A PRINCESS OF VENUS

I stood at the counter-like control console of the DiTraS (pronounced “DYE-tress” and standing for Dimensional Transport Sphere), my incredibly-advanced Space and Time travel vehicle, the interior of which resembles an old Earth-type of café or coffee shop.

“I am setting the controls now,” said I. “We should be getting back to pick Millie up from her graphology studies.”

I was dressed in my usual finery, including a frilled poet shirt, purple velvet suit, and military style boots. My panama hat was hanging from a near by coat-rack.

At my feet was a sort of robot that resembled, in general shape and form, a small cat. This is Kit-10, actually an highly-sophisticated personal computer.

“Graphology:” repeated Kit-10 in her pleasantly feminine voice, “The technique of supposedly identifying certain information of an individual by examination of their handwriting. It is usually classified as a pseudo-science, and…”

“Correction, Kit-10,” I interrupted. “It is usually classified as a pseudo-science amongst Earthlings. Algolites, such as Millie Drake and I happen to be, have more highly-developed mentalist abilities, allowing us to…”

Suddenly, an alarm went off within the control room.

“By the Stars!” I swore whilst examining the console readouts. “We are receiving a transmission. It is encoded as a distress signal, and thus scrambled so its origin is masked in case of interception. Ah, it will be taking the form of a pre-recorded hologram. Here it is!”

Appearing before me then came into view the shimmering form of a young and exquisitely beautiful girl. The hologram was life-sized and fully three-dimensional, making the young lady appear tall and slender, with blonde hair and blue eyes. Her featured were perfect and of a decidedly noble mien. She was dressed in a long white gown, adorned with gold jewellery that matched the tiara upon her head.

“Kit-10,” I enquired, “can your face recognition software identify this person?”

“Accessing, s--,” answered the robot (one of Kit-10’s catlike qualities being her dislike of openly showing respect or subservience to anyone, the “s--” sound is the closest she can come to addressing me as “sir”). “Affirmative. Records identify as Her Royal Majesty FREYA, Imperial Princess of the Planet Venus.”

“A princess of Venus?” I wondered. “Of course! The people of that world do rather resemble humans of the Nordic or Scandinavian type. Let me tune in the audio so we can see what she has to say.”

“Doctor Rumanos of Algol,” said the hologram of Princess Freya, her voice steady yet obviously with an hidden tone of desperation, “I request your assistance with a great tragedy that has threatened to overwhelm the imperial house and the people of my planet. We have been targeted by forces that would strip our world of its wealth and would reduce our population to degradation and slavery. You are implored to arrive as soon as you can, and please do not tarry if the cause of freedom and truth means what I have been told it means to you. Please help us, Dr. Daniel Rumanos. You are our only hope.”

With this, the hologram ceased to appear.

“Well, Kit-10,” I said as I began to reprogram the control board, “it appears Millie may have to be left to her studies a bit longer than expected, but I am certain she will understand. We have a princess to rescue!” …

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, living in elitist seclusion from the rest of the Universe and 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 Master Don Wingus and his occult terrorist organisation, Spectral Paranormal; as well as alien invasions, mad scientists, and indeed all manner of menace. 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!!! …

With an odd gasping and moaning noise, the DiTraS (the exterior of which resembles an old “Roman column”) materialised in an ornate corridor lit by hidden sources along the walls. A portal appeared on the side of my ship and I stepped out, followed by the mechanical cat.

I took the transonic turnscrew, a scientific instrument resembling a writing pen, from the pocket of my coat and examined its readout.

“According to this,” I announced, “we are indeed within the Venusian Imperial Palace. We are near the council chamber, where the Princess Freya herself should be waiting to speak with us. Come along, Kit-10!”

We soon entered the chamber, at the far end of which was an ornate chair on which sat the Princess Freya. Four tall, muscular bodyguards were stationed around the walls.

“Approach, Doctor Rumanos of Algol,” intoned the princess, who looked even younger and lovelier in person. “We of Venus welcome you.”

I walked to-wards her with Kit-10 close behind me, and bowed in the appropriate fashion.

“Your Majesty,” I said. “I am honoured by your summons, and do swear to assist the Imperial House of Venus in any way I can. This is Kit-10, my personal computer.”

Princess Freya briefly gave a delightfully girlish smile at the robotic feline, before again returning to her serious countenance.

“Before we begin to explain why you have been called here, Doctor,” continued the royal lady, “a special security delegate from the League of Planets will be joining us. I believe that you and he are already acquainted.”

A door at the side of the chamber slid open and a tall man in a green-and-red uniform and cap stepped out. He was blue-skinned, and indeed familiar to me.

“Agent Sszmulszder of the Saturnian Bureau of Investigation!” I said. “What an interesting surprise! I hope all is well on your home-world.”

“Greetings, Doctor,” said the alien agent. “All has been well on Saturn since you helped us to end that Replicant invasion. I was recently summoned here, as were you, to assist the Venusian government with what currently threatens them.”

“Please,” I said, “can you enlighten me as to the details concerning this threat to Venus?”

“Agent Sszmulszder,” said Princess Freya, “Please do repeat to the Doctor all that I have told you.”

“According to numerous sources, including our own intelligence findings” began Sszmulszder, “Venus has been contacted recently by an encoded message threatening the planet with a thermonuclear attack if they do not immediately turn over all rights to the world’s mineral wealth to an organisation known as ‘The Forty’.”

“The Forty?” I queried. “That is a business consortium so named because it is made up of representatives from forty different star systems within the Messier 13 Globular Cluster. So they have set their sights on the mineral wealth of Venus, hmmm?”

“Yes, they have” affirmed the SBI man, “but The Forty are not the ones directly making the threat. We have found that a certain force of invaders have already been hiding on Venus for some time -- right here within the precincts of the Imperial Palace -- and are assisting The Forty to obtain their goals. In addition, a member of the Venusian Senate has recently been assassinated -- murdered in cold blood by an energy weapon whilst sleeping in his private chambers.””

“They have also disabled the security cameras on the lower levels,” added the princess.

“Yes, they indeed have,” agreed Sszmulszder, “but we managed to get one of the cameras briefly working again just before you arrived. This is what we saw…”

A video screen in the corner of the chamber lit up with some blurry pre-recorded footage. It only lasted a scant few seconds before again going black, but that was long enough. Long enough forsooth for me to see several copper-coloured insect-like creatures, rather like human-sized earwigs, dressed in military armour and helmets, with sidearm ray-guns in their holsters.

Of course, I recognised the grotesque creatures immediately.

“Spires of Daemonia!” I swore as I beheld the footage. “Ma’am, the ones threatening your planet -- the ones secretly working with The Forty -- are Martians!”

“Martians?” returned the princess. “That is impossible. There exists a treaty of peace between Venus and Mars. For their government to violate it would lead to a war that could devastate the Solar System.”

“If I may say so, ma’am,” spoke Sszmulszder, “it is not likely that these Martians represent the interests of their planet’s government. For some time, there have been rumours in our intelligence surveys of a rebel faction on the red planet -- a force that intends to subvert the cause of peace, at any cost, in order to return their society to the ways for which it was known and so utterly feared in times past: the ways of total and non-stop war!”

“Then these Martian rebels have invaded Venus?” shuddered Princes Freya.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “That indeed appears to be the case. They are apparently the ones assisting The Forty in enforcing their demands that the Venusian government turn over all mineral rights. This is terrible. Martians of the old style will stop at nothing to conquer, and, in exchange for their assistance, The Forty have no doubt offered to financially back them in order to obtain the weapons and other things necessary to become overlords of this planet!”

