SUGAR AND SPICE

“So it really was a dinosaur?” enquired Millie Drake with a look of wonder on her lovely face. “Not a Titan or an alien monster, but an actual real living breathing dinosaur?”

“Yes indeed it was,” I assured her. “An allosaurus. The Reptilians were using it as a guard for their secret lair, from which they had intended to launch an invasion -- a total assault with its ultimate goal being to destroy the entire human race and to retake the planet Earth for their own!”

We were standing in the control room of the DiTraS (pronounced “DYE-tress” and standing for Dimensional Transport Sphere), my Time and Space travel vehicle, the interior of which resembles an old coffee shop or tearoom. Dressed in my usual finery -- including a frilled poet shirt, purple velvet suit, military-style boots, and one of my favourite opera capes -- I was regaling the girl with accounts of some of the adventures I had experiences before we met; whilst at the same time doing some minor repairs to the control panel.

“Of course, you defeated them,” said Millie with a sexy smile, “like you always do!”

“Indeed I did, my dear,” I returned. “Indeed I did. I managed to overload the advanced but rather antiquated equipment that the Lemurian Lizard-Men were using, and their entire operation went up in flames.”

“Oh my God,” exclaimed Millie, “that’s so hot!”

“Yes, I suppose it was,” said I. “Literally!”

With this, Millie Drake laughed at my joke. The girl was absolutely gorgeous, with sun-kissed skin, luscious pink lips, luxurious chestnut-coloured hair and enchanting violet eyes. She was dressed in a short, tight, electric-blue dress that highlighted her slender pubescent figure.

You see, Millie had only recently discovered that her heritage was Algolitish, as is mine, and had been spending some time studying at the Academy of the Watchers on our home planet of Daemonia, ninety-three light-years from Earth.

“Daniel, I’m so glad you showed up to take me on this trip in the DiTraS during my break from classes at Daemonia Academy,” she said. “It always makes me so happy to be with you.”

“I feel the same about you, love,” I replied, returning the transonic turnscrew (an highly-advanced technological device resembling a writing pen) to my pocket after having used it to affect the repairs. “In fact, I wanted to ask you something.”

“Yes?” spoke the lass expectantly. “What is it?”

“Well, Miss Millie Drake,” I went on, “I was wondering if you would…”

Just then, my words were interrupting by a sound; forsooth, a sound as like unto someone knocking upon a door.

“What is that?” queried the girl.

“It sounds like we have a delivery,” I replied.

“A delivery? How could that be? Aren’t we out in Space?”

“Indeed we are,” I pondered. “Ah, of course! I know what it is!”

I went over and opened the porthole-like doorway of my ship. From the eldritch blackness beyond there floated in a box-like object. I reached out and it settled in my hands as the opening closed behind it.

“So what is it, Daniel?” asked the lass.

“It is a box, Millie,” I informed her.

“I can see that,” giggled the girl. “But what’s in it?”

As if on cue, one side of the box opened and a piece of yellowed parchment floated out from it. I put the now-empty box down on the control console (which looks like the counter of the coffee shop) and unrolled the parchment.

“It is a mission from the Kosmikos of Algol!” I told her. “Ah, and it looks like I have to go somewhere and take care of it right away!”

After I had read the message, the parchment and the box floated away from me, hanging in the air for just an instant before -- with an odd popping noise -- they both vanished out of existence.

“Oh, Daniel,” cooed Millie, “can I go with you on the mission, please? Please?”

“Of course you can, love,” I acquiesced with a grin. “I promised the Academy I would not let you out of my sight, hmmm?”

“Awww, thank you so much!” she said. “So, where are we going?”

“Mills, my dear,” I said as I started to program the proper coordinates into the panel, “we are going to Saturn!” …

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 Planet Earth, I protect its people 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 upon this world. I am the sword of justice from the planet Daemonia. I am the stellar swashbuckler.

I am -- THE DAEMON-STAR!!! …

On the command deck of the Saturnian cargo spaceship a strange gasping and moaning sound was heard as the DiTraS appeared, looking as it does exteriorly like an old Roman column. The porthole opened and Millie Drake and I stepped out.

We looked around at the small crew of blue-skinned Saturnian humanoids as they worked at the advanced controls of the ship. From the craft’s large front window could be seen the enormous ringed planet itself as the spaceship settled into orbit around it.

A tall, somewhat older Saturnian man walked over to greet us. He was clad in the green-and-red uniform and cap of an agent for his planet’s government, and had a ray-gun in his side-holster.

“Dr. Daniel Rumanos,” he said with a slight bow. “It is excellent that you could join us. I am Agent Sszmulszder of the Saturnian Bureau of Investigation.”

“Always glad to help out the SBI, Agent Sszmulszder,” I assured him. “This is my companion, Miss Drake.”

Millie and the agent briefly nodded in greeting to each other. I could see that the girl was in wonder at encountering people from Saturn for the first time, but she showed good decorum and respect.

“So, Agent Sszmulszder, please fill me in on what this is all about,” I said. “The message from the Kosmikos just informed me that you had requested our assistance concerning possible sabotage.”

“Admittedly, all the evidence is a bit vague,” the Saturnian informed me, “but it appears that there have been attempts to break into the cargo hold. During the last routine inspection, oddly-shaped holes were found in some of the crates. That is when the SBI was called in to investigate.”

“It seems a bit outside of your usual jurisdiction, hmmm?” I asked. “Is this not a civilian cargo ship with its own security staff?”

“It is,” returned Sszmulszder, “but some members of the crew, including all of their security guards, have fallen ill from some sort of sickness.”

“A sickness?” said I, a chilling feeling of familiarity beginning to creep up my spine. “What are the symptoms?”

“Unconsciousness and some discolouration of the skin, along with a certain wasting. Our physician said it was similar to what Earth medicos call ‘influenza’.”

“Interesting,” I pondered. “I would like to talk with your physician if possible.”

“Unfortunately,” informed the SBI agent, “he has apparently contracted the illness himself. All of those who are ill have now been removed from the ship to the nearest hospital.”

“So, since this is a cargo ship,” chimed in Millie Drake, “what’s the cargo?”

“Food preparation condiments imported from outside the Solar System,” answered Sszmulszder. “Sugar and spice.”

“Two of my favourite ingredients,” said I. “The crates that had been found with holes in them… did they all contain something in particular?”

“Yes, they were all from a shipment of vlooj.”

“Vlooj! Of course!” I exclaimed. “A rare spice only found on a few of the outer rim planets. It is usually just used to add taste to some types of meat preparation, but was found to have another use during the Replicant War!”

“Daniel, do you mean the Leknii Replicants are behind this?” enquired Millie concernedly.

“That would indeed seem to be the case, love,” I said.

“But Doctor,” said Agent Sszmulszder, “accounts from the Replicant War are so vague on the matter. What exactly was the use of vlooj?”

“It was found that the Leknii Replicants, that horrid race of cyborgs who only exist to convert all humanoid races to their own soulless kind, are severely allergic to vlooj. It clogs their respiratory systems and suffocates them within a few seconds.”

“But there have been no signs of Leknii ships near Saturn of late,” said the agent.

“There would not be,” I informed him. “Replicant energy-cloaking technology is far beyond anything currently in use in this solar system. They could be…”

Just then, the ship lurched and quaked, the deck rocking from side to side for a second before the artificial gravity system could catch up to it.

“What by the Rings is that?” swore Agent Sszmulszder.

