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Codename: Dragonslayer
Chapter Four
Dilophian Danger

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“Become a Knight,” repeated Carl slowly.

A range of emotions swept over him like waves pummelling the sand.  Everything was moving so fast that keeping his head above water was hard.  Although he had to admit, becoming a Knight sounded thrilling and exciting.  He knew Purr was right in that it would require life-altering decisions, but his life up to this point was destroyed anyway.  He would need to abandon his identity and undergo extensive training. However, it was not impossible given that Sir Nelson was his nearest living relative and he didn’t have any close friends.

“Naturally, you can’t decide right now.  I only mentioned it so you could begin thinking about it.”  Purr’s eyes went to The Late Flyer resting in the spaceport.  “Our first order of business is to get off this hunk of rock and somewhere safe.  Then you can properly weigh your options.  We can’t leave on my ship because it only holds me.  I’ll come back for it later.”

“We could take The Pure Delight.”

“No.  The Security Elite would track it.  I prefer to vanish until we have a game plan.”

Everyone Can Learn To Read

Purr drank the last of his coffee, his pink tongue reflexively licking his bottom lip as he motioned for the waitress.  She brought over the payment pad, and Purr placed his forefinger on it, then changed the tip up to an amount which brought a smile to the waitress’ mouth.

“It should be mandatory for everyone to work as a waitress, store clerk or something like that for a year,” commented Purr to Carl as they left.  “It would make some people a lot nicer.”

Carl couldn't help but notice that Purr seemed to glide noiselessly instead of walking. Despite his best efforts, Carl couldn't hear a single one of Purr's footsteps as they walked down a long tunnel to Terminal 2.

As they were about to go up the stairs into the terminal, Purr stopped and faced Carl.

“This is a small terminal, but it’s the kitty litter of the planet.  It’s a rough place where people who don’t want to be seen or bothered hang out.  Even the Hesnortor police don’t come here unless they have to.  Just stay close to me and let me do all the talking.”

They ascended the stairs.  As Carl glanced around at the dirty floors and stained walls, he thought the janitorial staff must avoid Terminal 2 as well as the police.  Purr led him past several stores to the swinging doors of a saloon called The Dirty Rag.  

As Purr confidently strode into the room with Carl on his heels, heads turned in curiosity.  Purr’s sharp gaze scanned the room as most patrons returned to their drinks.

Carl glanced around the room as well.  The bar wasn't very large and had a simple layout, consisting of a bar counter with seats and approximately twenty tables with worn-out chairs scattered around the space. Two rows of booths lined the side walls, which were dimly lit, making it hard to identify the occupants.  A few paintings by artists who should have invested their time in something else hung on the walls.

“Where is the captain of The Late Flyer?” demanded Purr.

Silence and indifference greeted them, but Purr caught a reflexive look in the bartender's eye to a booth on the left side of the room.  Turning in that direction, Purr’s cat eyes examined the occupants until they rested on one man.

“There you are, Polking,” laughed Purr as he strolled toward the lone man in the end booth.

“Get lost, you cursed beast!” swore Polking before taking another swig of his drink.  He wore a tan, short-sleeved shirt, which looked like he had slept in it for the last week.  He hadn't shaved for at least two days.  His eyes were more than a little blurry.  Like most people Carl had seen in the Terminal, he had a gun strapped in gunslinger fashion on his thigh.

“Doesn’t smell like you’ve had your annual bath yet,” said Purr motioning for Carl to slide into the bench seat across from Polking.  Then Purr sat down.  “I have a business proposition for you.”

Polking ignored him, taking another gulp of his drink and then pounding the near-empty glass on the table.  There was a slight slur to his words as he said, “Buy me another round and have a real man’s drink for yourself.”

“Real men don’t have to drink, and I’m not here to socialize.”

Guffawing, Polking called out to the bartender, “Bring me another one…and a bowl of milk for the cat…on my tab.”

Rambunctious laughter erupted from various tables around the room.  Carl cringed.  He knew what Purr was capable of, and he did not want to be in the middle of a gunfight.

Purr remained calm.  When the laughter had died down, he said, “All I want to do is hire your ship for a simple trip.”

The bartender placed another glass of alcohol in front of Polking.  With a grin, he slid a small bowl of milk in front of Purr.  There was tension in the room as the patrons expected some excitement.  

Purr glanced at the milk, then up at the bartender as he said, “What, no cinnamon sprinkles?  I thought this was a classy joint.”

The bartender grunted his amusement and returned to his counter.  Disappointed, the patrons returned to their drinks and conversations.  Carl gave a low sigh of relief, but he knew this wasn’t over yet.  

Turning back to Polking, Purr said, “Well?”

“Since when is anything simple with you, you cursed cat,” he spat out.  “The last time you hired me, we ended up…”. Polking paused and glanced around the room, aware of listening ears.

