U15 STRIKES BACK

Just a few miles north of the limits of the city of Baltimore is the location of the Timonium Fairgrounds, that particular area where, each year from late August through Labour Day, is held that gathering and celebration known as the Maryland State Fair.

On the year in which our story takes place, it seemed that the fair would go on as always, with the usual eleven days of carnival rides, games, live music, food stands and other attractions for the entertainment of the populace. Nevertheless, this was going to be a fair like no other -- in truth, an event of phantasmagorical horror and of unnameable terror born in the eldritch black gulfs of Outer Space.

It was the early morning of the day in which the Maryland State Fair was scheduled to begin. The grounds had not yet been opened to the public, and the only bustle of activity was that of last-minute preparation. At this time, behind the large building housing the old horse stables, in the fairgrounds’ back lot in which were at this time numerous carnie caravan vehicles, a strange noise was heard -- a kind of gasping moaning noise as another object materialised. It appeared to be just another trailer of the type utilised to transport travelling show equipment, but was in reality a disguised DiTraS (pronounced “DYE-tress” and standing for Dimensional Transport Sphere), one of those incredibly-advanced combination Spaceship/Time-machines only useable by the Watchers of Algol.

On this object, a porthole type opening appeared and a figure stepped forth from it. He seemed to be a man of middle years, dressed in a black suit of elegant Nineteenth-Century style. His hair was long and dark, and his face, decorated with a thin moustache and goatee, showed signs of handsome distinction despite being marred with the marks of seeming lifetimes of extreme profligate wickedness and evil beyond all mortal imagining. Most of all, his pale eyes shone with a glare of absolute hypnotic authority.

“Excuse me, sir,” said another voice from near by, that of a heavy-set man in a sport jacket and blue business-wear. “I don’t think I know you. How did you get on the fairgrounds?”

At this, the darkly-clad stranger turned and faced the one approaching him.

“Greetings,” he intoned; his voice suave and perfectly-pitched in its pronunciation. “You are Carl Walken, the fairgrounds manager. I am here to speak with you about a change of plans in your events list this season.”

“Oh, I get it,” smirked Walken. “You’re another stage magician or fake psychic here for an audition. That explains your clothes, anyway. I’m afraid it’s too late for that. All our gigs are booked up. Try back next year.”

“No,” rejoined the other. “It is much more than that. Much more, indeed. I have a proposition for you. You will play a part in what is about to transpire here. You will aid us in the conquest of this planet.”

“Now look here, you… !” exclaimed Carl Walken, his words trailing off into sudden silence as the dark stranger’s eyes met his own.

“You will obey me,” continued the stranger, his hypnotic gaze boring a mentalist beam of power into the other’s mind. “You will do as you are told, and will aid us in the invasion.”

“I… will… obey you,” repeated Walken, his will now fully influenced.

“Yes, you will obey me in all things, as in time shall all. I am Master Don Wingus, and all upon this planet shall soon obey me!” …

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!!! …

General Alexander Gorton-Steward, resplendent in his US Army officer’s uniform, sat behind his desk in the secret headquarters of the Military Special Services Unit -- located somewhere in the area of Washington, DC -- to which we had been summoned. The General, still a strong and handsome gentleman in his sixties, had already experienced decades of work in counter-terrorist operation before being assigned to his current duties in dealing with extraterrestrial and otherworldly threats to the security of this great nation (and indeed, the entire world) -- his work in this field being answerable only to the direct authority of the President of the United States.

“We got here as soon as we could upon receiving your summons, General,” said I. “We were on assignment in one of the outer spirals.”

I was dressed in my usual finery as I sat beside Millie Drake in General Gorton-Steward’s office, including a frilled poets shirt, purple velvet suit, and military boots. I twirled my panama hat in my hands whilst I spoke.

“Thanks for coming back right away, Doctor,” said the General in his usual strongly authoritative manner. “The equipment you left at our science office detected the radiation from that Goddamn U15 thing sooner than expected. Oh, excuse my language in front of the little lady.”

Millie blushed and smiled at the gruff-but-gallant old General. The girl is exceedingly beautiful, petite and perfect with a sun-kissed complexion, luxurious chestnut hair, lovely violet eyes, and a sensuously-wide mouth. She was wearing a tight, short, purple dress that only served to highlight the soft curves of her slender adolescent figure.

“If the U15 Consciousness has returned,” I considered, “it must have made contact with someone to act as a liaison, and it that has to be someone who could have conversed with it in Outer Space.”

“Daniel, shouldn’t that narrow the possibilities down some?” enquired Millie.

“Indeed, but we should not speculate before we have all the facts, hmmm?” I rejoined. “What we do know is that the U15 Consciousness has a particular affinity for plastic, so it will position itself in such a way as utilise that. General, do you have a location in which the radiation was detected?”

“Yes, we do,” he answered. “It seems to be in the Lutherville/Timonium area of northern Baltimore County. In fact, it looks like the damn thing has centred right on the fairgrounds!”

“Oh my gosh!” exclaimed the girl. “Isn’t the Maryland State Fair going on there right now?”

“Indeed it is, love,” I affirmed. “We need to look into this right away. The U15 Consciousness spread itself unchecked across the galaxy for which it is named. We must do all that is within our power to prevent that from happening here.”

“I’d like to send some backup with you,” added Gorton-Steward, “but we’ll have to clear that with the President. Damn it! He and the Governor of Maryland don’t exactly get along, you know.”

“I heard about that,” mused Millie.

“Worry not, old chap,” I told the General. “We shall go to the Timonium Fairgrounds and investigate. Fortunately, we are not restricted by political intrigues.”

“Thank God for that,” said Gorton-Steward as we stood up and shook hands, “but I promise we’ll work it out and get you some military support ASAP. In the meantime, Doctor, Miss Drake, good luck!” …

Millie Drake and I arrived at the Timonium Fairgrounds in the early afternoon of that partly sunny day, accompanied by Kit-10, our mobile personal computer that resembles nothing more or less than a small robotic cat.

The fair was by now well underway, with the sounds of happy children and others creating a joyous din across the area along with the mixed music of the rides and a local rhythm and blues band upon the stage at the far end of the field.

My mind briefly thought back to a time, so many years before, when I had fought the evil Ron Mershon, Satanist and agent of Spectral Paranormal, on these very grounds. That however, was so very long ago, and I quickly dismissed the memories of that horrid individual from my thoughts.

I took the transonic turnscrew, an highly-advanced scientific instrument somewhat resembling a large writing pen, from my jacket pocket, and activated the setting to scan near by.

“Hmmm,” I considered upon reading the results upon the device. “There is present some radiation like that of the U15 Consciousness, but it seems strangely elusive.”

“Is there a way to better track it down?” enquired Millie.

“Kit-10,” said I, returning the transonic to my pocket. “You have the ability to detect the presence of the U15 Consciousness programmed into your system, hmmm? Would you take a quick survey around the fairgrounds, and let us then know if it seems to be centred in any particular area?”

“Affirmative, s--,” agreed the pleasantly-feminine voice of the mechanical feline, who then moved off across the grounds to begin her survey.

(It should be mentioned here that included amongst Kit-10’s catlike characteristics is her absolute inability to openly show respect to anyone. The closest she ever comes to it is by addressing me as “s--” -- for “sir” -- and Millie Drake as “m--” -- for “ma’am”.)

“Say, Daniel,” said the girl, “look at those.”

Millie was pointing to a group of statues, seemingly made of plastic, that represented several historical figures from America’s past in a kind of patriotic tableau.

“By the Stars!” I swore. “Could those be… ?”

My words were the suddenly choked off as something grasped me from behind. I felt the form of something small but amazingly strong land upon my shoulders. I then heard Millie Drake scream in total abject horror as two hairy, apelike arms wrapped around my throat and endeavoured to crush my windpipe!

Using my skills at Daemonian jujitsu, I managed to flip my assailant up and over my head. He hit the ground several yards in front of me and I then saw for certain what he was.

My attacker was a dwarfish man with brown skin, covered with black bristly hairs. His face was absolutely bestial, more simian than human.

“Daniel!” exclaimed Millie. “What is that?!”

“That, my dear, is Juan Dingo Junior,” I explained. “I have heard of him, but did not until now believe that he actually existed. He is a proto-human from the deepest jungles of the Philippines, part of a degenerate lineage that has retained certain aspects of the homo erectus. Apparently, he was being proclaimed as an upcoming exhibit at the fair, and someone has hired him in an attempt to assassinate us!”

The subhuman had quickly recovered from his fall and was now again approaching me, chattering grotesquely in his prehistoric patois. I gave him a sharp blow to his face that sent him careening to hit against the machinery behind the Ferris wheel. I then hurriedly aimed the transonic turnscrew to-wards it and activated a setting to redirect the system’s electrical flow.

With this, the horrid jungle-man known as Juan Dingo Jr. exposed his hideous homo erectus teeth in one final snarl at me before this same reaction turned into a shriek of agony as the power surge took the life from him. He then slipped to the ground, now nothing but a charred and lifeless husk.

During my battle with the ape-man, I had endeavoured to keep him away from Millie and so was now several metres distant from her. Before we could then reunite, I heard another voice from behind me; forsooth, a voice all too familiar. I turned to face the one I knew to be my archenemy, Don Wingus.

“Well well well, Rumanos,” mocked the villain, aiming a sleek ray-gun directly at me. “How nice of you and the representative from The Itty Bitty Titty Committee here to attend the fair.”

“You!“ I exclaimed, nobly ignoring his obscene taunt concerning the girl. “I should have known. So you did escape from Lysithea.”

“Oh, of course,” grinned the evil Algolite, “and I have made a pact here that shall give me mastery over this planet, and over the pathetic human race that you are sworn to protect. A shame about Juan, though. He had such an enjoyable anus.” 

