SEED

“ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION: September, 1930” declared the stencilled lettering on the side of the crate. Mike Hooper had found the box hidden amongst the usual items in a far corner of the Mil-Mart department store stock room.

Mike, a young man with sandy-brown hair and spectacles, had accepted employment as a stock-boy at the local branch of the great American retail chain in order to earn enough money to keep attending college. An intelligent, inquisitive boy from a somewhat impoverished family, he had endured the jabs and jokes of both his college peers, who thought it humorous that someone would have to work a labour job in order to achieve an higher education, and the blue-collar types of his neighbourhood, who naturally hated any thought of learning.

Clad in his Mil-Mart overalls, young Hooper had entered the cavernous stockroom at the back of the shop that morning, when the floor manager had ordered him to fetch some items to replenish the knickers display in the ladies’ department. Out of the corner of his eye, Mike Hooper had noticed a crate that did not seem to look as if it belonged with the others. Perhaps it had been delivered here by mistake. The store was, after all, just down the street from a scientific research centre, and they had gotten strange things accidentally left here before, including a shipment of test-tubes that had baffled most of the employees as to their possible use.

Nevertheless, this was something stranger still.

Fascinated, Mike opened the top of the crate. The inside had a musty odour, and the young man wondered if it had actually not been opened in all those decades. Inside, he beheld an object, something about the size and general shape of a soccer ball, packed amongst rotting excelsior.

Mike Hooper reached in his hand and removed the object, hoping to examine it in the large floodlight that shone from the high stockroom ceiling. The thing was a mottled green in colour, its surface rough and somewhat of the texture of a leaf.

“It almost looks like… ” said Hooper to himself, “a large seedpod!””

It was then that Mike moved the object closer to his face in an attempt to ascertain of what exactly it was made. This was a mistake on his part, forsooth, a mistake indeed, and one that was going to lead to incidents of extreme eldritch madness and egregious horror beyond all sane imaginings. For it was at that moment that the contact of Mike Hooper’s exhaled breath upon the object caused a portion of it to crack open.

Before he could further react, young Mike Hooper found himself attacked by something -- something green and growing, something like a creeping vine that shot forth with numerous tendrils from the interior of the object and immediately attached itself to his face, breaking his eyeglasses. The tendrils then plunged into his mouth and nostrils, stifling any scream that such an attack wouldst normally cause.

It was then that Mike Hooper, Mil-Mart department store employee and struggling college student, sank to the floor of the stockroom, overcome by the powers of an unknown alien horror that was entering his body! …

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

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

Currently assigned to Earth, I protect its people (both upon their planet and across the eternal void) from the hideous manipulations of the arch-villain known as 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!!! …

It was only a few days after our encounter with that horrid renegade Algolite, known to eternal damnation as the Nemesister, when Millie Drake and I decided to go shopping. A young lady of my own race, the Watchers of Algol, Millie had nevertheless spent much of her earlier life upon Earth and thus has the typical girlish love of browsing retail shops.

It was thus that we arrived that sunny day at the huge Mil-Mart department store -- located in the Timonium area of northern Baltimore County, Maryland -- in my canary-coloured Edwardian roadster, affectionately known as “Lizzie”. I was dressed in my usual finery, including a frilled poet shirt, purple velvet suit, military boots, and panama hat.

Millie is a ravishingly-beautiful young girl with luxurious chestnut hair, enchanting violet eyes, sun-kissed skin, and luscious pink lips. She was clad in a short, tight, cherry-coloured dress that only served to highlight the soft curves of her slender, wondrously-adolescent figure.

With us was Kit-10, our friend and personal computer that resembles nothing more or less than a small metallic cat.

“It really is such a nice day today, Daniel,” said Millie whilst we walked across the parking lot, hand-in-hand, “and it is so sweet of you to bring me here.”

“It is my pleasure, Mills,” I replied. “Hopefully we can spend some quality time away from our usual work, hmmm?”

Nevertheless, little did we realise, as we entered the large Mil-Mart department store that day, that we were about to face one of the strangest and most bizarre alien threats ever to be known.

Mil-Mart is a place that has become a staple of American society. Founded several decades previously by a Midwestern businessman by the name of Sam Milton, the chain of massive department stores is known for its reasonable prices and far-reaching assortment of goods for sale. Equally popular amongst impoverished folks and penny-pinching rich misers, it has continued to grow in popularity over the years. Even the encroaching competition of internet-based retail has done little to effectively challenge the Mil-Mart domination of the retail sales scene. The store’s offering of everything from clothing to electronics to major appliances to toys to jewellery to pharmaceuticals to groceries has made them the go-to establishment for the everyday needs of countless individuals and families across the land. Indeed, the continued success of Mil-Mart has served as an inspiration for many upcoming and hopeful would-be entrepreneurs, and shows no signs whatsoever of abating anytime soon. That it also, on a darker tone, has become a symbolic byword for capitalism gone mad is also of interest and, in truth, a subject for another time.

We strolled around the shop for a while, looking at the featured items with little Kit-10 following close behind. The other shoppers did not pay much attention to the robotic feline, except for a couple of inquisitive children who giggled at the sight of her.

“I say, look at that,” I exclaimed upon seeing a special display at the gentlemen’s accessories department. “Those are quite nice indeed, hmmm?”

