Story

The Pirates of Ersatz-Eighty

The Pirates of Ersatz-Eighty

The direction of motion through the night now changed. The long line of horses moved in deepest darkness, lessened only by the light of many stars. Even so, in time one’s eyes grew accustomed and it was a glamorous spectacle–twenty-eight beasts moving through dark defiles and over steep passes among the rugged, ragged hills. From any one spot they seemed at once to swagger and to slink, swaying as they moved on and vanished into obscurity. The small wild things in the night paused affrightedly in their scurryings until they had gone far away.

[Illustration]

Fani said in a soft voice:

“This is nice!”

“What’s nice about it?” demanded Hoddan.

“Riding like this,” said Fani enthusiastically, “with men who have fought for me to guard me in the darkness, with the leader who has rescued me by my side, underneath the stars– It’s a delicious feeling!”

“You’re used to riding horseback,” said Hoddan dourly.He rode on, while mountains stabbed skyward and the pass they followed wound this way and that and he knew that it was a very roundabout way indeed. And he had unpleasing prospects to make it seem less satisfying, even, than it would have been otherwise.

But they came, at last, to a narrow defile which opened out before them and there were no more mountains ahead, but only foothills. And there, far and far away, they could see the sky as vaguely brighter. As they went on, indeed, a glory of red and golden colorings appeared at the horizon.

And out of that magnificence three bright lights suddenly darted. In strict V-formation, they flashed from the sunrise toward the west. They went overhead, more brilliant than the brightest stars, and when partway down to the horizon they suddenly winked out.

“What on Earth are they?” demanded Fani. “I never saw anything like that before!”

“They’re spaceships in orbit,” said Hoddan. He was as astounded as the girl, but for a different reason. “I thought they’d be landed by now!”

It changed everything. He could not see what the change amounted to, but change there was. For one thing–

“We’re going to the spaceport,” he told Thal curtly. “We’ll recharge our stun-pistols there. I thought those ships had landed. They haven’t. Now we’ll see if we can keep them aloft! How far to the landing grid?”

“You insisted,” complained Thal, “that we not go back to Don Loris’ castle by the way we left it. There are only so many passes through the hills. The only other one is very long. We are only four miles–“”Then we head there right now!” snapped Hoddan. “And we step up the speed!”

He barked commands to his followers. Thal, puzzled but in dread of acid comment from Fani, bustled up and down the line of men, insisting on a faster pace. And the members of the cavalcade had not pushed these animals as they had their first. Even the lead horses, loaded with loot, managed to get up to a respectable ambling trot. The sunrise proceeded. Dew upon the straggly grass became visible. Separate drops appeared as gems upon the grass blades, and then began gradually to vanish as the sun’s disk showed itself. Then the angular metal framework of the landing grid rose dark against the sunrise sky.

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-Nine

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-Nine

Horses came plodding into the courtyard with Ghek’s retainers driving them. They were anxious to get rid of their conquerors. Hoddan’s men came trickling back, with armsful of plunder to add to the piles they’d previously gathered. Thal took charge, commanding the exchange of saddles from tired to fresh horses and that the booty be packed on the extra mounts. It was time. Nine of the dozen looters were at work on the task when there was a tumult back in the castle. Yellings and the clash of steel. Hoddan shook his head.”Bad! Somebody’s pistol went empty and the local boys found it out. Now we’ll have to fight some more–no.”

He beckoned to a listening, tense, resentful inhabitant of the castle. He held up the key of the room in which he’d locked young Ghek.

“Now open the castle gate,” he commanded, “and fetch out my last three men, and we’ll leave without setting fire to anything. The Lord Ghek would like it that way. He’s locked up in a room that’s particularly inflammable.”

The last statement was a guess, only, but Ghek’s retainer looked horrified. He bellowed. There was a subtle change in the bitterly hostile atmosphere. Men came angrily to help load the spare horses. Hoddan’s last three men came out of a corridor, wiping blood from various scratches and complaining plaintively that their pistols had shot empty and they’d had to defend themselves with knives.

