I frowned as Agent Thirteen and I entered H-Bomb Harry’s, a dingy bar a couple of blocks west of the Las Vegas Strip. Outside, the afternoon sun blazed brightly, pushing the November temps to an unseasonably warm eighty degrees, but inside the bar remained dank and dark, its teak-and-fake-leather furnishings seeming to drink up even the glow of the neon beer ads. Thirteen, “Lucky” Lucy Ryan, smiled.
“We WASPs spent a lot of time ‘debriefing’ in places like this,” she enthused. “Good times.”
We strolled toward a slender man huddled over a drink in the darkest booth in the tavern. “Brother Tomorrow?” I asked.
He nodded, and we settled in beside him. If you’d told me two days ago that we’d be meeting with the husband of Sister Starlight, fake UFO contactee turned radio show host, I wouldn’t have believed you.
“I’m just Tom Stern, now. I don’t want to be associated with that Space Brothers scam anymore. It’s all gone wrong. My wife is not the woman I married.”
I eyed him skeptically. “And that’s why you called the USSB. I’m Agent Ray; this is Agent Lucy.”
“But why meet in person?” Lucy added. “What didn’t you want to tell us on the phone?”
The former Brother Tomorrow looked around suspiciously before replying. “I can never tell when Starlight—or one of her followers—might be listening. Her new pal, Brother Jupiter, seems to be everywhere. I think he’s got some kind of power over her.”
“This Jupiter guy got a real name?” Thirteen asked.
“Larry Yavan,” Stern replied. “He showed up a couple of months back and attached himself to my wife like a leech.”
I sat up straighter in the booth. “Our agents have run into him before.” More accurately, let him slip through our fingers; he’d seemed harmless at the time.
“He’s dangerous,” Stern said, his voice tight and urgent. “Suzie—Sister Starlight—didn’t used to believe any of that space alien stuff, but now she does. And the things she says on her radio show—that we should bow down to our superiors from the planet Metus; that all those nutty reports about giant bugs are true and the insects are being sent by the Metusians to test and punish us—that’s crazy!”
Thirteen shot me a worried glance, but Stern was so wrapped up in his story, he didn’t notice.
“I’m telling you,” he continued, “she’s not Suzie Stern or even Sister Starlight anymore. She’s a completely different person!”
“A lot of couples have… difficulties,” Thirteen offered.
Stern slammed his fist on the table. “No! You don’t understand! I mean she’s literally a different person. She’s lost most of her body fat, and her skin feels leathery…”
“Maybe she’s been exercising,” I suggested.
He fixed me with an icy stare. “And she’s three inches taller in her bare feet.”
“Let’s go see,” I said. Thirteen and I hustled him out to our agency Studebaker; we’d get directions to Sister Starlight’s studio on the way.
Ten minutes later, we pulled up outside the red brick facade of the Geronimo Hotel and Casino, west of the strip. At six stories, the Geronimo was one of the tallest buildings in Vegas, though the skeletons of even larger structures were already taking shape on the city’s burgeoning skyline.
Stern’s wife was recording in the KLVG studios on the top floor, which also housed a restaurant and an observation deck for tourists. He nodded to the doorman who, recognizing him, waved us past.
“She’s doing an interview with some reporter named Toni Robins,” Stern explained during our elevator ride. “They should be finished any minute now. We’re just in time to catch her.”
“If she’s the one actually needing the net and rubber room,” Thirteen whispered to me.
Banks of tall windows wrapping around the building greeted us on the top floor. To the right lay the restaurant and observation deck; so, we veered left to the radio station. KLVG, Geronimo Radio – All Gold, All the Time, a sign outside the studio proclaimed. “Home of Sister Starlight’s Messages from Space,” another boasted.
The station had three of the usual recording studios, but the receptionist cut us off and ushered us into a posh waiting room with big picture windows looking west toward the Spring Mountains. A half-dozen plush chairs, a couch, two coffee tables, and gold-framed cowboy paintings gave the place a glitzy, western feel.
Stern glanced around nervously, Part of me wondered if this whole thing was some kind of trap. I wished we hadn’t left our weapons locked in the car.
We’d barely settled into our leather chairs when a studio door opened, and into the waiting area strode Sister Starlight and Brother Jupiter, both dressed in elaborate blue and white robes. With them came someone I’d never expected to see again.
“‘Toni Robins,’ I presume,” I said as Thirteen, Stern, and I rose to greet them.
The reporter swore under her breath but never lost the smile on her pretty face. “Hello, Raymond… Good to see you again.”
“And you, too, Tammy, whatever you’re calling yourself now.”
Thirteen balled up her fists. “It figures a commie spy would be mixed up in a scam like this!”
“Scam…?!” the man known as Brother Jupiter protested. “We have a holy mission to save everyone from the insect invasion and welcome our Metusian Masters to Earth.”
Sister Starlight’s eyes narrowed as she turned toward the Soviet agent-cum-reporter. “Spy…? What do they mean, Miss Robins?”
The fake Toni Robins laughed. “Oh, that Raymond…! He and his USSB agent friends are such kidders!”
“You’re Tanya Ruhoff, from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” Thirteen blurted, “and you’ve been masquerading as a US reporter for months!”
Jupiter stepped between Sister Starlight and the rest of us. “Spies! Agents! They’re all around us… Even your husband is one!”
“Tom, did you bring the government here?” Starlight asked, shocked. “How could you?!”
