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Go to Chapter Two.

Carl’s mouth dropped open at Purr’s revelation.  “Mmme?”  His shocked eyes searched Purr’s face for any sign of deception or uncertainty.  A wave of nausea surged from the pit of his stomach, drenching him in dread.  Putting your life on the line impulsively to help someone was one thing; realizing that you were the target of a relentless, ruthless hunter was entirely different.  

Purr’s half-closed eyes watched him intently, analyzing every reaction as if weighing a difficult decision.

“Are you sure?  There must be some mistake.”  Carl shook his head in disbelief, not wanting the reality of Purr’s words to sink in.  “There has got to be some mistake.”

“No mistake,” Purr said confidently.  “I was tracking him.  I heard a rumour that he was after you from a CI on Liwork.  When I traced you, I saw him tailing you, expertly evading your scanners while keeping you in his.  He probably planned to take you down on Yekin but saw a good opportunity here.  Less fuss on Hesnortor than in the Reman Academy.”

“Why?  What have I ever done to him?”

Everyone Can Learn To Read

“Nothing.”  Purr shrugged.  “As I said before, Kilnow is a contract killer.  Someone paid him a lot of money to get rid of you.”

Struggling to wrap his mind around this unnerving reality, Carl objected, “Why would anyone want to kill me?  I don’t have any dangerous enemies.  I haven’t hurt anyone.  I’m just a normal guy.”

“People don’t hire hitmen to go after normal guys.  You must have at least one powerful enemy.  Think!”

“I don’t!” responded Carl with irritation.  His attention drifted out the window.  Large and small spacecraft were dotted over the Landing Zone, but there was no movement.  Instead of the tranquil scene relaxing him, it made him think of a graveyard… a graveyard of cold, hard spaceships, each one waiting to entomb its occupants.  He shivered involuntarily.  It seemed ludicrous, but was Purr’s assessment accurate?  Was there really a mysterious person out there determined to end his life?  What sense did that even make?  Who would want him dead?  His mind spun helplessly like an asteroid spiralling toward a black hole.  Carl’s eyes finally rested on the Pure Delight.

Continuing to scrutinize Carl, Purr sipped his coffee.

“I wonder what’s keeping Scott.  He should be here soon,” Carl said absent-mindedly.  The sense of some normality returning to his day was comforting.

“He won’t be coming,” said Purr quietly.

Carl’s head snapped up.  His wide eyes, full of alarm, locked with Purr’s eyes.  “What do you mean by that?” he demanded.

“As soon as I landed, I went to your ship to warn him, but Kilnow had beaten me there.  Your Scott was dead in the cockpit when I got there, so I came searching for you.”

“Someone killed him to get to me?  That doesn’t even make sense.”

“How old are you?”

“Sixteen.”  Carl paused as he took a sip of his drink.  Setting it down, he said, “Are you sure there is no mistake?  Scott was in the Security Elite.  Maybe it was one of his enemies.  Maybe he was the real target.”

“That explains why Kilnow went down that tunnel looking for you.”  Purr’s sarcasm was not lost on Carl.  “Besides, I don’t make mistakes. You are the target.”

“But why…”. Carl’s voice trailed off.  He knew Purr was right.  If Scott had been the target, Kilnow would have left as soon as his mission was completed.

Out of the corner of his eye, Carl noticed a man standing in the doorway wearing the grey and white uniform of the local police.  He was talking into his communicator as he surveyed the few patrons in the cafe.  

“After you’re arrested, I’ll have to go to the Pure Delight and contact the Security Elite to send someone to get me.  They’ll want to investigate Scott’s death, too.”

“I already notified them,” commented Purr as he watched the policeman in the window’s reflection.  Twitching his whiskers in mock surprise, he asked with an air of innocence, “Blow my whiskers; why would you think I would be arrested?”   

Carl stared at him in disbelief, “You just murdered five unarmed people who were surrendering.  What did you think was going to happen?”

For the first time, anger lit Purr’s eyes as his mouth curled back in a snarl, “I murdered no one!”  He kept his voice low so as not to be overheard.

