By Gary Kato
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Lt. Jermay Friedman arrived at the luxurious mansion of wealthy industrialist Devitt Borodon to discuss security for his exquisite jewel collection. Borodon was planning to exhibit his prize collection at the Quentin Expo, even though his closest aides had advised against it. Their main concern was in the security breaches that were bound to occur during the transport of the jewels. However, Borodon was firm; he wanted the jewels exhibited at Quentin.
Friedman knew the Borodon jewels would be targeted by many thieves should it ever leave its impregnable fortress of Borodon Mansion. One, in particular, would definitely make the attempt. The Kilbee Gang. How he hated that name. So many times in the past two years have the Kilbee Gang stolen valuables from under his nose and caused him great embarrassment. Well, he was determined that Kilbee would not make a fool of him again.
He had memorized the names and faces of known members of that gang. Larnar Donnelly, Villient Stroll, Ariel Moonspace and of course Tyren Kilbee himself, those were the names that kept him awake at night.
“And my biggest problem,” he thought, “is that the gang is constantly changing. Rumors are that the gang may currently number from 7 to 12 members. Well, if they try anything, I’ll have a little surprise for them. Especially for that sneaky little chameleon Stroll.”
He stopped at the gate.
“Identify, please,” a mechanical voice said.
“Lieutenant Jermay Friedman,” Friedman said.
“Please wait for analysis,” the voice continued. After a few minutes, the voice said, “Identity confirmed. You may enter.”
The gate swung open and Friedman began walking down the path towards the mansion. A thick forest grew along the fence. Friedman knew that living among the trees were tyros, one of the fiercest creatures currently known. Tyros were extremely protective of their territory and thus made excellent guards. The path had been impregnated with a scent repulsive to tyros. It was the only safe route through the forest.
When he arrived at the mansion, he stood for a moment admiring it. Even though it looked like any residence, Friedman knew that it was built like a fort. It was impervious to almost any weapon. His thoughts were interrupted by another mechanical voice.
“Please prepare for retinal scan,” the voice said.
Friedman pressed his eye against the eyepiece and stared at the cross before him.
“Retinal scan complete,” the voice said. “You may now enter, Lt. Friedman.”
Once inside the mansion, the butler greeted him and then led him to Borodon’s office. When Friedman was shown into Borodon’s office, the industrialist was just signing off on his galactic phone.
“Ah, Lt. Friedman,” Borodon said pleasantly. “Please take a seat.”
He waited until Friedman was comfortable before continuing. “Let me introduce my chief of security, Tarlin Zhang.” A tall stern looking man behind Borodon nodded. “So, Lieutenant, tell us about your plans to protect my prize collection.”
“Sir,” Friedman said, “it is my opinion that your collection will be most vulnerable while it is being transported from your home here to the luxury cruiser. Once on the cruiser, I feel the jewels will be perfectly safe. Therefore, I have commissioned a heavily armed transport to move your collection. It is built of triple strength titanium and impervious to all laser beams. As for offensive weapons, it has been equipped with a power laser strong enough to penetrate a small cruiser’s shield and hull. Anyone foolish enough to attack this transport will be blown apart.”
“Sounds very thorough,” Borodon replied. “What do you think, Zhang?”
“I would agree, sir,” Zhang said. “What about on the cruiser itself?”
“The jewels will be locked inside of a titanium safe, which in turn will be placed inside of a larger safe, also made of titanium. Outside of the larger safe, there will be a guard present at all times. There will also be a squad of security personnel stationed nearby. I personally feel these arrangements will be adequate to discourage most ordinary thieves.”
“Very interesting,” Borodon said. Zhang was busy taking notes. “Yes, your measures should discourage ordinary thieves. But, what about extraordinary ones, like the Kilbee Gang?”
Friedman’s face darkened. “You’re right about them,” he answered. “If they try anything, I’ve got a little surprise for them. But I doubt very much that they’d ever make it on board. My men have screened all passengers and ship’s personnel and they’re all okay. If any Kilbee Gang member tries to sneak aboard using an alias, we’ll pick him out and throw him off.”
“Lieutenant,” Borodon replied dryly, “I certainly hope you are right.”
Later that week, the transfer of the Borodon jewels to the luxury liner Galaxy Queen occurred. Friedman was quite upset with the pilot when he arrived that morning.
“I told you to arrive early this morning!” Friedman shouted at the pilot.
The pilot glanced at his chronometer. “It’s 7:00 am,” the pilot said. “This is early for me.”
“I wanted you to arrive in the early hours of the morning, under the cover of darkness,” Friedman said.
The pilot shrugged. “Can’t fly this bird in the dark,” he said.
Friedman threw his arms up in disgust. Unfortunately, a reporter who happened to be doing an unrelated story near the Borodon Mansion witnessed the arrival of the transport. When the reporter did a live broadcast from the mansion, describing the events, Friedman cursed his bad luck.
“That’s all I need,” Friedman thought. “Kilbee must know about it now.”
He did breathe a sigh of relief when the jewels were safely made it on board the ship without incident. At least the jewels had arrived before the other passengers boarded the ship.
His men were scrutinizing the passengers as they entered. He joined them at the boarding gate and stood next to a thin, red eyed man.
“Sgt. Terad,” Friedman asked, “are you positive you can recognize Stroll, no matter what form he’s in?”
“Positive,” Police sergeant Denniel Terad replied, his red eyes swirling. “One chameleon can always spot another chameleon in disguise.”
“I don’t see how you do it,” Friedman replied.
“I’ve told you before,” Terad said wearily. “It’s the eyes. If a chameleon is an inanimate object, you look for eye ridges. A chameleon always has a place for his eyes so he can see what’s going on. If he’s another man or animal, you can tell by looking at their eyes. We can’t hide that swirling effect in our iris.”
Friedman shook his head. “It doesn’t matter if I can recognize him,” he said resignedly. “Just as long as you can.” He paused before continuing. “You haven’t seen Donnelly, Kilbee or Miss Moonspace, either, have you?”
“No,” Terad replied. He paused before continuing, “Are you sure they’re going to make the attempt? With your security measures, it seems like a useless effort on their part.”
“All the more reason for them to try,” Friedman said. “Kilbee thrives on defeating overwhelming odds.”
“I understand,” Terad said.
An owl faced man checked in with a ship’s officer, a Fraley Willis. Something about his face bothered Friedman. As the man entered the lobby, Friedman approached him.
“Excuse me, sir,” Friedman said, flashing his badge. “I’m with ship security. May I ask you for your name and some identification.”
“Of course,” the man replied, withdrawing his wallet. “My name is Alkerson. Bellin Alkerson.”
Friedman examined Alkerson’s papers and then returned them to their owner.
“Everything’s in order,” Friedman said. “Sorry to have troubled you.”
Alkerson nodded and moved away.
“Do you know him?” Terad asked.
“His face seemed familiar,” Friedman said. “I guess I was wrong.”
“Could he be a part of the Kilbee Gang?” Terad asked.
“I don’t know,” Friedman replied.
Alkerson wandered over to study some potted plants.
“Two guards outside,” he muttered into a hidden microphone in his collar, “plus Lt. Friedman. One appears to be a chameleon.”
Alkerson, then, headed for his room. Meanwhile, out in the boarding area, a young flamboyant and pretty woman swept on board with her two male companions.
“Dahlings,” she said to her escorts, “isn’t this ship absolutely exquisite?”
“Your name, miss?” Willis asked, smiling at her.
“Dear boy,” she said, returning her smile, “my name’s Caldecott. Mieri Caldecott. And, these are my two wonderful friends, Ernan Leemon and Jimeel Halloran.”
“Yes, Miss Caldecott,” Willis replied. “You are all on the Sunlit Deck, Rooms 1296 and 1298.”
“Thank you, dear boy,” Mieri said. She glanced briefly at Terad before sweeping forward.
Once in the lounge, she said to Halloran and Leemon, “That, my dear boys, was a chameleon.” She glanced around the nearly empty lounge in a seemingly bored manner and climbed nonchalantly up the stairs.
“My dear Jimmie,” Mieri said softly, “I do believe it’s time for your little show.”
Halloran nodded. He stopped by the rail and stared intently down at the lounge below.
“Come, Ernie,” Mieri said to Leemon. “I’m tired. Let’s go and leave Jimmie to do his work.” She swept on up the stairs, followed by Leemon.
Halloran looked down at the peaceful lounge and smiled. He knew things were about to change. He concentrated on producing the correct image. Then, two big hulking men stood where only air had been. The dark haired man shoved the blonde one to one side.
“What did you do that for?” the blonde man demanded.
“You shoved me first!” the dark man claimed.
“Like Hell I did!” the blonde man retorted. “You’re the tub of lard that bumped into me!”
“Oh, yeah?” the dark man said. “See how you like this!”
With his clenched fist, the dark man struck the blonde man in the jaw, sending him reeling into wall. The blonde man got up quickly and with a roar charged the other. The blonde man’s charge sent both men crashing into some potted plants. They rolled on the floor, each trying their best to strangle the other. A crowd began to gather to watch the participants do battle.
Attracted by the sounds of the crowd, Friedman and his men came to investigate. Seeing what was happening, they fought their way through the crowd. Friedman reached out to grab the dark man’s shoulder, when suddenly both combatants disappeared. Smiling, Halloran left as Friedman puzzled over what had just transpired.
“All right,” Friedman said to the equally puzzled crowd, “the show’s over. Go to your rooms.” He looked at Terad, who had a thoughtful look on his face.
“Do you have an explanation about all of this?” Friedman asked.
“Possibly,” Terad said slowly. “This incident may have been a diversion to allow someone to sneak aboard this vessel.”
“Of course!” Friedman hurried back to the boarding zone. “Mr. Willis, has anyone boarded this ship in the last ten minutes?”
“No, sir,” Willis replied. “No one has boarded since you left. According to my list, everyone but one person is on board. Are you looking for anyone in particular?”
“Yes,” Friedman said, pulling out four pictures. “Have any of these people boarded?”
Willis studied the faces carefully. “No, sir,” he replied. “Pretty girl. I would have remembered her if she got on board. No, I don’t remember seeing any of them.”
Friedman thought for a moment. “Who’s the one not on board yet?” he asked.
Willis checked his list. “She’s a lady,” he said. “Ardine S.Donnelbee. I presume she’s coming because her trunks are here.”
“Her trunks are here?” Friedman asked. “How many and how big?”
“I believe they were quite big,” Willis said. “I’m not sure as to the exact number, but I think there were at least three.”
“Ardine S. Donnelbee, Ardine S. Donnelbee,” murmured Friedman. Suddenly, his face turned brick red. “That’s it! Terad, come with me. Kinter, contact Schuller. I want some men to meet me at Donnelbee’s cabin!”
As they hurried down to Donnelbee’s cabin, Terad asked. “I don’t understand about the trunks, sir. What’s so important about them?”
“Don’t you see?” Friedman said. “There’s no such person as Ardine S. Donnelbee. It’s one of Kilbee’s tricks. Just look at the name. Ardine, that’s for Ariel Moonspace. The “S” stands for Stroll and Donnelbee is a combination of Donnelly and Kilbee. We’ve been waiting for them to sneak on board and they’re already here. That bastard. He thought I would be stupid enough to fall for that obvious trick. Well, I’m too clever for him this time. I’d like to see his face after I’ve thrown him off this ship.”
