FAST TIMES AT CALVARY BAPTIST

Pastor Jack Caldwell sat behind his well-polished desk in his office at Calvary Baptist Church. The church, located as it was in the Manchester area of Baltimore County in the state of Maryland, was of the “fundamentalist” type, vigorously preaching against the presumed evils of liberalism, feminism, and homosexuality. As part of this, they also ran a school, rather prosaically yet presumptuously named Calvary Baptist Academy, part of the “Accelerated Christian Education” programme which teaches that scientific facts such as evolution are all part of a great lie, forsooth a grand conspiracy against All-American conservatism and “family values”.

As he eyed the visitor in his office, Pastor Caldwell (himself an austere, aesthetically-thin, grey-haired man clad in a dark suit and tie) could not repress a slight shudder. There was something about this man, this “Mr. Chrysostom” who had breezed into his office offering papers proving himself to possess a proper schoolteacher’s college degree. There was something powerful about him, something downright otherworldly.

“Well, your papers are impressive enough, Mr. Chrysostom,” said Caldwell. “Yes, we could use you here at the school. Having an accredited teacher here would help get the State Board of Education off our backs. Those ungodly tools of Satan.”

The man known as Mr. Chrysostom chuckled as he sat in the chair across from the pastor.

“Indeed so,” he said darkly. “All of this world are tools of something. All are under some… influence.”

With this, Mr. Chrysostom turned his deeply hypnotic eyes to-wards his host. “Chrysostom” was a man of middle years, his face still showing signs of handsome distinction despite being marked with the results of seeming lifetimes of extreme profligate wickedness. His hair was long and dark, his face decorated with a thin moustache and goatee. He was wearing a silk suit of ebon black.

“Yes, well,” continued Pastor Caldwell, “as I said, we’d be glad to have you. But it is the summer break, you know. You say you have some work to offer the church until the next semester begins?”

“Indeed I do, Pastor,” returned Chrysostom (actual the evil intergalactic villain, Don Wingus). “I am currently engaged in some research and could make quite good use of one of your schoolrooms -- as laboratory space, more or less. The results of my endeavours would then be available to you and the church.”

“Results?” queried the clergyman. “What are you expecting to achieve?”

“Power, my good man,” responded Wingus, his eyes now showing forth with an irresistibly-mesmerising glare. “Supreme and eternal power over all of Creation.”

“Yes, the Lord said we were supposed to have that. Dominion over the Earth and everything.”

“Quiet right, and now, with my research, we shall! For my research will put us into contact with an artefact, an antediluvian jewel that shall bring us total domination of this planet. You will be privileged to assist me in obtaining it. It is arguably the most powerful object ever to grace this reality. It is the very key to mastery over Time itself!”

“What is it called?” queried Jack Caldwell, now deeply under the hypnotic spell of the Algolite criminal.

“It is known as -- The Lemurian Lapidare!!” …

My name is RUMANOS -- DOCTOR DANIEL RUMANOS, Extraterrestrial Espionage Agent and Intergalactic Man of Mystery. Even though I have the physical appearance of an human being, I am in fact several thousands of years old and do carry within my blood the vastly superior genes of the legendary Watchers of the Daemon-Star ALGOL -- the most intellectually-advanced race in all of the known galaxies, whose technology is so sophisticated it often appears to be “magic” and “miraculous” to lesser beings.

Whilst most Algolites tend to keep to themselves, preferring to live in elitist seclusion from the rest of the Universe and thus merely observing the goings-on of the myriad races of the vast reaches around them, I am an Operative for a secret organisation known as the KOSMIKOS or Cosmic Intervention Department, tasked with maintaining peace and order throughout the farthest reaches of Space and Time. You know, “plausible deniability”, and all of that sort of thing. It is our ongoing mission to defend the weak, the unfortunate, and the innocent from those who would harm or exploit them.

Currently assigned to Earth, I protect its people (both upon their planet and across the eternal void) from the hideous manipulations of the arch-villain known as Magister Don Wingus and his occult terrorist organisation, Spectral Paranormal; as well as from alien invasions, mad scientists, and indeed all manner of menace. Assisted by my friends -- the beautiful Miss Millie The Girl From Beyond " Drake and our catlike robot, Kit-10 -- I am the living icon of Algol on this world. I am a Knight of the Eternal Spires. I am the sword of justice from the planet Daemonia. I am the stellar swashbuckler.

I am -- THE DAEMON-STAR!!! …

Under the golden trapezoidal roof of a skyscraper in downtown Baltimore City, I sat at my workbench making adjustments on a device that resembled a large writing pen, but which was in reality an highly-advance scientific instrument. I was clad in my usual finery, including a frilled poet shirt, purple velvet suit, and military boots.

“So, what exactly are you doing to the transonic turnscrew?” enquired Millie Drake, who stood near by unwrapping a piece of chocolate that she then popped into her mouth. The girl is exquisitely beautiful, with luxurious chestnut hair, lovely violet eyes, sun-kissed skin, and luscious red lips. The tight, short, royal blue dress she wore only served to highlight the soft curves of her petite-and-perfect figure.

“Just a few upgrades, love,” I informed her. “Some new software. I hope it all works, as it has been quite a while since the old transonic has undergone any real maintenance, you know.”

The chamber in which I was working contains a rather large collection of artefacts, both alien and some from different periods of Earth’s history, things that I have collected in my long and storied career as an operative of the Kosmikos of Algol. Not the least of these is my DiTraS (pronounced “DYE-tress” and standing for Dimensional Transport Sphere), one of those combination Spaceship/Time-machines available only to the use of our people, the exterior of which is disguised to look like a Greco-Roman “Ionic” or “Corinthian” column.

At the other end of the chamber, busily monitoring some electronic readouts, was Kit-10, our mobile personal computer who resembles nothing more or less than a small mechanical cat.

“Local disturbance, s--,” suddenly interrupted the mechanical feline in her artificial but pleasantly-feminine voice. “Sudden energy surge detected.”

(It should be noted here that, along with her other catlike characteristics, Kit-10 is possessed of a complete inability to openly show respect to anyone. The closest she ever comes to it is by referring to me by a slight “s--” sound -- for “sir” -- and to Millie Drake by “m--” -- for “ma’am”.)

“What kind of energy, Kit-10?” said I, looking up from my work with interest.

“Accessing databanks,” answered the robot. “Confirmed. Energy is Lemurian, of the type utilised during the First Human Empire. It is currently detected in the Manchester area of Baltimore County.”

“By the Stellar Trinity!” I swore, standing up in haste and slipping the transonic turnscrew into my pocket. “We need to get over there right away!”

“But who could be using Lemurian energy?” enquired Millie.

“One shudders to think,” I responded whilst grabbing my panama hat and opera cape from the near by hallstand.  “Kit-10, you stay here and continue monitoring the readouts. Come along, Mills. We have work to do!” …

In the schoolroom of Calvary Baptist Academy that had been converted into Don Wingus’s laboratory, that villain now stood with Pastor Caldwell and one other. The other was a young man, tall and heavy-set, his distorted features marking him as a mentally-deficient, likely due to inbreeding. He was wearing jeans, a rather yellowed plain t-shirt, and beaten-up sneakers.

“Howard,” said Caldwell. “Move Mr. Chrysostom’s cabinet over to where he wants it.”

“Yes, Pastor,” obeyed the retarded man who then shuffled over to his assigned task.

“So, this Howard,” enquired Wingus. “You say he is your younger sister’s son?”

“Umm, yes,” answered the clergyman nervously. “We believe he was punished by God for being born… out of wedlock.”

“No doubt,” smirked Wingus. “Excuse me a moment.”

Don Wingus then went over to the tall cabinet that Howard had moved into place. As he approached, a porthole-type opening appeared in the object and Wingus walked through it -- this “cabinet’ being, of course, the villain’s disguised DiTraS.

Inside, Wingus went to the large counter that stood at one end of the tavern-like control room. He already had two long cables connected to it, and now stretched them out through the door of the ship to the centre of the schoolroom laboratory, placing the other ends of them -- which were readily pulsating with a strange eldritch glow -- upon a small circular table that had been set up there.

“Do you have some kind of protection with you?” enquired Caldwell. “I mean in case some ungodly sinner tries to interfere.”

“Of course,” grinned Don Wingus whilst he briefly then exposed the handle of the sleek laser gun concealed in the pocket of his suit-coat.

“Good to see you exercising your God-given right to bear firearms,” approved the pastor.

“Now is the time for the summoning to begin,” then announced Wingus to the others. “When you see something beginning to appear on the table, concentrate upon it, and add your mental power --whatever it may be -- to the manifestation.”

“Yes, Mr. Chrysostom,” agreed Caldwell. “We obey your commands.”

The idiot Howard also nodded in agreement, his mouth hanging open in wonder.

With this, Don Wingus -- alias “Mr. Chrysostom” -- stared intently to-wards the platform on which he had placed the cables and, his voice raised in a chant, began the incantation:

“By all the powers within me and by the energies of Time itself I do now summon forth the appearance of the Lemurian Lapidare! I do call upon this stone to send itself here from its place in the most ancient temple! By the authority of my Daemonian heritage, I do summon forth the mightiest of jewels that I may use its powers to control the force of Shenaskah!”

As he spoke the words of evocation, a sound like the winds of a typhoon began to be heard in the chamber, coupled as it was by the appearance of dark swirling clouds around its perimeters. Then, upon the table an object started to come into view. It was like unto a dazzling jewel, purple and black in colour, about the size of an hand. As the summoning continued, it gradually became more and more like a solid object.

“Now, Shenaskah, come!” cried the evil Don Wingus as the chaotic forces continued to swirl around him. “Hear me, Devourer of Time! By the powers of the Lemurian Lapidare I do call you forth! Hear my summoning and come!”

And with this, a figure began to appear in the room -- a figure as unto an huge dark mass, an ebony shape like a man clad in a shapeless robe of total blackness.

“Yes, come to me, Shenaskah!” continued Wingus amidst peals of his totally insane laughter. “Come to me and bring me your power!!” …

There was a drizzling midsummer rain as Millie Drake and I arrived at the parking lot of Calvary Baptist Church in our canary-coloured Edwardian roadster (affectionately known as “Lizzie”) and made our way to the adjoining school building. There was a sound as to like a mighty wind coming, oddly enough, from inside.

“That sound…” shuddered Millie. “What is it?”

“It seems the invocation of the Lemurian forces is indeed underway,” I explained. “We have no time to lose.”

The transonic turnscrew made quick work of the schoolhouse locks and we were soon inside, hurrying down the corridors to-wards the chamber from which the bizarre noise was emanating.

