THE CATALPHAN RARITY

The small but elegantly adorned rocket-ship raced through the darkness of Outer Space like a silver bullet, its velocity far beyond the demands of usual safety precautions when entering a stellar region. The craft quickly wavered in programmed evasive manoeuvres as the flashes of deadly energy bursts sped to-wards it from behind.

Several lengths behind the rocket was another ship, this one larger and of a decidedly menacing aspect. It resembled what could only be described as a massive, metallic spider’s-web, and it was from this craft that the lethal energy flashes were emanating.

One of the blasts caught the tail-end of the rocket-ship, but the ship’s computerised navigation system compensated and continued on its course, directed as it was towards a small, blue-green planet still many Space-leagues distant.

Coming from the beleaguered rocket could be heard, by those tuned to the correct frequency, an urgent request -- a plea in a youthful female voice:

“Help me, Doctor Daniel Rumanos. You’re my only hope.” …

My name is DR. DANIEL RUMANOS, Intergalactic Man of Mystery. Even though I have the appearance of a tall human gentleman with striking Anglo-Semitic features, I am really no mere mortal. I am actually many thousands of years old and carry within my blood the vastly superior genes of the mysterious Watchers of Algol -- this heritage granting me numerous capabilities that appear as “magic” to lesser beings.

Whilst most Algolites are content to merely observe the goings-on of the Universe around them, I am myself a member of a secret organisation existing amongst us, known as the KOSMIKOS. Assigned to planet Earth, my mission is to defend the human race from alien invasion, mad scientists, and other threats. I am The Daemon-Star!!

It was after sunset, but the streetlamps and shop lights were bright that Saturday evening along South Broadway, close by the harbour in the Fell’s Point neighbourhood of Baltimore. The usual weekend partygoers were out in abundance, going to the area’s famed assortment of bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. The usual prostitutes and street-hustlers lurked about, as well as numerous homeless beggars, all hoping for a handout from the rather well-to-do crowd that patronised the local establishments.

I had just reached the corner of Thames Street (wearing my usual silk suit, jungle boots, greatcoat, and panama hat) when the glow of the molecular transportation beam alit directly in front of me. I stepped back a couple of paces, cautious of what might appear. It is, after all, best to be prepared for the possible manifestation of horrid extraterrestrial monsters.

Nevertheless, what actually stood before me, when the transport beam finished its glimmering, was an exquisitely beautiful young girl. She looked about eighteen, by the human reckoning of years, and was tall and slender, clad in a tight fitting silver-and-gold dress that left bare her arms and her long, gorgeous legs down to her small silver boots. Her hair was hot pink, and her eyes an unearthly shade of pale violet. Her skin was as the pure white of finest alabaster.

“Dr. Daniel Rumanos?” she enquired in a voice sweet and cultured despite being tinged by a tone of distress. “I am Princess Kittery of the planet Catalpha.”

“Pleased and honoured, Your Highness,” said I with a courtly bow. “I received the transmission, and these were the coordinates given for our meeting. I only wish it could have been a more inconspicuous spot.”

“Yes,” replied the Princess as she surveyed the crowded city street. We had already received a few odd stares from passers-by, though strangely-clothed partiers are not really so unusual in the area as to attract too much attention. “Unfortunately, I know little of this planet, and my computer just calculated a location close by your own. My ship is in orbit, therefore enabling the engagement of its cloaking device while the electronic technician carries out repairs. Unfortunately, my attackers will be able to trace the transport beam and may follow shortly.”

“Then we must be ready, and to be so I need to have all the information Your Highness can provide. The incident involves that which is known as The Catalphan Rarity?”

“Indeed it does,” she answered. “Thankfully, they did not succeed in their attempt to steal it.”

With this, Princess Kittery reached into a pocket of her garment and uncovered a small object that sparkled in the lights as she held it in her hand. It was covered with jewels of every colour -- red and blue and purple and golden and several hues unknown to any earthly eye.

“Fascinating,” said I in earnest. “A most priceless treasure indeed. The actual origins of it have been lost in the legends of Catalpha?”