“We are being hit by an energy weapon!” I said. “Look!”

I indicated the window of the ship. Outside it could now be seen an advanced silver rocket-ship, quickly approaching us through Space. As we watched, it fired another bolt of energy, rocking the cargo ship even worse than before.

“Daniel!” exclaimed Millie as she clung to me in fear. “Is that… ?!”

“Yes,” I said. “The Leknii Replicants.”

“This is only a cargo vessel,” said the SBI agent as the remaining members of the crew rushed to keep the ship on course. “It has only a few minor defensive capabilities. Its shielding cannot take much more pummelling.”

“Can you get your government to order a missile strike from the planet?” I offered.

“Yes, I can directly radio the Office of the Premier of the Saturnian Union, but it may take some time for approval.”

Another blast then hit the ship. Millie held onto me for support, and I had to put my arm around her to keep the petite lass from being bashed against the wall.

“Time is something we do not have, Agent Sszmulszder!” I insisted.

“Yes, I will get on it right away!” he replied, then hurrying over to the communications panel.

“Daniel, doesn’t this ship have any guns or anything?” queried Millie.

“Perhaps a small one,” I answered, “but nothing that would be useful against that Replicant rocket-ship. If the shields hold up until the Saturnian government bureaucracy can agree to launch an atomic missile from the planet, that should take care of them.”

“Couldn’t we put everyone on board the DiTraS and escape?” offered the girl.

“Peradventure,” I said, “but that would not alleviate the threat the Replicants are posing to Saturn. Besides, I doubt if we could get the good Agent Sszmulszder here to abandon his post.”

“Yes, he does seem really dedicated to his work.”

“There is something else about this that is bothering me as well.”

“What is it, Daniel? The illness?”

“Yes,” I said. “I have a bad feeling about exactly what is behind it.”

We were just then hit by another blast from the Leknii ship. An alarm started to go off.

“It is the shields,” I said. “They can only take a couple more blasts like that before being permanently compromised. Agent Sszmulszder, any progress on that missile launch?”

“I put through the information to the Premier’s Office, Doctor,” said the Saturnian, returning from the radio console. “Now we just have to wait for the chain of command to approve it.”

“Government blue tape,” said Millie. “I mean RED tape. Oh, I’m sorry… no offence!”

“None taken, Miss,” replied the blue-skinned alien.

Then an emotionless, electronically enhanced voice began broadcasting from the Replicant ship.

“We are the Leknii,” it intoned. “You and your world will be converted. You now only exist to service us. All forms of resistance are futile.”

We were all looking at the Replicant rocket-ship through the front window. As we watched, it blurred and seemed to disappear.

“What happened to them?” asked Millie. “Have they gone?”

“No,” I informed her. “They have just activated their cloaking device. Fortunately, they will not be able to fire upon us for as long as it is thus engaged.”

“But neither will our missile be able to find them,” added Sszmulszder.

“Indeed,” I agreed. “That is part of their ploy, but there must be something else; some additional plan they have. Perhaps they…”

Whilst discussing this with Agent Sszmulszder, we had turned away slightly from Millie Drake. Our discussion was now interrupted by the girl’s scream. We both whirled around and beheld an horror.

A small, oval-shaped object had scurried across the floor to-wards the girl. It was silver in colour and resembled nothing more than it did a robotic rodent. The thing suddenly jumped up at Millie, gliding through the air and then attaching itself to her throat!

I straightway took the transonic turnscrew from my pocket and aimed it at the thing that was attacking Millie. Upon my activating my device, the little monstrosity fell away from her and slid a few paces across the floor before it suddenly disintegrated, shattering into countless microscopic shards.

I ran over to Millie Drake and caught the poor girl in my arms just as she fainted away.

“Doctor, what was that thing?” enquired Agent Sszmulszder.

“A Repli-Rat,” I informed him. “They are service robots of the Leknii, and carry a form of poison that can be injected into the bloodstream of their targets. That would be the source of the illness that was plaguing this ship’s crew. It was also likely what had been attempting to break into the shipment of vlooj.”

By now, I had laid the unconscious Millie down on the floor of the ship, putting my cape over her for a blanket. I began to examine the unconscious lass.

Do you recognise the horror, in sooth the unnameable terror of this situation, readers? My beloved companion, the beautiful Miss Mille Drake, had been infected with an illness by the horrid rodent-like Leknii service robot!

“Her skin is beginning to discolour,” I said. “Grey blotches. She is breathing but her heartbeat is somewhat erratic. Agent Sszmulszder, please have someone bring me some of that vlooj, hmmm?”

“Right away, Doctor,” said the SBI agent, then communicating my request to a member of the crew.

“I should be able to devise an antidote,” I explained. “The poison carried by the Repli-Rats is based upon substances originally found on the Replicant home-world. If the vlooj is fatal to them, it should also have some negative effect upon the venom.”

A fair-sized crate was brought and opened for me. I took a bit of the multi-hued spice in my fingers and tasted it.

“Yes, this should work,” I said. “As she is an Algolite, it will work quickest if mixed with a bit of our own DNA.”

I put a larger sample of the vlooj in my mouth and held it there whilst I knelt down beside Millie Drake, then bending over to kiss her fully on her lips, passing the vlooj mixed with my own saliva into her mouth.

Agent Sszmulszder, who had until now been viewing the proceedings with much interest, looked away embarrassedly when he perceived what I was doing.

‘Mmmmm…” moaned Millie as consciousness returned to her. “Yes… Oh, yes.”

The grey discoloration disappeared from her skin and she then opened her wonderful violet eyes.

“Daniel…” she said as I began to help her back to her feet. “What… what happened?”

“You were attacked by a Leknii Repli-Rat,” I explained. “I managed to prepare an antidote to its poison, and you should be fine again now.”

“Doctor, will that also work on the Saturnians who have been infected?” enquired Sszmulszder.

“Absolutely,” I said whilst re-donning my cape. “Worry not, my good man. Your hospital medicos can just mix the vlooj with Saturnian plasma and then inject it directly into the patients’ bloodstreams. I only did it this way with Millie because she is an Algolite and we have a sort of… special connection.”

“So I perceived,” returned the agent. “Doctor, can you use that device of yours against the Replicants?”

“Not anymore,” I answered. “Since I used the transonic to destroy the Repli-Rat, it would have immediately transmitted the information to their entire Collective, causing an instantaneous upgrade against my device’s tech.”

“How did it cause that thing to completely disintegrate?”

“All Leknii mechanisms are programmed to do that whenever they are forcibly deactivated or otherwise compromised, or order to prevent anyone from cannibalising their technology.”

“Daniel, look!” exclaimed Millie, who was looking through the window. “They’re back!”

The Leknii rocket-ship had indeed reappeared and, as we watched, it fired another blast at the cargo ship, again rocking us from side to side.

“This ship cannot take much more of that, Doctor,” announced Sszmulszder. “We will be blasted to pieces.”

“I know,” I agreed. “Perhaps if I can use your transmission systems, I may be able to hack into their ship’s controlling computer. I probably cannot completely disable them, but it should slow them down if I…”

I then noticed something horrible. Something frightful indeed. Something that showed I was not going to have the time or opportunity necessary to implement the plan of which I had just been thinking. For at that moment a shimmering light appeared a few metres distant from us and the forms of two Leknii Replicants -- looking like very tall men made of metallic silver -- began to come into view.

“They are using a matter transmission device,” I explained. “The Replicants are boarding the cargo ship!”

