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    Geron Kees
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

It's Just a Matter of Time, Charlie Boone! - 7. Chapter 7


"You are wizards, ya?"

Charlie nodded his head, knowing that the birdlike, skinny alien was seeing a group of Alsarans sitting before him. Well, a group of Alsarans and their pet bald eagle, which was perched on the table before them. Casper could have made Browbeat look like an Alsaran, but the little flyer's movements would have certainly given the show away, as most Alsarans couldn't fly around the room overhead. So they had opted to make him look like a bird instead, and Kippy had suggested an eagle. Browbeat had been asked to remain silent for now and just watch, because terrestrial birds were not known here, and keeping his abilities hidden for now was in their best interests.

Casper was using his ability of illusion to great effect, emitting a general blanket of altered perception that caused anyone for quite some distance around them to see exactly what he wished them to see. Kip and Adrian were on point, alert to the possibility that someone might come along who was the right type of power user not to be taken in by Casper's skwish, but so far that hadn't happened. Casper was very good at what he did, and his powers of illusion seemed to affect most everyone, and Charlie remembered that the little alien had easily been able to control the perceptions of his fanatical pursuers across a distance of miles as they had chased him over the deserted surface of the war planet of Erenar. One thing Casper excelled at was messing with people's heads!

The idea made Charlie smile, because he tended to think of the small alien's abilities in a more positive light than that. Casper was a very moral and responsible person, and he didn't alter other people's perceptions lightly. Mostly, he had used the powers he had in a defensive manner, only going on the offensive a few times when the situation seemed to require it. Making them all appear as Alsarans, and Browbeat as an eagle, was an easy enough task, and Casper said it was something he could set in place and maintain with very little attention required to the magic.

The alien standing before them now was tall and lanky, and covered head to toe in brown feathers, over which he wore a vest and short pants that allowed his skinny legs to stick out almost comically. The resemblance to a bird ended at the alien's face, which had a large, hooked nose in place of a beak, and a thin mouth full of blocky teeth. Charlie briefly had the old saw about rare as hen's teeth flash through his mind, and cleared his throat so that he wouldn't laugh. Disrespecting aliens was never something he wanted to do on purpose, but the appearance of some of them could be hard to take without at least a wayward smile breaking out.

"Yes," Charlie added to the nod.. "We heard you were looking for wizards, and that you offered employment."

"Perhaps." The alien watched them, his eyes moving from one bearded face to the next, as if adding them up in his mind. "What sorts of things can you do, ya?"

Charlie did grin then. "What are you looking for?"

The tall alien's name was Pankor, and he was ostensibly a recruiting agent for Blem's Mystical Show of Shows, a large entertainment house in Atackit Tor that had built a reputation for variety and excellence in magic. There were shows nightly at the large emporium that was the central marketplace of the tor, the theater taking up an entire end of the broad floor and offering a wide stage upon which feats of wizardry were performed by a large and varied troupe of stars.

As they had moved towards Atackit Tor in the mail packet, they had discussed possible avenues of approach to Lane Tallfield, and not come to a conclusion on anything that might work. Charlie had offered his own idea, and suggested they sleep on it, and that maybe things would seem clearer in the morning. He'd halfway expected Robin or Ragal to come up with a plan, because as he had fallen asleep with his arms around Kip, his own mind was a blank on what they should do next.

So he had been amazed when he had awakened the following day with an idea percolating through his own mind, an extension of his own idea apparently inspired by something that Jol had told them the day before, in response to a question by Horace:

"I was under the impression that this Tursin was a big-time wizard," the ghost-hunter had said. "Are you saying he's not?"

"Not at all." Jol had smiled at the idea. "All things being relative, he's not bad. But I believe his reputation has been enhanced, in part, by him employing other power users that act behind the scenes to make him appear more powerful than he really is."

Other power users, Charlie had thought. That would be us!

There had to be some path that prospective court wizards used to get noticed by Tursin, and it hadn't taken Jol long to sniff it out. Being the power behind the entire reality did give him insights that couldn't be used by others. Blem's Mystical Show of Shows had quickly come to the fore, and with a little digging by his spies inside Atackit Tor, Jol had quickly found out the truth: the magic theater was indeed a theater, and it did hire wizards, and it did put on nightly shows. But it was also a lure and a testing ground for possible hires by Lord Tursin, himself. Pankor was a procurer for the magic show, but he was also a recruiter for the Lord Tursin, who had built himself a secret force of wizards who were most often used to enhance the Lord's own image as a powerful practitioner of magical skills.

