BABES IN THE WOODS

“KATRINA RUMANOS,” read the inscription on the tombstone, “Memory Eternal.”

I had gone early that overcast day to Angelic Hills Cemetery, located just to the north of Baltimore City, to mourn and lay flowers on her sad grave. It had been so long now; so long since that time when she had been murdered by agents of the hideous Spectral Paranormal cult. Indeed, I have succeeded in protecting so many, in saving so many innocents from the hideous machinations of that organisation and the unspeakably evil mastermind behind it -- but I had failed to protect her. I had failed to protect the one I truly loved.

I had failed to protect the one who was my wife…

It was then that my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a helicopter descending near by. I turned and saw that it appeared to be a modern, high-tech military model, thickly-armoured and emblazoned with United States Government insignia. I turned and walked over to it, dressed as I was in my usual outfit, including a frilled poet shirt and purple velvet smoking jacket.

The helicopter pilot emerged as I approached, a young officer who snapped to attention and saluted me.

“Dr. Rumanos,” he said. “The Air Force requires your expertise in an important matter.”

I nodded in acquiescence, still feeling rather gloomy from my thoughts at the grave, and climbed aboard the helicopter.

To my surprise, the young man did not accompany me, but in stead slammed the door of the cockpit. A sudden feeling of nausea overcame me as the copter then took to the skies on its own.

It was only then that I realised I had been deceived. That was no officer, and this was no US Air Force helicopter. The interior was laced with Evaerlium, a rare radioactive substance detrimental to my people, the Watchers of Algol. The chopper itself was obviously being worked by remote control.

If I had any doubt as to what unmentionable evil could be behind this, it was soon enough dispelled. On the small view-screen directly in front of me appeared his broadcast image -- that of a man of middle years, dressed in pitch black. He had long dark hair streaked with grey, along with a thin moustache and goatee. His features still showed lines of distinction despite being marked by lifetimes of obscene profligate wickedness. A livid scar, as if made by some enormous talon, marred his face. His pale eyes shone hypnotically as one hand stroked a deformed black cat that lay upon his lap -- a cat with a bizarrely-human countenance and eyes like those of its master. His other hand deftly worked a remote control device.

Forsooth, it was the master criminal himself, the head of Spectral Paranormal, and the author of felonies endless and unimaginable.

“Don Wingus,” I spat the latest and greatest of the myriad abhorred names by which the intergalactic villain was known. “The old jackanapes. So he did escape from the Reptilians.”

“I have you now, Rumanos!” he cackled over the announcement system. “You will not escape from me this time! You have interfered with my plans for the last time! I have control of that vehicle, and soon you will be floating in the ghetto harbour along with the rest of the Baltimore garbage!”

Fortunately, I had been exposed to Evaerlium before and had achieved a somewhat higher degree of tolerance to it than many Algolites have. Although it did to some extent disable me, I was able to ignore the feelings of weakness just enough to retrieve my transonic turnscrew, an advanced scientific instrument that resembles a writing pen, from my jacket pocket and begin using it in a desperate attempt to gain control of the helicopter.

“Look down, Daniel Rumanos!” continued Wingus. “Look down and see your last sight! Look down and see ME!!”

I glanced out the window and saw that the helicopter was now directly over the World Trade Centre building just north of the Inner Harbour. On the roof of the building was the villainous Don Wingus himself, incongruously seated in a reclining chair. He raised his hand, the one that had been petting the eldritch cat, and mockingly waved to me.

I turned away in disgust. However, some hope then dawned upon me. Wingus’s grotesquely egotistical need to gloat over what he had planned to be my last moments of existence could be his downfall. I had gained just barely enough control over the copter to cause it to swoop down to-wards the roof of the building.

Don Wingus’s pet cat screeched and ran away as I scooped up his chair on the landing gear of the helicopter. I heard Wingus himself shout in surprise and rage as we again took to the air. Fortunately for me, he had dropped the remote device and I was now piloting the copter.