We burst into the room and beheld the swirling dark forces that had been summoned, along with the grey-haired older man and mentally-retarded younger one standing off to the side in obedience to the one who had performed the horrid incantation. As we entered, our sudden presence disturbed his concentration and caused the forces in the chamber to lessen. The image of the stone and the phantasm of the ghastly figure vanished. All that was left was an echo of the wind, and some vestiges of the powers that continued to drift around the area.

The villain turned to face me, a look of annoyance on his darksome visage. Of course, I recognised him immediately. I recognised him as my oldest and most bitter enemy, the most heinous criminal in all of Time and Space.

“Don Wingus!” I exclaimed. “I should have known. So you did escape from the Battle Lords.”

“Well, it is Doctor Roman Nose and Daemonia’s Junior Miss,” mocked Wingus, an evil grin spreading across his features. “Welcome back to school. Reading and writing and arithmetic and all that. I would offer you one of those free school lunches, but I am certain you have already given the little girl there something hot and creamy for dessert.”

“Wingus, you despicable fiend!” I protested, ignoring his obscene taunts. “To what use are you putting Lemurian energy? You know that it is unstable from this range, and could ravage the very fabric of Time!"

The grey-haired man suddenly broke into our conversation.

“You need to stop talking to Mr. Chrysostom disrespectfully,” he stated to me. “I’m Pastor Jack Caldwell, and he is our most accredited teacher here at Calvary Baptist Academy.”

“‘Chrysostom’?” I repeated, still addressing Don Wingus. “Well, of all the confounded arrogance! Using the name of a saint to cover your evil deeds, along with forged education credentials. Well, I am putting a stop to it.”

“Not this time, Rumanos,” laughed the villain. “Not this time. You see, I have already made contact. I have used the control panel of my DiTraS to contact the Lemurian Lapidare, having found that this location is on a direct Time-ricochet to its energies.”

“The Lemurian Lapidare? Why, that is an object actually dating back to the time of the Kaiju, which was later discovered and utilised by the humans of Lemuria to overthrow the Reptilians.”

“Yes, which it did by harnessing the power of the inter-dimensional being known as Shenaskah. That is the one I am calling forth.”

“Shenaskah?” queried Millie Drake. “Isn’t that one of the Time-Devourers?”

“Indeed it is, love,” I told her. “The most powerful and dangerous of them. They are creatures that exist on the outer edges of reality, and which maintain their existence by absorbing leakages of Time.”

“A form of sustenance that gives them unspeakable powers,” interrupted Wingus. “Powers that I now intend to harness, that I may utilise them to conquer all of Creation!”

“The energies of Shenaskah are total chaos, Wingus,” I told him. “You will not be able to control him.”

“Ah, but I shall. I shall. As I said, I have already made contact with the Lemurian Lapidare, and shall transmit its powers across the aeons that I may use them to put even Shenaskah at my command.”

“You will do nothing of the sort,” I insisted. “Thank the Triple Star we arrived here in time to stop you. We will…”

Just then, I was hit from behind by a powerful blow. It was the young retarded man, who had crept up behind me when I was distracted by talking to Don Wingus. I found myself crumpling to the floor in pain.

“Good work, Howard,” approved the villain. “Keep Rumanos restrained whilst I continue with the working.”

The man known as Howard then grabbed me and hoisted me upwards. He was incredibly strong. Fortunately, I managed to shake off the pain and delivered a knee to his groin. He bellowed in agony and relaxed his grip. This enabled me to step back and deliver a punch to his face that sent him careening across the floor. He cascaded into one the areas of energy that were still swirling about. As I watched, he shuddered and shook as his form began to alter. He quickly became bent over and his hair fell out. His face became wrinkled and dry, his body weak and aged. He soon fell down in death and his corpse quickly rotted away to a skeleton, then to a mere pile of dust that soon enough itself disappeared.

“The residual energies from the Time-Devourer,” I said. “We Algolites are immune to them, but that is their effect on humans.”

It was then that I heard Millie Drake scream and whirled around to see what was menacing her. It was Don Wingus, who had her in his clutches, one arm wrapped tightly around her midsection whilst his other hand held his laser-gun to her head.

“One false move, Rumanos,” warned Wingus, “and the girl dies. Having already made contact here with the Lemurian Lapidare, I now intend to take the invocation of Shenaskah into the Time Current. That shall greatly strengthen its effects.”

As he spoke, the villain made his way to-wards his DiTraS. When he reached it, he threw Millie to the floor and quickly passed through the door to his control room. The cables were then instantly withdrawn and the porthole closed. This was immediately followed by the strange gasping moaning sound of his Time-ship engine as it dematerialised. Within a moment, the cabinet-like DiTraS had faded away.

The remnant of the dark powers in the room now disappeared. Pastor Caldwell still stood to the side, looking on in disbelief at all that had occurred as I ran over to see to Millie Drake.

“Are you all right, love?” I questioned concernedly as I helped the poor wee lass to her feet.

“Yes, I’m okay, Daniel,” she assured me. “But... he got away?”

“Indeed so. He has taken his ship into the Time/Space Current, in order to more fully complete the calling of Shenaskah and gain the horrid creature’s power.”

“Oh my gosh…” shuddered the girl. “Now there’s nothing we can do to stop him!”

“Well, that is not quite correct, my dear,” I counselled. “Just watch.”

I fetched the transonic turnscrew from my pocket and held it up, activating a certain setting. Immediately, the sound of another DiTraS engine -- that of our own -- was heard and the familiar column materialised in the chamber.

“That was the upgrade you made earlier!” cheered Millie.

“Quite so,” said I. “It will only work this one time, though. The software is just too advanced for this old device, and has already threatened to overheat it. But let us hurry and catch up to that nefarious renegade, before he succeeds in his horrible plans!”

(The coincidence that the upgrade was so useful so soon was one of those things that would be unrealistic in a work of fiction, but this is a truthful account of actual happenings.)

With this, Millie and I hurried through the porthole-like doorway of our DiTraS into the control centre, which resembles and old-style café or tearoom. I soon enough activated the controls, and took the ship directly into the inter-dimensional Current.

I turned on the scanner screen above the console, and it immediately showed the swirling grey mists and multihued spirals of the Time/Space Current itself. Directly ahead of us, we could see Don Wingus’s ship speeding along through the vortex. A moment later, the image changed and the face of Wingus himself appeared upon the screen, sneering at us from his own control room.

“Oh no, Rumanos,” he snarled. “No no no. You are not going to prevent this from happening. You do not have a chance. I am already in mentalist contact with Shenaskah by use of the Lemurian Lapidare, and now I intend to complete the invocation!”

“Daniel, what can we do?” cried Millie Drake.

“I have an idea, Mills,” said I, “but it is rather dangerous. If we can only catch up with him.”

I manipulated the controls of our DiTraS whilst the voice of Don Wingus proceeded with his unholy summoning of the Time-Devourer.

“Come to me now in full, Shenaskah!” he chanted. “Come to me and grant me your mighty powers. The powers to speed up Time itself, or to slow it down, the powers to control the life-spans of mere mortals! Oh great Shenaskah, come and make me one with the forces you have so long absorbed!”

“We need to go faster,” I told Millie. “We need to catch up to him.”

“What are you planning to do?” enquired the lass.

“If we can just reach him, we can create a Time-Collision. Ram our DiTraS into his and cause a temporal paradox.”

“I get it!” cried the girl. “We would be occupying the same exact space at the same exact time.”

“Quite right, love. Thus we would create an impossibility that would cause the engines of both ships to momentarily shut down. It is incredibly dangerous, though. If we do not reach the correct chronological speed, our ship could be torn to pieces upon impact, before we achieve true Collision.”

“Oh my gosh, Daniel! Look!”

I glanced up at the view-screen. Wingus was by now laughing maniacally, having completed the unhallowed calling, and I beheld the form of Shenaskah appearing before him as like unto a vast black cloak of unnameable darkness.

“Yes, Shenaskah!” exulted the villain. “Yes, devourer of Time! I feel your powers flowing through me! Enter my very essence and make me supreme over all!!”

“He has done it,” I admitted. “Don Wingus has begun to merge himself with the powers of Shenaskah the Time-Devourer.”

“Then that means…” trembled the voice of Millie Drake. “We’re too late!”

“That is correct, Rumanos!” shouted the evil Don Wingus from the scanner screen. “You are too late! The powers of Shenaskah are mine, and you have failed! You have failed!”

“Not quite,” said I. “Not quite. Millie, my love, hold on!”

I flipped a switch on the console and the control room started to lurch and warp around us. The engines made an immense grinding noise that soon escalated, rising in pitch into a scream. At the same time waves as of extreme heat and equally extreme cold seemed to pulse through the chamber.

“Keeping on,” I said. “Keeping on. Making contact… Now!!”

Their was an incredible shudder and a noise like an explosion in Space and Time itself. I looked up at the scanner screen and saw Don Wingus, still in his own control room, which had by now been rocked as had ours. Amidst the chaos of this very warping of reality, I beheld the dark form of the Time-Devourer surrounding Wingus as he bellowed in outrage.

“No, Shenaskah, no!” he shouted. “Nooooooo!”

“What’s happening?” asked Millie as she held tightly to the safety straps of the central console.

“The creature has been removed from his control by the shock of the Time-Collision. Unless Wingus can programme his DiTraS to leave the Current immediately, it may succeed in absorbing his ship utterly. Look!”

By now, the scene had shifted to one that showed the villain’s cabinet-like spaceship racing through the Current. It was now again separate from ours and the image of Shenaskah had grown larger from eating the seepages of Time caused by the collision. As we watched, the DiTraS of the evil Don Wingus entered into the phantasmal form of the Time-Devourer, vanishing suddenly and completely. A moment later, the image of Shenaskah, now satiated, slowly faded away.

“That did it,” I told Millie as our ship now returned to its normal functioning. “The thing has returned to its proper place, safely outside of known reality.” …

A few moments later, the DiTraS materialised back in the schoolroom and Millie and I soon emerged from the porthole.

“We just have to check and see if all is well here, Mills,” I told her, “and then we can leave in Lizzie.”

“But what about the DiTraS?” she queried.

“Watch and see,” I responded.

The ship’s engines then engaged, and the Time/Space machine again faded from view.

“Oh, I see!” said Millie. “You programmed it to automatically return to our HQ.”

“Quite so,” I affirmed. “It was a safeguard of the new software, so if it were ever hacked, the DiTraS would come back safe and sound. It was programmed to initiate, unless I disabled it by use of a pass-code, whenever you or I had not been on board the ship for a minute or so.”

