STALKING STACY

The man’s black-gloved hands moved deftly over the control dials. Clad in a one-piece bodysuit of ebon hue, he stood before the machine there in that darkened chamber lit only by the equipment readouts and several view-screens amongst the room’s various mechanisms and metallic cabinets containing electronic equipment.

He peered at the images upon the monitors. One was of a creature that seemed to be a mass of sallow tentacles intertwined with metallic enhancements. Another was of an huge apelike monstrosity, whilst a third showed two tall, silver men with expressionless, mask-like faces.

Nevertheless, it was what could be seen on a fourth screen that received most of the man’s attention. It was a slim, human figure, blurred and indistinct as if seen through a lens to the far past. Concentrating upon this form, the man manipulated the dials. In a few seconds, the figure vanished from the monitor screen.

Behind the man there was then a glow as of a bright orange and blue radiance. It only lasted a moment, and was accompanied by a sound like a far-off trumpeting. When the light faded, a new figure had appeared in the chamber: a slender, youthful figure that could be seen to tremble slightly from the affects of the machine.

It was a girl, full-breasted and teenage, a tall brunette with luminous blue-green eyes and a wide, sensuous mouth. She was wearing a pink halter-top and a blue miniskirt.

“Daddy?” she said, “Where am I? Daddy, is that you?”

With this, the man turned around to face her. He appeared to be of middle years, his face still showing signs of handsome distinction despite bearing the marks of lifetimes of extreme profligate wickedness. His hair was long and dark, and his visage was decorated with a thin moustache and goatee. Most of all, his pale eyes shone with an absolute hypnotic glare.

“Yes, Stacy, it is I,” returned Don Wingus, his voice a tone of command mixed with utter madness. “I have brought you here, my child, to witness my ascension to the office of supreme overlord of the Universe, and to aid in the destruction of our most hated enemy -- Daniel Rumanos!!”

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

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

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

I am -- THE DAEMON-STAR!!! …

In a dimly-lit corridor, a strange gasping moaning sound was heard as an object materialised into view. It appeared to be a Greco-Roman “Ionic column”, but was actually much more. This was the DiTraS (pronounced “DYE-tress’” and standing for Dimensional Transport Sphere) one of those incredibly-advanced combination Spaceship/Time-machines only available to that mysterious race of beings known as the Watchers of Algol.

A porthole type of opening appeared in the DiTraS and three figures emerged from it. The first was me, Doctor Daniel Rumanos, clad as I was in my usual finery (including a ruffled poet shirt, purple velvet suit, military boots, panama hat, and one of my favourite opera capes). The second was Millie Drake, a beautiful young girl with luxurious chestnut hair, lovely violet eyes, sun-kissed skin, and luscious pink lips. She was wearing a tight, short, cherry-red dress that only served to highlight the soft curves of her slender adolescent figure. The third was our mobile personal computer, known as Kit-10, who resembles nothing more or less than a small robotic cat.

“So what was it the DiTraS detected here again?” enquired Millie as we looked around the darksome corridor.

“I am not certain, love,” said I. “It seemed to be traces of Algolitish technology, but there was something odd about it. Something bizarre and elusive. What it could be doing here, in a barely-functioning and seemingly-abandoned Space-platform between galaxies, is rather troubling to contemplate.”

I took the transonic turnscrew, an highly-advanced scientific instrument somewhat resembling a large writing pen, from my jacket pocket, utilising it to scan the area as we walked along the eldritch corridor.

“The transonic is not showing anything,” I announced, returning the device to my pocket. “What about your sensors, Kit-10?”

“Negative, s--,” replied the little robot in her pleasantly-feminine voice. “There is definitely technology present, but no positive identification markers can be perceived.”

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

“Do you think it could be another DiTraS?” queried Millie Drake. “Remember that Don Wingus escaped the last time we encountered him.”

“Yes, I am keeping that in mind, love,” I assured her. “However, he would surely have safeguards in place to mask the presence of his DiTraS. In any event, the technology our ship detected has to be something else, and, judging by the looks of this place -- something very old.”

The corridor was illuminated only by a series of blue lights along the wall near the floor, likely marking the entrances to a series of service ducts.

“But what could this place ever have been used for?” asked the lass. “I mean, if it really is an Algolite construction?”

“One shudders to think,” I admitted. “If this place is a relic of the dark times of our civilisation’s history, then there are several possibilities -- none of them at all pleasant.”

As if on cue, we then perceived something approaching us from far down the corridor. It was hovering about a metre from the floor and moving very fast. Millie grasped my arm in fear as the being approached.

“Daniel, is that really a… ?” gasped the girl.

It was about the size of an human torso, but that is where any resemblance to anything of sane creation ended. It was like unto a mass of sallow-hued tentacles intertwined with metallic materials, and at the very centre of the thing were two slits of ebon-black -- eyes that seemed to openly communicate the extreme fascist hate that was the obscene creature’s only emotion!

“You are enemies of the Mynver,” it announced in its harsh, distorted voice. “You must be eliminated!”

It was a Mynverkossian Mutation!!

I immediately threw my hat to-wards the thing, and it landed directly over the alien monstrosity’s eyes.

“Vision impaired! I cannot see!” screeched the Mynver. “Vision impaired! I cannot see!”

The Mutation then began randomly firing its crimson death-ray in all directions, as it continued to struggle in an attempt to free itself from my panama hat over its eyes. I moved in front of Millie to shelter her from being accidentally hit by the rays, and quickly took the transonic turnscrew from my pocket.

“Kit-10!” I called. “Concentrate your laser on the Mynverkossian’s middle, hmmm?”

I aimed the transonic at the horrid Mutation and activated it to a setting that was intended to overheat the thing’s metallic parts. At the same time, Kit-10 fired her nose-laser at the creature as I had instructed her. In a few moments, the Mynverkossian horror burst into flames and fell to the floor dead, the resultant movement freeing my hat and sending it spinning through the air. I reached out and grabbed it, then returning it to my head.

“Are you all right, Mills?” I enquired concernedly.

“Yes, I’m fine now,” answered the girl, although I could perceive that she was still trembling with fright. “Could the Mynverkossians be behind all of this?”

“I think not, love,” I said. “We saw them all destroyed, remember? I think that Mutation was brought here, abducted and forced through Time and Space. I believe that the technology the DiTraS detected is something that can do just that!”

“Wait, I know!” exclaimed the girl. “At Daemonia Academy we learned of something that existed during the dark times of early Algolite culture, a machine that could snatch beings from any point in Time and Space and then bring them to its location.”

“Yes, it was called the Time-stalker, and it was used to bring alien beings together for combat games during a very decadent time in our history. Eventually, the games were banned by the Absolute Convention and all the Time-stalking machines ordered destroyed.”

“But if one of them survived and someone is using it… ?”

“That could indeed explain things, love,” I agreed, “and as operatives of the Kosmikos it is our duty to find the machine and shut it down as soon as possible. In fact…”

“Danger approaching from behind!” interrupted Kit-10.

Millie and I looked back down the corridor to see what further horror we had to face. What was lurching to-wards us was like a monster out of legend. It was nearly eight feet tall and covered with coarse black hair, being like unto a missing link between ape and man.

“That…’” stammered Millie. “That looks like… Bigfoot!”

“It is Bigfoot, my love,” I told her. “Well, after a fashion. It is a robot of the type utilised by an extraterrestrial force known as The Intellect. If it has been Time-stalked here, it will be completely out of control!”

The apelike monster continued to bound in our direction, its bestial face and grunting growls showing that it indeed intended to kill.

“Millie,” I counselled, “when I say to run, you run!”

I pointed my transonic turnscrew to-wards the ceiling of the corridor and activated a certain setting. In a second, a sheet of metal detached itself from the ceiling and fell directly onto the robotic Bigfoot.

“Right, run!” I said, taking Millie by the hand and hurrying away, with Kit-10 close behind us.

As we ran down the corridor, we heard the monster howling in distress and indignation at the part of the ceiling that had fallen upon it. Eventually, the sound faded into the distance.

As we continued on, the corridor ultimately debouched into a large chamber that looked like a sports complex or gladiatorial arena.

“We were correct, love,” I said. “This is indeed one of the Space-platforms used for the games of the dark times! This is where alien races were forced to fight to the death for the amusement of the crowd!”

“But who is now operating the Time-stalker?” wondered the lass.

“I have a sneaking suspicion,” I rejoined, “but for now we have to contend with whatever other terror may suddenly appear.”

“Daniel, look!” screamed Millie, indicating the far side of the arena.

There now stood in that location what appeared to be two tall metallic men, their faces mask-like and expressionless. Of course, we recognised them immediately; we recognised them as members of that horrible race of cyborgs that we had fought before in hard-won battles that were indeed some of the most dangerous and perilous episodes of our career as agents of the Kosmikos.

“Oh no,” said I, “Leknii Replicants!”

The closer of the two cyborgs raised its arm and fired a potentially-lethal bolt of energy at me. It was only my superior Algolitish speed and reflexes that enabled me to dodge it, and the weapon blasted a groove in the part of the floor on which I had just been standing. I again moved over to shelter Millie from the attack.

Kit-10 fired beams of her nose-laser at the Replicants. They had little effect, only causing the cybernetic terrors to halt briefly as they began to stride to-wards us. Fortunately, however, the mechanical feline’s continued blasts at least kept them from being able to concentrate enough to again fire at us.

I hurriedly fetched the transonic turnscrew from my pocket and programmed it to the setting that emits a synthetic form of vlooj, the rare alien spice that is generally lethal to Leknii. I prayed that these Replicants were not from some earlier point in their history, before they had developed this allergy, or from a later period in which it had been overcome.

Kit-10’s laser was by now starting to weaken, and I aimed the transonic to-wards the nearest of the cyborgs, activating it at full-force.

The Replicant shuddered and then disintegrated into countless microscopic shards -- this being a pre-programmed response of theirs upon defeat, in order to prevent their technology from being cannibalised. In any event, the synthesised vlooj had been effective.

I then began to turn to-wards the other Leknii, but was not quick enough. It fired a bolt of its energy weapon that sent the transonic device from my hand to clatter several metres away upon the floor.