Carl stiffened in his chair, unsure how to react to this sudden change in the dangerous cat’s demeanour.  He was tempted to call out to the policeman, who was going to the first occupied table.  He resisted the urge, uncertain of how Purr would react.  Instead, he said hesitantly, “What would you call it?”

“Justice,” snapped Purr.  Then, the anger melted from his eyes as quickly as it had come.  He visibly relaxed as he took a sip of his coffee.  Observing Carl’s rigid posture, he let out a soft purr.  “You have nothing to fear from me, Kitten.  You just rubbed my fur the wrong way with that accusation of “murder’ 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 usual, soft voice.  “How many people live on Hesnortor?”

“I don’t know,” shrugged Carl, “a million?”  He didn’t understand where this change of topic was heading.

“Closer to four million.  How many murders were committed here in the last Standard Year?”

“No idea.  What does this have to do with anything?”

Purr continued on, “178.  Almost one every other day.  Now, how many people live in the El Empire capital planet of Emperern?”

“About 6.5 billion.”

“And how many murders were committed there in the last Standard Year?”

Carl shook his head and guessed, “A 1,000?”

“Eight.”  Purr leaned forward, an intensity burning in his eyes, but without the anger.  “The Laws of Adam in the Book of El protect the innocent.  You can have compassion on the criminal or the innocent, but never both.  Those five vermin 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 signed, “You really are ignorant of the Laws Of Adam, aren’t you?  I guess the Reman Academy isn’t as good as its reputation.”  Carl blushed.  “If I have to hunt someone down, they must be turned over 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?” Carl probed, feeling bolder now that Purr’s anger had subsided.  “You’re not with the Security Elite or the United Peace Makers, and I’m sure Interstellar Patrol wouldn’t have anything to do with you either.”

“You know how to make a cat feel wanted,” Purr commented with a playful glint.

“That came out wrong,” said Carl.  “It’s just… it’s just… oh… I don’t know anymore.  You saved my life, but I don’t know who are what you are.”

“So, you’ve eliminated the Security Elite, the U.P.M. and Interstellar Patrol.  What’s left?”

Carl drew in a deep breath, gathering his thoughts as he took another sip of his iced tea.  After a thoughtful pause, he said, “That covers all the law enforcement and military except for local forces.”  He paused again, considering the possibilities.  “I guess you could be a bounty hunter or working for a private security firm, hoping my uncle will reward you for saving my life.”

Purr laughed.  It was a rich, deep laugh that surprised Carl and drew a glance from the policeman questioning a person three tables away.  Purr quieted himself before continuing, “You’re going the wrong way, Kitten.  But I think I should wash my fur with you.  After all, your survival may depend on whether you trust me.”

“Wait.  You mean this isn’t over?  Kilnow is dead.”

A low purr - or was it a growl? - vibrated from the depths of Purr’s body.  “Kitten, it has only begun.  Anyone hiring Kilnow will not stop until the mission is accomplished.”

The colour drained from Carl’s face, “Then I’m dead.”

“Death is only a doorway,” Purr said casually as if it was hardly worth a thought.  “If you believe in Elniyn, then it holds no terrors, but fear is its own terror.  Of course, you may be putting yourself in the grave a little early.  When I catch the mastermind behind this plot, you’ll be safe.  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 he leaned forward.  Instinctively, Carl leaned forward as well.  Then Purr whispered, “I am a Knight.”

Startled, Carl jolted upright, accidentally knocking the table with his elbow and nearly sending their half-empty drinks crashing to the floor.  He glanced around to see if anyone was close enough to hear.  No one was, although the policeman glanced in their direction again.

Purr sat back, amused at Carl’s reaction.  “You’re drawing attention to us, Kitten.”

Stunned into silence, Carl gazed at Purr as a whirlwind of new thoughts stormed his mind.  The legendary Knights rarely revealed their identities.  They were a clandestine organization of men and women who protected the innocent and fought crime as a practical application of their belief in Elniynism, the official religion of the great El Empire.  Their assignments were rumoured to come from the Emperor himself.  When not on assignment, they emerged from the shadows to battle crime wherever they found it, whether it was a ‘simple’ mugging or a crime network snaking across a planet.  They never backed down, and they never gave up.  Although they were accountable to the Knight Commander and the Emperor for their actions, they had a great deal of freedom as they wandered the vast Empire as long as they didn’t break any of the Laws of Adam found in the Book of El.  It dawned on Carl that he had just witnessed the famous Knight justice in action.