“Excuse me, sir,” said the voice of Pastor Jack Caldwell from across the room.

Millie Drake and I walked over to him.

“All is well now, Pastor,” I told him. “The evil that threatened your church, and the demoniacal villain who held you in his power, are now gone.”

“Thank you,“ he said, with tears beginning to flow from his eyes. “But I wonder… All that I have done… I wonder if it can be forgiven.”

“It was not your doing, Pastor,” I assured him. “You were overcome by the hypnotic abilities of Don Wingus, as many innocents have been before you.”

“It’s not just that, kind sir,“ he went on. “I have committed… other sins. Including when I was younger… against… my sister.”

With this, Pastor Caldwell cast his eyes downwards in shame. I knew that he was thinking of Howard, and of the inbred young man’s unspeakable origins.

“Do you think…” he continued, “Do you think the Lord will forgive me?”

“I believe so, Pastor,” I told the worried clergyman, answering him according to his own belief system. “Do repent and also resolve to forgive others, never again judging people for being different from you, or for living their lives as they were created. Then I am certain he shall forgive you. After all, you are talking about the one who forgave those who crucified him.”

***** DANIEL RUMANOS AND MILLIE DRAKE SHALL RETURN IN "COMING TO URANUS"

ATTACK OF THE LEKNII

Of the origin of the Replicants of Leknii there is much that is shrouded in legend, supposition, and at times intentional mistruth. Such is not surprising concerning that hideous race of cybernetic horrors, that horrid group of unspeakable cyborgs who seek to convert all humanoid races to their own unfeeling, emotionless, pitiless kind. It is generally enough to know that they must be avoided and, when possible, destroyed before their unholy attempts at assimilation can come to any fruition.

However, for the sake of the proper spread of scientific information, the facts concerning the Leknii Replicants are as follows.

The planet Lekni or Leknii was an Earth-like world found orbiting a yellow star within the Spiral Galaxy 8675309. Its dominant humanoid species had achieved the level of industrial civilisation and moved on to electronics and related technologies when it all occurred; the series of events that would lead to the development of the horrible Replicants.

It seems that the planet Leknii was becoming horrendously polluted by industrial waste, the very air beginning to become well-nigh un-breathable. Politicians, scientists, and activists of all stripes argued about the ramifications of this development for quite some time, but nothing was ever really done to halt the increasing climate change, or the continuing sicknesses that plagued the people of Leknii due to their constant exposure to pollution.

When the time came that it looked like it would be too late to save the planet from the folly of its ruling species, a group of researchers into the burgeoning field of cybernetics announced that they had formulated a solution. Body parts affected by the unhealthy air could be replaced, one-by-one, with mechanical parts that were in no way harmed by the pollutant materials choking the very atmosphere of the planet. In addition, these cybernetic enhancements would leave the people of Leknii strengthened and improved, a veritable superhuman species with no reason to fear ordinary disease or illness.

There was one drawback, however, that at first caused the population to baulk at the idea of replacing their flesh with robotic implants. It seems that the resultant operations would cause all emotions to cease. The new Leknii race would be without feeling, without empathy, and without love. Family would mean nothing. Romance would be gone forever.

Nevertheless, something then occurred to stop all opposition to the notion of the people becoming unfeeling cyborgs. A certain member of the legal profession, as part of her campaign for the office of International Prosecuting Attorney, announced the position that accepting the cybernetic implants would also cause all sexual crimes to end. There would be no rape, no molestation of children, no such offences of any kind. The Leknii people would be sexless, and all of the felonious activity that had always gone hand-in-hand with fleshly sexuality would be a thing of the past. Slogans like “Believe Women!” and “Save Our Children!” became the order of the day, and the people soon enough accepted the idea of having their very body parts replicated with cold, harsh metal.

Those few who continued to appose the idea were termed perverts and deviants and their voices were soon enough quashed. From that time forward, there was no opposition amongst the citizenry of the beleaguered planet to the rise of what would become known to infamy as the Replicants of Leknii.

Therefore, the Leknii people soon became cyborgs, their forms being that of tall silver men, their faces like unto expressionless masks. Then the inevitable happened. With no recourse to love and happiness remaining to them, the Replicants replaced the same in their cold mechanical hearts with desire for the one thing that was left --- power!

Interplanetary travel was developed, and the Leknii Replicants flew forth in their efficient Spaceships on a mission to find other humanoid species to forcefully make into their own horrid metallic kind. Throughout the galaxies they wandered, looking for any that could be assimilated, converted to the cold steel of cybernetic being. In so doing, the technologies of the conquered planets were added to that of the Leknii, in time developing their systems into programmes that automatically upgraded to overcome any perceived weakness.

It was when all this came to a crisis point that the Replicant Wars began. Humanoid species and their allies came together to stop the encroaching terror of the Leknii Replicants. Even my own people, the Watchers of Algol, secretly violated their own rules of non-interference in order to assist in the final Replicant War (this despite the fact that our own psyche-spiritual essence makes us immune to cybernetic assimilation).

The conflict at last came to an end when a group of genetically-enhanced soldiers from Earth’s far future were brought back in Time to battle the Replicants. Defeated, the remnants of the Leknii race retreated into the darkness of Interstellar Space, to wait and plan for a possible new strategy.

Then, when they were thus so largely forgotten, the Replicants conceived of their greatest plot, a scheme that could make them far more dangerous than ever before. For it was then that they decided to pursue the knowledge of that which had finally defeated them -- the supreme technology of Time-travel itself!

It was this ploy, and the horrifying ramification of it, that led to a new era of conflict with the Replicants; forsooth, a quite different form of conflict in which I was now to play a part. …

My name is RUMANOS -- DOCTOR DANIEL RUMANOS, Extraterrestrial Espionage Agent and Intergalactic Man of Mystery. Even though I have the physical appearance of an human being, I am in fact several thousands of years old and do carry within my blood the vastly superior genes of the legendary Watchers of the Daemon-Star ALGOL -- the most intellectually-advanced race in all of the known galaxies, whose technology is so sophisticated it often appears to be “magic” and “miraculous” to lesser beings.

Whilst most Algolites tend to keep to themselves, preferring to live in elitist seclusion from the rest of the Universe and thus merely observing the goings-on of the myriad races of the vast reaches around them, I am an Operative for a secret organisation known as the KOSMIKOS or Cosmic Intervention Department, tasked with maintaining peace and order throughout the farthest reaches of Space and Time. You know, “plausible deniability”, and all of that sort of thing. It is our ongoing mission to defend the weak, the unfortunate, and the innocent from those who would harm or exploit them.

Currently assigned to Earth, I protect its people (both upon their planet and across the eternal void) from the hideous manipulations of the arch-villain known as Magister Don Wingus and his occult terrorist organisation, Spectral Paranormal; as well as from alien invasions, mad scientists, and indeed all manner of menace. Assisted by my friends -- the beautiful Miss Millie "The Girl From Beyond" Drake and our catlike robot, Kit-10 -- I am the living icon of Algol on this world. I am a Knight of the Eternal Spires. I am the sword of justice from the planet Daemonia. I am the stellar swashbuckler.

I am -- THE DAEMON-STAR!!! …

Seated behind the steering wheel of my canary-coloured Edwardian roadster (affectionately known as “Lizzie”), I drove us to our destination there in the hills of Frederick County, Maryland on that pleasant autumn day. I was clad in my usual finery, including a frilled poet shirt, purple velvet suit, military style boots, panama hat, sunspecs, and one of my favourite opera capes.

Seated beside me, Millie Drake was enjoying the music from the sound system I had recently installed in the car, which at this moment was playing the Chuck Berry classic, “Sweet Little Rock ’n’ Roller”. Millie is an exceedingly beautiful young girl, petite and perfect with rich chestnut-hued hair, enchanting violet eyes, sun-kissed skin, and a sensuously-wide mouth. The tight, short, bright-orange dress she wore only served to highlight the soft curves of her slender teenage figure.

Also with us was Kit-10, our mobile personal computer that resembles nothing more or less than a small robotic cat.

We were on our way to an appointment to meet with a certain Professor Abdullah, a research scientist who had contacted me concerning his discovery of something in some meteoric rock uncovered in the Arctic tundra. Little did we know the extreme horror, in truth the supreme otherworldly terror, to which this meeting of scientific colleagues would ultimately lead. …

At that same moment, in an alien Spaceship orbiting far above the planet Earth, that race of horrid cybernetic men known as the Replicants of Leknii waited and watched in their computerised control room.

“All is going as planned, Controller,” said one of them, its voice an emotionless electronic whir. “The Algolite agent known as Doctor Rumanos is approaching his meeting with the human scientist, Abdullah.”

“That is excellent,” said another, the bronze highlights upon its silver metallic form indeed marking it as the leader of this Collective. “Abdullah owes his very life to us and will do as we have ordered. Doctor Rumanos will be forced to assist us in our conquest of the secrets of Time-travel. Prepare to enter the atmosphere. It will aid us to show the Algolite what level of technology we have now achieved.”

“Yes, Controller,” obeyed the other, as it began to programme the controls of the ship for landing. …

We found the research centre, located as it was at the end of a narrow road several miles off the highway. 

“So he really does his research here alone?” enquired Millie Drake as we parked Lizzie behind the old house.

“Professor Abdullah is known in the scientific community as a bit of a recluse,” I informed her, “so it was no surprise to find him working here, far away from others.”

We knocked on the door (there was no bell) and were soon enough met by the professor himself, a somewhat-elderly man of Middle Eastern descent; short, bearded, and wearing a white lab-coat. We exchanged the usual pleasantries as Abdullah showed us into the building and I introduced him to Millie and Kit-10. Neither the girl’s youthful loveliness nor the appearance of the mechanical feline seemed to in any way startle the old scientist.

“So you say you have discovered some unusual element amongst meteoric fragments, hmmm?” I enquired.

“Yes, Doctor,” replied Professor Abdullah. “There is a sample upon my laboratory table, if you wish to examine it.”

I looked at the substance he indicated. It was a minuscule amount of powder that seemed to glow with myriad-coloured lights as I glanced over it.

“By the Eternal Spies!” I swore. “Professor, that looks like…”

I took the transonic turnscrew, an highly-advanced instrument resembling a large writing pen, from my pocket and used it to scan the powder.

“It is!” I exclaimed in wonder. “According to this, it indeed is Liddellium, that exceedingly rare substance that can be utilised to power Time-travel engines!”

“And it came to Earth in a meteor?” asked Millie.

“Apparently so,” I answered. “Liddellium is known to be found on occasion buried deeply in certain asteroids. So some of it could just possibly…”

“Danger, s--!” interrupted Kit-10 in her computerised yet feminine voice.

