The Pirates of Ersatz-Fifty

The Pirates of Ersatz-Fifty

The seven men tramped splendidly around the front of the lifeboat. On the far side, its bulk hid even Don Loris’ castle from view. The six spearmen, with Thal, came to a second halt.

“Here goes,” rumbled Thal. “I tell you, boys, if she starts to spit fire, you get the hell away!”

He marched up to the spaceboat’s port. He knocked on it. There was no response. He knocked again.

Hoddan opened the door. He nodded cheerfully to Thal.

“‘Afternoon, Thal! Glad to see you. I’ve been hoping you’d come over this way. Who’s with you?” He peered through the semidarkness. “Some of the boys, eh? Come in!” He beckoned and said casually: “Lean your spears against the hull, there.”

Thal hesitated and was lost. The others obeyed. There were clatterings as the steel spearheads came to rest against the metal hull. Six of Don Loris’ retainers followed Thal admiringly into the spaceboat’s interior, to gaze at it and that Bron Hoddan who so recently had given three of them and nearly half a score of their fellows the chance to loot a nearby castle.

“Sit down!” said Hoddan cordially. “If you want to feel what a spaceboat’s really like, clasp the seat belts around you. You’ll feel exactly like you’re about to make a journey out of atmosphere. That’s it. Lean back. You notice there are no viewports in the hull? That’s because we use these visionscreens to see around with.”

He flicked on the screens. Thal and his companions were charmed to see the landscape outside portrayed on screens. Hoddan shifted the sensitivity-point toward infra red, and details came out that would have been invisible to the naked eye.”With the boatport closed,” said Hoddan, “like this–” The port clanged shut and grumbled for half a second as the locking-dogs went home. “We’re all set for take-off. I need only get into the pilot’s seat”–he did so, “and throw on the fuel pump–” A tiny humming sounded. “And we move when I advance this throttle!”

He pressed the firing-stud. There was a soul-shaking roar. There was a terrific pressure. The seven men from Don Loris’ stronghold were pressed back in their seats with an overwhelming, irresistible pressure which held them absolutely helpless. Their mouths dropped open. Appalled protests tried to come out, but were pushed back by the seemingly ever-increasing acceleration.

The screens, showing the outside, displayed a great and confused tumult of smoke and fumes and dust to rearward. They showed only stars ahead. Those stars grew brighter and brighter, as the roar of the rockets diminished to a merely deafening sound. Suddenly the disk of the local sun appeared, rising above the horizon to the west. The spaceboat, naturally, overtook it as it rose into an orbit headed east to west instead of the other way about.

Presently Hoddan turned off the fuel pump. He turned to look thoughtfully at the seven men. They were very pale. They sat unanimously very still, because they could see in the vision plates that a strange, mottled, again-sunlit surface flowed past them with an appalling velocity. They were very much afraid that they knew what it was. They did. It was the surface of the planet Darth, well below them.”I’m glad you boys came along,” said Hoddan. “We’ll catch up with the fleet in a moment or two. The pirate fleet, you know! I’m very pleased with you. Not many groundlings would volunteer for space-piracy, not even with the loot there is in it!”

Thal choked slightly, but no one else made a sound. No one even protested. Protests would have been no use. There were looks of anguish, but nothing else, because Hoddan was the only one in the spaceboat who had the least idea of how to get it down again. His passengers had to go along for the ride he’d taken them for, no matter where it led.

Numbly, they waited for what would befall.

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