MINARETS OF MERCURY


11 April 1980:

Dr. Lance Pennington wiped the perspiration from his forehead with the hem of his burnoose. The American professor of archaeology had thought it best to adopt Arabian-style clothing and to allow his beard to grow for this dig in that rugged mountain range of northern Israel that is known as Mount Carmel. Locating the exact position had been a nuisance, but Pennington had finally succeeded, basing his decisions upon local lore and legend as much as his own past academic research on the matter.

Professor Pennington surveyed the four fellahin, working-class Palestinian Arabs that he had hired, as they continued to labour in clearing the pile of large stones at the entrance to what he believed to be the long-lost tomb of the infamous 450 prophets of Baal that were defeated and slaughtered in the Ninth Century Before the Common Era by the biblical Prophet Elijah. The comparatively small research grant that he had received from Boleyn College of Maryland, coupled with the political problems of the region, had prevented the professor from obtaining more and better-quality assistants.

Despite the various difficulties that had beleaguered the expedition, Prof. Pennington had continued it with an enthusiasm that was beyond any academic zeal for knowledge and discovery. Indeed, it was as if some unseen influence was compelling the formerly rather bookish, middle-aged scientist towards a certain destiny, a future fate of mysterious and bizarre import.

Pennington glanced at the camels tethered near by and then back at the four workmen, briefly wondering which smelled the worse. His time spent in the Middle East had not been kind to his once-liberal notions of class equality, and he looked forward to being able to dismiss the fellahin commoners and then return to the world of educated academia with his discoveries.

“We have finished, effendi,” said one of the men. “It is cleared.”

With this, Prof. Lance Pennington walked over upon the burning midday sands and peered into the yawning cavity in the rock of Mount Carmel, indeed into the Stygian blackness of what he believed and hoped to be the tomb of the prophets of an ancient and abhorrent pagan god.

The professor motioned to the four fellahin to follow him into the tall, wide opening. The Palestinian peasants had already overcome any lingering superstitious fears by concentrating on the thought of the money they were being paid, which they could use to buy girls and hashish from black-market suppliers back in town. These lower-class types were not exactly observant Muslims, apparently thinking that their nominal dislike of the Israeli government was religious practice enough.

Therefore, Pennington and the four fellahin entered the cave-like opening, lighted by their hand-held electric torches. The professor examined the walls of the fissure.

“Yes,” he said to himself. “Definitely manmade. Carved out of the rock thousand of years ago, perhaps by the servants of Elijah himself. This is no ordinary cave!”

They continued to advance farther into what Professor Pennington by now was fully convinced to the very sepulchre of the evil prophets of Baal, where they had been entombed in ignominy after their defeat at the hands of the holy man of ancient Israel whom is so deeply honoured in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths.

Finally, there in the darkness they came upon a grave-mound upon which was an idol; an idol carved in solid gold, eight feet in height and representing an obscene bull ox.

“I have found it,” announced Pennington with growing pride. “The tomb… The very tomb of the 450 prophets of Baal!!”

It is with this uttering of the name of that wicked heathen deity that it happened. The large golden idol suddenly sent forth a shimmering glow of horrid blood-red radiance from its beastly eyes -- a Luciferian luminosity that seemed to enter directly into the mind and consciousness of Prof. Lance Pennington. At the same time, a mass of loathsomely black fog-like substance drifted up from the grave-mound and entered the bodies of the four fellahin, cutting short the Arab curses they had been muttering in their shock. They immediately knelt down in blasphemous obeisance before the horrid idol -- and indeed before the American professor himself.

“He comes to us,” exclaimed Pennington in religious ecstasy whilst the eldritch crimson light played grotesquely about him. “The God of Storms! The Horned Lord of the Covenant! Fill me with your power, O Master, and return to this world! Soon you shall be free of the prison in which your jealous rivals placed you! Come to us, Master! Come to us -- BAAL!!” …

The name is RUMANOS -- DOCTOR DANIEL RUMANOS, Occult Investigator and Intergalactic Man of Mystery. Although I have the physical appearance of an human being; a tall, muscular gentleman with strikingly handsome Anglo-Semitic features; I am in reality far more than this. For I do carry within my blood the vastly superior genes of the enigmatic Watchers of the Daemon-Star ALGOL, this extraterrestrial heritage granting me numerous abilities and powers that appear as “magic” to Earthlings.

