THE FORTY

The gloom of the temple’s one chamber was relieved only by the illumination from the stone door that I had forced open in order to enter. The thick surrounding forest shut out most of the light from the planet’s blue sun. I stood staring at the central pedestal and the odd object that rested upon it.

It was a thing of cylindrical shape, smaller than the breadth of my hand. It was entirely covered with jewels and coloured stones.

Dressed in my usual finery -- including a frilled poet shirt, purple velvet suit, military boots, and panama hat -- I continued to look at the object. It was not attached to anything, yet I knew that there would be some type of security around it.

“Well,” I said to myself, “now or never.”

I reached out and quickly picked up the object, straightway wrapping it in my large, canary-yellow handkerchief and secreting it in one of the voluminous pockets of my jacket. I was somewhat surprised that there was no immediate reaction. All remained silent in the temple, the only sounds being the cries of strange birds and far-off beasts from the forest.

Then it happened. I heard a low grating sound coming from above and looked up. The temple’s stone ceiling -- all one-hundred-plus tonnes of it -- was descending to-wards me! I turned to sprint outside just in time to see the door slam shut with a loud crash. All became dark in the temple as the ceiling continued to descend in its course to-wards its goal of crushing the very life out of me.

I continued to run in the direction of the doorway, whilst fetching the transonic turnscrew (an highly-advanced scientific instrument resembling a writing pen) from my pocket. I aimed the device to-wards the door and activated it, the resultant small glow of bright-orange light giving me some illumination as it, along with a whirring sound, indicated that the transonic was indeed at work.

I glanced upwards and beheld that the ceiling was barely more than a metre from my head and still descending. Then the door suddenly sprang open.

I hurried out into the forest, hearing a tremendous boom behind me as the temple’s stone ceiling made contact with its floor.

Continuing through the wooded area, I realised that I heard the sounds of raised voices from some distance behind me. Glancing back, I saw them. It was a war party of the planet’s natives -- a primitive, dark-complexioned humanoid race dressed only in colourful jewellery. The were advancing to-wards me carrying strange spears that glowed with effulgent light.

Quickening my pace to stay out of their range, I entered the clearing in the centre of which was my goal -- something resembling a “Roman column” that was, in reality, my DiTraS (pronounced “DYE-tress” and standing for Dimensional Transport Sphere), that incredible type of Time/Space travel machine usable only by my people, the Watchers of Algol.

A round, porthole type opening appeared in the DiTraS as I approached. I could still hear the enraged voices of the natives and new that they were gaining on me.

“Hit it, Millie!” I shouted as I jumped into a dive forwards through the opening.

A skidded to a stop on the floor of the ship’s large inter-dimensional control room just as the beautiful young girl standing at the controls activated the ship’s engines.

Outside, an odd gasping moaning noise was heard as the DiTraS faded from view. The very instant that it vanished into the void, a barrage of glowing energy spears hit the ground where it had been. …

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

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

Currently assigned to Earth, I protect its people (both upon their planet and across the eternal void) from the hideous manipulations of the arch-villain known as Master Don Wingus and his occult terrorist organisation, Spectral Paranormal; as well as 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 stood up and brushed off my clothing, there in the café-like control room of the DiTraS.

“Good work, Mills,” I told the girl. “We dematerialised just in time.”

“Did you get the relic?” enquired Millie Drake, absolutely ravishing with her luxurious chestnut hair, sun kissed skin, and enchanting violet eyes. She was clad in a short, tight, hot-pink dress that only served to highlight the soft curves of her slender adolescent figure.

“No worries, love,” said I, taking the handkerchief from my jacket and unwrapping it. “Here it is. The last remaining Gimwinkle Control Tube from the planet Gee-Cee. A relic of their once highly-advanced technology, before corruption reduced them to the primitive savagery in which they now live. I found it in the stone temple in which they had enshrined it as a religious icon.”

I placed the relic on the counter-like control console of the DiTraS and took a step back.

“Now,” I continued, “all we have to do is remove the various ornaments with which they adorned it to show their holy reverence, hmmm?”

I activated the transonic turnscrew and utilised it to begin pealing off the layer of multi-hued stones that covered the old cylinder.

“So this can really be used in our mission against The Forty?” queried Millie.

“I believe so,” I returned. “If the information is correct about what is their actual leadership, this should be of immense assistance.”

The Forty were a business conglomeration made up of representatives from forty different star systems within the Messier-13 Globular Cluster. Their activities had come to my attention some time before when they had hired Martian mercenaries to invade the planet Venus, in order to make that world give up the rights to its extensive mineral wealth. The plot had been stopped, but stealth investigations had uncovered that the corporation known as The Forty was indeed committing similar crimes elsewhere. It is thus that Miss Millie Drake and I, as Agents of the Kosmikos, had journeyed to M-13 in an effort to deal with the situation.