“Are you sure he’s there?” Terad asked. “What about the diversion in the lobby?”
“That diversion was to make me think they’re trying to sneak on board,” Friedman said. “I know they’re already here.”
Friedman and Terad arrived at the cabin assigned to Ardine S. Donnelbee. Four other members of Friedman’s security team were already there. One had a master key. Friedman ordered the door opened which was obeyed quickly. Inside the cabin, three large trunks sat on the floor.
“All right, Terad,” Friedman said. “Do any of them look like chameleons to you?”
Terad walked slowly around each trunk, studying each one. Finally, he said, “None of these trunks is a chameleon in disguise.”
Friedman was a little disappointed. “Check the rest of the room for Stroll,” he ordered. To the others, he said, “do what you must to open these trunks.”
The trunks had been electronically sealed, so one of the men opened it with an electronic neutralizer. Friedman waited eagerly to look inside. After each trunk popped opened, Friedman was the first to look inside. Much to his disappointment, the first two trunks were empty. The third held a small box with a single button on its side.
One of Friedman’s men scanned the box just to make sure it wasn’t a bomb. After getting the all clear, Friedman picked up the box and studied it silently. Curious, he pressed the button.
This action activated the box. A hologram of a man appeared in front of Friedman.
“Hi, Lt. Friedman,” the hologram of Tyren Kilbee said. “I bet you thought I was in here. As you can see, I was, in a manner of speaking. I just sent this hologram along just to let you know that I’m thinking about you. Aren’t you touched?” He laughed as the hologram faded.
Friedman’s face was suffused with anger.
“By God!” swore Friedman. “Tyren Kilbee, I’ll get the best of you yet.”
While Friedman was still fuming over Kilbee’s hologram, the Galaxy Queen sealed its airlock and left port. Now that he was off duty, Fraley Willis seemed to wander aimlessly along the ship’s corridors. Then, on an impulse, he knocked on the door of a cabin. A woman answered.
“It’s about time you got here,” Mieri said, letting him in. “What took you so long?”
“If you want to do a cover correctly,” Willis said indignantly, “you must follow the rules exactly. I’ve just gotten off duty.” He looked around at the group of people gathered there. “Well, Ty, I see you made it.”
Tyren Kilbee’s teeth gleamed through his beard. “We certainly did,” he said, looking from Donnelly to Stroll and to Ariel. “Thanks to Lee and Jim, we are here.”
“The first thing we need to do,” Kilbee said, “is to locate
the jewels. Bell, I believe
you and Lee have the best chance to do that.
But the rest of you should keep your eyes open.
You never know, you might find out something.
Once we’ve done that, Ren, I want you to study the locks and
security around the area.”
Gyoren Brandon nodded. “Right,” he said.
“After that’s been done,” Kilbee said, “Mieri, you and Ren will go there ostensibly to deposit some valuables. That should get them to open their vault. While they’re doing that, I want both of you to watch very carefully. I think Mieri should go there several times, either to take something out or to put something back. After awhile, they will be used to seeing you around and you can figure out their security routine.
“On your last trip there, we’ll create a diversion so you can grab the jewels.”
“With Donnelly here,” Stroll said, “we should be able to produce quite a diversion.”
“What do you mean by that, chameleon?” demanded Donnelly.
“My dear Donnelly,” Stroll said, laughing, “I don’t mean anything. Must you take offense with everything I say?”
“That’s the way he is, Vill,” Kilbee said.
“You are so right, Ty,” Stroll sighed. “Our very intense, overly serious friend.”
Donnelly stood abruptly, his fists clenched.
“Now, boys,” Ariel said sweetly, “let’s not tease Donnelly too much. You know how sensitive he is.”
Stroll laughed. “My dear Donnelly, you should know me well enough not to take me seriously.”
“I suppose so,” Donnelly mumbled, sitting back down.
“The four of us will remain out of sight until it is time to move,” Kilbee said. “You all know what you’re supposed to do. Let’s get to it. And remember, have fun out there.”
“And while you’re at it,” Stroll added, “send a little fun our way. It’s a little boring all cooped up with Donnelly.”
“You aren’t much fun either, chameleon,” Donnelly said.
Stroll laughed. “I can only have fun with fun people,” he replied.
Donnelly continued to clench his fists, but said nothing.
The Galaxy Queen had reached the halfway point to its destination of Quentin when sensors picked up something on its screen. Captain Murdoch was called to the bridge.
“What have you got, Mr. Brighton?” Murdoch asked.
“I’m not exactly sure, sir,” Brighton said. “Our long range scanners have picked something up, but as of yet, it’s unidentified.”
“Any idea to its composition and course?” Murdoch asked.
“Well, sir,” Brighton said, “it’s definitely metallic and it’s definitely headed this way.”
“Is it on a collision course?” was Murdoch’s next question.
“Our calculations indicate that it’s on an intercept course,” Brighton replied.
“Put all systems on yellow alert,” Murdoch ordered, “and send out a distress call. Increase our speed to maximum. Let’s see if we can outrun this intruder. Don’t alarm the passengers, but spread the word around to the crew to be ready for trouble.”
Willis quickly informed Kilbee of the approaching intruder. Kilbee was very interested and wondered how he could use this to their advantage.
Friedman was perplexed when he heard the news from Terad.
“Is it an approaching ship?” asked Friedman.
“The lieutenant was very vague, sir,” Terad replied. “But it definitely is on a collision course. We’re trying to outrun it.”
“It must be Kilbee and his gang,” Friedman said excitedly. “I knew he’d try something! I want the guard around the jewels doubled!”
“Yes, sir,” Terad replied. “Shall we continue to search the ship for him, just in case he’s on board?”
Friedman frowned. “All right,” he said. “Keep searching. But double that guard. I have a strong feeling he’s on that approaching ship.”
“Very well, sir,” Terad said.
“I’ve spoken to Galcom,” Brighton said. “There are no authorized vessels in this area.”
Murdoch muttered curses beneath his breath. “Raise our defensive shields,” he ordered. “Inform Galcom that we’re under attack and require assistance immediately.”
“Yes, sir,” Brighton said.
“How close is the nearest military vessel?” Murdoch asked.
“According to Galcom,” Brighton said, “the nearest vessel is still two days away. The intruder will be in contact with us in 6 hours.”
“Blast!” Murdoch said. “Try to lose them. Go to evasive maneuver A.”
“That might upset some of the passengers,” Brighton said.
“I know,” Murdoch said quietly. “Do it.”
“Yes, sir,” Brighton replied.
Alkerson began his search for the jewels in the ship’s main lobby. He knew that was where the main safe was located. Even though it would be silly to place the Borodon jewels there, it was the most logical place to begin his search. As he came down the stairs leading to the lobby, he felt the ship surge towards the right. He wondered briefly what was happening.
When he reached the lobby floor, he nonchalantly glanced at the purser’s station. To his surprise and delight, he saw four heavily armed guards standing in front of the vault. They looked very grim and scrutinized everyone passing by. Alkerson smiled to himself as he walked by.
“I thought Lt. Friedman had a little more imagination than that,” Alkerson thought.
He was about to enter an open elevator, when the ship came to a sudden stop, throwing him off balance. He went crashing into the wall. He saw that the four guards had suffered the same fate.
Suddenly, the door blew open and many heavily armed men swarmed in. One guard quickly recovered his balance and fired at the intruders, killing one. The invaders blasted him. The other guards also fired at the invaders and they, too, suffered the same fate.
While all of this was going on, Alkerson scrambled into the open elevator and escaped.
“I must tell Ty about this,” he thought, as he raced for the cabin.
He knocked on the door and quickly entered.
“What’s going on?” Mieri asked. “The ship’s stopped.”
“Ty,” Alkerson said, “the ship’s just been invaded.”
“Really?” Kilbee said. “Now that’s very interesting. Very interesting. I wonder what’s going on?”
Several hours later, they found out. An announcement came over the ship’s loudspeakers. The ship had been taken over by a group calling themselves the Galactic Horde. Kilbee had not heard of them, but Mieri had. She said that they were a Robin Hood type group, one that stole from the rich and gave to the poor.
The Horde was here specifically because one of their main targets, Devitt Borodon, was on board with his precious jewel collection.
“I am Quantos, the leader of the Horde,” the speaker intoned slowly. “If you do not interfere, you will not be harmed. We are diverting this ship to the planet Varable. When we arrive there, we will disembark with Devitt Borodon and his jewels. I would advise against any foolish attempt to stop us. Any attempts to interfere will result in the immediate destruction of this ship. Do not attempt to leave this ship. Anyone found on the surface of the planet will be immediately executed.”
“Cheery fellow,” Stroll noted. “However, I do believe he needs a few lessons on public speaking. A little too ominous for my tastes.”
“He managed to get his point across,” Ariel replied.
“Yes,” Stroll agreed, “but he has no personality. No charm. I give him a very poor rating.”
“It looks like we’ve lost the jewels,” Mieri said sadly.
Kilbee smiled. “My dear,” he replied, “I’m not going to let a group of idealistic jokers steal my fortune away. I have not yet begun to fight.”
Stroll grinned. “Very original,” he said, “but I believe someone from your planet has said that before. What are we going to do?”
“We need to wait until we make landfall,” Kilbee said. “Then, we sneak off the ship before she leaves. Once on the planet, we’ll simply follow these guys and wait for an opportune moment to seize the jewels.”
“I like it,” Stroll laughed. “Nice and simple.”
“Nothing is as easy as it seems,” Donnelly said.
“Now, my dear Donnelly,” Stroll said, smiling, “must you always be so practical?”
Locked in a stasis field, Friedman stared helplessly into the room. In front of him, he could see Sgt. Terad also frozen in a stasis field. Although he couldn’t see them, he knew that eight more of his men had suffered a similar fate. These were the only survivors of his security force.
“All those men lost,” Friedman thought sadly. “I once had 60 men with me to protect those jewels and now I only have nine. And we are totally helpless in this damned stasis field.”
Hours passed by, but it seemed like an eternity to Friedman. Then, his ears heard something hit the floor. From the corner of his eye, he could see something moving towards him. Across the way, he could see a change in Terad’s eyes as well. He had seen it, too. Anticipation tinged with a little fear, spread throughout Friedman. What could possibly be in the room?
He got his answer moments later. It was a little man, about six inches tall. He seemed to study them for a moment. Then, he grew until he was over six feet tall. He brought his arm up and spoke into a little transmitter.
“Ty,” he said, “I just found Friedman. He and his men are stuck in a stasis field. What do you want me to do?”
Friedman could hear Kilbee sigh. “Ren, I guess you’d better release him,” he said. “He’s not the enemy any more.”
“Okay,” Brandon said.
Brandon examined the base of Friedman’s chamber, found the power switch and released the police lieutenant. Friedman staggered and collapsed to the floor.
“You’re one of Kilbee’s men,” Friedman gasped.
“That’s right,” Brandon said, grabbing hold of the ventilator screen. He shrunk in size and climbed through the screen. “Bye, now.”
“Damn!” he cursed. “So he was on board after all!”
