now, converging on the sphere and the dark blob hiding beneath it. More black projectiles rained down on their true position beneath the shield, and Charlie again felt the solidness of their impact inside himself.
"Are we in any danger?" he asked Keerby.
"Not yet! The shield will hold against these attackers, but when the others get here...I don't know!"
Another flash left their sphere, sailed way to form a pattern that joined the larger one, and another bell-like tone radiated outward --
And came back to them, then, an even larger echo of all the ones that had preceded it! An almost deafening sound reached them then, felt more than heard, and the sphere shook and rocked in reaction.
And then the air around their sphere was full of people, men and woman simply floating in the air. They looked like anyone you might meet on the streets, dressed casually, for work or for play. More of them appeared, and the ones closest glanced at the sphere, and Charlie could see their faces, their fine, beautiful faces, and knew at once who they were.
Charlie could see them calling to each other, and pointing...and then the people formed groups, which lit out after the approaching boojums at tremendous speed! The agitated buzzing inside Charlie's skin simply turned into a scream, and the walls of boojums around them dissolved as the energy beings turned and fled into the depths of the sky. Their pursuers accelerated, and caught the tail end of the fleeing force, and tore into them with a vengeance that was incredible to behold. The boojums came apart, folded in on themselves, or were whipped into complex maneuvers that displayed every evidence of leaving them turned inside-out!
Even as they did so, more of the people appeared from nowhere, and joined the others chasing after the fleeing boojums. Hundreds of elves, maybe even a thousand or more, racing in every direction, catching the enemy, and erasing them from existence.
Finally, a smaller group of people appeared, and one of them turned and drifted closer to the sphere holding Charlie and his friends. He came right up to them, reached out a finger, poked it against the outside of their sphere, and then waved at them.
It was Max.
But...there was something different about him. His hair was shorter than what they were used to, lighter in color, and the elf seemed slightly heavier than Charlie remembered...
And then he knew. It was Max.
Just, not their Max.
"Incredible story," Max2 told them, smiling across the tabletop. "Like a good movie, even."
Charlie nodded, pleased that he found he liked this alternate-reality version of Max almost as much as he liked their original. This Max2, as Charlie thought of the man, was different, though. Slightly younger than the Max they knew, and not the chief elf of Santa's Workshop. He was an advisor to the elf council in the elf world here, a specialist in security, and in charge of monitoring the closed portal between the elf world and the human one. The coincidence had astounded Charlie and the others...but it was just one more item in an adventure that had already been pretty amazing.
Robin Hood smiled at what Max2 had said, and nodded. "We may sell the rights when we get home."
They all smiled at that. Charlie's friends were just as happy as Charlie to meet the elves here, and especially one they felt they already knew.
Max2 looked around at the faces watching him, and smiled. "Nice folks. I can tell these things."
Kippy smiled at him. "So, what happens now?"
"Well, there's been a lot of debate this past century about reopening the portal and helping out the people here. No one likes boojums, and a lot of us were itching to come over here and take a whack at these ones. But the isolationists were still against it, and the vote was just too close to ever pass the measure. Still, in recent years it had slowly been going the other way, and even if we hadn't detected an elf from another reality here, we still woulda reopened the portal down the road, I think. Keerby here just upset the plans of the stay-at-home crowd, and tipped the vote into action. You guys beatin' on the door helped that a lot. And here we are!"
"You're timing is great!" Durapar put in then.
Max2 smiled at him, and then leaned closer to Charlie. "You gotta few guys here from out in space? Your reality must be an interestin' place!"
Charlie gaped at him. "How did you know?"
Max2 shrugged. "Their forms are really good. But I been around a little, you know? I can see past those things."
Charlie sighed, and sagged a little in his seat. "I'm tired."
"I'll bet." Max2 looked around the room. Several other elves were in conversation with Director Karn at another table. Ilessa was seated beside him, and both the humans looked happy.
Max2 returned his gaze to Charlie. "Why don't you guys go home and get some rest? We can handle this. Every single boojum has been run off the planet, and I can tell ya, they won't be back. I don't know what the rebel humans here will do now, but they lost their edge. From what some of my people are telling me, a lot of them have already dumped their colors and have merged back into the population. It's gonna be a rough recovery, though."
Kippy reached past Charlie and placed a hand on Max2's arm. "You're so much like our Max, in our reality."