Charlie and his group had eventually moved from the mail packet to Morion, which vessel had soon enough deposited them upon the docks of Atackit Tor. And from there, they had made their way to a pub in the centrum of Atackit, where, it was said, Pankor could often be found drinking, and watching the crowds go by. Pankor was an Irawat, a people that inhabited a small, three-system coalition within the borders of the Moth Empire. They were reputed to be no-nonsense types, and a little bit closed-mouth, a no doubt valuable quality if you lived under Moth hegemony.

The pub was called The Broken Spar, in keeping with the apparently nautical tradition that seemed so surprising in a world that boasted no bodies of water at all. The sands of the desert served, it seemed, just as well in the minds of those that traveled them, and in the hearts of those who worked to keep the ships of the desert able to come and go. The tors were like islands in a vast sea, and the ships of the desert the all-important links that bound them together. Water, it seemed, was not a necessary ingredient in the recipe.

It had been easy to find Pankor; he was the only Irawat in the pub. The Broken Spar had an open front, and tables that sat right out on the centrum - the center of the tor's main floor, almost as grand as the one at Ulexium. No doubt, Pankor could see much from his vantage point, as the bustling crowds passed within ten feet of his table. And power users, it was well known, were not bashful about using what nature had given them.

Charlie and the others had taken two nearby tables, ordered drinks, and then set about amusing themselves by levitating the table's centerpiece - a napkin dispenser with an ad above for Mofra's Fine Sparkling Ale - and passing it through the air from table to table, and laughing about the loops, circles, and spins they put it through on the way. Pankor turned to watch, his eyes displaying nothing but the normal curiosity to be expected in a situation like this; but he had finally gotten to his feet and come over to talk. Charlie had quickly confessed that they had known who Pankor was, and that he would be here at the pub, and that they were hoping to find jobs at Blem's.

And here they were.

The tall alien frowned at Charlie's question, which made his face somehow look even more birdlike. "I asked first. What can you do, ya?"

"Well, you saw the napkin dispenser. We can levitate items."

"So can my mother," Pankor said, unimpressed. "Alsarans are not usually great wizards."

That was true. Jol had his abilities greatly enhanced by his position as owner of the reality, but the average Alsaran was, at best, a mediocre power user when compared to what some other races could do. Flying and levitating were very common abilities in the skwish crowd, and it would take something a little more interesting to catch this fellow's eye. Something that was rare among the Alsarans.

Charlie turned to point at Robin, who looked like a grizzled and slightly pot-belied old Alsaran under Casper's somewhat whimsical reordering of their appearances. "This one has a nice trick. Show him, Robard."

Robin's eyes widened at the new name, but he smiled and stood away from his chair. And then disappeared.

Pankor blinked, and then actually looked surprised by the feat. "Where did he go, ya?"

"Right here," Robin said, from behind the tall alien. Pankor jumped, and then turned around to stare. Teleportation, while apparently common among earthly elves and some humans, was not a common ability out among the stars. And, certainly, it was exceedingly rare among Alsarans.

"Oh, that's nothing," Uncle Bob said, waving a hand. He stood, and promptly vanished as well.

Pankor turned immediately to look behind him, but only Robin was there, who lifted a hand and waved.

Uncle Bob reappeared then, this time in front of Pankor, who was still turned to look behind him. Robin pointed, and Pankor turned back around, and then jumped in surprise to find Uncle Bob right before him.

"Hi, there," Bob said, smiling. He immediately disappeared again, reappeared next to his chair, and sat down. Behind Pankor, Robin vanished, reappeared next to his seat, and sat down, too.

Pankor visibly collected himself, and tried to look unimpressed. "Is that all, ya?"

Horace turned in his seat, and a tall, thickly-muscled, and somewhat sinister-looking apparition appeared beside him and spoke: "Command?"

"Walk around the table and introduce yourself to Mr. Pankor."

The devilish creature turned and started around the table, its footfalls sounding immensely heavy against the tiled floor. Pankor's eyes widened in alarm, and he shrank away from the dark figure. "Get it, ya!"

"Stop," Horace said then. "Come on back here."

The dark phantom turned and moved back to stand beside Horace, who patted its muscled arm fondly. "Good yeti." He waved absently at Pankor, and smiled at the dark creature. "Don't worry about him. I still love you. You may go now."

The phantom melted into itself, and was gone.

Pankor stared for a moment at the spot where the creature had been, and then cleared his throat. "Not bad. More?"

Adrian sighed, raised a hand, and pointed a finger at a nearby statue, some sort of expressionist art that looked to be made of stainless steel. A small - for Adrian - bolt of electricity flashed from boy to statue, emitting a powerful snapping sound of ionized air on the way. Pankor jumped again, and moved away from Adrian, holding up his hands. "Stop!"