“Then what can we do?” pleaded the lovely princess. “Agent Sszmulszder? Doctor? What can we do to save my dear planet from this outrage?”

“Agent Sszmulszder,” said I, “we need to get down their immediately and face these Martian invaders before they have any idea that we have detected their presence.”

“Agreed, Doctor,” said the Saturnian. “Unfortunately, the invasion force has already hacked part of the Venusian defence system. The Imperial Army will not be able to enter the palace and help us, and all of their spaceships are temporarily grounded. I did manage to get a subspace transmission out to the League of Planets. They will be sending reinforcements, but it will still be some time before they can arrive.”

“Then let us be on our way below,” I insisted. “Kit-10 will be of help -- unless it would be better to allow her to stay and help to protect you, ma’am. She is quite the guard-cat, I can certainly say.”

“This unit is not a cat, s--,” retorted the robot.

“Quiet, Kit-10,” I admonished.

“That will not be necessary, Doctor,” decided Princess Freya. “I have my loyal bodyguard here. Please do all that you can to preserve the peace of our planet, Doctor.”

“I swear to do so, ma’am,” I bowed to the beautiful lady before Agent Sszmulszder, Kit-10, and I exited the council chamber.

We descended into the lower levels of the Imperial Palace via a series of ramps that are a standard part of Venusian architecture, and soon found ourselves in the dimly-lit corridors of the structure’s service area. They were all silent and seemed abandoned.

“We can complete this search more quickly if we separate, Doctor,” said Agent Sszmulszder.

“Agreed, but be mindful,” said I. “Martians of the old style can be treacherous. Nothing is taboo to them in the service of warfare.”

“Understood,” returned the Saturnian. “I have my ray-gun with me, and am authorised to use it at my own discretion.”

Sszmulszder took the left corridor, whilst Kit-10 and I proceeded along the one to the right.

“Keep your sensors open, Kit-10,” I counselled. “We need to know right away if there is anything else lurking in these passages.” …

Agent Sszmulszder walked cautiously down the corridor, his ray-gun already drawn. He started slightly when he noticed something in the passageway ahead of him, but then his mouth came open in surprise when he saw what it was.

It was a ravishingly-beautiful adolescent girl of the Saturnian race, blue skinned and with bright orange hair. Her eyes had that dazzling golden hue found in the young of the ringed planet’s people. She was completely nude, and her slender figure moved enticingly to-wards the SBI agent.

Sszmulszder put his gun in its holster and reached out to the girl, pulling her to-wards him with a look of extreme, uncontrollable lust on his face. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and lifted one of her long, shapely legs around his hip and lower back.

Their forms pressed hard against each other, the Saturnian man then began to kiss the girl deeply and passionately on her mouth. …

Kit-10 and I had proceeded about an hundred metres down the eldritch passageway when the robotic cat suddenly spoke a word of alarm.

“Danger, s--,” she said. “Sensors detect another presence.”

“What is it, Kit-10?” I queried.

“Am detecting something roughly of human height, but of insect biology.”

“A Martian!” I exclaimed. “Where is it?”

“In the passageway to our left,” answered Kit-10.

“The one Agent Sszmulszder is exploring alone! We must hurry to him!”

I ran back up the passage, with the mechanical feline close behind me. We then turned down the other way and rushed to help the Saturnian. When I caught sight of him, what I beheld filled me with horror and disgust. It was a scene of utter grotesquery, a thing beyond the pale of anything that could be termed sanity.

I beheld Agent Sszmulszder in the six-legged embrace of an insectoid Martian!!

I took the transonic turnscrew from my pocket and aimed it to-wards the Martian, having set my device to scramble the brainwaves of an insect. The thing immediately released Sszmulszder and fell backwards upon the floor of the passageway.

“Kit-10!” I called out. “Blast that thing!”

A beam of sharply-focused light immediately shot forth from the nose of the little robotic puss, causing the Martian to burst open and viscid insect vital fluids to spew forth from it. The horrid thing shrilly buzzed and convulsively wriggled its legs before finally expiring.

“Sszmulszder!” I said. “Agent Sszmulszder, old chap! Are you all right?”

“By the Rings!” swore the Saturnian. “I… I could not resist. That thing… It… It made itself look just like my daughter… ! Oh, by the Rings, Doctor! I have felt lustful desires for my own child! I could not control myself… I wanted her so much! I just… Doctor, please tell me… What… What have I done?!”

“Snap out of it, Agent Sszmulszder,” I insisted. “Get a hold of yourself. Martian pheromones are incredibly strong, and they have long used them, in a technologically-enhanced form, as tools of war. You have absolutely no responsibility for your actions whilst under their influence. Make yourself forget it, but be on guard against any further attempts as we continue our mission.”

“Of course, Doctor,” agreed the stalwart Saturnian as he forced himself to regain his composure. “Let us go on.”

We continued to explore the corridors together, but there were no further incidents. They seemed especially deserted, completely abandoned, and well-nigh phantasmagorical in their profound and eerie silence.

“Am now again detecting something, s--,” suddenly proclaimed Kit-10.

“Not more Martians?” I enquired.

“Negative,” replied the robot. “My sensors are detecting the signatures of several molecular transmission devices that were activated in this area just minutes ago.”

“Doctor!” exclaimed Sszmulszder in terrible realisation. “If these invaders have that kind of technology with them, they could enter any area of the palace -- even…”

“Princess Freya’s council chamber!” I realised. “We need to hurry!”

Sszmulszder and I ran at full speed back up the corridors and ramps of the Imperial Palace, with Kit-10 close behind us. I knew that we had no time to lose. If these horrible insect Martians had indeed made their way to the princess herself, I knew that they would not hesitate to take any action that would serve their goals. Holding her hostage, torturing her, assassinating her openly -- they would do whatever they felt was necessary to ensure their establishment of domination upon the planet Venus, and to further the purpose of turning the world’s mineral wealth over to their partners, that hideously immoral interstellar business consortium known as The Forty!

“Will the princess’s bodyguard be able to protect her?” wondered Sszmulszder as we hurried along.

“Unfortunately, I fear they will not,” I admitted. “You have seen what these Martian horrors can do. The men of the Imperial Bodyguard will likely be helpless in their hideous alien snares.”

To my supreme horror, I was soon to discover that it was truly as I had feared. The rebel Martian faction had indeed made its way to the council chamber, and the horrid insectoid invaders would in very sooth not halt at the idea of threatening the beautiful Princess Freya herself.

We rushed into the council chamber just in time to hear the princess scream in horror at what was occurring. There were three Martians there, and they had surrounded her on all sides. One of them had wrapped two of its appendages around her and was using a third to hold a ray-gun to her head. The other two aimed their guns at Sszmulszder and me as we entered the room.

All of the members of the royal bodyguard were now unconscious, overcome by the Martian pheromones and moaning softly to strange, grotesquely ecstatic dreams as they lay on the floor of the chamber.

“You will surrender now, Doctor Rumanos of Algol and Agent Sszmulszder of Saturn,” buzzed the horrid Martian insect that was threatening the helpless little lady. “You will surrender to the glory of Mars, and be sure that all our demands are immediately obeyed, or the Princess Freya will die!”