We flew high over the harbour to the location I had in mind. It was the smokestack with the word “Baltimore” painted on it, a well-known local landmark that is part of the incinerator in the city’s Westport neighbourhood.

“No, Rumanos, no!” I heard Don Wingus exclaim, trapped in his chair on the copter gear. “We can still be friends, as we once were! We could work together and conquer all! Together we could rule the Universe itself!!!”

Ignoring his satanic attempts at temptation, I tilted the helicopter directly over the top of the smokestack. It was then that the master felon known as Don Wingus, ridiculous recliner and all, fell into it. I heard his final scream of absolute terror as he plunged directly into the Westport Incinerator -- forsooth, a far lesser hell than that which he deserves!

As I then piloted the copter to-wards Martin’s Air Force Base for landing, I realised that it was Tuesday, and that their cafeteria would be serving tacos. Katrina would have liked that.

“All things considered,” I said to myself with a smile, “I suppose it is not such a bad day after all.” …

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 as “magic” to lesser beings.

Whilst most Algolites live in elitist seclusion from the rest of the Universe, I am an Operative for a secret organisation known as the KOSMIKOS, tasked with maintaining peace and order throughout the farthest reaches of Space and Time. “Plausible deniability”, and all that.

Currently assigned to Planet Earth, I protect its people from the hideous manipulations of the arch-villain known as Master Don Wingus (now hopefully, although certainly not prayerfully, deceased), as well as alien invasions, mad scientists, and indeed all manner of menace. I am the living icon of Algol upon this world. I am the sword of justice from the planet Daemonia. I am -- THE DAEMON-STAR!!! …

It was just after dark as young Miss Jenna Andrews trekked alone through the woods of Baltimore County. The rest of her scouting troop, The Girl Guides of Guilford, had already gone to bed in their tents before Jenna set out on her own to investigate the mysterious light she had perceived shining a mile or so away through the woodland.

Jenna Andrews -- sunny-haired, blue-eyed, toothsome and teenaged --had been left in charge of the group when their scout-leader had left to surreptitiously meet a boyfriend in a near by motel. Dressed in her uniform top and shorts, Jenna had been careful to cover her arms, legs, and neck with mosquito repellent before setting out. She was sure the other girls would be all right. After all, the area was not really all that remote, as it was just adjoining the grounds of an important scientific research facility.

Jenna felt for the scouting knife in the pouch of her belt. “Just in case,” she said, but really was not at all worried, only curious. You see, the research facility was rumoured to be conducting some experiments in rocket fuel, and Jenna wondered if the strange light she had seen could be connected with this.

The brighter light she had originally seen had subsided, but a subdued glow still shone in the area just ahead of the girl. She halted at the edge of it, and carefully peered through a small gap in the brush.

What Jenna Andrews then beheld in the clearing before her was strange indeed. In the centre of the clearing was a cone-shaped, metallic object about fifteen feet in height. Around it Jenna saw several men, dressed in ordinary office attire and lab-coats, moving in and out of an open door in the object. They looked to be intelligent types, indeed obviously scientists from the near by research centre, but their actions seemed subdued, controlled, zombie-like.

Nevertheless, this was not at all the most singular thing the beautiful Miss Jenna Andrews beheld that warm summer night as she peered from the woods into the clearing. For at that moment there came forth from the object another being. It was like a short and squat man, its silver coverall garment obviously enveloping a thickly-muscled frame. Its head was covered by something similar to a diving helmet.

The creature raised its arm and spoke into a small electronic device on its wrist.

“This is Adjunct Captain Nny of the Dojjolye Space Imperial Army,” it said, its voice deep and dark. “I have been shot down. My ship is damaged but I am attempting repairs. Requesting backup as soon as possible. Send confirmation that my message has been received.”

The creature waited a few moments and then, when it received no reply, clenched its fist in anger. One could tell from the rise and fall of its muscular chest that it was breathing heavily in its annoyance, so it was no surprise that the creature then reached to remove its helmet.

What was revealed when the thing removed its helmet was a surprise, though. In fact, to Jenna Andrews it was an horror, a final proof that what she was witnessing was a thing indeed not of this world, but rather a being from an unknown planet far away.