“Spires of Daemonia!” I swore. “You mean to tell me that you have made a deal with the U15 Consciousness? This is beyond madness, Wingus! That monstrosity only cares about expanding its influence by replacing the populations of entire worlds with plastic duplicates!”

“And so it will,” returned Don Wingus. “Soon the U15 Consciousness will fully manifest itself here at the Maryland State Fair, after which we shall begin to replace this human race with Plasticon duplicates -- over which I shall be supreme ruler. The Consciousness has agreed to then cooperate with my using the Plasticons to conquer the entire planet Earth!”

“The Plasticons have been defeated before and will be defeated again,” I retorted.  “That horrible U15 abomination will not be allowed to… !”

“Oh no, Rumanos,” he interrupted with an evil smirk. “You will not interfere. Not this time. Look!”

With this, Wingus motioned in the direction where Millie Drake had been standing. I glanced over and saw that a man had approached the girl from behind, and was now holding her with his arm around her throat.

“That is Carl Walken,” explained the wicked Wingus, still pointing his gun at me, “manager of the Timonium Fairgrounds and my obedient servant. You will surrender at this instant, Rumanos, or he will seriously hurt that little girlie of yours. Walken is an old circus strongman, you see. He is still quite capable of breaking her neck with very little effort, should I give the command.”

“Daniel,” gasped Millie, struggling for air under Walken’s grasp, “don’t listen to him. Don’t worry about me. Just stop the U15 Consciousness. Stop the Plasticons. Look at what is happening!”

I then looked around and beheld a further horror. The plastic figures from the patriotic tableau had started to move and were even now stalking around the fairgrounds. The crowd had only looked at them in wonder -- at these walking representations of Lincoln and Washington and Jefferson and, most grotesquely, Susan B. Anthony -- thinking it was all part of some bizarre show for their amusement.

“By the Stellar Trinity!” I exclaimed. “I had hoped it was not true! Those figures really are Plasticons!”

“Yes,” said Don Wingus after a chuckle of insane mirth, “and each of them is perfectly ready to begin slaughtering these innocent people. You are finished, Rumanos. The second U15 invasion is now underway, and you have no choice but to surrender!”

Just then, a flash of finely-focused light hit the ray-gun that Don Wingus was holding, sending it flying from his hand to clatter against the ground. It was, of course, from Kit-10’s nose-laser. The little robot had returned from her survey and immediately aided against the difficulties that we were facing.

“Thank you, Kit-10!” said I. “Excellent shooting, as always.”

“Of course, s--,” replied the metallic kitten.

Before Wingus could recover from his surprise at this, I leapt over and freed Millie from the clutches of Mr. Walken, knocking the man out with a blow to his head. I knew that he was just under the control of my old arch-foe, and would not harm the lass as long as I succeeded in getting to him before Don Wingus could give him orders. He sunk to the ground, now harmlessly unconscious.

Millie Drake was by now in a swoon from the terror of the situation. I set her down under a near by tree.

“Guard her, Kit-10!” I said. “I shall deal with him!”

Whilst the mechanical cat saw to Millie’s relative safety, I turned and approached the villainous Don Wingus.

“Your theatrical heroics are of no avail, Rumanos,” mocked the interplanetary miscreant. “The Plasticons are spread out across the fairgrounds, and now the U15 Consciousness itself shall manifest to all!”

“By Daemonia!” I swore at him. “You would have that monstrosity, the very amalgamation of the alien gestalt mind that seeks to spread itself across the Universe, to show itself here?!”

“Oh indeed,” chuckled the evil one. “In fact, it will come forth any moment now.”

“S--,” interrupted Kit-10. “Survey of the area shows the U15 radiation to be strongest inside the building housing the stables.”

“Of course,” I realised. “The old fairground stables. That is were the U15 creature has been housed.”

By now, Millie Drake had recovered from her faint and was standing beside the robotic feline.

“Daniel!” she suddenly exclaimed. “Look! There it is!!”

Several huge, horrid tentacles had suddenly emerged from the near by stable building, and in sooth the structure itself soon exploded outwards under the weight of the expanding extraterrestrial monster. The thing was green of hue and replete with myriad writhing tentacles in constant grotesque motion. It was like an octopus and a crab and a lobster and a sea-centipede all at once, and covered with a viscid slime that was like unto an obscene combination of diseased saliva and seminal fluid. As I watched in horror, that alien terror that is the physical manifestation of the U15 Consciousness continued to quickly grow in size, soon reaching a height of fifty feet and a similar width.

“Wingus,” said I, “you cannot actually think that thing will remain an ally of yours! It only seeks to replace the entire human race with its Plasticon duplicates, therefore adding the planet Earth to its expanding consciousness!”

Nevertheless, the villain only looked at the growing abomination and laughed a laugh of ungodly triumph as he looked back at me. Behind him, the monstrosity that was the physical manifestation of the horrid U15 Consciousness continued to writhe and expand in its own unnameable eldritch manner, there on the very grounds of the Maryland State Fair!

“You have failed, Rumanos!” exalted the evil Don Wingus. “You did not foil the invasion plans after all! It was a mere setback, a temporary retreat whilst I met with the U15 Consciousness in Space and made a deal to aid its conquest of this world. Yes, Rumanos, you have failed miserably! You have failed, and now -- U15 strikes back!!”

Do you have the capacity to even begin to realise the complete and utter, horror, forsooth the total and unmitigated abject terror of this unprecedented situation, my dear friends and loyal readers? There we were; Millie Drake, Kit-10, and myself, facing that horrendous gigantic monstrosity known as the U15 Consciousness as it -- along with its terrible Plasticon minions -- readied its invasion of the planet Earth, an invasion in which it sought to wipe out and replace the entire human race with only its own horrid gestalt mind. In addition, all the while this alien abomination was being aided and encouraged by my own archenemy -- the unspeakable intergalactic criminal known to eternal satanic infamy as Magister Don Wingus!

“Again I say, you have failed!” reiterated Don Wingus. “You have utterly failed in your attempts to defend this pathetic planet, Rumanos! You have failed, and the U15 Consciousness will now conquer Earth, with me as commander of the Plasticons!”

“By the Stellar Trinity, Wingus!” I retorted. “You have been in such a hurry to humiliate me that you have completely overlooked the inconsistency, the complete contradiction in your plans. Think about what it is that you are saying. Do you really believe that the U15 Consciousness, an alien horror that only exists in order to spread itself across the Universe, will allow you to live, much less to be in control of anything? Think about it, Wingus. Look at that unspeakable monstrosity and think about it!”

I saw a light of realisation dawn in the eyes of Don Wingus as he contemplated the creature now menacing the Timonium Fairgrounds and -- forsooth! -- the world. For the first time, I beheld a look of open fear upon his face; fear of what he had helped to unleash upon the world -- an horror that would show him no more mercy than it would anyone else in its intention to conquer, to destroy, to replace.

“Rumanos,” he finally stated, “what can we do?”

“The U15 is a gestalt consciousness,” I considered. “If we could link our minds together against it…”

“Yes, I see,” said Wingus. “The combined mentalist power of two adult Watchers could indeed prevent the monster from expanding itself further -- but for how long?”

“Hopefully for long enough. At least until a way to destroy it presents itself, hmmm? So, are you willing?”

“Yes, Rumanos. I am.”

With this, Don Wingus and I stood shoulder-to-shoulder and faced to-wards the unspeakable horror of the alien U15 Consciousness.

“Contact,” said I.

“Contact,” responded Wingus.

The temporary melding of our two Algolitish minds then happened, and we focused our thoughts upon the U15 monster. The thing at first shuddered, then it became perfectly still, ceasing all writhing of its grotesque tentacles, ceasing all growth and expansion as it felt the force of the combined will-power of Don Wingus and myself.

Then was heard a sound, the sound of United Sates Air Force jet aeroplanes streaking across the sky.

“Look, Kit-10!” cheered Millie Drake, who was still watching from close by, “The General came through! It’s a squadron of bomber jets!”

“Affirmative, m--,” agreed the robotic pussycat.

The jet fighters then began a dive down to-wards the now-immobile U15 creature, unleashing their full firepower upon it. The horrid thing was soon aflame, and then quickly crumbled away into nothing, unable to retaliate due to the mental block that two Algolite consciousnesses had placed upon it. Within a mere minute, it was as if the horrible monstrosity had never been there.

Around the fairgrounds, the Plasticon figures ceased from motion, now, without the influence of the U15 mind, nothing but harmless plastic statues.

As soon as our mental link stopped, Don Wingus roughly shoved me to the ground and ran quickly for the back-lot of the fair. I glanced up and saw him from afar, entering what appeared to be a carnival trailer parked amongst others. Then, with the unmistakable noise of a Daemonian Time/Space engine, the “trailer” faded from sight -- dematerialising, I knew, into the inter-dimensional current only accessible to our superior technology.

I stood up and brushed myself off whilst Millie Drake ran over to me with Kit-10 close behind her.

“Fear not, my love,” I told her. “The U15 Consciousness has been banished from this planet, its physical manifestation and influence shattered beyond repair.”

Seeing the creature destroyed, the fighter jets had now left the area. As for the crowds attending the fair, they where by now already returning to normal. To them, it all now seemed as if what had transpired was no more than an illusion intended for their idle amusement. Perhaps it is indeed best for them to think that way, for if humankind were to have any actual idea concerning the truth of the darksome horrors that peer at this planet with eyes of alien evil from across the cosmic gulf, those cruel and unfeeling extraterrestrial terrors that wait and plan and plot and would destroy or enslave this world without a thought of ethical conscience, it would quite likely send the populace screaming into complete and unredeemable madness.

“So Don Wingus escaped?” asked Millie.