Brandon returned to the room, having been unable to locate the leaders of the Horde. Stroll had similar luck. It seems that the Horde’s leaders were well hidden or well disguised.
“That’s strange,” Kilbee said. “You found no sign of them at all?”
“Not a bit,” Brandon replied. “You think it might be an inside job?”
“That’s what I’m worrying about,” Kilbee said. “This could be more difficult than I thought.”
“I never thought I’d hear you say that, Ty,” Stroll said. “Does this mean you want to back off?”
Kilbee smiled. “Of course not,” he said. “I just said that it would be more difficult. Our goal is still the same.”
“Very good,” Stroll said. “That’s the Kilbee I know.”
“Are you sure you want to try this?” Terad asked Friedman.
“Of course,” Friedman exclaimed. “I can’t have a terrorist group kidnap someone under my nose and get away with it. We must rescue him and his jewels.”
“It’s not going to be easy,” Terad said. “This planet we’re going to is probably their home base. We’ll be completely outnumbered and outgunned. Maybe we should remain on board and return with a stronger force.”
“What if they choose to move to another planet?” demanded Friedman. “We must follow them now while the trail is hot.”
Terad sighed. “You know that the Kilbee gang will go after the jewels, too,” he said. “Do you think the ten of us can beat both the Horde and them?”
“We must!” Friedman said. “Can you get out of the ship without the Horde knowing about it?”
“I am a chameleon,” Terad said with dignity. “That question is unnecessary.”
“Then, that’s how we’ll do it,” Friedman said. “You get out first and clear the way for the rest of us.”
“There’s no way to change your mind?” Terad asked.
“No,” Friedman said.
“Very well,” Terad said, wearily. “Then, that’s what we’ll do.”
As the ship entered Varable’s atmosphere for a landing, the man called Quantos spoke again over the loudspeakers.
“Let me remind you all again,” Quantos said. “Anyone caught on the surface of the planet will be immediately executed. There will be no exceptions. Any attempt to disembark from the ship will result in the immediate destruction of this vessel!”
“You know,” Stroll said, “this heavy handedness is really getting quite boring. I think he needs new writers.”
“He probably writes his own messages,” Ariel observed.
“All the more reason for new writers,” Stroll said. “A little levity never hurt anyone. Oh, except Donnelly, of course.”
“That’s not very funny, chameleon,” Donnelly said.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Stroll said. “Sounds pretty funny to me.” He paused and then continued, “By the way, Ty, Ren and I found all of the bombs the Horde thoughtfully left around to scare all of us. They’re all deactivated now.”
“Good work,” Kilbee said. “So, Ren, you see no problem getting off the ship?”
Brandon shook his head. “This ship’s got a lot of automatic port holes that open as soon as it enters the atmosphere. I can drop out anytime.”
“That goes for me, too,” Stroll interjected.
“I wasn’t worried about you,” laughed Kilbee. “It’s the rest of us who’ll have a little trouble.”
“Only if the ship leaves right away,” Willis said. “I arranged for the ship to have a little problem so their departure will be delayed.”
“Great, Lee,” Kilbee said. “That should give Ren and Vill plenty of time to scout the area and clear out anybody the Horde may have left behind. Then, we’ll go for it.”
As soon as the ship landed in a clearing in the middle of a thick forest, Brandon and Stroll left the ship. About an hour later, the Galactic Horde did likewise, making a spectacle of marching Borodon out in chains. Carrying boxes filled with jewels, members of the Horde followed Borodon and his guards. The
entire scene was broadcast throughout the ship, much to the chagrin of Friedman. His first thought was of his superior’s reaction. He was certain he would be demoted because of this outrage.
Friedman knew that Terad had left the ship earlier. He waited by the airlock with his men, waiting for Terad’s signal. Staring out of the porthole, Friedman saw Terad rise up from the bushes and wave his arm.
“There it is,” Friedman said. “Let’s go.”
Friedman led the way down the ramp, followed by his men. Suddenly, a bright light singed Gehrhardt where he stood. Friedman and the others were thrown off balance and rolled off the ramp. They hid beneath the ramp, looking for the unknown attacker. Friedman saw Terad doing the same.
A loud sound attracted their attention. A heavily armed man had just fallen out of a tree and lay still among some bushes. Stroll was sitting in the tree.
“You should’ve waited a little longer, Lt. Friedman,” Stroll said. “This fellow was the last one left behind by the Horde. We got the rest.”
“You and who else?” Terad asked gruffly.
“Ren, of course,” Stroll said lightly. “I’m surprised you missed him, Sergeant.”
“I’m not perfect,” snapped Terad. “Unlike some people.”
Stroll laughed. “Us perfect people do like to be recognized,” he said.
“Thank you,” Friedman said stiffly. The words seemed to stick in his mouth.
“You’re welcome,” Stroll said cheerfully. “See ya.”
Stroll became gaseous and disappeared.
“Shall I follow him?” Terad asked.
“Let him go,” Friedman said. “Let’s follow the Horde. We have a rescue to perform.”
“What about the Kilbee gang?” Terad asked.
“If they get in the way,” Friedman said, “we’ll eliminate them, too.”
Friedman and his men followed the trail of the cart.
Stroll reformed soon after they left.
“Tut, tut,” he said. “Such foolishness.”
“Are you talking about us?” Kilbee asked, appearing at the top of the ramp. He looked down and the blackened body. “Seems like someone was a little hasty.”
“Yeah,” Stroll said. “It seems that Friedman couldn’t wait to attack the Horde.”
“I see,” Kilbee said. “Where’s Ren?”
Stroll grinned. “He hitched a ride on one of their carts,” he said. “The lucky dog. He gets to ride while the rest of us walk.” Donnelly opened his mouth to speak, but Stroll stopped him. “I know, Donnelly,” he continued. “He’s in danger and we’re not.”
“How did you know I was going to say that?” demanded Donnelly.
“Because, my dear fellow,” Stroll said, “you are so predictable.” To Kilbee, he continued, “Ren’s got a homing beacon with him, so we’ll know where they are at all times.”
“Do you have the receptor?” Kilbee asked.
“Got it right here,” Stroll said, producing a small box. “They’re heading south at this moment.”
“All right,” Kilbee said. “We’d better start moving. They’ve got a big head start on us.”
“How far ahead are they?” Friedman asked Terad.
“They can’t be too far,” Terad said, looking at the tracks. “These tracks look fresh.”
“Awabi,” Friedman said, “what do your sensors say?”
“My readings are confusing,” Awabi said.
“What’s the problem?” Friedman asked.
“It looks like something is coming towards us,” Awabi said.
Friedman was trying to understand what Awabi had just told him, when darts began flying through the air. Awabi screamed as one struck him in his eye and another man also dropped when he was hit. The others managed to find cover and began firing randomly into the brush. The darts stopped as quickly as they had begun. One of the men checked the two who had been hit.
“Awabi and Johnson are dead,” Dixon said.
“That quickly?” Friedman was stunned.
“It looks like some kind of quick acting poison,” Dixon replied. “They were dead before they hit the ground.”
“I think we should turn back,” Terad said. “There’s only seven of us now.”
“Never!” Friedman shouted. “As long as there is still life in us, we’ll go on.”
Terad sighed. “Very well,” he said.
Brandon found the ride a rough one as he held on to the cart’s axle.
“What a bumpy road,” he thought, as the cart lurched suddenly. “You’d think they’d take better care of their roads.”
At that moment, the cart slowed to a stop. He could see men jumping off the cart.
“I feel an unknown life force among us,” someone declared.
“Oh, oh,” Brandon thought, jumping off the cart. “I’m in trouble now.”
“They seem to have stopped,” Stroll said. “My position indicator isn’t moving.”
“How far ahead are they?” Kilbee asked.
“Not far,” Stroll replied. “About two kilometers.”
“You’d better scout on ahead,” Kilbee said. “I’d like to know what we’re walking into.”
“Right,” Stroll said. “I’ll become a Floridian eyecatcher. They’ve got the sharpest eyes around.” He became a small hawk-like bird and took off.
Once in the sky, Stroll glided lazily as his eyes sought out his prey. He knew approximately how far ahead the Horde was, so he was enjoying his flight until then. As he approached the Horde’s approximate position, he was puzzled. He saw no sign of the Horde or their carts. His sharp eyes did see something, however. He flew down for a closer look.
“Oh, no,” he thought, as he recognized the object.
He landed quickly and reassumed his normal shape. Brandon was stretched out, face down in the meadow. Stroll checked for a pulse. It was there, but very weak. He knew Brandon needed help quickly. Stroll turned into a jet with claws. Picking up Brandon, Stroll sped back towards the others.
They were surprised at Stroll’s sudden return. As soon as he landed, they understood his haste. Mieri and Kilbee were the first to check on Brandon.
“He’s in a bad way,” Mieri said. “It looks like he’s been poisoned.”
“Can you do anything?” Kilbee asked.
“I’ll try,” Mieri said.
She closed her eyes and slowly placed her hands on Brandon’s back. She slowly went into a trance as she used her life force to heal Brandon’s injuries. She began to weaken visibly as she worked.
“She needs help,” Willis said suddenly. “This is taking too much out of her.”
He quickly mind-melded with her and gave her his strength. They remained frozen for what seemed like an eternity, but was in actuality a half-hour. Finally, they broke apart, Willis looking unchanged. Mieri, however, had a definite pallid look to her. Brandon appeared to be breathing easier, although he remained in a coma.
“How is he doing?” Kilbee asked.
“Better,” Mieri said wearily. “We’ll know more in the morning.”
“We’d better camp here tonight,” Kilbee said. “You two need time to recover. Bell, watch over us while we get some sleep.”
Alkerson gazed lazily up at the stars, his keen ears listening for any intruders. He liked the night the best. He could tolerate the brilliance of daylight, but his eyes were better adjusted to darkness.
“I really should consider wearing darkened glasses or contacts,” Alkerson thought. “Then, I won’t feel so blinded.”
He instinctively flexed his right arm. He still wasn’t used to his new arm. He could do everything that he used to do, but it still felt strange to him. The doctors told him that it would take some time before the new appendage would feel normal. He wondered if they were right.
Suddenly, he was alert. There was an unnatural stillness in the air. He searched the nearby trees for any intruders, but saw nothing. He took out his weapon, and scanned the forest.
Alkerson decided to wake Kilbee when an arrow shot past him. Alkerson saw the attacker and blasted him out of his tree. Suddenly, there was a hail of arrows flying through the air. Alkerson kept firing his weapon, but the arrows continued to fly.
Alkerson’s laser blasts had awakened the others. They found themselves dodging a shower of arrows.
“We need some cover,” Stroll shouted.
He lay down and turned into a stone wall. The others crouched down behind him.
“How many are out there?” Kilbee asked.
“I’m not sure,” Alkerson said. “I’ve shot one, but I think there are more there.”
“We need a little light,” Ernan Leemon said softly.
Leemon pointed his finger at a tree. The tip of finger began to glow. Then, a beam shot forth from the finger and ignited the tree. Light from the burning tree exposed several surprised attackers. Kilbee and Alkerson quickly blasted them and looked for more.
“I think we may have gotten all of them,” Alkerson said.
Stroll became himself, then staggered and fell to the ground. Everyone was immediately concerned.
“What’s wrong, Vill?” Kilbee asked.