Three minutes later the cavalcade rode out of the castle gate and away into the darkness. Hoddan had arrived here when Ghek was inside with Fani as his prisoner, when there were only a dozen men without and at least a hundred inside to defend the walls. And the castle was considered impregnable.

In half an hour Hoddan’s followers had taken the castle, rescued Fani, looted it superficially, gotten fresh horses for themselves and spare ones for their plunder, and were headed away again. In only one respect were they worse off than when they arrived. Some stun-pistols were empty.

Hoddan searched the sky and pieced together the star-pattern he’d noted before.”Hold it!” he said sharply to Thal. “We don’t go back the same way we came! The gang that ambushed us will be stirring around again, and we haven’t got full stun-pistols now! We make a wide circle around those characters!”

“Why?” demanded Thal. “There are only so many passes. The only other one is three times as long. And it is disgraceful to avoid a fight–“

“Thal!” snapped an icy voice from beside Hoddan, “you have an order! Obey it!”

Even in the darkness, Hoddan could see Thal jump.

“Yes, my Lady Fani,” said Thal shakily. “But we go a long distance roundabout.”

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-Eight

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-Eight

He offered his arm with a reasonably grand air and went limping with her down to the courtyard just inside the gate. Two of Don Loris’ retainers staggered into view as they arrived, piling up plunder which ranged from a quarter keg of wine to a mass of frothy stuff which must be female garments. They went away and other men arrived loaded down with their own accumulations of loot. Some of the local inhabitants looked on with uneasy indignation.Hoddan found a bench and sat down. He conspicuously displayed one of the weapons which had captured the castle. Ghek’s defeated retainers looked at him darkly.

“Bring me something to eat,” commanded Hoddan. “Then if you bring fresh horses for my men, and one extra for each to carry his plunder on, I’ll take them away. I’ll even throw in the Lord Ghek, who is now unharmed but with his life in the balance. Otherwise–“

He moved the pistol suggestively. The normal inhabitants of Ghek’s castle moved away, discussing the situation in subdued voices.

The Lady Fani sat down proudly on the bench beside him.

“You are wonderful!” she said with conviction.

“I used to cherish that illusion myself,” said Hoddan.

“But nobody before in all Darthian history has ever fought twenty men, and then thirty men, and destroyed an ambush, and captured a castle, all in one day!”

“And without a meal,” said Hoddan darkly, “and with a lot of blisters!”

He considered. Somebody came running with bread and cheese and wine. He bit into the bread and cheese. After a moment he said, his mouth full:

“I once saw a man perform the unparalleled feat of jumping over nine barrels placed in a row. It had never been done before. But I didn’t envy him. I never wanted to jump over nine barrels in a row! In the same way, I never especially wanted to fight other men or break up ambushes or capture castles. I want to do what I want to do, not what other people happen to admire.”

“Then what do you want to do?” she asked admiringly.”I’m not sure now,” said Hoddan gloomily. He took a fresh bite. “But a little while ago I wanted to do some interesting and useful things in electronics, and get reasonably rich, and marry a delightful girl, and become a prominent citizen on Walden. I think I’ll settle for another planet, now.”

“My father will make you rich,” said the girl proudly. “You saved me from being married to Ghek!”

Hoddan shook his head.

“I’ve got my doubts,” he said. “He had a scheme to import a lot of stun-pistols and arm his retainers with them. Then he meant to rush the spaceport and have me set up a broadcast-power unit that’d keep them charged all the time. Then he’d sit back and enjoy life. Holding the spaceport, nobody else could get stun-weapons, and nobody could resist his retainers who had ’em. So he’d be top man on Darth. He’d have exactly as much power as he chose to seize. I think he cherished that little idea,–and I’ve given advance publicity to stun-pistols. Now he hasn’t a ghost of a chance of pulling it off. I’m afraid he’ll be displeased with me.”

“I can take care of that!” said Fani confidently. She did not question that her father would be displeased.

“Maybe you can,” said Hoddan, “but though he’s kept a daughter he’s lost a dream. And that’s bereavement! I know!”