(It should be noted here that Kit-10, along with her other catlike characteristics, is possessed of a total inability to openly show respect to anyone. The closest she ever comes to it is by referring to me as “s--“ -- for “sir” -- and to Millie Drake by “m--” -- for “ma’am”.)

I turned around quickly and beheld Professor Abdullah aiming a .45 handgun directly at us!

“Professor Abdullah,” I said whilst Millie clung to me in fear. “What is the meaning of this?”

“Certain associates of mine are now arriving,” he explained, “and have asked me to detain you in order that you may play a part in their plans.”

“Daniel, look!” exclaimed Millie, indicating what could be seen from the window of the lab.

Approaching from the sky was a disk-shaped interplanetary craft, which soon enough made a perfect landing just outside the house.

“That’s a Mynver ship!” trembled the girl.

As we watched, an opening appeared in the side of the Spacecraft, and three tall silver men emerged from it. Of course, I recognised what they actually were immediately.

“So the rumours circulating within the Interstellar intelligence community are true,” I said “The Leknii Replicants are now using ships of Mynverkossian design!”

The professor continued to train his pistol upon us as the Replicants marched to-wards the building. I realised that we were surrounded and outnumbered, and that no recourse seemed available.

“Now, Doctor,” said Abdullah, “the Leknii Replicants will speak with you concerning their plans. Only if you do as you are told can I guarantee your safety -- or that of the girl. You will assist the Replicants in calibrating the Liddellium to power their ship’s engines. The secrets of Time-travel shall be theirs!”

“Why, Professor Abdullah?” I enquired “Why would you do it? Why would you sell out the very future of the human race to these cybernetic monsters?”

“Some time ago, I suffered an accident in my laboratory,” he explained. “An electrical surge in some equipment I was using to separate rock fragments entered my body and caused my heart to stop. It was then that the Leknii appeared and saved my life. They replaced my heart with a mechanical one, a product of their technology. In gratitude, I now assist them in their plans.”

“So you are a cyborg like they are?” queried Millie.

“Not quite,” replied the old scientist. “I am not part of the Leknii Collective, but I do carry their technology literally as the very core of my being.”

“Professor, you have no reason to feel gratitude to-wards those cybernetic terrors,” I told him. “If they saved your life they did so with a reason. They did so only so they could use and exploit you. It is all they know. They have long ago removed all emotion from themselves and know nothing of compassion. They will…”

It was then that the Replicants reached the building. They entered with a show of power, an unnecessary full-scale attack obviously meant to intimidate, at first blasting their way though the front door with one of the energy weapons built in their arms. Then one of them easily ripped the interior door to the laboratory off its hinges with its powerful metallic hands.

“Make no attempts at resistance, Kit-10,” I told the robot cat. “Your nose-laser will have no effect on them at this point.”

Three of the Leknii entered the lab, the one with bronze highlights on its silver form taking the lead. It stepped forwards to-wards me, raised one of its hands, and swatted me across the room with a single swipe.

I crashed against some equipment on the far side of the chamber, then struggling to regain my feet and to shake off the pain of the huge cyborg’s blow. As I did, I beheld the shimmering lights of numerous matter transit beams on the floor just in front of me. From these there then appeared ten or so metal creatures looking like robotic rodents. I recognised them as Repli-Rats, those service robots of the Leknii that contain a poison that they can inject into a victim by attaching to his or her neck -- a poison that can cause sickness, disability, and death. The horrid little things moved around my feet, obviously guarding me.

“You have done well, Abdullah,” the Replicant Controller told the old scientist, who had by now pocketed his .45. “We shall keep our agreement, and you shall live as you are when the rest of humankind is destroyed or assimilated.”

Millie had fallen to the floor in an half-faint when the Controller had hit me, and the cyborg now lifted her up, holding her cruelly with its grip on one of her frail wrists.

“Doctor Rumanos of Algol,” said the head Leknii, “the element known as Liddellium has already been added to the engines of our Spaceship. You shall now assist us in calibrating it to the control systems. You will offer no resistance, and will make no attempts at deception. Any sign of your disobeying this order will result in the immediate death of this girl. Is this clear to you?”

“Quite,” I replied, gritting my teeth to hold back my anger and disdain. “Do I have your assurance that she will be let free and left unharmed?”

“The child is Algolitish and therefore unsuitable for conversion. Her fate is as such of no concern to us. She will be freed when you have completed the task assigned to you.”

“Let us get on with it then.”

“Daniel, no!” exclaimed Millie Drake, her eyes wide with horror. “Don’t do it! Don’t help them!”

“Silence, girl,” ordered the Controller. “His affection for you is well-known and shall guarantee his cooperation. Transit beam activate!”

The shimmering light then surrounded the Replicants, Millie Drake, Professor Abdullah, and myself, taking us on board the ship, which then straightway flew upwards, heading into Space!

In the laboratory, Kit-10 then found herself left alone with the Repli-Rats, the horrid little creatures then surrounding the robotic pussycat on all sides. …

We stood in the control room on board the Replicant Spaceship, the monitor screens showing that we had moved into high Earth-orbit. The Replicant Controller still held Millie Drake in its cruel grip, with Professor Abdullah standing near by. The other two Replicants stood guard, whilst still others were at work on the control systems surrounding us.

“Begin your task,” the Controller addressed me. “Perform the necessary programming to calibrate the Time engine capabilities, and remember that any attempt at deception will result in this girl’s immediate death.”

“Yes, you have made that quite clear,” I responded whilst moving over to the Control systems panel. “The recalibration shall only take a few minutes.”

I began entering the appropriate codes into the system, as the two guarding Leknii turned to face me, watching closely for any sign of subterfuge. …

Back on Earth, Kit-10 was surrounded by the Repli-Rats. They began to advance to-wards her menacingly.

“Do not approach,” warned the robotic cat. “This unit is aware of your capabilities to chew into metallic systems. Be assured that I am able to defend myself as required.”

Despite this, the silver rodents continued to close in on Kit-10. She responded with a blast from her nose-laser, at first a warning shot that hit the floor near the things. Most of them backed off slightly, but one that had moved around behind the metal feline suddenly rushed to-wards her. Kit-10 quickly whirled around and hit the Repli-Rat with another laser blast. The thing stopped and was held motionless for a moment, before it suddenly disintegrated into countless microscopic shards -- a safeguard for all Leknii technology when it is threatened with imminent destruction, in order to prevent any cannibalisation of their parts.

Kit-10 then turned back to face the rest of the Repli-Rats. The continued to surround her, but kept themselves at a safe distance.

“Stupid creatures,” stated the mechanical puss. …

Aboard the Spaceship, Professor Abdullah was addressing the Leknii Controller.

“You wouldn’t really harm that poor girl, would you?” he asked quietly. “To treat her like this, it is… inhuman.”

“The Leknii will not be questioned by you,” replied the Replicant. “Your emotions are nothing to us.”

“But…” stammered the scientist, “I thought better of you than this. You saved my life. I would have died that day from the accident in my lab, if not for you.”

“We can end your life in an instant, Abdullah,” warned the Controller. “The mechanical heart that keeps you body alive is controlled by us and can be stopped at any time.”

“What!” exclaimed the scientist. “You said before that I was not connected to the Collective!”

“Professor,” I said to him, whilst still working at the control board, “you are not part of the Replicant group-mind, but all Leknii technology is connected in some sense. They have you at their mercy.”

At this, Professor Abdullah turned his eyes downwards in realisation and in shame.

“All right,” said I, turning away from my work on the controls. “It is done. The Liddellium is now fully integrated into your engineering systems, and shall respond to all commands from the control panels.”

A strange sound had just now spread across the ship, a sound like unto an eerie far-off whispering. It was the evidence of the engine upgrade to Time-travel capabilities, a connection to the inter-dimensional Current.

“That is excellent,” responded the Controller. “Now nothing can stand in the way of our total domination of Time and Space. We shall change the outcome of the Wars, and the Leknii shall then move on in full-force to convert all suitable humanoid races.”

“You will keep your agreement to let the girl go?” I enquired.

“Yes,” replied the Replicant, “but first we must be assured that she is of no threat to us. Your guidance from her life must end, and we must be assured that you, Doctor Rumanos of Algol, shall no longer exist to interfere with our plans.”

At this, the two guarding Leknii approached and raised their arms, aiming the deadly energy weapons directly at me. I heard Millie Drake scream in utter horror as she realised what was happening. Having used me as needed, I was now to be disposed of. It was then that the Leknii Controller gave the order:

“Destroy him.”

“Wait!” shouted Professor Abdullah. “You can’t do this! He helped you!”

As he spoke, the old scientist removed the handgun from his pocket and emptied it into the two Replicants who were threatening me. The bullets could cause no harm to their metallic hides, but they turned and fired their energy weapons on the professor. After the flash of the deadly blast, Professor Abdullah then fell to the floor in death. There was a burst of sound as the artificial heart in his chest disintegrated into shards.

Whilst this occurred, and the Replicants thus otherwise occupied, I removed the transonic turnscrew from my jacket pocket and aimed it at the control panel. …

Back in the now-late professor’s laboratory, Kit-10 continued to be at an impasse with the Repli-Rats. They had not approached, and stayed at a wary distance, but she realised that she could not blast all of them before they could succeed in reaching her.

Then the robotic cat noticed something. The small amount of Liddellium that had been left on the lab table had begun to glow brighter and brighter, its multihued lights reflecting around the room. Kit-10 extended the sensor from her forehead to-wards the element. When it made contact, a strange whispering sound was heard in the lab and the Repli-Rats then began to shake and shudder, continuing this way for a few moments until they all suddenly just disintegrated into microscopic pieces. …

On the orbiting Spaceship, the Leknii Replicants also commenced to shake and shudder. The Controller that had been threatening Millie Drake now released its grip on her, and the lass hurried into my arms. As we watched, the horrid cyborgs all then exploded into countless microscopic bits.

“Oh my gosh!” cried Millie. “What happened to them?”

I smiled and reached a hand to the control board, flipping a small lever upon it.

“Kit-10?” I queried.

“Of course, s--,” returned the voice of the metal feline from the panel.

“Liddellium in a psyche-sensitive element, hmmm?” I explained to the girl. “I managed to link what was calibrated to this ship’s engines to the portion that was in the laboratory on Earth. I then signalled Kit-10, via the transonic, to make contact. The resultant threat was judged unsolvable by the Leknii systems, and caused them to self-destruct as per their usual protective protocol.”

“But what about the ship?” questioned Millie concernedly.

“I managed to delay its destruction by a minute or so, but we should hurry, hmmm?”

