TWO TICKETS TO PARADISE

Of the several cases that I find in my files from the early part of that particular summer, there are three major ones. The first, entitled “The Damnation of Bryan & Baxter” (concerning my infiltration of the headquarters of a Satanic paedophilia network in the area of Denver, Colorado, which was guarded by gigantic, mutated lizards), contains no features of unique interest; whilst the second, “Don Wingo Must Diet”, includes revelations that wouldst compromise the security of a certain high Executive office. For these reasons, I shall present here an account of the experience found in the third of these case files, which is indeed of a particularly bizarre importance and far-reaching impact. It is entitled “Two Tickets to Paradise”, for reasons that will quickly become obvious…

“Holy Morning Delights, Eleven!” exclaimed the girl, addressing me by my official operative number. “That must be the biggest one ever!”

“Ah, yes!” I exclaimed. “I suppose it is rather impressive. Nevertheless, I assure you that I have seen some even larger breakfast buffets in some of the better New York hotels.”

The young lady, Robina by name, was at the time training to become an agent of the KOSMIKOS, that secret service agency of our people, the Watchers of Algol. My assignment was her training, whilst she was visiting the planet Earth during a break from her usual studies at Daemonia Academy, and she had thus far proved quite adept. However, she was still a very young Algolite (indeed, she had only been cleared to begin training because members of her family had so well served as Kosmikos agents in the past), and her powers had not as yet fully developed.

“Try the Danish pastries, young Mistress Robina,” I suggested. “I am sure you will find them delicious.”

“Yes, Master Rumanos,” she replied obediently, her sapphire eyes flashing. She was of above average height and slender, with ginger hair and skin the purest white of alabaster. Even by Algolite standards, the girl was gorgeous. She was clad in a red and yellow dress with a matching short cape and riding boots.

Despite appearances, we were not actually taking time off from our stealth work to enjoy the continental breakfast at the Enchanted Forest Inn here on Route 40 West, just outside of Baltimore City. Our instrumentation had detected some odd emanations from the area, evidence of technology not of Earthly origin.

I poured myself a large cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice, then preparing a plate of several buttered croissants and a couple of jelly doughnuts before sitting down with Robina at one of the tables. I was wearing my usual silk suit and jungle boots, with my leathern greatcoat and panama hat slung over a nearby chair. Several other guests, out-of-town tourists, were minding their own business at the buffet and other tables.

I was glad to see Robina enjoying her pastry and a glass of milk. She certainly deserved some rest and recreation after the harrowing experiences we had already had that summer. I hoped that the technology we had detected would turn out to be something easily dealt with. Most often, such concerns turn out to be just the random emanations from the ejected spare fuel tank of a passing spaceship, or some such thing.

Little did we yet know, however, that our presence was perceived -- perceived by someone who was watching us intently upon a view-screen in a dark chamber filled with strange, otherworldly scientific instruments. 

“Predictable as ever, Rumanos,” he stated in a low, sepulchral voice. “Still a swaggering sybaritic nympholept after all these years.”

He was shrouded in black, a cowl completely covering his features even as he sat alone in his metallic chair. A sense of decay, of mouldering putrefaction born of absolute madness, seemed to permeate his very being; but with it a feeling of power, of intellectual superiority so far advanced as to view most other sentient beings as, at best, mere playthings.

Back at the restaurant, the young girl and I were enjoying our breakfast. I was just going to step back over to the sideboard for some fruit when the gentle neo-classical music that had been playing over the room’s speakers suddenly changed to a raucous old circus theme.

“Ladies and Gentleman, and children of all ages visiting us here today at the amazing and incredible Enchanted Forest Inn!” declared a vociferous announcement over the loudspeaker. “We have the winners in our fantastic giveaway! Yes, the delightful couple at table number four will enjoy an all-expenses-paid vacation holiday at our all-new Paradise Park amusement centre! You will enjoy wonder and enchantment beyond imagining in our land of pleasure and excitement where all your dreams will come true! Fantasies and fairy tales and magic and miracles and romance extraordinaire await you just outside these doors at the most astounding, marvellous, mind-boggling, and greatest amusement attraction of all time: the thrillingly-unforgettable Paradise Park!”