Charlie looked around them then, and was stunned to see that every table near them had suddenly become empty. Where did everybody go?

But then he saw the other patrons, many with their drinks still in hand, lined up inside the front of the pub, watching. Their expressions varied, but most of them seemed fascinated by what was happening outside. Charlie turned back to Pankor, and was surprised to see that many of the passersby behind him had also stopped to watch. Their expressions were also interested, even fascinated, and as he watched, the crowd of onlookers grew in size.

None of this was lost on Pankor, who suddenly smiled around at the audience, and then moved closer to Charlie. "You have more?"

"Sure," Charlie said, raising a hand to indicate his friends.

But seemingly inspired by that very wave, the air beside Charlie suddenly wavered, and a large globe of it began to vibrate and sing with incredible force. The onlookers emitted a unified gasp and backed away, but their expressions were captivated, still ones of wonder. The singing of the air intensified, and the globe of it darkened, and then with a popping sound as if a giant bubble had burst, the air pulsed outward, and Auggie appeared beside Charlie, his fiery red mane waving in the outrushing of air.

The silence around them deepened as everyone stared at the bearcat in shock. Auggie stared back a moment before noticing Charlie there beside him, and then offered up a sweet bearcat grin, and waved at the crowd.

Someone laughed...and then another...and suddenly, the whole crowd was roaring with laughter. Auggie basked in it, waving and bowing and grinning, and Charlie stood, indicated Auggie, and bowed to him. The audience loved it, and started pounding their hands together in applause. Pankor, until then looking stunned, unfroze and raised his skinny arms, waving frantically at the crowd. Bit by bit they quieted, until the Irawat could be heard.

"That was just a taste of magic, folks! A tiny show, for your enjoyment! More magic can be seen at Blem's Mystical Show of Shows, at the emporium every night. Join us there, won't you, ya?"

And then he turned and inched closer to Charlie, still waving his arms at the crowds. Auggie turned to stare at the Irawat, and Pankor stopped, unsure of himself then. "Does it bite, ya?" he asked.

Auggie laughed, and pointed at Pankor. "Do you?"

Charlie and the others laughed at the shocked look that appeared on Pankor's face, which stayed there a moment in all its glory, only to be replaced, first by chagrin, and then by a definitely calculating look. And then the man put his hands together happily, and smiled a slightly frightening smile at them."Can you start tonight?"

 

* * * * * * *

 

There was no Blem. No one named Blem, that is.The magic show was owned by three rather unintimidating old ladies of a race Charlie had never seen before, but who managed to inspire thoughts of grandmothers, stockings hung by the fire, and Christmas cookies in his mind. They dressed colorfully, and their gray locks were set in a style that his own grandmother would have admired. Their voices sounded grandmotherly, their smiles were grandmotherly, and their yellow cat-eyes twinkled in as grandmotherly a fashion as was possible for yellow cat-eyes to do.

But looks can be deceiving, as Charlie well knew, and so he was only mildly surprised to see one of the old ladies whip out what looked very much like a cigar and chomp down on it. But there was no match to follow, no light, no smoke. She simply chomped on it, and rolled it from side to side as she appraised them.

"I'm Velda. These are my sisters, Feery and Tatch. We own this show."

Charlie nodded, and smiled. "We are all pleased to meet you."

"Uh huh. Pankor tells me you have talents he's never seen before in Alsarans, Or, in anybody, for that matter." Her eyes settled on Auggie, who grinned at her. Despite the cigar in her mouth, she managed to smile back. "You're an appealing fellow."

"Like you, too," Auggie said.

"I forgot to say he's a sentient," Pankor told the ladies hastily then. "I took him for a...well, not for what he is, at first, too."

"You're a wizard?" Tatch asked of Auggie.

"Like mah-jeek, yes."

Feery frowned, which made her look suddenly as ungrandmotherly as could be. "What did he say?"

"He loves magic," Kippy offered. "And he's very good at it."

"They said they could start tonight," Pankor offered.

Velda paused in her shuffling of the cigar from one side of her mouth to the other. "You guys got an act?"

Charlie and Kip exchanged glances. "We can come up with one," Charlie said.

"They could just do what they did in the centrum today, and be good," Pankor said. "The people going by loved it."

"You need an act," Tatch said.

"Yeah," Feery agreed. "An act. We can put one together for you. Got a great choreographer on staff."

"We don't dance," Kippy explained.

All three old ladies laughed. "Choreographer, arranger...call him what you like. He's very good at putting together a show. We'll get him to help you form a routine."

"There won't be time for that before tonight's show," Pankor complained.

Velda grunted around her cigar. "Don't matter. We have a full show tonight, anyway. Might as well present these guys in as fine a light as possible in their opening. We'll set that for tomorrow night."