Whilst the vast majority of Algolites keep to themselves, only observing the goings-on of the Universe around them, their intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, there exists within the government of our home-world of Daemonia a secret service organisation known as the KOSMIKOS or Cosmic Intervention Department. This agency deals with things that would be a threat to the security of Space and Time.

As an operative of the Kosmikos, I reside upon planet Earth in an immense Gothic-styled structure, perched atop a lofty escarpment in the Roland Park neighbourhood to the north of the city of Baltimore, Maryland. I am greatly assisted by my beautiful and eternally-youthful wife MRS. KATRINA CROWLEY-RUMANOS. Herself originally an human being -- a tall and slender lass of noble Scottish descent, with gorgeous ginger hair, enchanting azure-blue eyes, and skin the pure white of finest porcelain -- she was made immortal and gifted with certain powers of her own by the Kosmikos, in order to be my companion in the many and numerous adventures in which we act as agents, both upon Earth and throughout the far reaches of Outer Space.

We had recently received a message -- sent by psychic transmission across the ninety-three light-years that separate Earth from the central system of the Watchers of Algol -- from Emmos, Chief Operative of the Kosmikos. The message revealed our latest assignment but was somewhat vague concerning the facts of it. It appears we were to travel back in time to the year 1980, to the campus of Boleyn College, a small educational institution in the town of Glen Burnie, Maryland.

My wife and I accordingly arrived on campus, appearing out of the void of the Inter-Dimensional Current through which we had travelled via the Chrono-Band, a ring I wear upon the third finger of my right hand and which is actually an incredibly advanced machine capable of travel throughout Time and Space itself (with the approval of the Kosmikos, of course). We materialised in a hallway of the college, I wearing my usual dark silk suit, military-surplus boots, black leathern greatcoat and safari hat. Katrina was clad in a lavender-coloured dress and matching short cape. The passageway was eerily illuminated only by security lighting, and we immediately perceived by the directory signs that we were just outside of the archaeology section.

“There doesn’t seem to be anybody around, love,” said Katrina.

“For good reason, my beautiful one,” I replied. “According to the psychic calendar of the Chrono-Band, it is now the 25th of December, 1980. The students and staff are on Christmas break!”

“Well, at least we shouldn’t have any interference in finding what we are looking for.”

“Hopefully not, sweetie. Master Emmos said it concerns some ancient artefact that one of the professors dug up in Israel. Apparently it is connected with the god Baal!”

“Baal!” said my wife with some astonishment. “That was an idol of the Canaanites, wasn’t it?”

“Yes indeed,” I replied. “Baal or Baalberith, the so-called ‘lord of the covenant’, an abhorrent deity to whom countless hideous blood-sacrifices were made. Nevertheless, the original Baal was something even worse than that. He was a rebel of the alien species known as the Akvarians, rulers of the galaxies now known as the Magellanic Clouds. Baal came to Earth about 4000 BCE, and attempted to set up an empire for himself with human beings as his subjects. He was a tyrant, and when his fellow Akvarians found him they sentenced him to lifetime solitary incarceration within a prison upon the planet Mercury. From thence, Baal continued to exert some thought-transference power upon his cult, but never succeeded in breaking free of his imprisonment… I don’t think!”

“So this assignment could have something to do with him attempting to be freed again?” enquired my lovely spouse.

“Could be, Kat,” I replied. “But I hope not. Baal was always totally insane, you see, and mentally powerful even among Akvarians. This is why he was termed the ‘god of storms’, his wrath being said to resemble a force of nature itself. In fact, it took the combined will-power of seventy-eight other Akvarians to succeed in imprisoning him!”

“Seventy-eight! Like the seventy-eight cards of the Tarot deck?”

“Quite right, my love! The Tarot is said by some to be a symbolic account of the struggle of the Akvarian police-force against Baal. The final building in which is his prison upon Mercury is shaped like what later became the minarets of the Muslim religion, from which the Faithful are called to daily prayer. Perhaps a memory of the precaution against the evil of Baal by continued devotion to the All-Merciful One.”

“Holy Flapdoodle!” exclaimed Katrina. This was not a reaction to my religious comments, but rather to what now stood before us, for we had by now walked into the main room of the Boleyn College archaeology section, and beheld something amazing. It was a tall idol made of what appeared to be solid gold, representing an horridly-obscene bull ox!

“Blooming Hell,” I said. “The representation of Baal himself, said to have been buried by the Holy Prophet Elijah after his defeat of that hideous cult at Mount Carmel!”

