The Pirates of Ersatz-Fifty-Three

The Pirates of Ersatz-Fifty-Three

Hoddan set to work with the remnants of a tool shop on the ancient yacht and some antique coils and condensers and such. He became filled with zest. He almost forgot that he was the skipper of an elderly craft which should have been scrapped before he was born.

But even he grew hungry, and he realized that nobody offered him food. He went indignantly into the yacht’s central saloon and found his seven crew-members snoring stertorously, sprawled in stray places here and there.He woke them with great sternness. He set them furiously to work on that housekeeping–including meals–which can be neglected in a feudal castle because strong outside winds blow smells away and dry up smelly objects, but which must be practiced in a spaceship.

He went back to work. Suddenly he stopped and meditated afresh, and ceased his actual labor to draw a diagram which he regarded with great affection. He returned to his adaptation of the Lawlor drive to the production of ball lightning.

It was possible to wind coils. A certain percentage of the old condensers held a charge. He tapped the drive-unit for brazing current, and the drill-press became a die-stamping device for small parts. He built up the elements of a vacuum tube such as is normally found only in a landing grid control room. He set up a vacuum-valve arrangement in the base of a large glass jar. He put that jar in the boat’s air lock, bled the air to emptiness, and flashed the tube’s quaint elements. He brought it back and went out of overdrive while he hooked the entire new assembly into the drive-circuit, with cut-outs and switches to be operated from the yacht’s instrument board.

Finished, he examined the stars. The nearby suns were totally strange in their arrangement. But the Coalsack area was a space-mark good for half a sector of the galaxy. There was a condensation in the Nearer Rim for a second bearing. And a certain calcium cloud with a star-cluster behind it was as good as a highway sign for locating one’s self.He lined up the yacht again and went into overdrive once more. Two days later he came out, again surveyed the cosmos, again went into overdrive, again came out, once more made a hop in faster-than-light travel–and he was in the solar system of which Walden was the ornament and pride.

He used the telescope and contemplated Walden on its screen. The space yacht moved briskly toward it. His seven Darthian crewmen, aware of coming action, dolefully sharpened their two-foot knives. They did not know what else to do, but they were far from happy.

Hoddan shared their depression. Such gloomy anticipations before stirring events are proof that a man is not a fool. Hoddan’s grandfather had been known to observe that when a man can imagine all kinds of troubles and risks and disasters ahead of him, he is usually right. Hoddan shared that view. But it would not do to back out now.

He examined Walden painstakingly while the yacht sped on. He saw an ocean come out of the twilight zone of dawn. By the charts, the capital city and the spaceport should be on that ocean’s western shore. After a suitable and very long interval, the site of the capital city came around the edge of the planet.

From a bare hundred thousand miles, Hoddan stepped up magnification to its limit and looked again. Then Walden more than filled the telescope’s field. He could see only a very small fraction of the planet’s surface. He had to hunt before he found the capital city again. Then it was very clear. He saw the curving lines of its highways and the criss-cross pattern of its streets. Buildings as such, however, did not show. But he made out the spaceport and the shadow of the landing grid, and in the very center of that grid there was something silvery which cast a shadow of its own. A ship. A liner.There was a tap on the control-room door. Thal.

“Anything happening?” he asked uneasily.

“I just sighted the ship we’re going to take,” said Hoddan.

Thal looked unhappy. He withdrew. Hoddan plotted out the extremely roundabout course he must take to end up with the liner and the yacht traveling in the same direction and the same speed, so capture would be possible.

He put the yacht on the line required. He threw on full power. Actually, he headed partly away from his intended victim. The little yacht plunged forward. Nothing seemed to happen. Time passed. Hoddan had nothing to do but worry. He worried.

Thal tapped on the door again.

“About time to get ready to fight?” he asked dolefully.

“Not yet,” said Hoddan. “I’m running away from our victim, now.”

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