Kippy cleared his throat. "That's not long to practice."

"You only have to do it once, and you'll remember," Velda promised. "One day will be enough."

"Where you staying?" Tatch asked.

Charlie smiled. "We just got off the boat. We haven't had time to get accommodations yet."

Tatch grinned, and Feery chuckled. "Just got off the boat, huh?" Feery repeated. "At least you're honest about it."

"Have you performed anywhere before?" Velda asked.

Charlie was about to say no, but then he remembered the times they had appeared in one of Uncle Bob's magic shows, and smiled. "Not professionally. But we have performed before an audience before, yes."

"Good. No stage fright, or any of that?"

Charlie shook his head. "Nope."

Velda nodded, and resumed chewing on her cigar. "We can put you up. The theater has an entire floor to accommodate our performers. And it won't cost you a thing."

Robin narrowed his eyes at that, apparently having already appraised the trio and not rating them as pushovers. "Nothing?"

Velda smiled. "No. We own the building outright. It doesn't cost us anything, and there are always more rooms than performers to fill them. Why put you up in one of the inns and not have you right here if we need you?"

Robin smiled. "Need us for what?"

Velda's eyes twinkled with a new liking for Robin. "We sometimes do paid shows for private parties, or even wealthy individuals. Most of your work will be on the public stage, but I'll tell you right now that if you're good, you'll be in demand for private shows, too. Does that bother you?"

Robin turned to Charlie, who just shrugged. "Doesn't bother me."

Robin smiled at Velda. "Private shows are fine."

The old lady chuckled. "You the group's manager?"

Robin's eyes widened slightly, but Charlie spoke before the other could. "Yes. He does our negotiating. We trust him."

Robin smiled at that, but nodded. "I guess I am."

Velda whipped the cigar to the other side of her mouth. "We'll start you at the standard rate, until we see what you can do. If you're anything like Pankor says you are, you'll be getting raises pretty quickly."

Robin nodded. "You have a contract for me to look over?"

"We will provide one, yes. I'll need all of your names, and your credit numbers for the salary deposits."

Tatch pointed at Browbeat. "Does he do anything?"

"He's a part of our show, yes," Charlie said carefully.

Feery leaned forward to peer at the eagle. "Tough looking customer. Just make sure to keep him in your rooms, okay? Some of the other performers may not like him flying around the floor."

And that was that. They were hired, and Velda got someone to show them to their rooms, which turned out to be very comfortable and clean. They were on the top floor of the theater, with windows that looked out on the centrum and the crowds below. It was an excellent view, and one they would have willingly paid for, Charlie thought.

"All the rooms like this?" Uncle Bob asked of their guide, one Norby, another alien species that Charlie had never seen before. The young man was bipedal and of human stature, with the most apparent difference between his features and those of a human being that his ears were taller and mobile, obviously designed to be so for purposes of survival. Norby's nose was narrower than a human's, his lips a little fuller...but, all in all, Charlie found the young man quite attractive.

Kippy evidently did, too. "Is your room on this floor?" He handed Charlie a mischievous glance, and then smiled again at Norby. "I hope we'll be seeing more of you."

Norby blinked at the sudden barrage of questions, and turned to Bob Travers first. "Yes. All the rooms are like this. I think you'll find them comfortable. This suite has four bedrooms, and the next three suites along the hallway are yours, too. One bedroom for each of you, and a couple of extras."

Then he turned to Kip. "Yes, my room is at the other end of the hallway. Number 128. And you will be seeing more of me. I have been assigned to show you around and make sure you get what you need, and that you get to practices on time. If you need me in the mean time, you can always just yell down the hallway."

Kip's eyebrows went up at that. "I'd never do that. I'd come knock on your door."

Norby smiled, which made him even more appealing. "Everybody just yells. You'll get used to it."

And then, as if to prove his point, they heard his name called down the hallway outside their door. Norby grinned. "That's Matalmo. He can light fires and make them do his bidding."

Charlie had heard of pyros, but had never met one. People whose talent allowed them to cause things to combust, and then to direct the results. He smiled. "Maybe best not to keep him waiting."

"He's a good guy. But I'll just run and see what he wants, okay? You guys can all get settled in your rooms. I'll be back to show you a few places you can get good meals. And then, tonight, I'll take you to meet Dahlbrin, the choreographer. He can get you situated with a good act."

Norby turned to go, and Kippy smiled after him. "Hurry back!"

Their guide left and closed the door behind him.

Charlie held up a hand, and looked at Casper, and then briefly touched one eye, and then one ear, and held up a hand questioningly.