Do you perceive the horror, the supreme unholy terror of this situation, my dear friends? The rebel Martians were holding that beautiful young princess hostage, threatening to assassinate her if their demands -- which included my own surrender -- were not immediately met!

“Did you hear me?” repeated the insect invader. “You will surrender to us immediately, and you will now kneel before us and accept the rightful rule of Mars, or we will not hesitate to kill the princess!”

“Let the young lady go, Martian,” I replied. “I know that those guns and matter transmit devices you are using are not standard Martian issue. They do not originate even in this solar system, and have been given to you by others. You are working for The Forty. You have betrayed the government of your own planet and have no backing other than that business conglomeration. The Forty do not share your archaic warrior’s sense of supposed honour. They only wish to strip Venus of its resources and leave its people impoverished and despondent. They will leave you nothing to rule here.”

I could tell that the Martians were someone concerned at this, but none the less, they kept their places.

“We work only for the glory of Mars,” retorted the insectoid alien holding the girl. “We will use this planet as a base from which we will work to return our own world to its original splendour. We will raise up the elder military institutions of Mars, and shall then go forth to conquer the Solar System and beyond! Now, obey our commands and surrender to us, or I will kill this female immediately!”

Whilst the Martian insect had been talking, I made an almost-imperceptible gesture with my left hand at Kit-10.  The robotic feline had moved ever-so-slightly, placing her position to directly face the Martian that was so heinously threatening the helpless young Princess Freya.

“Now, Kit-10!” I shouted.

The laser-beam fired from Kit-10’s metal nose and hit the gun that the Martian was holding to the head of the princess, causing it to fly out of its grip and go clattering across the floor of the chamber, damaged beyond repair. The insect immediately let out a loud droning buzz of offended outrage.

I already had the transonic turnscrew concealed in my right hand, and now activated it to scramble the senses of the Martian insects. The one aiming at me got off one shot before dropping its ray-gun, but its sights were off. The potentially lethal energy ray left a groove of torn floor tiling immediately beside me.

The Martian that had been holding the princess now stepped away from her, writhing in disconcerted pain from my sonic bug-zapper. By now, Agent Sszmulszder had drawn his own gun, and easily blasted the three alien insects. The Martian horrors then expired, dying in twitching arthropod agony upon the floor of the council chamber.

“Good work, Sszmulszder!” I cheered. “Excellent shooting by you as well, Kit-10! You are a true marksperson, and a good kitty-cat.”

“This unit is not a cat, s--,” rejoined the robot.

With the death of the Martian horrors, the guardsmen immediately recovered consciousness and returned to their duty. The princess quickly recovered from her fear, as befits one of noble lineage.

I heard the alert sound of an incoming signal. Agent Sszmulszder was receiving a message on his subspace communicator.

“The reinforcements from the League of Planets have arrived,” he announced. “Combined ships from loyal Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune have found and captured a rebel Martian fleet hiding in orbit around Venus. The remainder of the rebel Martians are now in custody, and their ships have been disarmed of the thermonuclear weapons they had aimed to-wards the planet.”

“The Kosmikos of Algol will be interested in investigating the involvement of The Forty in this,” I added. “We will definitely be keeping a watchful eye upon them, and promise they will be held responsible for this outrage, as well as any further nefarious deeds they may be planning.” …

“Our planet has been saved from a terrible threat,” said the lovely Princess Freya at a special ceremony that was held shortly thereafter, as she stood before us in her full royal splendour holding an ancient sword, “and there is only one way we have to show our thanks to you. It is with a designation that has never before been granted to any non-Venusian. I delight to say that I, as Princess of the Planetary Empire and by the symbolic power of this weapon by which my earliest imperial ancestor won the ruler-ship of our beloved world, do name you both as Holy Knights of the Realm.”

Agent Sszmulszder and I both bowed at this profound honour as the assembled crowd of Venusian people, along with delegates from the League of Planets, cheered and applauded.

“As for you, Kit-10,” continued the princess, “I can only offer you our most sincere thanks. I regret to say that the customs of Venus are quite old and perhaps rather prejudiced. Unfortunately, we have no traditional ennobling ceremonies for computers or for pets. What was that the Doctor, Sir Daniel, called you? A ‘cat’?””

“Negative,” said the robot. “This unit is not a…”

I hastily interrupted Kit-10 by delivering a slight kick to her side.

“What Kit-10 wishes to say, ma’am,” I told the most noble lady, “is that she is honoured to receive anything that the Imperial House of Venus deigns to give to her.”

With this, the beautiful Princess Freya of Venus smiled and laughed joyfully at the antics of my little mechanical feline.

***** DANIEL RUMANOS (AND MILLIE DRAKE) SHALL RETURN IN “MARK OF THE NEMESISTER”

ATLANTIC CITY

The man sat in an office surrounded by numerous computer interfaces and monitor view-screens, to one side of which was a tall cabinet-like machine covered with numerous controls. He was himself in heavy shadow, but this only obscured the details of his facial features. He was obviously a lean, middle-aged individual, rather short of stature and dressed in a tailored business suit. His hair was thin and prematurely grey, and his hands trembled somewhat as if with barely-concealed and repressed anger.

“The plan is underway,” he spoke into a microphone upon his large metal desk. “The casino and hotel are now fully staffed with the new Housekeepers.”

His voice was high-pitched but none the less evidenced a definite tone of command. In it was a note of madness, an insanity as of that born of suffering and tribulation that would have broken all but the most stalwart of minds.

“All is now prepared,” he continued. “Go forth and do my work, my faithful creations. I have designed you well and now is the time to do my work -- to begin the cleansing.”

The man turned to examine the view seen on the various monitors. They showed several shots of the casino floor, with the numerous gamblers at slot machines and game tables under the multicoloured lighting scheme. Others showed the hotel lobby, corridors, restaurants, saloons, and various shops, whilst still others gave sight of the exterior, looking to-wards the boardwalk and the adjoining beach, with its many tourist visitors enjoying the sunshine.

When the man turned back to-wards his desk his visage entered the light from the lamp. This illumination revealed a nightmare, for the entire right side of his face was made up of only scar tissue. It was the countenance of one who had been at one time exposed to flames of intense heat, flames that had burnt away one of his eyes and had caused his very flesh to bubble and crack until only a thinly-stretched dryness remained.

“It is prepared,” he repeated, his voice rising into a near shriek of insane announcement. “It is now underway and I will succeed. I will succeed in having my revenge upon all of mankind. I will have vengeance for what they have done to me; the persecution, the hatred, the attacks, the burning! With what I have created I will kill them all! I will cleanse this world! I will have my revenge, and I will now begin to massacre the entire human race!! …

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 live in elitist seclusion from the rest of the Universe, 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. We 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 Master Don Wingus and his occult terrorist organisation, Spectral Paranormal; as well as alien invasions, mad scientists, and indeed all manner of menace. I am the living icon of Algol in 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 pushed the wooden crate into the café-like inter-dimensional control room of my DiTraS (pronounced “DYE-tress” and standing for Dimensional Transport Sphere, this is the Time/Space vehicle in which I travel the Universe on missions for the Kosmikos)  and stood looking down at the figures I had inscribed on the side of it some time before.

“‘Kit-10 mII’,” read my companion, a beautiful young girl, petite and perfect, with luxurious chestnut hair, enchanting violet-coloured eyes, and luscious pink lips. She was wearing a short-skirted, tight dress of electric blue that only served to highlight the soft curves of her early-pubescent figure.

“Indeed, Millie,” I responded, “and I think you will like what is inside.”