I heard Millie scream in horror at this predicament. Kit-10’s energy resources were now too low to utilise her laser anymore, and the transonic turnscrew was far out of reach. Forsooth, we were now seemingly defenceless as the remaining Leknii Replicant approached us!

Then something truly bizarre happened. We heard a growl of challenge from behind us and saw the cyborg halt as it beheld what had entered the arena. It was the Bigfoot, which by now had freed itself from the metal ceiling portion that had fallen upon it and had then proceeded to bound down the corridor in a rage.

The Replicant fired a bolt of energy at the robotic Bigfoot. This had little effect on the latter, only causing the thing to become still more intent on showing its dominance. It approached the Leknii and delivered a blow to its head with its massive fist!

“Millie!” I called to the girl. “You and Kit-10 return to the corridor! It is safer than here! I shall recover the transonic and join you presently!”

Millie obeyed and, along with the robotic cat, ran to the shelter of the corridor as the battle continued between the Leknii Replicant and the huge Bigfoot. The cyborg shot off another blast, missing its opponent completely to in stead hit the wall above the entrance to the passageway in which the girl and Kit-10 had just absconded. Terribly, this caused a fall of material from the wall that completely covered the entrance -- effectively separating me from my friends!

I looked back at the battling monsters. The Bigfoot had now gotten the Replicant in its grasp and seemed intent on squeezing the life out of it. The Leknii got off one last shot of its energy weapon, with its arm right up against the other creature’s chest, before it itself exploded into fragments.

The Bigfoot then shattered back, a gaping cavity in its midsection, then it fell motionless to the floor.

I ran over to the entrance to the corridor, which was now covered completely with debris. I knew that the Kit-10’s nose-laser could eventually cut through this, except that her energy reserves had to recently been weakened by firing at the Replicants.

“Millie! Kit-10!” I called to them. “Go back to the DiTraS and wait there. I will find another way back!”

“All right, Daniel,” replied Millie Drake. “I love you!”

“I love you too, Mills,” I affirmed.

“Come on, Kit-10,” I heard the girl’s voice.

“Of course, m--,” replied the mechanical pussycat as their voices receded into the distance.

I quickly retrieved the transonic and then immediately began a survey of the walls of the arena and, on the opposite side from which we had entered it, I found another passageway, this one smaller and leading down a short corridor. At the end of it, I entered a chamber in which was what I recognised as ancient Algolitish machinery.

“We were absolutely correct,” I said to myself. “The Time-stalker!”

It was then that I saw her. A young girl was standing at the other side of the control room. There was something oddly familiar about her.

“Hello, Doctor Rumanos,” she purred. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Of course,” said I in realisation. “Stacy Wingo -- the daughter of Don Wingus, who went by the name ‘Donald Wingo’ upon Earth. So he is indeed behind this outrage.”

I knew that Wingus had to have brought Miss Anastasia “Stacy” Wingo forward in time, because she had been dead for many years, murdered in an horrid satanic ritual of the Spectral Paranormal cult -- a ceremony intended to grant her father supreme power by using her as a sacrificial offering!

As the girl slinked to-wards me, I scanned her with the transonic turnscrew. I wanted to make certain that she was real, actually organic, because Wingus had at one time attempted to beguile me with a cybernetic duplicate of his late daughter, a duplicate created by utilising an enhanced form of the technology of the Leknii Replicants.

“By the Triple Star!” I swore, looking at the results of the scan, which showed the lass to be only a few weeks younger than she had been at the time of her death. “You are real enough, hmmm? This is no deception…”

“I want you,” said the teen temptress known to eternal whoredom as Stacy Wingo. “I want you so much.”

It could be said with some degree of truth that Stacy Wingo was not a great beauty, but there was nevertheless something intensely alluring and attractive about her. I thought of this as I stood across from her there in the control room next to the ancient Time-stalker technology.

It was then that Don Wingus entered the chamber.

“Oh bravo, Rumanos, bravo,” he mocked. “Nice to see you and my little cutie here together, you old satyr. I can now use this fact for blackmail purposes, if necessary.”

“So is that what all this was for, Wingus?” I retorted. “How cliché.”

“Oh hardly, Rumanos, hardly. This was all but a test; a trial run of my mastery of the Time-stalker technology -- a technology I shall now use to bring armies of extraterrestrial life-forms down through Time; armies that shall be under my command to use in my conquest of the entire Universe.”

“Daddy,” interrupted Stacy, “you won’t hurt Dr. Rumanos, will you? Please don’t hurt him, daddy. I love him!”

“Stop being ridiculous, Stacy,” replied Wingus. “You have served your purpose, and will be rewarded. I will now keep you with me in stead of sending you back to your death in that ritual chamber. As for Rumanos, he will be kept where he cannot interfere, and allowed no visitors. We have ways of extracting knowledge from him; knowledge I can utilise to further my plans.”

“Oh please, daddy, no!” begged the girl, grasping her evil father’s hand in supplication. “I would rather die than lose the Doctor!”

“Stacy, no!” I warned her. “Stay away from him, or he will… !”

“You little slut!“ bellowed Don Wingus as he viciously slapped his daughter’s face, sending her reeling to the floor. “How dare you disobey me!”

“Wingus, you fiend!” I said, springing to-wards him. “You ungodly fiend!”

None the less, before I could reach him, Don Wingus activated one of the dials on the Time-stalker control board. With a sound as of far-off trumpets, Miss Stacy Wingo then faded from view. I knew that she would have no conscious memory of what had occurred here. The helpless girl had gone back to that time, that time so long ago. In sooth, she had gone back to her scheduled doom!

I pulled Wingus away from the controls before he could do further harm. He struggled against me, but I managed to flip him up and over me, sending him hurling to the other side of the console. I jumped over it after him, only to find that he was no longer there. A brief search around the chamber yielded no evidence of his whereabouts. Had he escaped or found some place of concealment -- or had some other fate overcome him? There was no time to find out.

I then ran back to the control panel and manipulated the Time-stalker to find the DiTraS just after Millie and Kit-10 had gone aboard, about twenty minutes earlier. I then turned the dial and, with the same noise as of a distant trumpeting, my ship appeared beside me in the chamber.

I pointed my transonic turnscrew at the centre of the Time-stalker machinery, programming it to overload. There was a small explosion at the control board, and soon flames began to develop around the room.

The porthole appeared in the DiTraS and I passed through it. Then, with its odd moaning gasping sound, the ship dematerialised just as the control room erupted into a fiery conflagration.

Little did I know that, as soon as my ship had vanished, Don Wingus appeared from behind the machinery where he had been hiding, quickly escaping from the flames by passing through a porthole that opened in the side of a part of it -- a portion of the control room equipment resembling a tall metal cabinet that was in fact his own disguised DiTraS! Then, with the same sound of an Algolitish Time/Space engine, his ship also dematerialised into the void. …

I was in the inter-dimensional café-like control room of my DiTraS, together with Millie Drake and Kit-10, as we watched the monitor-screen, viewing Space-platform that had housed the horrid Time-stalker explode into worthless fragments there in the depths of intergalactic Space.

“Well, that is the end of that, hmmm?” said I. “I am not certain what happened to Don Wingus, however. He had been on the platform long enough to know any possible hiding-places, and may have escaped!”

“I’m just glad you’re all right, Daniel,” announced Millie, the dear little lass hugging me tightly. “Say, did Wingus bring anything else through the Time-stalker against you before you could stop him?”

“Oh, nothing I could not handle, love,” I assured her as I returned her hug and then turned to set the DiTraS coordinates for our next destination. “Nothing I could not handle.”

***** DANIEL RUMANOS AND MILLIE DRAKE SHALL RETURN IN "LITTLE GAMES"

TALES FROM THE PIZZA GATE

There are many strange and usual things to be found in the city of Baltimore, Maryland. Of that there can be no doubt whatsoever. That a city best known for its high crime rate and political corruption (notwithstanding its often-overlooked great historical importance and cultural value) is also home to some of the oddest things to be found on the entire planet is not something frequently addressed by the news media and others whose supposed job it is to report the facts to the public.

Just to put forward one example of this observation, there is a place along Howard Street, a well-frequented thoroughfare that is, as a matter of fact, the main corridor of the city’s light-rail train system, that contains something that would be considered quite bizarre if its existence was noticed by the general public. In fact, it would likely have certain groups of people rather up in arms and calling for an end to the immoral acts of which it is obvious proof.

Of what I am speaking is a sidewalk-level billboard promoting a near by charity organisation that raises money for the children of local impoverished families. This permanent poster includes the photographs of several smiling youngsters -- carefully chosen, of course, to represent both genders and different ethnic groups, so that said charity cannot be rightfully accused of practicing any type of bias.

None the less, if one takes a close look at this billboard (and it must necessarily be a closer look than that cursory glance taken by the countless commuters and other citizens who pass by this scene daily on the way to their various occupations), one will notice something that in reality is blatantly obvious, but which would no doubt be loudly denied by many even if they did consciously notice it.

It is this: the faces of the children are covered with dried semen splattered there by the many homeless men who masturbate to these photographs on a nightly basis.

That this would come as a shock to folks who claim that sexual attraction to young children is a rarely-encountered mental disorder also flies in the face (so to speak) of the fact that underage prostitution is easily-obtained on the streets of Baltimore. Any corner street hustler can quickly direct an enquirer to locations where one can obtain the favours of young courtesans for a price -- concubines teenage or younger, male or female, one or more, and just about any other variation that could be imagined. This despite the claims of conspiracy theorists that such things are part of some closely-guarded “child sex trafficking” and are only available through “elite paedophile networks” or via foreign “sex tourism”, and the like.

No, my friends, such things are indeed easily-obtained on the streets of Baltimore, as they are in any other large American city (and no doubt most small towns as well). That law enforcement for the most part ignores this is really no surprise. In an urban area where multiple murders are a daily event, and where individuals die of drug overdoses so frequently that most never even receive an obituary write-up, that someone may be enjoying a quick paid-for shag with someone below the legal “age of consent” is not really an issue worth taking up the time of an already overworked and beleaguered police department.

Of course, these things are only presented here as random examples, out of many that could be given, of the strangeness that goes on in the city of Baltimore. Nevertheless, none of these points even begin to approach the supreme weirdness of some of the things that happen in that same city. No, not by a long-shot. For there are things in Baltimore that venture far beyond anything of ordinary vice and crime. Things that are rarely even whispered of in the darkest tales of evil and grotesquery. Things of alien terrors and obscene eldritch horrors beyond all sane imaginings.