I noticed that a stream of colourful confetti was showering down upon Robina and me.

“What does this mean, Eleven?” enquired the girl.

“It appears, my young apprentice,” I told her amusedly, “that we have won two tickets to paradise!”

And even then, in that bizarre chamber from which we were being watched, that seated figure chuckled wickedly.

“Now, Daniel Rumanos of Daemonia,” he hissed with hatred tingeing his deep, darksome tones, “now I shall at last take my revenge upon you; my aeons-awaited vengeance for the unforgivably-offensive outrage that you committed upon me so unspeakably long ago. Your time is soon ending, Rumanos. I, Mordauntus, have declared your doom!”

It was then that the figure raised his head just slightly and the light of the view-screen fell fully across his features. It revealed a face of nightmares. It was little more than a skull, only thinly covered by a film of horridly scarred skin. Moreover, at the centre of this horrendous visage were two dark eyes that bespoke of insanity but also of intellect and indeed, of strength; for in these eyes glistened a spark of ancient power, glowing deeply within with an effulgence of sparkling orange and blue -- that power which is wielded only by the Watchers of Algol! …

The lovely Robina and I walked through the door at the back of the Enchanted Forest Inn. It was surrounded by flashing lights and surmounted by a sign proclaiming it the “Gateway to Paradise”.

We found ourselves in a large clearing of the wooded area behind the inn. It had been filled with rather gaudy d├ęcor. There were faux palm trees and large fountains made to look like waterfalls. Canned music, of a stereotypical “calypso” variety, played from an hidden source.

The bright sunlight and warmth of the summer day added to the illusion of tropical splendour. I was, none the less, wearing my big coat. It is permeated with numerous powers due to its many years of use during my adventures, and I can actually utilise it for a rather cooling effect during hot weather. I expect people who see me clad in it during such conditions think I am just a leather fetishist or else afflicted with some rheumatic ailment.

“So, what exactly is this place, Eleven?” enquired Robina.

“Perhaps it is indeed only a new amusement attraction, as advertised,” I answered. “Nevertheless, it could have some connection with those strange emanations we detected. Going along with this at least gives us a chance to investigate further.”

It was then that we first encountered any of they inhabitants, or rather attendants, of this so-called paradise. It was an humanoid but completely androgynous being of medium height, wearing a multicoloured outfit. Its head was disproportionately large and its features frozen in a wide, rather grotesque smile.

“Welcome to Paradise,” it said in a pleasant but rather emotionless voice. “We hope you will enjoy your stay.”

With that, the attendant walked past us as we continued our stroll through the false tropical forest.

“Eleven,” whispered Robina, “was that a…?”

“Yes, I do believe it was,” I replied with some astonishment. “A robot! Some sort of android or automaton.”

“Do the Earth-people have the technology to produce such automatons?”

“Barely. Certainly not of any very advanced type as yet. It also seems highly unlikely that they would employ them here when human workers are available. After all, it could lead to problems with the Amusement Industry Workers Union.”

“What is a ‘union’, Eleven?” queried the Algolite girl. “Some kind of secret terrorist organisation?”

‘Oh, one of the worst,” I somewhat joked.

By now, we had seen several other of the mechanical attendants. They all simply walked past us and repeated the same refrain:

“Welcome to Paradise. We hope you will enjoy your stay.”

“Indeed,” I said to Robina, “these automata do appear to be of non-Earthly origin.”

“But why?” she queried. “What could their purpose be?”

“I wonder…”

My words were then cut short when we suddenly found ourselves surrounded. There were automatons on every side of us. They had hidden behind the trees and now emerged en masse. As they advanced to-wards us, they now held out their arms straight out before them, and their hands began to glow with a sickly glare.

“What is that, Eleven?” asked the lass with some trepidation. “Is it some kind of radiation?”

