THE FINAL GAME

“I am convinced that only with a girl not older than fifteen I can experience delight and it is worth giving my life for.”
(Valentin Samsonov) …

Matt Macklin parked his dingy grey van outside of Happy Hills Middle School and waited. Macklin, age thirty, was short and obese, clad in jeans and a t-shirt that advertised some trashy “doom metal” band. His hair and scruffy beard were the colour of excrement.

Upon his left bicep was a tattoo of three interlocking triangles.

As he watched the various students exiting that public school there in the Rosedale area of Baltimore County, Matt Macklin found his hand straying to his crotch. It was the young boys that attracted him. Not that he was a “paedophile”, mind you. That specific predilection would have been far too refined for him. Macklin was attracted to boys and men of all ages. He was a closeted but ardent homosexual of the type that would have at one time been burned alive for his unnatural desires.

Nevertheless, Matt Macklin concentrated on his mission. He knew his master would be angry if he allowed his thoughts to wander away from that which he had been assigned to accomplish. For what Macklin was waiting for, according to his master’s commands, was not a boy. It was a girl.

His master had said that this girl was just the type. Just the type that his master’s enemy would find irresistible. Just the type to use as bait in order to trap and ensnare that enemy in something that would finally be the end of him.

Macklin’s master had looked through the school records of so many local students in order to find the one, and was certain this one was it. Even the girl’s name was perfect, his master had said. Her name was “Lalita”.

Just as Macklin thought upon this, the girl came out of the school. She was thirteen years old, tall for her age, a true beauty with auburn hair and blue eyes. She was dressed in a short blue skirt and a pink tank-top. On her legs was a pair of candy-striped stockings.

Matt Macklin jumped out of his van and approached the girl.

“Hey, Lalita,” he said. “You want a ride home?”

“Umm, no thank you, sir,” answered the girl warily. “I just live down the street, so I can walk.”

“No, your mom said I should drive you,” Macklin lied. “Get in the van.”

A look of fear then entered little Lalita’s beautiful eyes. She was going to turn and run away, but it was already too late. Matt Macklin had by now grabbed her and covered her mouth and nose with a washcloth. The girl slipped into unconsciousness as the chloroform took effect.

Holding the girl in one arm, Macklin opened the backdoor of his van and thrust her inside. He closed and locked the door and then quickly returned to the driver’s seat. He started up the motor and quickly left the vicinity of Happy Hills Middle School.

Matt Macklin smiled a smile of sick accomplishment. He knew his master would be pleased. …

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 “miraculous” 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 or Cosmic Intervention Department, 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 and his occult terrorist organisation, Spectral Paranormal; as well as alien invasions, mad scientists, and indeed all manner of menace. I am the living icon of Algol upon this world. I am the sword of justice from the planet Daemonia.

I am -- THE DAEMON-STAR!!! …

I had been off-world for a while, seeing to my friend Millie Drake’s enrolment at Daemonia Academy. Millie, a beautiful young Hollywood starlet who had only recently discovered her own Algolite heritage, had been in wonder as I showed her around a few of the sights of our home planet. She had then stayed to take the entrance exams whilst I returned to Earth in order to check on other concerns. As proud as I was of young Millie Drake, and especially at her own determination to matriculate at my own alma mater, I already missed her terribly and looked forward to the next time I could see her, feel her, hold her in my arms.

I had returned to Earth in my Time-Space vehicle, the DiTraS (pronounced “DYE-tress” and standing for “Dimensional Transport Sphere”) and had immediately discovered a message that required my attention. It was an email from Dr. Jacob Morantz, the retired archaeologist and now special collections curator at the Walters Art Museum. He claimed that a certain rare item had recently been stolen from the museum’s collection, and that he believed it was something within my particular area of expertise.

I left my headquarters, located as it is in the golden  trapezoidal rooftop of a downtown Baltimore City skyscraper, and drove to the museum in my canary-coloured Edwardian roadster (affectionately known as “Lizzie”).

Clad in my usual finery (including a frilled poet shirt and purple velvet dinner jacket), I entered the office of Dr. Morantz and was greeted by him. He was a quiet, elderly gentleman, one who had obviously devoted his life to the collection and preservation of antiquities from around the world. He was dressed in a plain grey suit, the tie loosened.

“Thank you for coming by on such short notice, Dr. Rumanos,” he said as he motioned me to a chair.

“No problem at all, Dr. Morantz,” I affirmed. “I am honoured that the Walters would enquire after my opinion on the matter. So now, what is this antiquity that has been stolen?”