It was a display of colourful silk handkerchiefs, brightly-hued and shiny, and I walked over to get a closer look at them.

“I bet they are not as good as those ones you have, Daniel,” stated Millie. “You know, the ones with built-in healing powers.”

“True, these are not quite up to that level,” I agreed, “but they are still quite nice for more common purposes, hmmm? I rather like the colours, especially these with the flower designs. Why, they look rather Hawaiian!”

“Hey, I am going to look at a few things in the girls’ department, okay?” asked Millie with a quick kiss on my cheek.

“Sure, my love,” I acquiesced. “We can meet later at the store café. Kit-10, be a good kitty-cat and go with Miss Drake, hmmm?”

“This unit is not a cat, s--,” complained the robot in her pleasantly-feminine voice, but then gliding off behind Millie. Despite her denials, Kit-10 does indeed have numerous catlike characteristics, one of which is her dislike of openly showing respect for anyone. The closest she can come to calling me “sir” is that slight “s--” sound. Similarly, she tends to call Millie “m--”, for “ma’am”.

I continued browsing through the handkerchiefs for a few moments until I noticed one of the shop’s employees near by. It was a young man with sandy-brown hair, his overall-type uniform looking more appropriate for the stockroom than the sales floor. His nametag said “Mike”. Then I noticed something else about him. His skin was showing a strange hue, indeed, a decidedly greenish tinge.

“Pardon me, young man,” I said, “but are you feeling all right?”

He did not answer, but then took a step closer, fixing his eyes directly upon me. I noticed they were now glowering with the same green colouration, which grew more darksome and oddly menacing as he again moved in my direction.

It was then that the horror, in very sooth the supreme and ungodly otherworldly menace that my friends and I were fated to face that day suddenly became manifest, and manifest it did in a show of hideous and utterly-grotesque fear far beyond all sane imaginings. For it was then that, from the young man’s mouth, nostrils, ears, and yes, even from his eyes, a mass of quivering green tentacles shot forth and headed directly to-wards me!!

I quickly took the transonic turnscrew (an highly-advanced technological device resembling a writing pen) from my pocket and aimed it to-wards the ceiling of the shop, activating a certain sonic tone directly at one of the large track-lighting fixtures. It shattered, and a shower of red-hot sparks came down upon the writhing mass of aggressive greenery that had once been a department store stock-boy.

The thing quaked in pain and quickly backed away from me. I saw that it had by now overcome with its grotesque vegetation anything that had remained of Mike. The unfortunate lad’s body had just served as a host and feeding source for the extraterrestrial plant creature that had usurped it.

The monster then suddenly sprouted forth in all directions, fast building up a veritable wall of quivering greenery right down the centre of the Mil-Mart sales floor.

“By the Stellar Trinity!” I swore. “It appears that the plant-life is revolting.”

“You got that right,” said a man’s voice behind me. “It’s downright sickening.”

It was one of the customers, a middle-aged man of the working-class sort, wearing a t-shirt and dungarees. He was rather heavy-set, with reddish-grey hair, blue-grey eyes, and a florid complexion.

“My name’s Bill,” he announced with pride. “What’s yours?”

“Rumanos,” I told him. “Dr. Daniel Rumanos.”

“Nice to meet you,” he said, insisting upon shaking my hand. “Where did you get your doctor degree?”

“A place called Daemonia.”

“Can’t say as I’ve heard of it,” he wondered. “Is it in Canada or something?”

“Quite likely so,” I lied.

“So you got any idea what’s going on here, Doctor?” enquired Bill.

“Yes, it appears that one of the employees has been taken over by a species of alien vegetable life. I believe it is of the type known as a Kloryphoid.”

“So he’s some plant monster from Outer Space, is he?” asked the man. “One of them UFO alien things?”

“More or less,” I agreed. “The Kloryphoid is a floral species totally opposed to all animal life. On planets where they become established, they overgrow everything, destroying all fauna-type life forms.”

“Sounds like something them damned democrats would like,” he said. “It’s all just un-American if you ask me.”

I looked at the wall of foliage that had grown up in the middle of the sales floor, effectively blocking off the remainder of the shop

“My friend is in there, and I need to get to her,” I stated.

“Your friend?” asked Bill. “A man or a woman?”

“A young girl,“ I said. “Her name is Millie. No relation to Mil-Mart.”

“A little girl? By God, we gotta save her even if she is a Canadian! Well, I know something that will help,” announced Bill. “Wait, I’ll go get it!”

Then, without another word, Bill disappeared around a corner of one of the displays. …

Millie and Kit-10 were in the cosmetics department when the grotesque wall of greenery had suddenly appeared. Of course, the girl then immediately enquired of Kit-10 as to what was occurring.

“Accessing database,” replied the robot. “Sensors seem to match with records of a type of alien plant life known as the Kloryphoid. Invades planets via seedpods ejected through Space. They grow by digesting animal life as fertilizer.”

“Fertilizer?” shuddered the lass.

“Affirmative,” answered the mechanical cat. “The Kloryphoid will eventually overgrow completely any planet on which they can become established.”

“Oh my goodness!” exclaimed the girl. “Is there any way to stop it?”

“Insufficient data,” returned the robot.

“Is there a way to get through it and find Daniel?” pleaded Millie.

“Sorry, m--,” replied Kit-10. “No information available.”