As soon as they fully appeared, one of the Replicants raised its arm and fired an energy weapon charge from the gun built therein. It hit one of the crew members who then immediately crumpled to the floor in agonised death.

Whilst we reacted in horror at this, the Replicant then turned its weapon and set loose another blast of its energy directly at Millie and me!!

I grabbed the girl and we straightway ducked behind the crate of vlooj, just barely missing being hit by the Leknii’s energy burst, which left a scorch-mark upon the floor of the ship.

Agent Sszmulszder drew his ray-gun from its holster and fired on the Replicant. The cyborg shuddered and sparked, and then disintegrated into countless shards.

“He got it!” exclaimed Millie from our vantage point behind the crate.

“It will not work again,” I informed her. “They will upgrade against the gun immediately. Look!”

Sszmulszder now fired his weapon upon the other Replicant. It was not even fazed by the ray and started to raise its arm to fire back at him.

By now, I had reached into the crate and grabbed a handful of the vlooj. I then jumped out and threw the spice directly at the respiratory grating upon the Replicant’s chest. It shuddered horribly, then making a sound like a deep hacking cough before it shattered to metallic pieces.

“Yes! That is the answer!” I announced. “The Leknii are still highly allergic to the vlooj spice! It is directly toxic to their small organic component, so they will not be able to upgrade against it!”

The Saturnian agent had by now returned to the radio transmission panel and was desperately attempting to contact his government about the missile strike. I went back over to Millie.

“We should expect more visitors!” I told her as I filled both of my hands with vlooj.

Indeed, at that very moment two more Replicants materialised into view. I cast an handful of the spice at one of them and the thing shuddered and was destroyed. Millie then ran out from behind the crate and threw some vlooj at the other, having the same effect.

Just then, the ship quaked again as the Leknii rocket-ship resumed firing upon us.

“Our shields are now down!” shouted Agent Sszmulszder into the radio. “We cannot take another hit from them! We need that missile strike now!”

At the same moment, two more Replicants appeared before us. I tossed my other handful of vlooj at it and the cyborg shattered just as the girl and I again sheltered ourselves behind the crate.

“There may be thousands of them aboard that ship,” I said. “They know we will run out of vlooj before it can infect them all.”

“Don’t worry, Daniel,” said Millie as she touched my face with her hand. “There will be a way to defeat them. I know there will be -- because YOU are here! You… you inspire people!”

I gazed into Millie’s beautiful eyes and thought of this wonderful lass; forsooth, this fantastic and beautiful young Algolite girl whom I had come to so love and care for.

Just then, we all noticed a flash of light and turned to the ship’s front window. The enemy ship was breaking into pieces!

“The atomic missile from the planet has arrived!” proclaimed Sszmulszder. “A direct hit -- and not a moment too soon!”

The crew of the cargo ship cheered as the remaining Replicant then disintegrated, its connection to the Leknii Collective broken. …

A short time later, Millie Drake and I stood just outside of the DiTraS as we prepared to take our leave.

“The Saturnian Union owes you a debt of gratitude,” said Agent Sszmulszder. “We could not have defeated the Replicants without your assistance.”

“Your people are quite welcome, old chap,” I assured him. “The Kosmikos will be in touch with the SBI right away with the proper frequency codes for you to be able to detect any cloaked Leknii ships if they ever try again.”

“Very good. I have already sent the formula you gave us to the hospital, along with a supply of vlooj. They say the patients are recovering well.”

“Excellent to hear!” I approved. “Oh, and thanks for allowing me to take some of the vlooj as well.”

“Of course, Doctor,” said the SBI man, looking at the sealed plastic container of the spice that I was holding, “but why did you want it? Are expecting more trouble from the Leknii?”

“Not at all,” I replied with a smile. “Actually, I wanted to try it as a seasoning for hibachi grilled steak! Goodbye, Agent Sszmulszder.”

“Farewell, Doctor.”

“Bye,” said Millie.

“Farewell, Miss Drake,” said the Saturnian with a bow.

With this, the girl and I entered the DiTraS and an odd gasping and moaning sound was heard as our Space/Time ship faded from view. …

Inside the DiTraS control room, I programmed the console to take us away from Saturn into Deep Space.

“Well, Mills,” I said, “we still have some time before you have to return to the Academy. I am certain we can find a nice holiday spot for a little getaway, hmmm?”

“So, Daniel,” said the gorgeous girl with a playful smile, “didn’t you say before that there is something you wanted to ask me?”

“Indeed there is,” I said, taking her dear little hand in mine and kissing it softly. “Millie Drake, my love, I want to ask you if you would…”

Suddenly, a sound like an old church-bell began ringing out in the control room, and a light began flashing around the walls.

“What is that?!” asked Millie.

“It is the DiTraS alarm signal,” I informed her as I hurried back over to the control panel. “Our course through the Space/Time Current has been altered by an unknown outside influence! According to the readout, we are being…”

Millie screamed as the interior of the DiTraS began to shake violently from side to side, as if within a sudden storm of great turbulence.

“Hold on tight, love!” I warned the girl. “The DiTraS is being taken out of the Cosmos as we know it! We are being pulled into a completely different universe!”

***** DANIEL RUMANOS SHALL RETURN IN “YOUNG BLOOD”

ALESSANDRA'S SMILE

I must admit that I had not quite expected to encounter a monster during this assignment. Still, I suppose I should not have been surprised. It was in West Virginia, after all.

I had journeyed to that ridiculous excuse for a state in order to sort out a problem related to the fact of nearly three-hundred coalminers having been trapped by a cave-in near the town of Farmersville. It was after having descended the mineshaft several hundred metres -- whilst rather incongruously clad in my usual finery (including a frilled poet shirt and purple velvet suit) -- that I had encountered the thing.

The first sign of its presence was a grotesque chattering sound echoing around the shaft. I held on tightly to the safety rope, remembering the rock-climbing techniques I had once learned as an exchange for having taught Kabala to Aleister Crowley, and looked around, illuminating the area with the battery-powered light I had earlier attached to my orange-coloured fedora.

It was then that I beheld the thing. It was climbing deftly up the mineshaft as if such an ascent took no effort whatsoever. It was like a dwarfish man, its skin ghostly-white with patches of thick yellow hair. It looked at me, and I saw that its eyes were of a sickly pinkish hue, with its face an almost nose-less parody of an human countenance. When it opened its mouth to emit its chattering noise, I saw the horrid rodent-like teeth that filled its disgusting, saliva-dripping jaws.

I knew, of course, what the hideous little monstrosity actually was. It was obviously the result of inbreeding amongst the degenerate inhabitants of the surrounding West Virginia mountains; the unnameable albino product of unholy and unchecked passions that had gone on for generations amongst some local family.

The creature snarled at me and made obvious its intention to attack. After all, I had entered its domain, and it felt it had the right of defence. It scurried to-wards me across the stone wall as its chattering snarls rose upwards in volume into an howl of berserk rage.

I quickly reached into my jacket pocket and retrieved the transonic turnscrew -- an highly-advanced piece of technology resembling a writing pen. Just before the subhuman grotesquery could reach me, I aimed the device to-wards it and activated the setting to give forth a sound that would loosen the rocks to which it was clinging.

There was the noise of breaking stone before the creature lost its grip and fell screaming, plummeting to its death in the eldritch darkness of the depths below.

“Looks like I gave it the shaft,” said I.