Its head was dome-shaped and hairless, with a thick, spiky ridge reaching from the forehead to the back of the almost non-existent neck. Its skin was of a deep grey colour, and it had three eyes the darkest shade of red. It was nose-less and earless except for a small hole at each side of its head, and its mouth was a narrow, lipless thing set at a perpetual snarl.

At the sight of this, and the thought of the unspeakable cosmic terror that she was so suddenly witnessing, Jenna felt her lips begin to open in an involuntary scream…

I quickly clapped my hand over the girl’s mouth and pulled her back slightly.

“Try not to make a sound, love,” I whispered into her ear. “Move back quietly with me and we can find a place of comparative safety for you.”

I felt her nod slightly and removed my hand from her mouth. Her trembling hand soon found mine in the darkness and I guided her to some thicker brush several yards distant.

“All right,” I told her. “We can talk now, but not above an undertone. What is your name, love?”

“Who… Who are you?” she enquired breathlessly. “I mean… I’m Jenna Andrews of the Girl Guides of Guilford. What is going on back there, and what is that… thing?”

“My name is Dr. Daniel Rumanos, but you can just call me ‘Doctor’. I am here to help. As for that ‘thing’, he is a warrior, a soldier from an alien race called the Dojjolye. His ship was damaged in battle just outside your solar system -- a battle that is part of a long war his people have been in against another race called the Jegrodis -- and he only just managed to guide it to Earth and intentionally land just outside the research facility. He has implanted those men, scientists from the facility, with electronic control devices and is using them to repair his spaceship.”

“Are you from the facility also, Doctor?”

“No,” I answered. “I am a sort of… specialist on alien life forms and so forth. I am just here to make certain he does not harm anyone before leaving this planet. The implants with which he is controlling the scientists are not entirely foolproof, so he may decide to kill them as soon as his ship is repaired, to be absolutely certain no one has any memory of his being here. I was just considering a way to peaceably prevent that from possibly happening when you showed up.”

“But, we don’t have anything to do with his war, do we?” queried the lovely lass. “Why would he kill people on Earth?’

“Miss Andrews… ”

“Call me Jenna,” she blushed.

“Jenna, the Dojjolye and the Jegrodis have been fighting for generations. War brings about paranoia. He will make certain no one on this planet knows of his temporarily being disabled here.”

“Oh, okay. I think I understand.”

“Fortunately,” I continued, “the communications system on his ship was damaged along with the engines, so all he has is the radio on his wrist device, which is not powerful enough for him to reach his fleet.”

“And you’re sure he can’t hear us now, Doctor?” she shuddered.

“Yes, quite certain. Dojjolye do not have very good hearing in this atmosphere, and his wrist device can only detect the presence of weaponry, including electronic circuitry and some types of poisonous chemicals…”

I broke off my speech, suddenly realising something that I, in my haste to protect the girl, had not consciously detected before.

“Jenna, that odour. Is it… insect repellent?”

“Yes,” she replied. “Mosquito spray. Oh no… You don’t mean he could… ?”

Unknown to us, the Dojjolye known as Nny had indeed detected the presence of a something akin to what could be used in chemical warfare, the substances in Jenna’s simple anti-insect spray. He stepped to-ward the area where we had been concealed and activated the control on his wrist device for its energy weapon.

I stepped in front of the innocent young lady just in time to shield her somewhat from the blast. The searing heat of Nny’s energy beam hit me square in the chest and I fell to the ground as the blackness of unconsciousness overcame me…

I awoke inside a room of sparse but efficiently-designed computer control banks, and knew that I was inside the Dojjolye’s damaged ship. I was on the floor, constrained by manacles on both my wrists and ankles. I looked round for the girl. She was near by, unconscious but unrestrained. I was glad that she appeared to be unharmed, and I deduced that a fainting spell had mercifully overcome her, due to the shock and horrors she had witnessed this night.

The human scientists were still going to and from the ship, working on repairs in their zombie-like fashion.