“It is a certain red stone that was found some decades ago in the ruins of a Toltec temple,” Morantz informed as he sat behind his desk. “It does not seem to be of their manufacture, however. The stone was obviously an object of worship and extreme veneration by that Mesoamerican people. Here is a photograph of it.”

Morantz handed me a postcard-sized photo of a stone deep blood-red in colour. It was on a table next to a slide-rule that showed the object to be about eight inches in length.

“By the Stars!” I exclaimed. “That appears to be one of the Crimson Crystals of C’sem 6! Surely you have not had this on display to the public here?”

“We did at one time,” he answered. “But it was removed after numerous patrons claimed that it sometimes seemed to glow with an odd light of its own. Some of them even complained of seeing strange visions after viewing it.”

“Visions of what?” I queried.

“Well, of spiders,” replied Morantz. “Just fleeting glimpses of very large spiders.”

‘Ah, that would serve to confirm that is indeed from C’sem 6,” I said. “That is a planet many light-years distant. It is a volcanic world, and the eruptions sometimes thrust material into Space. The stone probably arrived on Earth meteorically.”

“But what of the strange glow?” asked the old archaeologist. “The spiders?”

“The crimson planet known as C’sem 6 is indeed inhabited by a species of large arachnid,” I informed. “They have developed intelligence due to the influence of the radiation present in the planet’s rocks. Now, a very few of the stones found on C’sem 6 are said to be of particularly extreme power, even supposedly allowing those who exceptionally connect with them to transport bodily across Outer Space and to travel to other worlds.”

“Incredible,” exclaimed Dr. Morantz. “Absolutely incredible.”

“So, you say the crystal has been stolen? When did this happen?”

“It was burgled from the auxiliary storage room just two nights ago. Here, I have the security camera footage.”

Dr. Morantz then turned the computer monitor on his desk to-wards me. On it was video footage of a dimly-lit room in which was shelving containing many boxes and items. As I watched the recording, a figure was seen to enter the room. It appeared to be a tall man dressed entirely in black, an hood obscuring his features. I could not suppress a cold chill at the realisation that there was something bizarrely familiar about the figure’s movements. He walked over and briefly rummaged through the shelves, soon taking one object from them. I could tell from a brief glimmer of red light that it was indeed the crimson crystal.

As the dark figure then exited the room, he turned his face slightly to-wards the camera, briefly revealing his features. His countenance was as of a man of middle years, still handsome despite being marred with the marks of lifetimes of extreme profligate wickedness. His hair was dark, and his face was decorated with a thin moustache and goatee. Most of all, his eyes shone with a weirdly-hypnotic effulgence.

Forsooth, it was a visage that I knew all too well.

“Don Wingus!” I exclaimed. “I should have known. So he did escape from Damballah.”

“Who is this person, Dr. Rumanos?” enquired Morantz.

“He is none other than the most notorious outlaw in all of Space and Time,” I informed. “He is an utterly insane miscreant who will stop at nothing to establish his own dictatorship over all of Creation. If he intends to use the powers of the Crimson Crystal of C’sem 6 in his designs, then this world -- along with many others -- is in extreme peril!”

“Can he be found and the Crystal recovered?”

“That is what I must see to,” I proclaimed as I stood up to hurry from the office. “Thanks for the information, Dr. Morantz. I shall let you know, as soon as I possibly can, what happens.” …

At that same time, in a location elsewhere in the city of Baltimore, the intergalactic criminal known as Master Don Wingus stood in a chamber that had been decorated in antique Victorian splendour. He was clad in a suit made of black silk, and he stood before a table upon which was the Crimson Crystal of C’sem 6 itself.

Wingus focused his mesmerising gaze upon the crystal, concentrating deeply. In response, the red stone began to glow with an eldritch light, a pulsating effulgence of phantasmagorical and otherworldly power.

Then, on the other side of the room, a certain thing began to coalesce into physical appearance. It was more than a metre wide and an horrid ebon-black in hue. It was covered with short, bristly hairs and possessed eight horrid eyes and eight legs.

“Welcome, Ambassador of the Ruling Rachadnis of C’sem 6,” said Don Wingus when the horrible creature had come clearly into view. “All things are going as planned. I have prepared the trap for the only one who could oppose us, Dr. Daniel Rumanos. All will be ready for your invasion, and for the complete fulfilment of our designs.”

“This is good,” answered the thing, its voice an high-pitched shriek of unholy madness. “Your assistance will be rewarded. Soon, the Rachadnis will overrun this planet. Then we will go on to other worlds. The Universe will be ours!”