After this, I then returned to my mission -- sabotaging the machinery that the would-be rescue crew had set up in their attempts to save the trapped coalminers. They had been down there for over a week, and would thankfully soon be running out of air. Thanks to my noble effort, the human gene-pool would thus be delivered from the continued influence of these plebeian hillbilly types, these terribly low-intelligence and lowly-bred commoners with their violent impulses and warlike demeanours.

I climbed my way out of the mine and escaped safely into the night, avoiding the near by camp of the rescue crew and the news media who had retired for the evening. My service to the future of the planet Earth -- as far as it could be currently played out here near by the town of Farmersville, West Virginia -- was complete. …

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 Planet Earth, I protect its people 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 upon this world. I am the sword of justice from the planet Daemonia. I am the stellar swashbuckler.

I am -- THE DAEMON-STAR!!! …

Following my adventure in West Virginia, I returned to the area of Baltimore, Maryland, in my canary-coloured Edwardian roadster (affectionately known as “Lizzie”). After stopping by a local diner for a quick breakfast of Belgian waffles with hot maple syrup -- served with turkey bacon, scrambled eggs, and hashed brown potatoes (along with a large glass of orange juice and several cups of hot coffee) -- I drove to the location of my next assignment.

I had an appointment to meet with a science teacher at Cockeysville Junior High School, there in Baltimore County. The gentleman had contacted me via email concerning some type of supposed alien life-form that he believed he had discovered. He had not given many details, and I had not had the time necessary to enquire further before meeting with him that day.

It was overcast, with dark clouds obscuring the sky, when I arrived at the school and left Lizzie in the parking lot. It was a Saturday, and so class was not in session, but I had been told that the teacher’s assistant would be meeting me at the door. I approached and pressed the doorbell, finding myself pleasantly surprised a few moments later when the door was opened for me by a ravishingly-beautiful young girl.

“You’re the Doctor?” she enquired.

“Yes, I am Dr. Rumanos,” I affirmed. “I am supposed to be meeting with the science teacher here.”

“Yes, I know,” she said. “Mr. Thrash is expecting you. I’m his assistant, Alessandra.”

The lass was absolutely gorgeous, slender and perfect in a white V-necked blouse and blue-and-red striped leotard. She had wonderfully-freckled skin, ginger hair, and eyes like pale sapphires. Her lips were like unto the colour of ripe cherries, and her wide, sensuous mouth opened into an enchanting smile as she introduced herself.

“I must say you are not what I expected,” I confessed, returning her smile. “Are you a student here?”

“Yes, I am,” she answered. “I’m one of the Cockeysville Blockers.”

“I beg your pardon?” I said.

“Oh, the Blockers are the girls’ volleyball team,” she explained. “I’m just working with Mr. Thrash for extra credit.”

“Ah, of course. I say, is ‘Mr. Thrash’ his actual name?”

“Yes, it is,” she replied.

“Well, he certainly missed his calling to start an ‘heavy metal’ band then, hmmm?” I joked.

At this, the girl giggled delightedly, her beautiful face lighting up with mirthful glee.

“So, what of this ‘alien life-form’ that he has found?” I queried the girl as she led me down the school corridors.

“Oh, it’s so creepy!” she replied. “He keeps it in the science lab and he’s gotten it to move around and talk!”

“Really? So it is showing signs of life. Interesting. What does it look like?”

“Oh, I can hardly stand to even look at it!” shuddered the lass. “It’s just like a bunch of... Well, I guess they are tentacles!”

“Tentacles?” I wondered. “Unfortunately, that does not narrow it down enough. It could perhaps be something I have encountered before, however.”

“You mean you really have seen aliens before?” enquired Alessandra.

“Oh, from time to time,” I acquiesced. “Has it shown any signs of aggression?”

“No, it hasn’t tried to hurt anybody, if that’s what you mean. Mr. Thrash thinks he can turn it into his servant or something, I think.”

“Where exactly did he find this thing, again?” I asked.

“In a ditch next to the schoolyard,” she informed me. “Some of the boys were messing around back there, and saw it. Nobody believed them except for Mr. Thrash.”

“Scientific curiosity,” I mused. “It is a good thing, but it can be taken too far.”

We had just then reached the science lab, as the sign over it indicated. The door was open and, before we could enter, something came through it. Something of extreme otherworldly horror. Forsooth, something I indeed recognised.

The thing hovered about a metre from the floor as it came through the doorway to-wards us. It was about the size of an human torso, but that is where all resemblance between it any anything of sane creation ended. Its sallow flesh was like a mass of ever-quivering tendrils intertwined with strands of metallic technology. From deep within it glowered two narrow eyes of ebon blackness.

It was a Mynverkossian Mutation!!

I jumped in front of Alessandra in an attempt to shield her from the horror. Then, before I could further react, a man’s voice came from the lab.

“Come back,” he said, in a kindly tone of command like one talking to a beloved pet. “Come back in and let them enter.”

To my surprise, the Mynverkossian did exactly as told, gliding back into the room. The man then came to the door. He was about forty-five and of medium height, bespectacled and with brownish hair. He wore a plain grey long-sleeved sweater and navy-blue slacks.

“I’m sorry if my friend there startled you,” he said. “I’m Mr. Thrash, head of the science department here at Cockeysville JHS. You would be Dr. Daniel Rumanos?”

“I am, sir,” said I whilst shaking his proffered hand. “It appears we have a lot to talk about.”

“Well, I’m glad you could come by,” he continued as we entered the room. “I’ve heard something of your work from my old professor at Hopkins.”

The room was a typical small laboratory, with test-tubes and related equipment on several tables. To one side was a desk on which there was a large computer with keyboard and monitor. I looked over and saw that the Mutation had by now retreated to a far corner of the lab, where it continued to hover, facing us.

“Mr. Thrash,” I began, “I really need to inform you concerning a thing or two about exactly what it is you have here.”

“So you do know what it is?” he enquired excitedly. “I didn’t dare hope that you would, Doctor!”

“Oh, I know what it is, indeed, my good man,” I returned. “That thing is one of what are known as the Mutations of Mynverkoss, beings from a distant planet that…”

“Incredible!” he interrupted. “So I was correct that it’s origin is not of this Earth!”

“Indeed, you were,” I informed him. “You see, Mynverkoss is a planet far distant from your own. Many generations ago, the two Mynverkossian races fought a long nuclear war that led to the devastation of the planet. The resultant radiation caused one of the races, known as the Mynver, to mutate into what you see here, joining itself with the technology they used to prolong their existence. The Mynver Mutations have since developed Space and Time travel capabilities, and have gone on in an attempt to destroy or enslave all other beings of the Universe. They are creatures of pure hate, their only emotion being fuelled by racism and fascism.”

“Well, I haven’t seen anything like that here,” said Thrash. “It has been completely docile. I have even gotten it to talk. Listen.

“What are you?” Thrash then asked the Mynver. “Tell the Doctor here what you told me before. What are you?”

“I am your servant,” replied the Mutation, its harshly-enhanced voice nevertheless indeed showing a tone of servitude and supposed benevolence. “I am your servant.”

“This is insanity!” I exclaimed. “The Mynver are an extraordinarily-dangerous extraterrestrial menace! They believe themselves to be the supreme race of all the Cosmos, and that all others are inferior and unworthy of existence. Their only goal is to conquer all planets, all the Universe, and to totally eliminate all other life-forms!”

“But this one has been so docile,” answered the science teacher. “If they are inherently as you describe them to be, how is it that it has shown no signs of aggression?”