“I have scanned you,” said the Dojjolye, who was standing over me, studying the readout on his wrist device. “You are not of this planet. You are from the planet known as Daemonia. Ah, yes. You are one of the Watchers of Algol. A very old and powerful race, but you do not use your power properly.”

“We do not use it for conquest or unnecessary war, you mean,” I rejoined.

“Exactly. War is the way of the Universe. Those who do not study and practice it will be destroyed by or become subjugated to those who do. I am Adjunct Captain Nny, and I now inform you that the day will come when your people will also be made to serve as vassals to the Dojjolye Space Empire!”

“The girl,” I said, ignoring his taunts. “You have not harmed her?”

I noticed that Jenna Andrews was now stirring from her swoon.

“The creature known as a ‘female’ is unharmed,” said Nny. “I see that this species has a primary and secondary reproductive system. Quite inefficient. They should change it.”

‘Yes, I remember. You Dojjolye are a clone race, bred only for war.”

“So we are,” Nny pridefully replied. “We are produced to be the most efficient and deadly-effective warrior kind the galaxies have ever seen. We stand in military superiority above all others, and…”

“And what of science?” I enquired. “What of its uses for peace and education and helping others?”

“Science is only useful as we Dojjolye have used it: as a tool of warfare.”

“And what of faith?”

“There is no god but War.”

“And what about love?”

“A sickening and useless encumbrance,” snarled Nny. “We have not known it since the dark times of our prehistory. We are the strongest and most unstoppable soldiers ever known!”

“Really? ‘Soldiers’?” I mocked. “‘Soldiers’ who will never even form a rape queue after dragging a little girl outside of a burning village? Impossible!”

“I know nothing of what you are speaking. The Dojjolye are dedicated to the ways of war and we…”

“And you have not yet managed to gain a final victory over the Jegrodis,” I interrupted, “a race with which you have been at war for generations!”

“The Jegrodis are nothing!” he shouted. “We will achieve final victory and utterly destroy or subjugate their kind, as in time we shall all others, including YOURS!!”

During this increasingly bizarre and decidedly-circular argument, I had managed to secretly free myself from the shackles upon me, utilising some old escapology techniques in which I am indeed quite proficient.

“Ha!” I taunted as I stood up. “You have failed to keep even one Algolite prisoner! Nevertheless, you shall have a chance to prove your honour, for I, Rumanos of Daemonia, do challenge you, Adjunct Captain Nny of the Dojjolye Space Imperial Army, to direct hand-to-hand combat! I assure you I am of the highest patrician family of my world, and you as an officer and a warrior cannot deny my challenge!”

“Indeed, Daemonian,” snarled the Dojjolye, his three red eyes smouldering with hate and battle-lust. “Your challenge is accepted, for the glory of the Dojjolye Space Empire!!”

Nny and I walked together to the clearing outside his ship. I had noticed that the scientists, four of them in all, seemed to have finished the work they had been doing and were now standing at silent attention just outside the open doorway of the craft.

I stood facing Nny, and we made a brief ceremonial bow, as is the fashion of honourable combatants everywhere. We circled each other for some moments. I am quite taller than any Dojjolye, but his hard, thickly-muscled frame gave Nny an appearance of formidableness -- an appearance, as I was soon to learn, that was no illusion.

We grappled, and the first throw was mine, as utilising a technique of Daemonian kung fu I managed to heave Nny over my shoulder and send him crashing to the ground.

The Dojjolye quickly recovered, however, and charged at me angrily, immediately letting forth a barrage of fisticuffs. I responded in kind, looking for weak points in his alien physique. His own technique seemed to be an attempt to quickly disable me by pummelling, and I used his outstretch arms in order to achieve a couple more throws as our battle continued.

Nevertheless, Nny eventually caught me off-guard. He had approached me in the same stance he had used several times already, and I had expected him to again strike me. In stead, he suddenly grasped me around the lower chest area and started to squeeze. His strength was immense, and I was unable to draw breath from the moment his arms encircled me. The pain was immense, and I realised my own recent exposure to Evaerlium (in my battle with the now hopefully-late villain remembered to eternal infamy as Don Wingus) had weakened many of my usual Algolitish powers.