I manipulated the controls to activate the matter transit beam, and Millie Drake and I transmitted off the Spaceship in a shimmering light a split second before the craft itself disintegrated into pieces. …

A moment later, the girl and I appeared back in the laboratory.

“Good work, Kit-10,” I praised. “The Replicants are finished.”

“Awww, she’s such a good kitty cat,” giggled Millie.

“This unit is not a cat, m--,” replied the robot.

I walked over to the lab table and looked where the Liddellium had been. It was gone, its essence used up by the psyche-electronic link to which it had been subjected.

“I say, Mills, my sweet little rock and roller,” I teased the girl, “after we have deactivated this lab equipment, what do you say to going out for a couple of hamburgers? There is a ‘1950s-style diner’ in Fredericktown that I hear is quite nice.”

“Gosh, that sounds great!” cheered the lovely lass.

“You too, Kit-10,” I added. “It should give you an opportunity to rest your systems, hmmm? Fortunately, the technology there includes no cybernetic creatures -- humanoid or rodent -- to threaten us. In stead, they have something much more pleasant -- a well-stocked juke box!”

***** DANIEL RUMANOS AND MILLIE DRAKE SHALL RETURN IN “FAST TIMES AT CALVARY BAPTIST”

CROSSTOWN TRAFFICKING

Ling-Cho looked up at the buildings in wonder. She had never been in a big city before. In fact, she had never been anywhere outside of her tiny village in rural China until now. The way the buildings seemed to soar up to-wards the sky fascinated the girl, as did the myriad neon lights and the bustling traffic of this metropolis.

Her flight had been delayed by several hours, and the jet aeroplane had finally arrived with her at the local airport just at sunset. Due to this change in schedule, Mr. Yueng had not had the time to send one of his private limousines to pick her up as originally planned, but had hired a city taxicab to drive her across town to meet him at his estate. The driver, an elderly man of obvious Hindu extraction, had not asked any questions.

Mr. Yueng, you see, was the man that young Ling-Cho was supposed to be marrying in a few days. Just in her teens, the girl was rather nervous about meeting this older gentleman. Nevertheless, she felt it would be fine. After all, Mr. Yueng was known to be descended from the most honourable and noble blood of the Imperial Dynasties of ancient China, and Ling-Cho had been chosen from her birth to be his bride. It was according to the oldest and most honoured traditions of her culture, and the girl had been warned to pay no heed to the decadent Westerners and their perverse talk of “child sex trafficking” and other such imagined atrocities.

Ling-Cho was a beautiful young girl, slender and svelte and clad in her simple powder-blue dress, with a matching ribbon in her long, shiny, liquorice-like hair. Her skin was honey-coloured, and her face was finely delicate with perfect elfin features, with lips like a sensuous red rose. The girl settled back in her seat, closing her lovely almond-shaped eyes and listening to the sounds of the late crosstown commuters whilst she thought of the life she had ahead of her as the wife of that wealthy and respected gentleman here in the United States of America.

None the less, little did Ling-Cho know -- in truth there is no way she could have realised -- that her idyllic future was to be opposed and challenged by forces beyond that of anything she (or indeed any sane human being) could possibly imagine; forces of extreme evil and of obscene eldritch darkness that would threaten to destroy all that she could hope or wish for. You see, the city in which young Miss Ling-Cho -- intended bride of the prosperous and respected Chinese-American investor Mr. Yueng -- had found herself was that which is known as Baltimore in the state of Maryland, and that is indeed a place in which there are quite often grotesquely unusual things afoot. …

My name is RUMANOS -- DOCTOR DANIEL RUMANOS, Extraterrestrial Espionage Agent and Intergalactic Man of Mystery. Even though I have the physical appearance of an human being, I am in fact several thousands of years old and do carry within my blood the vastly superior genes of the legendary Watchers of the Daemon-Star ALGOL -- the most intellectually-advanced race in all of the known galaxies, whose technology is so sophisticated it often appears to be “magic” and “miraculous” to lesser beings.

Whilst most Algolites tend to keep to themselves, preferring to live in elitist seclusion from the rest of the Universe and thus merely observing the goings-on of the myriad races of the vast reaches around them, I am an Operative for a secret organisation known as the KOSMIKOS or Cosmic Intervention Department, tasked with maintaining peace and order throughout the farthest reaches of Space and Time. You know, “plausible deniability”, and all of that sort of thing. It is our ongoing mission to defend the weak, the unfortunate, and the innocent from those who would harm or exploit them.

Currently assigned to Earth, I protect its people (both upon their planet and across the eternal void) from the hideous manipulations of the arch-villain known as Magister Don Wingus and his occult terrorist organisation, Spectral Paranormal; as well as from alien invasions, mad scientists, and indeed all manner of menace. Assisted by my friends -- the beautiful Miss Millie "The Girl From Beyond" Drake and our catlike robot, Kit-10 -- I am the living icon of Algol on this world. I am a Knight of the Eternal Spires. I am the sword of justice from the planet Daemonia. I am the stellar swashbuckler.

I am -- THE DAEMON-STAR!!! …

I stopped my canary-coloured Edwardian roadster (affectionately known as “Lizzie”), just outside of the gate of Yueng Estates there along Liberty Road in Baltimore. It was a warm, humid evening, and I was clad in my usual finery, including a frilled poet shirt, purple velvet suit, military boots, panama hat, and one of my favourite opera capes.

“Mr. Yueng should be expecting us,” said I. “Ah, there is the announcement system.”

“It was nice of him to invite us to meet his fiancée,” said my companion, Millie Drake, “and to look at the finalised plans for the wedding. I’ve never seen a traditional Chinese ceremony before!”

Miss Drake is an exceedingly-beautiful young lady with luxurious chestnut hair, sun-kissed skin, enchanting violet eyes, and an invitingly-wide mouth. She was wearing a short, tight, hot pink dress that only served to highlight the soft curves of her petite-and-perfect figure.

“It should be quite a sight,” I assured her. “Come to think of it, I myself have not seen a Chinese wedding since old Kublai Khan’s, hmmm? I was best man, you know. I fear that Marco Polo felt a bit slighted, since he made no mention of that in his memoirs.”

“Mr. Yueng is descended from the Khan, isn’t he?” enquired Millie.

“Indeed he is. I say, it looks like I have come full circle in my witnessing of traditional East Asian nuptials, hmmm?”

Whilst the girl giggled, I reached out and touched the intercom switch on the announcement system.

“Good evening,” I intoned. “This is Doctor Rumanos. Would someone please inform the honourable Mr. Yueng that Miss Drake and I have arrived?” 

There was no reply. I repeated my words but again to no avail.

“Well, that is odd,” I pondered.

“What could be wrong with the intercom system?” asked my companion.

I took the transonic turnscrew, an highly-advanced scientific device somewhat resembling a large writing pen, from my jacket pocket, utilising it the scan the system’s electric circuitry.

“According to this,” I announced, “it has been shut off from the inside, along with all other communications possibilities.”

“That’s weird,” mused Millie Drake. “Especially since Mr. Yueng was expecting us and everything. I hope he’s all right.”

“Weird it indeed is, my love. Weird indeed.” …

Inside the mansion at the centre of the sprawling estate, Mr. Yueng was doing his best to hide his concern and to maintain his traditional Oriental stoicism. A fit, intelligent-featured man of about fifty, Yueng was clad in an ornate dressing gown as he stood before a full-length, golden-framed mirror checking his hair. As with the rest of the house, the dressing chamber was filled with myriad antiques from throughout Chinese history.

“Chun,” he said to his valet and major domo, who stood near by, “are you certain the problem with the intercom system is not part of some greater fault? I would be displeased for my new bride to come into a home without proper security. She is on her way from the airport now, though her transport has been delayed due to traffic.”

“All should be well, sir,” said the servant, a tall Eurasian man in his late twenties, dressed in a dark business suit. “The system is likely only resetting itself, and should be fully functional again shortly.”

“My honoured friend Doctor Rumanos and his young lady should be here any time now,” announced Mr. Yueng. “Please do go see that they are escorted to the receiving room.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Chun. “Right away.”

At this, Chun exited the dressing room and walked down the corridor. He did not go to the receiving room, however. Neither did he go outside to ascertain if the expected guests had arrived. In stead, he entered another chamber, his own, and pulled aside a silk curtain that concealed part of the wall.

“All is now ready,” whispered Chun to himself as he gazed at a symbol that had been painted on the wall behind the curtain. “Tonight I shall receive the Most Ancient Power, and shall exalt the cause of the Tong of the Qi-Gwai to new heights of glory.”

Then Chun bowed deeply in reverence before the symbol, that horrid and terrible insignia that was upon the wall. It was a symbol made up of three interlocking inverted triangles. …

"Too bad Kit-10 isn’t here,” said Millie Drake as we stood before the high fence surrounding Yueng Estates. “She could cut through that with her nose laser.”

“Unfortunately, there is no traditional role for robot cats at these imperial-style weddings, hmmm?” I explained. “Only for Pekingese dogs.”

“We could say she was a Siamese,” joked Millie.

“She could never be persuaded to sing that song,” I grinned. “In any event, we should be able to get in without doing any damage. Ah, here we go!”

We had left Lizzie in front of the gate and walked several metres around the perimeter of the estate, with the leprous light of the gibbous moon lighting our way. There was now before us a gap in the fence that appeared to be just large enough for us to squeeze through.

“I should warn you, Mills,” said I whilst we stepped onto the lush gardens of the estate grounds. “Mr. Yueng is known to be quite the conservationist, even keeping several rare and exotic animals from remote parts of China on the estate.”

“Anything that could be dangerous?” queried the lass.

“Worry not, love,” I assured her. “I am certain anything that could be of concern is kept properly controlled.”

We were strolling across the perfectly-manicured grounds to-wards the mansion when we suddenly heard a strange sound. It was like unto an odd brutish muttering, or a chatter almost human.

“Daniel, what was that?” questioned Millie as we both stopped short in our tracks.

“By the Stellar Trinity!” I swore. “It sounded for all the world like a…”

It was then that my words were drowned out by Millie Drake’s scream. It was a scream of sudden fear and of absolute horror at the sight of what was approaching us. It was far larger and heavier than any man, and covered with dark-orange hair. Its simian face put forward a look of horrendous challenge as it reached out its long, heavily-muscled arms to-wards us.

“Millie!” I called to the girl. “Find shelter!”

I hurried forwards to shield Millie and thus to face the giant ape. I managed to grab the creature by its wrist before it could touch me, then I crouched down slightly and utilised the resultant leverage to heave the gigantic simian over my shoulder. It hit the ground with a resounding thud.

