Kira's dream keeps coming back. Is it a warning? All she knows is that her destiny lies intertwined with the prison planet. Will Chavez understand? It is six hours away from rendezvousing with Dr. Winters, who will attempt to help Kira with her problems. But Captain Maddeson is on an intercept course to capture them and return them to the warden. Will they escape? Dr. Winters has diagnosed Kira with the Chameleon Effect and in an attempt to halt its progress, he will use Chavez's DNA. But Kira has other plans and escapes off Chavez's ship, without a word to anyone. Chavez decides to go after her. Kira remembers that her sister is being held hostage and she must return to the prison planet in order to barter for her freedom. But before she can get there, she is captured by Captain Maddeson, who is demanding payment for her return to the warden. While she was fleeing, Chavez fights off an Orgarian boarding party who shoot Dr. Winters. He urges Chavez to go after Kira before he dies.
“It’s not realistic for one man to try an assault on a prison compound. Chavez, think for a moment.”
Vida, the head of covert operations, attempted to talk sense into an angry Chavez. She’d seen him in many different states over the many years they had worked together, but never one where his logic had gone so awry.
“Are you saying I can’t do this?”
“I’m saying wait until we can get a full team there to help you. Just wait, that’s all.”
“We don’t have time. Dr. Winters gave me the antidote and if she doesn’t get it…” He paused and swallowed hard. “…she could die.”
Vida nodded in agreement. “And so could you. Have you considered that?”
“I’m already dead, remember? You classified me as dead when I went into this noble profession.”
“Chavez, I think you’re not thinking clearly. What’s troubling you? Is it the death of your close friend? I think you need to pull out for now and re-group. Perhaps take a holiday. Let us rescue the girl.”
“No. I need to finish this. I can’t fail this case.”
“Why? Because you’ve never failed before? Chavez, we all fail a case. It’s expected. This is your time to let it go.”
“No! I do not accept that!”
Chavez pounds on the console and ends his connection, knowing that Vida will send out the units to help anyway. But it will be too late if he waits for them to come. He dons blasters, laser guns, knives and everything he can carry and prepares to enter the compound on Prison Planet 452.
Before he has a chance to get to the surface, he observes Captain Maddeson’s ship in orbit around the planet. He covertly listens to his conversation with the warden and discovers that Kira is still on his ship and he is bartering for more credits. The shuttle that the two Orgarians kindly donated to him will come in handy so he can fly over to the Orgarian battleship.
Chavez is met by only a few Orgarians, as he flies into the belly of the cavernous battleship. He sighs with relief, having fooled them into thinking he was a patrol returning. Chavez is dressed in the black and grey of an Orgarian uniform and takes advantage of the low lighting to surreptitiously make his way to the bridge. One Orgarian starts to challenge him, but he shines a bright light in his eyes, momentarily blinding him. He arrives on the bridge to find Maddeson sitting in the captain’s chair, amidst an array of consoles manned by at least a dozen Orgarians. He is frustrated that he finds Maddeson, but not Kira.
“Well, Chavez, welcome to my ship! Isn’t she fantastic? What is it you want?” His common Terran is thick with a slurred, guttural accent.
“You’re awfully relaxed for someone about to die. Where is she?”
“I imagine she’s in her quarters. But you are laboring under the wrong impression. She doesn’t want to go with you, she wants to go back to the planet. So you see, it is you who are about to die. Seize him!”
Before Chavez can draw his weapon, he is surrounded by guards who strip him of all he carries. Two of the guards hold him while a third one begins beating on him. First the guard slaps his face and then begins punching him. He continues beating him until he is barely conscious.
Captain Maddeson watches the beating while he eats. He is trying to make a decision. He knows the warden wants Chavez back. But he made an agreement with Kira. And after all, the warden hadn’t been forthcoming with all that was transpiring. He knew that after seeing Kira’s condition. He didn’t know what was happening to her, but she didn’t look like her pictures anymore. Her sweetheart shaped face was now mottled with blotches and on her neck were slits like gills that would puff in and out with her breathing.
Captain Maddeson signaled to the guards and they dropped Chavez on the floor. He lay there breathing heavily, waiting for the final blow. He was going to die at any moment.
“I made an agreement with the female that I would not kill you, so you are fortunate today. But after she is off my ship, that agreement is over. So do not return, Chavez.”
A jackboot came down atop Chavez’s head and everything went black.
Chavez woke up floating in space on his own ship. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been out, but he had bruises and scrapes everywhere and it hurt to stand up at the monitors. He crawled up into his chair and hailed Captain Maddeson.
“What is it, Chavez? Do you want some more of my hospitality?”
“Is Kira still on your ship?”
“No. The warden has her on the planet, now. I warn you, Chavez, my promise still stands. Should I blast you out of space?”
“I don’t think you’ll be able to.”
“And why is that?”
“Because I have a surprise for you. While I was wandering your ship, I planted it with explosives and this…” He held up the small computerized relay device, “… is the detonator.”
Chavez smiled through the bruises on his scarred face and watched as the horror-struck half-human, half-reptile was blown into a million bits, along with his ship.
But he still didn’t have Kira. And his chronometer went off; indicating the time for administering the antidote was over. From here on out, it couldn’t reverse the Chameleon Effect, only stop it where it was. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in any position to find Kira or get her back. He had failed. And he realized that his desire for Kira was a one-sided fantasy wrapped up in his retrieving her. He wanted to be that knight in shining armor who rode in on his white steed and faced down the bad guys, so she could fall into his arms with passionate relief. But it was just a dream. How could he expect Kira to be in love with him when he had failed on every count and even got his best friend killed? The warden had won this time.
Chavez put his face in his hands and wept.
To be continued...