The horrid monstrosity shook as of with evil glee as it spoke. The thing was a living nightmare. It was a giant spider!! …

After leaving the Walters Art Museum, I had immediately returned to my headquarters and initiated a scan for alien technology in the area. I was soon rewarded with results. There was something emanating from an address in the city’s Hampden neighbourhood, a psyche-physical pulsation that likely indicated the presence of the Crimson Crystal itself. I accordingly drove Lizzie to this location forthwith.

It was evening when I arrived. The Sun was setting in Baltimore, and a forebodingly-unnatural darkness already seemed to hang over the city.

The address turned out to be that of something called “Yoga Tree Baltimore”, yet another of those trendy hipster establishments that claim to teach Eastern mysticism to individuals with far too much time and money on their hands.

It was past business hours and the door was locked. I took the transonic turnscrew (an highly-advanced scientific instrument somewhat resembling a writing pen) from the pocket of my jacket. The lock yielded to it in less than a second, and I quietly entered Yoga Tree Baltimore.

I took out my small electric torch in order to see my way around the place’s darkened front room. It was typically-decorated with posters showing the chakras and various yogic positions, along with others offering ridiculous feel-good affirmations that would be recognised as absolutely-ludicrous by any actual Tibetan monk.

Suddenly, I heard a plaintive cry from the back of the shop.

“Help me…” sobbed a faint female voice. “Please, somebody help me…”

I opened the inner doorway and entered the large storage room behind the shop. I found it to be incongruously decorated with antique 19th-Century furnishings, but that was far from being the strangest thing about this room.

It was lit by a central radiance coming from its centre, where there was a table on which was one object -- the Crimson Crystal of C’sem 6 itself. However, it was what this red glow revealed that was most truly bizarre.

Behind and above this table was an huge spider-web, stretching from the ceiling to the floor and from one wall to the other. In this web was caught a beautiful young girl, an exquisitely lovely teen, slender and perfect with rich auburn hair and skin of the purest white. She was wearing a pink tank-top and a short blue skirt. On her legs were candy-striped stockings that ended just above the knee, exposing the tempting flesh of her thighs.

“Please... help me…” she repeated faintly.

“Worry not, love,” I consoled. “I shall free you from this outrage.”

I took the transonic turnscrew from my pocket and held it above the strands of the webbing around the girl. When she began to come free, I lifted her out from it carefully in my arms, then carrying her across the room away from the horrid web.

“Thank you,” she gaped as I laid her down, propped up against the corner of the wall. “I don’t know how I got here. Some guy kidnapped me from school. I think he drugged me. When I woke up, I was in that… thing. Is that really a spider’s web? How can… How can it be so big?!”

Her soft blue eyes were innocent and plaintive, and the cherry lips of her wide, sensuous mouth served to intensify the feelings of protective desire I was feeling for this ravishingly-gorgeous young maiden.

“Just try not to worry,” I soothed. “I am the Doctor, and I am here to help. What is your name, love?”

“Lalita,” she answered.

“Well, Lalita -- and that is a beautiful name that certainly suits a truly beautiful little girl like you -- I promise I shall  do all I can to keep you safe.”

“I believe you, Doctor,” she smiled faintly as I helped her to her feet. “But… what’s going on here?”

“Well, just to explain quickly,” I said, “you see that glowing red stone? It is called the Crimson Crystal of C’sem 6, and a certain very evil person is obviously using it to bring the Rachadnis, a species of giant spiders from another planet, here to Earth.”

“Ewww!” shuddered the girl. “Why would anyone want to do that?”

“I suspect they want power,” I explained. “Power to take over this world and rule it for themselves. To subjugate the human race and use them as slaves. He has joined himself with them in his own lust for such power.”

“But what do I have to do with it?”

“I am not certain,” I answered her. “Perhaps you were just put here to…”

“To keep you busy, Dr. Daniel Rumanos,” interrupted a rough male voice from behind us.

I whirled around and faced the speaker. It was a man of about thirty years of age, short and obese, with his hair and scruffy beard the colour of excrement. He was clad in black jeans and a t-shirt promoting some trashy “doom metal” band. There was a tattoo on his left bicep, an horrid tattoo of three interlocked triangles -- in sooth, a symbol that I recognised as the hallmark of the most dangerous terrorist organisation in existence.

“You are an agent of Spectral Paranormal!” I exclaimed. “You are a lackey of Don Wingus himself!”

“My name is Matt Macklin,” proclaimed the man, “and Master Wingus has given me special powers to destroy you!”

And with this, the man known as Matt Macklin moved with a speed superhuman and struck me with his fist -- a blow that sent me reeling to smash against the far wall of the chamber, bashing the back of my head against the unyielding plaster.

