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Go to Chapter Two.
Carl’s mouth dropped open at Purr’s revelation. “Mmme?” He stared at Purr, feeling overwhelmed as his world turned upside down once again. A feeling of nausea crept up from his stomach, filling him with dread. It was one thing to risk your life impulsively but to think that someone was hunting you ruthlessly was entirely different. Purr’s half-closed eyes watched him intently, analyzing every reaction. “Are you sure? There must be some mistake.” Carl shook his head in disbelief as he muttered to himself, “There has got to be some mistake.”
“No mistake,” Purr said confidently. “I was tracking him, and I know my business. I heard a rumour that he was after you from a CI on Liwork. When I traced you, I saw him following your flight path, trying to keep out of your scanners while keeping you in his. He was probably going to wait until you got to Yekin for the kill but saw a good opportunity here.”
“Why? What have I ever done to him?”
“Nothing. As I said before, Kilnow is a contract killer. Someone paid him a great deal to get rid of you.”
Carl was struggling to wrap his mind around all these confusing facts, “Why would anyone want to kill me? I’m just an average person. I don’t have any real enemies. I haven’t hurt anyone.”
“You must have at least one,” persisted Purr. “Think.”
“I don’t,” muttered Carl stubbornly, turning his gaze out the window. All was quiet. Large and small spaceships were scattered over the Landing Zone, but his eyes could detect no movement at the moment. Instead of the quiet scene relaxing him, Carl thought of a graveyard…a graveyard of cold, hard spaceships, each one waiting to entomb its occupants. He shivered involuntarily. What Purr had told him, was it true? Was there really some mysterious figure out there who would stop at nothing to see him dead? What sense did that even make? His mind whirled around and around like an astroid spiralling into a black hole. Carl’s eyes finally rested on the Pure Delight.
Purr was still patiently sipping his coffee as he continued to scrutinize Carl.
"Scott will be looking for me soon,” Carl said absent-mindedly, glad for the comforting thought of returning to some sense of normality. He’ll be able to straighten everything out, he thought.
“No, he won’t,” said Purr quietly.
Carl’s head snapped around. His eyes locked with Purr’s eyes. “What do you mean by that?” he asked sharply.
“As soon as I landed, I went over to your ship to warn him about your safety, but Kilnow had been there before me. Your Scott was dead in the cockpit when I got there. So I came searching for you, hoping to find you before it was too late.”
“He’d dead because someone wants me dead? It’s unbelievable…”
“How old are you?” asked Purr.
“Sixteen.” Carl took a sip of his iced tea, then looked at Purr again, “Are you sure there’s no mistake? Maybe he was after Scott…”
“I don’t make mistakes.” There wasn’t even a hint of doubt in Purr’s voice.
“But why…?” Carl lapsed into silence again. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a man wearing the gray and white uniform of the local police coming up the tunnel stairs. He was talking into his communicator as he headed for the restaurant.
“When you get arrested, I guess I’ll have to hide out on the Pure Delight until Security Elite sends someone for me.”
From the window's reflection, Purr had been keeping a watchful eye on the constant movement of police and coroner activity up and down the stairs. He had already noticed the policeman entering the restaurant. “Well, blow my whiskers; why would I get arrested?” he asked innocently, twitching his whiskers in mock surprise.
Carl stared at him, “You just murdered five people who were unarmed and surrendering. What did you think was going to happen?”
For the first time, Carl saw anger flash in Purr’s eyes; his mouth pulled back in a snarl. “I murdered no one.”
Carl stiffened in his chair, not sure how to react to this sudden change in the dangerous cat’s demeanour. He was tempted to call out to the policeman but was unsure how Purr would react. Instead, he said hesitantly, “What would you call it?”
“Justice,” snapped Purr. The anger melted from Purr’s eyes as quickly as it had come. He visibly relaxed as he took a sip of his coffee. He observed Carl’s rigid position and let out a soft purr, “You have nothing to fear from me, Kitten. You just rubbed my fur the wrong way with that word ‘murdered’ as if I was like one of those killers.”
Carl relaxed a little but kept a wary eye on Purr.
