The Pirates of Ersatz-Fifteen

The Pirates of Ersatz-Fifteen

When dawn broke over the capital city of Walden, the sight was appropriately glamorous. There were shining towers and curving tree-bordered ways, above which innumerable small birds flew tumultuously. The dawn, in fact, was heralded by high-pitched chirpings everywhere. During the darkness there had been a deep-toned humming sound, audible all over the city. That was the landing grid in operation out at the spaceport, letting down a twenty-thousand-ton liner from Rigel, Cetis, and the Nearer Rim. Presently it would take off for Krim, Darth, and the Coalsack Stars, and if Hoddan was lucky he would be on it. But at the earliest part of the day there was only tranquillity over the city and the square and the Interstellar Embassy.At the gate of the Embassy enclosure, staff members piled up boxes and bales and parcels for transport to the spaceport and thence to destinations whose names were practically songs. There were dispatches to Delil, where the Interstellar Diplomatic Service had a sector headquarters, and there were packets of embassy-stamped invoices for Lohala and Tralee and Famagusta. There were boxes for Sind and Maja, and metal-bound cases for Kent. The early explorers of this part of the galaxy had christened huge suns for little villages and territories back on Earth–which less than one human being in ten thousand had ever seen.

The sound of the stacking of freight parcels was crisp and distinct in the morning hush. The dew deposited during darkness had not yet dried from the pavement of the square. Damp, unhappy figures loafed nearby. They were self-evidently secret police, as yet unrelieved after a night’s vigil about the Embassy’s rugged wall. They were sleepy and their clothing stuck soggily to them, and none of them had had anything warm in his stomach for many hours. They had not, either, anything to look forward to from their superiors.

Hoddan was again in sanctuary inside the Embassy they’d guarded so ineptly through the dark. He’d gotten out without their leave, and made a number of their fellows unwilling to sit down and then made all the police and municipal authorities ridiculous by the manner of his return. The police guards about the Embassy were very positively not in a cheery mood. But one of them saw an Embassy servant he knew. He’d stood the man drinks, in times past, to establish a contact that might be useful. He summoned a smile and beckoned to that man.The Embassy servant came briskly to him, rubbing his hands after having put a moderately heavy case of documents on top of the waiting pile.

“That Hoddan,” said the plainclothesman, attempting hearty ruefulness, “he certainly put it over on us last night!”

The servant nodded.

“Look,” said the plainclothesman, “there could be something in it for you if you … hm-m-m … wanted to make a little extra money.”

The servant looked regretful.

“No chance,” he said, “he’s leaving today.”

The plainclothesman jumped.


“For Darth,” said the Embassy servant. “The ambassador’s shipping him off on the space liner that came in last night.”

The plainclothesman dithered.

“How’s he going to get to the spaceport?”

“I wouldn’t know,” said the servant. “They’ve figured out some way. I could use a little extra money, too.”

He lingered, but the plainclothesman was staring at the innocent, inviolable parcels about to leave the Embassy for distant parts. He took note of sizes and descriptions. No. Not yet. But if Hoddan was leaving he had to leave the Embassy. If he left the Embassy….

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