I then beheld Macklin bounding to-wards me, and I heard Lalita scream as I began to sink into unconsciousness. 

As soon as Matt Macklin was within striking distance, I ended my feint and kicked to-wards his stomach, delivering a series of Daemonian jujitsu blows to him. They had some effect, but not as much as they would against most human beings. He still managed to get in a few punches back at me, showing a strength beyond the norm.

“Your strength has indeed been augmented,” I said. “Wingus has given you temporary abilities above those of an Earthling.”

“The Master has blessed me with his majesty,” intoned Macklin, his sick eyes filled with unholy devotion. “He has filled me with his glorious essence and…”

“All right, all right,” I interrupted in disgust. “I do not want to hear the details of your unnatural liaisons with that perverted villain. It is an abomination, an infernal mockery of all that is pure and good!”

“You are homophobic, Daniel Rumanos,” accused Macklin. “The Master tells me about your obsession with little girls. That is why we brought this one here to lure you to your doom!”

I glanced over and saw that Lalita was huddling in fear against the wall. The Crimson Crystal of C’sem 6 continued to glow its eldritch glow, filling the room with its grotesque illumination whilst my fight with Matt Macklin continued.

The light from the stone caused me to think of the fact that the shop’s own lighting was not on. I made a quick glance at the switch on the wall near me, and then manoeuvred around so that it was just within my reach.

Macklin made another charge to-wards me and, just before he could reach me, I unleashed a kick to his stomach, sending him reeling across the room directly to-wards the target I had intended. He hit it full force. It was a jumble of exposed wiring from the establishment’s electrical system.

Before he could disentangle himself, I turned on the light-switch. The resultant illumination was barely noticeable alongside the phantasmal glow of the Crimson Crystal, but the electricity had its effect. Matt Macklin shrieked in pain and then fell silent as the resultant power surge took the life from his body. He slid to the ground, dead from the shock.

“An electrifying performance,” said I.

I ran over to Lalita and the beautiful little girl fell into my arms, still trembling with abject fear.

“It is all right, love,” I told her. “I just need to find a way to drain the power from the alien stone and then all will be safe. If there were only some way to absorb it that would not be lethal, and…”

Nevertheless, things were not going to be even that simple, for at that very moment, the glow from the Crimson Crystal suddenly intensified and a swirling red radiance filled the room. Lalita and I were surrounded by it, and I then felt a sensation of transportation through my body.

“Doctor!” exclaimed the lass. “Doctor, what’s happening?!”

“We are being taken from Earth!” I said. “The power of the Crimson Crystal is transporting us through an inter-dimensional corridor to transverse the depth of Interstellar Space. We are being taken to another planet!”

The sensation of transport then faded and I looked around, with the poor girl still clinging to me in fear. As our new surroundings became clear, I had to guard against showing my own horror at the situation in which we now found ourselves. We were in an immense cavern, glowing blood red from the Crystal that had been transported with us. The cave was filled with webbing, and at its centre was a spider at least thirty metres wide, its eight long horrid legs quivery with malignant life, and its terrible eyes focused upon us.

“Welcome to C’sem 6, Rumanos of Algol,” announced the thing, its voice a thing of high-pitched echoing madness. “I am the Ruling Rachadnis and you are now our prisoner. The planet Earth will now be ours, and you cannot resist us. Then, we will go on to conquer other planets, solar systems, galaxies. This is our inescapable snare -- this is our Worlds Wide Web!!”

Around the gigantic arachnid was a brood of other spiders, and then I beheld, approaching from the side, the figure of a man in a black silk suit.

“You will not stop the Rachadnis, Rumanos,” he said, his voice one I knew far too well. “I have made a deal with them, a deal that assures my position as co-ruler of Earth and the other planets of its system. A deal that includes your total and ignominious defeat!”

And then this individual, the intergalactic arch-criminal known as Master Don Wingus, laughed a laugh of unspeakably demoniacal madness!

“‘Come into my parlour,’ said the spider to the nympholept,” Wingus went on in mockery. “I knew you could not resist hurrying to save the cute little damsel in distress.”

“You are mad, Wingus, utterly mad,” I announced. “These spiders will not prove trustworthy. They will destroy you as they would ravage worlds.”

“It will not work this time, Rumanos,” retorted the villain as we stood face-to-face, “We have played the final game, and you have lost!”

I then hit him with an unexpected upper cut to the chin, sending him sprawling on the floor. Before he could recover, I took the transonic turnscrew from my pocket and aimed it at the Crimson Crystal.