Gather round, my friends, and I shall give you an example of this as well. …

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

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

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

I am -- THE DAEMON-STAR!!! …

In the heart of downtown Baltimore is a certain skyscraper building with a golden trapezoidal roof. The ground floor of this structure contains an Italian-style eat-in and takeaway restaurant known as “The Pizza Gate”, due to its entranceway being an ornate, stylised gate designed by the great early-Twentieth Century architect, IM Apeddo.

That the top floor of this building, in an area accessible only via a secret entrance, is my own headquarters on Earth -- containing as it does my laboratory and numerous extraterrestrial artefacts -- is not the focus of this account. No, dear readers, this story begins in the pizza restaurant itself, where my young assistant Millie Drake and I were enjoying a lunch break on that overcast city afternoon.

I was dressed in my usual finery, including a frilled poet shirt, purple velvet suit, and military-style boots, with my panama hat and opera cape casually cast over the back of the booth in which we sat. Millie, a exquisitely-beautiful girl, petite-and-perfect, with luxurious chestnut-coloured hair, lovely violet eyes, sun-kissed skin, and a sensuously wide mouth, was wearing a short, tight, powder-blue dress that only served to highlight the soft curves of her slender adolescent figure.

With us was Kit-10, our mobile personal computer that in sooth resembles nothing more or less than a small mechanical feline, resting under the edge of the table and with the slight whirring sound of her robotic systems sounding quite like a contented purring.

Millie and I were enjoying a large cheese pizza, and I also had ordered a foot-long steak submarine sandwich for myself. For drinks, I had an highly-caffeinated soft drink, whilst the girl was imbibing a diet version of the same.

As we continued our meal, I noticed a young lady at the next table. Perhaps in her mid-teens, tall and well-developed for her age, she was quite attractive, blonde and blue-eyed, with a complexion like the pure white of finest porcelain, and was wearing a white tee-shirt with a bare midriff, a pink miniskirt, and blue sneakers. She was sipping from a small bottle of fruit juice and seemed a bit distracted.

“Hello,” I said to her with a smile. “Nice day, hmmm?”

“Yes, I guess it is,” she replied, blushing slightly. “Hey, is that a robot or a cat?”

“This unit is not a cat,” protested Kit-10 in her pleasantly-feminine voice.

“That is Kit-10, our personal computer,“ I informed the lass. “She may not be a cat, but she does not object to being petted by pretty girls, hmmm?”

“Gosh, I wonder who she picked that up from?” giggled Millie.

With this, the young blonde walked over and scratched Kit-10 lightly behind her metallic ears, the robot’s system noise rising slightly in appreciation of the attention.

“I am Doctor Rumanos,” I said by way of introduction as I stood up, “and this is Miss Drake.”

“So you are the Doctor!” exclaimed the girl. “I thought you might be when I saw you. My cousins told me about you.”

“Your cousins?” I enquired.

“Yes, Heba and Peta,” she explained. “My name is Epheba. Epheba Filia.”

“Oh, all right,” I realised. “Yes, I remember the Filia sisters. That was before your time, Millie. So, how are they doing?”

“They are both away at college,” replied Epheba. “They say that knowing you inspired them to seek the best in higher education.”

“My, ‘tempus fugit’, hmmm?” I mused. “Well, it is nice to meet you, Miss Epheba Filia.”

“Just call me Pheebie,” said the lass. “Everybody does. Well, you know, I was really hoping you could help me with a problem I’m having.”

“Well, we will certainly do our best,” I assured her. “Right, Mills?”

“Happy to help,” agreed Millie Drake, “and nice to meet you, Pheebie.”

“You are both so nice!” said Pheebie. “It’s great to finally talk to people who should understand.”

“Please, have a seat at our table and tell us about the problem, hmmm?” I offered.

“Well, it’s about my boyfriend. His name is Arthur Douglas.”

“A fine name,” I said, “and a fortunate man to be the beloved of a lovely young lady like you.”

“Well, that’s it, you see,” continued Pheebie. “Arthur is some years older than I am, and my parents disapproved of our relationship. We kept seeing each other secretly, but I was afraid that my family might have Arthur charged with a crime or something. Finally, he told me he had heard of an idea that might help. He said he would be going away to take part in a research thing being done by a Professor Tamang at Miskatonic University in Massachusetts.”

“By the Triple Star!” I exclaimed. “I have heard of Professor Tamang’s research. It concerns the possibility of regaining youth in human subjects by way of hormone injections -- the material for which is taken directly from the sexual organs of bonobos!”

“Bonobos?” repeated Millie. “The great apes that are believed to be the closest related to humans?”

“Yes, indeed. Bonobos, you see, are the most neotenous or paedomorphic of primates aside from humankind. Tamang’s theory is that he can encourage a type of rejuvenation by injecting their hormonal secretions directly into the bloodstream of an human subject. Interesting, but fundamentally flawed. Of course, our own Algolite race perfected Rejuvenation ages ago via the reverse engineering of certain futuristic genomes.”

“So what happened to your boyfriend?” queried Millie, turning back to Epheba Filia.

“I didn’t hear from him for a while,” replied the blonde. “Then, one night, I heard a knock on my bedroom window. I opened it and heard Arthur starting to speak to me. He told me that the research had left him disfigured, and that he didn’t want me to see him until he could turn back the way he was. He stayed outside in the dark and we talked for a while. He said he still loved me and promised he would find a way for us to be together. He came back again the next night, and the night after that, but he soon seemed to be having a problem talking.”

“How so?” I questioned.

“It was like his voice was changing into a growl or something, and that he couldn’t form words right, you know?”

“Yes, I think I am beginning to understand. So, what happened?”

“He said he would have to go away and that I probably wouldn’t hear from him for a long time,” continued Pheebie. “I started crying and told him I loved him no matter what he looked like. Oh, I just wanted to see him so badly!”

As we talked, I began to become aware of a commotion outside the building. I wondered at it, but continued to concentrate on the girl’s story.

“Before he could leave,” Pheebie went on, “I took the flashlight I have in my room and shined it on Arthur. Oh, I just wanted to see him. When I saw what he had become, I screamed! When that happened, Arthur turned and ran away, and I haven’t seen him since. That was two nights ago. My parents heard me scream, but I just told them I had had a nightmare. I later called my cousins Heba and Peta and they told me where I might be able to find you, Doctor. Oh please, can you help me find Arthur, and... can you help him?”

“Before I can answer that, Pheebie,” I said, “you will have to tell me one more thing. You said that Arthur had ‘become’ something. Tell me what it was.”

“Oh, Doctor, it was terrible! Arthur… he had turned into an…”

Then, before young Miss Epheba Filia could utter that final word, there was a tremendous sound. It was the sound of broken glass as the large front window of The Pizza Gate was smashed from the outside. Both Millie and Pheebie screamed at the very sight of what entered, though Pheebie’s scream soon turned into a low sobbing sound.

“Arthur…” she wept. “It’s him. It’s my poor Arthur.”

What had crashed through the window was about the size and form of a man, but it had characteristics of something else. His body was covered with a dark brown hair, and his face was bestial and at best proto-human. He was incongruously wearing a pair of navy blue trousers on his bent chimpanzee-like legs, and the torn remains of a plaid shirt were on his long arms and muscular torso.

Before I could even react, the ape-man gave forth a bellow of animalistic fury and threateningly lunged to-wards us!!

“Kit-10!” I called, jumping up and standing to shield the two girls. “Nose-laser on stun!”

“Of course, s--,” replied the robotic puss.

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

The thin bean of finely-focused light came from Kit-10’s nose and hit the ape-man. It slowed him in his bound to-wards us, but did not succeed in stopping him. 

“Oh, please don’t hurt him!” squealed Epheba Filia. “Please don’t hurt my Arthur!”

I moved forward to protect the ladies from the ape-man, but a resounding blow from his huge hairy hand soon set me careening across the floor. I struggled to maintain my balance and looked back at what was occurring.

Arthur the ape-man had by now reached out and grabbed the helpless Pheebie, who immediately fainted away in fear. Then, with another bellow of bestial rage, the primate threw the girl across his shoulder and exited the restaurant.

By now, I had recovered enough to run over to Millie Drake.

“Mills!” I called. “Are you all right?!”

“Yes, I’m okay,” she assured me with a hug. “He just took her and left! Gosh, do you think that is really her boyfriend?”

“I fear so,” I said. “It is results of the experiments he has undergone at Miskatonic University. The hormonal injections from the bonobos have caused him to regress to this primitive form. You stay here with Kit-10, love. I must go and stop him from in any way harming that girl!” …

Outside, numerous passers-by looked on in confused horror as the ape-man carried the helpless young girl away from the front of The Pizza Gate. He then looked up, way up, to-wards the gleaming golden roof of that downtown Baltimore building. As he gazed upon it and considered, a confusion of thoughts ran through his brain. They were human thoughts, memories of a life unconceivable to his now simian thought process. They were thoughts from when he had been a man -- an human being known as Mr. Arthur Douglas. …

He remembered the longing, the desire, the need to be with Epheba Filia. He remembered hearing of the research being conducted by a certain Professor Tamang at Miskatonic University; research that was said to cause bodily rejuvenation. Surely, this was the answer, Arthur Douglas had convinced himself. If he could become younger again, to appear to be Pheebie’s age, or even just a bit older, then her parents would not object anymore, would they? Then their would not be talk of statutory rape charges and protection orders and scandal, would there?

After quickly explaining his plans to the girl, Douglas had gone to Massachusetts and signed up for the research experiments, checking in to an old hotel in the town of Arkham in order to be near the university. The old professor had greeted him casually and kindly, and Douglas had only briefly wondered why this elderly gentleman had not attempted any sort of rejuvenation for himself.

Tamang had explained the mechanics of the experiments in layman’s term as much as was possible, talking of how the injections of hormonal extracts from the African bonobo ape would trigger certain reactions in the human physique that could lead to neoteny or juvenilisation. Arthur Douglas listened politely but did not really care in the long run. If it would help him to be with his beloved Pheebie, it was worth any risk.