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-Seven

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-Seven

There were screams and flight and utterly hopeless defiances by sword-armed and spear-armed men. In instants Hoddan went limping into the castle with Thal by his side, searching for Fani. Ghek had not fallen at the first fire. He vanished, and the castle was plainly fallen and he made no attempt to lead resistance against its invaders. Hoddan’s men went raging happily through corridors and halls as they came to them. They used their stun-pistols with zest and at such close quarters with considerable effect. Hoddan heard Fani scream angrily and he and Thal went swiftly to see. They came upon the young Lord Ghek trying to let Fani down out of a window on a rope. He undoubtedly intended to follow her and complete his abduction on the run. But Fani bit him, and Hoddan said vexedly:”Look here! It seems that I’m disgraced if I don’t fight you somehow–“

The young Lord Ghek rushed him, sword out, eyes blazing in a fine frenzy of despair. Hoddan brought him down with a buzz of the stun-gun.

One of Hoddan’s followers came hunting for him.

Sir,” he sputtered, “we got the garrison cornered in their quarters, and we’ve been picking them off through the windows, and they think they’re dropping dead and want to surrender. Shall we let ’em?”

“By all means,” Hoddan said irritably. “And Thal, go get something heavier than a nightgown for the Lady Fani to wear, and then do what plundering is practical. But I want to be out of here in half an hour. Understand?”

“I’ll attend to the costume,” said the Lady Fani vengefully. “You cut his throat while I’m getting dressed.”

She nodded at the unconscious Lord Ghek on the pavement. She disappeared through a door nearby. Hoddan could guess that Ghek would have prepared something elaborate in the way of a trousseau for the bride he was to carry screaming from her home. Somehow it was the sort of thing a Darthian would do. Now Fani would enjoyably attire herself in the best of it while–

“Thal,” said Hoddan, “help me get this character into a closet somewhere. He’s not to be killed. I don’t like him, but at this moment I don’t like anybody very much, and I won’t play favorites.”

Thal dragged the insensible young nobleman into the next room. Hoddan locked the door and pocketed the key as Fani came into view again. She was splendidly attired, now, in brocade and jewels. Ghek had evidently hoped to placate her after marriage by things of that sort and had spent lavishly for them.Now, throughout the castle there were many and diverse noises. Sometimes–not often–there was still the crackling hum of a stun-pistol. There were many more exuberant shoutings. They apparently had to do with loot. There were some squealings in female voices, but many more gigglings.

“I need not say,” said the Lady Fani with dignity, “that I thank you very much. But I do say so.”

“You’re quite welcome,” said Hoddan politely.

“And what are you going to do now?”

“I imagine,” said Hoddan, “that we’ll go down into the courtyard where our horses are. I gave my men half an hour to loot in. During that half hour I shall sit down on something which will, I hope, remain perfectly still. And I may,” he added morbidly, “eat an apple. I’ve had nothing to eat since I landed on Darth. People don’t want to commit themselves to not cutting my throat. But after half an hour we’ll leave.”

The Lady Fani looked sympathetic.

“But the castle’s surrendered to you,” she protested. “You hold it! Aren’t you going to try to keep it?”

“There are a good many unpleasant characters out yonder,” said Hoddan, waving his hand at the great outdoors, “who’ve reason to dislike me very much. They’ll be anxious to express their emotions, when they feel up to it. I want to dodge them. And presently the people in this castle will realize that even stun-pistols can’t keep on shooting indefinitely here. I don’t want to be around when it occurs to them.”

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-Six

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-Six

Presently they sat beside the fireplace in the great hall. Don Loris, jittering, shivered next to Hoddan’s grandfather. The Lady Fani appeared, icy-cold and defiant. She walked with frigid dignity to a place beside her father. Hoddan’s grandfather regarded her with a wicked, estimating gaze.”Not bad!” he said brightly. “Not bad at all!” Then he turned to Hoddan. “Those retainers coming?”