“Just got a little dizzy,” Stroll said, smiling.
“Let me check you out,” Mieri said, concerned.
She ran her fingers across Stroll’s forehead.
“You’ve been slightly poisoned,” Mieri said, surprised. “Not seriously, but enough to make you sick.”
“I thought you were a stone wall,” Kilbee said. “You’re not supposed to be affected by poison from arrows.”
“That’s what I thought, too,” Stroll said, smiling weakly. “Pretty strong stuff, eh?”
“Really,” Kilbee agreed. “I think we can rest now,” he continued. “After that little demonstration, they’re going to have to regroup before attacking again.”
Morning came with Stroll looking and feeling better. Brandon was semi-conscious, but Mieri said he was 100% better. Donnelly offered to carry Brandon until he could walk so the group continued after the Horde.
“We had better proceed with caution,” Kilbee said. “I have a feeling we didn’t get all of the attackers last night. The Horde knows we’re here and they’re probably planning more surprises for us.”
The tracks left by the Horde’s carts led out of the forest and straight into some thick brush. Long vines were draped over and across the trail.
“It looks like they went in here,” Friedman said.
“I don’t like the look of this,” Terad said. “Maybe we should go back.”
“Listen, Sergeant,” Friedman said sharply, “we are here to rescue Borodon and recover his jewels. Either we succeed or die trying. Is that perfectly clear?”
The other men looked at each other awkwardly while Terad stood in silence.
“Well, Sergeant?” Friedman demanded. “What is reply?”
“You are correct, of course,” Terad said, slowly. “It is our duty to rescue Borodon.”
“Does anyone else have any objections?” Friedman glared at the other four men.
They all shook their heads.
“Then, we proceed forward,” Friedman said. “I don’t want to hear any more talk of turning back.”
“But, sir,” Dixon began, “I think these are….”
“Dixon!” shouted Friedman. “You take the lead.”
“But, sir,” Dixon said, “I just wanted to point out…”
“Take the lead!” Friedman shoved Dixon forward.
Dixon lurched forward and brushed against the vines. The vines suddenly became animated and wrapped themselves around the man. Friedman and the other men rushed forward to try and free Dixon, but soon they had also become entangled by the vines. Terad remained back, firing his laser at the vines, but every time he destroyed one, two more would appear. When his laser ran out of power, he could only stand there helplessly and watch the others being strangled.
“Well, well,” a voice from behind said, “if it isn’t Sergeant Terad. Having a little trouble?”
Terad spun around and faced Kilbee and his gang.
“Tyren Kilbee!” Terad exclaimed. “You’ve got to do something! Those men are dying.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Kilbee said. “You’re always trying to take something away from me. I’m not sure I like that. I value my freedom.”
“If you stop trying to take other people’s valuables,” Terad said, “then, maybe we won’t try to arrest you.”
“True, true,” Kilbee said. “But you must admit, my life is more interesting than yours.”
“Interesting or not,” Terad said, “you must do something to help the Lieutenant.”
“Perhaps we can work out a deal,” Kilbee began.
“No deal,” gasped Friedman. “Terad, no deal.”
“Oh, well,” Kilbee said, “your boss has spoken. Have fun. See you around.”
Terad’s arm turned into a vine and wrapped itself around Kilbee’s neck.
“Do something,” Terad said, “or Kilbee’s dead.”
Ariel sighed and closed her eyes. Suddenly, the vines stopped moving. They became brittle and shattered in Friedman’s hands. Friedman fell to his hands and knees before Kilbee. Then, Terad released Kilbee and checked on the other men.
“Tyren Kilbee,” gasped Friedman, “you are under arrest.”
“On what charge?” Kilbee asked.
“For starters,” Friedman said, struggling to his feet, “how about traveling on board the Galaxy Queen without paying for a ticket.”
“Oh, that,” Kilbee said. “Actually, I did pay for a ticket. Do you remember Ardine S. Donnelbee? We paid for that room. We were planning to sleep there, until you and your men went barging in and messed up the place.”
“Then, what about the Anderson Ruby?” demanded Friedman. “I know you stole that one.”
“Really?” Kilbee said. “I feel honored that you think I’m good enough to pull off that heist. However, I do have an alibi for that one. I was on Dragonland recuperating from a recent illness. I was no where near that planet.”
“How about the Mallian Sapphire?” Friedman said. “And don’t tell me you were ill when that was stolen. I remember I saw you looking at it.”
Kilbee smiled. “Are you trying to tell me that I can’t look at anything valuable?” he asked. “I have a high appreciation for beautiful things.” He smiled at Ariel, who smiled back. “Besides, when I left, that jewel was still there.”
“You came back for it that night!” Friedman exclaimed.
“No,” Kilbee said. “I was occupied doing other things. Besides, I need my beauty sleep. Anything else?”
Friedman stood there shaking, but remained silent.
“Very well,” Kilbee said. “I’ll be seeing you. And Sergeant, don’t grab my neck like that again. Bad things happen to people who do that. Isn’t that right, Vill?”
“That’s right,” Stroll said, laughing.
“Let’s go,” Kilbee said. “Ernie, do you think you can something about those vines?”
“I can burn a path through them,” Leemon said.
“That sounds good,” Kilbee replied.
“What in the Hell are those things?” demanded Donnelly.
“They’re Litrollian vines,” Willis said, studying one of the pieces. “I’ve heard of these things. Very lethal. They get their nutrients from unsuspecting passersby. The only way to kill these things is to burn or freeze them.”
“How’d you do it, Ariel?” Stroll asked.
“I changed the water inside of them into ice,” Ariel said. “That took a lot out of me, though.”
“Let’s give Ernie room to work then,” Kilbee said.
Leemon stood silently for a moment. Then, raising both arms, he pointed them forward. His fingertips glowed for an instant, then a heat ray shot forward. The vines writhed in the flames.
“It’s that simple, Lieutenant,” Kilbee said.
The gang started off down the path burned by Leemon.
“Sir,” Terad said, “the others are dead. We must turn back now. The two of us cannot rescue Borodon. We need reinforcements.”
Friedman stood silently for a moment.
“Kilbee!” Friedman shouted. “I need to speak to you.”
Kilbee sighed and then turned. “More accusations, Lieutenant?” he asked.
Friedman spoke slowly, as if he had difficulty forming the words. “I need your help,” he said.
Kilbee smiled broadly. “Really?” he replied. “I never thought I would live to see the day to hear you say that. Exactly, how I am supposed to help you?”
“We need you to rescue Borodon from the Horde,” Friedman said slowly. “Terad and I can’t do it alone. We need to work together if we are to succeed.”
Terad stared at Friedman, unable to believe what he had just heard.
“And what will I and my friends receive for this assistance?” Kilbee asked.
“How about your freedom?” Friedman said. “I will prove that you committed those heists.”
“Sounds interesting,” Kilbee said, “but not very appealing. Is that it?”
Friedman swallowed. “All right!” he snapped. “We will pay you a recovery fee for the jewels.”
“How much?” Kilbee asked.
“Ten percent of their value,” Friedman replied.
“Make that fifty percent and we’ll do it,” Kilbee said.
“I can’t make a deal like that!” exclaimed Friedman.
“Then, I guess it’s no deal,” Kilbee said. “You can rescue Borodon yourself. Have fun.”
“All right, all right!” snapped Friedman. “Fifty percent.”
Kilbee smiled. “Shake on it?” he asked.
“Just be happy I agreed!” Friedman snapped.
Kilbee shrugged. “As you wish,” he said. “Vill, can you find out how wide this patch of vines is?”
“No problem,” Stroll said.
He turned into a small hawk and took off. Stroll really enjoyed flying, soaring high with the updrafts. It really gave him a sense of freedom. Looking down, he spotted the Horde’s cart down below. It was located right in the middle of Litrollian vine patch. He flew down to investigate.
A number of vines tried to ensnare Stroll, but he wriggled away from them. The cart appeared abandoned, but experience heightened Stroll’s suspicions. He approached carefully and looked in. It was empty.
“Strange,” Stroll thought. “I wonder why they abandoned it.”
Before he could turn around, a stun ray struck him. He fell forward with a crash.
When Stroll didn’t return after an hour had passed, Kilbee became worried.
“Something must have happened to him,” Kilbee said.
“Damn,” Donnelly snorted. “That chameleon’s always getting himself into trouble.”
“He’s saved us as many times as we’ve saved him,” Ariel said.
“We’d better find him,” Kilbee said. “Ernie, you’d better keep burning us a path.”
“All right,” Leemon said.
Leemon burned the patch several more times before they found the abandoned cart. They examined it carefully, but found no sign of the Horde.
“Very strange,” Kilbee said. “Why would they abandon it?”
“Maybe because they know we’re tracking them,” suggested Ariel.
“Possibly,” Kilbee replied. “They may have used this as a decoy to capture Vill.”
“Sounds reasonable,” Willis replied. “I think Ernie may have burned up some guys waiting for us.” He was standing near some smoldering human remains.
“Well,” Kilbee said. “I guess they won’t try that again. I just wonder where’s Vill?”
When Stroll woke up, his body was wracked with pain. Still, he had enough sense to take note of his surroundings. He appeared to be in a box of some kind, though he couldn’t see too well because of the darkness. There were holes through which air and sound could pass through. Outside, he could hear voices speaking.
“Fools,” Stroll thought. “This is a chameleon they have here. A little box with holes won’t hold me. I’ll just turn into some gas and escape.”
As he began his transformation, a high pitched sound began filling the air. The sound was so painful to his ears that he had to revert to his normal form. The sound didn’t stop, however, increasing in volume. Finally, he screamed in agony.
Nearby, two members of the Horde heard Stroll’s scream.
“See,” the first one said. “I told you it would work.”
“Very good, Volad,” the second replied. “Where did you get it?”
“From the boss, of course,” Volad replied. “He told me it’s sure to hold any chameleon. It uses the energy expended by the chameleon to produce a sound that is painful to the their ears. As long as he remains himself, he’s all right.”
“Fantastic,” the second one said. “We’ve got one. When we’ve captured the rest, we’ll kill all of them together.”
Laughing, they left Stroll to his agony.
Kilbee and his group reached the end of the Litrollian vine patch without finding any sign of the missing chameleon. Thanks to Alkerson’s sensitive eyes, they managed to follow the Horde’s trail. But now, at the end of the patch, the tracks came to an end. Alkerson was unable to find any sign of the Horde’s trail.
“I don’t know, Ty,” Alkerson said. “They seem to have disappeared.”
“That’s strange,” Kilbee said. “I wonder where they went.”
Suddenly, a huge hole opened up below them. With his lightning quick reactions, Donnelly grabbed Ariel and leapt for the patch. The others disappeared down the hole.
“Damn!!” Donnelly cursed, as he fought with the vines. “We’re in a mess now!”
Alkerson woke up in a prison cell with Willis and Halloran. The room was dark, but Alkerson could see both Willis and Halloran were chained to the wall, just like himself. He wondered what happened to the others.
The door opened up, the light from the corridor momentarily blinding him.
“Take that one,” the guard said, pointing at Alkerson, “since he’s the only one awake.”
They brought Alkerson to an interrogation room where he was strapped into a chair. An officer and a guard were waiting to question him.