“Ah, here we go,” said I, having removed the ornamentation from the cylinder. It appeared of the colour of brass, and a mass of wiring and computer chips could be seen through a tiny transparent portion of the object. “What do you think, Kit-10?”

I held the old control device down to the catlike robot that stood near by, and a sensor extended from her metallic forehead.

“Systems show the device to still have some power in its electronic functioning,” answered Kit-10 in her pleasantly-feminine voice. “However, technology is too alien to determine if it is functioning within necessary and intended parameters.”

“Yes, well, we shall just have to hope for the best, hmmm?” I said. “Thanks for the expert analysis, old friend. You are a good kitty.”

“This unit is not a cat, s--,” replied Kit-10.

Despite her protestations to the contrary, Kit-10 does indeed have several catlike qualities, not the least of which is her total inability to openly show anything resembling respect to-wards anyone. The closest she can come is to refer to me by a slight “s--” sound (for “sir”) and to Millie by “m--” (for “ma’am”.)

There was a signal from the DiTraS control console and I examined the readings.

“We seem to have materialised,” I announced.

“So where are we?” queried Millie.

“At a space station near the centre of Messier-13,” I revealed. “It is the corporate headquarters of The Forty, as well as housing numerous shops and apartments.”

A few minutes later, I exited the ship along with Millie Drake and Kit-10. We were in a large corridor not unlike what would be found in a shopping mall. There were numerous patrons of the establishment browsing the shopping areas. The civilised inhabitants of the M-13 Cluster are mostly of humanoid shape, and would be indistinguishable from Earthlings should any of them ever visit that particular planet.

“The executive office of The Forty is at the top level of the station,” I told my companions. “Come along then, but be wary. I attempted to mask our arrival, but we may be recognised by the security systems.” …

Indeed, unknown to us, we were being watched on a video screen at that very moment by a rather nondescript man in a grey suit of clothing.

“They have arrived and are on one of the retail levels,” he said to someone behind him.

“Is it him?” came a bizarre, booming voice from the other side of the room. “The one who interfered with our plans on Venus?”

“Yes it is, Boss” replied the man. “It is Dr. Daniel Rumanos, the Algolite agent, along with his assistant and some type of service robot.”

“You know what to do,” announced the voice.

“Should we do it now or wait until they are in a less public place?”

“Do it now, Yoreee. Wipe them out, and let it serve as a warning to any others who would move against The Forty!”

“Yes, Boss,” obeyed the man known as Yoreee. “Right away.” …

As Millie, Kit-10, and I proceeded through the sales area of the space station, we suddenly found our path blocked by two enormous men in blue security uniforms. 

“Worry not, love,” I whispered to Millie, who was huddling close to me in trepidation. “I do not think they will…”

None the less, before I could complete my statement, one of the guards removed his ray-gun from its holster and pointed it directly at us. To my surprise, I then saw his finger begin to tighten on the trigger!

Kit-10 immediately activated her nose-laser, and a sharply-focused ray of light struck the security man’s gun just as he fired it. The harsh ray from the guard’s weapon harmlessly hit the floor near my feet.

I had just managed to take the transonic turnscrew from my pocket, and I aimed it to-wards the other security guard, who had by now taken out his own ray-gun. The setting I had chosen on the transonic caused the gun to overheat, and it clattered to the floor as the guard shouted in pain from his burnt hand. 

The two guards then proceeded to advance forward in an attempt to bodily apprehend me. I quickly pocketed the transonic and readied my hand-to-hand defences. …

Back in the office, the booming voice of The Boss bellowed an order to Yoreee:

“Do it now! While he is distracted! Take the female and secure her here. Just be certain that she is unharmed, so we can use her as a bargaining chip.”

“Right away, Boss,” obeyed the underling as he watched us on the view screen. His hands moved to some controls and programmed a certain sequence.

“If he somehow survives, this will lure him here,” continued the Boss. “We will pretend to make a deal with him for his assistant’s safety. Then we will kill them both!” …

I utilised a Daemonian jujitsu technique in order to flip the first of the two security guards over my shoulder. The man hit the floor with such force as to immediately render him unconscious.

Whilst this was happening, the other guard had managed to come up behind me. He twisted my arm behind my back and pulled it tightly. Ignoring the pain, I bent forward with such fast velocity as to send him over my head to land in front of me. Unfortunately, the haste with which I had been forced to do this had prevented me from putting much power into it, and the man recovered quickly, standing up and hitting me in the jaw with a blow from his fist.

It was then that, unseen by either Kit-10 or me, a shimmering light surrounded Miss Millie Drake, who then vanished from sight.