“On the way,” said Hoddan. He was not happy. The Lady Fani had passed her eyes over him exactly as if he did not exist.

There was a murmurous noise. The dozen spearmen came marching into the great hall. They carried loot. It dripped on the floor and they blandly ignored such things as stray golden coins rolling off away from them. Stay-at-home inhabitants of the castle gazed at them in joyous wonderment.

Nedda came with them. The Lady Fani made a very slight, almost imperceptible movement. Hoddan said desperately:

“Fani, I know you hate me, though I can’t guess why. But here’s a thing that … has to be taken care of! We made a raid on Walden … that’s where the loot came from … and my men kidnaped this girl … her name is Nedda … and brought her on the ship as a present to me … because she’d admitted that she knew me! Nedda’s in an awful fix, Fani! She’s alone and friendless, and … somebody has to take care of her! Her father’ll come for her eventually, no doubt, but somebody’s got to take care of her in the meantime, and I can’t do it!” Hoddan felt hysterical at the bare idea. “I can’t!”

The Lady Fani looked at Nedda. And Nedda wore the brave look of a girl so determinedly sweet that nobody could possibly bear it.

“I’m … very sorry,” said Nedda bravely, “that I’ve been the cause of poor Bron turning pirate and getting into such dreadful trouble. I cry over it every night before I go to sleep. He treated me as if I were his sister, and the other men were so gentle and respectful that I … I think it will break my heart when they are punished. When I think of them being executed with all that dreadful, hopeless formality–“”On Darth,” said the Lady Fani practically, “we’re not very formal about such things. Just cutting somebody’s throat is usually enough. But he treated you like a sister, did he? Thal?”

Thal swallowed. He’d been beaming a moment before, with his arms full of silver plate, jewelry, laces, and other bits of booty from the town of Ensfield. But now he said desperately:

“Yes, Lady Fani. But not the way I’d’ve treated my sister. My sisters, Lady Fani, bit me when they were little, slapped me when they were bigger, and scorned me when I grew up. I’m fond of ’em! But if one of my sisters’d ever lectured me because I wasn’t refined, or shook a finger at me because I wasn’t gentlemanly– Lady Fani, I’d’ve strangled her!”

There was a certain gleam in the Lady Fani’s eye as she said warmly to Hoddan:

“Of course I’ll take care of the poor thing! I’ll let her sleep with my maids and I’m sure one of them can spare clothes for her to wear, and I’ll take care of her until a space liner comes along and she can be shipped back to her family. And you can come to see her whenever you please, to make sure she’s all right!”

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-Four

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-Four

And Hoddan headed for Darth. He had to return his crew, and there was something else. Several something elses. He arrived in that solar-system and put his yacht in a search-orbit, listening for the call-signal the spaceboat should give for him to home on. He found it, deep within the gravity-field of Darth. He maneuvered to come alongside, and there was blinding light everywhere. Alarms rang. Lights went out. Instruments registered impossibilities, the rockets fired crazily, and the whole ship reeled. Then a voice roared out of the communicator:

“_Stand and deliver! Surrender and y’ll be allowed to go to ground. But if y’even hesitate I’ll hull ye and heave ye out to space without a spacesuit!_”

Hoddan winced. Stray sparks had flown about everywhere inside the space yacht. A ball lightning bolt, even of only warning size, makes things uncomfortable when it strikes. Hoddan’s fingers tingled as if they’d been asleep. He threw on the transmitter switch and said annoyedly:

“Hello, grandfather. This is Bron. Have you been waiting for me long?”

He heard his grandfather swear disgustedly. Not long later, a badly battered, blackened, scuffed old spacecraft came rolling up on rocket-impulse and stopped with a billowing of rocket fumes. Hoddan threw a switch and used the landing grid field he’d used on Walden in another fashion. The ships came together with fine precision, lifeboat-tube to lifeboat-tube. He heard his grandfather swear in amazement.

“That’s a little trick I worked out, grandfather,” said Hoddan into the transmitter. “Come aboard. I’ll pass it on.”His grandfather presently appeared, scowling and suspicious. His eyes shrewdly examined everything, including the loot tucked in every available space. He snorted.