Carl continued to study Purr.  He knew Knights often vanished without a trace after helping someone or solving a crime, 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, admitting his identity.  Why?  There had to be a reason.

The question was on the tip of Carl’s tongue when Purr raised his paw slightly, indicating for him to remain quiet.  The policeman was heading for them.

“My apologies for the interruption,” the policeman said grimly, keying up a new digital page on his computer notebook.  “But there have been several murders near here recently, probably within the last hour.”

“Really?’ responded Purr with apparent surprise.  His pupils grew large as he turned his full attention to the uniformed officer.

“Have either of you noticed anything that might help us?”

Purr wrinkled his nose and twitched his whiskers in thought.  “I don’t think so,” he said slowly/

“Would you mind telling me where you’ve been for the last few hours?”

“Of course not.  Anything to help.  Carl and I have been here most of the time, except when we went into the tunnel to Terminal 5.”

Carl had just taken a swig of his iced tea, hoping to avoid probing questions.  Purr’s confession hit him like a rogue wave on Drator, causing him to choke on his drink and spew the contents into his hand.  Both the policeman and Purr turned concerned gazes on him.

“Are you alright, Carl?” asked Purr innocently.

Nodding, Carl swiped a few napkins off the table and wiped his mouth and hand.  Coughing to clear his throat, he managed to get out, “Yes, it… it just went down the wrong way.”

The officer studied Carl for a moment.  It was easy to see that he was unconvinced, but he turned back to Purr, “Why did you go into the tunnel?”

“The Reach Out Bookstore owner recommended a cafe over there that served Black Labba, but he told us the RTT was down for repairs.  We started down, decided it wasn’t worth the effort, and came back here.”  Purr glanced around the cafe, “No Black Labba, but the coffee’s not bad.”

“If you had gone further, you might have stumbled on the murders being committed.  There was one in the Reach Out Bookstore and several in that tunnel.”

Purr’s ears twitched reflexively in surprise at the news of the bookstore owner's death.  Then he tapped the gun on his hip, “I wish we had gone further into the tunnel now.  Maybe we could have helped.”

“Or gotten yourselves killed as well.”  The policeman’s tone carried a subtle yet pointed hint of disapproval.  Clearly, he thought civilian involvement created more problems than it solved.  He eyed Purr’s gun as he said, “May I?”

“Of course,” said Purr calmly.  He placed both paws flat on the table and shifted his upper body toward the window.  

The policeman clipped his computer notebook onto his belt.  With a wary eye trained on Purr, he slipped Purr’s gun from his holster.  As he examined it closely, his fingers traced the cold surface of the barrel.  He looked disappointed but satisfied as he placed it on the table.  Slowly Purr reached out and slid the pistol to the table’s edge, where he gripped the butt, being careful to keep his fingers away from the trigger.  The tension in the air dissipated as he slid it back into his holster.   

Unclipping his computer notebook again, the officer said, “May I have your ID prints, please.”

Purr extended his index finger without comment, pressing it against the pad on the top of the notebook held out to him.  The policeman studied the screen as the information was automatically filled into his report.  It read:  Flynn Rasiner of the city of Royiana on the planet of Emperem.  Employed as a salesman for Graton Industries.  Contact: 253f-474x-908-23bg6734.

What do you sell, Mr. Rasiner?” He asked as he held the notebook out to Carl.

“Parts for the Urtin engines that are used on many spaceships.  I mainly sell wholesale to space docks.  Graton makes the parts cheaper and better than the original manufacturers.”

The policeman’s eyebrows shot up as Carl’s information populated the screen.  It read:  Carl Nelson of the city of Royiana on the planet Emperem.  Parents dead.  Guardian: Sir Rodger Nelson.  Contact guardian at 253f-474x-744-9032i3g9.

“Is that the Sir Rodger Nelson who is the Emperor’s chief advisor?”