It was then that a truly unspeakable horror occurred. For at that moment the horrid alien plant-life that had grown up around the girl and the little robot suddenly became quite animated, reaching out countless tendrils in its search for more unmentionable sustenance -- for something on which to feed its ongoing and unholy growth.

Millie Drake screamed as the wall of grotesque greenery closed in upon them!! …

I programmed a certain sequence into the transonic turnscrew, activating it to send a signal, a type of radio transmission or broadcast. I then returned the device to my jacket pocket.

The remainder of the shop’s employees and customers had already fled the building, and I remained seemingly-alone on this side of the wall of green until the man who had introduced himself by the name of Bill reappeared from around the corner. He was carrying a very large-calibre gun of the type used in hunting big game.

“Lucky they had one of these left in sporting goods,” he said.

“An elephant gun?” I exclaimed with astonishment. “They actually sell them at Mil-Mart?”

“Of course, Doctor!” announced Bill. “It’s my right as an American to carry any kind of firearm! You got something against the Second Amendment?”

“Nothing in particular,” I rejoined. 

“Good!” he proclaimed. “Because I want to help you save that kid you say is over there on the other side of that thing, but I wouldn’t want to think I was helping some damned commie!” …

Back in the makeup aisle, Millie Drake was screaming in extreme unmitigated fear as the dreadful grasping tendrils of the horrible Kloryphoid closed in upon her and Kit-10.

Do you see the unhallowed fear in this, readers? The horrid eldritch terror of the Kloryphoid was now threatening the safety and wellbeing -- forsooth, the very life -- of that beautiful young girl! Its horrid tendrils could use her in order to feed upon in its continued growth as it went on to spread over and conquer the planet!

Then, the mechanical cat suddenly went into action. She quickly pivoted around and shot a beam of highly-focused light from her metal nose. The laser hit the surface of the green Kloryphoid wall and caused the eldritch alien horror to shake and wobble. Kit-10 then hit the thing with several more blasts of her inbuilt weapon on different parts of its hideous surface.

The disgusting tendrils then retreated. The Kloryphoid was not seriously harmed, but it had suffered pain from the beams of Kit-10’s nose-laser and had, at least for the moment, halted its intention to devour young Millie Drake.

The lass was about to offer her gratitude to the robotic feline when she noticed that Kit-10 was emitting a sound, a noise like the interference sometimes heard when one radio broadcast crosses and interferes with another.

“What is happening, Kit-10?” asked the girl.

“Receiving a transmission,” announced Kit-10.

“Is it from Daniel?” queried Millie Drake expectantly.

“Affirmative.”

“What does he say?”

“Encoded message to be rebroadcast to pre-programmed recipients.”

“Do you mean he is sending a radio signal to someone for assistance?”

“Insufficient information, m--,” answered the metallic puss. …

Bill raised the elephant gun to-wards the wall of creeping foliage that was part of the body of the Kloryphoid -- that terrifying plant-creature that so horribly and grotesquely threatened to overwhelm and destroy the human race and, in full and unmitigated truth, all animal life upon the planet!

“Go to hell, you Goddamn liberal plant monster!” the man shouted as he pulled the trigger.

With an humongous bang the gun discharged its shell, putting a gaping hole in the horrid alien greenery. The Kloryphoid shuddered with such intensity that it shook the department store building, but then, with amazing rapidity, there suddenly shot forth myriad tendrils that surrounded Bill, taking its unmentionable revenge by choking the life from him within mere seconds. I saw him fall to the floor when the bizarre vines parted.

Nonetheless, I realised that his sacrifice had not been in vain, for the hole he had made would be just large enough for me to get through to Millie and Kit-10. I ran to it at top speed, regardless of all other danger in this effort to save my friends.

As I hurried through, I beheld the strangled corpse of Bill, lifeless and mangled upon the floor.

“Poor fellow,” said I. “Oh well -- at least he died a good American.”

I managed to get through the gap and soon found Millie Drake and the robotic feline.

“Oh, Daniel!” cheered the girl, running into my arms. “I am so glad to see you! I knew you would come!”

“Of course, my love,” said I. “Here, we have no time to lose!”

I then picked up the beautiful young Millie Drake and held her close as I ran back to-wards the gap.

“Come along, Kit-10!” I encouraged our robotic friend who was gliding along just behind us.

“Danger, s--!” warned the metal cat.

Kit-10 had noticed that the hole was closing, and that it would quickly become too small for us to fit through. In response, she deftly fired off her laser in a circle, burning the edges all around the gap and thus causing the Kloryphoid to again shudder.

“Good shooting, Kit-10!” I praised. “You deserve some catnip for that!”

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

The hole had now stopped lessening, and we all managed to slip through it unharmed.

“Millie, that thing is a creature called the Kloryphoid,” I explained as we continued along, “and it…”

“I know,” she interrupted. “Kit-10 told me.”

I carried Millie out of the store, holding the lass close in order to shield her from the horrible writhing tendrils of the hideous Kloryphoid. Kit-10 followed close behind, utilising her nose-laser as necessary in order to aid in holding off the green monstrosity.

None the less, a greater horror was still to occur, indeed a terror of proportions beyond all that we had thus far encountered on that bizarre day of totally unmitigated and indeed dreadfully ungodly fear.