Casper nodded, closed his eyes, concentrated a moment, and then opened his eyes and smiled. "The place isn't bugged, if that's what you were asking."

Charlie grinned. "It was."

Jol chuckled. "That sort of spying isn't commonplace here, either. This room is hardly a seat of power."

"Just being careful," Charlie said.

Adrian chuckled. "Kip, you have no shame at all."

Kippy laughed. "Norby's cute, don't you think?"

"Yes." Adrian smiled at Charlie. "But you already have your dream guy."

Kippy sighed, and also smiled at Charlie. "I know. I'm not dreaming about Norby, just admiring him a little."

Charlie laughed, and put his arm around his boyfriend, and nodded at Adrian. "You know, like when you have a perfectly good car, but you still enjoy dropping by dealers to look at what they have on the lot?"

Browbeat, who had been sitting atop a table quietly while Norby was in the room, lifted into the air and landed on the back of a chair. "Can I talk now?"

Auggie, seated nearby, perked up as the flyer spoke. "People?"

Browbeat turned to him. "Of course, I'm people! And nice people, too!"

Auggie padded over to the chair, and carefully leaned forward to give the flyer a sniff. His grin was immediate. "Like."

Browbeat tittered. "You're not so bad, yourself. You certainly are colorful!"

Auggie sighed, and turned happy eyes to Charlie and Kip. "Good."

"We like him, too," Kippy said.

"So, what about it?" Browbeat pressed. "It's not like me to stay quiet for long. Something might break!"

Charlie mulled that over, and nodded. "I see no reason for you to stay quiet now. Just be aware of who's around when you talk, okay?"

The flyer grunted. "Is there a reason you're worried about me talking? I won't give anything away."

Charlie smiled. "We trust you, Browbeat. But you were with us on the pyramid when we fought Tallfield the last time. I was just thinking what Tallfield will think when we come to his attention, and we will. A talking flyer might associate this group with the one Tallfield knows from that encounter. He will probably be suspicious, anyway, but I don't want to give him any help, you know?"

"Auggie wasn't with us then," Horace said. "Nor Jeremiah. Our group is bigger this time. It's different."

"But the inclusion of a flyer is quite noticeable," Chirka said, nodding. "It's one of those similarities that might make the man sit up and take notice. I can see Charlie's point."

Browbeat sighed. "Maybe I should just go away."

Kippy gasped. "Don't you dare!" He marched over to the eagle and put a hand on the flyer's back, and leaned closer. "We love having you along, Browbeat. We're just being careful."

"You're an important part of the group," Charlie agreed.

"You're staying," Ricky said firmly. "I have spoken!"

Adrian laughed, and poked his boyfriend with an elbow, and Ricky grinned. "We want you to stay, Browbeat."

Browbeat launched himself into the air, and circled above them, laughing. "Friends! I want to stay! I want to help! I was just worried I was hurting you."

"You're not," Charlie said. '"Just be aware of who is around when you speak."

"I will." The flyer landed on Kip's shoulder. "I won't give things way, I promise."

They checked out the rooms, and found that the suites all had doors between them, making it easier for them to get together. They opened the doors between the suites, and then they all sat around the living area of the suite that Charlie, Kip, Rick, and Adrian had been given. There were four bedrooms, so that they could each have one, but Kip and Charlie, and Rick and Adrian, would be sharing rooms, they already knew.

Norby returned after a while, and looked around the room. "You didn't get your things delivered?"

Kippy frowned. "What things?"

Norby looked amazed. "Your luggage? Bags? Stuff?"

"We don't have any," Charlie explained. "All that junk is really a pain on a long trip. We just figured we'd buy what we needed when we got here."

"Oh." Norby nodded, understanding then. "You're not the first to do that. I can show you a few good outfitters while we're out in the emporium. Ready to go eat?"

The guide took them around the 'town', and Charlie had to admit that Atackit Tor was every bit as nice a place to be as Ulexium Tor. Even Jol enjoyed the charm of the place, and at one point leaned closer to Charlie and smiled. "I really need to visit here more often."

Jeremiah seemed to have entered a perpetual state of wide-eyed amazement. "Never seen nothin' like this," he confessed, grinning. "I sure have been missin' a lot in life!"

"It's new to us, too," Kippy told him. "So don't feel badly about it."

They had a fine meal and picked up a few things, and then Norby took them back to the the theater. They left their new items in their rooms, and proceeded downstairs to the backstage area, where there seemed to be other suites of rooms.

"Who lives here?" Adrian asked their guide.

"Dahlbrin, among others. This is where the production people live. They like to be close to the stage, so their rooms are here."

Norby stopped before a door and knocked. They heard footfalls inside the rooms, and then the door opened. It was all that Charlie could do then not to gasp.