“What is your name?” the officer demanded.
Alkerson replied, “My name is Alkerson. Bellin Alkerson.”
“Well, Bellin Alkerson,” the officer said, “who is your boss?”
“Why do you think I have one?” Alkerson said, smiling faintly.
“We know you do,” the officer replied. “We know his name also. It’s Tyren Kilbee, isn’t it? We’d like to know where he is.”
“Why don’t you tell me,” Alkerson replied, “since you fellows seem to know so much.”
“Oh, I see,” the officer said. “You’re an arrogant fellow. Perhaps we have a few things here that may change your mind.”
“I don’t think so,” Alkerson said.
“Maybe you’re wrong,” the officer said.
He lowered a panel with numerous electric probes on it.
“Let’s find out if you have an electric personality,” the officer said.
“I hate a wise guy,” Alkerson said, bracing himself for the first shocks.
Fraley Willis was awake now, but couldn’t see anything in the dark. He winced when the door opened, allowing the bright light to enter. He could hear something being thrown onto the floor.
“Take that one,” a gruff voice said.
Halloran was unchained and carried away. Then, Willis heard a moan.
“Who’s there?” Willis asked.
“Just me,” moaned Alkerson.
“What happened?” Willis asked.
“They’re looking for Ty,” Alkerson said. “They think I might know where he is.”
“What did they do to you?” asked Willis. “You sound terrible.”
“They wanted to know how well I conduct electricity,” Alkerson replied wearily. “Not too well, I guess.”
“Sounds like fun,” Willis said dryly.
“It was,” Alkerson said. “You should try it some time.”
“I think I’ll pass,” Willis said. “I wonder where Ty is?”
Halloran was strapped in and the questioning officer approached.
“Tell us your name, crook,” the officer said.
“Why?” Halloran asked.
“So we’ll know what name to put on your tombstone, crook,” the officer snapped. “What’s your name?”
“Halloran,” Halloran replied.
“Is that it?” the officer demanded. “Do you have a first name?”
“Yes,” Halloran said.
“Well?” the officer demanded. “What is it?”
“Jimeel,” Halloran said.
“So, Jimeel Halloran,” the officer said silkily. “Where is Tyren Kilbee?”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
Halloran shrugged again.
“Dammit, man, can’t you speak?”
“Then, tell me, where is Tyren Kilbee?”
“Is it that you don’t know, or you won’t tell?”
Halloran shrugged once more.
“You are so aggravating,” the officer said, turning around. “It’ll be a pleasure to torture you.”
“If you can,” Halloran said.
Puzzled, the officer turned back towards Halloran. To his surprise, he saw five Hallorans strapped to a chair. They were all smiling at him.
“What happened?” the officer asked the guard. “What did he do? Where did those others come from?”
The guard was confused. “I don’t know, sir,” he said. “One moment there was one of him and the next, there were five.”
“Give me your stunner,” the officer ordered.
He aimed his stunner at one Halloran and fired. There was no effect. He repeated it again at another one. This time, four Hallorans disappeared, leaving only one. Halloran was slumped over in the chair, his head back and mouth agape.
“Get him out of here,” the officer said, “and bring the other one.”
Willis studied his captors carefully as they strapped him in. When only guard remained behind, he smiled.
“Now,” the officer said, “you are going to tell us everything you know.”
“Nope,” Willis replied. “You are going to release me.”
The officer stared at him in disbelief. Then, while the guard remained frozen by the door, the officer proceeded to free Willis from his bonds.
“You will now open the grate to the air vent,” Willis commanded.
The officer complied.
“After I’ve gone,” Willis ordered, “you will close and lock the grate. Five minutes after I’ve left, you will return to normal and will have forgotten completely that I’ve been here. Do you understand?”
The officer nodded.
“Good,” Willis replied, climbing into the air vent. “Lock the grate. Your five minutes begins now.”
Willis watched for a moment to make sure the officer followed orders, then quickly crawled along the vent.
“That wasn’t too bad,” he thought. “Now, I’ve got to find the others.”
Five minutes later, the officer and the guard snapped out of the trance Willis had put them in.
“Go out and bring the last one in,” the officer said. “We’ve wasted enough time.”
Donnelly paced nervously back and forth as Ariel sat staring at the spot where the hole had opened up below them.
“What’s taking so long?” Donnelly demanded.
“I’m analyzing the area,” Ariel said irritably. “I’d be quicker if you stop interrupting me.”
“All right, all right.”
In frustration, Donnelly uprooted several bushes and hurled them around. He spent a good part of the next hour, destroying vegetation. Finally, Ariel stood up.
“I’m ready,” she said. She was shocked at the amount of destruction Donnelly had done. “Are you quite finished with your temper tantrum?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Donnelly said. “Let’s go.”
Ariel closed her eyes. The large hole re-opened, this time with a small platform inside. Ariel and Donnelly stepped onto the platform and floated slowly down.
“Keep a close watch below,” Ariel said. “I don’t want to go all the way down to the bottom. Watch out for any openings.”
“I think I see one now,” Donnelly said. “Can’t see it too good. It’s too damned dark down here.”
“Tell me when we’ve reached that opening,” Ariel said, strain appearing in her voice. “It’s getting harder to hold this platform together. Something is trying to pull it apart.”
“We’re almost there,” Donnelly said. “Just a few seconds more.”
“I can’t hold it any longer,” Ariel shrieked.
Donnelly could feel the platform beneath him beginning to disintegrate. He grabbed hold of Ariel’s hand and leapt for the opening. He barely managed to grab the lower edge of the cave. Ariel lost consciousness and dangled limply below him.
“Gotta do it,” Donnelly thought. “Just a little further. Gotta do it.”
He struggled to climb into the cave as the opening Ariel had created slowly closed. Darkness quickly descended around him.
Willis found that the ventilation shafts had been constructed like a maze. He found it practically impossible to find his way back to the cell he shared with Alkerson and Halloran.
“I could die of starvation in here,” he thought, “and then I would rot away before anyone would even know I was here.”
A cold draft attracted his attention. He crawled in that direction. The shaft led to a refrigerated room. Willis could see a man huddled in the corner.
Willis wondered who the man was. He looked faintly familiar. He struggled to open the grate but to his surprise, it opened quite easily. He hopped into the room and shivered in the extreme cold.
“Must be pretty close to freezing in here,” he thought, walking up to the man.
Willis shook the man’s shoulder and his head rolled back. To Willis’ shock, it was Ernan Leemon. Willis shook Leemon vigorously, but Leemon didn’t respond. Leemon was nearly frozen.
“I’ve got to get him out of here,” he thought.
He dragged Leemon over to the open grate and shoved him in. He had just closed the grate behind him, when he heard someone opening the door. He quickly pulled Leemon around the corner in the shaft and stopped to listen.
Someone flashed a light into the grate, but both Willis and Leemon were out of sight.
“He must have been rescued by that other one,” someone said.
“Well, they’re gone now,” a second voice said. “C’mon, we’d better check on the other prisoners.”
Willis waited for them to leave, before vigorously rubbing Leemon’s face. He felt a slight pulse. It was slow, but quite strong.
“C’mon, Ernie,” Willis said frantically. “Wake up. WAKE UP!”
When Brandon woke up, he found himself in a room with bright lights. There was only one small opening, in the middle of the high ceiling. The walls and floor were solid and completely smooth. He couldn’t find a hole large enough for him to escape through. He examined the walls to look for any small crack that he might be able to use for leverage to lift him up to that ceiling vent. But, finding nothing, he resigned himself and sat gloomily in a corner, pondering his situation.
“I wonder why they haven’t killed me,” he thought. “They nearly did that first time. What on earth could they be waiting for?”
He heard noises in the air vent above him, but he remained where he was. He looked up just in time to see a face disappear. He got up and stood below the vent. Someone was trying to remove it.
“Take it easy, Ren,” Willis said. “I’ll have you out in a minute.”
The grate slid to one side and Willis stuck his head in.
“Can you reach my hand?” Willis asked, extending his hand.
“I can’t jump that high,” Brandon replied. “Have you got any string?”
“Let me check.” Willis withdrew into the vent. “Ernie had some. I hope it’s long enough.” He held on to one end and let the ball of string fall.
The string stopped about 6 feet above the floor.
“Perfect,” Brandon said, grabbing hold of one end.
Brandon shrunk down to six inches high and Willis quickly pulled him up. Once in the vent, Brandon returned to his normal size. Leemon was lying nearby, still unconscious.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with Ernie,” Willis said. “They had him in a refrigerated room, but he feels warm enough to me now. I can’t figure out why he won’t wake up.”
Brandon felt Leemon’s face. “My God!” he exclaimed. “He’s so cold.”
“What do you mean?” Willis asked, puzzled. “He feels normal to me.”
“I know that,” Brandon replied, “but normal for us is not normal for Ernie. He should be burning to the touch. We’ve got to get him to a very hot place and quickly.”
For the first time in his life, Donnelly’s great strength had failed him. He clung precariously by one hand to the ledge, but could not lift himself or Ariel to safety. She remained dangling below him, still unconscious. Now, Donnelly felt his fingers weakening.
“What a God awful way to go,” he thought grimly. He glanced downward and could see something whirling rapidly. “Looks like some kind of fan,” he thought. “Probably chop us to pieces. Well, I think this is it. I can’t hang on any longer.”
Just then, a hand reached over and grabbed his wrist. A voice from above spoke.
“I’ve got you, Donnelly,” Kilbee said. “Can you lift Ariel up to us?”
Donnelly grunted and tried, but could not lift Ariel close enough to Mieri’s outstretched hand.
“Can’t do it,” gasped Donnelly.
“Okay,” Kilbee said. “I hope there’s a little power left in this antigrav belt.”
Kilbee wrapped it around Donnelly’s arm and switched it on. At once, Donnelly felt lighter. The antigrav managed to lift him up to his waist before the power ran out. But it was enough, since both Kilbee and Mieri could help lift the exhausted Donnelly and Ariel into the cave.
“Just enough power,” Kilbee said, breathing hard. “Good ole Cas. I knew he’d have some kind of backup power source when the primary was all used up.”
“It wasn’t much,” Mieri said, “but it was enough.” She knelt next to Ariel.
“What’s wrong with her?” Donnelly asked.
“She’s just exhausted,” Mieri replied. “She used up all of her energy getting you down here. There’s some kind of force counteracting all of our powers.” She placed both hands on Ariel’s cheeks. Her reaction was immediate. Ariel blinked several times and tried to sit up.
“What happened?” she asked, still dazed.
“You had a close call,” Kilbee said, gently, “but Donnelly saved the day again.”
“Thanks, Donnelly,” Ariel said. “My hero.”
“Hrumph,” Donnelly said, looking embarrassed. “We’d better find the others.”
“Damn,” Friedman thought. “Locked in another God damned stasis field. Where is Sgt. Terad and where the Hell is Kilbee? I thought those jokers were super crooks. Nothing’s supposed to stop those guys.”
As he remained frozen, several soldiers came into view. One of them released him from the field.
“Come with us,” he said.
“Where are you taking me?” Friedman demanded.
“Come!” said another, gesturing with his weapon.
Friedman shrugged and followed orders. They marched down what seemed like many miles of corridors before his escorts stopped in front of a closed door.