It was just as we got outside that it happened. The monstrous Kloryphoid, that deadly plant creature that threatened to destroy all life upon Earth, burst through the top of the building, the grotesque thing towering far above the parking lot as its form continued to grow larger and larger!

Do you comprehend the supreme and ungodly horror, in truth the most extreme and deadly terror of this situation, my dear readers? The Kloryphoid, that alien monster, that insane and obscene thing that should not exist in any sane world, the same horrible extraterrestrial plant-being that threatened to overgrow the entire planet Earth, in such wiping out all other life upon this unsuspecting world, had for now grown to a size bigger than the Mil-Mart department store, and was now beginning to reach its horrid grasping tendrils out across the parking lot!

We ran to Lizzie and I helped Millie into her seat in the trusty old roadster. Then with Kit-10 sitting beside us, I jumped in the driver’s seat and activated the car’s engine, gunning the petrol pedal to escape the hideous Kloryphoid tendrils that were even then reaching out for us.

“We need to get away, Mills,” I told her, “but the Kloryphoid must be stopped. It will continue to grow until it overwhelms the entire planet, feeding upon all animal life until nothing remains. Then, when it is fully established, it will eject numerous seedpods into Space. Most will drift harmlessly forever in the void, but there is a chance than some of them will invade other fertile worlds, continuing the cycle of hideous and unholy vegetation that is the way of the Kloryphoid!”

“So what can be done to stop that thing, Daniel?” returned the girl.

“I have hopefully set up something that could do the job if all goes well,” I answered.

It was then that I heard the most welcome sound of jet engines far above us and indeed quite fast approaching.

“Yes!” I cheered. “Help is on the way! Look!”

As we drove away from the parking lot, a squadron of sleek fighter planes suddenly came into view, quickly advancing to just above the horrible Kloryphoid and letting loose with a barrage of advanced weaponry sure to firebomb the alien horror into total oblivion.

“Daniel, is that… ?” enquired Millie.

“Yes, my love,” I replied. “That is the United States Air Force!”

“Wait… I think I understand now!” cheered the girl. “That was the message Kit-10 received! You sent it to her to relay to the Air Force!”

“Quite right, Mills,” I affirmed. “I sent an encoded message to the USAF, utilising the encryption given me by my old friend General Alexander Gorton-Steward, head of the elite United Sates Military Special Forces Unit that is secretly charged with fighting all extraterrestrial and otherwise-unusual threats to the peace and safety of this great nation -- and, indeed, if his mandate means anything at all, to the entire world!”

I heard the sound of massive explosions from behind us, and looked into the rear-view mirror to view the incredible conflagration as the Air Force jets razed Mil-Mart -- along with the horrid alien terror of the Kloryphoid -- to the ground, burning out the evil, the extreme unhallowed horror, of that extraterrestrial invader!

“That will take care of it, Mills,” I assured the lovely lass. “The planet Earth is saved, and the horror of the Kloryphoid is no more.” …

Later that day, Millie and I relaxed over a meal of takeaway Chinese food at our headquarters, located as it is in the golden trapezoidal roof of a downtown Baltimore skyscraper. Kit-10, as catlike as ever, had already powered down and put her systems in hibernation mode for the evening.

“So, Daniel, I was wondering,” said the girl. “Is it kind of weird that we just happened to be at Mil-Mart when the Kloryphoid appeared?”

“Oh, I really do not think it was a coincidence, love,” I admitted between sips of my tea.

“The Kosmikos again?” she questioned.

“Possibly, my dear, quite possibly. Although I must say that it is indeed not at all unusual to run into strangeness in the Baltimore area, hmmm? The entire region was built over what was once an outpost of Atlantis, and vestiges of the advanced technology of that lost civilisation tend to be an attraction for otherworldly phenomena.”

“Sounds like we are going to have a lot of work to do then -- and in a lot of places!”

“Indeed we shall, my love.” I agreed. “Indeed we shall.” 

As for that Mil-Mart location, it was rebuilt and reopened within a few months. Of course, no mention of man-eating extraterrestrial plant-life was ever made in any legally-circulated report. The official story was that it had all just been closed due to a particularly virulent outbreak of some “coronavirus” amongst its employees. In order to cover this, the governments of the world fabricated the story of a pandemic of the same disease that lasted for some time and -- as almost-inconceivably strange as this is to relate -- was barely questioned by the public at large. Just another example of the total nonsense that people are so unbelievably willing to immediately accept as fact.

***** DANIEL RUMANOS  AND MILLIE DRAKE SHALL RETURN IN “THE HORROR AT MONTAUK”

MARK OF THE NEMESISTER

Of the many threats to the safety and peace of the Universe that I have faced in my long and storied career -- including the fascist terror of the Mutations of Mynverkoss and the horrible dreadfulness of the cybernetic Replicants of Leknii -- by far the most execrable is, of course, that notorious renegade of my own race, the evil Don Wingus. His wickedness is proverbial, his crimes endless, and his soul as one blasted beyond all hope of redemption.

At one time, Wingus altered his DNA and lived for some time amongst the people of Earth, calling himself Donald Jay Wingo and engaging in an extraordinary criminal career that spanned decades. This included a grave-robbing incident with a group of teenaged would-be “Satanists” in the area of Damascus, Maryland, which the then “Don Wingo” had perpetrated in order to achieve further power by utilising the ancient super-technology found hidden in an old “black magic grimiore”. Some time after this, Wingo had kidnapped and raped a six-year-old boy, again as part of a “magical” exercise involving sexual energies focused to-wards the achieving of certain nefarious goals. An innocent local man was charged and convicted of that crime, spending the rest of his life in prison whilst Wingo went free.