At first, Arthur Douglas had noticed no particular effect from the injections. In any event, Tamang had assured him that there was no great risk, and that proper therapy with human blood plasma would work to reverse any side effects of the bonobo serum.

It was a full fortnight into the process when it started. Alone in his hotel room, Douglas began to notice that his body was becoming hairier; that his face was changing and becoming apelike. He also worried that his thoughts were becoming violent and animalistic, but hoped that this part was only his imagination at work.

His next appointment at the university laboratory being still three days away, Douglas had telephoned Professor Tamang with his concerns. The old scientist had told him once again that there was nothing to worry about. They would begin the plasma treatment soon to balance out the effects of the ape hormones.

That was when it all fell apart.

Upon going to keep his appointment at Miskatonic, Arthur Douglas had found that the entire project had been suddenly scrapped. Word of the nature of Tamang’s experiments had gotten out, and the university had ordered it shut down immediately. The possibility of outraged protests from local religious groups and animal welfare organisations alike was just too dire. The laboratory had been closed and cleaned out, all records of the research had been destroyed, and Professor Tamang been sent on an extended “sabbatical” in his native India. There was no word on how to contact him, or on if or when he would return.

Not knowing what else to do, Douglas had gone back to Baltimore. He was daily becoming less and less human in appearance, and so isolated himself in his city apartment, only venturing forth at night.

At first, he had only gone to Epheba Filia’s house and looked on in longing, but soon the desire to speak with her was just too strong. He had gone to her window and done so. He only wanted to be sure that she did not see him; that the girl did not look upon the beast that he was becoming.

Arthur Douglas was by this time finding it increasingly difficult to talk, to form words. His voice was devolving into a low growl with occasional outbreaks of an higher-pitched chattering sound. None the less, he managed to assure his dear Pheebie that he would find a way to help himself, to return to being a man. Perhaps, he reasoned, in time the effect would wear off on its own.

Whilst speaking to the lass, Douglas had struggled to control the thoughts that entered his confused brain -- the thoughts telling him to take her as his mate then and there, to rape and ravish her in pure unfettered jungle lust. He had managed to keep control, holding on to the shred of hope that his human dignity was stronger than all else.

Then, that last night had been the end of any civilised thought processes. When his beloved Pheebie had seen his appearance and reacted in horror, whatever remained of man in his brain had left him. He had run away a frightened animal, then living for two days hidden in one of the public parks of Baltimore, stealing food from a near by fruit stand, before he again picked up the scent of what he knew to be his mate. He had found her surrounded by others, but he had managed to take her, and now knew that he must find a place above all others, a place where he could defend what was his and win the right of “lex talionis” -- the law of the jungle -- the right to ravish the female that he had taken to be his and his alone! To do this, he knew that he could and would kill if necessary. …

I exited the front door of The Pizza Gate just in time to see the apelike Douglas make his decision. He had been gazing far upwards to the top of the building whilst clutching the fainted girl in one of his long, hairy arms. He had decided. It was time to take a place above all and to show his dominance.

Then, the ape-man that had been Mr. Arthur Douglas, still carrying the unconscious Epheba Filia on his hairy shoulder, began to climb to-wards the roof of the skyscraper!!

Can you even begin the perceive the unmitigated horror, in sooth the supreme and unbridled terror of this unspeakably bizarre and incredibly grotesque situation, my dear readers? Arthur Douglas, now more ape than man due to his participation in those bizarre experiments at Miskatonic University, had taken the helpless Miss Epheba Filia with him, carrying the poor girl in his climb to the top of that towering building in Baltimore City -- his intent being to show and declare his bestial dominance from that vantage point high above the urban jungle! As a man, he had loved her. Now, as a beast, he intended at all costs to take her as his mate!!

The ape-man found it easy to scramble up the building, his bare, hand-like feet grasping it easily. Seeing that he would reach the roof in a matter of seconds, I hurried into the skyscraper’s main entrance and took the lift to the official top storey, then going out the window in order to climb the remaining part to meet Douglas on the roof.

Utilising a variation on the rock-climbing skills that I had at one time learned from Aleister Crowley in exchange for teaching him Kabbalah, I fast made my way onto the golden trapezoidal top of the building and faced the ape-man. He had put the girl down on the centre of the roof and turned to-wards me. His eyes narrowed with hate and a snarl of challenge came from his mouth.

“Douglas,” I said. “Arthur Douglas. If any part of your consciousness is still human, think of who you are and what you are doing. You are a man, not an animal. I understand how you feel about Miss Filia, but realise that she does not deserve to be handled in this way. She is a young lady, not a possession to be taken against her will.”

As I spoke, the beast-man was slowly loping to-wards me, his head tilted slightly as if listening in interest to my words.

“I may be able to help you,” I continued. “I will need your cooperation, but we can run some tests and find out a way to reverse the process, hmmm? However, for this to happen, you have to stop behaving in this manner. You have to free the girl and come down from this place. You have to be careful to do no harm no anyone. My own laboratory is near by, and there we can…”

None the less, I then found out that my pleadings were to no avail. Mr. Arthur Douglas has receded too far into bestial savagery, and any civilisation within him had washed away. For, at that moment, as I spoke, he suddenly leaped forward and reached out his long arms to-wards me whilst uttering an howling cry of animal dominance.

I dodged to the side, narrowly escaping his grasp. I then responded with a kick to his stomach area, followed by several quick blows to his face and head. It was enough to have knocked out any human being, but its only effect on the ape-man was a slight retreat, followed by a screech of rage and a chattering challenge -- a challenge that had with it a message that could be understood without the benefit of language; a challenge that included the assurance that, one way or another, our fight would be to the death!

I was keeping my fists up to guard against any return blows from his hairy hands, when he suddenly did something unexpected. With a speed born of jungle hunting skills, he jumped upwards and came down on top of me, landing on my back from behind and wrapping his feet around the side of my head -- then utilising his horrid splayed toes in an attempt to gouge out my eyes!!

I intentionally fell backwards, hoping that the sensation of my weight so suddenly being shifted to his lower midsection would succeed in my escaping his grasp. Forsooth, it did not succeed completely, but it did manage to loosen his grip just enough that I was then able to grab his legs and to wrestle them off me.

I leapt to my feet, realising only then that we had by now moved to the very edge of the roof. I glanced and saw the city street far below. Then it happened. The apelike Douglas had also recovered and regained his feet and, before I could properly defend myself, he delivered a punch with one of his long hairy arms directly to my face. I staggered backwards and felt myself falling. There was nothing beneath me. I was hurtling off the side of the skyscraper! …

Back at the restaurant, Miss Millie Drake and Kit-10 had been watching what they could of the proceedings. They did not know of my peril at that precise moment, but they did realise that the ape-man had taken the helpless girl to the skyscraper’s rooftop, and that I had hurried there in an attempt to save her.

“Oh my gosh!” cried Millie. “This is all like some weird fairy tale, like ‘Beauty and the Beast’ or something. It also reminds me of some old movie, but I can’t remember which one.”

“Accessing cinematic databanks, m--,” replied the computerised cat. “Reference found. Incident resembles the climactic scene of the 1933 RKO Pictures film production of…”

“Never mind, Kit-10,” interrupted Millie Drake. …

I had reached out, barely in time, and had grabbed onto the edge of the rooftop. I now hung precariously by one hand as my foe again roared in apish fury before continuing his assault.

Indeed, the ape-man was just about to renew his attack, an attack that would have possibly resulted in him flinging me from the roof of the building to the streets far below, when something happened that diverted his attention from me entirely.

“Arthur…” came a weak female voice from behind him. “Arthur, no. Don’t… Don’t hurt anybody. Please, don’t.”

With this, the beast that had been Arthur Douglas turned away from me in order to look back at the girl, the girl named Epheba Filia, the girl that he had so dearly loved and cherished when he had been a man.

Whilst he was distracted, I managed to pull myself up back onto the roof. The ape-man did not notice, and I waited and watched what was happening.

I saw the apelike Arthur Douglas gazing at the young girl, and I noticed a realisation dawn in his eyes. It was a realisation of something not of the animal kingdom, but of that spark of nobility, of civilisation, which has enabled the human race to rise above its bestial origins.  I beheld that one final glimmer of humanity, of true manhood, had remained in that otherwise animal brain; for what I saw was a look denoting his feelings for that lovely young lady, feelings not dominated by unbridled lust and carnal desires, but rather feelings of affection, of devotion, of love.

Then, with one final cry, a cry more of human woe than of animal pain, Arthur Douglas turned and hurled himself from the rooftop to the streets far below.

Epheba Filia was trembling in fear and sorrow when I picked her up and carefully carried her to the window, then descending in the lift to the ground floor of the skyscraper. When we got there, she broke free of me and ran outside.  I followed at a distance, and was soon joined by Millie Drake and Kit-10. I quickly let them know what had occurred on the roof.

Millie hugged me and we watched as Epheba approached and knelt down beside the broken body of Arthur Douglas. As the last bit of life left him, his bestial appearance disappeared, and the face of an handsome gentleman appeared.

“Arthur,” sobbed the girl. “I love you. I love you so much.”

“I… love you too… Pheebie…” spoke the man Arthur Douglas with his last breath.

The Baltimore Police Department had by this time cordoned off the area, and representatives of the local news media were beginning to arrive. The story, as they understood it, was that a distraught man had committed suicide by jumping from the building. It was understood that it had something to do with a doomed love affair, but the minor girl’s name would be left out of any public reports.

Quotes of some onlookers who claimed to have seen an ape involved in the incident would, of course, be dismissed as hysteria.

I stood with Millie Drake, holding her hand, as we watched Epheba Filia crying over the now-lifeless body of the man that she loved.

“You did all that you could, Daniel,” said Millie sweetly. “I know that you did.”

“I just wish that I could have saved him, love,” I said. “There may have been a way of turning him back.”

“Daniel, he just didn’t want to possible hurt her any more,” continued Millie. “His love for her made him know that it was better to end his life than to do that.”

“You are wise beyond your years, Mills,” said I in wonder. “You truly are.”

“Oh, not really,” she blushed. “It’s something any child who has ever heard the old fairy tale understands.”

“What do you mean?” I quizzed. “What fairy tale?”