Millie Drake is a girl of my own race, the Watchers of Algol. She spent the earliest part of her life on Planet Earth, and has only quite recently been discovering the wondrous abilities she wields as a member of our incredibly superior people.

I took the transonic turnscrew, an highly-advanced technological device resembling a writing pen, from my pocket and proceeded to use it to remove the nails that held the crate together. I was dressed in my usual finery, including a frilled poet-shirt and purple velvet suit, along with military style boots. My outback hat hung atop a near by coat-stand.

I piled the wooden panels of the old crate to one side and then removed the plastic wrapping from its contents. What was revealed was a kind of robot about the size and in the general shape of… a cat.

“Oh, I get it now!” giggled Millie. “Kit-10! Kitten!”

“Yes, well,” I answered, “you might not want to point that out to her.”

“‘Her’?” enquired the lass.

“Indeed. Kit-10 here is a personal computer with a very advanced and logical mind. That she happens to resemble and has many of the attributes of a feline is sometimes a bit of an annoyance to her.”

“So, you’ve had her for a long time?”

“I most certainly have,” said I, whilst utilising the transonic to perform some quick adjustments to the robotic cat. “Kit-10 here is an old and dear friend, and we have had many adventures together.”

“But what happened to her, Daniel?” queried Millie. “Why did you have her put away in storage?”

“Well, you see, Kit-10 got rather damaged some years ago whilst helping to save the Cosmos from the threat of the unmentionably-perverse Spectral Paranormal agent known to eternal infamy as Tim Chizmar. Forsooth, he had a certain super-powered pet of his own, an actual cat that he termed ‘Spooky Ninja Kitty’. It was an hideous creature that had been possessed with the mentalist essences of the Maskim of Mercury. Exposure to their baleful and decidedly-eldritch powers scrambled Kit-10’s circuitry before she managed to blast the horrid little beast into oblivion. I have been working off-and-on ever since to rebuild my old friend here, but have not had a chance to reactivate her -- until now!”

I reached down and flicked an hidden switch on the mechanical cat’s side. Her head immediately rose and a light shone from behind her glass eyes.

“Kit-10?” I said expectantly.

“But of course, s--,” came a pleasantly-feminine mechanical voice from the metallic feline. “Who else would I be?”

“Did you hear that ‘s--’ sound she made?” I said as an aside to Millie. “She has that usual catlike pride and almost-but-not-quite calling me ’sir’ is the closest she comes to treating anyone respectfully.”

“This is great!” laughed Millie. “I love her!”

“Kit-10,” I introduced, “meet Millie Drake. I hope you two will be great friends, hmmm?”

“Pleased to meet you,” said Kit-10 formally. “This unit is a personal computer.”

There was a signal sound from the control console, and I walked over to check the readings.

“Ah, it appears we are almost at our destination,” I announced.

“Atlantic City?” questioned Millie. “Like you promised?”

“Of course, Mills, my love,” I assured her. “We should have a nice holiday there.”

“Yes!” cheered the girl. “Oh, and can we take Kit-10 with us?”

“Quite so, In fact, I think it will be the perfect opportunity to take her out on a little test run. Does that sound all right to you, Kit-10?”

“It is acceptable, s--,” replied the robotic kitten.

“Awww,” exclaimed Millie, bending over to pet the mechanical feline, “she really is a sweet little pussy-cat!”

“This unit is not a cat,” offered Kit-10.

Despite her protests, the metal feline offered absolutely no resistance to Millie Drake’s rubbing of her robotic ears, eventually even letting out a sound of electronic contentment that could easily have been mistaken for purring. …

A group of tourists walked down the corridor to-wards the casino floor. They were mostly elderly folks, there on a chartered bus trip from Philadelphia. They now looked forward to a day of gambling and sightseeing at the famous East Coast resort town of Atlantic City.

Nevertheless, this was not to be, for just as the group rounded a corner and began to proceed to the area where they could turn in their travel vouchers for slot tokens, they faced a terror. It was a large, mechanical thing shaped somewhat like an huge dustbin on tractors. It rolled to-wards them, more than twice the height of a man and nearly as wide as the corridor itself.

“We are the Housekeepers,” it announced in a pre-recorded computerised voice. “You will now be cleansed.”

Few of the tourists even had time to utter screams of fear before it happened. A stream of some thick, viscid white substance suddenly shot forth from the centre of the robotic horror and enveloped them all, quickly dissolving their very bodies away to nothing! …

The DiTraS materialised in the lobby of Caesar’s, so its outward appearance as a “Roman column” for once worked as an appropriate camouflage. Indeed, since the ship’s anole circuitry (the feature that would usually allow it to change appearance in order to blend into its surroundings) had gotten broken at a similarly-themed casino resort in Las Vegas some years before, this was quite ironic.

Millie, Kit-10, and I went out upon the boardwalk first thing. It was a sunny day in late springtime, with many families and lovely little children enjoying the wide beach for which the resort town of Atlantic City, New Jersey is so famous.

No one seemed to particularly notice Kit-10. Perhaps that is because of the human tendency to not see what they do not expect, or maybe there are just stranger sites on the AC Boardwalk than a robotic cat.

We stopped into several of the shops along the way -- you know, the kind of places that sell items like t-shirts with “I went to Atlantic City and got this shirt” printed on them and such -- Millie Drake’s status as one of the Watchers of Algol in no way curtailing her natural young girl propensity to enjoy shopping for its own sake.

Continuing along, we saw the sign at the beachfront carnival advertising helicopter rides. We briefly considered this, but soon realised that speeding along the skies was in truth no particular novelty to us!

It was midday, and so we went to a nicely-intimate lunch buffet establishment along the way. Millie and I enjoyed a meal of cold-cut sandwiches, pasta salad, and soup whilst Kit-10 rested quietly at our feet.

“It really is nice here, Daniel,” beamed the girl. “Thanks so much for bringing me.”

“My pleasure, Mills,” I assured her. “I have always enjoyed Atlantic City as an holiday spot. Its heyday was really back in the 1990s, though. I remember there were numerous places here all owned by some chap named ‘Trump’.”

“I wonder whatever happened to him,” giggled the girl.

“Who knows?” I pondered. “Then there was that time that the Slozenirians attempted to invade the Miss America Pageant -- part of their continued attempts to use young human females as breeding stock.”

“I’m sure you were there to save the day, right?” teased Millie.

“Naturally, my dear,” I smirked. “Naturally. I say, love, when we finish our lunch we can stop by one of the candy shops, hmmm? I shall get you some salt water taffy for dessert.”

“Mmmmmm!” agreed the lovely lass.

We did just that, afterwards continuing our stroll down the boardwalk until we came to a building I had not seen before. I was made to resemble an enormous tropical hut. Millie read aloud the sign proclaiming the name of it:

“‘Paradise Hotel and Casino’.”

“Indeed, and quite new,” I replied. “Care to go in and have a look around?”

“Of course,” agreed the girl.

Inside, it looked like the typical Atlantic City resort establishment, its theme being a Caribbean-style getaway, with numerous imitation palm trees and a plethora of multi-hued flowers and mechanical parrots.

“I say, Kit-10,” I joked, “try not to attack any of these ‘birds’, hmmm?”

“This unit is not a cat, s--,” rejoined our robot friend.

We had by now explored a portion of the casino and were back in the corridors leading to the inner hotel area. I was about to suggest going back for a piña colada when we suddenly heard a sound like unto a gigantic motor quickly approaching us.