“Now, let me ask you a question,” said Purr in his normal, soft voice. “How many people live on Hesnortor?”
Carl shrugged, “A million?”
“Closer to 4 million. How murders were committed here in the last Standard Year?”
“178. Almost one every other day. Now, how many people live on our home planet of Emperern?”
“About 6.5 billion.”
“And how many murders were committed there in the last Standard Year?”
Carl shook his head to indicate he didn’t know.
“Eight.” Purr leaned forward. There was an intensity in his eyes, but no longer any anger. “You can have compassion on the criminal or on the innocent, but not both. Those five dogs will never hurt another innocent person. Who knows how many lives have been saved?”
“So that’s what you do? Hunt down criminals and execute them?”
Purr let out a sigh, “You really are ignorant of the Laws Of Adam in the Book Of El, aren’t you? If I have to hunt someone down, then they have to be turned in for trial; otherwise, it would be murder. But if I catch someone in the act…that’s a whole different bowl of milk.”
“Just who are you anyway?” questioned Carl, feeling bolder now that Purr’s temper had dissipated. “You not with Security Elite or the C.O.S., and I am sure Interstellar Patrol wouldn’t have anything to do with you either.”
“You know how to make a cat feel wanted,” commented Purr with a twinkle in his eyes.
“I didn’t mean it to sound like that,” said Carl. “It’s just…it’s just…oh…I don’t know anymore. You saved my life, but I don’t know who or what you are.”
“You’re right about Security Elite, C.O.S. and Interstellar Patrol, so what’s left?”
Carl took a deep breath and then another sip of his iced tea before replying thoughtfully, “That covers all law enforcement and military except for local forces.” He paused thoughtfully before continuing, “A bounty hunter or some private security firm, hoping my uncle will give some kind of reward for saving me?”
Purr laughed, “You’re going the wrong way, Kitten. But I think I should wash my fur with you. After all, if you want to come through this alive, you’re going to have to trust me.”
“You mean it’s not over yet?”
A low purr or growl, it was hard to tell the difference, vibrated through Purr’s body, “Kitten, it has only begun. Anyone who would hire Kilnow is not going to stop until the job is done.”
Carl went pale. “Then I’m dead.”
“Death is only a doorway,” Purr said casually. “If you are a believer in Elniyn, then it holds no terror, but fear is a terror unto itself. Of course, you may be putting yourself in the grave a little early. When I catch whoever is behind this, you won’t have to worry. Which brings us back to me, or had you forgotten?”
Carl shook his head, “It’s just that everything is so confusing…”
Purr’s green eyes seemed to sparkle as they locked with Carl’s eyes, He leaned forward and spoke barely above a whisper. “I am a Knight.”
Straightening up with a jerk, Carl accidentally knocked the table with his elbow, almost sending both their drinks crashing to the floor. He glanced around to see if anyone was close enough to hear. No one was, although the policeman, who had begun questioning people at the tables, looked in their direction.
Purr leaned back, amused at Carl’s reaction. “You’re drawing attention to us.”
Speechlessly Carl started at Purr, his mind bombarded with new thoughts. It was rare for a Knight to reveal his identity, but Carl had heard of these legendary figures before. They were a secretive organization of men and women who believed in fighting crime as a practical application of Elniynism, the religion of the El Empire. Their assignments were rumoured to come from the Emperor himself. When not on assignment, the Knights wandered across the vast Empire, fighting crime wherever they found it, whether it was a ‘simple’ mugging, an elaborate con game or a crime syndicate spread across an entire planet. They never backed down, and they never gave up. Although they had to answer for their actions to the Knight Commander and the Emperor, they had a great deal of leeway in dealing with criminals as long as they didn’t actually break any of the Laws of Adam in the Book of El. Carl realized that he had just witnessed the famous Knight justice in action.
The Knights would often vanish without a trace, and their activities would only surface weeks, months, or even years later. If Purr had disappeared after shooting Kilnow, it would have been consistent with how the Knights operated. Yet here he was, sitting across from him. Why? There had to be a reason.
Carl opened his mouth to speak, but Purr raised his paw slightly, indicating for him to remain quiet. The policeman was approaching their table.