“You know,” said the girl, her enchanting violet eyes gazing up into mine. “The one that says: ‘It was beauty killed the beast’.”

***** DANIEL RUMANOS AND MILLIE DRAKE SHALL RETURN IN "STALKING STACY"

THE ETERNAL QUEST

“Voila!” said I whilst revealing the bouquet of roses as if from out of thin air. I was dressed in my usual finery (including a frilled poet shirt, purple velvet suit, and military boots) as I stood in the café-like control room of that combination Spaceship/Time-machine known as the DiTraS (pronounced “DYE-tress” and standing for Dimensional Transport Sphere).

Millie Drake cheered and then smiled sweetly as I handed her the flowers. The girl is exceedingly beautiful, petite-and-perfect with luxurious chestnut hair, lovely violet eyes, sun-kissed skin, and a sensuously-wide mouth. She was clad in a tight, short, magenta-hued dress that only served to highlight the soft curves of her slender young figure.

“An old legerdemain routine but still a good one, hmmm?” I boasted. “One of the greatest secrets of stage illusion, handed down through the generations to only the absolute best of…”

“Harry Blackstone, Earth, 1937,” said Kit-10 (our mobile personal computer that resembles nothing more or less than a small robotic cat) in her pleasantly-feminine voice. “The trick is achieved by misdirection, slight of hand, and the hiding of the…”

“Quiet, Kit-10!” I admonished whilst Millie giggled.

There was suddenly a sound from the control console. I recognised it as a change of speed for the DiTraS engines.

“Spires of Daemonia!” I swore. “We are not yet materialising and are still in the Space/Time Current, but someone seems to be contacting us directly through the system! Why, only the Absolute Convention of the Watchers could possibly… Ah, of course!”

On the monitor view-screen above the control panel, an image appeared. It was of a venerable, grey-haired gentleman resplendent in robes of pure white and gold. I recognised him, of course, as the Universal Overseer of Algol, the highest office of our incredibly advanced race.

“Greetings, Master Rumanos and Mistress Drake,” he intoned. “I must apologise for contacting you in such an unorthodox manner, but the reasons are indeed quite urgent.”

“Salutations, Master Overseer,” I replied with a bow. “To what do we owe the most exalted honour of receiving a personal communication from your most august self?”

“It concerns that which is known as the Eternal Key,” replied the old Algolite. “The device that was utilised by Sesom, the first to hold the office of Universal Overseer, to ensure the continued equilibrium of the Cosmos whilst we Algolites achieved the power of Time and Space travel.”

“Gosh, we learned of the Key of Eternity at the Academy, Master Overseer,” stated Millie with a curtsey, “but I thought it was more legendary than real.”

“It is indeed real, young Mistress Drake,” assured the Overseer. “However, due to the dangers of this object falling into the wrong hands, it has been split into three segments, disguised, and hidden at different locations throughout the history of the Universe.”

“Yes,” I replied. “I remember that it is necessary to collect the pieces and reassemble them from time to time, hmmm?”

“Indeed it is,” affirmed the Watcher, “and one of those times is now upon us. The Eternal Key must be made complete, so that the Absolute Convention can assure that the cosmic forces are saved from plunging into never-ending chaos. It is the task of locating these three segments to which you are now being assigned.”

“But how will we know where to even look for them?” I enquired.

“With this,” replied the Overseer as an object resembling a crystalline wand appeared upon the control board, with a flash of light indicating that it had just travelled to us via the Time/Space Current. “It is the core, the connector of the Key. Calibrated with your DiTraS controls, it should take you to the three locations in which the segments can be found. Taken with you, it will reveal the true nature of the objects that are the disguised portions of the Key of Eternity.”

“I assure you we shall do our best to bring the Eternal Key to you as soon as possible, Master Overseer,” I assured him.

“There is one other thing, Master Rumanos,” stated the old man. “As you know, the Replicants of Leknii have been attempting experiments with Time travel. They have heard some whispers of lore concerning the Eternal Key, and have made it a priority to search for it. Their technology will be able to detect that you are doing the same, and they will likely attack you. It is most imperative that, at all costs, the Key not be allowed to fall into their hands.”

I noticed Millie Drake visibly shudder at the thought of the horrible race of cyborgs known as the Leknii Replicants. We had already undergone several terrifying adventures together in which we had encountered that species of soulless horrors. I put my arm around the lass to comfort her.

“The Replicants, hmmm?” I sneered. “That bunch of grotesque tin soldiers skulking about the galaxies shall not…”

“The Leknii have advanced greatly even since your last encounter with them,” said the Overseer. “They have overcome their weakness to the alien spice known as vlooj.”

“I assure you,” I told him, “we shall not, under any circumstances, allow the Eternal Key to come under control of that group of cybernetic monstrosities.”

“May the blessings of the Stellar Trinity be with you both in your quest,” stated the venerable Algolite, and his image then faded from the screen.

I quickly inserted the crystalline core into an appropriate port in the control console, immediately feeling the engines of the DiTraS become reprogrammed into the new sequence.

“Hold on tight, Millie, Kit-10,” I told my friends. “We have work to do!” …

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

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

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

I am -- THE DAEMON-STAR!!! …

A strange gasping, moaning sound was heard as the DiTraS (the exterior of whish resembles an old Greco-Roman “Ionic column”) materialised into view there in the darkened museum room. The establishment was obviously closed for the night, and was only illuminated by a few subdued security lights.

A porthole type opening appeared in the DiTraS, and I emerged from it accompanied by Millie Drake and Kit-10. I had now donned my panama hat and one of my favourite opera capes.

“So where are we again?” queried the girl.

“The Municipal Museum of the capital city on the planet Merrold,” I told her. “It is a society much like Earth in the late twentieth century, at least technologically speaking. The Merroldians are an humanoid race, their society largely peaceful but rather legalistic.”

“Won’t there be museum guards?” asked Millie.

“More than likely,” I acquiesced. “Kit-10, keep a watch out, hmmm? Make sure your blaster is set for stun.”

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

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

We began searching around the museum room, looking at the various displays, many of which were secured under glass.

“Daniel, a lot of these things look like crown jewels,” said Millie. “Royal vestments, regalia.”

“Indeed,” said I. “These are relics of the old Merroldian Monarchy, from before their society became one large republic.”

“So will that core thing enable us to find what here is the first segment of the Eternal Key?”

“It should indeed, Mills,” I said, taking the crystalline wand from my jacket pocket and holding it to-wards the display cabinets. “Let us see.”

The core began to glow when I pointed it to-wards a glass cabinet containing a particularly diverse assortment of antique jewellery.

“Ah, here we go,” I pondered. “That topaz-like stone seems to be it.”

“But how do we get to it?” questioned Millie Drake. “Kit-10’s nose-laser?”

“I think not. I should be able to do it without damaging the glass if I use the transonic turnscrew. That will also serve to automatically disable any alarms, hmmm?”

I handed Millie the crystalline core and took the transonic, an highly-advanced scientific instrument somewhat resembling a large writing pen, from my pocket. I activated the device and set to work loosening the fastenings of the glass cover to the display case.

“There are so many jewels on this display,” I said as the low whirring sound of the transonic turnscrew signified its working, “and they do not appear to be labelled. I doubt if it will even be noticed if one goes missing.”

I then returned the transonic instrument to my pocket and carefully lifted the glass with one hand, whilst using the other to extract the stone. I then slowly replaced the glass and felt it lock back in place.

“So that’s really the first segment of the Eternal Key?” pondered Millie.

“Let us be certain, love,” said I, retrieving the crystalline wand from her.

I touched the jewel with the wand and there was a quick flash of white light as the topaz stone transformed into an irregular crystal about the size of a baseball.

“Wow!” exclaimed the lass. “It’s beautiful!”

“Forsooth, it is,” I agreed, placing both the segment and the wand in my jacket pocket. “Beautiful and unspeakably powerful.”

“Danger approaching!” suddenly interrupted Kit-10.

I looked up just in time to perceive a man hurrying down the corridor to-wards the museum room. He was short and stocky and wearing an uniform.

“The guard!” Millie cried out.

“Yes, he must have just noticed the light whilst on his routine ‘beat’ around the museum,” I said.

“You two!” the guard then shouted, starting to take his gun from its holster. “Hands up!”

“Stun him, Kit-10!” I said as Millie and I hurried a retreat to-wards the DiTraS.

A beam of light shot from the nose of the robot cat, hitting the guard in the chest and sending him crumpling to the floor, unconscious.

“I doubt if that chap will even report this when he awakens,” I mused. “His superiors would probably just think he had been drinking on the job!”

Millie and I entered the DiTraS, followed by Kit-10, and the odd gasping moaning sound was heard as the ship dematerialised from the museum.

Inside the control room, I set the first segment down on the console and inserted the crystalline core back in the instrument panel.

“One down,” I stated, “two to go!”

“My gosh, Daniel,” said Millie Drake, her eyes wide with wonder, “where will it take us next?” …

At that same time, a small-but-efficient rocket-ship was blasting through Space near the planet Merrold. Inside this craft, in a sort of centralised computer room, stood several large cybernetic men. They were all a metallic silver in colour, but the largest of them had a sort of bronze piping highlighting his form and signifying him as the leader. One of the others approached him.

“Algolitish ship detected, Controller,” it reported, its voice an emotionless, electronically-enhanced drone. “It is the ship belonging to the Kosmikos Agent known as Doctor Daniel Rumanos. They have the first segment of the Key of Eternity.”

“Excellent,” returned the Controller in its similar but deeper tones. “Continue to follow their course, but keep our presence cloaked. When they have ascertained the location of all three segments, we shall destroy them and take the Key for ourselves.”

“Yes, Controller,” said the other.

“Soon the Eternal Key shall be ours, and we, the Replicants of Leknii, shall achieve complete mastery over all of Space and Time.” …

We soon heard the DiTraS engines again initiate the materialisation sequence. I went over and examined the readouts.

“So, where are we?” asked Millie.

“We have landed on the planet Gudubuch,” I informed her, “which is found in one of the most primitive galactic clusters. The entire planet is one steaming-hot prehistoric swamp.”

“But the second segment of the Eternal Key is here somewhere?”