“I don’t know what’s rubbing your fur the wrong way.  We rescued a kidnapped prince from that heavily-guarded fortress island on Vaug II.  You came out like a hero.  Got a medal and everything.”

“Everything except my money,” hissed Polking.

“Why didn’t I pay you?”  Purr appeared to be contemplating the question as if it was a dim memory.  “Maybe it had something to do with those guns you were smuggling while you were supposed to be working for me.”

“I’m a businessman.  I have to make a profit.  You jettisoned those guns and then refused to pay me.  But there weren’t mine.  They belonged to the Stienbeurk Syndicate.  I’ve been on the run from them ever since!”

Purr shrugged, “I offered to take them down if you would testify.  You didn’t want to.”

“I want to keep breathing.”

“I can see where that’s got you.”

“Listen here, you flea-bitten feline…”  Polking paused mid-sentence as an evil glint flashed through his eyes.  After a minute of consideration, he said, “No adventure?  Not going into hostile or restricted areas?”

Purr shook his head, “No.  Just drop us off where we want to go and get 250 Oparins for your trouble.”

Polking hesitated.  Obviously, he was rolling something around in his devious mind.  Finally, he muttered, “We’ll talk about it onboard.”

Purr smiled, showing his pearl-white teeth.

“I’m not promising anything,” growled Polking.

“Of course.”

Polking led the way out of The Dirty Rag and across the terminal to the Embarking Room.  It held six tube-shaped transportation rail cars, each capable of holding six passengers.  Polking signalled a nearby attendant.  Casually the attendant strolled over to the closest transportation car and flipped the clear bubble top back so they could enter.  

“The Late Flyer,” snapped Polking as he entered the seating compartment.

The attendant gave a bored nod.  When they were all seated, he closed the top over them.  Then he stepped into his own sealed driver’s compartment.  The transportation car slipped into an exit tube.  Seconds later, a green light flashed, and soon they were weaving their way across the Landing Zone until they arrived at The Late Flayer.  

Carl saw that The Late Flyer had an old-style circular shape and was two levels high.  The bottom level, from which the landing gear protruded, was slightly larger than the top level.  He could see that the swivel guns had been crudely welded into the bottom of the craft.  These were clearly not part of the original design.  

As he examined the hull, Carl noticed it was deeply scared with blaster burns and pit marks.  The barrel of one of the guns had been torn off, and its body hung limply from the underside of the ship.  A surface panel was missing, which exposed the circuit board inside.  Given the ship's battered appearance, Carl was hesitant to trust his life to it, fearing it might fall apart at any moment.

“Good looking, ain’t she,” commented Polking, misunderstanding Carl’s flabbergasted expression, “best ship in space.”

“It’s one of the best in this sector for its size,” corrected Purr.  “Don’t let its looks deceive you, Kitten.  It’s in disguise, and Polking has made some modifications he doesn’t want to attract attention to.”

“It’s a good disguise,” muttered Carl under his breath, unconvinced.

“You had better believe it.  And if I know you, we’ll probably need those guns…if I decide to take you.”

The car stopped beside a lowered ramp.  A frame with green lights lit on its posts at the top of the ramp indicated that a transparent U-Enter door was active.  This type of door provided an air-tight seal around people and objects as they passed through, allowing them to move effortlessly between two different atmospheres without compromising either one.

The driver pushed a button on his control console, which was supposed to create a temporary force field with a breathable atmosphere between the car and the U-Enter on the top of the ramp.  A red warning light was blinking on his console.  With a smash, he brought his fist down just beside the blinking red light.  It turned green.

“Are you sure this is safe?” asked Carl.

“Yeah,” answered the driver.  “There’s just as short in the lighting system that needs some convincing every once in a while.  The force field is fine.”

Polking drew his gun and pointed it at the transparent divider between them.  He growled menacingly, “I need some convincing, too.  I don’t want to be halfway to my ship and have your blasted force field collapse on me.  I want to know you’re willing to bet your life on it.  Open your compartment door, or I’ll kill you where you sit.”

Carl anxiously shifted his gaze between Polling and Purr.  Purr remained calm and relaxed in his seat, observing the unfolding situation as if he witnessed it every day.  The driver’s forehead glistened with sweat as he summoned the courage to open his compartment.  The force field was up and running.  He gave Polking a nervous glance and a sickly smile.   

“Good,” said Polking.  “Now do ours…and be sure to keep your door open until we are onboard The Late Flyer, or you won’t have to worry about any more loose connections.”  

Purr led the way up the ramp, with Carl following.  Polking brought up the rear, keeping a wary eye on the driver.  As soon as they were all safely inside the ship, the driver snapped his door shut and shot back toward the terminal.