“Daniel, what’s that?” exclaimed Millie.

“By the Triple Star!” I exclaimed. “Look!”

Moving to-wards us then down the corridor was an huge mechanical thing, somewhat resembling a kind of monstrously-oversized dustbin on tractors. As we looked on in wonder it quickly rolled to-wards us until it was only a few metres distant.

“We are the Housekeepers,” it said. “You will now be cleansed.”

I quickly grabbed the transonic turnscrew from the pocket of my jacket and aimed it at the horror. As soon as I activated my device, the thing reversed its course and sped down the corridor away from us. Before it went, a small amount of a white substance dribbled from its midsection onto the floor.

“What was that thing, Daniel?” enquired Millie.

“I am not certain, love,” I told her, “but it did not seem friendly. Fortunately, I managed to switch its polarisation before it could do us any harm.”

I went over to the substance that had leaked upon the floor, and utilised the transonic to perform a quick analysis of it.

“By the Eternal Spires!” I swore. “This is like some kind of super-industrial strength bleach or cleaning fluid! It has been modified and enhanced to dissolve living organic matter! It is absolutely deadly!”

It was just then as I turned back to-wards Millie Drake and Kit-10, that a wall came down between us, closing the corridor and cutting us off from each other’s view.

“Millie! Kit-10!” I shouted. “Can you hear me?”

“I can just barely hear you, Daniel!” I heard the girl’s voice faintly through the barrier. “What happened?”

“It must be some kind of security wall,” I told her. “If these ‘Housekeeper’ robots work for the hotel, it must be designed that the safety barriers will come down if there is any kind of attack upon them. Wait just a minute, and I should be able to get it out of our way, and then…”

However, before I could take such action, I heard the sound of the huge robot’s tractors returning down the corridor. It had recovered from my tampering and was coming back. I realised that I could not be assured of again sabotaging it before it could spray me with the potentially-deadly bleach substance. What was most important was to lure the horrid thing away from my friends. Just as it came into view, I turned and ran down an adjoining corridor. I looked to my rear and beheld that the bizarre robotic terror was indeed in pursuit of me. …

‘Daniel!” shouted Millie Drake on the other side of the barrier. “What happened, Daniel? Where did you go?’

There was no sound in reply.

“Kit-10,” said Millie, turning to the mechanical feline. “Do you have any idea what could have happened to him?”

“Insufficient data,” returned the robotic cat. “Recommend moving away from the barrier.”

“That’s a good idea,” agreed the girl. “He might try to knock it down with some setting of the transonic turnscrew or something. Kit-10, do you know if there’s any way we can get around this wall, or… ?”

Then, before the lass could finish her thought, another of the huge mechanical “Housekeepers” sped down the corridor to-wards them.

“I think we should run, Kit-10,” suggested Millie. “Can you do that?”

“Affirmative,” answered the robotic kitten.

Millie Drake and Kit-10 then hurried down another turn in the corridor away from the gigantic Housekeeper. …

Through several twists and turns, I had managed to evade the Housekeeper that had been pursuing me. Nevertheless, I was now lost in the depths of the big hotel. I took the transonic turnscrew out again and studied its readouts.

“That is strange,” I said to myself. “There is an energy transmission emanating from one of the rooms. Ah! If I can use the transonic to trace it, perhaps I can find out exactly what or whom is controlling these deadly ‘Housekeeper’ things.”

I proceeded to locate the service stairway at the side of the building, and used this to ascend to the very top floor, from which the transonic said the transmission was coming.

What I found on that level was a long hallway at the end of which was a single door. I opened the door and found myself in an office in which were numerous computer interfaces and monitor view-screens. To one side was a tall cabinet-like machine with a series of controls on its front.

At the centre of the room was a desk with a padded office chair behind it. The chair was turned away from me when I entered, but began to swivel around. It occupant was a thin, grey-haired man in a business suit -- but it was his face that most captured my interest. It was a countenance of absolute horror, the right half of it made up entirely of scar tissue. The man glared at me from his one remaining eye.

“So, you have found me,” he said, his voice rather high-pitched but with a definite tone of authority. “You must be of higher intelligence than most.”

“Thank you for the compliment,” I responded. “I am Dr. Daniel Rumanos, and who, if I may ask, am I addressing?”

“I am SL Stanton,” he said with a flourish of pride.

“Of course!” I realised. “Stanley Lawrence Stanton, the great architect! So, the Paradise Hotel and Casino was your rumoured ultimate project; the one that was supposedly cancelled when you became embroiled in that sex scandal. An underage boy, was it? You were believed to have perished in a fire at your New York City townhouse soon afterwards -- a fire that was rumoured to have been set by a group of ‘anti-paedophile’ vigilantes!”

“Yes, but I survived,” snarled Stanton. “I survived the attack of those who hated me for my pure boy-love! I survived, and secretly continued working on this project -- this that I will now use to have my revenge upon the society that so wrongfully condemned me!”

“So you created those robot ‘Housekeepers’ as well?” I pondered. “Amazing! You are a true scientist, as they are quite remarkable things. Nevertheless, I cannot allow you to continue these actions. You cannot condemn and murder innocent people in retaliation for the pain you suffered from others.”

I took the transonic turnscrew from my pocket and started to point it to-wards the large electronic cabinet, which was obviously the source of the transmission powering the killer robots.

“No!” bellowed SL Stanton. “No! You will not destroy my creation!”

Stanton then leaped from his chair and cleared the desk. Before I could react, he was upon me and the transonic flew from my hand into the corner. We struggled, and soon his hands were grasping my throat. He was incredibly strong -- the strength of madness.

My sight began to grow dim as his grip shut off the blood to my brain. …

Millie and Kit-10 continued to run from the pursuing Housekeeper. Then things got worse. For they suddenly perceived that another of the monstrosities was fast approaching down the corridor to-wards them!

Millie Drake halted in terror, with Kit-10 skidding to a stop just beside her. The monstrous, deadly Housekeepers were now barrelling down upon them from both directions.

“What can we do, Kit-10?” pleaded the frightened girl. “What can we do?! We… We’re trapped!!”

Do you recognise the horror, the obscene and undeniable terror of this situation, my dear readers? Millie Drake and Kit-10 were trapped between two of the deadly mechanical Housekeepers, which were now rolling directly to-wards them!

It was then that Kit-10 went into action. The mechanical cat quickly faced one of the approaching robotic horrors and hit it with beam of sharply-focused light from her nose. It hit the Housekeeper squarely and caused it to shudder and stop in its tracks. There was then a small explosion in the thing’s circuitry, after which it entirely ceased to function.

Kit-10 then quickly turned and did the same to the other Housekeeper, hitting and completely disabling it with her built-in laser.

“Good work, Kit-10!” exclaimed Mille Drake with delight. “I didn’t know you can do that!”

“This unit is equipped with basic defence capabilities,” the metal feline assured the beautiful girl.

“Now, if we could only find Daniel,” said Millie.

“That may be possible,” answered Kit-10.

“You mean you do have a way to trace him?”

“Affirmative.”

“Then lead on, Kit-10,” approved the girl.

With this, Kit-10 began to glide down the hotel corridor, with young Millie Drake close behind. …

I jabbed my knee into SL Stanton’s stomach, forcing him to loosen his hold on my throat. Before he could recover, I used my fist to deliver a blow to his chin, sending him careening across the room. He crashed loudly into the cabinet-like control machine, causing the front of it to cave in and exposing a good deal of its circuitry and wiring.