“Yes, according to the core it is indeed near by,” I said, picking up the crystalline wand. “As for you, Kit-10, it is best that you stay behind this time. Far too much dampness out there for your circuitry, hmmm? Nevertheless, there is something you can do whilst waiting for our return. Do you think you can do a scan of the first segment, and prepare a perfect mathematical survey of its dimensions? Just an idea that it might be of interest, hmmm?”

“Of course, s--,” acquiesced the metallic pussycat.

Millie Drake and I then exited the ship to begin our exploration of the planet, in search of the second segment. The heat and humidity of Gudubuch were absolutely sweltering and oppressive, with the thick, jungle-like growth of the swampland creating an uncomfortable darkness even under the planet’s bright midday sun.

“Gosh,” exclaimed the girl, “when you said ‘prehistoric’, it wasn’t an exaggeration!”

“Indeed not, love,” I agreed. “The highest forms of life here are some amphibious and early-reptilian species. We need to be careful, though. They can grow quite large in this tropical environment.”

“Any ideas yet what the segment is disguised as?”

“The core seems to indicate it is quite close in that direction. Remember that it could be anything: a rock, a tree, anything!”

We continued on and soon came to a wide marsh, filled as it was with masses of floating greenery and with occasional breakouts of bubbling denoting the presence of various types of archaic animal life beneath the surface.

“Well, that is odd,” I said, looking at the crystal core as it glowed whilst I held it before me. “Odd indeed.”

“What is it, Daniel?” enquired the lass.

“According to this, the second segment is directly in front of us, but then -- down!”

“You mean it’s under the water?”

“Yes, but the problem is more than that,” I explained. “It seems to be spread over quite a wide area, and to be apparently mobile. In fact, it appears to be almost as if it is…”

I was suddenly interrupted by a tremendous splash of uprising swamp water as something very big quickly rose up from the swamp. I heard Millie Drake scream in absolute abject horror as we both beheld what it was that was so suddenly threatening us.

It was an huge, snakelike reptile, quite like a water-going anaconda but far larger than anything found on present-day Earth. Its head alone was about the size of an elephant. It bellowed a roar that shook the ground like a planet-quake. Then, before we could further react, the monstrosity opened its gigantic jaws wider and lunged directly to-wards us!!

I stood in front of Millie to shield her as the serpentine terror attacked. Then I realised something.

“Ah, of course!” I exclaimed.

Just before the giant reptile’s horrid mouth would have closed upon us, I tossed the crystalline wand into it. When it made contact, there was a flash of light and the large prehistoric snake disappeared. The core and another irregularly-shaped crystal fell to the ground at our feet. I bent down and picked them up.

“So that was it?” said the still-trembling Millie. “That monster was the second segment?”

“Quite so, love,” I said as I safely deposited the segment and the wand in my pocket, then taking the girl’s hand comfortingly. “I said it could be anything, hmmm?”

We then heard another roar, this of some far-off, but undoubtedly humongous creature.

“Umm, shouldn’t we get back to the DiTraS before any more monsters show up?” suggested Millie. “Any real ones, I mean?”

“I think that is a fine idea indeed, love,” I agreed, and we quickly returned to our ship.

On board the DiTraS, I placed the new segment with the other.

“Any idea how they fit together?” questioned Millie Drake.

“According to the old stories about the Key of Eternity,” I remembered, “they will automatically assemble when all three segments have been collected together with the core. So, let us find the third segment and see what happens, hmmm?”

I activated the console, returning the core to its place, and we again travelled through the Time/Space Current. When we landed, I immediately examined the readouts.

“We have materialised on the ice planet Hith,” I said “It is in a remote portion of the Milky Way Galaxy, and became popular, soon after its discovery in the twenty-third century, amongst a movement of Earth people who wanted to go there to live like old-time ‘mountain men’.”

“‘Ice planet’?” repeated Millie Drake with a nervous giggle. “So after sweating it out in that swamp, we are going to freeze ourselves here?”

“Oh, hopefully not, love,” I winked. “It is actually quite like the old Canadian wilderness. Here, let me put up the view-screen and we can see exactly what is outside.”

A picture appeared on the monitor above the control board. It showed the rough but cosy interior of a dwelling.

“By the Stars!” I exclaimed. “That looks like a sort of log cabin, hmmm? Look, there is even a fire burning in the fireplace, so it should be warm enough.”

“Do you think it belongs to one of those settlers from Earth you mentioned?” queried the lass.

“More than likely,” I answered, retrieving the crystalline wand from the controls. “Come along Mills, Kit-10. I hope that the owner of this house is friendly, and will not mind us looking for the segment in their abode. Who knows, they may even invite us for tea!”

We exited the DiTraS into the cabin. It was small and rustic but well-furnished with several chairs and a small table. I took the core from my pocket and began to scan for the third segment.

“Ah, there it is!” I said, crossing to where the wand had indicated.

I touched to crystal core to a wooden candlestick and, with the flash of light, the same was transformed into the third segment of the Eternal Key.  I was just about to pick it up when I was interrupted by a scream from Millie Drake.

“What is it, love?” I whirled around. “What happened?”

“Over there,” she said, pointing to the far side of the cabin. “Look!”

I ran over and saw what had so upset the girl. It had previously been hidden from our view by the furniture. It was the body of a man.

Dropping the core in my pocket, I bent over to examine him. He was clad in winter clothing, looking as if he had just re-entered the cabin from outside. His long hair and beard signified that he was one of the self-styled “mountain-men” of which I had previously spoken.

“Is…” stammered Millie, who had kept somewhat away. “Is he dead?”

“He is indeed, love,” I informed her, examining the gaping but bloodless wound in his midsection. “He appears to have been killed by some kind of energy weapon!”

“But who could have done that?”

“That is the question, Mills,” I pondered. “No one on Hith would have such a device. The entire reason they migrated here was in order to live simply, without dangerous technology. Someone else must be here. Someone whom this poor chap interrupted upon returning home, who then…”

“Danger!” suddenly exclaimed Kit-10. “Incoming matter transmissions detected!”

I stood up and whirled around just in time to witness an outrage. There were shimmering lights on the other side of the room that resolved themselves into three figures -- tall silver figures that I knew all too well.

“Leknii Replicants!” said I. “So they are responsible for this murder!”

Then, before I could further react, it all happened. One of the Replicants took the third segment of the Eternal Key that I had left on that side of the room, whilst another grabbed Millie Drake by the arm. I had just started to hurl myself to-wards them when the third raised its arm and fired its crimson-hued energy weapon at me. It narrowly missed, burning a hole in the floor.

I heard Millie cry out in terror, and I knew that Kit-10 could not fire her nose-laser without the possibility of hitting the girl. Then the glow of the matter transit beam briefly returned, and the three Replicants vanished -- taking Miss Millie Drake and the third segment with them!

I ran into the DiTraS along with the mechanical cat.

“The Leknii ship must be in orbit around Hith,” I said whilst setting the controls to dematerialise. “They likely have a cloaking screen up, but if I can calibrate the sensors to detect the residue of their engines, we should be able to ascertain their location.”

The DiTraS had by now re-materialised in open Space. I put up the monitor to view the area around the planet, opening all communications possibilities in order to find the ship in which I knew Millie was being held hostage.

Then a voice came over the communications system. It was the emotionless voice of a Replicant.

“Doctor Rumanos of Algol,” it began, “we have your companion. You will surrender the first two segments of the Eternal Key to us immediately, or her life will be terminated.”

Do you see the terror, the unmitigated horror of this situation? The Replicants of Leknii were holding Millie Drake hostage -- their demand being that I should give them all that they needed to construct and activate the Key of Eternity and use it to achieve powers thus far only available to the Watchers of Algol!

“The Key is far too dangerous,” I told them. “Its misuse could forever destroy the very balance of Creation. It could…”

“The subject is not open to discussion,” countered the Leknii. “We will utilise the Eternal Key to achieve mastery over all of Time and Space. We already have the third segment. You will surrender the others to us now, or your young friend will die.”

“You promise to return her here in exchange for the segments and the core?” I queried, gazing closely at the pieces of the Eternal Key that for now rested on my ship’s control board.

“She will be returned to you via our matter transit as soon as the complete Key is received.”

“Daniel, no!” I heard Millie Drake’s voice cry out. “Don’t give it to them! I’m not important! Please don’t… !” …

On board the Leknii ship, the Controller turned to-wards Millie, who was trembling in fear.

“Be silent, you Algolite child,” it said. “The affection that Doctor Rumanos feels for you will be his undoing. We have eliminated all emotion from ourselves. That is why we are superior and shall prevail over all of Space and all of Time.” …

In the DiTraS control room, I heard the voice of the Controller again on the speaker:

“We need your decision now, Algolite. Surrender the segments to us.”

I glanced over to one of the tables near the control console, and saw the bouquet of roses that I had given Millie earlier. She had placed them in a vase of water. As I looked at this scene, I knew what I had to do.

“All right,” I said. “All right. The DiTraS does not have matter transmission technology because our people consider such things to be antiquated junk. I will lower the inter-dimensional dampers so that you can transmit the segments to your ship and return the girl here.” …

A few minutes later, the crystalline wand and two segments transmitted unto the Leknii ship. The third segment already stood on their central control console.

“Excellent,” proclaimed the Controller. “The girl will be returned to you when the Eternal Key has been assembled.” …

The Leknii had lowered their cloaking shield, and I could see the rocket-ship on the DiTraS monitor. I was making some quick adjustments to the control circuitry. …

The Key assembled itself, the core taking the three segments together with itself as the Replicants watched.

“We have it,” stated the Replicant Controller. “The Eternal Key is ours, and now the Leknii shall be masters of all reality.”

Then a strange white light began to play from the Key. It only lasted a moment before it happened -- one of the segments suddenly caught fire and burned away into a charred black lump of ash!

“What?” queried the Controller. “What has happened?”

The Replicant ship then began to shake and shudder, as if it was being torn to pieces.

“Controller,” said one of the Replicants. “All of our systems are failing. We are losing all power.”

At that same moment, the glow of a matter transit beam surrounded the form of Millie Drake, and she disappeared from the Leknii ship. …

Back on board the DiTraS, I saw Millie appear with the glow of the matter transmission. The lass quickly ran into my arms, sobbing with sudden relief from the horrid fear she had been experiencing.