Carl nodded, “He’s my uncle.”

“Can you add anything to what Mr. Rasiner has said?”

“No.  He said it all.”

“Thank you for your time.”  The policeman momentarily studied Carl 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 grace at Carl.

“Want some more iced tea?” asked Purr.

Carl shook his head.  Purr motioned to a passing waitress and had his coffee refilled.  When she had left, he said, “Thanks to you, we will figure prominently in his report.”

“Sorry.  I couldn’t help it when you said we have been in the tunnel.”

“I don’t blame you,” said Purr.  “It was a kittenish thing to do, but you have no experience.  Right now, he suspects us.  He probably would have forbidden us to leave this rock heap or marched us off for an official interrogation if it wasn't for your connections.”

“But Hesnortor isn’t a member of the El Empire.  Why should my uncle’s position make any difference?”

“It could turn into a diplomatic nightmare - one a low-level officer doesn’t want to spark without indisputable evidence.”

“Speaking of evidence, shouldn’t your gun barrel still be at least a little warm?”

Purr laughed as he said, “An old gunslinger’s trick.”  But he did not elaborate.  He turned serious, “I need you to focus on this murder attempt.”

“I have been thinking about it,” Carl said in frustration.  None of this was making any sense.  “I don’t know why anyone would want to kill me.”

“If it’s true that you don’t have any serious enemies, and that does seem unlikely at your age, then we’ll have to look at other possibilities.”  Purr paused and then said, “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 seem like there’s a lot of potential there.  It may have nothing to do with you personally.”

“What do you mean?  You said someone was trying to kill me.  That sounds personal!”

“There are various impersonal reasons for wanting someone killed.  For example, a person could be trying to get revenge on your uncle.  Or perhaps they have a similar target in mind but want to test their killer’s skill on a target that cannot be traced back to them.  I had 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 Putt.  I don’t waste time with impossibilities.”

Carl and Purr sat silently for the next half hour, sipping their drinks and staring out the window.  Carl was riding rogue waves in a sea of thoughts that threatened to overwhelm him.  It was so much to take in.  His day had started ordinary, but it had been capsized.  He couldn’t go back to school and be with his friends, which would put them in harm’s way.  His uncle had a place for him in his construction business.  He could balance work and finishing his education remotely.  But would he be putting colleagues in danger?  Kilnow had favoured precision shooting, but someone else might try something like a bomb, which could have collateral damage.  No matter what he did, life would never be the same.  The crease between Carl’s eyebrows deepened as he tried to make sense of the situation.  What could he do without endangering others?

Meanwhile, Purr sat patiently, watching the spaceships coming and going.  Terminal Five catered to smaller passenger flights and private spaceships.  A soft, almost imperceptible purr escaped from Purr as his eyes landed on a small spaceship named The Late Flyer coming in for a landing.

Turning his attention back to Carl, he said, “Talking it out helps.”

Carl set his empty glass on the table, “What am I going to do?”

“You can’t go back to school,” confirmed Purr.  

The frustration bubbled out, “It's just not fair.”

“It doesn’t make one howl of a difference whether it’s fair or not.”  There was a gentle rebuke in his tone as his calm eyes studied Carl, giving him an unnerving feeling.  “This is reality, and you must make the best of it.  Kick self-pity out the airlock with whatever other fantasies you’re holding on to and sit in the co-captain’s seat and ask Elniyn where He wants you to go.  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 no going back.  There was nothing he could do to change what had happened.  He knew he either had to move on or rollover.  Carl’s mind returned to his helplessness to help the man in the tunnel.  He hardly heard Purr as his mind began to churn a new idea.  

“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,” said Carl absentmindedly as he continued to think through his new idea.

“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 also get the Elite to give you a new name and a fresh start in a new place.  You would probably escape detection for your lifetime.”

Carl grunted, but there was a glint of humour in his eyes as he said, “Sure, I would escape detection for my lifetime because when they found me, my life would be over.”

Purr waved his paw through the air as if swatting the idea, “That’s not what I meant.”  He studied Carl, “You have another idea?”

“I do.  I want to fight back.”

“How do you plan on doing that?”

“I want to be a Knight like you.”

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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