Don Wingo also became involved in the narcotics trade, smuggling illegally-obtained prescription drugs out of West Virginia into Maryland, once again as part of a far-larger plot -- in this case utilising the affects of the drugs to create an army of zombie-like followers who would obey the villain’s very command.

It was around this same time that Don Wingo founded Spectral Paranormal, that hideously-debased terrorist organisation that first gained recruits by preying upon the fears and superstitions of the uneducated blue-collar populace, particularly targeting their beliefs in the supernatural and the then-current “ghost hunting” fad.

Wingo eventually moved his headquarters to the town of Harpers Ferry in the previously mentioned state of West Virginia. There, he took up with an elderly woman by the name of Mary Adams, who ran a local junk jewellery shop. Don Wingo, finding that contact with the post-menopausal female was not in any way offensive to his innate homosexuality, accordingly traded his favours to the lonely old hag in exchange for the protective front she offered for his continued criminal activities.

Along the way, Don Wingo had become a father, artificially fertilising the womb of a drug-addicted Russian-American woman by named Diane Rizak in order to breed from her a daughter, who was then antichristened Anastasia Victoria Wingo. Rizak herself eventually went completely insane, dying of an intentional overdose of barbiturates in a trailer park just outside of York, Pennsylvania.

It was then that Wingo began making use of his daughter, instructing twelve-year-old Stacy Wingo to make obscene telephone calls to adult men and to set up illegal sexual relations with them. Don Wingo would then blackmail the men thus affected in order to ensure their cooperation with his wicked schemes. These include a certain politician in the Baltimore area, who shall here remain nameless, the failed carny stage magician Vince Wilson, and a certain Detective Garcia of the Howard County Police Department.

Nevertheless, Wingo soon found another use for his unfortunate daughter, one that led to her doom. In a secret satanic ceremony designed to contact the dreaded eldritch power of the Cacodemons of the Andromeda Galaxy, Don Wingo sat on an unholy throne and looked on in diabolical glee as a group of men, his cult members, did continuously rape young Stacy until the poor girl bled to death upon the horrible altar of obscene devil worship!

Soon after this, Wingo reclaimed his identity as Master Don Wingus of Algol, and it is then that our battles across all of Time and Space began in earnest -- battles that have forsooth formed a large part of these chronicles detailing my own career.

At this juncture, one may well ask: Could anyone exist, in all of the Cosmos, more evil, more ruthless, indeed more hideously sinful, than he who is known as Don Wingus? To this I must say, despite the unnameable shudders of extreme horror that the very thought brings about, that there indeed is one who could quite possibly outdo even the wickedness of Wingus -- if not in criminal ambition, then in calculating coldness and complete unfeeling disregard for the consequences of the actions she takes in her ungodly experiments.

That is correct; I said SHE. …

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

Whilst most Algolites tend to keep to themselves, preferring to live in elitist seclusion from the rest of the Universe and 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!!! …

The man ordered a beer and one could tell from the tone of his voice that he wanted it. Florid-faced and still dressed in his rather bedraggled work uniform from the Rubicon warehouse, he was tired after a long shift, his muscles aching from carrying heavy boxes across the warehouse floor.

“Right away, sir,” said the bartender, a somewhat-elderly, bald-headed man, dressed in a short-sleeved shirt (with a nametag that said “Tom”) and slacks. He drew a pint from the tap and slid it in front of the customer.

The bar area was decorated in a rather old-fashioned style, with reproductions of Regency-style paintings and tables and chairs of the same era. An old grandfather clock was against one wall.

“Ah, that’s good,” said the man, drinking deeply of the sudsy beverage. “Nothin’ like a cold beer after a long day’s…”

The man stopped his sentence short and lifted his hand to his forehead, blinking his eyes several times.

“What… What’s wrong with me... ?” he muttered, his voice weakening. “I feel like I’m gonna fall asleep…”

With this, the man’s head dropped down to the bar.

Tom the bartender walked over to a side door and knocked twice upon it.

“He’s out,” said the bartender simply, raising his voice only enough that it could be clearly heard from the next room.

A few seconds later the figure of a woman emerged from the door, dressed as she was in a long black dress that well-nigh resembled a shroud. A heavy veil covered her face.

The woman felt the pulse of the man at the bar. Then she took a small syringe-like object from a hidden pocket in her clothing. She held the device against the man’s right temple and activated it, the electronic needle then emitting a low humming sound as it filled up with a clear liquid substance.

“He will recover,” said the woman, her voice dripping with an haughty arrogance that was tinged with madness. “Put him in the alleyway as you have the others. When he awakens, he will only think he has indulged in too much alcohol. He will likely not even notice the slight mark the transonic hypodermic has left on his skin.”

The barkeep nodded in acquiescence as the woman disappeared back into the other room. He had already washed the glass the man had used, then drying it and efficiently setting it back on the shelf. …

“The Sparrows Point area of Baltimore County, Maryland” said I. “Once the home of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, which shut down as the Industrial Age that birthed such industries came to its close. The old buildings of the steel mill are now used as warehouses and shipping centres for Rubicon, the world’s largest internet-based retail business.”