“Oh, my Millie,” I said. “My sweet little Millie. An eternity of chaos would be more tolerable for me than a life without you!”

“Leknii ship critical,” interrupted Kit-10.

Millie and I looked up at the monitor. The Replicant rocket briefly held still in the eldritch black of Space before it suddenly exploded into countless microscopic shards.

“But… what happened, Daniel?” asked the girl. “I don’t understand.”

I reached into my pocket and took out an irregularly-shaped crystal about the size of a baseball.

“This is the real first segment,” I said, placing it back upon the console. “I gave them the core and the second segment, but the first one they got was a fake.”

“I get it now!” exclaimed Millie. “The mathematical survey you asked Kit-10 to do! That was to get the dimensions so you could make a copy of the segment! Good job, Kit-10!”

“Of course, m--,” returned the robotic puss.

“Quite right,” I agreed. “I indeed used the results of her survey to construct a physically-identical duplicate out of plain glass, and employed a bit of ‘slight of hand’ to replace it. When the Replicants attempted to activate the powers of the Key, the resultant feedback overloaded their systems and destroyed them. I got you back by hacking into their computer and reversing the polarisation of their matter transit device, then easily finding your Algolitish DNA amongst them, and the rest was easy, hmmm?”

“But the Eternal Key?” wondered Millie. “What will happen to it?

“Take a look,” I said, motioning to-wards the control board.

With a flash of pure white light, the second and third segments, along with the crystalline core, appeared next to the first segment that I had left there. As we watched, the three segments assembled themselves around the core, and formed into an object in sooth somewhat resembling a key. This was soon surrounded by scintillating lights, bright orange and blue in colour, which swirled and grew in intensity whilst a sound as of distant symphony filled the air. Within a few moments, it was all over. The light and sound faded, and the Key of Eternity had vanished.

“The Eternal Key is indestructible,” I explained. “I knew the rest of it would automatically return here to assemble, and would stay just long enough for the Absolute Convention of Algol to remotely restore equilibrium to the Cosmos. Now it will be again scattered and disguised in new forms throughout all of Space and Time, whilst the crystalline core is returned for safekeeping to Daemonia City.”

“That’s good!” cheered Millie. “So the Replicant ship was completely destroyed along with its crew, and that horrible Controller?”

“Yes, but there will be more of them spread out across the Universe,” I instructed. “The Leknii Replicants are intent upon conquering the secrets of Time travel. We must be on the lookout for any sign of their presence -- and we must always be prepared to stop them!”

***** DANIEL RUMANOS AND MILLIE DRAKE SHALL RETURN IN “TALES FROM THE PIZZA GATE”

NO TIME TO CRY

Underneath the waters near the town of Havre de Grace, Maryland was something horrible. It had been there for many years, but had not yet in any way shown itself to the citizens of that small but historically-important city.

Havre de Grace, located as it is on the junction between the head of the Chesapeake Bay and the mouth of the Susquehanna River, was at one time a major contender for the honour of becoming the capital of the United Sates of America. It is known for its well-preserved old lighthouse and for being the hometown of Orioles baseball superstar Cal Ripken, Jr. Historical personages ranging from George Washington to Al Capone are known to have stayed in the town at various times.

Nevertheless, despite whatever interest this information may have, it really has nothing to do with our story. In stead, our story involves an alien menace, an extraterrestrial terror that threatened to utilise Havre de Grace as a base of operations from which it believed it would eventually wipe out the human race and take over the planet Earth. It is an alien menace capable of disguising their appearance, of seemingly being a friend, a servant, or a co-worker.

In truth, it was something that had hidden itself in a local hotel, the Grace Inn, and was using this place as a training ground for absolute unholy horror beyond any type of what could ever be considered sane imagining.

Forsooth it is an alien menace that I had encountered before in my long and storied career, in fact, in what was actually an experience that in its way was much larger than this one, but which none the less was not so full of possible consequences -- consequences that now threatened to take away from me that which I have come to know as the most important thing in my life, indeed something that is to me the very essence of life itself.

This is that story. This is the tale of a terror I faced that could have ended everything. It is also the story of the unexpected help that I received from a source that I never knew to be possible; a source that revealed to me a presence beyond that of any scientific denial, a presence that seems to exist outside the latitude and longitude of what is generally thought to be reality.

I do not really expect this story to be believed, much less completely understood. I simply present it here as it happened, as part of this ongoing series of memoirs concerning my life and times in the particular milieu in which I have my continued existence. …

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

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

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

I am -- THE DAEMON-STAR!!! …

I drove my canary-coloured Edwardian roadster, affectionately know as “Lizzie”, into Havre de Grace on that overcast day. I was dressed in my usual finery, including a ruffled poet shirt, purple velvet suit, military boots, panama hat, and one of my favourite opera capes. Beside me was Millie Drake, an exceptionally beautiful teenage girl with luxurious chestnut hair, lovely violet eyes, and sun-kissed skin. The tight, short, electric-blue dress she wore only served to highlight the soft curves of her slender young figure. Also with us was Kit-10, our mobile personal computer that resembles nothing more or less than a small robotic cat.

As we entered the town, we passed near to the gates of Angel Hill Cemetery, and certain thoughts long buried arose in my mind. They were thoughts of the past, of the home, the family, the loved ones that I once had. Persons taken from me by the forces of darkness, in horrible tragedies so very long before. With this, I thought of how, despite the long years of my particular life, there has in sooth been little chance to weep, in truth nearly no time to cry over that which I have lost.

We checked into the Grace Inn. The attendant at the front desk was a thin young man with brown hair, very professional and efficient, albeit a trifle effete.

“I’m Scott,” he said. “Welcome to the Grace Inn, one of Havre de Grace’s oldest and most historic hotels. We hope you will enjoy your stay.”

“Thank you for the hospitality, Scott,” said I whilst signing the registry. “I am Doctor Rumanos, and this is my assistant, Miss Drake.”

I noticed he was staring at Kit-10.

“Oh, that is our personal computer,” I added in explanation.

“That’s funny,” he said. “It looks like a robot cat.”

Millie giggled.

A man then walked through the lobby, coming in from outside. He was middle-aged and heavy of build, clad in conservative business attire He entered the office labelled “Manager” and closed the door. I noticed Scott visibly shudder.

“That man gives me the creeps,” he said.

“Your manager?” enquired Millie.

“Oh, he’s not the usual boss,” explained Scott. “Our regular hotel manager is on vacation, and Mr. Wutt there just took over for two weeks. This is his last day, anyway, thank goodness. There is just something so creepy about him. I don’t know what it is. Oh, never mind, I shouldn’t be saying these things. Anyway, we have full room service in agreement with the restaurant next door and you’ll find a menu in your suite. Just call if you want anything.”

We thanked him and took the lift to the rooms that we had booked. They were quite nice, somewhat antique but well-maintained.

“So, Daniel,” said Millie Drake, “this is near where the alien emanations were detected?”

“Yes, they seemed to be centred in the waters quite close by to this hotel,” I answered. “We will look into them soon, but let us order a good meal first, hmmm? I have always found it best to be well fuelled before facing some extraterrestrial menace.”

We ordered room service. It was delivered quickly and was indeed quite good. I had the porterhouse steak, medium rare, along with a baked potato and a side of peas and carrots, whilst Millie enjoyed the house salad with roast chicken. We had a large pot of highly-caffeinated coffee for the beverage, as is our wont.

For desert, we enjoyed a good serving of chocolate mousse.

“Sorry they did not have any of that fancy cat food for you, Kit-10,” I joked.

“This unit is not a cat, s--,” complained the robot in her pleasantly-feminine voice.

It should be noted here that despite her frequent protestations to the contrary, Kit-10 does indeed have numerous catlike characteristics, not the least of which is her complete inability to openly show respect to anyone. The closest she can come to it is by referring to me by a slight “s--” sound (for “sir”) and to Millie by “m--” (for “ma’am”).

As soon as we had finished our meal, I took the transonic turnscrew (an highly-advanced scientific instrument somewhat resembling a large writing pen) from my pocket and put it on scan mode.

“This is definitely verifying the presence of alien technology,” I said upon looking at the transonic readouts. “It is indeed near by, in fact underwater at the very head of the Chesapeake Bay. Kit-10, can you scan as well and transmit your results through my device? It should strengthen the signals and perhaps enable us to detect what type of extraterrestrial force with which we are dealing.”

“Of course, s--,” agreed the mechanical puss, then activating her scanner with a low whirring sound.

As I continued to read the now-boosted information on the transonic turnscrew, I suddenly recognised the sequence of numbers I was seeing, realising that they indicated the presence of something that I had encountered before in what was truly one of the most hazardous experiences of my entire career.

“By the Daemonian Spires!” I swore. “This is worse than I had supposed!”

“What is it, Daniel?” queried Millie concernedly.

“The alien technology under the bay,” I explained. “It is a spaceship, and it is Zedgonnim!!”

“Zedgonnim?” repeated the girl. “Oh gosh, I remember now! You told me something about what happened when you faced them before.”

“Yes, indeed,” I went on, “and an horrible experience it was. They intended to wipe out the human race in order to claim the planet Earth for themselves. You see, their own planet, called Zedgonnimium, was wiped out many many years ago by solar flares -- well, at least that is the official story…”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, there were rumours. Just rumours, mind you. Rumours that the Absolute Convention of the Watchers had secretly ordered the destruction of the planet Zedgonnimium. It seems that the Zedgonnim race may have possibly been a threat to the security of the Cosmos. They are very long-lived, at least when compared to most species other than ours, and their bodies have a certain type of symbiotic relationship with their technology, which is in itself partially organic. It was therefore apparently feared that if they began to develop inter-dimensional and inter-temporal technology, they could indeed prove themselves to be troublesome.”

“But some of them escaped?” queried the lass. “When their planet was destroyed, I mean?”

“Indeed, it is said that possibly thousands of Zedgonnim spaceships managed to escape the conflagration of their home-world,” I explained. “They spread out across the Universe looking for new planets to inhabit, with no moral qualms about wiping out any races already established there if it served their purpose.”

“I remember learning a little about the Zedgonnim as part of a basic alien races class at Daemonia Academy. Aren’t they supposed to be shape-shifters of some kind?”