“I am switching the stone’s polarisation,” I explained whilst activating the transonic device. “All the power that it has emanated will now be drained back into it.”

I then heard the Ruling Rachadnis scream in pain as its strength began to be drained into the Crimson Crystal. The monstrous spider’s body began to shrivel up and die.

“Lalita, stay behind me!” I shouted. “There will be a backlash when the Crystal fills with energy! It will release a fatal burst of radiation, but I should be able to absorb it and keep you safe. You will then automatically be transported back to Earth!”

“Alone, you mean?” queried the girl concernedly. “Without you?”

“That is the only way, love,” I affirmed. “The radiation will prove deadly to even my Algolitish physique. You will be safe, though, and that is what matters.”

“No, Doctor, no!” she shouted back. “Don’t kill yourself for me! I’m just a little girl! I don’t matter! Please don’t die, Doctor!”

Then something extraordinarily odd occurred. Don Wingus looked at us, at the beautiful Lalita and at me, then he looked at the Ruling Rachadnis. He beheld the horrid creature with which he had allied himself, now shrinking away in defeat, and a sudden look as of realisation came across his features.

“Stand aside, Rumanos,” said Wingus, as he moved to stand directly in front of the Crimson Crystal. “Old friend, this is my concern.”

It was then that the backlash happened. The spiders were by now dead, all the energy of their very selves drained into the red stone, and its radioactive content was overloaded. The radiation suddenly rushed forth out of the Crystal, and I looked on as Don Wingus absorbed the full force of it into his body. It was too much for even him, and I saw Wingus wince and shudder in extreme pain before his entire form simply dissolved -- dissipating away into nothingness as if he had never really existed.

As Lalita clung to me, I reached out and grasped the now-powerless stone, straightway secreting it in my pocket. The sense of transport then returned, and we found ourselves travelling back down the inter-dimensional corridor to-wards Earth.

Within seconds, the girl and I had returned safely to the backroom of Yoga Tree Baltimore. I looked down at the lovely lass, the beautiful Lalita, as I held her still-trembling figure in my arms.

“It is all over, love,” I assured her. “The Rachadnis brood is now extinct, and Earth is safe… for now!” …

After a welcome meal of cheeseburgers and vanilla ice cream at a local all-night diner, Lalita and I had ridden in Lizzie to a point overlooking the city, were we could be alone. It was now after midnight, and I looked up and beheld the stars, bright and wondrously stretched across the sky.

‘So, which one are you from, Doctor?” enquired the girl. “Which star, I mean?”

“You see that blue one rising far above the horizon?” I indicated. “The one that appears to be winking? That is it -- Algol, the Daemon-Star.”

“It’s so beautiful,” she said. “Hey, could you take me there some day?”

“Perhaps so, love,” I replied. “Perhaps some day. As for now, I must return the Crimson Crystal to the Walters Art Museum in the morning. It is harmless now.”

“So what happened, really?” she asked. “Why did that Wingus guy sacrifice himself to save you -- after you had saved me and everybody else?”

“I am not certain, really,” I confessed. “He was mad, after all, but maybe it was more than that. Perhaps he realised the true horror of the life that he had made for himself and just could not take it anymore. Perhaps he just remembered our old friendship, and had a moment of nostalgia. I suppose we will never truly know.”

“I thought you were going to say that he was secretly your evil brother or something,” said Lalita.

“Not quite, love, not quite,” I corrected her. “Nevertheless, as Algolites you could say we shared a type of familial relationship. Our minds were part of the same linked matrix of Time/Space computations. We were like two parts of the same being.”

“Doctor, I don’t really understand that,” said the lovely little lass with an embarrassed smile.

“To put it another way,” I attempted to explain, “Don Wingus was an amalgamation of my own dark side. He was a product of my own ignoble desires and impolite thoughts. He was created out of all that I rejected -- hate, intolerance, bigotry -- in order that I might stand for universal love and peace.”

“Oh, okay,” said the girl as she turned her lovely eyes to look into mine. “I think I know what you mean. He was like the Devil. But then… who does that make you?”

I thought it best not to answer, and in stead focused on the beautiful young girl, her gorgeous little figure, her rich auburn hair and beautiful blue eyes, her sensuous cherry lips…

“Anyway, he was the bad guy, and you’re the good one,” she continued with a smile. “Well, I’m glad I’m here with you!”

“I am glad you are here with me too, Lalita, my love” I said as I pulled the dear little lady close for a kiss, the first of a thousand we would share on that night of enjoyment. “Very glad, indeed.”

***** DANIEL RUMANOS SHALL RETURN IN “THE GIRL FROM BEYOND”