It was a man, as in, a human.

He was about Charlie's height, but much older, balding on top, and wore glasses, from which a lanyard hung, so that he could drop them and they'd hang down in front of him. His dress was casual, slacks, a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and what looked like loafers on his feet. He was holding a bound sheaf of papers in one hand, not quite a book, but the closest thing to it they had seen here.

His brown eyes briefly appraised them, and then he smiled. "Ah. Velda said you'd be along. Come in, all of you. Norby, if you're not too busy, you stay, too."

They entered the suite, found a large living area with plenty of seating.

"Sit," Dahlbrin offered, waving a hand. "Which one of you is Chuckles?"

Charlie raised a hand, trying not to smile at the stupid name he'd adopted here at Atackit Tor. It had been Kip's idea, one of the variants he occasionally used at home instead of Charles.

Dahlbrin smiled, and offered his hand. "In the language of my homeworld, your name means laughter. I hope that's a good sign."

"Me. too," Charlie said, smiling. "You're the choreographer?"

"If you want to call it that. Or, arranger. It's my job to help your group develop a routine you can do in public for a time, and then another when the first one gets old." He smiled. "We try to keep our performer's acts as fresh as possible."

Dahlbrin looked around at the group, until his eyes settled on Auggie. "What a beautiful animal."

"Me people," Auggie said, not at all offended.

The man winced, and then smiled. "My bad. I should know better by now, but you very much resemble the cat species on my own world. With maybe a little black bear thrown in for good measure."

But then his eyes fixed on Browbeat, and Charlie suddenly realized that Dahlbrin would certainly not fail to recognize a bald eagle. "And this one?"

"I'm people, too," Browbeat said.

And then, right before their eyes, the flyer's outline flowed and became something else altogether, still a winged life form, but nothing like an eagle or his original self. Casper had apparently thought it a good idea to show that the form was not a permanent one.

Dahlbrin blinked, and then smiled. "Polymorph?"

Browbeat hooted. "Why not?"

The man nodded, an eager light now in his eyes. "I have to ask where you got the shape you just had a moment ago?"

"Saw it someplace," Browbeat said vaguely. "It's pretty."

"Yes, it is. And it's native to my homeworld. I was a bit surprised to see it. An eagle, we call them."

Charlie was feeling a little nervous now. He had not bargained on meeting someone from their own planet!

"What world is that?" Charlie asked.

The man sighed. "Place called Earth. I doubt you'd know of it. It's a very long way from Alsara."

"I don't believe we've ever seen your kind before," Robin said then, playing the game.

Dahlbrin nodded. "We're around. This layer is so huge, and there are so many places to be and things to do, it's very easy for one people to get lost here."

"Do you have any of your own realities here?"

"Oh, yes. I've been to many of them. Some are extremely homelike, in fact."

"And yet, you're here," Charlie said.

"Yes, I am. I never thought I'd stay here when I first visited. It was just another reality to check out. But then I found this theater, and realized I could make a place for myself here. I have now been here for a long time." Dahlbrin smiled. "It's home."

"You work with power users," Uncle Bob said. "Are you one, yourself?"

The man nodded. "I didn't even know it until I came here. I was originally the apprentice to the guy that had the job I have now. It was here I learned that - at least in this reality - I am a reinforcer."

Robin leaned closer. "And that would be?"

Dahlbrin chuckled. "I can teach something, and make people remember it."

A light clicked on then in Charlie's mind. Something Velda had said, about them learning a routine in a single night:

"You only have to do it once, and you'll remember. One day will be enough."

"I've never heard of that talent," Casper said, sounding cautious. "It's a mind talent?"

"Apparently. But it's non-invasive, if that's what you're worried about. Each of us has a perfectly good memory, but we learn some things by repetition. Practice. My talent simply reinforces the first experience of anything, so that the memory becomes a permanent one right away."

"How does it work?" Ragal asked.

Dahlbrin shrugged. "Beats me. I don't do anything. But if you run through a routine with me around, you'll remember it."

Charlie thought back to what they had discussed since arriving, and did not find he could remember every word said, verbatim. "It's not an always-on talent?"

"No. It just seems to work when we're rehearsing an act."

Charlie looked over at Casper. "What do you think?"

"It's interesting. It sounds like Dahlbrin has to want it to work, for it to work."

"I'd say that's it, too," the choreographer agreed. "I get very caught up in the performances of the people I work with. I want them to succeed."

Charlie nodded, willing to let it go for now. Casper would tell them if Dahlbrin's ability was in some way dangerous to their disguises here. "So, what do we do next?"