“Sorry to interrupt,” said the policeman grimly, keying up a new page on his computer notebook. “But there are been several murders near here recently, within the last hour, I’d say.”
“Really?” responded Purr with what appeared to be genuine surprise. His pupils grew large as he turned his full attention to the policeman.
“Did either of you notice anything that might help us?”
Purr wrinkled his nose and twitched his whiskers as he thought. “I don’t think so,” he said slowly.
“Would you mind telling me where you’ve been for the last couple of hours?”
“Of course not. Anything to help. Carl and I have been here most of the time, except for when we went into the tunnel to Terminal 5.”
Carl had just taken a sip of his iced tea, hoping he would not have to answer any questions. At Purr’s confession, he choked on it, spewing it out into his hand. Both Purr and the policeman looked at him.
“Are you all right, Carl?” asked Purr with concern.
Carl nodded as he swiped a couple of napkins off the table and wiped his mouth and hand. Coughing to clear his throat, managed to get out, “Yes, it…it just went down the wrong way.”
The policeman studied Carl for a moment, then turned back to Purr. “Did you see anything down there?”
“No. It was empty, but we only went a little way. Actually, Carl went first because he wanted to book a seat on a passenger ship to Yekin. The spaceship he arrived on was going to be delayed for repairs. When I saw him I went after him to offer him a ride in my ship because I’m headed that way.”
“If you had gone further, you might have stumbled on the murders being committed.”
Purr tapped his gun, “I wish we had now. Maybe we could have helped.”
“Or gotten yourselves killed as well.” The policemen’s tone indicated he thought civilian involvement created problems. He eyed Purr’s gun as he said, “May I?”
“Of course,” said Purr calmly. He placed both paws on the table and leaned slightly toward the window.
The policeman clipped his computer notebook on his belt. Then keeping a wary eye on Purr, slipped Purr’s gun from its holster. He examined it, running his fingers along the barrel. When he was satisfied, he placed it on the table. Slowly Purr picked it up, replacing it in his holster.
“Can I have your prints for ID, please.”
Purr placed his index finger on the pad that was offered. The policeman was watching the computer notebook screen as the information was instantly transferred to his report. It read: Flynn Rasiner of the city of Royiana on the planet of Emperern. Employed as a salesman for Graton Industries. Contact: 253f-474x-908-23bg6734.
“What do you sell, Mr. Rasiner?” he asked as he held the small pad out to Carl.
“Spaceship parts. We make them cheaper and better than the original manufacturers.”
The policeman’s eyebrows rose as Carl’s information popped up: Carl Nelson of the city of Royiana on the planet Emperern. Parents dead. Guardian: Sir Rodger Nelson. Contact guardian at: 253f-474x-744-9032i3g9.
“Is that the Sir Rodger Nelson that’s the Emperor’s chief advisor?”
Carl nodded, “He’s my uncle.”
“Can you add anything to what Mr. Rasiner has said?’
Carl shook his head.
“Thank you for your time.” The policemen studied Carl for a brief moment as he keyed up another page. Then he moved on to the next occupied table and repeated his questioning. From time to time, he would steal a glance a Carl.
“Want some more iced tea?” asked Purr.
Carl shook his head. Purr motioned to a passing waitress and had his coffee filled up.
“Thanks to you, we will figure prominently in his report.”
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t help it.”
“I don’t blame you,” said Purr. “It was a kittenish thing to do, but you have no experience. Right now, he suspects us. If it wasn’t for your connections, he probably would have forbidden us to leave this rock heap or marched us off for an official interrogation.”
“But Hestornor isn’t a member of the El Empire. Why should my uncle’s position make any difference?”
“I could turn into a diplomatic nightmare - one that a low-level officer doesn’t want to spark without indisputable evidence.”
“Speaking of evidence. Why wasn’t your gun barrel warm?”
Purr laughed and said, “An old gunslingers trick,” but did not elaborate. “Right now, I want you to think about this murder attempt.”
“I have been thinking about it. I don’t know why anyone would want to kill me.”
“If it’s true that you don’t have any personal enemies, and that does seem unlikely at your age, then that leaves us with two other possibilities that I can think of. First, has anything unusual happened to you over the school holidays?”