“That is correct, Dr. Rumanos. We only know that it was worn by my most remote ancestor, countless generations ago, when the Royal Catalphan Dynasty was founded. We know not even how it was worn in those days, but it has now been converted to a lapel-pin and only taken from the treasury of the crown jewels for adornment at certain rare functions.”

“And Your Highness was wearing it at an awards ceremony at Galactic Centre when attacked?”

“To be precise, it was after the ceremony, and I was returning to my ship, accompanied by the Royal Guard. In the hangar, we were suddenly assailed by blasts from energy weapons. May guardsmen were all slain, and I don’t know how I survived. I suppose the attackers just missed their target, though I could swear I felt the burn of the firepower briefly on my skin!”

“But Your Highness obviously managed to escape.”

“Yes, I ran to my ship and immediately engaged the autopilot, setting the controls for Earth. Having heard of your exploits, Dr. Rumanos, by our own military intelligence records, I knew it was the closest place I could receive aid.”

“So the criminals that attacked Your Highness, and that pursued the royal ship, were Durmph?”

We had by now strolled a couple of blocks whilst talking, and I saw the Princess (who had safely returned to Rarity to its pocket) raise her eyes skyward with a sudden look of horror. I followed her gaze and beheld, blocking out the starlight, a large alien vessel resembling a metallic spider’s web.

“It’s them!” exclaimed Princess Kittery. “The Durmph! They have found me!”

There was a brief flash of dark light as a passageway opened in the bottom of the enemy ship and three creatures dropped to the ground directly in front of us. They were each several metres in diameter and absolutely nightmarish of aspect: Arachnids with humanoid faces and horns like those of rams, all dark brown of colour and covered with bristly hair.

I heard the Princess scream in abject horror as the three monstrosities quickly approached us!

I quickly cast a bolt of my orange and blue Algolitish energies at the three horrid arachnid Durmphs. Unfortunately, due to my not having enough time to generate a large enough blast, I only succeeded in halting the alien monsters for a few moments. It was long enough, however, for the Princess Kittery and me to temporarily escape into a nearby alley or alcove space between two buildings along the waterside Thames Street shops.

“These Durmph,” said I to Her Highness as we hid in the shadows. “I know they are from a star cluster known as  ‘The Durmphian Web’, and have a background in gangsterism and piracy, but they have since become known as legitimate businessmen, even owning several of the resort hotels and casinos in Galactic Centre. Why would they attempt to steal the Catalphan Rarity? Certainly its uniqueness would make it a difficult item to sell, even if they could find a buyer both wealthy enough and willing to take the chance of detection in being part of such a crime.”

“It appears,” answered the Princess, “that the Durmph have recently added political ambitions to their business transactions. They have been making connections along these lines throughout their sector, and politics in that part of the Galaxy is not exactly known for its honesty.”

“That, Your Highness, is an unfortunate truth in many quarters. So, they feel ownership of the Catalphan Rarity, however they may obtain it, would increase and expand their political status, therefore furthering their ambitions in that regard?”

“Exactly. It seems likely that they had planned to cover up murdering me at Galactic Centre, and somehow claim that my government had passed the Rarity to them, perhaps for safekeeping after the ceremony, before my ship was lost in deep Space. My father, King Catalpha, is a very old man with no other heirs. The Durmph could just possibly make use of the Catalphan Rarity in order to claim supreme power on our planet and on all allied worlds.”

“Tricky!” said I with aghast bemusement. “Bloody tricky old spiders.”

It was then, as if on cue, that we heard a voice. It was a grotesquely raspy but none the less authoritative voice, a voice that seemed to be fabricated from myriads of infernal clickings mixed with a background of concerted squeals and moanings that somehow grouped themselves, however hideously, into vociferous and commanding syllables.

It was indeed the horrifying voice of the largest of the three sickening Durmphs, the one who was their commander.

“Princess Kittery of Catalpha,” it said, “We are the Durmph, and shall be rulers of the Catalphan Sector and of all the Galaxy. You will surrender yourself and the bauble known as The Catalphan Rarity to us immediately. As long as you show no further resistance, neither you nor anyone else will be harmed. You will be then taken into custody and brought to and housed on our home-world of Durmphia, where you will remain until we have finished negotiations with your father.”