“He did,” I acquiesced. “One of the carnival trailers was his DiTraS. We will have to deal with him again. When and where, we know not. Nevertheless, the U15 Consciousness and the Plasticons have indeed been defeated and, for today, our work is done. I say, Mills, let us spend some time enjoying the fair, hmmm?”

“I was hoping you would say that!” giggled the beautiful lass as she gave me a warm hug.

And with this, Miss Millie Drake, Kit-10, and I strolled off to join the crowd of merrymakers.

***** DANIEL RUMANOS AND MILLIE DRAKE SHALL RETURN IN “STALKING STACY”

TIME AND THE NEMESISTER

"You have done nothing wrong and I would urge you to start acting like it. Go outside, head high. Not as an escaping convict. Go to parties. Deal with it." (Jeffrey Edward Epstein) ...

Millie Drake stood in the café-like control room of the DiTraS happily munching on an apple. The girl is exceedingly-beautiful; petite and perfect, with sun-kissed skin, luxurious chestnut hair, lovely violet eyes, and a wide, sensuous mouth. She was wearing a short, tight, purple dress that only served to highlight the soft curves of her slender young figure.

The DiTraS (pronounced “DYE-tress” and standing for Dimensional Transport Sphere) is one of the incredibly-advanced combination Spaceship/Time-machines only available to our people, the Watchers of Algol. The interior exists in a different dimension and is much larger than the exterior, which resembles a Greco-Roman “Ionic column”.

I stood near by at the control panel, clad as I was in my usual finery, including a frilled poet shirt, purple velvet suit, and military boots. My panama hat and opera cape hung on a near by coat-rack.

“Well, the Kosmikos needed us to do a check on this area of the Universe,” I said, “but so far there does not seem to be anything of concern here.”

“Where are we exactly?” queried the girl between bites of her fruit.

“The Tian-Sipes Spiral,” I told her. “Hmmm. Why does that ring a bell? Something I wanted to remember about it. Something that is not on any of the official records.”

“Maybe you can ask Kit-10,” suggested Millie.

“By the Stars, my memory is getting terrible lately,” I continued. “I cannot remember what I was supposed to remember, hmmm? Kit-10, do you have any relevant information of the Tian-Sipes Spiral in your database?”

“Negative, s--,” replied the pleasantly-feminine voice of our mobile computer who resembles nothing more or less than a robotic cat. “Only the galaxy’s size and Spacial coordinates.”

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

“Was it something dangerous?” enquired Millie.

“Oh, I hope not,” I confessed. “These occasional memory blockages are common for Time travellers, but still quite annoying. You know, I really think that we should…”

Suddenly, I was interrupted by a warning signal from the control console.

“What!” I said. “According to this, the DiTraS is experiencing dimensional disassembly!”

“Gosh, Daniel!” cried the girl. “Doesn’t that mean we will… ?”

“Yes, the ship will be torn to pieces! I am shutting down the aethereal link in order to minimise damage to the cognisant circuitry, but hold on, Mills! We are in for a bumpy ride!”

With this, the DiTraS began to shake and shudder, and the very air around us seemed to begin to rip apart. Millie held onto the console, whilst I continued an attempt to stabilise the controls and Kit-10 magnetised herself to the floor.

“Spires of Daemonia!” I swore. “I just remembered what it was about the Tian-Sipes Spiral! It is the location of the planet… !”

It was then that the pressure of the forces causing the dimensional disassembly overcame me, and I lost consciousness.

Millie Drake fell to the control room floor, as did I, whilst the inter-dimensional construction of the DiTraS was apparently torn to pieces. …

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 awoke lying on the floor with a splitting headache. I attempted to look around but my eyes were bleary and blurry. It was impossible for me to tell if I were still on board the DiTraS or elsewhere.

“Millie?” I gasped. “Can you hear me? Are you all right? Kit-10, are you here?”

I saw a figure approaching me. It was vaguely feminine in shape, as far as I could ascertain with my blurred vision.  The figure seemed to have chestnut-coloured hair, but it seemed taller and heavier than Millie Drake, and was wearing a dress that seemed darker.

“Yes, Daniel, it is me” said a voice (was it actually Millie’s? There was something different about it, albeit something familiar). “It’s me. It’s Millie. Your mind is confused from the dimensional disassembly, since you were in closest contact to the controls when it happened, so things might look and sound a bit strange to you. But gosh, it really is me!”

I attempted to stand up, but was not as yet able to do so.

“So we are still in the DiTraS control room?” I enquired. “Where is Kit-10?”

“Oh, she was damaged in the crash, but you can repair her later. We need to get the DiTraS fixed first. Daniel, I need you to give me the complete access codes so I can initiate the sequence to reverse the damage.”

“The access codes?” I stammered. “Why would you need… ?”

“Quick, Daniel, tell me the codes!” she insisted. “Oh my gosh! I need to enter them right away before the disassembly becomes a Temporal fact!” …

Elsewhere, the real Millie Drake regained consciousness upon a rocky landscape. She stumbled to her feet and glanced around, then up at the blue-green sun of this alien world.

Then Millie looked around again and noticed several figures approaching her. They were men dressed in garments rather like those of Europe’s Middles Ages.

“Greetings,” said the one who seemed to be in the lead. “You need to get to shelter before the Pingatos attack!”

“The Pingatos?” asked Millie. “What are they?”

Before the girl could receive an answer to this query, the sound of animals roaring was heard and she turned her head to see several grotesque, hairy creatures approaching. They were taller than any human being and deep red in colour, with hands and feet ending in long talons, and each of them had five horridly-staring eyes set just above the level of its hugely-toothed jaws. …

“Oh gosh, you should hurry and tell me the codes, Daniel!” the woman who claimed to be Millie Drake continued. “Hurry before the DiTraS is destroyed!”

By now, my vision was clearing and I looked around the chamber. It was large and filled with scientific equipment, including parts of a DiTraS of a different design than mine.

I then looked back at the woman. I could see her clearly now, and it certainly was not Millie. This was a woman of indeterminate age, with noble aquiline features, clad in a black dress that resembled a shroud. As I looked at her, she removed the wig she had been wearing to reveal her own dark hair. Her ebon eyes glared at me with a look as of hatred mingled with bemusement.

“So we meet again… brother!” she sneered, her voice now in its own mocking tones, an admixture of authoritative command and absolute unholy madness.

“Oh no…” said I as I rose to my feet. “The Nemesister!” …

Back outside, the horrible creatures continued to menace the locals whom Millie had encountered.

“Pingatos!” said the man as the monsters approached the group. “We must run!”

He grabbed Millie by the arm and took her along with the group to a near by hut, located as it was on the outskirts of a small village.

“Those things!” said the lass. “What are they?”

“Those are Pingatos,” the man said again. “They are her servants. She sends them to harass us when we go looking for food; to frighten us into continued obedience to her. They have killed any of our people who have not run away from them.”

“She? Who do you mean?’

“How do you not know? I mean, of course, she who is the Supreme One of Lerych!”

“Lerych?!” cried Millie Drake in astonishment. “Oh my gosh, that’s what Daniel was trying to remember! The Tian-Sipes Spiral is the location of Lerych -- which is the planet ruled by the Nemesister!”

“Quiet! Please be quiet!” responded the Lerychian man. “It is forbidden to speak the other names of the Supreme One. How do you not know this?”

“I’m not from around here. I’m from… another world.”

“That is impossible. Only the Supreme One is from another world. That is why she is the Supreme One.”

“No, that’s not true,” corrected Millie. “She is lying to you to keep your people servile. My name is Millie Drake. Dr. Daniel Rumanos and I are from the same planet as the Nemesister. She is a renegade of our people, a criminal. We thought she was defeated once, but she must have found her way back here. We know she uses your people as subjects of horrible experiments. She must be stopped!”

“These are dangerous things you say,” said the Lerychian. “If our people knew this, they might think we could rise up and resist the Supreme One.”

“Well then,” said Millie with a cunning smile. “Maybe we should tell them.” …

In the chamber that was the Nemesister’s laboratory, I continued to confront the villainess.

“So that is it, hmmm?” said I. “You had disassembled your own DiTraS in order to utilise parts of it in some experiment. It is coming into close proximity with this that caused mine to give out false readings and then crash. I was separated from the ship as a side effect of the supposed dimensional shift, hmmm? But what happened to Millie and Kit-10, and where is my DiTraS itself?”

“Oh, we would know all those things by now if you had given me the access codes, brother,” responded the evil Algolite woman.

“Do not refer to me as ‘brother’!” I shouted. “Of course, you attempted to trick me into giving you the codes so you could use your Temporal and Spacial circuitry to draw my DiTraS to yours -- no doubt only so you could then utilise my ship to add extra power to whatever criminal experiment that you are here conducting!”

“As irately judgmental as ever, I see. The extra power of your ship would have helped to quicken it, but that is not a necessity.  The experiment I am here conducting is a thing of exquisite beauty. It is an unprecedented opportunity to alter the nature of Time itself!”

“By the Stellar Trinity!” I swore. “What wretched insanity are you babbling about?”

“Have a look,” responded the Nemesister with unabashed pride whilst she activated a view-screen over one of the computer terminals. “That is an asteroid that is passing close to Lerych.”

I looked at the object on the monitor. It was a typical asteroid or planetoid, rocky and barren, except for one incredibly different thing. It was glowing with a strange multicoloured shine that sparkled and glittered in the darkness of Space.

“Is that what I think it is?” I enquired in astonishment. “It looks like what is only referred to as ‘weird matter’.”

“Yes, that is exactly what it is,” affirmed the evil woman. “An extremely rare element. In fact, this may be the only sample of it in existence that is not under the direct supervision of the Absolute Convention of the Watchers.”