I was dressed in my usual finery, including a frilled poet shirt, purple velvet suit, military boots, and panama hat. I parked Lizzie, my canary-coloured Edwardian roadster, and alighted along with my companions.

The first of these was a beautiful young girl, petite and perfect with luxurious chestnut-coloured hair and enchanting violet eyes. She was clad in a short, tight dress of electric blue that only served to highlight the soft curves of her slender, barely-adolescent figure.

The other was a small robot resembling nothing other than a mechanical cat.

“Rubicon,” I went on, looking around at the complex of looming warehouse structures on that warm spring day. “Interesting name for a company, hmmm?”

“Rubicon: signifies the ‘point of no return’,” stated the robotic feline in her pleasantly-feminine voice. “A point at which any action taken commits the person taking it to a further course of action that cannot be avoided. After the stream in northern Italy that Julius Caesar crossed illegally with his army in the year forty-nine BCE, making civil war inevitable within the Roman republic.”

“Quite right, Kit-10,” I praised. “The name was adopted by this company to signify that they should retail so many different items that everyone would have to order from them eventually.”

“Well, it seems to have worked,” added the girl. “I hear that the founder of Rubicon is now worth hundreds of billion of dollars.”

“Is he really, Millie?” I reacted. “That should make him quite popular amongst Earthlings, then. Their obsession with riches seem to know no bounds.”

“So why are we here?” enquired Millie Drake. The girl is a young member of my own extraterrestrial race who has become my apprentice as an agent of the Kosmikos. “We left headquarters so quickly to rush over here that you have not even had a chance to explain our mission.”

“My instruments picked up a brief murmur in the dimensional stability of the area,” I explained. “It was as if the Time-Space Current briefly opened.”

“You mean like if a DiTraS materialised here?” asked Millie. (Pronounced “DYE-tress” and standing for Dimensional Transport Sphere, a DiTraS is a combination of spaceship and time machine only useable to our people, the Watchers of Algol.)

“Possibly,” I said. “If so, it was well-masked. The disturbance was so slight; it was probably nothing like that. It would take an absolute scientific genius to do such a thing.”

“Daniel,” said Millie with a shudder, “you do not think it could be Don Wingus again?”

“Not this time, love,” I consoled her. “I have the temporal signature of his ship saved in all our sensors, and it was not that. No, it was likely only a very tiny black hole passing through this area of the planet or something along those lines. Nevertheless, it is our duty to investigate and find out for certain.”

I took the transonic turnscrew, a technologically-advanced device resembling a writing pen, from my jacket pocket, then setting it to scan the area for alien technology.

“Nothing is showing up near by,” I said whilst viewing the instrument readout.

“But didn’t you say it could be masked?” queried the lass.

“Yes, but as I said, the intelligence it would take to hide something like a time-ship from our Kosmikos-enhanced tech would be immense. Why, even amongst Algolite families I only know of…”

“Be on alert, s--,” suddenly said Kit-10 (one of her catlike tendencies being her dislike of openly showing respect to anyone, the slight sound of “s--” being the closest she can get to addressing me as ‘”sir”, or “m--” to calling Millie Drake “ma‘am”). “Several human beings approaching quickly from behind.”

Millie and I whirled around just in time to see several working-class type men indeed hurrying to-wards us, all of whom were clad in uniforms signify them as employees of the warehouse. The lead one of them was wielding a large crowbar. Before we could even react, another one of them grabbed Millie and began to drag her off. She screamed and struggled but was unable to escape the man’s muscular grasp. I braced myself to spring after them and rescue her but was prevented from doing so by a sudden blow to my shoulder. It was the crowbar.

I fell to the ground and looked up to see the man lift the weapon, his obvious intention being to bring it down on my head!

I lifted my foot with a lightning-fast kick to the man’s stomach area. The crowbar clattered to the ground beside me and, before he could recover, I administered a Daemonian kung fu hold that cased him to sink into unconsciousness.

I jumped up and saw the other man who was attempting to abduct Millie. He was already several metres away, but I noticed my mechanical cat in pursuit.

“Stun him, Kit-10!” I called.

With this, a sharply-focused light shot forth from the nose of the little robot, hitting the man on the back of his head and causing him to sink to the ground.

I ran to Millie. Thankfully, she was unharmed. The other men had run away when they had beheld our particular self-defence techniques.

“Daniel, what happened?” stammered the girl. “Why did they attack us?”

“I do not know, love,” I admitted. “Apparently, we have somehow crossed the Rubicon.”

I went and examined both of the now-unconscious men.

“That is odd,” I said. “Both of them have a mark on their right temple area. It looks like the type made by a very highly-advanced hypodermic syringe.”

I took out the transonic turnscrew and scanned both of them.

“By the Triple Star!” I swore. “Both of these men have had their brains drained of the chemical that suppresses violent impulses! It is no wonder they have no self-control!”

“Who would do such a thing?” enquired Millie Drake.

“I wonder. Why, I have not seen experimentation of that kind since…”

I caught myself, not even wanting to consider the eldritch possibility that had entered my mind.

“I say, Millie,” I pondered. “Look over there. The local public house, hmmm? What say we have a drink and ask a few questions?”