After that, it was all over for Stanton within a matter of seconds. The exposed wires sent a powerful jolt of electric voltage through his body, and he let out one final shriek of pain and outrage before crumpling to the floor.

The damage that had been done to the control machine had its effect as well. The cabinet sparked and flashed before finally shutting down completely. I knew immediately that now, without the transmission they had been receiving, the horrid mechanical Housekeepers would cease to function.

I walked over and glanced down at the now-lifeless body of SL Stanton. All that remained of him was a blackened corpse, charred beyond any recognition by the electrical voltage.

“A shock ending, indeed,” said I, whilst retrieving my transonic turnscrew and slipping it safely back into my jacket pocket.

It was then that Kit-10 glided through the office door, with Millie Drake close behind. They had arrived via the hidden electric lift just outside the room. The girl rushed into my arms.

“Oh, Daniel!” exclaimed the girl. “I’m so glad you’re all right!”

“Same here, love,” I said. “I could never stand to lose you.”

“Daniel, what is that?” said Millie, indicating the charred remains of SL Stanton beside the now burnt-out control machine.

“That was a mad scientist, my dear,” I informed her. “A very mad scientist. He was responsible for what was happening here, but all should be well now. Without his control from that computerised cabinet, there is no more threat to anyone. We can go around and dismantle what is left of his technology before we leave, hmmm?”

“I’m just glad it’s over!” proclaimed the lovely lass.

“Did you have any more problems from those Housekeeper things?” I queried. “Before they were shut down, I mean?”

“Two of them tried to attack us, but Kit-10 destroyed them!”

“Yes, I trusted she would be able to protect you,” I assured the girl.

“Daniel, it was so cool!” cheered Millie. “She just blasted them with a beam of light from her nose!”

“Ah, so there are no problems with your nose-laser, Kit-10?” I enquired.

“Negative,” replied the metallic feline. “All systems working at efficient levels.”

“She also used her senses to trace you here,” Millie informed me.

“Yes, the feline race does indeed possess remarkable tracking skills, hmmm?” I winked.

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

“Well, thanks for everything anyway, Kit-10,” smiled Millie. “You saved us from those things. You found Daniel. You are so nice!”

“No problem, m--,” replied the feline-like machine.

“Daniel,” whispered the girl to me, “that ‘m--’ sound she made -- is that…”

“Yes, I do believe it is short for ‘ma’am’,” I pondered.

“Really? So you mean that she…?”

“Congratulations, Mills, my dear,” I said amusedly. “Kit-10 respects you!”

***** DANIEL RUMANOS SHALL RETURN IN “A PRINCESS OF VENUS”

INTO THE NIGHT

Through the swirling grey mists and multicoloured spirals of the Time/Space Current spun the object resembling an old Roman column -- actually, a DiTraS (pronounced “DYE-tress” and standing for Dimensional Transport Sphere), one of the incredibly-advanced travel vehicles of that enigmatic race of beings known as the Watchers of Algol.

The interior of this vehicle exists in a different dimension, and its main room is constructed to resemble an Earth-style coffee shop or tearoom. It is here that I stood at the control panel, clad as I was in my usual finery (including a frilled poet shirt, purple velvet suit, military-style boots, and panama hat), idly viewing some of the readouts highlighting my ship’s course through the void.

A door opened leading from a corridor deeper into the ship, and a beautiful young girl skipped into the control room. The petite lass had luxurious chestnut hair, lovely violet eyes, sun-kissed skin, and luscious pink lips. She was wearing a tight, short-skirted purple dress that showed off the soft curves of her slender, early-adolescent figure. She was also eating a banana.

“Ah, Millie,” said I. “Good to see you have been availing yourself of the ship’s extensive larder.”

“I almost got lost in there, Daniel,” she giggled. “It’s huge!”

“Well, there is nothing like having a well-stocked pantry, hmm?” I rejoined. “I remember once when I encountered an interstellar traffic jam near Galactic Centre -- it was during the tourist season, you know -- I would have gotten absolutely famished if not for that… ”

Suddenly, a wave of pain interrupted my thoughts, a feeling that seemed to be tearing through my very mind. I clutched my head in agony and started to crumple to-wards the floor.

“Daniel!” exclaimed Millie as she rushed over to me. “What’s wrong?! What’s happening?! Are you okay?!”

“Yes… ” I said, struggling to regain my feet. “Yes, I think so. The sensation seems to have passed.”

“What was it?” enquired the concerned girl.

“It was a psychic disturbance,” I explained. “It must have travelled through the Current and entered through the control console. Incredible! To do that, and to then affect an Algolite mind… !”

“Who could have done such a thing?”

“I dread to think!” said I, adjusting the controls. “Nevertheless, we must find out!”

A series of numbers appeared on the security readout, detailing the coordinates from which the disturbance had emanated.

“Ah, according to this, it was from a planet known as Rannil,” I announced, adjusting the controls to immediately head to-wards this location. “Little is known of it, even by our people. It orbits a red giant in one of the dark galaxies, an area known to some of the local old legends as ‘The Night Sector’!”

Upon the view screen above the DiTraS console then appeared the image of the world to-wards which we were now heading -- a darksome planet of deeply-cratered rock lighted only by the dim red glow of its gigantic sun.

“So we are going to investigate it?” asked Millie with excited expectation mixed with a tinge of fear in her voice.

“We have to, love,” I said. “Anything with that kind of power could be a danger to the entire Cosmos! So hold on, Miss Millie Drake, my dear! We are going -- into the night!!” … 

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 live in elitist seclusion from the rest of the Universe, 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. “Plausible deniability”, and all that.

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 Master Don Wingus and his occult terrorist organisation, Spectral Paranormal; as well as alien invasions, mad scientists, and indeed all manner of menace. I am the living icon of Algol in 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!!! …

Millie and I exited the DiTraS after it materialised upon the planet Rannil. We found ourselves in a stone tunnel, lit as it was by a dim phosphorescence.

“According to the readings on the DiTraS console system,” I said, “these tunnels rather extensively honeycomb the planet.”

“Was there any sign of life?” questioned the girl.

“It was inconclusive, Mills” I informed her. “Almost as if something were masking whatever it was that sent out that psychic wave.”

We walked farther on into the tunnel until Millie noticed something.

“Daniel, look!” she exclaimed. “On the ground!”

I bent down to examine what the girl had seen. It was like a trail of black slime leading on down the corridor. I took the transonic turnscrew, an highly advanced scientific instrument resembling a writing pen, from the pocket of my jacket.

“According to this,” I said, reading the information provided by the device, “it is indeed some sort of organic matter. Its origin is still inconclusive, however.”

“Can we just follow the trail and find out what made it?” suggested Millie.

“Flawlessly logical, my dear,” I approved. “Let us attempt exactly that.”

We traced the trail of slime down the tunnel, following its turnings and windings for quite some time until it debouched into an huge chamber, its lofty ceiling perhaps a mile high. Nevertheless, it was what was found in the chamber that immediately commanded our attention. The room was filled with countless piles of globular objects, each of them just over a metre in width and covered with the same viscid black slime that we had followed there.

“Daniel, what are those things?” asked Millie with a decided shudder. “They almost look like… eggs!”