“That I must confess I do not as yet know. It is a mystery how this Mutation ever got here to begin with. They do not travel alone, but only as part of an invasion force. Perhaps it became damaged and got separated from its cohorts somehow. I could perhaps scan it and find out, but I did not want to make any sudden moves that could cause it to have a violent reaction and…”

“Doctor! Mr. Thrash!” suddenly exclaimed Alessandra. “Look out!”

The schoolteacher and I had been debating near by his desk, and had inadvertently turned away from the Mynverkossian Mutation. As we talked, the thing had hovered over to-wards us, getting steadily nearer and nearer. It was now barely two metres distant, and the young girl had noticed a red glow that had begun to form along its horrid tendrils.

I whirled around and faced the monster just as it again began to speak. Its voice was more forceful than before, and gained in volume and intensity as it continued.

“You are the Doctor,” intoned the alien horror. “You are an enemy of the Mynver Race! You must be eliminated!!”

“No,” stammered Thrash as he realised the truth concerning that which I had informed him. “No… I…”

“Eliminate!!” screeched the harsh voice of the Mutation. “ELIMINATE!!”

Then I heard Alessandra scream as the creature fired its crimson-hued energy weapon directly at me!!

Mr. Thrash had jumped in front of me, standing directly before the hideous alien Mutation as it unleashed its firepower. He stood transfixed for a moment whilst the horrible red glare of the energy ray enveloped him, and then he crumpled to the floor in death.

By now I had fetched the transonic turnscrew from my pocket, and I quickly aimed it directly at the Mynverkossian. When I activated my device, the creature shuddered and emitted a harsh bellow of pain before it suddenly fell into a motionless heap upon the floor.

Alessandra then hurried into my arms.

“Are you all right, love?” I asked the girl.

“I guess,” she replied, trembling with fear. “That thing… ! It… It killed Mr. Thrash!”

“Yes,” I said. “It appears that he found out it was not his servant after all.”

“Is… Is it dead now?” queried the frightened lass.

“I believe so,” I said as I moved over to examine the motionless Mynver. “Fortunately, I was able to use the transonic to overload its mechanical parts. I had realised it must have been running on a lower power than most of its kind. That is the only way it could have lessened the total hate inherently found in the Mynver enough to pull off such a deception.”

“But is it the only one?” enquired the girl. “You said there might be more of them.”

“That is exactly what I need to determine, love.”

I held the transonic turnscrew over the dead Mynverkossian Mutation, doing a complete scan of both its biological systems and technological enhancements.

“Ah, very interesting,” I said. “Very interesting, indeed. According to this, the Mynver was a scout, a decoy of sorts. Its purpose was to infiltrate and eliminate the strongest threat to an upcoming invasion -- which would be me! They knew that I would be called into this case as the only person on the planet who would have any idea what it even was. They had hoped to pique the scientific curiosity of Mr. Thrash long enough that he could distract me from recognising the threat.”

Then I felt a premonition of terror as I read the remainder of the transonic readout -- as I realised what it was telling me about the Mynverkossians and forsooth, of their current plans.

“By the Triple Star!” I swore. “There are indeed more of them; a lot more -- and they are near by!!”

I then hurried over to the late Mr. Thrash’s desk, with Alessandra following close behind me.

“If I can manage a quick upgrade to the system of this desktop computer,” I explained as I aimed the transonic to-wards it, “we should be able to see exactly where they are.”

Then the computer monitor suddenly switched on, and we both beheld an horror indeed. At first it was the image of a disk-shaped spacecraft, entrenched as it was deep within a cleft in the earth. Then the scene changed to the ship’s interior, in which we saw the horrifying forms of numerous Mynverkossian Mutations hovering and working amongst the bizarre, otherworldly technology of their ship’s interior.

“Doctor!” exclaimed Alessandra. “You were right! There are so many of them!”

“It is indeed an entire invasion force,” I affirmed, “and they are very close to this location!”

“But where are they hiding?” asked the girl.

“You spoke of a ditch near the school. That must be it. They most likely landed there some time ago, secretly, utilising energy-cloaking technology to hide their presence as they plotted their attack. They undoubtedly plan to invade your planet in order to use it as a place to increase the numbers and power of the Mynver Race! They will also seek to eliminate all life on Earth!”

“What can you do, Doctor? You can stop them, can’t you?”

“I will do everything I can, Alessandra,” I assured her. “First, I need to find a way to get to them and -- Oh, my word!”

Upon the monitor screen, we then again saw the Mynverkossian ship. It was rising upwards, gliding into the sky above the ditch. We then beheld it moving directly to-wards the very building in which we were, the location of Cockeysville Junior High School!

“Doctor!” screamed the horrified lass. “Doctor, they’re right outside!”

Suddenly, we heard the horrid voices of the Mutations from their ship. They were broadcasting over the speakers of the computer.

“We are the Mynver,” came the harsh, grating, artificially-enhanced tones of the monsters. “We are the superior beings. This planet will be subjugated to the supreme rule of our race. All of its life-forms will serve us or will be destroyed. You have opposed us and will be eliminated! You will be eliminated! You will be eliminated!!”

The alien ship was now hovering directly over the building!!

Do you even begin to comprehend the horror, the extreme ungodly terror of this situation, my dear friends? The huge disk-shaped spaceship, with its commanding crew being that horridly fascist and racist species known as the Mutations of Mynverkoss, was directly above us there at the location of Cockeysville Junior High School! Unless something could be done -- and quickly -- they would unleash their terrible red death-ray, which would eliminate both that innocent girl and me. Then, there would be nothing left to stop them from going on to invade the planet Earth, and to fulfil their intention of wiping out the very existence of the human race!

I sat down at the computer keyboard and straightway began to enter a progression of complex coding sequences into it.

“I did manage to extract some information from the dead Mynver about the security codes for their ship,“ I explained as I worked. “It has a centralised power source to which all the Mutations are attached. If I can hack into it… Ah, there it is! "

I stood up and pointed the transonic turnscrew to-wards the computer monitor.

“Now I just need to reverse the polarisation of the image broadcast,“ I continued. “Alessandra, we will have to get out of this building fast. When I say ‘run’, you run!”

Just as I activated the transonic setting, the horrid voices of the Mynverkossians continued their chorus of fascist hatred:

“Eliminate! Eliminate! ELIMINATE!!”

On the screen, the gun turret of the spaceship glowed red as it readied the emission of its lethal death-ray over the school.

“Right!” I turned to the girl. “Run!!”

I took Alessandra’s hand and we hurried down the corridors of the school. We could hear the engine of the Mynverkossian ship hovering directly above the building. Before we reached the front door, I activated a different setting on the transonic.

“We do not have much time left,” I told the lass as we ran down the hallway. “But I have programmed the remote control so my car will meet us at the door!”

Just then, there was the sound of a tremendous explosion, far louder than any sonic boom could ever be.

“Doctor, is that… ?” panted Alessandra.

“Yes,” I affirmed. “The Mynver ship exploding, and they are right over top of us. We need to get away!”

We then burst through the front door of Cockeysville Junior High. Lizzie was there waiting for us, her engine running. I quickly helped Alessandra into the passenger’s seat and then jumped behind the steering wheel.

“Good girl, Lizzie!” I said as we sped away from the building. “And you too, Alessandra!”

There was then another tremendous sound behind us, the noise of a gigantic crash. I looked into the rear-view mirror. What remained of the Mynver spaceship had fallen onto the school, soon engulfing both in a gigantic conflagration of flames.