“Weird matter is indeed said to have particular properties that aid in the manipulation of Time,” I said. “Nevertheless, it is unstable and too difficult to control.”

“Nonsense! I have the means to control it right here.”

“Of course! That is why you disassembled your DiTraS. You intend to use its power to somehow affect the weird matter.”

“Oh much more than that,” smiled the Nemesister evilly. “Much more indeed. I will utilise the power of my DiTraS engines in a certain juxtaposition that shall send a temporal wave to shatter that asteroid into non-existence.”

“By Daemonia! But that would cause the weird matter to explode outwards across the Time-stream and… !”

“Yes, exactly! It will send the Universe back to the beginning and recreate it in my image!”

“Madness!” I shouted. “Absolute screaming madness! You know, of course, that as an Operative of the Kosmikos I cannot allow this!”

“Oh, of course,” she mocked, “but I already have prepared for any ridiculous show of heroism. Pingatos! Come to the aid of your mistress!”

And with this, several of the huge, hairy monstrosities strode into the room and came directly at me!!

“Some example of the local fauna that you have mutated and made into your servants, hmmm?” I mused as the creatures surrounded me.

“Quite right,” agreed the Nemesister. “Oh, I usually only employ them to keep the natives in check, but they are also useful against a meddling Kosmikos agent. Do not worry, though. I do not intend for them to kill you. They are only here to assure that you do not interfere with my experiment.”

“Ha!” I exclaimed. “Are you now pretending to be merciful? Do not bother. I know such things are not in you. You have been nothing but evil since the day of your birth, and there are very few beings I would say such a thing about!”

“Mercy? Oh, of course not. Mercy is for fools and weaklings. No, I want you alive for another reason. I want you to watch; to watch helplessly whilst my experiment is undertaken. To watch and be constrained from interfering when I -- the Supreme One; the Mistress Nemesister -- recreate the Universe and become the One True Goddess!!” …

In the village of the Lerychians, Millie Drake had become quite the welcome guest. Realising she was another of the race of their own “Supreme One”, they had quickly grown in admiration of the young lady. Her beauty and her youth, along with her obvious intelligence and profound kindness had forsooth impressed them beyond measure.

“You need to rise up and be free,” Millie had told them. “You are not meant to be slaves, not to the Nemesister or anyone else. Together your people can overcome her and take back Lerych as your rightful planetary inheritance! You should go and deal with it now! I will go with you, and we can conquer all obstacles!”

(Much later, Millie told me that she felt my presence on the planet, and knew that she would find me with the Nemesister, ready and willing to aid the Lerychians against the villainess. That is what gave the wee lass such courage and conviction to thus inspire an attempt at a great revolution on Lerych.)

Therefore did the people of Lerych assemble an army to cross the wasteland to the strange stone and steel structure that housed the hideous laboratory of the Nemesister. Millie Drake indeed went with them, she being their source of inspiration. It was all she could do to keep them from carrying her on a litter as token of their extreme admiration of her. In stead, she marched along with them, protected on all sides by the Lerychian men who were now determined to end the tyranny of the so-called “Supreme One” -- that horrid mad scientist and renegade Watcher known to eternal villainous infamy as the Nemesister!!

Then, as the army approached the Nemesister’s location, a large group of Pingatos came forth from it and charged directly to-wards them. How could they possibly stand before such monstrosities? Indeed, it appeared that the great revolution of Lerych would be halted before it had even properly begun! …

There inside the laboratory, I stood under guard of the Pingatos whilst the wicked Nemesister readied her experiment -- in sooth, an experiment that I realised could indeed very well succeed in destroying the Universe as we know it, and then in recreating it with all of Time and Space under the despotic control of that horrendously-evil Algolite woman!

“All is now prepared!” she announced in utterly-insane exaltation. “The focusing mechanism is in place, and all I need do is press this button and the energy wave shall be unleashed; the energy wave that will streak across Outer Space to shatter the asteroid, and thus unleash the weird matter that shall recreate the Cosmos in my image!!”

Whilst I watched in absolute abject horror, unable to interfere (I had left my transonic turnscrew in the DiTraS), the Nemesister focused the machinery on the asteroid as it appeared on the monitor, and her hand moved to-wards the firing button.

“Now is the time!” she continued, her voice a cackling cacophony of madness. “Now I shall become the Creator -- the Supreme One indeed -- the One True Goddess!!!”

Is it even possible? Is it possible for you to comprehend the extreme demoniacal horror of this situation? As I stood there, seemingly helpless in the custody of the monstrous Pingatos, the Nemesister prepared to consummate the experiment that would destroy the Universe as we know it!

She continued to concentrate on the focusing mechanism. It appeared to be more complicated than she had let on, keeping the system aimed directly to-wards that small asteroid that was hurtling through Space past the planet. Nevertheless, she then once more stretched forth her hand and prepared to press the button that would fire the energy wave to destroy the asteroid and forsooth take all of Time and Space with it!

Just then, as her finger touched the button, there was a disturbance in the building, as if a large group of people -- in truth an army -- had suddenly entered. It was too late for the Nemesister to withdraw her hand. She pressed the button and the energy was unleashed. I heard the crackling sound as it shot through the atmosphere.

“What was that?” shouted the Nemesister as she turned away from the controls in anger. “What was that noise that distracted my concentration?! This is unacceptable! Someone must suffer for this outrage!”

I glanced to-wards the view of the asteroid on the video monitor. As I looked, the bright orange and blue Algolitish energy that she had unleashed streaked by the asteroid -- missing it to then dispel harmlessly in the emptiness of Space.

It was then that the Lerychian army charged into the room. I was both amazed and relieved to see young Miss Millie Drake amongst them -- along with a group of Pingatos that were marching beside the army obediently!

When the Pingatos that had been guarding me beheld this, they moved over and joined the others, standing along with the army of Lerych in revolution against the unspeakable tyranny of that villainess, that madwoman, the Nemesister!

I hurried over and thrust the evil Algolite woman away from the firing mechanism, then quickly programming a sequence to disable the system so it could do no further harm.

Millie Drake broke from the army’s formation and ran into my arms.

“Oh Daniel!” she cried with tears now gushing from her beautiful violet eyes. “I knew you would be here! I came with the Lerychians when they decided to revolt against her!”

“Of course, my love,“ I said to her, “and I see that the Pingatos also recognised you as a far better example of the Algolitish femininity that they had been mutated to obey.”

The Nemesister herself was cornered and, for the first time, I saw a look of fear enter her eyes.

“No, you cannot do this!” she shrieked. “I am the Supreme One! The Nemesister! You cannot rebel against me!!”

Whilst saying this, she had taken a small device like a remote control from a pocket of her dress. She activated it and suddenly several pieces of the scientific machinery from around the chamber popped out of existence and another object appeared, looking rather like an old upright clock from Earth’s British Regency era.

“It’s her DiTraS!” said Millie.

“Yes, she has reassembled it,” I added. “Look!”

The Pingatos had now separated from the ranks of the Lerychians and were rushing to-wards the Nemesister, obviously with the intention of ripping that grotesquely-wicked woman to shreds!

The Nemesister ran to-wards her Time-Spaceship and disappeared through the porthole-like opening that had appeared in it. None the less, before she could close the aperture, the horrid Pingatos rushed in after her.

Whilst the sound of the ship’s engines engaged, we heard the Nemesister shouting in terror from within, along with the savage roars of the Pingatos.

“No! No!” she screamed. “You cannot do this to me! I am your mistress! I am the Supreme One! I am… !”

Then, after one final gurgling shriek of pain and outrage, there was silence as the Nemesister’s DiTraS faded away, taking her to her doom.

This was immediately followed by another sound, this also the noise of an Algolitish engine. It was, however, now the familiar gasping moaning tones of my own Time/Space machine as it materialised in its usual disguise as an Ionic column.

“The DiTraS!” happily exclaimed Millie. “Ours, I mean, this time! But where is Kit-10?”

“Worry not, Mills,” I consoled her. “The ship’s automated safety programmes moved all living organic matter -- that being us -- out of its immediate danger. Kit-10 would have been kept there as part of the machinery, so I am certain we will find her safely on board.”

Millie and I spent some time speaking to the people of Lerych, urging them to create a free, independent society for themselves, and promising to return and visit them some day. We then entered the DiTraS and I activated the controls to take us back into Outer Space.

“I knew you would find us, Kit-10,” I said to our catlike computer friend “The DiTraS was not really torn apart. It was an illusion caused by being in such close proximity to the Nemesister’s ungodly experiments. The ship stayed in Space, and you, Kit-10, were able to continue its course to reunite with the DNA readings of Miss Drake and myself.”

“Oh my gosh!“ exclaimed Millie. “It’s just like those old stories of lost cats always finding their way back to their owners, even when they’ve moved far away!”

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

I was by now busy entering some instructions into the DiTraS communication system.

“I have sent a coded subspace message to the Kosmikos to collect that asteroid and to secure its weird matter under safekeeping,” I then explained. “It should be no more trouble, so we can safely go on about or business, and…”

I was then suddenly interrupted by a signal from the console.

“Oh gosh, not again!” cried Millie Drake. “What is it this time?”

“Why, it is a message from Earth,” said I, checking the display. “In fact, it is from General Gorton-Steward, hmmm? I left him an interstellar relay mechanism with instructions to contact us in case of a certain emergency.”

“Daniel,” said Millie concernedly, “does this mean what I think it does?”

“I fear so, love,” I replied as I reset the DiTraS directional coordinates, “and we need to get back to Earth right away!!”

***** DANIEL RUMANOS AND MILLIE DRAKE SHALL RETURN IN “U15 STRIKES BACK”

THE U15 INVASION

One can indeed meet some unusual people in the hideously-debased town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia -- but this was taking it to the extreme.