Nevertheless, the huge ape recovered its feet quickly and, before I could react, succeeded in giving me a blow to the midsection with one of its humongous hands. I staggered back and struggled to not give into the pain, then responding by delivering a roundhouse kick to the monster’s head. At this it bellowed with outrage and immediately responded with a similar move from one of its own large, hand-like feet.

I just managed to maintain consciousness when the horrid thing jumped up and over me, then grasping me around the chest from behind. I gasped for air as I realised that the ape’s intention was to utilise its incredibly-powerful arms to squeeze the very life from me. I immediately felt my air supply blocked off, and knew that I would be insentient within moments if I did not manage to somehow free myself from the ape’s grasp. In desperation, I hooked my foot around the beast’s ankle and, with a sudden jerk, managed to bring it to the ground with me on top of it.

I jumped up and, before the big brute could regain its feet, I gave it a quick double punch to the face and then, with my thumb and two fingers, applied pressure to a certain point on its nearly nonexistent neck. With a shudder and a low whimper, the giant ape soon was unconscious.

“It is all right now, Mills,” I assured the lass who had sought safety behind a near by tree. “It will be out cold for a quarter of an hour, at least.”

“Daniel, isn’t that thing a lot bigger than any modern ape?” asked Millie.

“Indeed it is, my dear,” I replied as I examined the now-unconscious creature. “It is a gigantopithecus, and they are generally believed to have gone extinct 300,000 years ago.”

“Then how is it here?’

“Well, there have been a smattering of unverified reports of sightings of them in the tropical rainforest found on the southernmost tip of China. It appears that a few of the prehistoric apes survived after all, hmmm? As I said, Yueng is quite the conservationist, though I am quite certain that he would usually keep this creature at a safe distance from any visitors.”

“Maybe the security system is faulty like the intercom,” offered the girl.

“That would seem to be the case,” I agreed whilst we continued to walk on to-wards the mansion. “That is a troubling thought, especially if he has imported anything else here from that same tropical forest. After all, it is said to be the home of…”

The Millie Drake again screamed at what was slithering into view before us. It was larger than any snake usually seen upon present-day Earth, and as it raised its head and opened its hideous reptilian hood it easily reached to nearly my own height. Its two ebon-black eyes were fixed upon us, and its huge fangs dripped with deadly venom as it reared back and prepared to strike.

It was indeed a member of a certain archaic species of reptile that the remote Chinese rainforest is said by some to retain. It was a giant cobra!

I again stood before Millie Drake, to guard, protect, and defend her as the gigantic serpent reared up before us. I knew that a dose of its burning venom could possibly be fatal even to our own Algolitish constitutions.

Carefully reaching into my pocket, I removed the transonic turnscrew and quickly changed its setting to emit a certain frequency, then raising the device in front of the huge cobra.

The big snake then began to sway back and forth with the movement of my own hand that was holding the transonic. Within a few moments, the scaly terror dropped to the ground and then quietly slithered off into the high grass.

“Gosh, Daniel,” said Millie, peeping around from behind me, “what did you do to it?”

“Oh, just a technological variation of an old trick I learned from a snake-charmer in old Calcutta, hmmm?” I explained, turning to her. “Reptiles respond to certain sonic frequencies, you see, and the rest is then just persistence and exerting one’s own will-power over them.”

It was at that moment that I noticed something else, something standing just a couple metres behind Millie Drake.

“Turn around slowly, love,” I warned her. “Be careful to not move suddenly.”

Millie obeyed me, and carefully turned to also behold what I had seen. It was a man in his late twenties, a man of apparent Eurasian descent, clad in a dark business suit. He was holding a beautiful young Chinese girl in front of him, his left arm cruelly curled around her neck from behind, a look of extreme unadulterated evil upon his face.

“Hello, Doctor Rumanos,” he sneered. “My name is Chun. Do not make any attempt to resist me or be assured that I am willing and able to end this child’s life immediately. You see, you are not the only one here schooled in certain old Asiatic techniques of life and death. I can crush her throat within a half-second.”

“The young lady whom you are so mistreating is, I would take it, Miss Ling-Cho, the intended bride of our host?” I queried.

“So it is,” affirmed Chun, “and he will also cooperate with me if he does not want her to meet an early death. Fortunately, her taxi arrived through the back way and, since I have disabled the security and announcement systems, I was easily able to apprehend her.”

“You are holding her hostage so Mr. Yueng will cooperate with you?” asked Millie Drake. “Cooperate how?”

“It has been revealed to me that Yueng is the guardian of a secret,” answered the villain. “It is a secret handed down to the descendants of certain Chinese Dynasties. It is a secret that could be used, in the right hands, to achieve power and domination over all physical reality. It is the secret of the Most Ancient Power!”

“Yes, I have heard those legends,” said I, “but the information on how to wield the supposed powers -- and even the truth of what they actually are -- is believed lost. Even if this is all true, and not just a charming old Chinese myth, you shall not be able to properly receive and control these forces.”

“In that you are incorrect, Doctor,” retorted the wicked Chun. “The procedures for using the Most Ancient Power have been revealed to the Masters of the Tong of the Qi-Gwai, and, as a chosen servant of  that most august and feared society, I shall use them to conquer this world, and to make myself emperor of the entire human race!”

“‘The Tong of the Qi-Gwai’?” I repeated. “By the Daemonian Spires! Millie, ‘qi-gwai’ is Chinese for ‘strange ghost’, or…”

“‘Spectral Paranormal’!” completed my companion, with a shudder of horror at this realisation. “My gosh, so he is one of their agents?!”

“Indeed so,” I replied. “It would appear that Chun here is an operative of that hideous occult terrorist organisation. He intentionally disabled the security and intercom systems, and set those animals upon us, hmmm?”

“You are correct, Doctor,” announced Chun with obvious criminal pride. “You are indeed correct, and you know too much to live!!”

Do you even begin to recognise the extreme horror, forsooth the ungodly satanic terror of this horrid situation, my dear readers? Chun, sworn agent of that grotesquely criminal secret society remembered in eternal infamy as Spectral Paranormal, also known as the Tong of the Qi-Gwai, was now holding that innocent young girl hostage, and threatening to brutally murder her if his bizarre and unholy demands were not met by our host, the wealthy Chinese-American investor known as Mr. Yueng!

“You will not oppose me, Doctor,” continued the villainous Chun, “or I shall kill not only this girl, but you and your young companion as well!”

I stood facing him, noting the extreme unmitigated wickedness and irrevocable madness in his dark eyes. It was then that I knew that there was only one slim chance, one small hope of remedying this exceedingly grotesque and indeed remarkably uncanny situation.

At that very moment, another voice was heard; the voice of one approaching from behind us. It was the voice of Mr. Yueng, who now strode into view clad in a golden-hued silken dress suit.

“You will do nothing of the sort, Chun,” he said in atone of command. “You will do no further harm to my guests or to anyone else. You will release my fiancée and stop this foolishness immediately.”

At the sight of his erstwhile employer, Chun flinched slightly, his attention briefly wavering and causing his grip on the girl to loosen. It was just enough for me to implement my plan.

I had kept the transonic turnscrew concealed in my hand, with the instrument partially obscured by the sleeve of my coat. I now reactivated it, quickly raising the device in front of me to-wards the evil Chun.

A mere second later, I saw Chun shiver suddenly in shock, thus fully releasing his hold on Ling-Cho. The girl dropped to the ground as Chun gasped and his eyes went wide with horror. The giant cobra had struck his shoulder blade, its huge fangs delivering a painfully burning dose of its deadly poison. Its serpentine anger now satiated, I beheld the reptilian monster now gliding away back into the darkness.

With a shriek of outrage and of pain, Chun now turned and ran off across the grounds and was soon out of our sight. I motioned to Millie Drake, who immediately ran over to see to the needs of other girl. Millie helped little Ling-Cho to her feet. The Chinese lass was weeping with emotion from her now-relieved fright, but was otherwise unharmed.

A few moments later, we all heard another shriek of terror from the now-distant Chun. This was followed by the sound of an enraged simian chattering, and Chun’s cries were soon cut off with a choking gurgle that was accompanied by the horrid cracking sound of an human backbone being broken clean in two.

“So, the gigantopithecus got him,” I said. “A more merciful fate than if he had survived long enough to have suffered the pain of the death-throes from the cobra’s venom.”

“Quite so,” agreed our host, Mr. Yueng. “Please, my honoured friends, let us retreat to the safety of my house and have some much-needed refreshments.” …

Later that evening, after I had aided Yueng in fixing the security system that Chun had sabotaged, and in disposing of the insane villain’s mangled corpse (in the unlikely event of any police enquiries concerning his whereabouts, they would be informed that he had suddenly left the country for destinations unknown), Millie Drake and I were enjoying tea in our host’s elegant sitting room. Miss Ling-Cho had, with the alacrity of the very young, recovered from the horror of her experience, and was now apparently settling in quite nicely to her new role as lady of the mansion. She spoke no English, but the words in Chinese that I had heard exchanged between her and Yueng were of mutual respect and devotion. She had insisted upon performing three elaborate ceremonial bows before Millie and me, in thanks for our help.

Whilst we relaxed in the comfort of that estate house, I noticed a look of questioning on Millie’s lovely face.

“What is it, love?” I enquired concernedly. “Is there something that is troubling you?”

“Oh, I’m okay, Daniel,” she replied sweetly. “It’s just that there is something that I still don’t understand.”

At this, Mr. Yueng made a statement.

“There are some things that are truly beyond all mortal understanding, Miss Drake,” he said wisely, “but if you will let us know what it is that causes your current wonder, then perhaps on this you can be enlightened.”

“Well, it’s just about the ‘Most Ancient Power’ that Chun so desperately wanted,” Millie said. “What is it? Some weapon? Some supernatural knowledge?”

“Ah, what the Most Ancient Power signifies,” explained our host, “is something that Chun, with his sadly disordered mind, could never truly receive. It is something that I am certain his wretched tong could know nothing of either, despite any pretensions to the contrary. It is a power of goodness, in truth an holiness before which no evil can exist. In fact it is something found in the truth of an old saying of our people: ‘An emperor is nothing without his empress’.”

At this (Yueng having repeated the quote in both Chinese and English), little Ling-Cho leaned over with a charming smile to-wards her intended imperial bridegroom, who affectionately took her hands in his.

“Oh, I think I am beginning to understand,” responded Millie. “Gosh, that is so beautiful!”

“And so it is,” continued Mr. Yueng. “The Most Ancient Power is at once the most basic and the most profound in all of existence. It is the power of love.”