“I believe so, and it could very well be a kind dangerous -- perhaps even deadly -- to Algolites. We must avoid it if at all possible.”

Now, as I have said, Robina was still very young, and her Algolitish powers were only beginning to manifest. This cut down on her defensive capabilities, but I had attempted to augment them by teaching her some methods of self-defence known upon Earth. Thus, as the robots approached us we stood back-to-back. I prepared a blast of my own Algolitish abilities and cast it at the automatons approaching from my side. My burst shone bright orange and blue as it hit several of them squarely. They retreated a few paces but were not completely halted by it.

“Good heavens,” I said. “It appears that someone or something was expecting us. These robots must be controlled from some central force, and have been empowered specifically to fight Algolites!”

Robina had delivered a king-fu kick to the attacker nearest her, being careful to avoid contact with its glowing hands. We both knew that allowing any of them to touch us could be exceedingly dangerous. The robot halted briefly, then continued to walk to-wards the girl. Several others also advanced in her direction.

She jumped up into the air to avoid them. Her Algolitish levitational abilities had begun to develop, but she had not yet mastered them. She managed to avoid the robots, but could not stay aloft for long. She landed directly in front of me.

“What are we going to do, Master Rumanos?” cried Robin as she huddled close to me for some feeling of safety.

I had by now felt my own powers draining. The nearness of the radiation was having a detrimental effect upon them. Levitation was for now out of the question, and my energies were waning, effectively cutting off all means of defence against the advancing automations.

“Welcome to Paradise,” they continued to repeat, this refrain now having taken to itself a mocking hideousness as they held out their potentially-deadly hands, now mere inches from us. “We hope you will enjoy your stay.”

As the dangerous automatons closed in upon us, I thought of one possible avenue of escape.

“Hold on tight,” I advised as I drew Robina close.

I concentrated deeply on a certain emanation, using my Algolitish abilities to sense the energy emissions from the machinery controlling the robots. Mentally attaching myself to it, I quickly teleported Robina and myself out of the area. There was a brief flash of the image of a swirling, grey mist, pulsating with the energy we were following through the inter-dimensional transition.

We soon re-materialised inside an immense chamber filled with electronic equipment. I looked up to the lofty ceiling, far above us.

“We are beneath the earth; apparently underneath the theme park area,” said I. “This is from whence the robots were being controlled.”

“This machinery,” said Robina in wonder; “it is from many different planets and eras.”

“Indeed. The intelligence necessary to successfully calibrate and integrate them would be immense, not to mention the Time/Space travel necessary to find them all. Only an Algolite…”

I was interrupted by a deep voice, a voice at once arrogant and insane.

“Have you deduced the truth yet, Rumanos?” it said. “I have returned to seek retribution upon you.”

I turned and saw the figure emerging from behind one of the computer consoles. It was the form of what had once been a robust Algolite man, now emaciated by the lingering results of long-ago injuries. His black, hooded robe clung to him like corpse-wrappings, only his gnarled hands and skull-like face showing.

“You!” I exclaimed in shock. “After all this time, you still live.”

“Who is it?” enquired the girl.

“Young Mistress Robina, meet Master Mordauntus, late of Algol and Daemonia Academy.”

“You two are acquainted, then?”

“Indeed we are, young woman, indeed we are,” hissed Mordauntus through his exposed teeth, his only skin an hideous scar-tissue stretched across bare bone. “We were at school together, so long ago.”

“Quite right, Mordauntus,” said I. “Until you were expelled for unlawful mechanical experimentation. After that, you attempted to seek revenge by invading the Academy with your robotic servants, of a different appearance but similar design to those you have here. It was I who found and defeated you. In fact, it was that confrontation that first brought my abilities as a possible operative to the attention of the Kosmikos!”

“Yes, you always were a ridiculous, strutting cockerel,” spat Mordauntus.

“We thought you were obliterated by my more fully developed powers.”

“My body was nearly destroyed, eaten up by the waves you unleashed upon me. Nevertheless, I survived and hid myself in the underworld of Daemonian society, waiting and planning for the day that I could take my revenge upon you. Now, here on this backwater planet known as Earth, that day has arrived!”