“Yes, indeed they are,” I affirmed. “Only the more advanced members of their kind have to any extent perfected it, but they can take upon themselves the forms of some other species -- including human beings. It is when they are in their own alien form that they are most physically dangerous, however. You see, at the end of their tentacle-like arms is a sting, an inbuilt weapon that emits a sort of bioelectrical shock, like a poison or venom that can indeed prove fatal to most other beings.”

“Tentacles,” shuddered Millie Drake. “Why does it always have to be tentacles? So they are an undersea species?”

“Originally, yes, but they have adapted themselves to life on land. Anyway, love, we need to get down to the waterfront and investigate the facts concerning a Zedgonnim ship being hidden there. Kit-10, you had better stay here. Remember that water does not tend to agree with you!”

Millie Drake and I then left the hotel and walked across the field separating it from the waterfront. As we approached, we beheld what looked like unto a man standing on the shore. At first, he appeared to be occupied with peering down into the water, as if in communication with something that did lie beneath it. However, as we approached he turned to face us.

“Daniel,” whispered Millie, “isn’t that… ?”

“Yes, it is,” I returned. “Mr. Wutt, the temporary manager of the Grace Inn.”

As he gazed at us, a look of utter hatred entered Wutt’s eyes and I saw him clench his fists as if in anger as we continued to-wards him.

“Our instruments have detected your presence, Watchers of Algol,” he said. “You will not succeed in preventing us from establishing ourselves on this planet. The time of the human race is now finished. We, the Zedgonnim, shall establish ourselves here. We shall be the new rulers of Earth!”

Millie and I stopped walking several metres away from him. A strange dark light quickly played across his form, and an hideous transformation took place. Within moments, the human form of the being known as Mr. Wutt had vanished and he had changed into his true one. It was tall and bipedal, with deeply-set black eyes and its slimy green skin covered all over with horrid suckers like an octopus. Its tentacle-like arms ended in claws that I knew to contain the horrid electro-poison of which I had warned Millie.

Forsooth, the worst and most horrible of possibilities was now affirmed to be true beyond all possible doubt. It was indeed the horrible alien form of a Zedgonnim -- a representative of the terrible extraterrestrial species that threatened to annihilate human kind -- that now stood before us!!

“The human race is now finished,” reiterated the Zedgonnim, his voice now (like his form) no longer human, but in stead a low-pitched, grotesquely-gurgling sound. “I am Wutt of the Zedgonnim, and we shall now achieve our long-awaited goal and will establish ourselves as the new rulers of Earth!”

“But why?” asked Millie Drake. “Why do you have to destroy the human race? Gosh, can’t you just find a place to live in peace?”

“The young lady is correct, Wutt,” I agreed. “There are many quite nice but currently-uninhabited planets you could find. Why, we could even help you to locate a suitable…”

“No!” interrupted Wutt in anger. “We will not listen to your Algolitish lies! It is your kind that destroyed our original home-world of Zedgonnimium, and not even in an honourable war, but by trickery and subterfuge! Since then we have wandered throughout the Cosmos in search of new homes. My ship has waited centuries beneath the waters as we repaired our systems in preparation for the invasion. Now the time has come. We will first rise up and annihilate the capital cities of this planet, and then we will begin the systematic extermination of the humans as we establish our own communities across the globe.”

“I beg you to reconsider, Zedgonnim,” I insisted. “The governments of Earth have weaponry that they will not hesitate to use against you. These include nuclear armaments. Your attempted invasion could very well provoke a war that would lead to the planet Earth becoming a wasteland totally uninhabitable by either of your species!”

“Your speeches are of no use, Algolite! No weapons of this planet can stand against the might of the Zedgonnim! Behold and see the power of our ship, the very one that shall go forth to conquer this entire world!”

It was then that the rumble of the Zedgonnim engine began to be felt. It increased in sound and strength as the spaceship rose from its place of long rest beneath the Chesapeake Bay. Millie was clinging to me in terror, and even I watched in astonishment as the power of the alien ship was revealed.

There was the sound of an immense rushing of waters when the thing broke the surface of the bay. A brackish spray filled the air as the huge shape of the Zedgonnim spaceship rose upwards above the Chesapeake. It was perhaps the size of a football stadium, green of hue and shaped rather like an enormous crab-shell. The sound of its alien engine became a cacophonous electronic whine as it continued to rise, eventually halting when it reached the height of nearly a full kilometre above the waters.

Then, before we could in any way react to this horror, the Zedgonnim spacecraft emitted another sound, a loud cracking bang accompanied as it was by a sort of energy wave that flew through the air. It hit Millie and me with full force, sending us sprawling apart upon the ground.

“Did you feel that, Algolite?” scorned Wutt. “That is the effect of a Zedgonnim cleansing surge. Its purpose is to assure that none who are not of our kind may interfere with the flight of our ships. Only we are immune to it. It extends to all within the vicinity of the craft, and the effect remains for long enough that we may leave the area. From here we intend to go forth to the city of Washington, DC. We will destroy the residence of the President of the United States, and the meeting houses of the Senate and the Congress. The Zedgonnim invasion has begun!”

I struggled to move, but found myself paralysed from the effect of the energy wave that had passed through my body. I could see poor Millie lying on the ground a few metres distant. The dear little girl had been knocked unconscious by the blast and was entirely defenceless.

“Now, Algolites,” sneered the evil Zedgonnim known as Wutt, “now I shall do that which is necessary in order to assure that you do not further attempt to interfere with our plans. Now I will end both of your wretched lives!”

I saw Wutt then lift up his arms, those horrid tentacles the ends of which were now glowing with the power of his venomous electric claws. To my complete and utter horror, I realised that -- likely for reasons of utter spite -- he intended to extend their fatal touch first to the unconscious form of young Miss Millie Drake!

“No…” I muttered feebly, still unable to make any attempt to help. “No… please… Millie…”

Wutt by now was standing directly over her. I was, for the moment, still paralysed and unable to move as the Zedgonnim reached out its deadly tentacle-arms to-wards the helpless girl!

Can you even commence to recognise the most supreme and utterly ungodly horror, forsooth the undeniable demoniacal terror of this devastating situation, my dearest friends and most loyal readers? Miss Millie Drake -- my friend, my companion, in truth my very love and the true centre of my existence -- was being menaced by an alien terror that could very well bring about her death, and I was for the moment completely unable to interfere, to do anything to protect her, to save the poor wee lass from the lethal touch of that poisonous extraterrestrial horror!!

None the less, it was then that something unprecedented happened. It in fact was something that, to some, would be called a miracle, or a divine intervention, or perhaps an apparition. It was also something that could be, by some, easily dismissed as delirium -- had its affect not been one that immediately and fully changed the very outcome of that incredibly fateful day. In sooth, it was something the true purport of which shall only fully be revealed in the day that heralds the coming of that eternal understanding, that holy wisdom, that godly philosophy in which the reconciliation of science and faith is found.

For it was then that another figure appeared between the unconscious Millie Drake and the threatening Zedgonnim, though the latter seemed completely oblivious to its presence.

The figure was translucent, indeed well-nigh transparent, yet I could see it clearly. It was as unto the form of a beautiful girl, tall and slender, with ginger hair and azure eyes and a complexion like as unto the finest pure white of alabaster. She seemed to be surrounded by a scintillating vermillion and violet flame. As I watched, she floated over and grasped Millie, taking her safely away from the Zedgonnim just before the alien monster could have reached her.

I had by now somewhat recovered, thanks to my superior Algolitish physique, and so took out the transonic turnscrew and turned it to-wards the Zedgonnim ship. The craft began to shudder.

The Zedgonnim that had been Mr. Wutt approached me. I managed to get to my feet and quickly gave him a kung fu kick to his head, sending him careening backwards before he could touch me with his poisonous tentacles, then I hurriedly returned to the task of disabling the spaceship with the transonic setting. With a tremendous boom, the alien craft soon broke apart and crashed in pieces into the water. As for the Zedgonnim himself, he bellowed in pain before then falling to pieces upon the ground, pieces that resembled nothing more than dead barnacles, squid parts, and broken crustacean shells.

I ran over and held Millie in my arms. The other figure had by now vanished, the sun had gloriously broken out from the clouds, and all was silent except for the cries of a few annoyed seagulls near the bay.

“Daniel, what…” gasped the lass when she returned to consciousness. “What happened?”

“All is well, my dear Mills,” I assured her. “All is well. The Zedgonnim menace is no more. Fortunately, after the last time I had encountered the Zedgonnim, I managed to succeed in programming a setting into the software of the transonic that manages to disrupt the organic-tech structure for their ships. I should have used it at once, but I wanted to give them a chance to see reason. As they indeed do have a psyche-physical symbiotic attachment to their technology, the setting affected Wutt as well, along with any other of them in the area. When the actual manager of the Grace Inn returns, he will just find out that his replacement left unexpectedly.”

We returned to the hotel and went up to our suite. Millie Drake was still exhausted from the horror that she had experienced. I helped the girl into bed and then watched her as she drifted off into a profound sleep.

“Look after her, Kit-10,” I whispered. “If she happens to awaken before I return, let her know that I have not gone far and will be back soon.”

The mechanical feline silently nodded her head in agreement and I left the room, carefully locking the door and then making my way downstairs. Scott was still on duty at the front desk, and I knew that all would be well with the Grace Inn.

I walked from the hotel to the location of Angel Hill Cemetery, with the shadows lengthening around me as dusk approached. I entered the old graveyard and looked for the gravestone I remembered, soon finding it amongst the many others.

I knelt down before the grave and lightly touched the lettering engraved upon the tombstone -- the lettering proclaiming the wonderful name of the most lamented and forever-beloved one that I had lost so long before. The one with whom I had shared so many amazing adventures before she was taken from me by the forces of evil. The one whom this very day had somehow reached forth from beyond to prevent my losing another whom I have come to love and cherish as a companion, friend, and partner. It was, and is, a name worthy to be remembered by all who honour any notions of romance and truth and justice. It is this most sacred name:

“KATRINA RUMANOS”

It was then, as I pondered these profound and infinite truths there in the peace and quiet of Angel Hill Cemetery, that I finally took time to cry.

***** DANIEL RUMANOS AND MILLIE DRAKE SHALL RETURN IN “THE ETERNAL QUEST”