The Pirates of Ersatz-Fifty-Eight
And all the journey back to Darth was as anticlimactic as that. There was no trouble finding the space yacht in its remote orbit. Hoddan sent out an unlocking signal, and a keyed transmitter began to send a signal on which to home. When the liner nudged alongside it, Hoddan’s last contrivance operated and the yacht clung fast to the larger ship’s hull. There were four days in overdrive. There were three or four pauses for position-finding. The stop-over on Krim had cost some delay, but Hoddan arrived back at a positive sight of Darth’s sun within a day or so of standard space drive direct from Walden. Then there was little or no time lost in getting into orbit with the junk yard space fleet of the emigrants. Shortly thereafter he called the leader’s ship with only mild worries about possible disasters that might have happened while he was away.”Calling the leader’s ship,” he said crisply. “Calling the leader’s ship! This is Bron Hoddan, reporting back from Walden with a ship and machinery contributed for your use!”
The harsh voice of the bearded old leader of the emigrants seemed somehow broken when he replied. He called down blessings on Hoddan, who could use them. Then there was the matter of getting emigrants on board the new ship. They didn’t know how to use the boat-blister lifeboat tubes. Hoddan had to demonstrate. But shortly after there were twenty, thirty, fifty of the folk from Colin, feverishly searching the ship and incredulously reporting what they found.
“It’s impossible!” said the old man. “It’s impossible!”
“I wouldn’t say that,” said Hoddan. “It’s unlikely, but it’s happened. I’m only afraid it’s not enough.”
“It is … many times what we hoped,” said the old man humbly. “Only–” He stopped. “We are more grateful than we can say.”
Hoddan took a deep breath.
“I’d like to take my crew back home,” he explained. “And come back and … well … perhaps I can be useful explaining things. And I’d like to ask a great favor of you … for my own work.”
“But naturally,” said the old man. “Of course. We will await your return. Naturally! And … perhaps we can … we can arrange something–“
Hoddan was relieved. There did seem a slightly strange limitation to the happiness of the emigrants. They were passionately rejoiceful over the agricultural machinery. But they seemed rather dutifully than truly happy over the microfilm library. The vision-tape instructors were the objects of polite comment only. Hoddan felt a vague discomfort. There seemed to be a sort of secret desperation in the atmosphere, which they would not admit or mention. But he was coming back. Of course.He brought the spaceboat over to the new liner. He hooked onto a lifeboat blister and his seven Darthians crawled through the lifeboat tube. Hoddan pulled away quickly before somebody thought to ask why there were no lifeboats in the places so plainly made for them.
He headed downward when the landmarks on Darth’s surface told him that Don Loris’ castle would shortly come over the horizon. He was just touching atmosphere when it did. The boat’s rocket-tanks had been refilled, and he burned fuel recklessly to make a dramatic landing within a hundred yards of the battlements where Fani had once thoughtfully had a coil of rope ready for him.
Heads peered at the lifeboat over those same battlements now, but the gate was closed. It stayed closed. There was somehow an atmosphere of suspicion amounting to enmity. Hoddan felt unwelcome.
“All right, boys,” he said resignedly. “Out with you and to the castle. You’ve got your loot from the voyage”–he’d counted out for each of them rather more actual cash than any of them really believed in–“and I want you to take this box to Don Loris. It’s a gift from me. And I want to–consult with him about co-operation between the two of us in … ah … some plans I have. Ask if I may come and talk to him.”
His seven former spearmen tumbled out. They marched gleefully to the castle gate. Hoddan saw them tantalizingly displaying large sums in cash to the watchers above them. Thal held up the box for Don Loris. It was the box the lawyer’s clerk had turned over to him, with a tidy sum in cash in it. The sum was partly depleted, now. Hoddan had paid off his involuntary crew with it–had paid them, in fact, as if they’d done the fighting they’d expected and he’d thought would be necessary. But there was still more in it than Don Loris would have gotten from Walden for selling him out.The castle gate opened, as if grudgingly. The seven went in. With the box.
Time passed. Much time. Hoddan went over the arguments he meant to use on Don Loris. He needed to make up a very great sum, and it could be done thus-and-so, but thus-and-so required occasional piratical raids, which called for pirate crews, and if Don Loris would encourage his retainers– He could have gone to another Darthian chieftain, of course, but he knew what kind of scoundrel Don Loris was. He’d have to find out about another man.