“Enter,” the first guard said.
“Who’s in there?” Friedman asked.
“Enter!” repeated the guard.
Friedman sighed and passed through the door. Seated inside in the dark was the leader of the Horde. Forced to stand in a spotlight, Friedman could see another man seated nearby. However, his chair faced the wall and Friedman couldn’t see the man’s face.
“Ah, Lt. Friedman,” Quantos said, “I knew you weren’t as smart as you appeared. You really should have stayed on the ship. That way, you would have lived.”
“It is my duty as a peace officer to rescue Mr. Borodon,” Friedman replied.
Quantos roared with laughter.
“What’s so funny?” Friedman demanded. “Is it amusing that I have a duty to perform?”
“You will get the joke soon enough,” Quantos replied. “You also made another error in judgment. Why did you join forces with Tyren Kilbee?”
“I didn’t want to,” Friedman said, “but you killed most of my men. I needed their manpower to beat you.”
“And yet, they have failed,” Quantos said. “As you have failed. And now….”
He was interrupted by a gesture from the other man. Quantos spoke quietly with him for a few minutes. Friedman strained his ears to hear, but they spoke too softly. Quantos returned his attention back to Friedman.
“You will be placed in the holding area,” Quantos said. “Do not try to escape, or you will be killed this time.” He turned away from Friedman.
The guards entered and led Friedman away. Quantos looked at the man in the chair and smiled.
“He doesn’t even suspect,” Quantos said.
The other smiled and nodded.
After an hour by a steaming hot furnace, Leemon finally regained consciousness. Willis and Brandon, unable to take the heat, had quickly dropped Leemon by the furnace and retreated to the vent.
Leemon sat up and blinked several times. He looked around, a little dazed.
“Over here, Ernie,” Willis said.
Leemon walked over to the vent. “Why’re you hiding in there?” he asked.
“We’re normal people,” Willis replied. “Unlike you, we can’t take the heat.”
Leemon laughed. “You call this hot?” he asked. “This feels great. You fellows always keep the temperature way too low for me.”
“Okay,” Brandon said, “enough of the small talk. We’ve got to find the others.”
“Where the Hell are we?” demanded Donnelly.
“Good question, Donnelly,” Kilbee replied. “My answer to you is that I have no idea.”
“We need Bell or Ernie,” Mieri replied. “Then, maybe we can see where we are.”
“Let me see if I can do something,” Ariel said.
She picked up a small stick and stared at it for a moment. After a slight pop, the end of the stick burst into flames. Now illuminated by the fire, they could see the rough texture of the walls. The corridors stretched on endlessly, until darkness claimed victory over the flame.
“We can stop cursing the darkness now,” Kilbee said. “Although, you, Donnelly, never stop cursing.”
“Damn you, Ty,” Donnelly said sharply. “Shut up and lead the way.”
Kilbee laughed and started walking. He tried to select those corridors that had a downward slant to it. In this way, he was hoping to reach the Horde’s underground base.
“I wonder what these large holes are for?” Mieri asked.
They had passed several large openings along the way.
“I don’t know,” Kilbee said. “I haven’t a clue as to their purpose.”
As they passed another large opening, a loud roar reverberated through the tunnel. Suddenly, two large claws grabbed Kilbee and Donnelly and disappeared into the tunnel.
“Ty! Donnelly!” screamed Ariel, but she received not reply.
After being shifted from one cell to another, Friedman was finally thrown into a cell with another man. The other man turned around in surprise.
“Lt. Friedman!” he exclaimed.
It was now Friedman’s turn to be surprised.
“Mr. Borodon!” Friedman said.
“Thank God you’re here,” Borodon said. “You know these people are threatening to kill me. ME!!”
“I know, sir,” Friedman replied. “I’m in the same predicament.”
“What are you’re plans for getting us out of here?” Borodon demanded.
“I’m working on it,” Friedman replied. “I need to find Sgt. Terad. Have you seen him?”
“You’re the first person I’ve seen other than Horde members,” Borodon replied. “You must do SOMETHING!! I don’t want to die here!”
“I’m doing my best,” Friedman said tersely, “but….”
He was interrupted when the door opened suddenly. Several guards entered.
“He wants to see you again,” one guard said to Borodon. “Come.”
“He’s not going anywhere,” Friedman said.
The guard looked at him and chuckled. “And I suppose you’re going to stop US?” he asked. “Bring him.”
Friedman jumped on one of the guards, knocking him down. The other two guards pulled Friedman off and hurled him against the wall, knocking him senseless.
“Cops never learn,” the first guard said. “You will now come quietly or else.”
Borodon meekly followed his escorts.
Alkerson could see Halloran was slowly recovering from the effects of the stun gun.
“Jimmie,” Alkerson asked, “how do you feel?”
“Bad,” Halloran said. “Where’s Lee?”
“They took him out and he never returned,” Alkerson said. “He may have escaped.”
“Or dead,” Halloran said.
“That’s possible, too,” Alkerson replied. “Damn these chains,” he cursed.
“A bother,” Halloran agreed.
A sound in the drainage grate attracted Alkerson’s attention. He saw a little man climb through the grate and run across the floor. Brandon returned to normal size in front of him.
“Hi, Bell,” Brandon said. “You fellas look like you’re in a bit of trouble. Let me see if I can help.”
He grabbed hold of Alkerson’s finger and shrunk down to two inches high. He climbed over Alkerson’s wrist and began working on the lock. It snapped open quickly.
“Help me over to your other wrist,” Brandon squeaked.
Alkerson did. Minutes later, he was free. Alkerson helped Brandon over to Halloran, and then checked the window for approaching guards. Soon, Halloran was also free of his bondage.
“Let’s get out of here,” Brandon said. “Lee and Ernie are waiting below.”
As Brandon struggled to remove the grate, the sounds of footsteps echoed outside.
“Hurry,” hissed Alkerson, “someone’s coming.”
“I’m trying,” Brandon said. “This thing is stuck to the floor. I can’t get it loose.”
As he struggled with the grate, the footsteps got closer and closer and closer.
Mieri stared down the dark hole, wondering what had happened to Kilbee and Donnelly. It had been over an hour since the monster had grabbed the men and there was still no sign of them. Sitting in front of the opening, Ariel was in deep concentration. She was trying to find the monster and change it into stone, but so far, she was having no success.
“I can’t find it,” Ariel said wearily. “It must be too far away from us.”
“Then, they must be dead,” Mieri said.
“I don’t know,” Ariel said sadly.
“Don’t know what?” Kilbee asked suddenly.
Kilbee and Donnelly rejoined the women. They both looked roughed up, but were otherwise unharmed.
“Ty!” Ariel jumped up. “How did you get away?”
“Thank Donnelly here,” Kilbee replied. “That thing didn’t count on Donnelly’s strength. He broke its fingers, freeing himself, then started to pound on it until it dropped me. Then, I blasted it with my laser.”
“Thank goodness you’re all right,” Mieri said. “What was it?”
“Can’t be too sure,” Kilbee said. “It was too dark to see. But from the claws, I’d guess it was a Goldavian molecat. Vicious carnivores.”
“We’d better get out of here,” Ariel said, “just in case there are more of those molecats around here.”
“Good idea,” Kilbee said. “We still need to find everyone else and Borodon’s jewels.”
They walked along until they came to another intersection. The passage on their left ended quickly at a ventilation grill.
“We can enter their base through here,” Kilbee said.
“I think not,” a voice from the darkness said.
A stunning beam struck Ariel and knocked her out.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Tyren Kilbee,” one guard said. “I’ve heard so many bad things about you. I’d like the opportunity to see if they are all true.”
A large number of men stepped out of the darkness, their weapons pointed at the group.
A frustrated Friedman paced nervously back and forth in his cell. The Horde hadn’t brought Borodon back and several hours had now passed by. He worried that Borodon may be dead.
“All of this is for nothing,” he thought, “if Borodon dies.”
He knew his superiors would not forgive his failure here. They certainly wouldn’t mind his death. They were still angry about his previous failures against the Kilbee gang.
“That Miranda affair was the real killer,” he thought. “Now, the army’s mad at me too. If I fail here, my career is over, especially since I allied myself with Kilbee.”
The door opened and more guards entered.
“He wants to see you,” one said gruffly.
“Quantos?” Friedman asked. ”What does he want to see me for?”
“Come!” the guard said. “He is not a patient man.”
Friedman shrugged. “These Horde fellows are a real quiet lot,” he thought. “They never speak very much.”
He was led to an open door and pushed in. Friedman was initially confused when he entered. The room appeared unoccupied. Then, he noticed someone sitting in a chair, facing the wall.
“Ah, the mysterious leader,” Friedman said. “What do you want from me?”
The chair turned around. Sitting there was Sgt Terad.
“Hello, Lieutenant,” he said. “That’s a nice title you gave me, but it’s not quite true. He wouldn’t like you saying that to me.”
“And just WHO is HE?” demanded Friedman.
“You’re in no position to make demands here,” Terad replied calmly. “He will make his presence known to you in his own good time.”
“What’s gotten into you, Sergeant?” Friedman asked. “You’re working for me.”
“Technically, that’s true,” Terad said. “But, in reality, it is not. My boss thought it would advantageous for us to work with you during this trip.”
“Your boss?” spluttered Friedman. “Who the Hell is he? I demand to know his name.”
“There is something we need to know,” Terad said, ignoring Friedman. “And we need your help.”
“What makes you think that I will?” Friedman demanded.
Terad chuckled. “We need to know all of the special talents of Kilbee’s people,” he said.
“What makes you think I know that?” Friedman asked.
Terad smiled. “You’ve been after them longer than any other cop,” he replied. “I’ve seen a few of them in action and we know how to counteract their talents. Tell me about the others.”
“There is no way I’m going to help you, you traitor,” Friedman snapped.
“Tch, tch, tch,” Terad said. “A very unfortunate attitude. It would be much easier for you if you cooperate.”
“Like Hell I will,” Friedman snapped.
Terad lit up a cigarette. “We have ways to make you talk,” he said calmly. “I don’t think you’ll enjoy them too much. There is a lot of pain involved. All on your part, of course.”
Friedman was shocked. “You would do that to ME?” he exclaimed.
“Of course,” Terad said, smiling.
“You’re sick,” Friedman said. “I think you actually enjoy all of this.”
“Come, come now,” Terad said patiently. “Do you think I’d really enjoy torturing a fellow police officer?”
“I think you would,” Friedman said slowly.
Terad chuckled. “You know,” he said, “you may not be as dumb as I thought. Last chance. Will you cooperate with us?”
“I’m telling you the truth,” Friedman declared. “I don’t know the talents of all of Kilbee’s people.”
Terad sighed. “A pity you chose this path,” he said. He summoned several guards. “Escort Lt. Friedman to our interrogation room. I have some questions that need answers.”
“Terad!” screamed Friedman. “I really don’t know! You can’t do this to me! I’m a police officer! TERAD!!”
The guards dragged the struggling Friedman away. Terad merely smiled as he followed them.
“I think you took a little too long on purpose,” Alkerson accused Brandon.
They were crawling through the ventilation shaft.
“Hey, give me a break,” Brandon said in defense. “Those bolts were in tight. And besides, that grill was almost glued to the floor.”