I returned the guard’s attack with a blow to the centre of his face, quickly adding a kick to his midsection. He stumbled backwards several paces.

“Stun him, Kit-10!” I shouted.

The mechanical feline’s nose-laser again flashed forth, hitting the security man square in his chest and leaving him as unconscious as his associate.

“Thank you, my good friend,” I told the robot. “Excellent work.”

“No problem, s--,” she replied.

I turned to survey the corridor. The patrons had all fled in fear as soon as the guards had begun to draw their weapons. No one was in sight. No one. Not even my young companion.

“Kit-10, where is Miss Drake?” I asked with concern. “Did you see anything that could give us a clue where she has gone?”

“No precise information available, s--,” replied the robot, “although sensors are showing the residue of a matter transportation beam. She was likely taken when we were distracted by the security guards.”

“By the Stars!” I swore. “It appears that agents of The Forty have kidnapped her!” …

In the executive office of The Forty, the man known as Yoreee was handcuffing Millie Drake to a post that reached to the ceiling.

“Do not worry, little one,” sneered Yoreee. “The Boss wants you unharmed -- for now!”

The girl had stayed silent, as she had been instructed to do in any such situations. However, as she was being bound, she was turned to face to-wards what was seated behind a large desk that dominated one wall of the office. Her eyes grew wide with terror at what she beheld there.

Despite her training, young Miss Millie Drake could not stifle a scream of absolute abject horror at the sight of that thing -- the one known as The Boss. …

Do you recognise the unspeakable dread, forsooth the unholy fright of this situation, my dear friends? My beautiful companion, Millie Drake, had been abducted by The Forty, that unspeakably-evil business consortium. I could only imagine what unmentionable eldritch horrors she was facing.

Of course, Kit-10 and I immediately went into action in an endeavour to find and rescue her. We made our way to-wards the top level of the space station, the level on which were to be found the executive offices of The Forty.

I found it odd that, along the way, we encountered no resistance. I attempted to remain positive as the thought nagged the back of my mind as to just how ominous this actually was.

On the top level, we found the large doorway that was the entrance to the office of The Forty. It was closed but unguarded, and I examined it closely before we made any attempt to enter.

“There is an unseen lock here, Kit-10,” I announced. “Can you do a scan to ascertain its parameters?”

The robot’s scanning sensor again extended from her forehead and touched the wall just beside the door. There were several seconds of electronic beeping noises as she studied the system.

“Parameters found,” relayed Kit-10. “Locking mechanism is of the electro-duality variety.”

“Ah, of course,” I realised. “So it takes at least two individuals to operate it, one of which must remain behind in order for the other or others to get through.”

“Affirmative,” said the mechanical puss.

“Kit-10, can you open the lock and remain here whilst I look for Miss Drake?” I queried.

“Of course, s--,” replied the robot.

A moment later, the door slid open and I hurried through. It closed quickly behind me, leaving Kit-10 on the other side. I was alone in the headquarters of The Forty.

I walked cautiously down the interior corridor to-wards the rather obvious office room at the end of it. I again received no resistance as I entered the office.

Everything of note was along the far wall as if in a tableau. To one side was Millie Drake, shackled to a post. Beside her was a rather nondescript man in a grey business suit who was holding a ray-gun to her head.

Millie gasped with a mixture of relief and trepidation at seeing me. I did not speak, but gave her a quick wink before turning my attention to the thing that dominated the room. It was a thing of nightmares beyond all sane imaginings.

It was seated behind a big metal desk. It was like an huge amorphous blob, grey and green and blue of hue. It sat in a puddle of viscid slime that was at once both its excrement and its sustenance. It had something like two grotesquely-small black eyes that peered at me with a mixture of hate and insane humour. Then it opened its long, grotesque slit of a mouth and spoke.

“Hello, Dr. Rumanos of Algol,” said the thing, its voice a booming mockery. “Welcome to the executive headquarters of The Forty. I am The Boss, and the person caring for your female is my office assistant, Yoreee. Now, do be careful to keep your hands where we can see them. We would not want my associate to get the wrong idea and think it necessary to execute your friend here, now would we? No, we have a little negotiation to make in stead -- a little business deal that will prove beneficial to us both.”

“What exactly did you have in mind?” I enquired, struggling to stay calm as I felt disdain seething within me.

“I have the documents already drawn up,” said The Boss, indicating some papers upon his desk. “As an Agent of the Kosmikos you have certain powers of negotiation. You will sign this form to agree that the Watchers of Algol will leave The Forty alone to pursue and expand our dealings throughout the Galaxy as we see fit. You will not move against us further. You will sign this agreement now, or Yoreee here is fully authorised to immediately end the female’s existence!”

“Daniel, no!” cried Millie Drake. “Don’t do it! Don’t let this thing continue to plunder the Galaxy!”