“They now seek to hold me for ransom,” whispered the Princess in indignant horror. “The price being my father’s Kingdom!”

“Stay here, Your Highness,” I counselled. “We do not negotiate with monsters.”

Nevertheless, I surreptitiously peered out from our hiding-place and beheld a horror. The Durmph villains had collected a group of a dozen or so young people, boys and girls mostly still in their teens, from among the varied partygoers in the Fell’s Point neighbourhood. They had corralled the group together in the centre of the large meridian of South Broadway, with the three extraterrestrial spiders guarding them vigilantly on all sides. The Durmph were holding deadly energy weapons, a sort of ray-gun, in the claws of the first of their eight horrid limbs.

Any escape for the youngsters seemed impossible, and I saw them trembling in terror, some sobbing loudly in total abject mortal fear -- fear both of death and of the absolutely horrendous appearance of those unspeakable alien horrors whose very existence in any world of sanity was completely beyond their human understanding. 

“You will surrender yourself and the Catalphan Rarity to us immediately, Princess,” continued the voice of the leader of the Durmph. “You will surrender now or these hostages will die!!”

Do you comprehend the unspeakable extraterrestrial horror of this situation, my dear readers? There upon the meridian of the southernmost block of Broadway in the city of Baltimore, Maryland, stood the hideously horned alien spiders known as the Durmph -- pirates, racketeers, big-time businessmen, and now political aspirants having resorted to shocking criminality in an attempt to achieve their heinous goals -- now holding as hostage a group of helpless young people who had only gone out that evening for rest and recreation!

“I will repeat this once and once only, Kittery of Catalpha,” stated the leader of the Durmph. “You will comply with our demands, surrendering yourself and the Catalphan Rarity to us immediately, or these hostages will be executed!!”

As we stood in the shadows of our defensible alleyway observing this horrendous scene, I heard Princess Kittery shudder with a slight sob.

“Dr. Rumanos,” she said, “I must… I must go and surrender. We cannot allow the Durmph to murder those innocents. Not even the Kingdom of Catalpha is worth that!”

I stood amazed at the heroism and compassion, the incredible and true courage of this beautiful young noblewoman, who was, sooth to say, herself no older than the very hostages for whom she would willingly sacrifice herself. Notwithstanding this, I had to inform her of certain facts that may have, in the extreme emotions evoked by these incidents, not have occurred to her.

“Your Highness,” I addressed her, “I cannot advise such action. The Durmph cannot, under any circumstances, be trusted. They have no honour, and continuously alter their felonious plans to fit the situation. They likely intend to kill Your Highness along with the hostages and then to escape the planet with the Rarity.”

“But what then shall we do, Dr. Rumanos of Algol?” she enquired, her beautiful eyes downcast in inner turmoil.

“Ah!” I exclaimed suddenly, raising my hand to indicate a point down the wide city street. “It appears we now have reinforcements! Look!”

At that moment, stalwartly approaching was a group of perhaps two dozen Baltimore City Police Officers in full riot gear. They were armed with flamethrowers.

Two of the Durmph moved forward in front of the hostages and raised their energy guns, firing upon the approaching police squad. Two or three of the officers were hit and fell before the remainder of them could get within range. Then all hell broke loose.

The remaining police let loose with their flamethrowers upon the two giant alien spiders. The primitive force of these weapons was undoubtedly a surprise to these space-going monsters, and they had no defence for it. They went up immediately in a conflagration of blazing horror, and soon only a blackened pile of ashen arachnid flesh remained of the pair of Durmph criminals.

By now, sirens were wailing as rescue team ambulances arrived to see to the hostages and the fallen officers. Soon enough, the local news media would also be there to cover up the entire affair as just another drunken brawl or whatever. 

In the resultant commotion, no one seems to have noticed the conspicuous absence of the other Durmph, the largest of them, indeed the leader of those horrible spidery gangsters.

I quickly turned around to face Princess Kittery and instead beheld a terror beyond imagining. The other Durmph monstrosity had silently crept up behind us in the alley as we were distracted by observing the late melee out on the street. The horrific creature now held the Princess in the grasp of its arachnid limbs. Her eyes were wide with total abject horror as the alien criminal held its gun to the side of her pretty head.