We were standing there in the training room of the so-called “Don’s Dojo”, a karate school that was actually a front for that horrid occult terrorist group known to eternal infamy as Spectral Paranormal. I -- Dr. Daniel Rumanos -- was dressed in my usual finery, including a frilled poet shirt, purple velvet suit, military boots, panama hat, and one of my favourite opera capes. My companion, Miss Millie Drake -- petite and perfect, with sun-kissed skin, lovely violet eyes, and luxurious chestnut hair -- was wearing a short, tight, powder-blue dress that only served to highlight the soft curves of her slender young figure.

We were surrounded by seven supposed students from the school, but all was of course not as it appeared to be. Since Millie and I had come to town to investigate the continued activities of Spectral, we had found the “dojo” apparently deserted, and had gone in to have a look around. Suddenly, the students had entered the chamber from an hiding place in the backroom.

They were all middle-aged, men and women of the local blue-collar type, each of them identically clad in the standard martial arts “gi”. Oh, I should mention one more thing about them:

All of their eyes were glowing with an eldritch ebony-black effulgence.

It seemed the intelligence reports we had received were true. The Spectral Paranormal operatives in this area were indeed possessed by the Maskim, that terrifyingly-ancient race of non-corporeal creatures that had once inhabited the planet Mercury; those beings whose very existence had given rise to some of the most extreme and darksome legends of demonic horror amongst the ancient people of Babylonia.

Millie Drake took her position back-to-back with me, as I had instructed her should we ever find ourselves in such a situation.

“Daniel,” she said, “that look in their eyes!”

“Yes,” I replied, “it is indeed the Mercurian Maskim. These people have given up their human essences and have allowed themselves to become total disciples of evil. They must be destroyed.”

The closest of the “students” then reached out for me. I defended against his attack with a quick show of my own Daemonian kung fu skills. Due to the power of the demoniacal horrors within him, he managed to stay conscious and only retreated a few steps away.

Then I saw that two others of them were attempting to attack Millie. I quickly doffed my cloak and used it as a weapon against them. Temporarily blinded by my utilising it to slap across their faces, they also retreated.

“Millie!” I called. “When I say ‘now’, close your eyes and trust me, hmmm?”

“Of course, Daniel!” answered the girl. “Of course!”

I took a device resembling a large writing pen from my pocket and pointed it to-wards the ceiling, activating a certain setting.

“Now!” I exclaimed, and, having retrieved my cape, hurriedly wrapped it around Millie Drake and myself as I leapt to-wards the near by window.

With a shower of broken glass, the girl and I hurtled through and found ourselves outside in the glare of the West Virginia sunlight of that early morning.

From within the building, we then heard the sizzle of electrical sparks, accompanied by the screams of the six possessed individuals. In a few moments, there was silence.

“Are you all right, love?” I enquired.

“Yes, I’m okay,” Millie assured me. “What exactly did you do?”

“I switched the polarisation of the building’s electrical system and gave them quite a shock, hmmm? It will have served to exorcise the Maskim of Mercury, sadly the only thing animating those otherwise already-deceased human beings.”

“So the new transonic turnscrew is working well then?” enquired the lass.

“Indeed so,” I replied, examining the incredibly-advanced scientific device. “Although it is not exactly ‘new’. I used an old spare casing and downloaded the settings software into it.”

“Well, it’s good to have it back! I was afraid of what might happen after the old one got destroyed.”

“Worry not, Mills,” I assured her. “There will always be ways to find new gadgets and devices that we can put to use in our ongoing fight against intergalactic evildoers. Why, it has been so since the days of the old transonic rapiers, hmmm?” …

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!!! …

Millie Drake and I returned to our Baltimore headquarters after our battle with the Maskim. We rode the secret lift to the concealed chamber within the golden trapezoidal-shaped top floor of a downtown skyscraper.

The main room of our HQ is filled with objects of all kinds, these being relics of our many adventures across the Universe. Included are alien technologies (not the least of which is my own Time/Space travel machine, the DiTraS or Dimensional Transport Sphere) and items invented by human scientists who explored things that many would say man is not meant to know. Also in the chamber is an huge bank of computers from which we keep watch upon the well-being of planet Earth.

Monitoring this system was another type of computer, a small robot shaped like nothing more or less than a mechanical cat.

“Hello, Kit-10,” said I. “How are things going?”

“All equipment functioning within expected parameters, s--,” replied the computerised kitten in her pleasantly-feminine voice. “However, there is evidence of a strange phenomenon which may be of importance.”

(It must be mentioned here that, amongst her other catlike characteristics, Kit-10 is possessed of a total 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”.)

“What kind of phenomenon, Kit-10?” enquired Millie.

“It appears, m--,” replied the little robot, “that there was a fall of meteors late last afternoon that seemed to be focused primarily upon the east coast of the North American continent.”

“Not unusual in itself, hmmm?” said I. “It would have been noticed by all the Earth observatories. Has our more specialised equipment detected something special about this particular meteor shower?”

“Affirmative, s--. The meteors, if that is what they were, appeared to slow in speed as they approached the surface of the planet.”

“By the Triple Star!” I swore. “Ordinary Space-rocks could not have done that.”

“Yes, they would just burn up in the atmosphere,” added the girl. “or make a crater if they were big enough. They wouldn’t land.”

“Forsooth,” I continued, looking at the video replay of the meteor storm, “but these do appear to be coming in for a controlled landing!”

“Do you think they could be some kind of Spaceships?” asked Millie.

“Not of any usual kind, hmm? Kit-10, do we have any radiation readings from these supposed ‘meteors’?”

“Affirmative,” replied the mechanical pussycat, “but it only appears to be the normal type found on objects that have passed through large reaches of Outer Space. Nothing within dangerous considerations.”

“Scan the local area,” I advised, “and see if there are any readings of the same level and type of radiation.”

Kit-10 attached her forehead sensor to the main computer terminal and made a slight whirring sound whilst carrying out this operation.

“Results detected, s--,” she announced. “Traces of the same type of Space-born radiation are currently found in the location of the ‘Bullseye’ department store in the Canton Crossing Shopping Centre of southeast Baltimore City.”

“Department store?” wondered Millie Drake. “Daniel, what could this mean?”

“I am not certain, love,” I admitted, “but we should go over there and investigate right away, hmmm?” …

At that same time, in the manager’s office of that aforesaid location of the Bullseye department store chain, a man named McLaughlin was speaking to what appeared to be a large aquarium. McLaughlin, a man in his late thirties, slim of build and with sandy brown hair, had only recently become the store manager after the usual one (a morbidly-obese African-American woman named, of course, LaKeesha) had suddenly come down with an illness.

“All is going as planned,” announced McLaughlin to the thing in the aquarium, the thing that sputtered and bubbled and writhed with its horrid mass of green tentacled terror. “The Plasticons are prepared, and soon the commencement of the U15 invasion will be underway.”

And with this, the monster shook and writhed its tentacles in approval, knowing the true import of the words of its human servant, McLaughlin. The thing’s numerous jaundice-yellow eyes glared out through the thick alien fluid in which it was immersed, filled with the knowledge that this meant the beginning of the fulfilment of its plans -- that it, the U15 Consciousness, would soon be on its way to becoming master and ruler of Earth!! …

Millie Drake, Kit-10, and I entered the Bullseye shop location after leaving my canary-coloured Edwardian roadster (affectionately known as “Lizzie”) in the parking lot of the Canton Crossing strip mall. It was by now mid-afternoon, and the large department store was filled with the usual number of shoppers browsing about the various items for sale.

Now, it should be noted that one of the things in which the Bullseye chain of shops prides itself is its supposed “inclusiveness”. It is their intention to show that all ethnicities, genders, ages, and body types are welcome at their stores. In practice, what this has led to is the establishment displaying a selection of mannequins that look downright deformed.

There are hideously overweight mannequins of women with sickeningly-puffy fat legs, overhanging stomachs, and grotesquely-saggy breasts. Worst of all, there are ones with disgustingly-extended buttocks of the kind more often seen in simian and partly-simian species than in actual human beings, and with the wide hips only found in females who have passed the age of proper sexual attractiveness (which is, of course, approximately twelve to sixteen).

This trend extends to the photographs of models gracing (I utilise the term quite loosely) the clothing departments. These include men and women of strange multi-ethnic crossbreeds, morbidly obese individuals so hideous in appearance that it is well-nigh impossible to determine which gender they are supposed to represent, numerous physically-handicapped types complete with crutches or wheelchairs, and so on.

Fortunately, Bullseye has not had the audacity to fully extend this intense grotesquery to the children’s departments. There, they have made due with portraying young folks of various racial backgrounds, shown in friendly proximity to each other in ways not naturally seen in Earthlings. One of the most prominent of these nauseating photographic portrayals is of a dark-complexioned lad improperly hugging a much-smaller blonde girl, the latter smiling in order to show how much she supposedly likes it.

It is amongst this already-unearthly display of forced “inclusiveness” that the beautiful young Miss Millie Drake, Kit-10 the catlike robot, and I found ourselves on that fateful day, looking for signs of a possible extraterrestrial invasion.

“Are you detecting anything, Kit-10?” I queried.

“Affirmative, s--,” replied the metallic puss. “The previously-detected meteoric radiation is indeed present. There is also some evidence of a biological presence not of this planet.”

“Can you match it with the database I have had downloaded to you from the DiTraS records?”

“Attempting to do so now, s--. Results may take a few minutes.” …

In the office, McLaughlin continued to address the monstrosity that was in the aquarium tank.

“All is now ready,” he intoned. “At your leave the Plasticons will be activated.”

At this, the eldritch alien creature gurgled and sputtered its approval.

“Excellent,” said the man. “Your thoughts are in me, and I am now fully part of the mighty U15 Consciousness. Earth will be ours. The invasion now begins!” …

“Daniel,” said Millie, pointing to-wards one of the misshapen mannequins, “look at that!”