“All honestly come by,” said Hoddan morbidly. “It seems I’ve got a license to steal. I’m not sure what to do with it.”

His grandfather stared at a placard on the wall. It said archly: “_Remember! A Lady is Present!_” Nedda had put it up.

“Hm-m-m!” said his grandfather. “What’s a woman doing on a pirate ship? That’s what your letter talked about!”

“They get on,” said Hoddan, wincing, “like mice. You’ve had mice on a ship, haven’t you? Come in the control room and I’ll explain.”

He did explain, up to the point where his arrangements to pay back for a ship and cargo he’d given away turned into a runaway success, and now he was responsible for the employment of innumerable bookkeepers and clerks and such in the insurance companies he’d come to own. There was also the fact that as the emigrant fleet went on, some fifty more planets in all would require the attention of pirate ships from time to time, or there would be disillusionment and injury to the economic system.

“Organization,” said his grandfather, “does wonders for a tender conscience like you’ve got. What else?”

Hoddan explained the matter of his Darthian crew. Don Loris might affect to consider them disgraced because they hadn’t cut his throat. Hoddan had to take care of the matter. And there was Nedda…. Fani came into the story somehow, too. Hoddan’s grandfather grunted, at the end.”We’ll go down and talk to this Don Loris,” he said pugnaciously. “I’ve dealt with his kind before. While we’re down, your Cousin Oliver’ll take a look at this new grid-field job. We’ll put it on my ship. Hm-m-m–how about the time down below? Never land long after daybreak. Early in the morning, people ain’t at their best.”

Hoddan looked at Darth, rotating deliberately below him.

“It’s not too late, sir,” he said. “Will you follow me down?”

His grandfather nodded briskly, took another comprehensive look at the loot from Walden, and crawled back through the tube to his own ship.

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-Three

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-Three

Hoddan stopped off at Krim by landing grid, to consult his lawyers. He felt a certain amount of hope of good results from his raid on Walden, but he was desperate about Nedda. Once she was confident of her safety under his protection, she took over the operation of the spaceship. She displayed an overwhelming saccharinity that was appalling. She was sweetness and light among criminals who respectfully did not harm her, and she sweetened and lightened the atmosphere of the space yacht until Hoddan’s followers were close to mutiny.

“It ain’t that I mind her being a nice girl,” one of his mustachioed Darthians explained almost tearfully to Hoddan, “but she wants to make a nice girl out of me!”


Hoddan, himself, cringed from her society. He could gladly have put her ashore on Krim with ample funds to return to Walden. But she was prettily, reproachfully helpless. If he did put her ashore, she would confide her kidnaping and the lovely behavior of the pirates until nobody would believe in them any more–which would be fatal.
He went to his lawyers, brooding. The news astounded him. The emigrant fleet had appeared over Krim on the way to Walden. Before it appeared, Hoddan’s affairs had been prosperous enough. Right after his previous visit, news had come of the daring piratical raid which captured a ship off Walden. This was the liner Hoddan’d brought in to Krim. All merchants and ship owners immediately insured all vessels and goods in space transit at much higher valuations. The risk-insurance stocks bought on Hoddan’s account had multiplied in value. Obeying his instructions, his lawyers had sold them out and held a pleasing fortune in trust for Hoddan.

Then came the fleet over Krim, with its letter threatening planetary destruction if resistance was offered to single ships which would land and loot later on. It seemed that all commerce was at the mercy of space marauders. Risk-insurance companies had undertaken to indemnify the owners of ships and freight in emptiness. Now that an unprecedented pirate fleet ranged and doubtless ravaged the skyways, the insurance companies ought to go bankrupt. Owners of stock in them dumped it at any price to get rid of it. In accordance with Hoddan’s instructions, though, his lawyers had faithfully if distastefully bought it in. To use up the funds available, they had to buy up not only all the stock of all the risk-insurance companies of Krim, but all stock in all off-planet companies owned by investors on Krim.