“Thankfully, no one else was in the building,” I said. “The Mynver are destroyed. Not even they could survive that heat and impact. Their threat to the planet Earth is finished, the invasion is over, and the human race is safe!” …

Soon afterwards, the Sun was now shining whilst lovely Alessandra and I sat in Lizzie at the parking lot of a take-away restaurant, having procured a good lunch. I was having a foot-long cheese-steak submarine-sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, and mayonnaise; whilst the girl enjoyed a chicken salad sandwich on wheat bread. We shared an order of fried mushrooms (although I must admit that I ate most of them).

“So, you’re sure those horrible Mutation things are all dead?” enquired the lass.

“I am certain of it, love,” I assured her. “I did a scan with the transonic turnscrew and there is no sign of Mynverkossian biology or technology left anywhere near by.”

“Well, that’s good,” she said. “They were terrible, and I’m so glad they’re gone!”

“I am sorry about the school, though” I said. “The Mynver were right over it, and fell directly down when their engine exploded. I did leave their shields on, however, in order to contain the nuclear energy of the engine.”

“Doctor, won’t people wonder how the school blew up?” asked Alessandra.

“Oh, of course,” I answered, sipping my soft drink, “but they will no doubt find some rather prosaic explanation about the whole thing; they will blame it on a gas-leak or something along those lines. I am very sorry that your volleyball team won‘t have a place to play anymore, love.”

“Oh, that’s okay, I guess,” announced the girl. “I don’t really want to be a Cockeysville Blocker anymore. I was thinking I might start to study science instead, anyway.”

“I think that is a wonderful idea, Alessandra,” I approved. “In fact, it would be my honour if you would allow me to be your new teacher.”

“I would love that!” exclaimed the lass. “I didn’t know you were a teacher, too!”

“Oh, I have found it to have its benefits,” I teased.

Then I saw Alessandra’s luscious lips curve into that smile, the same lovely look that had so enchanted me when we had first met.

“You know what?” said I. “You really have a gorgeous smile, love. Of course, you are a beautiful young lady in every way.”

It was then that the wonderful young girl leaned over and kissed me, our lips meeting in what I knew would be the first of countless acts of love and enjoyment.

“I’m so happy I met you, Doctor,” said the little lady with a sigh as she laid her lovely head on my shoulder. “I mean, I’m happy the world is safe from those monsters, too, but I’m even happier I met you.”

“I am happy I met you as well, Alessandra,” I said, putting my arm around her. “Quite happy, indeed.”

Whilst we sat there on that eventful day, I pondered the fact that the world was now safe from the horrid fascist tyranny of the Mynver. The world was safe for freedom and life and love and joy and all things that make existence a truly wonderful thing. Most important of all, I appreciated, it was now safe for Alessandra’s smile.

***** DANIEL RUMANOS SHALL RETURN IN “SUGAR AND SPICE”

MAGIC CARPET RIDE

On the glorious planet Daemonia, ninety-three light-years from Earth, two grey-haired and venerable members of the Absolute Convention of the Watchers of Algol stood in one of the secret observatories from which that godlike race keeps benevolent vigilance over the vast reaches of Space and Time. They were replete in the splendour of their brightly-hued ceremonial vestments, since the discussion they were having, despite its secrecy, concerned a matter of extreme importance to this ruling body of the Algolites.

“The office of Universal Overseer remains vacant,” said the first Watcher, a look of concern showing only slightly through his calm expression. “We have been unable to decide upon a worthy candidate.”

“Surely this is unprecedented in the billion annals of our history,” said the second. “With no Overseer, the link to the Outermost Barrier is compromised. That could lead to certain breakdowns of order throughout our systems.”

“It already has, Master Conventioneer,” replied the first. “Just recently a Dimensional Transport Sphere was seen to have gone missing from one of the temporal garages.”

“By the Stars, Master Conventioneer!” swore the second, his self-control slipping a bit at this news. “That is unheard of, is it not?”

“Not entirely,” rejoined the first Watcher. “It has happened from time to time, when one of our people has gone renegade. Most well-known is the one that was stolen from the repair shop some time ago.”

“You mean the one now belonging to Master Rumanos, the Kosmikos agent?”

“Indeed, Master Conventioneer, he is known there as Operative #MAP/GL/AOA8-17, and it is only because of his service to that covert organisation that he has been immune to prosecution for the offence.”

“Master Conventioneer, do you believe that the old prophecy may be true?” enquired the second. “The one claiming that the Kosmikos will one day give us one who will take the supreme office, leading to an era of thus-far-unseen history?”

“It is possible,” affirmed the first. “It is possible, but all prophecies are open to interpretation.”

“So what of this Master Rumanos? Has not his more recent use of the Mynverkossian Time Destroyer opened him to charges of infraction against the First Temporal Law?”

“There has indeed been some contention about that between the Convention and the Kosmikos. Nevertheless, we have felt it best to let things stand as they are, at least for now. We must continue to observer the actions of Rumanos, that he may be tested and it found if he is worthy or not.”

“And if not?”

“Then he will be destroyed,” stated the first Watcher. “His essence will then be scattered to the farthest reaches.”

“These are strange times in which we exist, Master Conventioneer,” said the second. “Strange times, indeed.”

“Indeed, they are. Nevertheless, we shall see in time what the outcome shall be. As we do with all things throughout the Cosmos, we shall see.” …

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 “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 Planet Earth, I protect its people 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 upon this world. I am the sword of justice from the planet Daemonia.

I am -- THE DAEMON-STAR!!! …

I was at a fish and chips shop in the Fell’s Point neighbourhood of Baltimore, having lunch with my friend Jasira Ibrahim. I was clad in my usual finery, including a frilled poet-shirt and purple velvet smoking jacket.

“So, how have you been, love?” I asked the girl. “I have not seen you since that night we discovered the Jegrodis at that disco, hmmm?”

“I’m doing okay, Doctor,” replied the girl with a smile. “It’s nice to see you again.”

Miss Jasira Ibrahim was looking as beautiful as ever, with her gorgeous honey-coloured skin and her wide, sensuous mouth, her lips like luscious ripe cherries. Her hair sparkled in the light like shiny licorice. She was wearing a short, magenta-coloured dress that wonderfully showed off the soft curves and lovely legs of her slender adolescent figure.

“So, Jasira,” I said, “what was your parents’ reaction to that change in your appearance?”

You see, the last time I had seen Jasira Ibrahim, her eyes had changed colour after she had seen the flash of an alien spaceship blowing up. They were now an enchanting shade of blue, unusual to one of her complexion yet exquisitely lovely.

“They were a little shocked at first, but they are now happy about it,” replied the lass. “They think it is a sign that Heaven has accepted and blessed their marriage!”

Jasira’s parents were Turkish Arabs, her farther Muslim and her mother Christian, who had been forced to leave their native country due to religious persecution.

“Fantastic!” I said delightedly. “I believe they are correct, in a way. After all, only a union truly blessed by divine powers could lead to them having such a beautiful and wonderful daughter as you.”

“Awww!” exclaimed Jasira. “That’s so sweet for you to say, Doctor! I have been kind of worried about my mom and dad, though, for a different reason.”

“What reason would that be, love?” I enquired with concern.

“It’s just that they have recently been attending seminars from this mystic called ‘Halit’. He has some strange teachings that claim to be above all religions.”

“Probably just some con artist,” I replied. “As long as they do not give him all their money or something, it should be just an harmless diversion.”