Just off the edge of the Rubicon grounds, the place was called The Sparrows Point Inn and had a sign on the door declaring that it was `”Under New Management”. Millie, Kit-10, and I entered to find it a small but well-ordered establishment, decorated in a rather old fashioned style.

“Eighteenth Century?” wondered Millie. “Or early Nineteenth?”

“Regency, to be precise,” I declared. “British Regency, of course. This clock is a bit different, however.”

I examined the grandfather clock that was standing on one side of the room. My eyes briefly went wide with astonishment as I put my hand upon it and detected a vibration coming from within, a vibration of technology far beyond the clockwork gears one would expect to find in such an antique. I then put my ear to it and heard the definite sound of machinery -- forsooth, of an engine, an incredibly-advanced engine running in idle.

I took the transonic from my pocket and activated it, briefly aiming the device to-wards the clock.

“Can I get you folks something?” interrupted the bartender’s voice. He was a rather elderly, bald-headed man wearing a short-sleeved shirt and slacks. His nametag said “Tom”.

“Quite so, my good man,” I answered, going over to the bar. “I shall have a cherry-vanilla cola, and a ginger ale for the young lady.”

“Right away,” said the barman, then going to prepare our drinks.

“You seemed very interested in that clock,” whispered Millie to me. “Is there something the matter with it?”

“Only that it is not a clock,” I informed her. “It is really a…”

“Here’s your drinks, folks,” announced Tom the bartender.

“Thank you much, my friend,” I said whilst handing the man some cash, which included a substantial gratuity. “Please keep the change.”

“Thank you, sir,” he returned with a smile.

“Should we get Kit-10 a saucer of milk or something?” joked Millie.

“This unit does not consume beverages, m--,” retorted the metal cat.

“I could not help noticing that this place is under new management,” I stated to the bartender. “Hence the décor?”

“Yeah,” said Tom. “It’s that woman that took over the joint. Think she might be English or something. Likes this old-timey stuff.”

“How did she ever come to own the pub?” I questioned

“Don’t know really,” answered the barkeep. “The old owners just kind of disappeared. Retired, I guess. One day she just came in and announced she was the new boss. I like my job, so I don’t ask questions.”

“Any idea where she got that old clock, hmmm?” I asked. “I am sort of a collector myself, and have been looking for something similar.”

“I’m not really sure,” he said. “Come to think of it, she just kind of seemed to have it with her. It was just suddenly there when she said she was now in charge of the bar.”

“Daniel, look!” suddenly exclaimed Millie.

I turned around and beheld what I had most dreaded to see. It was a woman emerging from a doorway leading from the back room of the inn. She was wearing a long black dress that had about it the horrid air of a shroud. Whilst I looked at her, she lifted the heavy veil that had obscured her face.

She was of undetermined age, with noble aquiline features. Her hair was dark, and her eyes ebon-black with a look of command mixed with unspeakably-dangerous madness.

“As inquisitive as ever, I see,” she said, her voice highly-cultured and full of haughty pride. “Well, are you not going to introduce me to your friends?”

“Millie Drake, Kit-10,” I said, swallowing hard to control my voice from trembling, “meet -- The Nemesister!!”

“Ummm, hello,” said Millie, then turning to whisper in my ear. “Daniel, is that really her? I heard stories of her on Daemonia, but I never thought that we would…”

“It has been a long time, brother,” said the one known as Nemesister. “Nice to meet your little girlfriend and your ridiculous mechanical pussy.”

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

“Kit-10 is my personal computer,” I added, “Millie is my apprentice and companion, and you are not to ever again address me as ‘brother’.”

“Always so sensitive,” sneered the Nemesister. “Just like back in our days at Daemonia Academy. Why, I remember that one time you went crying to the teacher about…”

“About the way you used my pet guinea pig in one of your experiments,” I retorted. “You filled the poor thing full of inter-dimensional radiation in order to see if organic matter could transcend temporal limitations without resorting to non-organic technology. The animal went mad and attempted to attack the Citadel of the Absolute Convention by shooting radioactive rays out of its eyeballs. It took the entire Conventioneer Guard to put the little cavy down.”

“Yes, I remember,” laughed the Nemesister. “Fun times.”

“So you two were actually at the Academy together?” enquired Millie.

“Of course, child,” replied the villainess. “I was a grade ahead of him.”

“Only because you are older than I am,” I quipped.

The woman winced briefly at my words then resumed her usual look of haughty insanity.

“So, why have you been experimenting on these men from the Rubicon warehouse?” I enquired. “You have been removing the chemical from their brains that allows human beings to have any control at all over their impulses. Obviously, doing this greatly increases aggression.”

“I need the chemical to administer to my subjects on Lerych,” she replied.

“Ah, the planet Lerych,” I said, “where you rule despotically as Supreme One. Have some of your subjects threatened a revolution? Is that it?”

“There are certain upstarts there who must be silenced. I can take this chemical and artificially enhance it, then release it into the water supply there, hence securing the complete and total servitude of all the citizens of Lerych.”

“You old she-devil!” I shuddered. “Not only are you experimenting on sentient beings without their consent, you do not even care about the affects that the increased levels of violence could have locally!”

“Oh, I do not think about things like that,” the Nemesister replied offhandedly.

“You have been drugging these men here at the bar in order to extract the chemical?”