“You are finished, Daemonian,” I heard him say boastfully as I felt him begin to crush the life from me. “You are finished!”

Do you perceive the horror, the unspeakable terror, in sooth the totally unmentionable dreadfulness of this situation, dear readers? The alien warrior, a soldier bred for nothing but war, Adjunct Captain Nny of the Dojjolye Space Empire, had me in a death-grip from which I was, for the time, totally powerless to escape. I felt the life slipping from me as my head swam into what would soon be complete insensibility…

It was then that, from the darkness of oncoming unconsciousness, I felt the Dojjolye suddenly shudder and his grip on me weaken. With an effort, I shook him off and quickly stepped back and away from him.

Nny groaned in pain and outrage and was attempting to reach behind his back. As he turned away from me, I saw Jenna’s scout knife protruding from the lower lumbar area of his spacesuit. Having recovered from her fainting spell, the girl had exited the ship and was standing a few yards distant.

I quickly drew the transonic from my pocket and activated the device whilst aiming it at the spaceship. There was a brief sputter and then the sound of the ship’s systems activating.

Adjunct Captain Nny then hurried to-wards his craft, only halting briefly at the doorway to turn and shout to me.

“You have won only through trickery, Daemonian!” he exclaimed, injured but undaunted. “Be warned that you and your kind, and the people of this planet you are protecting, have not heard the last of the Dojjolye Space Empire!”

And with this, he boarded his ship, the metallic doorway closing behind him. The spaceship immediately rose upwards into the sky.

I ran over to Jenna Andrews. The lovely little lass threw her arms around me and was weeping -- weeping with a mixture of leftover fear, relief, and exultation.

“Knife throwing, eh?” I enquired.

“Well, yes,” she replied. “It’s a basic scouting course, you know.”

I could not repress a bit of laughter, in which the girl joined as we stood there together in the woods.

There was a sudden sound of a detonation and we immediately turned our eyes to the sky. The Dojjolye spaceship had exploded whilst several miles aloft, and only a circle of flame and smoke remained to tell of the presence of that proud alien warrior known as Adjunct Captain Nny.

“Doctor, what happened to him?” queried Jenna.

“The ship had only been partly repaired,” I explained. “The scientists under his control had finished the takeoff engines, but not the rockets necessary to reach space. They were awaiting his further orders when I distracted him with the challenge. I remotely activated the sequence with my transonic device, and Nny could not reverse it. The vessel exploded due to pressures in the upper atmosphere that it was not at the time able to withstand.”

“The scientists!” exclaimed the girl. “Will they be all right?”

We walked over to where the four men were now lying unconscious on the ground. I briefly examined them.

“They will be fine,” I said. “Just a little disoriented when they first awake. There will be no other after-effects of Nny’s control devices. They will find their way back to the research centre and most likely shall have no memory whatsoever of these events.”

“That’s good then,” said the lass. “Oh my! I really need to get back to the other girls! Hey, Doctor… would you like to visit our camp? I mean… you must be hungry and tired and…”

I looked at her and smiled. She was indeed beautiful, as if one made for love, a true nymphet…

“Miss Jenna Andrews of the Girl Guides of Guilford,” I then announced with my most courtly bow, “I would indeed be pleased and honoured to pitch my tent with you this evening.”

“Good!” she said with a lovely smile as we trekked off hand-in-hand through the moonlit woodland. “We have some good food that we can cook over the fire, and I’m sure the other girls would all love to meet you!”

“Babes in the woods, indeed,” said I. …

Little did I know that observing us from near by, concealed in the Stygian shadows of the woodland, was a figure. A tall figure in a black vestment robe whose pale eyes glowed with darksome hatred from within a deep cowl. A figure of unimaginable and unnameable evil. A figure who for now only watched, and waited…

***** DANIEL RUMANOS SHALL RETURN IN “JAILBAIT”