Stern thrust his index finger at her. “I don’t know if you’re part of some communist plot or what, but you are not my wife!”
“Raymond, I am not part of whatever is happening here,” Tammy-slash-Toni-slash-Tanya declared, edging away from the pair she’d supposedly just finished interviewing. “I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on—like you and your people.”
“They’re all spies!” Jupiter accused. “They want to stop our Metusian Masters from saving the Earth!”
With that, he threw himself at Agent Thirteen.
Much to my surprise, Tom Stern stepped between them and clouted Jupiter on the jaw. (I got the feeling he’d wanted to clock that character for quite some time.)
Jupiter landed sprawling at Starlight’s feet. He looked dazed as he wiped blood from the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand.
My Soviet “friend” took that opportunity to try and slip out the waiting room door, but I grabbed her and slapped a handcuff on her left wrist. “You didn’t think you were going to get away this time, did you, Tanya? By the power vested in me by the USSB and the US government, you’re under arrest.”
“See!” Jupiter cried. “I warned you! They want to put us in jail!”
Thirteen stepped forward, pulling a pair of handcuffs from her back pocket. “Susan Stern, also known as Sister Starlight, I’m placing you and Larry Yavan here under arrest for consorting with enemy agents and other charges to be determined later.”
“No!” Jupiter cried, springing to his feet again.
This time Stern tackled him, and they crashed through a nearby glass-topped coffee table and onto the white-carpeted floor.
A strange smile drew over Starlight’s face.
“Arrested?” she said mockingly. “I don’t think so.”
An ear-splitting hum suddenly filled the room, and Sister Starlight transformed. Her arms and legs lengthened, and her hands and feet grew sharp talons. Her head stretched and became more angular, and her eyes bulged out as her skin turned a mottled yellow and black. She looked similar to the Mansect I’d battled months ago—some kind of hideous human-bee hybrid.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” Thirteen cursed. She stepped back, but the Starlight-thing’s claws caught her in the left shoulder.
“Lucy!” I shouted. As my fellow agent went down, I cuffed Tanya to a pole lamp and leapt to Thirteen’s defense,
“I told you!” Stern cried from where he and Yavin were struggling on the floor. “That is not my wife!”
The bee-woman swiped at me, but I ducked and countered with a strong right to her solar plexus.
The hum filling the room grew to an angry buzz as my foe staggered back, toward the room’s big picture windows.
Without my guns, I wasn’t going to give whatever Starlight had become a chance to regroup. I lunged forward and kicked her hard in the gut.
The monster smashed through the big picture windows, the jagged glass tearing away her robe as she fell.
“Suzie!” Stern screamed as he and I hurried to the shattered window. I guess he still cared for whatever his wife had become.
But the mutant Sister Starlight didn’t lie splattered on the pavement six stories below.
Instead, that terrible mixture of woman and bee soared on buzzing gossamer wings west toward the Spring Mountains, laughing as she escaped.
I gaped as Agent Thirteen joined me at the windowsill.
“Glad you’re not badly hurt,” I said, watching the monster disappear into the afternoon haze.
Lucy nodded and rubbed her bloodied shoulder. “Good thing I’m not allergic to bee stings.”
When we returned our attention to the waiting room, both Larry Yavan and Tanya Ruhoff were gone. Naturally. My empty handcuffs dangled limply from the nearby pole lamp.
“What in the hell just happened?” Thirteen asked.
I could only shake my head. “When you find out, please tell me—and the Teragons.”
About “Messages from Space”
I’d say, “this is another fun story,” but hopefully all the stories in Atomic Tales: Strange Invaders are fun for you. They certainly are for me!
We have the return of a whole raft of characters in this one, probably some that you never thought you’d see again: Sister Starlight and Brother Tomorrow, Larry Yavan (now known as Brother Jupiter), and even ace reporter and spy Tammy Rubens/Toni Robins/Tanya Ruhoff— whatever she’s calling herself nowadays.
I’ve been saying this about many of the recent stories, but I’ve been waiting a long time to introduce the Queen Bee aspect of Suzie Stern/Sister Starlight. And naturally, this won’t be the last you see of her.
I ended up doing a lot of research on buildings in Las Vegas for this tale. I wanted to have Queen Bee fall through a plate glass window in a very tall building and buzz off into the sunset. But when I wrote my initial description of the place, my writer’s spider-sense started tingling.
So, I checked to make sure that the building materials that I’d described —glass and steel—fit the skyline of mid-1950s Vegas. I quickly found out two things…
One: The kind of building I had in my head was totally wrong in relation to how things were constructed back then, and…
Two: The thirteen-story building I planned to toss QB out of would have been the most prominent structure on the Las Vegas skyline—by far.
In the mid-1950s, when this story is set, the tallest building in Vegas was the newly built Riviera Hotel & Casino at a “towering” nine stories.
And in fact, most of “super glitzy” Las Vegas at the time looked like a long line of flat-roofed strip motels or the kind of drive-in restaurants you’ve seen in old movies that featured carhops on roller skates. One- or two-story construction dominated the casino hotels at the time.
So, I tweaked the fictitious Geronimo Hotel & Casino—along with its possibly offensive (but very 1950s name)—down to size.
You can listen to this story produced by Christopher R. Mihm from SaintEuphoria.com!
Click here to listen. Story begins about 1:14:15 from the start.
Click here to read and listen to more ATOMIC TALES!