“It appears that is exactly what they indeed are,” I announced, scanning them with the transonic. “This is apparently an enormous hatchery of sorts. However, the question remains: what laid these eggs, and what does all this, if anything, have to do with a psychic emanation that was strong enough to travel through the Time/Space Current and enter my Algolitish mind? Even if something on this planet has some kind of natural mentalist ability, in order to enter my consciousness someone would have to have…”

Whilst I was speaking, Millie had turned around to face the direction from which we had entered the enormous chamber. Suddenly, I heard her scream.

I whirled around to face whatever it was that had so frightened the girl. There were several large creatures looking like creeping black slugs, eyeless and quivering and as big as horses, entering the chamber.

“By the Triple Star!” I swore. “Could these things be what sent the psychic force through… ?”

It was then that another wave of pain entered my consciousness. I fought against it and managed to remain on my feet.

I heard Millie again scream and turned to her just in time. The psychic wave had now entered her mind as well, and she had fainted from the pain. I caught her in my arms and held her close as the slug-like monstrosities surrounded us, dripping their nauseous black slime thickly upon the floor of the room.

“We are the Rannils,” said a bizarre, highly-pitched voice within my mind, “and we have you now, Watchers of Algol!”

I struggled against the pain and raised the transonic turnscrew to-wards the chamber ceiling, having quickly programmed it to emit a sound-wave at a certain frequency. It did so, the result being the loosening of some rocks above the slug-like creatures. When the stones fell upon them, the psychic pain in my mind ceased and, as quickly as possible, I lifted Millie from her feet and, cradling her in my arms, ran from the chamber into the adjoining tunnel.

I ran at full speed down the twisting corridor until I came to a place where there were two adjoining tunnels. Having never seen this before, I knew that the way back to the DiTraS was, for the time being, lost. I glanced behind me and beheld, at a distance, the Rannil slug monsters pursuing us. They had recovered all-too-quickly from the rock-fall and were barrelling to-wards us at an incredible speed.

I lifted the transonic turnscrew to-wards the top of the tunnel and caused more rocks to fall, this time blocking the way of the alien creatures as I turned and, still carrying the swooning girl, continued fleeing down the winding stone corridors.

Do you recognise the absolute unholy horror, forsooth the unspeakable eldritch terror and grotesque ungodly fear in this bizarre situation? There on that strange alien world, I was running from an hideous group of huge slug-like alien monstrosities -- creatures that had the uncanny ability to enter my mind and to thus cause excruciating waves of horrendous pain!

I felt Millie Drake stir in my arms.

“Daniel…” she whispered. “Daniel… what’s happening? Those things… They hurt me… They…”

“I know, love,” I reassured her, slowing down and stopping, “I know. They entered your Algolite mind as well. Here… can you stand?”

“Yes,” said the girl as I put her down on her feet. “I think so. Yes, I’m okay now.”

We continued onwards, with me holding Millie’s hand.

“The rockslide that I caused back there should still hold them up for a while,” I explained. “What we need to do is find out how they know about Algol to start with. There has been no known contact between our people and the Rannils.”

“Could someone else have told them?” asked the lass.

“Possibly, but for them to even know the proper sequence to enter an Algolitish consciousness would require training -- training that only an Algolite could give them!”

“Daniel, look!” suddenly exclaimed Millie.

The girl indicated another chamber somewhat like that which we had just encountered. It was not as large as the hatchery, but it was similarly filled with the nauseous black slime of the Rannils.

I cautiously peered into the room and beheld something bizarre beyond imagining. In the very centre of the pool of slime was a figure as like unto a man clad in a dress suit of ebony satin. The slime seemed to flow and caress his body, creeping and ebbing in constant motion around him.

I took a step closer, cautioning Millie to stand behind me.

The man, who had been looking in the other direction, slowly turned his head to face us. I felt a tingle of ungodly dread as I recognised his countenance. It was the face as unto that of a man of middle years, still showing signs of handsome distinction despite being marred with the effects of seeming lifetimes of extreme profligate wickedness. His hair was long and dark, and his face was decorated with a thin moustache and goatee. Most of all, his eyes shone with a look of absolute hypnotic evil.

It was he. The most evil being in all the history of the Universe. The one I had so hoped and prayed to all that is holy that I would never have to deal with again.

It was Don Wingus!!!

“You!” I exclaimed. “I should have known! So you did escape from the Niddalas.”

“Yes, I most certainly did,” answered Don Wingus, “and I see that when I was in jail, you were in jailbait. Wait… I sense something… Something about this girl… Rumanos, she is an Algolite!”

“Indeed she is, Wingus,” I admitted. “Mistress Millie Drake, meet Master Don Wingus.”

“Ummm… hello,” said the girl warily. She had heard of my previous encounters with this intergalactic arch-criminal.

“Millie here was brought up on the planet Earth,” I explained. “But she is biologically of our own race. It is believed that she is descended from the Lost Spies of Draco.”

“Bravo, Rumanos, bravo,” mocked the villain. “So you have finally found yourself an eternal twelve-year-old. Ah, the pleasures of infinite hebephilia, eh, Rumanos? I knew you would achieve this some day. You certainly practiced it enough. So, how did you find her? Oh, let me guess. I suppose you detected her Algolitish ancestry as the result of having splattered your own DNA all over her or something like that, did you? Is that it? I should have guessed you were searching for something in all those centuries of introducing young girls to your extraterrestrial manhood and all that. Purely scientific research, of course. Again I say, Bravo!”

“So it was you after all, Wingus,” I pondered, ignoring his sarcastic taunts. “You are the one who introduced the Rannils to your own Algolite mind, and taught them the proper mentalist sequences to enter others.”

“Of course I did, Rumanos,” boasted the villain. “These Rannils are really quite advanced psychic beings, despite their appearance. When I escaped from that planetary prison in which you had so futilely hoped I would be incarcerated forever, I already felt them calling to me through the Time/Space Current. I used the controls of my DiTraS to follow their influence to this planet. Their power runs along this slime, empowered by it and from thence emanating outwards, and I have taught them to use their abilities to merge with Algolitish consciousnesses.”

“But why?” enquired Millie. “Why would you want to ‘merge’ with those things?”

“Power, no doubt,” I said. “I strongly suspect that he has some plan to use the Rannils to aid him in ruling the Cosmos.”

“Oh, it is more than a plan,” countered Wingus. “It is a total and absolute definite. You see, there are Rannil eggs deposited all over this planet, just like the ones you encountered. Countless millions and millions of them. I have completely merged my mind with that of the Rannil race. I shall use the powers of Algolitish DiTraS technology to cause this planet to rush to-wards its sun. The result of this will be to scatter the Rannil eggs all over the Universe -- and my influence with them! The Rannils will in time enter the minds of every conscious being in existence, and I shall then teach all to accept me as supreme ruler!”

“Spires of Daemonia!” I swore. “I have said it before and I will say it again. You, Don Wingus, are utterly mad!”

“But why did he use them to contact us?” queried the girl.

“Yes, that is indeed a very good question,” I said. “The Rannil power could already fully enter my Algolite mind by the time they contacted our ship when we were yet within the Current. Ah! Of course, Wingus! Your DiTraS is still damaged from when you stole it from Daemonia! You have not as yet had a chance to repair it, and so did not have the full capability needed to properly send this planet to-wards it sun and scatter the eggs. You needed more power, and reached out to find it. What you got was my DiTraS, and now you hope to utilise it in your endeavour to bring about this absolutely insane scheme of yours.”