“Indeed, love,” I responded, “Hideous, are they not?”

“Yes, but that’s not what I mean,” continued the girl. “I thought I saw it move!”

“Really? Hmmm… That would only be possible if…”

Then Millie Drake screamed. She screamed because the plastic shop dummy was in sooth actually moving. In fact, as we watched it visibly walked forward, stepped off its display platform, and began to proceed down the aisle of the shop.

“Oh my gosh, Daniel!” cried the lass, now clinging to me in fear. “They’re all moving! It’s like the mannequins have come to life!!”

“Data match complete, s--,” suddenly interrupted Kit-10. “Confirmed psyche-organic presence from Galaxy U15.”

The store patrons were by now shouting in horror and running for the exits as the horridly deformed display dummies continued to walk around. A couple of people were unfortunate enough to come into contact with the horrible walking mannequins, and paid for it with their lives as the things demonstrated great strength in snapping the shoppers’ necks.

“What!” I exclaimed in horrible realisation of what was occurring. “U15! Of course! The U15 Consciousness and its Plasticon servitors! By Daemonia, we -- along with the entire human race -- are in far greater danger than I realised!!”

“Daniel, they’re all around us!” sobbed Millie. “What can we do?!”

Indeed, it was then that a circle of these horribly-disfigured mannequins began to approach us from all sides!!!

“Plasticons!” I said. “They really are Plasticons! Servants of the U15 Consciousness that rules the galaxy of that name! The Consciousness has a special affinity for plastic, and thus spreads out and reproduces by creating replicas of the population of the planet it intends to conquer!”

“But what can we do to stop them?” cried Millie Drake in abject fright.

“Kit-10!” I called. “Try your blaster!”

The robot cat then immediately fired her nose-laser at the closest of the approaching mannequins. The plastic automaton halted in its tracks, but was not destroyed.

“Keep trying, Kit-10!” I instructed. “Let us see how strong these things actually are!”

Kit-10 then sent a longer blast of her laser to-wards the mannequin. In a few moments, the horrid thing began to melt, and soon fell into a shapeless heap on the floor.

“Good work, Kit-10!” I approved. “Mills, come on!”

Jumping over the remains of the animated shop dummy. I hurried the frightened girl behind a near by display of video discs, where we were soon joined by Kit-10. Never was I more thankful that, in this era of  “file sharing”, some consumers still prefer such physical media.

“So Kit-10’s laser can kill them?” asked Millie.

“So it appears,” I said, “but it uses up a considerable amount of power, hmmm?”

“Affirmative, s--,” informed the robot. “Estimate my energy reserves will be depleted before fifty percent of the attackers can be disabled.”

Several of the mannequins continued to stand menacingly near to our hiding-place, whilst the remainder of them had continued to spread out around the shop.

“Good afternoon,“ said a mocking voice from behind us, “I am Mr. McLaughlin, the store manager.”

We looked up and beheld a man in his late thirties, with sandy-brown hair, properly clad in the uniform of his stated position, Nevertheless, I could see right away that all was indeed not normal with him. His eyes seemed to bizarrely glow with the presence of an intellect more-than-human, and upon his face was a seemingly-permanent sneer of hatred at all that was good and true and beautiful about the planet we know as Earth.

“Millie,” I whispered to the girl, “you and Kit-10 stay behind the display, and have her use her laser if the mannequins attack.”

I then stood up to face McLaughlin.

“You are totally possessed by the U15 Consciousness, hmmm?” I said to him. “You have become their tool, their agent amongst humankind!”

“Indeed I have, Algolite,” he proudly affirmed. “What you see here is but a trial, a bare beginning. Soon, we will install Plasticon replicas as replacements of those in positions of power in the governments of this world. The people of Earth will fall before us, and the U15 Consciousness will replace the entire human race with replicas. Another planet shall be ours!”

Whilst speaking, McLaughlin was moving to-wards me. I stepped forwards somewhat to prevent his attack from including Millie, and I soon clashed against him.

The man was incredibly strong, a strength beyond human due to his possession by the alien U15 Consciousness. We grappled together, and it was only due to my mastery of Daemonian jujitsu that I was able to prevent him from casting me to the floor.

I finally managed to throw him, but he quickly recovered and delivered a fist to my face that sent me reeling. I spun round and gave a kick to his midsection that caused him to stagger back to-wards the entrance to the backrooms of the shop. I followed him and our battle continued through the stock room until we eventually came to the manager’s office.

When we burst through the office door I realised why he had been moving to-wards this point, for against the far wall was an aquarium tank that held the horrifying organic manifestation of the U15 Consciousness -- the thing that had been put together from the meteor-like travel devices that the alien gestalt mind had used in order to send this portion of itself through the vastness of Space to land upon Earth. …

Back on the Bullseye sales floor, Millie Drake continued to crouch behind the display rack beside Kit-10. Another of the walking mannequins attempted to reach them, but a quick blast from the robotic feline’s laser managed to drive it back.

“Thank you, Kit-10!” cheered the lass. “How much longer do you think you can hold them off?”

“Not for very much longer, m---,” replied the catlike computer. “My energy reserves are fast depleting.”

“But then… what can we do?!”

“Insufficient information, m--.” …

McLaughlin was even stronger in close proximity to his monstrous master, and I knew that I would have to defeat him quickly before he could succeed in wearing me down. I therefore delivered a lightning-fast kung fu blow to his throat and, before he could recover, removed the transonic turnscrew from my jacket pocket, activating a setting that I hoped wouldst succeed in scrambling the alien mind-power within him.

When the energy from the transonic hit him, McLaughlin shrieked in pain and, with one final convulsion of strength, gave a kick to my hand that sent the turnscrew out of my grasp to clatter across the floor.

None the less, it was too late for Mr. McLaughlin, Bullseye department store manager turned slave to an hideous alien invader. With his human essence having been destroyed by the presence of the now-exorcised extraterrestrial intelligence, his body crumpled to the floor in death.

I attempted to catch my breath before turning to face the monstrous manifestation of the U15 Consciousness itself, and only managed to glance at the terrifying creature before it attacked me.

The creature in the tank was immersed in a viscid substance like a cross between diseased saliva and seminal fluid. The thing was like an octopus and a squid and a lobster and a sea-spider and a monstrous water-insect all at once. It countless writhing tentacles were in constant motion, and its many yellow eyes stared at me with an intelligence both extreme and unspeakably evil.

Before I could fully recover from my fight with McLaughlin, indeed before I could even begin to retrieve the transonic turnscrew, the sickly-green extraterrestrial monster reached out its seemingly-countless tentacles and clutched them about my midsection, my arms, my legs, and my neck. It dragged me to-wards the tank and squeezed with a strength beyond any possibility of resistance.

I felt my mouth gape open as I struggled to breathe, but it was impossible. As the alien monstrosity’s tentacles continued to constrict around my throat, I felt the total blackness of unconsciousness and eventual death begin to encroach upon me!

Can you even begin to truly comprehend the unnameable horror, forsooth the unmentionable abject terror of this unprecedented situation, my dear friends? The horrid monster that was a physical manifestation of the alien U15 Consciousness was squeezing the very life out of me, after which nothing would be able to stand in the grotesque and ungodly thing’s way of continuing its plan to invade the planet Earth!! …

“Kit-10,” said Millie Drake as they continued to shelter from the grotesque mannequins, “do you think you can fire at the Plasticons long enough to distract them, so we can make it through that door to the back and see where Daniel has gone?”

“Affirmative, m--,” replied the robot.

Kit-10 then again activated her nose-blaster, this time giving a series of short spurts to-wards the animated display dummies, whilst Millie and she sped to-wards the doorway. Avoiding the laser-fire managed to keep the mannequins from advancing whilst the girl and the robot managed to escape into the backrooms of the department store. …

I was sinking to the floor with the compression of the alien tentacles around my throat when Millie Drake and Kit-10 suddenly burst through the door.

“Daniel!” the girl screamed in shock when she beheld my dilemma. “Oh my gosh! Kit-10, blast that thing!!”

The mechanical cat quickly sent a burst from her nose-laser at the monstrous form of the U15 Consciousness. It was just enough to cause the creature to relax its grip on me, just for a mere fraction of a moment.

Taking this opportunity, I lurched forwards and fell face-first to the floor just short of the thing’s grasp. Fortunately, I found the transonic turnscrew within reach and quickly grabbed the device. I rolled over on my back and aimed the transonic at the monster, activating the setting, at full power, to scramble its extraterrestrial consciousness.

Just then, I heard Millie scream again as two of the walking mannequins entered the office doorway behind her.

The U15 monstrosity reacted to my transonic by shuddering and shaking. I felt the device grow warm in my hand and I was hoping it would have enough energy to destroy the thing’s mind before overloading itself when it suddenly began to take affect. Then the horrible alien creature that was the U15 Consciousness began to break apart and, within a few seconds, shrivelled down into nothing and vanishing completely.

The two mannequins that had entered the room then fell down to the floor. Without the power of the alien mind, I knew that they, along with all the others of their type, were no longer Plasticons and now back to being nothing more than harmless shop dummies.

Millie Drake then flew into my arms, and I comforted the poor wee lass as we stood there, along with Kit-10, now alone in the office of that Baltimore location of the Bullseye department store.

“Oh gosh, Daniel,” sobbed the girl. “I’m so glad it’s over! Oh, it is over, isn’t it?”

“It is for now, love,” I answered her gently, stroking her rich chestnut-hued hair, “but the U15 Consciousness is unspeakably vast, and this was only a small portion of it. What we encountered here was but a spearhead of a planned invasion of far greater consequence. Now that it has set its terrible sights upon this planet, it will be back to try again, and with greater power. When that happens, it will be much more difficult to defeat.”