“But you were a criminal,” said Robina. “Eleven was only doing his duty as a loyal Watcher in defeating your unauthorised experiments.”

“Ha!” answered Mordauntus. “My hatred for this blustering swashbuckler goes back to before our fight. His constant boasting and telling of tales, his never-ending bragging to impress the little girls…”

“Oh, so that would be it, eh?” I mused. “Jealousy that I was (and am) popular with the ladies? How pathetic.”

“You were, and are, an insufferable braggart and an unbearable meddler! Nothing was ever enough for you. Why, even the night of the Perseids Prom, you could not get by with just one date, could you? You had to bring two girls!”

“Those were the Sinclara Twins,” I reminisced. “They did everything together. In fact, later that same evening, we…”

“Enough!” Mordauntus shouted angrily. “It ends now, Rumanos! It ends now!”

With this, Mordauntus suddenly unleashed a wave of his own Algolitish powers. His emaciated physical condition had not lessened them. The blast sent me reeling against the far wall of the chamber, and the edge of his burst struck Robina as well. I saw the girl fall unconscious upon the metallic floor as the result of the impact.

I charged forward with a burst of my own energies at Mordauntus. It met his in mid-air and filled the chamber with orange and blue sparking and flashes. The battle was now on between the villainous, utterly-mad Mordauntus and me -- a confrontation that I knew only one of us would survive!

My energies had been somewhat weakened by the earlier clash with the automatons, so I was not at full strength for my battle with the unspeakably evil and totally mad Algolite scientist known as Mordauntus.

“I will destroy you, Dr. Daniel Rumanos!” he taunted. “At long last I will have my revenge! At long last I will rid this Cosmos of your meddlesome existence!”

Whilst our bursts of force sparkled and exploded around the chamber, I noticed that Mordauntus was edging his way towards a certain machine. It was machine which I recognised as a type of energy storage device; a sort of battery, and I knew that the force it contained was the radiation that he had harnessed -- the radiation hideously harmful to Algolites. His objective was obvious: he intended to turn the full toxic force of the radiation upon me in his vindictively insane plot to bring about my destruction!

“Now, Rumanos, now…” he sneered as his nearly-skeletal arm reached for a control lever on the machine, a lever that wouldst release a potentially-lethal ray of the radioactive element directly at me. “Now I bring your doom!”

Nearby, young Robina opened her eyes. She was just recovering from the unconscious state in which our foe’s attack had left her. She looked up and beheld the situation, as the villain readied to possibly kill me.

“No!” she cried. “Oh, no!”

With this, Robina raised her little white hand and released a bolt of her own, newly-developed Algolitish power. It sizzled across the air. She had intended to hit Mordauntus squarely in his chest, but her aim was slightly off due to her inexperience. The bolt instead hit the machine containing the deadly radiation, which immediately fell upon Mordauntus and split open -- completely bathing his body in the deadly power!

I heard Mordauntus bellow in shock, agony, and unnameable pain before his life was extinguished. His body was completely consumed and obliterated, his alien consciousness scattered irretrievably to the farthest corners of the Universe.

Robina had run over and thrown her arms around me, sobbing softly:

“Oh, Eleven, are you all right?”

“Yes, I am well, my dear Robina;” I assured her, “and Mordauntus is gone forever.”

The rest of the machinery in the lofty chamber was crumbling around us, and I looked upwards to behold a fissure that was opening in the ceiling, revealing the blue sky above.

“The entire structure is imploding,” I said. “Without the mind of Mordauntus to hold it together, this chamber, the theme park, the robots, and all the rest of it will quickly cease to exist!”

I pulled Robina closer to me and began to levitate directly upwards.

“Hold on tight?” she asked with a smile.

“Always!” I replied.

I flew up and away, with the beautiful girl in my arms, away from the crumbling remains of the villain’s lair into the light of day and new adventures to come.

Daniel Rumanos shall return.