“But that’s just it, Doctor,” rejoined the lass. “He isn’t asking them for anything, but he seems to have a strange control over them, and over everyone who attends his talks.”

“So, what exactly does he teach?”

“I’m not sure. I’ve only overheard Mom and Dad talking about it. I think he says he has powers from having contact with some kind of spirits or something. Anyway, they’ve become so devoted to him that it kind of scares me.”

“‘Spirits’, did you say? Perhaps I should look into it,” I decided, sipping my iced tea. “When is his next seminar?”

“He’s giving a talk this afternoon at the Marriot Hotel Ballroom. My parents are upset that they can’t make it since Dad has to work today.”

“Sounds like an opportunity. I will go and see what he has to say.”

“Oh, can I go with you?” pleaded Jasira. “I really want to see if I should be so worried about it all.”

“I suppose that will be all right, love,” I affirmed. “There is probably nothing to worry about. This ‘Halit’ character will probably just turn out to be some scam after all, and…”

I was suddenly interrupted by Jasira’s scream at what she beheld. The girl was looking up to just above my head. I whirled around to face whatever was behind me and saw an horror indeed.

It was an huge, shapeless mass. A grey shape as of something that existed in between the limits of the corporeal and the non-corporeal. From it emanated a feeling -- a feeling as of an intellect ancient and vast, a mind or group of minds replete with a superior yet disincarnate intelligence.

The thing lurched to-wards me with a movement of definite menace!

I took the transonic turnscrew (an highly-sophistically technological device resembling a writing pen) from the pocket of my jacket and aimed it at the horrid thing. This was a mere show of bravado on my part, for I as yet had no idea what this entity was, far less what I could do to defend against it.

The grey mass moved to-wards me and, just as we would have made contact, suddenly vanished. I looked around the restaurant, but there was no sign of it. Some of the other diners had looked our way during the disturbance, but were now returning to their meals. I assumed they had not seen the thing clearly from their further-away perspective.

“Doctor, what was that thing?!” queried Jasira as she hurried to the safety of my arms.

“I am not certain, love,” I confessed, “but it seems to be gone now.”

“Do you think it could have anything to do with what we were talking about?”

“You mean this Halit and his supposed ‘spirits’?” I pondered. “It does seem too close to be a mere coincidence. I would say that you should stay out of this and thus remain safe, but it is possible that we have both been targeted. It is best for you to stay where I can protect you. We should get to this seminar of his then, and perhaps we shall learn the facts!”

I quickly paid our lunch bill, leaving a substantial gratuity for our server, and we left the restaurant. My canary-coloured Edwardian roadster (affectionately known as “Lizzie”), was parked outside. I drove us to the Marriot Hotel in the near by Harbour East area, and we soon found the ballroom in which the mysterious Halit was scheduled to speak.

The room was already well-packed with an audience, a mixture of local “hipster” types and Asian immigrants. The latter attracted, I assumed, by Halit’s supposed Middle Eastern origins, the former by the curiosity about “spiritual” novelties that seems to be common among their type. All were seated in the folding chairs that had been placed in the ballroom, giving the proceeding a bizarre “churchlike” atmosphere that seemed odd in a venue usually given to dancing and related social pleasures.

Jasira and I took our seats and waited. I briefly mused that it was indeed odd that we managed to find two unoccupied chairs together, and indeed in the front row, considering how crowded the room otherwise was. Forsooth, it was almost as if we had been expected.

Finally, the curtain opened and a pre-recorded background sound of vaguely “oriental” music began playing. A man then walked out upon the stage. He was somewhat hunched over, and was dressed in colourful robes on which were embroidered various golden and silver stars and astrological symbols. He had a large turban on his head and a long beard of iron-grey hue. His skin was a deep brown and his eyes the darkest pitch-black.

“Greetings, my friends,” he intoned, his voice possessing an accent of indeterminate Eastern derivation. “I am Halit, and I come here today to show you wonders. You have heard of the ‘magic carpet’ of storied Arabia? Well, look and see!”

Halit then made a pass with his hands to-wards the side of the stage and, from this same area, there then came forth an object like a Persian rug floating about a metre above the stage.

“See, my friends!” continued Halit as the spectators gasped in astonishment. “See the powers that I have gotten!”

He then stepped up and stood upon the “magic carpet”, which continued to float as before.

“Doctor,” whispered Jasira in my ear, “that’s all a fake, isn’t it? Just a stage magic trick?”

“I believe so, love, but…” I said. “I cannot help but to think that there is something familiar about this ‘Halit’. It is almost as if I…”

“And now, my friends,” said Halit, “I shall introduce you to the source of these wonders. The mighty spirits I have contacted. They are like unto the Jinn or Genies of old. They are known as… The Niddalas!!”

It was then that an eldritch grey mist seemed to form around Halit and his magic carpet, and there then issued forth from it an host of entities, strange wraithlike entities like the one I had encountered earlier. They drifted upwards and floated in the air above the mystic, soon filling the entire stage area with their bizarre, ghostly forms.

I leapt up from my seat and stood in front of Jasira, hoping to shield the girl from what I sensed was to come.

“The power of the Niddalas is here, my friends,” Halit went on. “For it is here that they shall reward you if you believe. For all believers shall have their place as servants of the Niddalas when they have taken over this world and left me to rule it! As for unbelievers… behold, for this shall be their fate!!”

With this statement, Halit indicated me, and the hoard of Niddalas suddenly surged to-wards me. Before I could even react, they struck. I felt a ghastly wave of cold, a cold beyond all fleshly sensations -- a feeling like unto as if I had been touched by something from beyond all sane existence, and I felt myself crumple to the floor in pain at the psyche-physical sensation of this.

I struggled to look up at my attackers. The grey, ghostlike forms of the Niddalas where now hovering over me, and I looked beyond them to the figure of the strange mystic known as Halit. He was still floating above the stage on his supposed magic carpet, but had now straitened up to his full height. As I looked, his face suddenly flashed several times, a strange light playing across it as it changed to a different countenance entirely -- in sooth, a visage now all too familiar to me.

It was the face as of a man of middle years, still showing signs of distinction despite being marred with the marks of lifetimes of absolute un-holiness and extreme evil. His features were decorated with a thin moustache and goatee, and his eyes shone forth with an absolutely hypnotic glow. As he perceived my recognition of him, he laughed with a mirthless sound of complete and utter wickedness.

It was Don Wingus!!

“You!” I exclaimed. “I should have known! So you did escape from C’sem 6!”

“Indeed, Rumanos,” returned Wingus, his voice now in its usual tone of mockery. “Thanks for attending my little ‘spiritual seminar’. I would offer you something from the refreshments table, but I see you have likely already shared a cream pie.”

This last comment he gave with a glance to-wards Jasira, who was huddled in her chair in fear.

I faced the evil Don Wingus directly as the host of entities continued to hover about the stage area.

“The name ‘Halit’,” I pondered. “It means ‘Eternal’, hmmm?”

“Indeed it does,” returned Wingus with a sinful smile. “A fitting alias for an Algolite, if I do say so myself.”

“So, Wingus,” I challenged, “what are these ‘Niddalas’? I can see they are largely non-corporeal, and you are using them in one of your schemes to subjugate this planet to your totalitarian rule, but what are they?”

“The Niddalas are the psychic essences of an alien species now otherwise extinct,” he explained. “They were wiped out when their planet was caught in the crossfire of the last Galactic War.”