As I beheld this shocking scene, I heard the Durmph, that sickening horned spider from the darkest depths of Outer Space, laugh with wicked eldritch mirth at its own apparent victory.

I stood transfixed, not daring to move a muscle. I realised that if I made what appeared to be even the slightest attempt to stop the Durmph villain, the horrid monstrosity would pull the trigger of its alien energy gun and blow the brains of the lovely Princess Kittery all over the brick wall of the alley-alcove.

The Durmph reached one of its hideous spider limbs into the damsel’s pocket and pulled forth that object it so coveted, that ancient heirloom of the royal family of the planet Catalpha, that jewel-encrusted item it had committed such terrible crimes to obtain in its ungodly plans to further its ambitions and achieve political power.

“Let the Princess go, Durmph,” I entreated the criminal creature. “You have the Catalphan Rarity. That is all you wanted.”

“No, Earthman,” replied the arachnid, having no knowledge of my true identity. “She will remain a hostage and be my insurance that her father shall abdicate his throne! Then they shall be sent into exile, and the Alliance of the Durmphian Web will be inaugurated as the new rulers of Catalpha! From there we will build an army, a force of supreme military power that will spread our domination across the Galaxy!!”

It was then -- at that moment of unnameable horror -- that I beheld a miracle, or at least the closest thing to such that one could ever expect to experience in this Universe of Madness. For it was then that an effulgent glow began to shine from the Catalphan Rarity -- a strange, glimmering radiance that seemed to come from the very core of that archaic item.

It was then that the Durmph shrieked in pain and final horror before it then just crumbled away into nothingness as if it had never been. I glanced upwards and saw the Durmph web-ship that had been hovering motionless, far above us in the night sky, similarly vanish into non-existence.

Princess Kittery fell forward into my arms. She was still trembling with horror, but unharmed.

“It is all right  now,” I assured her. “The Durmph are destroyed, and Your Highness is safe, as is the planet Catalpha. Observe!”

The Catalphan Rarity, which had been floating in the air before us, then gave a final burst of its radiant glow, before itself disappearing as if into eternity.

“What… ?” enquired the Princess, regaining her composure. “What happened? The Catalphan Rarity, it…?”

“Its true purpose was revealed, Your Highness,” I explained. “At the core of the Rarity were the forgotten remains of an ancient weapon that the first King of Catalpha utilised to defeat his enemies and established the monarchy.  It had the power, at one time, of making those of the royal bloodline invulnerable to violent attack. Attuned to particular DNA combinations, I would presume it was, by some archaic and now-lost science. Sooth to say, the Archives of the Watchers speak of such weaponry having existed in some parts of the Galaxy in those times.

“Anyway, it was ancient and its powers had become unreliable -- believe me, I know the feeling -- but it did protect Your Highness from the Durmph assault at Galactic Centre.”

“Yes!” exclaimed the Princess in astonishment. “Remember? I said I thought the gunfire had hit me, but I was unhurt!”

“Indeed, Your Highness, and it expended the last of what remained of its ancient power here, to destroy the Durmph. Unfortunately, that effort was too much for it, shattering its material essence along with the decorative jewels that had been added to adorn it over the years.”

There was a beeping sound from the young lady’s pocket, and she took out a small, handheld communications device.

“The robotic mechanics have completed the repairs on my ship,” she said, reading the display of information from the device, “and a ship of royal guardsmen is arriving to escort me safely home.”

“Farewell, Your Highness,” I told her with a bow. “Please do assure His Royal Majesty, that even though a portion of the crown jewels has been lost, a far more precious ‘Catalphan Rarity’, the most exquisitely lovely Princess Kittery, is now safe.”

“Thank you so much, Dr. Daniel Rumanos,” said the Princess with a gorgeous smile as she leaned forward and kissed me. “I and my people owe you such a great deal. I promise that your valour and wisdom shall always be remembered on my world. Fare you well, noble Daemon-Star, always!”

And with this, the beautiful Princess Kittery, future Queen of the planet Catalpha, stepped back and, with the shimmering light of the transport beam, left the planet Earth.

DANIEL RUMANOS SHALL RETURN