At this, I looked into Miss Mille Drake’s beautiful violet eyes and smiled.

“‘An emperor is nothing with his empress’,” I repeated, taking my own companion’s dear little hand, “and a Doctor is nothing without his Millie.”

***** DANIEL RUMANOS AND MILLIE DRAKE SHALL RETURN IN “ATTACK OF THE LEKNII”

LITTLE GAMES

I adjusted several levers on the control console of the DiTraS (which is pronounced “DYE-tress” and stands for Dimensional Transport Sphere), that amazing combination Spaceship/Time-machine of the type that is only available for the use of members of my own highly-advanced race, the Watchers of Algol. I was clad in my usual finery -- including a frilled poet shirt, purple velvet suit, and military-style boots - as I stood there in the café-like inter-dimensional control room. My panama hat and one of my favourite opera capes hung from a near by hallstand.

“So, my dear Millie,” said I to the young girl who stood near to me. “We are quite overdue for an holiday, hmmm? I have set the coordinates for the Galactic Centre Resorts!”

“Oh my gosh, that sounds great!” cooed Millie Drake. “I hear they have great beachfront planets there! It’ll give me a chance to try out my new swimsuit!”

The girl is exceedingly beautiful, petite and perfect, her hair a rich chestnut hue, her eyes an enchanting violet in colour, and her mouth sensuously wide. She was clad in a short, tight, cherry-red dress that only served to highlight the soft curves of her slender teenage figure.

I moved around the control board, fine-tuning the settings. In so doing, I was careful to step around Kit-10, our mobile personal computer that resembles nothing more or less than a small mechanical cat. The robotic puss was busy monitoring certain interstellar communications channels via the ship’s radio receivers.

“I am quite certain you will enjoy the hotel I am booking for us there as well, Mills,” I went on. “An old friend of mine is a resident there and owns the place, hmmm? He is an Algolite expatriate, but you may have heard of him from when he spent some time on Earth years ago. His name is…”

“Transmission being received,” suddenly interrupted Kit-10 in her electronically-simulated but pleasantly-feminine voice. “It is encoded with several layers of Kosmikos security.”

“Spires of Daemonia!” I swore, as I decoded the message through the readout system. “It looks like our holiday will have to wait, hmmm? We have an assignment!”

“Oh well,” answered Millie with a giggle. “I guess that’s exciting, too!” …

My name is RUMANOS -- DOCTOR DANIEL RUMANOS, Extraterrestrial Espionage Agent and Intergalactic Man of Mystery. Even though I have the physical appearance of an human being, I am in fact several thousands of years old and do carry within my blood the vastly superior genes of the legendary Watchers of the Daemon-Star ALGOL -- the most intellectually-advanced race in all of the known galaxies, whose technology is so sophisticated it often appears to be “magic” and “miraculous” to lesser beings.

Whilst most Algolites tend to keep to themselves, preferring to live in elitist seclusion from the rest of the Universe and thus merely observing the goings-on of the myriad races of the vast reaches around them, I am an Operative for a secret organisation known as the KOSMIKOS or Cosmic Intervention Department, tasked with maintaining peace and order throughout the farthest reaches of Space and Time. You know, “plausible deniability”, and all of that sort of thing. It is our ongoing mission to defend the weak, the unfortunate, and the innocent from those who would harm or exploit them.

Currently assigned to Earth, I protect its people (both upon their planet and across the eternal void) from the hideous manipulations of the arch-villain known as Magister Don Wingus and his occult terrorist organisation, Spectral Paranormal; as well as from alien invasions, mad scientists, and indeed all manner of menace. Assisted by my friends -- the beautiful Miss Millie "The Girl From Beyond" Drake and our catlike robot, Kit-10 -- I am the living icon of Algol on this world. I am a Knight of the Eternal Spires. I am the sword of justice from the planet Daemonia. I am the stellar swashbuckler.

I am -- THE DAEMON-STAR!!! …

It was a lofty-seeming chamber, replete with multi-coloured lighting that flashed in odd patterns but offered only a dim level of illumination. The atmosphere was thick with a kind of fog, and there was the sound of low, sonorous music backed with a bass-heavy drumbeat. There were numerous posts or poles of varying thickness, reaching upwards to the unseen ceiling.

An odd gasping moaning noise was heard as the DiTraS, the exterior of which resembles a Greco-Roman Ionic or Corinthian column, materialised into view. A few moments later, a porthole type opening appeared in the ship and I stepped out (having now put on my hat and cloak), followed closely by Millie Drake.

“So Kit-10 should stay on board?” enquired the girl.

“Yes, for the time being at least,” I replied. “We do not know the origin of this fog, or if it might have a negative effect on her systems, hmmm?”

“So, what do you think could be blocking the scanners from giving us more information about where we are?”

“No idea,” I admitted. “The air and gravity are Earth-like, but the DiTraS systems were unable to provide us with any data as to our actual location in Time or Space. All we know is that it is the area in which Kosmikos intelligence reports had remotely detected trouble needing investigated.” 

I took the transonic turnscrew, an highly-sophisticated scientific instrument somewhat resembling a writing pen, from my jacket pocket and activated it to scan the area.

“Anything from the transonic?” asked Millie.

“Nothing we had not already known from the DiTraS and Kit-10. The only thing that could likely block our Algolitish technology, save for some natural anomaly that would be obvious, is a jamming frequency of incredibly advanced levels, along with knowledge of how to obstruct our own scanning abilities.”

“But who could do that?”

“One shudders to think, hmmm?” I mused, returning the device to my pocket. “However, let us not get ahead of ourselves. We need to investigate further before attempting any theorising.”

Having by now walked several metres away from the DiTraS, we both looked around the chamber in which we found ourselves.

“These lights, the fog, the weird music,” stated Millie. “It’s almost like we’re in the middle of some kind of futuristic war zone.”

“Indeed,” I agreed. “It is all quite strange, but at the same time, there is something rather familiar about it all.”

“You mean you think you’ve been here before?” queried the lass.

“Oh, maybe not here precisely,” I explained, “but somewhere quite similar, hmmm? I wish we could get an identification lock on the Time sector.”

“Well, if this is Earth, it couldn’t be before about the middle of the twenty-second century, could it?”

“That is just it, love. Whilst all this indeed does appear quite ‘futuristic’, there is something about it that rather reminds me of an earlier time. Say, the late 1980s or 1990s…”

“Daniel, look out!” suddenly interrupted Millie.

Indeed, immediately in front of us, the figure of a man had suddenly stepped out from behind a post. Before we could react, he raised a large gun-like weapon and fired a flash of light directly to-wards us!

Millie clung to me in fear as the gun fired, but then nothing happened. There was no actual discharge from the weapon, and the light did not shoot through the air at us.

The person who had fired then stepped forward where we could see him more clearly. He was a young man, dressed in the style of the late twentieth century.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said. “You aren’t players, are you? I mean, you don’t have lasers or anything. What are you doing out here on the gaming floor?”

I was then that the realisation hit me.

“By the Triple Star!” I swore. “Millie, do you realise where we are?”

“He said ‘gaming floor’, ‘players’,” returned the girl. “So we’re in some kind of arcade or something?”

“Quite right, love,” I smiled. “To be more precise, we are in a ‘laser tag’ centre!”

“Oh, okay! I’ve heard of them, but haven’t ever been to one. When I was growing up on Earth, I mean.”

(Even though she is a young lady of my own species -- an Algolite -- Miss Millie Drake did indeed spend the early part of her life disguised as an Earthling.)

“You people talk weird,” smiled the youth, “but it’s kind of cool.”

“Yes, I suppose we are rather ‘cool’, hmmm?” I rejoined. “I am Doctor Rumanos, and this is Miss Drake.”

“My name’s David,” he replied. “Nice to meet you. I’m just here to have some fun, since I don’t have any classes tomorrow. I’m a student at City College.”

“Hmmm,” I wondered. “What city?”

“Boston, of course,” laughed the lad. “You’re joking, right? How could you not know that we’re at the ‘Laser Challenge Zone’ at the East Boston Mall?”

“Oh, just indulge me, hmmm?” I continued. “Just for laughs, perhaps you could tell me what year it is as well.”

“1993!” he answered, obviously quite enjoying himself by now. “October 10, 1993, to be precise. So did you two just appear out of nowhere?”

“Pretty much,” answered Millie with a giggle.

“My assistant here and I have been engaged in some scientific research that involves travel, you see,” I attempted to explain.

“Oh, it’s all right,” replied David. “So you said you were a doctor, a scientist?”

“Yes, amongst other things, hmmm?”

“Cool!” he replied. “I’m hoping to transfer to Harvard next semester, where I can major in physics.”

“And well you should, my friend,” I approved. “I say, David, have you happened to have experienced anything unusual recently?”

“Unusual?” questioned the young man.

“Indeed, if you do not mind my asking. Any strange sensations, unexplained dizziness, loss of time?”

“Well yes, now that you mention it. Just after I got to here tonight, I had this strange feeling like the fog was surrounding me, just blocking off my sight for a few seconds. But it was all right then, I think.”

“Daniel,” said Millie Drake, “what do you think is going on? Why did the Kosmikos send us here?”

“I know not as yet, love,” I replied. “Nevertheless, I do have an idea. I believe there are several levels of deception going on here, hmmm? I also have another feeling -- a feeling that we are being watched!” …

Little could I know how correct my assumption was, for at that same time, we were indeed being observed upon a video monitor screen, one of several within a chamber in which were a group of humanoid beings. They were tall, hard-faced men, with grey skin and eyes of a cruel blue-black. All were clad in smart military uniforms of a deep brown colour.

“There are intruders in one of the testing areas, sir,” said one of these beings to another. “How is this possible? The technology that the Battle Master has given us blocks any possibility of intrusion from outsiders.”

“The Battle Master is an outsider himself,” replied the other, whose uniform designated his status as a superior officer. “We have given him his title, and granted him a certain amount of authority in exchange for his assisting us with the technology of his people, but we must not forget that he is an alien. There may be others, perhaps even of his kind, that can find a way to pierce our defensive cover. It will all work to our advantage, however.”

“How do you mean, sir?”

“Send word to the Battle Master that these intruders have been detected. It is his duty to deal with it. In so doing, he can prove his loyalty to our cause. He can serve us, the Battle Lords, by investigating and destroying these intruders -- even if they be his fellow Algolites!” …

Back at the supposed “Laser Challenge Zone”, our discussion with young David was suddenly interrupted by a shimmering light near by.

“Daniel!” cried Millie. “Isn’t that a… ?”

“Yes, my dear,” I answered, “it is a matter transit beam. It would appear that someone is joining us.”