Then time passed, and ships in space arrived unmolested in port. Cargoes were delivered intact. Insurers observed that the risk-insurance companies had not collapsed and could still pay off if necessary. They continued their insurance. Risk companies appeared financially sound once more. They had more business than ever, and no more claims than usual. Suddenly their stocks went up–or rather, what people were willing to pay for them went up, because Hoddan had forbidden the sale of any stock after the pirate fleet appeared.

Now he asked hopefully if he could reimburse the owners of the ship he’d captured off Walden. He could. Could he pay them even the profit they’d have made between the loss of their ship and the arrival of a replacement? He could. Could he pay off the shippers of Rigellian furs and jewelry from the Cetis stars, and the owners of the bulk _melacynth_ that had brought so good a price on Krim? He could. In fact, he had. The insurance companies he now owned lock, stock, and barrel had already paid the claims on the ship and its cargo, and it would be rather officious to add to that reimbursement.Hoddan was abruptly appalled. He insisted on a bonus being paid, regardless, which his lawyers had some trouble finding a legal fiction to fit. Then he brooded over his position. He wasn’t a business man. He hadn’t expected to make out so well. He’d thought to have to labor for years, perhaps, to make good the injury he’d done the ship owners and merchants in order to help the emigrants from Colin. But it was all done, and here he was with a fortune and the framework of a burgeoning financial empire. He didn’t like it.

Gloomily, he explained matters to his attorneys. They pointed out that he had a duty, an obligation, from the nature of his unexpected success. If he let things go, now, the currently thriving business of risk insurance would return to its former unimportance. His companies had taken on extra help. More bookkeepers and accountants worked for him this week than last. More mail clerks, secretaries, janitors and scrubwomen. Even more vice presidents! He would administer a serious blow to the economy of Krim if he caused a slackening of employment by letting his companies go to pot. A slackening of employment would cause a drop in retail trade, an increase in inventories, a depression in industry….

Hoddan thought gloomily of his grandfather. He’d written to the old gentleman and the emigrant fleet would have delivered the letter. He couldn’t disappoint his grandfather!

He morbidly accepted his attorneys’ advice, and they arranged immediately to take over the forty-first as well as the forty-second and-third floors of the building their offices were in. Commerce would march on.

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-Five

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-Five

So it was not too long after dawn, in that time-zone, when a sentry on the battlements of Don Loris’ castle felt a shadow over his head. He jumped a foot and stared upward. Then his hair stood up on end and almost threw his steel helmet off. He stared, unable to move a muscle.

There was a ship above him. It was not a large ship, but he could not judge of such matters. It was not supported by rockets. It should have been falling horribly to smash him under its weight. It wasn’t. Instead, it floated on with very fine precision, like a ship being landed by grid, and settled delicately to the ground some fifty yards from the base of the castle wall.

Immediately thereafter there was a muttering roar. It grew to a howl–a bellow; it became thunder. It increased from that to a noise so stupendous that it ceased altogether to be heard, and was only felt as a deep-toned battering at one’s chest. When it ended there was a second ship resting in the middle of a very large scorched place close by the first.Neither of these ships was a spaceboat. The silently landed vessel, which was the smaller of the two, was several times the sizes of the only spacecraft ever seen on Darth outside the spaceport. Its design was somehow suggestive of a yacht. The other, larger, ship was blunt and soiled and space-worn, with patches on its plating here and there.

A landing ramp dropped down from the battered craft. It neatly spanned the scorched and still-smoking patch of soil. A port opened. Men came out, following a jaunty small figure with belligerent gray whiskers. They dragged an enigmatic object behind them.

Hoddan came out of the yacht. His grandfather said waspishly:

“This the castle?”

He waved at the massive pile of cut gray stone, with walls twenty feet thick and sixty high.

“Yes, sir,” said Hoddan.

“Hm-m-m,” snorted his grandfather. “Looks flimsy to me!” He waved his hand again. “You remember your cousins.”