“Forget it,” Willis said. “You’re free now. Let’s get on with this little affair.”
Alkerson was leading the way along the shaft, when he stopped near a grate.
“I can hear voices,” he whispered. “Move quietly.”
Carefully, Alkerson and Brandon removed the grate and the five men stepped into the dark tunnel. A short distance away, they saw an intersection. Several heavily armed men had their weapons drawn and were staring down one branch.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Tyren Kilbee,” one of them was saying. “I’ve heard so many bad things about you. I’d like the opportunity to see if they are all true.
“However,” he sighed, “we simply don’t have the time. It will be our pleasure to kill you.”
The men raised their weapons to fire. Before they fired, Leemon sent forth a heat ray that engulfed them in flames. They collapsed to the ground, screaming in agony. After awhile, all was silent. A relieved Kilbee shone his light down at them.
“It’s about time you fellows showed up,” Kilbee said. “I was getting a little worried.”
Donnelly snorted. “A
little worried,” he said gruffly.
“Those guys almost killed us.”
“But you must admit,” Willis said. “We have wonderful timing.”
“True,” Kilbee said. “But next time, don’t cut it so close. It’s a little rough on my nerves.” He went over to Mieri, who was kneeling next to Ariel. “How is she?” he asked.
“She’ll recover in a few minutes,” Mieri said. “They only stunned her.”
“We’d better get out of here,” Kilbee said. “Somebody must have heard those screams. Donnelly, can you carry Ariel until she wakes up? We’ve got to go somewhere and pool our knowledge.”
“I’ve managed to see most of the base,” Willis replied. “I got a little lost trying to find my way back to Bell and Jim. This place is very large.”
They were currently holed up in a small chamber off the main tunnel. Ariel had recovered, but she was still groggy.
“Our first objective has to be to find Vill,” Kilbee said. “Lee, have you any idea where they’re keeping him?”
“No,” Willis said. “It must be off the beaten path.”
“How can you be sure he’s been captured?” asked Donnelly.
“Well, I’m not,” Kilbee said. “I’m just making that assumption. I don’t think they’ve killed him or else we would have found his body. They obviously have some kind of Khamelon device to hold him or he would have escaped by now.”
“Where would they get something like that?” Donnelly asked. “That chameleon said that only chameleons are allowed to visit Khamela and they don’t export anything.”
“I know,” Kilbee said. “They obviously have a chameleon working for them.”
“Got someone in mind?” Willis asked.
Kilbee nodded. “He must have a boss, though,” he said. “That’s the one I want.”
“Do you mean that Quantos fellow?” Willis asked.
Kilbee shook his head. “No,” he replied. “He doesn’t seem smart enough to be in charge of this operation. I think there is someone else behind Quantos."
“Who’s that?” Donnelly asked.
“I’ll let you know when I’m sure,” Kilbee said. “So this is our plan. First, we find and rescue Vill. Then, we locate the Borodon jewels and get the hell out of here.”
“What about Friedman?” Mieri asked.
Kilbee laughed. “We’ve got enough problems as it is,” he said. “Let him solve his own problems.”
The chief of the guards ran up to Quantos.
“Sir,” he said, “all but two of the prisoners have escaped.”
“Who is left?” Quantos asked.
“Only the chameleon and Friedman,” was the reply.
“Any word on the missing patrol?’ Quantos asked.
“No, sir,” the chief replied.
Quantos thought for a moment. “Kilbee’s responsible for all of this,” he decided. “He’s going to rescue the chameleon next. I want the guard around him tripled.”
Brandon ran along the air vent in shrunken size, periodically stopping to check a grate for Stroll. After passing several grates, he ran past one where several men were guarding a door. He was about to continue on, when several more guards arrived. This action caught his attention. Why would six heavily armed men need to guard one room?
“I’ll bet that’s where Vill is,” he thought.
He memorized the room number and its approximate location and returned to the others.
The six guards nervously waited outside of Stroll’s prison. Even though they knew a squad of men were hiding down each corridor leading to this room, they were still anxious.
“Which way do you think they’ll come?” one asked.
“Shut up and watch,” the group leader said. “It don’t matter ‘cause we got ‘em covered, either way.”
Then, they all became watchful. They could hear footsteps approaching from the right. Three men dropped to one knew and aimed their weapons. The others backed them up. Then, they heard more footsteps approaching from the left. Silently cursing, the other three dropped to one knee, facing the intruders.
A man appeared simultaneously around each corner. They were both Tyren Kilbee. All six guards fired at Kilbee, who instantly disappeared.
“We got Kilbee!” they all yelled, jumping up.
Hearing each other, they turned towards one another in confusion. In the chaos that followed, Kilbee, Donnelly from one side and Alkerson and Halloran on the other showed themselves and blasted the guards.
“That was easy,” Kilbee said, approaching the door.
“You’re very foolish, Tyren Kilbee,” a man said. “Did you really think we would only have six men guarding your friend?”
Kilbee smiled. “I hoped that was the case,” he said, “but you see, I’m not as foolish as you may think.”
The guard who had spoken and all the men around him were suddenly engulfed in a powerful heat ray. Willis and Ariel blasted the squad of men on the other side.
“They had no chance,” Willis said smugly.
“Isn’t that the truth,” Kilbee agreed. “Let’s free Vill and look for the Borodon jewels.”
Kilbee blasted the lock and threw aside the door. Inside, they found a large box with some kind of mechanical device on top. Kilbee blasted the device and then Donnelly opened the box. A very weary Stroll was curled up inside.
“It’s about time you guys showed up,” Stroll said weakly as Donnelly picked him up. “I was beginning to think I’d have to rescue YOU.”
A guard entered the room where Terad was resting.
“Sir,” he said, “all of the Kilbee Gang have now escaped.”
Terad cursed under his breath. “This wouldn’t have happened if Friedman hadn’t been so stubborn,” he muttered. “They’ll go after the jewels next,” he told the guard. “Make your big stand there. I’ll tell the boss.”
“Yes, sir!” The guard left quickly.
Terad pressed the intercom and summoned another guard.
“Give this message to the boss,” he ordered, writing a note. “At once!”
The guard nodded and left.
Terad reached into a side drawer and pulled out a weapon.
“Well,” he said to himself, “it looks like I’m going to get a chance to use you after all.”
Friedman moaned painfully as he lay in the cell he had shared with Borodon. He was alone right now. Borodon had been take out for more “questioning” and hadn’t been brought back.
“Sadists!” he thought. “These Horde members are sick. SICK!!!”
His body ached all over from the torture the Horde had used on him.
“Just enough to be painful,” he thought, “but not enough to kill. Ingenious. What a terrible group of sadists.”
A noise in the ventilator shaft disturbed his thoughts. To his surprise, the grate came flying off.
“Lt. Friedman, I presume,” Stroll said. “Come with us. You’re being rescued.”
Stroll’s arm stretched out, wrapped itself around Friedman’s body and pulled him into the shaft. Donnelly and Mieri were also there. Mieri quickly checked Friedman.
“I’ve dulled the pain somewhat,” she said. “Can you move?”
“Good,” she said. “Let’s get out of here.”
Kilbee looked up at the sign on the door. It read, “Power Room. Authorized Personnel Only.”
“I think this is the place,” he told Alkerson and Willis. “I now declare all of us authorized. Now, let’s go in and raise a little Hell.”
Kilbee blew open the lock and kicked down the door. The men inside were surprised and froze.
“I would suggest that all of you remain that way,” Kilbee said genially. “All right, gentlemen,” he told his friends, “let’s do what we planned to do.”
Alkerson and Willis began placing small explosive devices all around the room. As Alkerson was placing his last charge, an arrow flew through the air and struck his chest. Kilbee turned and killed the attacker. Then, he ran to Alkerson’s side and Willis kept an eye over the other men.
“Bell,” Kilbee said, lifting Alkerson’s head.
Alkerson smiled weakly. “It’s been fun, Ty,” he said, breathing tortuously.
“Don’t try to talk, Bell,” Kilbee said gently. “Mieri will be here soon to take care of you.”
“Don’t think so,” gasped Alkerson. “Arrow poisoned. Bad stuff. Loved every minute. Sorry gonna miss all the fun.” Alkerson sighed deeply and died.
Kilbee stood up silently. He glowered at the generator operators who were openly laughing at him.
“Lost your good friend, eh,” one of them taunted. “All of you are going to end that way.”
“Perhaps,” Kilbee said coldly. “But at least, none of you will live to see it.”
He coldly opened fire and killed all of the operators. Willis was shocked at the cold expression on Kilbee’s face.
“Set the timers,” Kilbee said harshly. “We have a job to do.”
Scouting on his own, Stroll located the vault. He smiled to himself.
“No subtlety to these guys,” he thought. “So obvious.”
He turned around and found himself staring down the business end of a weapon. Terad was on the other end, a wicked smile on his face.
“Hello, Sergeant,” Stroll said. “Long time no see.”
Terad’s smile grew wider. “How did you like the little prison I designed for you?” he asked.
“Very nice,” Stroll replied. “A little cramped, but comfy. I always wanted a long rest. Did you get that from Khamela?”
“Where else?” Terad asked. “Who else would know more about imprisoning chameleons than other chameleons?”
“Very good question,” noted Stroll. “I thought they didn’t like to export our technology.”
“They don’t,” Terad said. “But then, I didn’t ask for permission.”
“Ah, I see,” Stroll said. “So, what happens now?”
“I think it’s time you meet your maker,” Terad said. “Do you recognize this little weapon I have here?”
“Another souvenir from Khamela?” asked Stroll.
“That’s right,” Terad said. “This little weapon is a zhoulin. It can kill a chameleon, no matter what form he is in.”
“Amazing,” Stroll said. “Do I get any last wishes?”
“You are a cool one,” Terad said. “Goodbye, Mr. Villient Stroll.”
He pulled the weapon’s trigger, but instead of killing Stroll, it exploded in his hand. Terad screamed, clutching his injured arm. From out of the darkness, Ariel appeared and blasted Terad.
“I knew the cavalry would come,” Stroll said, smiling. “How did you do it?”
“I destabilized its energy source,” Ariel said, “so it would explode in his hand.”
“Very good,” Stroll said. “Why did you come looking for me?”
“You were late,” she explained.
“I thank you,” Stroll said. “The fun is only beginning.”
“The time to move,” Kilbee told his group, “is when the generators go. That should stir up a lot of confusion.”
“What about Borodon?” demanded Friedman.
“We’ll come back for him after we’ve gotten the jewels,”
“What guarantee will you give me that you’ll go back for him?” Friedman asked angrily.
“Picky, picky, picky,” Kilbee said, smiling.
A low rumble and blinking lights told Kilbee that his bombs had gone off as scheduled. When the rumble stopped, only the red emergency lights remained on.
“Okay, let’s go,” Kilbee said.
As they ran towards the treasure room, a lone guard stepped out from a side corridor and fired at the group. The blast struck Willis’ back. Donnelly charged the gunman and killed him as Mieri ran to Willis’ side.
“Take it easy, Lee,” she said, tearfully. “I’m here now. I can help you.”
Willis smiled weakly. “I love you,” he barely said.
“I know,” she said. “I love you, too.”