When the light of the matter transmission had faded, we looked upon the now-present figure of the one who had utilised it. He was clad from head to toe in an ebony-black bodysuit, and held a sleek laser gun in one hand. His face was as of a man of middle years, his countenance still showing signs of handsome distinction despite being marked with the results of lifetimes of extreme profligate wickedness. His hair was long and dark, and his pale eyes shone with an absolutely hypnotic effulgence.

Of course, I recognised that face immediately. I recognised it as that of the renegade Algolite who had long hence become my own archenemy, forsooth as that of the most dangerous and prolific criminal in the Universe.

“Don Wingus!” I exclaimed. “I should have known. So you did escape from the Time-stalker.”

(It must be noted here that the last time we had encountered the villainous Wingus, he had been using an old Algolite weapon known as the Time-stalker in his continuing schemes to rule the Universe. We defeated him and the we weapon was destroyed, but nevertheless a certain side effect of this eventually resulted in his daughter Anastasia returning from the dead -- but that, as the saying goes, is another story.)

“Quite right, Rumanos,” rejoined the villain, aiming his weapon at Millie and me, “and I have here erected a scheme that shall ensure my ascendancy as Master of all Time and of all Space -- an ascendancy that you and the meddling Kosmikos will not succeed in preventing! You see, Rumanos, I assure you that this laser-gun, unlike the others here, is real -- and quite deadly!”

Then, just as Don Wingus was about to tighten his grip on the trigger, a thin beam of light shot through the air from the other direction, hitting the gun and sending it flying from his hand. The weapon, now warped and unusable, clattered to the floor a few metres distant.

“Good shooting, Kit-10!” cheered Millie Drake.

“No problem, m--,” replied the robotic feline. “I finished the analysis and discovered nothing in the surrounding atmosphere that would be harmful to my circuitry.”

(It should be noting here that, along with her other catlike characteristics, Kit-10 is possessed of a total inability to openly show respect for anyone. The closest she ever comes to it is by referring to me by a slight “s--” sound -- for “sir” -- and to Millie by “m--” -- for “ma’am”.)

“Well, we are certainly pleased to see you,” I told the mechanical pussycat. “Now, Wingus, you have some explaining to do, hmmm? I must warn you against any sudden moves. As you have seen, Kit-10’s nose-laser is perfectly capable of…”

It was at that moment that my speech was cut short, as the light of the matter transit suddenly returned and surrounded not only Don Wingus, but also Millie and me, and we found ourselves being transmitted out of the supposed laser tag “gaming floor” to another location!

When the light from the matter transit had cleared, I looked around and saw that we were in a metallic corridor from which several doorways led.

“Welcome to the command centre of the Battle Lords, Rumanos and Miss Drake,” sneered Wingus. “I pre-programmed the matter transit system to bring any Algolites here from the testing area, should I not return within a certain time frame.”

It was then that two humanoid aliens marched down the corridor to-wards us. They were wearing common soldier’s uniforms, and had grey skin and blue-black eyes.

“Guards, take the girl to a detention cell” ordered Don Wingus. “See that she is left unharmed until I give further instructions.”

“Yes, sir,” replied the soldiers.

“Wingus,” I interrupted, “you know very well that I shall not allow anyone to…”

“Worry not, Rumanos,” mocked the villain. “Little Miss Drake here will not be harmed as long as you cooperate. You see, you and I are going to have a discussion, in which I shall explain what is going on here, and how you are going to assist me.”

I glanced at Millie. It was a look that let her know that I would not allow any harm to come to her under any circumstances. The two uniformed guards then marched her into one of the doorways, obvious leading to the detention cells.

“Come along now, Rumanos,” Wingus continued. “We are alone now, and I can fill you in on certain details.”

I followed Wingus into one of the rooms. It was sparsely furnished, but contained some computer equipment and communications devices.

“So, Wingus,” I said, “I take it you have kidnapped numerous laser tag players from Earth? We are obviously on an alien planet. This area is in the centre, and is surrounded by zones were the battles are being played out?”

“Your deductions are correct,” admitted the villain. “I have made a deal with our hosts here, the Battle Lords. In exchange for a certain amount of authority found in the title of ‘Battle Master’, I have brought these human youngsters here for them to test and train, that they may begin to create an army of beings from multiple planets -- beings that will be predisposed to advanced battle technology and thus can be used as shock troops for the Battle Lords in their plans to subjugate the neighbouring galaxies.”

“Absolutely fiendish,” I shuddered. “How have you gotten these innocent gamers here?”

“I supplied the Battle Lords with several STraDi, the primitive type of DiTraS that expires after use. With these the Earthlings were taken from their own time and brought to the simulations in the testing areas. Any memories of the move are blocked from their brain patterns.”

“And you intend to let the alien Battle Lords use these people to conquer galaxies, and then sit by whilst they enforce a vast military dictatorship?”

“Oh, not precisely, Rumanos,” rejoined Don Wingus with an evil grin. “I have given them all they need to achieve their conquest, but I also know that these aliens are fools. They understand nothing but fighting and battle strategies. When they have conquered, they will soon find themselves unable to govern. It is then that I shall take over as supreme leader, subjugating the Battle Lords to my superior will along with all that they have subjugated. I, Magister Don Wingus, shall be the ruler of galaxies!”

“Leave it to you to turn harmless little games into something horridly sinister,” I admonished. “Using laser tag, of all things, to wage actual war and to establish iron heel totalitarianism. What is next, miniature golf rape gangs?”

“You are as flippant as ever, Rumanos,” returned the arch-villain. “You may begin taking this more seriously when you realise that you can join with me. Together we can fulfil our destinies as Algolites, the highest form of life in all the Universe. It is the only way I can guarantee Miss Drake’s safety, you understand. Just think of it. You and I -- and she -- as the triumvirate of rulers governing planets, solar systems, galaxies! Nothing could stand before us!!”

“You are mad, Wingus!” I admonished. “You are utterly mad! You know that I shall never join you in your criminal schemes, and neither would Miss Millie Drake!”

Just then, the door to the chamber slid open and three uniformed men joined us. They were again all grey-complexioned with cruel blue-black eyes. One of them was clad in what was obviously an officers uniform, the other two were soldiers of the lower ranks.

“It has been decided by Battle Lord High Command,” announced the officer as the two enlisted men raised their disintegrator guns. “Immediate and summary execution!”

“Oh well, Rumanos,” smirked Don Wingus as he moved a few paces away from me. “It appears this is where we part company. You should not have interfered.”

“The case of the two newcomers has not yet been presented before the High Command,” replied the Battle Lord officer. “It is you, Battle Master, who is now to be executed.”

“That is outrageous!” shouted Wingus, his eyes growing wide with fear. “I have aided you in your plans, even putting technology of the Watchers at your disposal!”

“Your discussion here has been monitored. We have heard your plot to ‘take over as supreme leader’. You have committed treason against the Battle Lords, and the punishment for that is death.”

“What! This is a violation of our agreement!” raged Wingus. “You promised I would be left free and unmonitored!”

“No honour amongst would-be fascist dictators, hmmm?” I quipped.

By this time, the three Battle Lords were paying no attention to me, so great was their indignation at having been played for fools by the evil Don Wingus. I accordingly began to slip to-wards the door.

“Fire!” ordered the officer.

I heard a final cry of rage from Wingus before the sound of the two soldiers’ guns rang out. By now I was in the corridor, and I saw a reflection on the metallic walls of the flash from the energy weapons the Battle Lords utilised in order to blast Don Wingus out of existence. Then there was silence.

I hurried down the passageway to-wards the detention cells where I had seen them taking Millie Drake. There were several cells, but only one of them was closed. I took out the transonic turnscrew and opened the electronic lock, carefully deactivating any attendant alarm system.

When I opened the cell door, Millie was seated alone on a sort of low shelf on the far side of it. She jumped up and immediately ran into my arms.

“Oh Daniel, I knew you’d come for me!” she cheered.

“Always, my dear,” I assured her. “Always.”

Just them, a noise as of a distant symphonic trumpeting started, and there was a change in the atmosphere. It was like unto a cold chill, but was felt in the mind rather than physically.

“It is the Kosmikos,” I stated. “Now that the Battle Lords have executed Don Wingus, the Algolitish blockages to detection he set up are no longer functioning. The crimes the Battle Lords have committed, in kidnapping innocent people to use in their testing areas, in an attempt to further their nefarious plans to conquer galaxies, can only have one punishment. The Kosmikos -- with full approval of the Absolute Convention in this case -- shall wipe the Battle Lords, along with all memory of them ever even have existed, out of Time and Space.”

It was then that, even as I spoke, the walls around us started to fade as the noise of the approaching Algolite justice system grew louder.

“So how do we get back to the DiTraS?” enquired Millie.

“It should be no problem, love,” I assured the lovely lass whilst I adjusted the transonic device and activated it.

“I have reversed the polarisation of the residue remaining from the transit beam that brought us here,” I continued. “It should succeed in taking us back to the place where we landed.”

And indeed, in a moment we found ourselves transmitted, in the shimmering light of the matter transmission system, back to the false ‘Laser Challenge Zone’.

“Hmmm, it appears that we are several metres distant from where we started,” I said. “It is just due to the interference of the other Algolite technology approaching.”

Whilst we walked through the fake fog, I filled Millie in on some more details of what had occurred.

“So what will happen to David, and the other Earthlings?” queried the girl.

“The Kosmikos will return them to their proper time and place as soon as we have left,” I explained.

“Daniel, do you think the Battle Lords really killed Don Wingus?”

“It is difficult to say, Mills,” I pondered. “He had to have had his DiTraS hidden around there somewhere. If he could have secretly activated the transit beam to vanish just as they fired upon him with their disintegrator guns, he could just possibly have escaped without them even noticing.”

“I guess we’ll find out if we have to deal with him again,” shuddered the girl.

“Quite true, my love,” I acquiesced. “Quite true. Ah, here we are!”

We had by now reached the area near to where we had left the DiTraS. David and Kit-10 were standing before one of the posts, which I noticed was now covered with scorch marks of the type that could have only been caused by the robotic cat’s nose-blaster.

“By the Stars,” I said, “what exactly is going on here?”

“Oh, it’s so cool,” replied the youth. “Kit-10 has been instructing me in the correct way to fire a laser.”

“Really, Kit-10?” I enquired. “Doing a bit of Space-Age gun safety training on the side, hmmm?”

“Of course, s--,” replied the mechanical cat.

At this I rolled my eyes, and Millie giggled.

***** DANIEL RUMANOS AND MILLIE DRAKE SHALL RETURN IN "CROSSTOWN TRAFFICKING"