“Ah, yes!” I realised. “The planet Niddala; one of the mysterious inner worlds of the Alpha Centauri system. I remember now.”

“They were a race with highly-developed mentalist abilities,” Wingus added, “and managed to continue their now-bodiless existence out in the depths of Space. They have remained there for nearly two million years, and that is where I encountered them soon after I acquired my new ‘flying carpet’ here.”

“Of course!” I realised. “That is actually the very DiTraS that was stolen from Daemonia recently! By the Triple Star, Wingus! It would have been damaged when you blasted through the temporal shields that surround our home-world. Finding its abilities then limited, you made a pact with these Niddalas to utilise their psychic powers in order to repair it, hmmm? You even used the spiritual devotion of the people who attended your seminars to strengthen further the aliens’ attachments to this world. You could not manage to keep control at a distance, though. The one you sent against me at the restaurant faded before it could do any harm.”

“Oh bravo, Rumanos, bravo,” sneered Wingus. “As always, you think you have it all figured out. As hopelessly full of yourself as ever, I see. Nevertheless, it will avail you nothing. The Niddalas’s powers are here supreme, and they will aid me to subjugate your beloved Earthlings whilst my ship is being repaired. In return for this, I have agreed to use my new DiTraS to return them to their own planet. It is once again habitable, and they can eventually reclaim their physical existence by mentally influencing the life-forms that are currently developing there.”

I glanced around. Incredibly, the audience were still looking on in wonder at what they assumed was all part of the scheduled presentation!

“A well-thought-out scheme, Wingus,” I admitted. “Utterly mad, of course, but still well-thought-out. None the less, it shall not succeed. The Kosmikos shall not allow…”

“The Kosmikos will do nothing!” Wingus spat back. “You are their only Operative upon this planet, and the Niddalas will now destroy you… and your little girlfriend!!”

I had taken the trembling form of young Jasira Ibrahim into my embrace in one final attempt to protect her from the horrors surrounding us. She fainted from fear just as the mass of Niddalas rushed upon us.

Do you behold the unnameable terror of this situation, my dear readers? The grotesque conglomeration of the now semi-corporeal forms that were once the alien race known as Niddalas had rushed upon us -- under the command of that unspeakably-evil Intergalactic villain, my own archenemy and most bitter rival, the notorious Master Don Wingus!

We were quickly surrounded by what appeared to be a thick cloud of greyness. It was totally opaque, shutting out all around us. The hotel ballroom, its attending audience, everything that belonged to the world of normal physical existence seemed to be blotted out as the phantasmal forms of the Niddalas enveloped us inside that grotesque accumulation of their ghostly being.

I held on to the now-unconscious figure of poor Jasira, still trying to keep the girl safe as a strange feeling of dizziness began to overcome me…

It was then that I heard a voice. It was deep and sonorous, filling the space around me with a vibration as of its origin being a collective gestalt of the beings in which I was enveloped.

“Why have you done this?” enquired the voice. “Why have you lied to us? We are the Niddalas. We only want to return to our world.”

“What do you mean?” I rejoined. “I am Dr. Daniel Rumanos of Algol. I have done nothing to harm your people.”

“The other who is of your kind,” continued the voice, which I now fully recognised as being indeed that of the very collected consciousness of the Nidallas. “He has used us, exploited our current lack of physical form in order to make us do harm to others. This is not our way. The Niddalas are a people of peace. Our race was destroyed because we refused to take part in war. Now we only wish to return home and live in peace. The other of your kind has made promises to take us there, but he has deceived us, caused us to do things that are against our ways.”

“He is a renegade,” I informed. “He does not represent the ways of our Algolite race. He only does harm and evil. He wishes to rule others and subjugate them to his will. It is my mission to stop him.”

“On our world we occasionally had such people,” admitted the Niddala voice. “They were imprisoned, kept safely away from others in a place where they could do no further harm. We do perceive that you are not like him. The tenderness you feel to-wards this little one. Your protection of her. It is a thing of goodness and integrity, unseen in the other.”

“That gives me an idea, Voice of the Niddalas,” I said. “Listen to me, please. I have a suggestion that will help you to achieve what your people want…”

 A few moments later, the grey mass of the Niddalas parted around me. Still holding Jasira, who was now stirring back to-wards consciousness, I took the transonic turnscrew from my pocket and aimed it above the stage -- the stage were Don Wingus was still standing upon his ‘magic carpet’-disguised DiTraS.

Above the stage, the large spotlight that illuminated it suddenly shattered, sending sparks and shards of broken glass around the area. In reaction to this, Wingus naturally raised his hands to shield his face, blocking his view of what I did next.

I then aimed the transonic to-wards the “magic carpet”-- in truth, a Dimensional Transport Sphere with its ability to travel throughout the vast reaches of Space and Time.

The grey mass of Niddalas then began to rush to-wards the DiTraS, disappearing into the other-dimensional interior of the ship -- and dragging Don Wingus along with them.

“What!” shouted the villain. “Rumanos, what have you done?!”

“I had a little talk with the Niddalas,” I informed him. “They are a good people, and you should not have tried to exploit them. They are now aiding me in switching the polarisation of your DiTraS engine. It will return them to their home-world, the planet Niddala itself -- and you with them! There you will be kept prisoner, jailed for life where you can do no further hurt to anyone! I am sending you to your fate, Wingus, old chap -- by way of a ‘magic carpet ride’!”

“No, Rumanos! No!” pleaded Wingus as he vanished into his DiTraS along with the Niddalas. “NOOOOOOOO!!”

Then was heard the odd gasping and moaning sound of the temporal engines as the “magic carpet” spaceship faded from view.

Jasira was now awake, and I put the young girl safely down in her chair.

“Worry not, love,” I whispered to her. “The one who called himself ‘Halit’ is gone, and all is well.”

Then, to my surprise, the entire audience stood up and began applauding. Without the hypnotic influence of Don Wingus affecting them, they now all just assumed that they had been attending a theatrical performance! Humans. …

The Marriot Hotel, believing that Jasira and I were all part of the show that had been such a big hit in their ballroom venue, offered us their absolute best luxury suite for the evening absolutely gratis, with all the available amenities. Therefore, it was that -- after an excellent dinner of steak and shrimp, served with baked potatoes and side salads along with highly-caffeinated iced coffee -- we relaxed on the suite’s large four-poster bed, enjoying chocolate truffles and a wonderful twelve-year-old champagne.

“So, Doctor, where were those aliens from again?” enquired Jasira as she laid her pretty head back on the bed’s big fluffy pillows.

“Oh, two stars away from here,” I said. “Their planet was once decimated by a war they had no part in. Now it will be reborn.”

“Thanks to you!” smiled the girl.

“Not entirely, Jasira,” I answered. “In fact, it could be said that it is much more thanks to you.”

“Me?” she laughed. “How could that be? I had fainted, you know!”

“Indeed, and it is the Niddalas’s psychic apprehension of the feelings of affection I have for you that convinced them to trust me, leading to us defeating Wingus and to them finally returning to their own world. They are, at heart, a people of love and peace and joy, hence their aversion to war and crime and unnecessary conflict. An interesting species, the Niddalas. I shall have to visit their planet someday and see how they are getting along.”

“You are so wonderful and sweet, Doctor,” said the beautiful little lass. “I just love you.”

“You know what, Jasira?” I said as I took the lovely young girl into a passionate embrace. “I love you too.”

***** DANIEL RUMANOS SHALL RETURN IN “ALESSANDRA’S SMILE”