The Pirates of Ersatz-Fifty-Five

The Pirates of Ersatz-Fifty-Five

Normally, at overdrive cruising speed, it would be a week’s journey from Walden to the planet Krim. Hoddan made it in five days. There was reason. He wanted to beat the news of his piracy to Krim. He could endure suspicion, and he wouldn’t mind doubt, but he did not want certainty of his nefarious behavior to interfere with the purposes of his call.

The space yacht, sealed tightly, floated in an orbit far out in emptiness. The big ship went down alone by landing grid. It glittered brightly as it descended. When it touched ground and the grid’s force fields cut off, it looked very modern and very crisp and strictly businesslike. Actually, the capture of this particular liner was a bit of luck, for Hoddan. It was not one of the giant inter-cluster ships which make runs of thousands of light-years and deign to stop only at very major planets. It was a medium ship of five thousand tons burden, designed for service in the Horsehead Nebula region. It was brand-new and on the way from its builders to its owners when Hoddan interfered. Naturally, though, it carried cargo on its maiden voyage.

Hoddan spoke curtly to the control room of the grid.

“I’m non-sked,” he explained. “New ship. I got a freak charter party over on Walden and I have to get rid of my cargo. How about shifting me to a delay space until I can talk to some brokers?”The force fields came on again and the liner moved very delicately to a position at the side of the grid’s central space. There it would be out of the way.

Hoddan dressed himself carefully in garments found in the liner’s skipper’s cabin. He found Thal wearing an apron and an embittered expression. He ceased to wield a mop as Hoddan halted before him.

“I’m going ashore,” said Hoddan crisply. “You’re in charge until I get back.”

“In charge of what?” demanded Thal bitterly. “Of a bunch of male housemaids! I run a mop! And me a Darthian gentleman! I thought I was being a pirate! What do I do? I scrub floors! I wash paint! I stencil cases in cargo holds! I paint over names and put others in their places! Me, a Darthian gentleman!”

“No,” said Hoddan. “A pirate. If I don’t get back, you and the others can’t work this ship, and presently the police of Krim will ask why. They’ll recheck my careful forgeries, and you’ll all be hung for piracy. So don’t let anybody in. Don’t talk to anybody. If you do–_pfft!_”

He drew his finger across his throat, and nodded, and went cheerfully out the crew’s landing-door in the very base of the ship. He went across the tarmac and out between two of the gigantic steel arches of the grid. He hired a ground vehicle.

“Where?” asked the driver.

“Hm-m-m,” said Hoddan. “There’s a firm of lawyers…. I can’t remember the name–“

“There’s millions of ’em,” said the driver.

“This is a special one,” explained Hoddan. “It’s so dignified they won’t talk to you unless you’re a great-grandson of a client. They’re so ethical they won’t touch a case of under a million credits. They’ve got about nineteen names in the firm title and–“”Oh!” said the ground-car driver. “That’ll be– Hell! I can’t remember the name either. But I’ll take you there.”

He drove out into traffic. Hoddan relaxed. Then he tensed again. He had not been in a city since he stopped briefly in this on the way to Darth. The traffic was abominable. And he, who’d been in various pitched battles on Darth and had only lately captured a ship in space– Hoddan grew apprehensive as his ground-car charged into the thick of hooting, rushing, squealing vehicles. When the car came to a stop he was relieved.

“It’s yonder,” said the driver. “You’ll find the name on the directory.”

Hoddan paid and went inside the gigantic building. He looked at the directory and shrugged. He went to the downstairs guard. He explained that he was looking for a firm of lawyers whose name was not on the directory list. They were extremely conservative and of the highest possible reputation. They didn’t seek clients–

“Forty-two and forty-three,” said the guard, frowning. “I ain’t supposed to give it out, but–floors forty-two and-three.”

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