Familiar, matter-of-fact nods came from the men of the battered ship. Hoddan hadn’t seen any of them for years, but they were his kin. They wore commonplace, workaday garments, but carried weapons slung negligently over their shoulders. They dragged the cryptic object behind them without particular formation or apparent discipline, but somehow they looked capable.

Hoddan and his grandfather strolled to the castle gate, their companions a little to their rear. They came to the gate. Nothing happened. Nobody challenged. There was the feel of peevish refusal to associate with persons who landed in spaceships.[Illustration]

“Shall we hail?” asked Hoddan.

“Nah!” snorted his grandfather. “I know his kind! Make him make the advances.” He waved to his descendents. “Open it up.”

Somebody casually pulled back a cover and reached in and threw switches.

“Found a power broadcast unit,” grunted Hoddan’s grandfather, “on a ship we took. Hooked it to the ship’s space-drive. When y’can’t use the space-drive, you still got power. Your Cousin Oliver whipped this thing up to use it.”

The enigmatic object made a spiteful noise. The castle gate shuddered and fell halfway from its hinges. The thing made a second noise. Stones splintered and began to collapse. Hoddan admired. Three more unpleasing but not violently loud sounds. Half the wall on either side of the gate was rubble, collapsing partly inside and partly outside the castle’s proper boundary.

Figures began to wave hysterically from the battlements. Hoddan’s grandfather yawned slightly.

“I always like to talk to people,” he observed, “when they’re worryin’ about what I’m likely to do to them, instead of what maybe they can do to me.”

Figures appeared on the ground level. They’d come out of a sally port to one side. They were even extravagantly cordial when Hoddan’s grandfather admitted that it might be convenient to talk over his business inside the castle, where there would be an easy-chair to sit in.

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-two

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-Two

It was, as it turned out, simple enough. Looting parties of three pirates each moved skulking about, seeking plunder. Quaking cameramen dared to ask them, in shaking voices, to pose for the news cameras. It was a request no Darthian gentleman, even in an act of piracy, could possibly refuse. They posed, making pictures of malignant ruffianism.

Commentators, adding informed comment to delectably thrilling pictures, observed that the pirates wore Darthian costume, but observed crisply that this did not mean that Darth as an entity had turned pirate, but only that some of her citizens had joined the pirate fleet.

The camera crews then asked apologetically if they would permit themselves to be broadcast in the act of looting. Growling savagely for their public, and occasionally adding even a fiendish “Ha!” they obliged. The camera crews helped pick out good places to loot for the sake of good pictures. The pirates co-operated in fine dramatic style. Millions watching vision sets all over the planet shivered in delicious horror as the pirates went about their nefarious enterprise.Presently the press of onlookers could not be held back by the police. They surrounded the pirates. Some, greatly daring, asked for autographs. Girls watched them with round, frightened, fascinated eyes. Younger men found it vastly thrilling to carry burdens of loot back to the pirate ship for them. Thal complained hoarsely that the ship was getting overloaded. Hoddan ordered greater discrimination, but his pirates by this time were in the position of directors rather than looters themselves. Romantic Waldenian admirers smashed windows and brought them treasure, for the reward of a scowling acceptance.

Hoddan had to call it off. The pirate ship was loaded. It was then the center of an agitated, excited, enthusiastic crowd. He called back his men. One party of three did not return. He took two others and fought his way through the mob. He found the trio backed against a wall while hysterically adoring girls struggled to seize scraps of their garments for mementos of real, live pirates looting a Waldenian town!

But Hoddan got them back to the ship, in confusion tending toward the blushful. Their clothes were shreds. He fought a way clear for them to get into the ship. He fought his way in. Cheers rose from the onlookers. He got the landing port shut only by the help of police who kept pirate fans from having their fingers caught in its closing.

Then the piratical space yacht rose swiftly toward the stars.

An hour later there was barely any diminution of the excitement inside the ship. Darthian gentlemen all, Hoddan’s followers still gazed and floated over the plunder tucked everywhere. It crowded the living quarters. It threatened to interfere with the astrogation of the ship. Hoddan came out of the control room and was annoyed.”Break it up!” he snapped. “Pack that stuff away somewhere! What do you think this is?”