I heard a slithering sound behind us. The Rannils had broken through the rockslide and had followed us to this chamber. I quickly pulled Millie Drake closer in an effort to protect her as the monsters crept up nearer to us.

“Now is the time, Rumanos!” cackled Wingus. “Now is the time! The Rannils are here and my consciousness is indeed fully merged with them through the medium of the slime! You cannot resist us! Both you and Mini Baby Belle here will be forced to join us and to complete the psychic connections to our DiTraSes!”

It was then that an immense and excruciatingly-painful wave of the mentalist force suddenly shot through the brains of both Millie and me. We crumpled to the floor in each other’s arms, fighting against the agony of this, and just barely able to maintain our own consciousness.

“It begins!” continued the madman. “It begins, Rumanos! It begins! The planet now begins to move in its course to-wards the giant red star! When it has achieved the correct velocity, the combined DiTraS engines shall give them entrance to the Time/Space Current and therefore assure that the Rannil eggs are scattered throughout the Universe itself!”

“That is correct,” spoke the bizarre gestalt voice of the Rannils.

“Then it is that I -- Master Don Wingus of Algol -- shall spread my own influence throughout the Cosmos and, through my connection to the Rannil power, shall take my rightful place as supreme ruler of all existence!!”

With this, Wingus let loose with a long peal of sick insane laughter -- a sound of utter unsanctified evil that was only interrupted by another statement from the voice of the Rannils:

“That is not correct.”

It took Don Wingus a moment to realise the import of what he had just heard.

“What!” he shouted. “What do you mean? I am Don Wingus, the Master of all! I have given you the power to fulfil your purpose, and you will obey me!”

“That is not correct,” reiterated the voice. “We are the Rannils. We have connected to the consciousnesses of three Algolites and yet maintain our own. We have the will to use your technology in order to achieve our purpose, after which you shall be discarded. It is the Rannils that will spread throughout the Universe and overcome all.”

“No!” bellowed the evil Don Wingus in anger. “No no no no!!”

We all then found ourselves surrounded by the putrescent black slime, a substance that now seemed to be quite a world of its own, a world of dark viscid horror in which pulsated the hideous Rannils, a world in which we could feel the very movement of the planet as it was propelled to-wards its own sun!

“Daniel!” sobbed Millie Drake in fear. “What is this place? Where are we? What’s happening?!”

“It appears to be another plane of existence, a world engendered by the Rannil slime!” I said. “It is the manifestation of the psychic consciousness! We have entered another dimension!”

Can you even begin to perceive the supreme and undeniable terror of this situation, the extreme and absolutely unmitigated total horror of it, my dear friends and readers? Don Wingus, Millie Drake, and I were all trapped within the bizarre alien consciousness of the strangely slug-like Rannils -- forsooth a consciousness indeed so shockingly powerful that it had managed to overcome our Algolite ones and had then proceeded to take us all into a weird trans-dimensional world -- a world commanded only by the ebon black power of their horridly living and mentally-pulsating slime!

“Wingus!” I shouted, reaching out my consciousness in an attempt to break through the intense blackness of the psychic slime. “Wingus, listen if you can hear me! Concentrate and try to break through! Your plan has failed, but maybe we can still do something to prevent the Rannils from expanding across the Cosmos!”

“I hear you, Rumanos,” returned Don Wingus from out of the darkness. “I will not -- I cannot allow these filthy slug things to steal this Universe from me! They have betrayed me, and they now shall feel the merciless and all-encompassing wrath of Algolite mind power! They shall feel the vengeance of Master Don Wingus! They shall quake in fear and know my total and undeniable superiority before they are blasted out of existence forever!”

“Concentrate, Wingus,” I told him. “We need to stop the planet from continuing its course to-wards the star! Then, if we can break free of them just long enough to separate our ships from their consciousness, we can prevent them from accessing the Current! Then the planet Rannil, having left its proper orbit, will completely break up and the eggs will perish in the void of Space!”

I concentrated deeply, fighting against the influence of the Rannils, knowing I had to prevent them from completely reaching the psychically-attuned controls of my DiTraS. I felt the mind of Don Wingus similarly fighting through the darkness of the mental slime. Amongst this was also the will of little Millie Drake, her influence small compared to the far older, infinitely more experienced minds of Wingus and myself. None the less, it was the presence of this young Algolite girl that was the inspiration, the impetus, the very reason and hope that finally allowed me to break through the hideous power of the Rannils.

I heard the slug creatures scream shrilly as the darkling view of the slime dimension fell from around us. Millie was huddled against my arm, and I beheld Don Wingus from across the chamber, standing erect but with his feet still immersed in the pool of slime.

“Go now, Rumanos,” he insisted. “Get out whilst you can, you and your sweet little friend. Take your DiTraS and leave this world so that there will be no further danger of the Rannils utilising it.”

“But what of you, Wingus?” I questioned.

“I will stay here long enough to wreak vengeance upon these creatures! I will cause them a psychic pain beyond anything they could have ever known! Then, I will make certain that their planet -- along with their filthy eggs -- is destroyed, and that the Rannils are never heard from again!”

I took Millie’s hand and we ran from the chamber, proceeding down the corridors hastily.

“The recent psychic link should make it easy for us to locate the DiTraS,” I informed her as we ran. “It cannot be far.”

Indeed, we soon saw the welcome shape of the “Roman column” before us and entered the DiTraS control room. I quickly activated the controls and our ship dematerialised, leaving the hideous dark planet of the Rannils behind.

I put the live image of that ebony world back up on the monitor view-screen. It hung in space for a brief moment before exploding into countless rocky fragments.

“That will have done it,” I breathed. “The Rannils and their eggs cannot have survived that explosion, and, with our DiTraS gone, there would not be enough power for them to enter the Time/Space Current.”

“Daniel, that dark world we were in,” shuddered Millie. “That dark world of the psychic slime. Could it have been… ?”

“The reason that this region of the galaxies is called ‘The Night Sector’ in the ancient legends?” I answered, shutting off the monitor screen. “Yes, I thought of that. It is quite probable, my dear, it is quite probable.”

I then adjusted some controls on the DiTraS consol and peered closely at the resulting readouts.

“What are you doing, Daniel?” enquired Millie Drake. “You seem to be searching for something.”

“I was just trying to see if there was another Algolitish engine signature leaving the planet,” I answered her. “That does not seem to be the case, but it is just slightly possible that the energy from the explosion could have masked it.”

“Oh,” realised the girl, “so you mean that you think it’s possible that Don Wingus could have escaped?”

“Well, his DiTraS was indeed hidden on Rannil somewhere. If he could have gotten to it before the planet blew up, it should have had enough power for him to escape, so it is just possible.”

“Don’t worry, Daniel,” soothed the beautiful young girl. “If he shows up again, I’m sure you’ll be ready for him.”

“I hope so, love,” I answered. “I hope so.”

“He really was your best friend once, wasn’t he?” said Millie, laying her dear little hand on my arm as a show of sympathy. “I can tell.”

“Say, my love,” I said, quickly changing the subject\, “perhaps we could have a little holiday getaway, hmmm?”

“That sounds great!” approved the lovely lass. “Where will we go?”

“Oh, just an old seaside resort on Planet Earth,” I teased as I set the DiTraS controls for the famous destination that I had in mind. “I shall give you a hint as to which one it is, Mills. It is in North America, and this is a beachfront vacation spot that also has -- casinos!”

***** DANIEL RUMANOS SHALL RETURN IN “ATLANTIC CITY”