“So we will need to be ready,” said the lovely lass.

“Indeed we will, Mills. Indeed we will!”

***** DANIEL RUMANOS AND MILLIE DRAKE SHALL RETURN IN “TIME AND THE NEMESISTER”

TERROR ON LYSITHEA

His voice echoed from the reaches of the lofty temple whilst the congregation looked on in rapt attention. The preacher was clad in a strange pumpkin-coloured vestment as he stood behind the podium delivering his sermon.

“Disciples of the Lysithean Truth,” he intoned, his voice strong and commanding, yet tinged with something as of the edge of insanity, “I have come to you as a stranger, not one of your race, yet I have been chosen by the Healing Fire to guide you to salvation.”

As the man spoke, his form seemed to blink briefly in and out of existence, like as unto the results of interference to a broadcast. Yet the preacher was definitely a physical presence, there in that ancient temple upon the Jupiterian moon of Lysithea. He was seemingly a man of middle years, and his countenance still showed signs of handsome distinction despite being marked with the results of lifetimes of extreme profligate wickedness. His hair was long and dark, his face decorated with a thin moustache and goatee. Most of all, his pale eyes shone with a deeply hypnotic glare.

“It will soon come to pass, my beloved ones,” he continued. “Soon the mountain shall again give forth its sacred flame, and all your troubles shall be healed. I, the Prophet of the Healing Fire, do promise you this!”

With this, the congregation cheered. There were well over an hundred of them, all natives of the systems belonging to the planet Jupiter, with pumpkin-hued skin, the men particularly tall and heavy of build. They were dressed in many styles of garment, showing all the social classes of the capitalism-based United Provinces of Jupiter.

“I must tell you of one more thing, my dearest friends,” went on the supposed Prophet, his form again quickly blinking out of sight and then returning. “There are those who would come here to stand in our way, to prevent us from achieving the healing that the fiery mountain shall grant us. We must not allow them to do this! Our religious freedom is important above all things! We must stand against all who would oppose us! We must fight them, whether they are of Jupiter or elsewhere! We must also be willing to end their lives if it is necessary! We must be willing to do anything possible in order to defend our rights to the most holy flame!”

The Jupiterian crowd then again cheered in agreement to this call to defend their faith even with violence, and the one known as the Prophet of the Healing Fire -- the one who was actually the intergalactic criminal known as Don Wingus -- could not repress a grim chuckle as his face smiled a smile of evil disguised as beatific holiness. …

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!!! …

In a corridor of the research station on Lysithea, a strange gasping moaning noise was heard. At the same time there appeared an object resembling a Greco-Roman “Ionic column” -- an object that was, in actuality, a DiTraS (pronounced “DYE-tress” and standing for Dimensional Transport Sphere), one of those amazingly-advanced combination Spaceship/Time-machines available only to my people, the Watchers of Algol.

Something like a porthole appeared in the DiTraS and from it stepped two figures. The first was myself, Dr. Daniel Rumanos, dressed as I was in my usual finery, including a frilled poet shirt, purple velvet suit, military boots, and panama hat. The other was a beautiful girl with sun-kissed skin, chestnut-coloured hair, enchanting violet eyes, and a sensuously wide, full-lipped mouth. She wore a short, tight, electric blue dress that only served to highlight the soft curves of her slender young figure. Her name is Millie Drake, and she is my companion in the many adventures we experience as operatives of the Kosmikos.

“So this is Lysithea?” queried the lass. “One of the moons of Jupiter?”

“Quite right, Mills,” I approved. “Lysithea has an irregular intermediate orbit around that giant planet. It is quite small, and was the tenth of the Jovian natural satellites to be discovered by Earth astronomers.”

Just then, a man approached us down the corridor. He was a big Jupiterian clad in the blue, white, and red uniform of their government. His skin was the pumpkin-hue of his kind, albeit of a deeper shade showing him to be a descendant of the southern portion of his race.

“Doctor Rumanos,” he said in greeting. “Thank you for answering our call so quickly. I am Commander Athemos Flinniss from the Jupiterian Security Agency.”

“Pleased to meet you, sir,” I replied. “It is always an honour to work with the JSA. This is my assistant, Miss Millie Drake.”

Millie and the alien agent exchanged greetings as we strolled along to a near by office. We sat down around a conference table and Flinniss poured us all glasses of Io Sparkling Water, it being a Jupiterian tradition to always present ones guests with refreshments without first asking if they want them. Then we quickly got down to business.

“You say this religious sect is of some concern to the UPJ government?” I enquired.

“Indeed they are, Doctor,” affirmed the Jupiterian. “The Lysithean Cult springs up every three or four orbits, whenever the volcano upon this moon is due for eruption.”

“And they believe that the volcanic fire has certain healing powers?”

“Yes, they do. They believe in that rather fanatically. Last time, some of them jumped directly into the volcano and perished attempting to receive healing for various illnesses or infirmities. Since then, it has become a more spiritual thing, and the current cult membership is made up of people mostly without any physical problems at all.”

“But what threat do they cause to Jupiter?” asked Millie Drake.

“We would not be so concerned if of late they had not been exposed to a very charismatic leader,” explained Commander Flinniss. “He calls himself the Prophet of the Healing Fire, and is reportedly not a Jupiterian.”

“‘Reportedly’?” I queried. “Have you not been able to trace his background?”

“We have not even gotten a clear look at him. He stays entirely in the holy areas of Lysithea, where no government surveillance is allowed due to the Constitutional separation of Temple and Planet that is so important to the freedom of the United Provinces.”

“So you were hoping we could track down this cult leader, and defuse any dangerous situations?”

“Yes, for the time being,” said the Jupiterian. “The JSA has sent a message to the President, in hopes that he will issue an executive order that will allow us to put a military presence here. The problem is, that likely will not happen before the next eruption of the Lysithean volcano.”

“When is it due, Commander?”

“Any time now. Due to our agency’s cooperation agreement with the Daemonian CID, we hoped you would conduct the surveillance that our Constitution currently prevents us from doing.”

“Of course,” I acquiesced. “Miss Drake and I will gladly be of service to your great planetary nation.”

Suddenly, an harsh clicking sound interrupted our meeting.

“Daniel, what was that noise?” enquired Millie.

“It sounded like a electronic lock being bolted, hmmm?” I answered.

“Yes, it did,” said the Jupiterian agent, jumping up concernedly. “Let me just check the security system.”

He rushed over to a wall terminal and briefly studied a readout as the girl and I rose from our seats.

“By the gods!” swore Flinniss. “The entire station has been placed under unauthorised lockdown! We are under some sort of outside attack, and…”

“Hey, what’s that smell?” interrupted Millie.

The chamber was indeed filling up with an odour, an odour that was making it difficult to breath. I took a canary-coloured handkerchief from my pocket and held it up to Millie’s face.

“Hold that over your nose and mouth, love,” I told her as my own head began to feel a strange dizziness. “It seems to be some kind of nerve gas!”

I saw that Commander Flinniss was suffering from the effects of the substance as well as he stumbled over to the doorway.

“Doctor, there does not seem to be any way to override the outside interference,” he coughed. “According to the system, the entire station and its staff are similarly affected. All the doors are locked and will not respond to any attempt to open them.”

“Daniel…” gasped Millie Drake. “It’s getting so hard to breathe…”

Indeed, from the effects of the gas, the girl, the JSA man, and I were all beginning to slip into unconsciousness!

I took the transonic turnscrew, an highly-advanced scientific instrument somewhat resembling a writing pen, from the pocket of my jacket. Struggling to stay awake despite the effects of the gas, I aimed the transonic to-wards the ventilation system near the ceiling of the chamber. After I had activated a certain setting upon the device, there was the sound as of a rush of air and the room quickly cleared of the nerve gas smell.

I looked over at Commander Flinniss, and saw that the big Jupiterian had also managed to not totally succumb to the gas.

“What happened, Doctor?” he wheezed. “How did you clear the air?”

“I switched the polarisation on your air conditioning system,” I explained. “It will pump clean air in now that all the nerve gas is cleared.”

Whilst speaking, I checked on Millie Drake. The poor wee lass had fainted, and I removed my handkerchief from her face.

“She will recover in a few moments,” I said. “The cloth prevented her from inhaling too much of the gas.”

Millie soon stirred and I helped her to stand up. With the tenacity of youth, she was -- thank the Stars! -- soon well again.

“Daniel,” she said, “who did that? Do you think it was that cult?”

“It seems likely,” I replied. “For some reason, they are quite concerned in preventing us from investigating them.”

The lockdown had ended when the gas was cleared, and Flinniss was heading out the door to an adjoining office.

“I will get a message to President Bydemiff and see if he can hurry up that executive order,” he explained whilst hurrying off.

“In the meantime,” I added as we also left the chamber, “Millie and I will go ahead with our investigation. You can join us as soon as all the constitutional bureaucracy is sorted out, hmmm?”

The girl and I exited the research station onto the surface of Lysithea. The atmosphere of the moon was thin but breathable, its sky a deep shade of blue and dominated by the looming presence of the giant planet Jupiter. Since the station was situated halfway up the mountain, we were in close view of the volcanic crater, and walked to-wards it. As we approached, we came upon the ancient temple of the Sacred Flame, built entirely of stone and looking much like a cathedral yet without much ornamentation. We were about to enter the temple when a figure suddenly stepped from it.

It was the figure of a man dressed in an carroty-hued vestment robe, holding a sleek laser-gun in his hand. He approached and then stopped several metres from us. I gazed upon his face and beheld a visage I knew all too well.

“Don Wingus!” I exclaimed. “I should have known. So you did escape from Westminster Abbey.”