Willis nodded. “Thought so,” he said slowly. “Never could tell for sure. Too late now.”
“It’s never too late,” Mieri said angrily, tears rolling down her face. “I can save you.”
“Optimist,” gasped Willis. “Always an optimist.”
His lips curled slightly, and then he became limp in her arms.
“You damned fool,” Mieri said tearfully. “How dare you die on me?”
There was a moment of complete silence. Then, Kilbee came over and gently placed his hand on her shoulder.
“Come on,” he said softly. “We’ve got things to do.”
Reluctantly, Mieri got to her feet.
“Let’s wipe out these bastards,” she said grimly.
They moved slowly down the corridors. They knew they were nearing the treasure room.
“I’ve put up a force field,” Ariel said. “Unfortunately, it won’t stop any arrows.”
Just then, the air was full of laser bolts. A group of Horde members sprang out from two side corridors and were attacking. Kilbee and his gang returned the fire and killed all of the attackers. Thanks to Ariel’s force field, no one was injured.
“It’s a good thing you had that screen up,” Stroll said. “Otherwise, we would have been pulverized city for all of us.”
As they moved on, one Horde member who had been feigning death, rose up suddenly and fired his laser. His bolt struck Ariel right above her left hip and she collapsed with a scream. Donnelly charged the man and killed him with a chop to his neck.
Kilbee and Mieri knelt next to the unconscious Ariel.
“How bad is it?” Kilbee asked, worried.
“Bad enough,” Mieri said. “I have to treat her immediately, or else we’ll lose her.” She looked up at the others who had gathered around. “This is going to take some time,” she continued. “You’d better go on without us.”
“Will you be all right alone?” Kilbee asked.
“Don’t worry,” Mieri said. “I’ve got everything under control. Just go.”
Kilbee nodded and motioned to the others to move on. Then, giving Ariel a quick kiss on her forehead, he followed them. Mieri closed her eyes and began concentrating her healing powers.
“This is going to take all the energy I can muster,” she thought. “Almost like Lee’s injury, but not quite as bad.”
Opening her eyes, she reached for Ariel’s face. She heard a slight sound behind her. Whirling around, she fired her weapon. Unfortunately, she wasn’t quick enough. She managed to kill her attacker, but he fired off an arrow. True to its mark, the arrow struck Mieri just above her left breast.
“Damn,” she thought, staggering backwards. “Poisoned!” Her hands began to tremble. “Now I only have enough energy to save one of us.”
The corridor near the treasure room seemed strangely quiet. Kilbee was troubled by the silence.
“They’re hiding somewhere,” Kilbee said. “It’ll be better if we split up.”
“I’ll go to the other side,” Brandon said. “Just give me some time to run across.”
“Why run when you can ride?” Stroll asked. “I’ll go with you.”
Stroll turned into a small car. Brandon shrunk down in size and climbed in. Kilbee placed both of them in the air vent.
“Give us ten minutes to get into position,” squeaked Brandon.
“Right,” Kilbee said.
Stroll and Brandon disappeared down the vent. Kilbee watched the time carefully.
Then, Kilbee said, “Ernie, do you think you can clear the way for us?”
“Naturally,” Leemon said.
He stretched both arms forward and flooded the corridor with his heat ray. For a brief instant, screams filled the air. Then, silence took control.
“Let’s go at them,” Kilbee said.
As they ran towards the treasure room, those guards who had taken cover began firing their weapons. The battle was fierce, but the surviving Horde members had been surrounded by Kilbee’s gang and were losing. Still, there were casualties. One bolt struck Leemon in his leg and he went down in pain. Another just missed Halloran’s head, but its explosion was near enough to stun him. However, in the end, Kilbee and his friends prevailed.
Only one Horde member was standing in the shadows. It was Quantos, the leader, and he was carrying a large sword. Friedman gasped when he saw him.
“You’re Quantos!” he exclaimed. “You’re also Zhang, Mr. Borodon’s chief of security. Are you the one behind all of this?”
Quantos, aka Zhang laughed. “Pretty good plan, don’t you think. I had all of you fooled.”
“Even Mr. Borodon?” asked Friedman.
Quantos laughed harder. “The time for talking is over,” he said. “Now, you will all die!!!”
Even though it was four against one, the odds were almost even since Kilbee and his friends had drained their blasters in the fight. He charged the nearest man, who was Donnelly. Quantos stabbed forward with his sword. Donnelly took the thrust in his palm without making a sound, pulled the weapon out of the startled man’s hands and broke his neck like it was a stick.
As Quantos slowly crumpled to the floor, Donnelly swiftly pulled the sword out of his palm and held his hand gingerly.
“Well, it looks like we’ve only got a lock between us and our fortune,” Stroll said. “The trick will be to get inside.”
“No problem,” Brandon said, shrinking down. “I’m an expert lock picker. Help me inside.”
Stroll picked up the tiny Brandon and helped him into the small hole in the vault’s door. Minutes passed before they heard a click and the door swung open. Brandon jumped out and returned to normal size.
“As simple as that, eh?” Stroll laughed. “Let’s get rich!”
Stroll bounded into the safe. Then, with a painful yelp, he bounced quickly out. He writhed on the floor, his shoulder burned by a blaster bolt. From inside the safe, Devitt Borodon emerged, his blaster still glowing.
“Mr. Borodon!” exclaimed Friedman. “What are you doing in there?”
“Protecting my collection,” Borodon replied. He glanced over at the body of Quantos. “I see you’ve killed Zhang. A pity. He was doing such an excellent job for me.”
Friedman stared. “I don’t understand,” he stammered.
“Let me explain,” Borodon said. “Haven’t you ever wondered how I amassed my fortune? Many people have, including several of your superiors. It’s really very simple. The Galactic Horde robs from the rich and gives the spoils to me. I am their leader.”
“If you’re the leader,” Donnelly asked, “how come they kidnapped you and tried to steal your jewels?”
“Another simple explanation,” Borodon replied. “Things were getting a little too hot for me. Several police officials began investigating a possible link between the Horde and me. I knew that if I were to become another victim of the Horde, suspicion would fall on someone else.”
“Ingenious,” Kilbee said admiringly.
“Thank you,” Borodon said. “However, I did make one miscalculation. I didn’t count on you making it this far. My congratulations to all of you. And you know what that means. Now that you know the truth, that means all of you have to die.”
“A pity,” Kilbee said.
“I know,” Borodon said. “You and your people could have been so useful in my organization. Now,” he said, smiling devilishly, “whom shall I kill first?”
“That’s sadistic!” screamed Friedman. “You’re as bad as the Horde!”
“Of course, he is,” Kilbee said. “Where do you think they get their inspiration?”
Borodon laughed demonically. Suddenly, a sharp toothed, tyrannosaurus-like creature appeared next to Borodon. He jumped when it roared and then, he laughed.
“You!” he shouted, pointing at Halloran. “Do you think you can scare me with your silly image? Stop it or you’ll be the first to die.”
The creature stepped closer and closer.
“Very well, then,” Borodon said. “If that’s the way you want it.”
He aimed his blaster at Halloran. The creature bent down and bit off Borodon’s hand with the weapon. Borodon staggered backwards, screaming and clutching his missing hand. Kilbee grabbed a nearby laser and fired, killing Borodon. Then, he stared at Halloran.
“How did you do that?” he asked.
“Not me,” Halloran said, pointing.
They all looked in the direction Halloran indicated. A tearful Ariel was leaning against the wall. As they watched, she slowly slid to the floor. Kilbee hurried to her side.
“Are you all right?” he asked. “Where’s Mieri?”
“She’s dead,” Ariel said, tearfully. “She was hit by a poison arrow soon after you left. She only had enough strength to save one of us. She saved me.”
They all stood silently for a moment.
“Your leg,” Kilbee said. “Can you walk?”
“Barely,” Ariel said.
“Okay,” Kilbee said. “Jimmie, you and Ren get the jewels. Donnelly, help Ernie and Vill if you can. I’ll help Ariel.”
“Where can we go?” Donnelly asked.
“To the space port,” Stroll said painfully. “I heard the guards talking about it. Sounds like it’s real close by.”
“We’ve got the jewels,” Brandon said. “Which way do we go?”
They heard the sounds of men running towards them from the right.
“Let’s go left,” Kilbee said. “We’ve got friends the other way.”
“What about me?” demanded Friedman.
“You can come along if you like,” Kilbee said. “Unless you’ve got a better place to go.”
The group moved as quickly as possible. After they turned the third corner, they found themselves in a large room filled with space ships. They entered the nearest one with an open door. Kilbee and Ariel went to the bridge, while the others went to Sick Bay.
Moments later, Brandon entered the bridge. Ariel was resting quietly in a chair, while Kilbee was in the pilot’s seat. He seemed confused.
“Let’s go, Ty,” Brandon said. “They’re getting closer.”
“I’m trying, I’m trying,” Kilbee said. “I can’t figure out these symbols.”
Brandon cursed under his breath.
“I’ll get Jimmie,” Brandon said. “Looks like we’re going to have to put up some kind of defense.”
He left quickly.
Donnelly entered, his hand heavily bandaged.
“Why are we still here?” he asked.
“I can’t figure out these controls,” Kilbee said. “They’ve got everything in the wrong places. I think this might be the power switch.” He flicked the switch. To his relief, they heard the power generators coming on.
Explosions began to rock the ship. A neighboring ship disappeared into a ball of flame.
“They’re getting closer!” Donnelly yelled. “The next one’s gonna get us. We’ve gotta go, Ty. Now!!”
Another big blast knocked Donnelly off his feet.
“TY!!!” he yelled.
“I got it!” Kilbee said. “Here we go!”
He grabbed the controls and the ship began to rise. He blasted open the doors with the ship’s laser and the ship zoomed into space.
As they left, they could see a series of explosions ripping through the spaceport. Then, the entire base of the Galactic Horde exploded, becoming a gigantic mushroom cloud.
“I do believe that we left behind our calling card,” Kilbee said, smiling at Ariel and Donnelly. “I don’t think anyone will be bothered by the Galactic Horde anymore.”
The Horde’s ship was in deep space and on automatic pilot. Kilbee and his friends were currently gathered in the lounge. They had overwhelmed Friedman, tied him up and left in the storage room. All of their injuries had been treated and bandaged. They would have to wait until planetfall before entering a regenn and recovering fully.
“It’s a pity we couldn’t give Bell, Lee and Mieri a proper funeral,” Ariel said sadly.
“They would have hated it,” Kilbee replied gently. “Besides, I think our destruction of the Horde’s base is more than a fitting memorial for them.”
“I don’t understand why it blew up,” Donnelly said.
“Jimmie and I did that,” Brandon said. “I saw an atomic reactor nearby. We destroyed its safety rods so that the reactor would overheat and blow up.”
“So, that’s that,” Kilbee said.
“What do we do about Friedman?” Donnelly asked.
“We’ll release him in an escape pod near his planet,” Kilbee said. “All tied up, of course. We don’t want him found too quickly. We need time to make our getaway.”
“And we’ll still have the jewels,” Stroll said.
“Of course,” Kilbee replied. “You don’t think we went through so much trouble for nothing, do you? It’s about time we got paid for a job well done.”
“I agree,” Stroll said. “I totally agree.”