“Indeed, Dr. Rumanos,” said a deep and cultured voice from behind us. “But now the golden ox has been saved from ignominy, as indeed shall be the one that it represents.”

Katrina and I turned to face the speaker. It was a distinguished-appearing gentleman of middle years, dressed in a suit and tie. He was European but his burned-bronze skin showed that he had spent quite a lot of time in harsh sunlight.

“Allow me to introduce myself,” he continued. “I am Dr. Lance Pennington, professor of archaeology and discoverer of the tomb of the prophets of BAAL, who has now made me his Prophet Extraordinary!”

With this, I noticed the professor’s eyes begin to glow with an evil blood-red effulgence, as a similar glow now surrounded the horrid idol.

“You need to stop this madness at once, Pennington,” said I. “Why do you think we would allow this demonic deity to manifest itself here in a small Maryland college? Complete and total bull he is! What, he failed to get into OXford? So who are you playing then, the Wizard of Ox?”

“Your flippancy will avail you nothing, Rumanos!” the possessed professor went on. “As neither will the power of the Watchers! Our Lord BAAL the Storm-God awakens! He shall return and have his revenge! He shall ravage this world, and destroy all life upon it!!”

I had not noticed, whilst occupied with the professor, that his four servants -- swarthy-faced men in Arabian garments, indeed the same four fellahin that had worked upon the discovery of the tomb -- had entered the room and crept up behind us. Before I could react, they suddenly sent forth a blast of ebony-black energy directly at my dear Katrina, sending her lithe figure hurtling cruelly against the far wall of the room!!

Katrina recovered quickly, her amazing powers immediately manifesting themselves as she stood up and unleashed a blast of her fantastic vermillion-and-violet flame, that wondrous “mystical fire” that she wields as Heaven’s Hell!

The fellahin, which had surrounded Kat, were only momentarily halted. The ebon energies within them, indeed being the darksome essences of the 450 prophets of Baal, quickly reasserting themselves as the battle was joined between them and my lovely Katrina.

I would have of course come to my wife’s aid forthwith, had not the evil Prof. Lance Pennington used the moment of my having been distracted by the entrance of the fellahin to enact a certain atrocity of his own. For from the possessed professor then came forth a wave of crimson energy that surrounded me as a circle of powerful psionic force.

“Now behold, Daniel Rumanos,” proclaimed Pennington, “you have brought to us the very means by which our mighty lord Baal shall be freed from his six thousand years of imprisonment. Now the god of storms shall ravage the planet and people of Earth in his revenge! All life upon this world shall be destroyed!”

As Pennington stepped forward, I realised to my total and unmitigated horror exactly what it was that he intended. As the blood-red glow of the powers of Baal continued to emanate from him, I felt an hypnotic power enter my mind. I felt myself activating my Chrono-Band and Dr. Lance Pennington and myself vanishing into the void of the Space/Time Current. Our destination being one 48 million miles from Earth -- the very place in which the Akvarians had of old imprisoned the evil Baal. Our destination: the planet Mercury!!

Now, the exact limits of the powers of the ancient Akvarians -- their very name meaning “Great Ones” -- are not fully known. Suffice to say that their abilities were incredibly and astonishingly extensive. Realise that I do believe (and indeed must believe, for the sake of my continued sanity) that my own Algolitish mind-powers could have overcome the control that Pennington, utilising the Akvarian powers of Baal, had placed upon me. Nevertheless, he had succeeded in distracting me just enough to grab hold, and I now found myself hurtling through the Current and then materialising alongside the wicked professor inside the Minaret of Mercury.

The room in which we appeared was dark but gave the feeling of lofty height. It contained a breathable artificial atmosphere, the Akvarians having been similar to Earthlings in their need for oxygen-rich air. Before us was a large oval doorway, and Pennington immediately stepped over to this and pronounced a formula in the old Akvarian tongue, along with certain code-motions of his hand necessary to open the ancient locks of what was actually the door of a demoniacal gaol cell.

The door slid open and we entered the ancient prison cell itself. It was lit with numerous red lamps along the walls, lamps of Akvarian technology that had been burning for so many millennia. For indeed before us stood, as if awakening from an ages-long slumber, a monstrously-tall, grotesquely crimson-skinned being of a vaguely humanoid shape, having an immense and spherical head and its eyes glowing with that same blood-red radiance. Forsooth, I must indeed admit that even I could not manage to repress a decided shudder as I fully and completely realised that I was standing in the presence of the ancient “deity” himself, the last of the Akvarians, he whose wrath had long ago earned him the appellation “god of storms” -- BAAL!