“Of course. Just a bit of a sleeping drug in that silly lager drink they always order.”

“The people of Lerych are an humanoid race,” I wondered, “but not from Earth. How are you going to get this Earthling brain chemical to synchronise properly with their DNA?”

“Oh, I have a deoxyribonucleic acid manipulator,” she replied.

“What!” I reacted. “That is old Algolite technology from the dark times. How did you ever get your hands on one?”

“I took one that was on display as an antique in the chambers of the Absolute Convention.”

“Spires of Daemonia!” I swore. “What idiot could have been in charge at the time, that you could ever get away with that?”

“You were,” she grinned.

“You cannot be allowed to continue this outrage,” I changed the subject. “As an Operative of the Kosmikos, I am immediately placing you under arrest. You will be taken back to Daemonia to stand trial. The Watchers have ignored your crimes for far too many centuries, and…”

“Really, do you think that is going to happen?” replied the evil Algolite woman. “You only need look behind you to see that is not the case.”

“Look behind me?” I chuckled. “Do you really think I would fall for that old trick?”

“Daniel,” interrupted Millie, “she’s telling the truth! Look!”

“Danger, s--,” added Kit-10.

I whirled around and, to my horror, saw that Tom the bartender was aiming a shotgun directly at me!

Do you recognise the horror, the unspeakable terror of this situation, my friends? That evil Algolite woman, known to eternal infamy as the Nemesister, had that man in her employ, the bartender who was now threatening me with a very dangerous firearm!

Then something unexpected happened, something truly inspiring and of hope to the well-being of humanity itself.

“Stand out of the way, friends,” said Tom. “This is between me and her.”

We moved aside as the barman trained his shotgun on the Nemesister.

“You traitor!” she scorned. “You useless human barbarian!”

“I don’t care if you do own the place now,” announced Tom. “I won’t see you hurting these people.”

“Why, you worthless Earthling filth!” screeched the evil woman, as she prepared to leap forwards to-wards Tom, obviously with murderous intent.

With this provocation, the bartender fired the gun. It was a warning shot, and buckshot scattered at the feet of the Nemesister.

The wicked woman then turned away in disgust and leaped to-wards the grandfather clock. A type of portal opened in its side as she approached.

“Kit-10!” I called.

The robotic cat fired her nose laser at the Nemesister, but it was too late. The villainess had already vanished inside the supposed clock, and the blast was neutralised by an energy shield on its surface.

“The clock!” Millie realised. “It is really her DiTraS!”

“Indeed it is,” I agreed, holding up my transonic device to-wards the ship. “Worry not, Mills, I did some sabotage to it earlier. Watch!”

I activated the transonic and there was the sound of an explosion from within the clock just before, with the odd gasping, moaning noise of its inter-dimensional engines, the disguised DiTraS dematerialised, fading from view as it entered the void.

“She will not get away so easily,” I told Millie. “Do not worry, love. I shall explain later.”

We turned to look at Tom the barman, who was returning his shotgun to its place hidden under the counter.

“Thanks for your help,” the girl said to him.

“Quite right, Tom,” I added. “You have done a great and heroic deed.”

“I just couldn’t let her get away with what she was doing,” declared the bartender. “I mean, I really didn’t understand all of it, but I guess she was harming some good, decent, hardworking people.”

The telephone behind the bar rang, and Tom answered it. He hung it up again after exchanging a few words.

“That was the old owners,” he said with a smile. “They said they’ve just been away on a vacation they won in some sweepstakes, and will be back tomorrow!”

“Something she had set up?” whispered Millie to me. “To keep them away while she used this place for her experiments?’

“No doubt,” I replied. …

In the dark control room of her spaceship, the Nemesister was examining the readouts on her instrumentation whilst the ship quaked and lurched, seemingly in every direction at once, as it moved through the swirling grey mists and multi-hued spirals of the Time/Space Current.

“That bastard has disabled my directional control!” screeched the Algolite villainess in outrage. “I can no longer control my DiTraS! I am hurtling unstoppably to-wards the eternal blackness of non-existence!” …

“The Nemesister will not be able to regain control of her ship before it takes her far away from anything that could be termed ‘reality’,” I told Millie Drake and Kit-10 as I drove my car away from the area of the Rubicon warehouse. “I scrambled its systems with a special formula utilised by the Kosmikos. We will not be hearing from her again for quite some time -- if ever!”

“What about those poor men that she experimented on?” enquired the girl. “What will happen to them?”

“Without her influence, the chemical will naturally replenish itself in their brains,” I assured her, “and they will soon return to normal.”

“That’s good to hear, Daniel,” said Millie. “Say, is it all right if I ask you something else?”

“By all means, love,” I said.

“When she called you ‘brother’, is that just because you went to the Academy together or something? Or because you are both Watchers? Because I have never heard our people use the term that way. I mean… or is she really your… ?”

“I say, I am feeling a bit peckish, hmmm?” I quickly interrupted, changing the subject. “What do you say to us going to pick up some lunch?”

“Sounds great!” exclaimed the lovely lass.

“Indeed it does, Mills, my dear,” said I to the wonderful young lady. “I know of a nice take-away place near here, and we can get some pizza.”

***** DANIEL RUMANOS AND MILLIE DRAKE SHALL RETURN IN “SEED”

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”