"Yeah?" The elf smiled. "I sure was amazed when you knew my name, and all." He nodded. "We got this, okay? It's time we help the people here clean up this mess."
Charlie knew it was time to leave. His group was tired and needed rest. "We may come back, to visit you, if you don't mind," Charlie said.
"Nope. I don't mind at all. You might even bring the Max you know with you." The elf grinned. "I kinda always wanted to meet myself!"
Charlie laughed at that. "There wouldn't be an explosion, or anything, if the two of you met, would there?"
Max2 laughed. "Nah. That's just in the movies."
They stood up, and Max2 extended his hand towards Charlie. "Thanks for all you did here, son." He looked around at the others. "All of you." He winked at Keerby. "You, young feller, are going to be a real terror with skwish!"
"He is already!" Kippy said, putting an arm around Keerby's shoulders and giving him a squeeze.
The elf looked embarrassed, but he looked even more tired. He would need a rest, as would they all.
And Charlie had just the thing for an after-adventure party, too!
Kippy leaned closer, as if he had read Charlie's mind. "Fireworks?"
Charlie laughed, and hugged his boyfriend close. "Yeah. Fireworks!"
The sun had just disappeared, and the top of Myer's Hill was dark now. The show over at the mall would be starting any minute.
Keerby had provided seating for them, all facing the direction of the mall down in the valley. The viewing was great tonight, the sky clear and full of stars.
"Lookit that!" called Beel, as the first rocket arched into the sky and burst above them.
"Ain't that purdy!" Qurank called back.
Behind them, the invisible bulk of Ishkatar squatted behind its scat field. The alien crew had been invited to watch the show with them, and the floater containing their family tree was parked at the end of the sofa next to where Robin sat.
"Quiet, ya bums!" Captain Neema bellowed then. "Let's have some order here!"
All the heads laughed, and Charlie grinned at them before turning towards Kippy. "What a crew."
Kippy nodded, and he and Charlie leaned forward and looked down the length of the mammoth couch Keerby had provided for them. Next to them, Rick and Adrian sat together, their arms interlocked, a bowl of popcorn sitting on Ricky's lap. Ricky was whispering something into Adrian's ear, and Adrian's eyes simply glowed in the starlight. Beyond them, Horace and Amy sat together, holding hands, the bowl of popcorn sitting on Horace's lap largely forgotten. They were talking together quietly, and smiling a lot.
Next were Ragal, Casper, and Durapar, each with their own bowl of treats before them, certainly not popcorn. The three of them were watching the start of the show with great interest, and obviously enjoying themselves. Ragal caught them looking, and winked at them, and Charlie had to grin and wave back.
And at the end of the couch sat Keerby, his head back on the cushion, looking like he was blissfully asleep.
"Should we wake him?" Kippy asked softly. "He'll miss the show."
"Maybe later," Charlie replied. "Let him sleep a little. He's earned it."
Charlie felt a gentle nudge from his other side, and turned to see Robin smiling at him. "Quite an investigation, wasn't it? I have to say I'm happy it's over, and that everything worked out. I don't mind saying now I was worried a few times about our chances."
"You were!" Charlie exclaimed. "You didn't show it."
The man shrugged. "It's not in my nature to. I wade into the fray, battle it out, take prisoners, and then quietly collapse into a heap after it's all done with."
Charlie laughed at the very idea of that. But a surge of satisfaction hit him then. "I feel like we did something that counted, Robin."
"I feel the same. Fighting for what's right is always a worthy cause, Charlie. I am pleased to have such able friends, who think as I do on this."
Charlie nodded at that. "This one was different, I'll say that."
"A very un-Sherlockian mystery, I think, my dear Boone."
Charlie bowed his head. "I concur, my dear Hood."
Kippy elbowed him, and Charlie gently oofed.
"Will you two stop that stuff?" Kippy demanded. "It's getting very old now!"
Charlie heard Robin chuckle, and leaned closer to his boyfriend. "Why, my dear Kippy. I do believe you're jealous."
Kippy smiled at that. "I'm not. I just think it's silly."
Charlie cast a brief look at the lights bursting above them now, and nodded. "We're missing the show."
"I'm not. You are. All that talking."
Charlie smiled and leaned closer. "Okay, no more talk. Kiss me?"
Kippy sighed, and his eyes held the lights of the stars above. "Why, my dear Charlie Boone, I thought you'd never ask!"
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