Thal gazed at him abstractedly, not quite able to tear his mind and thoughts from this completely unimaginable mass of plunder. Then intelligence came into his eyes–as much as could appear there. He grinned suddenly. He slapped his thigh.

“Boys!” he gurgled. “He don’t know what we got for him!”

One man looked up. Two. They beamed. They got to their feet, dripping jewelry. Thal went ponderously to one of the two owners’ staterooms the yacht contained. At the door he turned, expansively.

“She came to the port,” he said exuberantly, “and said we were wearin’ clothes like they wore on Darth. Did we come from there? I said we did. Then she said did we know somebody named Bron Hoddan on Darth? And I said we did and if she’d step inside the ship she’d meet you. And here she is!”

He unfastened the stateroom door, which had been barred from without. He opened it. He looked in, and grabbed, and pulled at something. Hoddan went sick with apprehension. He groaned as the something inside the stateroom sobbed and yielded.

Thal brought Nedda out into the saloon of the yacht. Her nose and eyes were red from terrified weeping. She gazed about her in purest despairing horror. She did not see Hoddan for a moment. Her eyes were filled with the brawny, mustachioed piratical figures who were Darthian gentlemen and who grinned at her in what she took for evil gloating.

She wailed.

Hoddan swallowed, with much difficulty, and said sickly:”It’s all right, Nedda. It was a mistake. Nothing will happen to you. You’re quite”–and he knew with desperate certainty that it was true–“safe with me!”

And she was.

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-One

The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-One

Hoddan felt a contented, heart-warming glow. The emigrant fleet had most faithfully carried out its leader’s promise to let down a letter from space while in orbit around Walden. The emigrants, of course, did not know the contents of the letter. They would not send anybody down to ground, because of the temptations to sin in societies other than their own. Blithely, and cheerfully, and dutifully, they would give the appearance of monstrous piratical strength. They would awe Walden thoroughly. And then they’d go on, faithfully leaving similar letters and similar impressions on Krim, and Lohala, and Tralee, and Famagusta, and throughout the Coalsack stars until the stock of addressed missives ran out. They would perform this kindly act out of gratitude to Hoddan.And every planet they visited would be left with the impression that the fleet overhead was that of bloodthirsty space-marauders who would presently send single ships to collect loot–which must be yielded without resistance. Such looting expeditions were to be looked for regularly and must be submitted to under penalty of unthinkable retribution from the monster fleet of space.

Now, as the yacht descended on Walden, it represented that mythical but impressive piratical empire of Hoddan’s contrivance. He listened with genuine pleasure to the broadcasts. When low enough, he even picked up the pictures of highways thronged with fugitives from the to-be-looted town. He saw Waldenian police directing the traffic of flight. He saw other traffic heading toward the city. Walden was the most highly civilized planet in the Nurmi Cluster, and its citizens had had no worries at all except about tranquilizers to enable them to stand it. When something genuinely exciting turned up, they wanted to be there to see it.

The yacht descended below the clouds. Hoddan turned on an emergency flare to make a landing by. Sitting in the control room he saw his own ship as the broadcast cameras picked it up and relayed it to millions of homes. He was impressed. It was a glaring eye of fierce light, descending deliberately with a dark and mysterious spacecraft behind it. He heard the chattered on-the-spot news accounts of the happening. He saw the people who had not left Ensfield joined by avid visitors. He saw all of them held back by police, who frantically shepherded them away from the area in which the pirates should begin their horrid work.Hoddan even watched pleasurably from his control room as the broadcast cameras daringly showed the actual touch-down of the ship; the dramatic slow opening of its entrance port: the appearance of authentic pirates in the opening, armed to the teeth, bristling ferociously, glaring about them at the here-silent, here-deserted streets of the city left to their mercy.

It was a splendid broadcast. Hoddan would have liked to stay and watch all of it. But he had work to do. He had to supervise the pirate raid.

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