The other man smiled. "I thought we'd go onstage, and have you show me a few things, and we'll work up an act."

Charlie looked around at his friends. "That sound good to everyone?"

There were no objections.

"Great!" Dahlbrin clapped his hands together and smiled. "I have to admit to being excited to see what you have. Velda said your group might be very special, indeed. So, if you'd all come with me...?"

The man led them back to the door of his suite, and then down a hallway to the a staircase, that took them up to the stage area.

The area was large, and hung above with lights and scaffolding. There were spotlights above them that illuminated where they were standing, but the far end of the stage was cloaked in shadows. "I thought this stage was open to the central mall," Charlie said.

Dahlbrin nodded. "It is for performances. The area to your right - that wall? Those are rollback doors. When the theater is open, so are they." He smiled. "That's where your public will be." He rubbed his hands together. "Okay...wow me!"

Charlie had to smile at that. The man's enthusiasm was clear.

Robin and Bob demonstrated their teleporting abilities, Adrian his electricity, Kippy his flying and levitating, and Horace his new yeti. Ragal created dark phantoms that looked nothing like his original binding octopus, which floated eerily above them and emitted definitely ghostly sounds. Chirka, to everyone's surprise, seemed to have an amazing ability to break things. Charlie watched in amazement, until he finally understood that the Kift had a similar skill with gravity to what Pacha had. But where Pacha could project gravitational acceleration over an area, Chirka could only apply hers to very small points. But, suddenly make the seat of a chair subject to twenty gravities while the rest of the chair was not affected, and some part of it was going to break off!

It was Auggie that was the star, though. He could pull objects seemingly out of thin air, disappear, float, heat things, freeze things, separate things into parts and put them back together, and do an entire list of things that Charlie had never seen before. The bearcat distributed these abilities in such a way that it appeared that Charlie and Ricky performed some of the tricks, and even Jeremiah was a delight playing an invisible flute with his fingers moving before his face.

"Stop!" Dahlbrin finally said, waving a hand at them. "I've seen enough for now." He smiled around at them. "And it didn't appear to me like you were finished, either." He shook his head, looking amazed. "I have enough to work with to get an act organized for you."

Charlie felt pleased that they had worked so well together. "What do we do now?"

The choreographer laughed. "Well, you fellows can go back to your rooms and relax, get a good night's sleep, and be refreshed in the morning. I will work like a fiend half the night, assembling the things I have seen into a show with some style, order, and thrills in it, and then we will all meet back here tomorrow afternoon to run through the new act."

Kippy raised a hand. "We're supposed to perform tomorrow night."

"And you shall. We'll work through your routine one time, and you'll know it by heart. I promise you."

Norby, who had stood by watching the entire exhibition of powers, looked excited. "This is going to be one of the best acts I've ever seen. You fellows are amazing!"

Kippy sighed happily. "You're only saying that because it's true."

That brought a round of laughter, and Charlie patted his boyfriend on the back. "You're tired, I can tell."

"I am. It's been a long day."

It was amazing that sleep still refreshed here. Weariness was a biological product, and no one here had a biological body. Jol had told them that a night and day cycle was scripted into his reality, because he felt that rest was still important to overall mental health. They didn't have to sleep here, if they didn't want to. But the idea of a nice rest in a comfortable bed with Kip seemed like a very good idea just now.

"Okay," Charlie said, extending a hand to their new friend. "We'll be interested to see what you come up with."

Dahlbrin nodded, and leaned closer to shake hands. "Call me Carl, if you would. My friends all do. Dahlbrin is a surname." He turned to Norby. "Have them back here after lunch tomorrow, would you?"

"Yessir." Norby smiled at Charlie and the others. "If you'll come with me."

Charlie smiled at the choreographer. "You're not coming?"

"Me? I need to walk around here onstage and think. Part of my creative process." The man waved a hand around at the stage. "I need the sense of the space we'll be working in." He laughed. "Call me crazy."

Charlie smiled. "I wouldn't dare. I fully understand."

They bid the man farewell, and let Norby take them back to their rooms. They talked for a while, and then split up to go to their respective beds.

The next day would come quickly enough.

 

* * * * * * *

 

"That's it," Carl said, nodding at Robin and Jeremiah, who were standing far apart on opposite sides of the stage. "The two of you have to run straight at each other, full speed." He turned to Bob Travers and Ragal, who were separated in the same way, but farther back on the stage than the others. "You two need to do the same, in time with these two. You run at each other, full tilt. Just before you impact, the teleporters vanish and reappear on the other side of their partner, and also switch partners in the process. Let's give it a try, on my cue. One, two, three!"