“I’ll bet he be headed to The Dirty Rag to bolster his nerves after this, “ said Purr with a glint of humour in his eyes.

Polking merely grunted, squeezed past them and led the way down the cramped hallway, flanked by bare riveted metal walls, to the ship's central hub.  From there, four hallways stretched out at right angles, and a circular elevator waited to transport passengers to the second level.  When they had all stepped onto the 5-foot disc, Polking uttered a brief command, and a protective force field enveloped the disc as it began to ascend to the upper level.

The upper floor was split into two sections, with the elevator between them.  The back section had a kitchen and sitting area, while the front section was the cockpit.  A transparent wall separated the more extensive back section from the cockpit.  A clear bubble top allowed the occupants of the upper level a 360-degree view but also gave Carl a feeling of vulnerability.  Two pilot chairs were at the front with a control console.  

Polking dropped into a bench seat, semi-circling a table in the sitting area.  Purr and Carl slid into the seat on the opposite side of the table.  Carl watched carefully as Purr and Polking faced each other.

Polking, ignoring Carl as if he was nonexistent, and looking straight at Purr, said, “Now, where do you want me to take your flea-bitten hide?”

The insult didn’t appear to faze Purr as he replied, “To Haramer.”

Polking leaned back, placing his hands behind his head, and gazed up at the gray sky.  He pondered everything he knew about Haramer.  If there were anything even remotely dangerous about the planet, he would demand triple payment in advance before plotting his revenge.  But try as he could, Haramer remained disgustingly peaceful.  Purr watched him in silent amusement.  He knew exactly what was rolling around in Polking’s brain.

“Why Haramer?”

“Carl and I want a peaceful holiday,” responded Purr smoothly.

“You’re a liar!” exclaimed Polking, suddenly coming alive as he slammed his fist into the table.  Startled, Carl jumped back in his seat.  Purr didn’t even blink an eye.  “And it’s going to cost you a lot more than 250 ocarinas to get off this planet.”

“Two hundred and fifty Oparins is double the normal passenger fare.”

“…and you would be taking one of those glorified soup cans if there wasn’t something strange going on.  We’re not lifting off until I know exactly what’s going on and I have money in my hands.  Now are you going to talk real business, or do I have Mancroft throw you out?”

“Mancroft?  You got a new first mate?”

“I didn’t have much choice after Redunya.  That’s another one I owe you.  You totally ruined him.”

Purr laughed, “You mean he wouldn’t cooperate in any more of your crooked deals.  I knew he was too good for you.”

“Now listen here, you flea…”

Polking was abruptly interrupted by a sharp beep, which urgently repeated itself every few seconds. A flashing red light on the control console accompanied the beeping, causing fear to dance through Polking's eyes as all colour drained from his face.

“Mancroft!” yelled Polking, bruising his hip on the table’s edge in his scramble to get up.  Seconds later, he was behind the left control console studying the screens.

Polking’s first mate burst out of the elevator into the control room like a lightning streak.  Carl recognized him immediately as a Dilophian with his copper-coloured lizard-like scales, cone-shaped face and black beady eyes.  His slender body swiftly slid into the seat beside Polking, with his tail trailing down behind as his agile fingers danced over the control keys.

Carl noticed Purr had drawn his gun, although he kept it pointed at the floor, as he moved into the cockpit area to stand behind the pilots.  Carl stood in the entranceway, watching all that was unfolding.

“What is this?  A crowd?” demanded Polking angrily as he warmed up the engines.

“What’s the matter,” asked Purr calmly.

“Maybe one of your enemies has found us,” came the sarcastic answer.

Laughing, Purr replied, “Then why is your emergency light blinking?  I’m sure you didn’t program your scanners to alert you to my enemies.”

“There isn’t time to talk!”

Purr rested his left paw on Polking’s shoulder and brought the gun up to point at the back of Polking’s head.  “Make the time.”

Purr’s sharp eyes notice the subtle signal twitch of the Polking’s left fingers.  Swiftly stepping back and pivoting to face Mancroft, Purr was taken by surprise as the lizard creature leapt from his seat with a loud hiss and an intimidating spiny frill fanning out from his shoulder blades to the top of his head, making his head look like it was poking through curtains.  He landed on Purr, knocking him down and pinning him to the floor.  Purr’s gun skidded across the floor to land near Carl’s feet.  Mancroft’s beady eyes studied Purr’s neck looking for the perfect spot to sink his razor-sharp teeth into the feline’s flesh.

Polking was paying no attention to the struggle…apparently, he had no doubt about the outcome.  True, he would have preferred a more personal death for Purr, but right now, his mind was absorbed with the instruments on the control console.

Carl scooped up the gun and pointed it at Mancroft.  

“Get off Purr now, or I’ll shoot!”  He tried to sound fierce but knew he failed miserably.

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