Now finding himself freed from his imprisonment and at indeed at liberty to return to Earth, the evil Akvarian known as Baal turned himself fully towards us. By now the enthrallment that had been placed upon me had begun to pass, and I knew that the horrid being sensed this. Feeling he had absolutely no further use for either of us, the demonic deity unleashed an awesome charge of red-glowing power at Lance Pennington and myself. The professor, now of no purpose to his would-be god, was killed instantly.

At the impact of the evil Akvarian’s blast, I then felt myself slipping to the floor and into unconsciousness.

From this, Baal turned towards the far wall of the chamber. Upon it was a sort of golden icon, its size and form the same as that of the oxen idol, symbolically representing the fierce animalistic fury of the ancient deity. As Baal approached the icon, it began to glow with the same crimson radiance that had before noted the presence of Baal’s awesome Akvarian abilities. The diabolical Baal then stepped directly into the image and disappeared.

It was only the thought of my lovely Katrina, and the concern I had over her having to face the four fellahin alone back on Earth, that had permitted me to retain consciousness. Upon observing Baal step into the golden icon, I realised what it was -- a space conveyance of the old Akvarian type. Its powers, now activated with the release of Baal’s long imprisonment, had created a link with the other one upon Earth. The result was a trans-dimensional corridor through Outer Space that the evil one could use to travel back to Earth itself -- after which nothing upon that planet would survive his destructive wrath. The human race, indeed all life upon the planet Earth, would cease to exist in the year 1980. The future as we know it would indeed be totally and completely obliterated!

I knew I had but one slim chance to save all -- if I could reach Earth, the very room containing the golden idol there in that Maryland college, before Baal did. I concentrated and activated my Chrono-Band. Utilising its time-travel abilities was not an option, as these events were now temporally locked. I dematerialised from the Minaret of Mercury just as it began to crumble and fall down all around me. Now that its millenniae-long usage as the prison of Baal was at an end, its ancient structure was decaying and it would soon be only a pile of rubble, indistinguishable from the rest of the rocky surface of that barren planet.

I appeared back at the room in the archaeology department of Boleyn College. Baal had not yet arrived, though the crimson effulgence issuing from the idol bespoke of his approach. I beheld Katrina still battling the four Palestinian peasants with her amazing Heaven’s Hell powers. I added a blast of my own orange-and-blue Algolitish force to them and sent the fellahin cascading through the wall before turning back to the horrid idol. (My powers also caused the spirits of the 450 false prophets to be exorcised from the fellahin peasants, and they, having been fully possessed by these archaic essences, were now lifeless corpses.)

Standing before the image of that obscene bull ox, I spoke the words that I had heard the late Dr. Pennington speak in ancient Akvarian, but with one difference. I uttered them in reverse, along with making the averse forms of the hand-gestures that I had observed Pennington using to free Baal. The result of this was the switching of the polarisation of the neutronic stream, closing the exit from the idol to the space corridor upon which Baal was travelling. He was no longer able to transverse to Earth, neither to return to his now-destroyed erstwhile prison upon Mercury. This caused an overload of the ancient technology contained in the idol, as the numerous fiery sparks of darksome red indeed witnessed, before the obscene image itself simply split into pieces. Its olden powers gone, it was now merely the shreds of an archaic relic. As for Baal, he suffocated and died whilst trapped in the Space-transverse corridor, with no exit possible. Thus ended the last of the Akvarians, a final conclusion to the legacy of that once great race.

By now, Katrina had come over by my side and we embraced. No words had to be spoken concerning how exultant we both were to see each other safe, yet Kat managed to find the right thing to say anyway.

“Happy Christmas, my love!” she said.

“Happy Christmas, my sweet little Kitty-Kat!” I replied merrily.

We notice that the sparks from the idol had found the 1980s-style shag carpeting of the room, which had easily caught flame.

“Hmmm,” I pondered, “I remember hearing that this college did burn to the ground. We should go now, love.”

“I know, babe,” replied Kat as I activated the Chrono-Band to return us to our own time. “We wouldn’t want to be blamed for starting the fire.”

“No, we had enough problems with that sort of thing in 1871 Chicago!”

Laughing, we then vanished together back into the void.

THE END

YET NOT QUITE THE END…
DANIEL RUMANOS WILL RETURN IN “GOBLINEYE