Robin and Jeremiah started running at each other, just as Bob and Ragal did the same thing. The partners quickly neared each other, and just before it looked like they would crash together, both Robin and Bob vanished and reappeared in an instant...though Robin was now moving away from Ragal, and Bob away from Jeremiah. The eye was fully tricked into thinking the men had run right through each other, and not just that, but emerged on the other side having traded partners.

Kippy gaped at the move, and Charlie had to laugh. It really looked cool!

"Wow," Adrian said, poking Rick with an elbow. "Was that wicked, or what?"

"Awesome," Rick agreed.

Browbeat made a slightly rude noise. "They should have had me in the middle, and let me zoom straight up at the last second," he whispered.

"You get smooshed," Auggie said, grinning.

Browbeat tittered merrily. "Oh, well! Beats sitting on the sidelines!"

"That was excellent," Carl told the four performers. "Bravo."

Jeremiah laughed. "You should see it from my perspective!"

"Timing is everything in this one," Ragal said.

"It is," Carl agreed. "But you will find now that your bodies have memorized the timing. Every performance now will go just as this one."

"If you say so," Uncle Bob said, grinning.

Next up, Horace created, not a yeti, but an apparent copy of himself, and then another, and then another, and then another. Kippy made them all fly in formation, loop around each other, and do pinwheels, while Ragal and Bob created black, ghostlike negative-light figures that swirled around them in time. The two groups approached each other, and then traded places in a moment that seemed to baffle the eyes. The effect was decidedly spooky, and reversed and repeated several times before all the participants simply vanished into thin air.

Auggie put on a lightshow next, with jets of multi-colored flame lancing back and forth across the stage, while Adrian manufactured tiny ball lightning effects that swirled among the flames, snapping and crackling as they shed tiny lightning bolts in all directions.

There were a dozen acts in all, each seemingly better than the next, and utilizing everyone's talents to pull off. Finally, Carl called a halt. "That's it for now. I think what we have will fill the time allotted to your act."

Charlie smiled. What was amazing was that he now felt like they had practiced the act a hundred times, instead of just once. He had no doubt that they could come out on this stage tonight and nail it.

Carl pressed his hands together, obviously pleased with their performance. "You've all earned a rest and a good dinner. The performance won't be until after dark, and I'm not sure yet where yours will fall in the line up. Norby? Have them back here just after sundown, will you?"

"Yessir."

Carl nodded. "I'll see you all then."

Charlie and the others gathered into a group, and Norby turned to lead them off the stage.

"Hold for a moment, will you?" someone said.

Charlie turned with the others as two men came out of the shadows at the far side of the stage. One was Pankor, looking just as silly in his short pants as the last time they had seen him. The other man was an Alsaran, and nicely dressed in gray. He also looked familiar, though Charlie wasn't sure where he might have seen him before.

"Pretty amazing, aren't they?" Pankor said to the man.

"Yes." The man in gray inspected them closely, as if looking for strings, wires, or some other explanations for why they could do what it seemed they could do."Most impressive."

And then, just as Charlie realized who the man in gray was, Carl confirmed it by giving the man a bow. "Lord Tursin. It's an honor to have you on my stage."

"Thank you. Pankor has been telling me that you have a most unusual addition to your troupe, and I thought I'd come see for myself."

"They'll be performing later tonight, if you'd like to come back again," Carl offered.

"I think I will," Tursin agreed. "I would love to see them perform again. They are quite unique, don't you think--?" He turned then, as if expecting someone to be right behind them. Tursin frowned. "Now, where did you get to?"

In answer, a dark figure detached itself from the shadows and came forward to stand with Tursin. The man was tall, dressed in a black suit with a cape, and wore a top hat upon his head.

Tursin grunted. "I was just saying that this group was quite unique. Don't you think?"

Lane Tallfield nodded, his gaze moving among the group onstage. "Oh, yes. Most unique. So much so, that I feel like I have met them before!"

The man's eyes held a look of satisfaction as he smiled at them. "Hello, Charlie."

Copyright © 2022 Geron Kees; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Chapter Comments

11 hours ago, ColumbusGuy said:

I definitely didn't see your ending coming, and it was nicely done and totally satisfying.

I can't wait to see how Browbeat fits into their next adventure, and Jeremiah too, of course. 

On a side note, the only other winged character I can recall with so much enjoyment was Dr. Prilicla from James White's Sector General novels... :)

 

Wow. I haven't read the Sector General stuff since I was 13! :)

 

 

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2 hours ago, raven1 said:

Lane's appearance was about the time I expected it.  He probably figured out they were not on the ship as it approached Atackit Tor.  I'm also sure Pankor let him know powerful magic users were in Atackit and where to find them.  Now to see how things will play out.  

Exactly! :)

 

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