Millie huddled close to me. The last time we had encountered the evil Don Wingus, his minions had kidnapped her and threatened unspeakable things. Fortunately, I had rescued her before they could carry out their hideous plans, but the memory of this ordeal was one that the lass would carry with her forever.

“Daniel,” she whispered. “Look. All around us.”

I glanced around and saw that we were surrounded on all sides by Jupiterian people, all peering at us with a look of absolute murderous hatred.

I heard Wingus emit a low laugh as of triumph. We were trapped, encircled on all sides by the fanatical members of the Lysithean Cult!

“Ah, Dr. Rumanos and your special little friend, Mistress Drake, the Hollywood starlet turned Algolite secret agent,” mocked the villain. “Too bad your activities are preventing her from getting some starring role for which she would be so perfect, perhaps in a new soap opera about young girls entitled ‘The Young and the Breastless’.”

“So, whilst your Spectral Paranormal agents have continued to spread chaos upon Earth,” I told him, ignoring his taunts, “you have been here on Lysithea, ingratiating yourself to this religious cult. Of course it was you who tried to poison us with nerve gas earlier. But why would you want to be the glorified volcano vicar, hmmm? What possible use could this obscure sect be to your nefarious plans?”

As I spoke, the form of Don Wingus suddenly blinked out of sight, just for a split second, before returning to view.

“By the Stars, Wingus!” I swore as the import of what I had just witnessed occurred to me. “You were indeed injured by the power of the Coronation Stone, hmmm? So now you have joined the Lysithean Cult in hopes that the legendary volcanic flame might heal you? Really, old chap, you must be slipping in your old age, hmmm? I did not suppose you to be so gullible. Insane, yes. Totally and completely screaming mad, yes. But not gullible.”

“Something has escaped your knowledge, Rumanos,” he retorted with a wicked grin. “The Sacred Flame of Lysithea has Rejuvenative powers, much like the Springs of Daemonia. That is the origin of the local legend that it can be used for healing. When the volcano erupts, it will not only restore my body, it will greatly increase my physical and mentalist powers. I shall then lead the Disciples of the Healing Fire to take over the United Provinces of Jupiter. Then, when the mighty military forces of this world are mine to command, I shall utilise them to conquer the Solar System!”

“So that is it, hmmm?” I responded. “Despite the fact that you are indeed an Algolite, you lost the powers of Rejuvenation long ago, due to your sinful and illegal dalliance with a certain Diane Rizak. Sexual relations with adult women are an abomination and anathema to Algolites. It is the grossest form of ungodliness and immorality. You know that, but you did it anyway because it supposedly would assist in your utterly insane schemes to conquer the Universe -- just as you are now using the Cult of Lysithea! Nevertheless, you shall not succeed!”

“I shall succeed, Rumanos,” he retorted with a sneer. “In fact, I already have. My disciples here would physically tear you to pieces at my command, but I want them to wait. I want them to wait until you have witnessed my ascendancy, my transfiguration in the Lysithean Flame, and my having achieved the powers that shall assist me to take my rightful place as supreme ruler of all! I want you to see it, Rumanos! Once and for all, I want you to see that I am the one who is highest and unmatched in the Cosmos!!”

Whilst Wingus had been boasting and prattling on about his mad plans, I had slipped the transonic turnscrew out of my pocket, in hopes of utilising a setting that would neutralise my foe’s laser-gun. I was just about to activate the device when Wingus suddenly fired the gun, the blast sending the transonic flying from my hand. It landed a few metres distant.

“No no,” mocked the master criminal. “Not this time, Rumanos. Not this time.”

Before I could further react, Don Wingus sent another blast from his laser at the transonic turnscrew. To my horror, I saw the trusty old device melt away into a shapeless bit of metal.

“Oh no!” cried Millie. “Your transonic!”

Indeed, I must admit that the feeling evoked by this was like unto losing an old and dear friend.

I was just about to charge at Don Wingus, in an attempt to tackle him before he could fully return his attention to us. I knew that if he were threatened, his disciples would likely hesitate to attack us. None the less, before I could go through with this strategy, the unthinkable occurred.

The volcano began to erupt.

There was a deep roar from far down within the depths of the mountain, and the ground started to tremble and shake. In a moment, a rush of red fire shot forth from the massive crater, lighting up the sky and sending the surrounding cultists into obscene religious ecstasy.

“The Holy Flame! The Holy Fire!” they all proceeded to loudly chant in unison. “The Holy Fame! The Holy Fire!”

Millie held onto me in total abject terror as the ground continued to quake. As I looked, copious amounts of lava then suddenly rolled over the edge of the volcano and started to flow down the mountain to-wards us.

“The Healing Flame has come!” exulted the villain amidst peals of his demoniacal laughter, again briefly blinking out of sight and then back again. “The Healing Flame has come, and now I -- Master Don Wingus -- shall be reborn!!”

Can you even commence to recognise the horror, forsooth the complete and total eldritch fear of this incredible situation, readers? There we were, young Miss Millie Drake and I, on the moon of Jupiter known as Lysithea, trapped between that fanatical cult and the flowing lava and rushing fire of a surging volcano! All the while as the intergalactic criminal known to eternal infamy as Don Wingus prepared to utilise the strange healing propensities of the Lysithean Flame in order to effect a cure to the problems besetting his Algolitish nature!!

At the same time, the members of the Lysithean Cult continued their religious exultations. Some of them ran directly to the flowing lava and threw themselves bodily into it, perishing in the scorching heat. Others danced in sickeningly obscene rapture, forever chanting the brief litany of their horrid faith:

“The Holy Flame! The Holy Fire! The Holy Flame! The Holy Fire!”

In the centre of it all was Don Wingus, who indeed seemed to be receiving some energy from the hot exhalations of the volcano. He had ceased to blink in and out of existence and now remained as a definite, firm physical presence.

“Yes, I can feel it!” he announced in tones as of victory. “I can feel it! The Rejuvenation has begun! I am reborn! I am returned! No one can stand against me! Not you, Rumanos! Not the Kosmikos! Someday the very Absolute Convention of the Watchers shall bow down before me! I am the rightful ruler and dictator of the Universe! I! I! I!”

However, so distracted in his disgusting show of supposed triumph, Don Wingus had failed to notice something. Something important. Something that endangered his very life.

Out of habit -- a habit of protecting all as is my mission and oath to the Kosmikos -- I attempted to warn him.

“Wingus!” I called to him. “Behind you!”

“Really, Rumanos, do you actually believe I would fall for that old trick? It is you who are ‘slipping in your old age’, not I. I have now received the Healing Fire, and shall…”

Nevertheless, at the last possible moment Don Wingus did glance behind him. He looked when it was already too late. Too late for him to avoid being overcome by the flow of lava that had reached him from the mountain. In his haste to receive the powers of the Lysithean Flame, it is apparent that he had not even taken note of this danger.

The magma soon covered Don Wingus up to his chest, and he was sinking fast.

“Rumanos! Help me, Rumanos!” he screamed. “You cannot let me die like this! You are too good for that! You would not even allow your oldest and greatest enemy to perish in such a way! Help me, Rumanos! Help me!!”

Millie Drake had buried her face in my chest to avoid looking upon the grisly sight of Don Wingus being covered with burning lava. She was in a near-swoon of total abject fright from the entire situation in which we found ourselves. I covered the poor girl’s ears with my jacket in hopes that she would not so clearly hear his agonised screams for help.

“No, Wingus,” said I. “I tried to warn you, but I will not help you. I shall not save you from the results of your grotesque schemes. No, not this time. You see, I cannot forget something. I cannot forget what happened that time on Earth. I cannot forget what you and your followers once did to the only person I shall ever truly love.”

It was then that, with a final shriek of agony and outrage, the evil Don Wingus sank fully into the lava, vanishing completely below the flowing volcanic emission, disappearing entirely into the molten rock.

Just then, I noticed that the sky of Lysithea was now full of Spaceships.

“It is the Lysithean Space Navy!” I told Millie, who was beginning to recover from her fear. “The UPJ Government has taken action at last!”

Some of the ships began to land, and Jupiterian military men emerged, wearing protective armour against the effects of the erupting volcano. They proceeded to handle the situation by placing the surviving members of the Lysithean Cult under arrest.

Commander Flinniss soon appeared, now clad in the same protective gear. He hurried over to Millie Drake and me.

“Excellent timing, Commander,” I approved. “So the executive order came through, hmmm?

“When the President heard that you were involved, Doctor,” answered Flinniss, “he drafted the order right away. He says that you and he are old friends, and that he trusts your judgement implicitly.”

As we talked, the boiling lava was continuing to flow down the mountain.

“You two had better return to the research station,” suggested Flinniss. “It is shielded against the effects of the volcano. According to our scientists, the eruption has already reached its peak and will soon die down.”

The girl and I did as he said, and were soon safe in the station whilst the UPJ Space Navy finished rounding up the cult members and placing them in protective custody, where they would receive proper mental health care. We soon found the local canteen, and relaxed over a meal of “Jupiter’s Best” cheeseburgers, “Great Red Spot” brand fried potatoes, and Europa-Cola.

We had been mostly silent during this repast, not wanting to relive the terror that we had only just experienced. Nonetheless, we soon found something amusing to discuss.

“So you really know the President of Jupiter?” enquired Millie between sips of her alien soda pop.

“Quite right. He is a good friend from way back,” I affirmed after swallowing a large bite of my burger. “In fact, I have known him since before he was even a Senator. A true gentleman, old Thejoas Bydemiff. He has quite an eye for the young ladies. I like that.”

“Oh, I know you do, Daniel,” giggled the girl, her beautiful violet eyes sparkling. “I know you do!”

***** DANIEL RUMANOS AND MILLIE DRAKE SHALL RETURN IN “THE U15 INVASION”