“No…” said Carl slowly.
“Nothing at all? No matter how small.”
Carl shrugged. “Uncle Nelson was busy most of the time, so I just hung out around the capital. He introduced me to the Emperor. They’re good friends. His assistant can be rude. That’s about it.”
“You’re right; it doesn’t sound like much potential there. The second possibility is that it has nothing to do with you personally at all.”
“What do you mean? It’s me they’re trying to kill!”
“There are various impersonal reasons for wanting someone killed. A person could be trying to get revenge on your uncle; for example. Or perhaps they have another target in mind but want to test their killer’s effectiveness by having him kill someone with approximately the same amount of protection. I was involved in a case like that once. It took me a while to figure out because, of course, there was no apparent motive.” Purr mused for a moment. Then he added, “Not likely in this case, though. Kilnow already has an established reputation; no one would need to prove him.”
“I suppose what you say is possible,” said Carl without conviction. “Uncle Nelson is an important man.”
“Of course it’s possible,” responded Purr. “I don’t waste time with impossibilities.”
For the next half hour, Carl and Purr sat in silence, sipping their drinks. Carl was lost in thought. His day had started out ordinary, but now everything had changed. Life could never be the same again. He couldn’t go back to school and be with his friends without putting them in harm’s way. His uncle had a place for him in his construction business. He could work there and finish his schooling by correspondence. But would he be putting others in danger? Kilnow had tried targeted shooting, but others might try other methods, like bombing, with more potential for collateral damage. Carl furrowed his brows, trying to make sense of it all. What should he do?
While he was patiently waiting, Purr watched the spaceships coming and going. Spaceport 5 wasn’t as large as some of the other terminals. It was designed for small passenger flights and private spaceships. A soft, almost imperceptible purr escaped from Purr when he observed a small spaceship named The Late Flyer come in for a landing.
Purr turned his attention back to Carl, “Talking it out helps.”
“What am I going to do?” said Carl.
“You can’t go back to boarding school,” said Purr confirming Carl’s thoughts.
“What can I do?”
“Let’s look at your options. You could go back to Royiana and have the full protection of the Security Elite until they felt the threat was neutralized. They’re the Empire’s best.”
“That’s no way to live, and they - whoever they are - would probably get me sooner or later.”
“True. If you study any system long enough, you can find weak points. I ought to know, I’ve done it many times. You could get the Elite to give you a new name and a fresh start in a new place. You could probably escape detection for a long time, maybe even your lifetime.”
Carl gave a grunt, “Sure, I would escape detection for my lifetime because when they found me, my life would be over.”
Purr waved his paw in the air as if shooing the idea out of the air, “That’s not what I meant.”
“This isn’t fair!”
“It doesn’t make one howl of a difference whether it’s fair or not.” Purr’s calm eyes studied Carl, giving him an unnerving feeling. “This is reality, and you have to make the best of it. Kick your self-pity out of the airlock with whatever other fantasies you’re holding on to and sit in the captain’s seat. You’ve got to handle your problems, or they will handle you.”
Carl’s jaw tightened. He wasn’t sure if he was offended or just mad at Purr’s little speech. It was his life, and it wasn’t fair! Still, he had to admit Purr had a point. There was nothing he could do to change what had happened. Either he moved on or rolled over.
“I’ve given you two possible passive options. Another possibility is to take a more active position.”
“When I saw you rush to save that man, I knew you had the compassionate heart of a warrior. Your action was courageous but useless because you lacked the training.”
Carl frowned at the thought. He had never linked the idea of compassion with a warrior.
Purr continued, “Fight criminals. Protect the innocent from having their lives disrupted like yours has been. You could join Interstellar Patrol, but you would still be a target in the open. What I have in mind would keep you safe for the moment but would lead to danger later…when you were trained to handle it. Of course, it would take total commitment and forever change your life.”
“My life is already changed. What are you thinking about?”
“Become a Knight.”
Before hurrying on to Chapter Four: Dilophian Danger, remember to enter your improvement suggestions for Chapter Three in the contact form. I look forward to hearing from you. Does it interest you? What do you like/dislike? How could it be improved? Contact Page.
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