“Be quiet, girl,” said Yoreee. “There will be no further outbursts of that sort.”

I ignored them both and moved forwards to the desk. The Boss guffawed as I approached.

“A wise choice, Doctor,” it said. “A wise choice indeed. You will find a writing instrument to the side of the document. Please just affix your signature, along with your authorisation code number as an Operative of the Kosmikos, and our deal is done.”

I reached forward as if to grasp the pen that lay beside the papers, but then raised my hand slightly to-wards The Boss. It was then that a low vibrating sound was heard. With this, the horrid creature suddenly shuddered and groaned. I had activated the control device that I had taken earlier from the Gee-Ceean temple. It had been hidden in the palm of my hand since before I had entered the office.

“What!” bellowed the monstrosity in pain and outrage. “How did you know to use such a thing as that? I am The Boss! I am… !”

“I know exactly what you are,” I told the thing. “You are the last of the Gimwinkles, a form of animal life once found on the planet Gee-Cee. They were kept as pets by that world’s humanoid population, who had developed a technology that rendered you docile, such as is found in this old Control Tube. Nevertheless, by the time Gee-Ceean society entered its decadent period, the Gimwinkles had begun to evolve and develop intelligence. They soon overthrew the Gee-Ceeans, reducing them to the savagery in which they exist to this day. Then the Gimwinkles left that planet in the prototype spaceships the Gee-Ceeans had invented and abandoned. You spread throughout the Cluster and became business moguls, eventually forming The Forty. Along the way, your species developed some genetic defect that decimated your population. You are thus the last Gimwinkle in existence, and now…”

I touched the Gimwinkle Control Tube with my thumb and the vibration noise went up in volume. The creature shook violently and began to split open in several places.

“The device was only meant to keep your kind docile,“ I went on, “but I managed to make a little adjustment on my way up here. It is an adjustment that increased the power of the device in its effect upon your Gimwinkle nervous system. You see, your abducting Miss Drake crossed the line. This is no longer just a mission to stop your corporation from controlling all local business. Now this has become personal -- and now I bring your end!!”

By now, the thing known as The Boss, last of the Gimwinkles, had split open and oozed out its viscera like so much rotten fruit. Soon its convulsions settled, and I knew that the horrible monster was dead forever. I deactivated the control and slipped it into my pocket.

Meanwhile, Yoreee had put his gun in its holster and had removed the shackles from Millie Drake. The dear girl ran over and threw her arms around me.

“It is fine now, darling,” I assured her. “You see, I recognised Yoreee as soon as I entered the office, and knew he would not harm you.”

Yoreee came over and shook my hand.

“Excellent job, Doctor,” he said. “I will send a message to the Association right away, and they will surely be quite pleased.”

The man left the room and proceeded down the corridor, leaving me alone with Millie.

“So he was on our side all along?” queried the lass.

“Indeed he was,” I informed her. “Yoreee is a spy for the local Small Business Association, and has been working undercover to foil The Forty’s attempts to control all business in the Cluster.”

Millie then glanced over and shuddered at the sight of the putrid remains of the Gimwinkle, that horrid creature known as The Boss.

“So The Forty won’t be able to survive without that thing?” she asked.

“Indeed they will not, my dear,” I explained. “The power of The Forty was wholly bound up in the bizarre and unscrupulous business sense of the last of the Gimwinkles. Without it, they shall cease to function, and commerce here in the M-13 Globular Cluster should quickly return to normal.”

“We will return the control device to the planet Gee-Cee, won’t we?” questioned the girl.

“Of course we will, love,” I agreed. “We will also rebuild their temple for them. After all, we would not want the Gee-Ceean natives to lose their faith and become a lot of hopeless drug addicts or something, hmmm?”

By now, Yoreee had opened the outer door and allowed Kit-10 to enter. He was close behind her, having sent the message to his Association with information on how to contact me.

“It looks like your mobile computer has already received word from my superiors,” announced Yoreee. “They have received my encoded message concerning your success and wish to show their appreciation.”

“Really?” said I. “What do they say, Kit-10?”

“A message has indeed been received from the Cluster’s Small Business Association,” explained the metal cat. “They say that in respect of having stopped the monopoly of The Forty on the local commerce, Dr. Daniel Rumanos and company are hereby invited to a special banquet to be held in your honour.”

“Oh, they’re having some kind of awards dinner for us,” said Millie Drake. “But Daniel, are we supposed to attend something like that as Operatives of the Kosmikos?”

“Mills, my love, I suppose we need to get used to things like this,” I counselled. “After all, we are the most famous secret agents in the Universe!”

***** DANIEL RUMANOS AND MILLIE DRAKE SHALL RETURN IN “BLAZE OF GLORY”