The Pirates of Ersatz-Fourty-Eight

The Pirates of Ersatz-Fourty-Eight

Of course, his grandfather was head of the most notorious gang of pirates on the disreputable planet Zan, but Hoddan found himself increasingly respecting the old gentleman as he gained experience of various worlds.He went briskly back to his spaceboat. On the way he made verbal arrangements for the enterprise he’d envisioned so swiftly. It was remarkable how two sets of troubles could provide suggestions for their joint alleviation. He actually saw possible achievement before him. Even in electronics!

By the time the cargo space was again pumped empty and the great door opened to the vastness of space, Hoddan had a very broad view of things. He’d said that same day to Fani that a practical man can always make what he wants to do look like a sacrifice of his personal inclinations to others’ welfare. He began to suspect, now, that the welfare of others can often coincide with one’s own.

He needed some rather extensive changes in the relationship of the cosmos to himself. Walden was prepared to pay bribes for him. Don Loris felt it necessary to have him confined somewhere. There were a number of Darthian gentlemen who would assuredly like to slaughter him if he wasn’t kept out of their reach in some cozy dungeon. But up to now there had been not even a practical way to leave Darth, to act upon Walden, or even to change his status in the eyes of Darthians.

He backed out of the big ship and consulted the charts of the lifeboat. They had been consulted before, of course, to locate the landing grid which did not answer calls. He found its position. He began to compare the chart with what he saw from out here in orbit above Darth. He identified a small ocean, with Darth’s highest mountain chain just beyond its eastern limit. He identified a river-system, emptying into that sea. And here he began to get rid of his excess velocity, because the landing grid was not very far distant–some fifteen hundred or two thousand miles.To a scientific pilot, his maneuvering from that time on would have been a complex task. The advantage of computation over astrogation by ear, however, is largely a matter of saving fuel. A perfectly computed course for landing will get down to ground with the use of the least number of centigrams of fuel possible. But fuel-efficient maneuvers are rarely time-efficient ones.

Hoddan hadn’t the time or the data for computation. He swung the spaceboat end for end, very judgmatically used rocket power to slow himself to a suitable east-west velocity, and at the last and proper instant applied full-power for deceleration and went down practically like a stone. One cannot really learn this. It has to be absorbed through the pores of one’s skin. That was the way Hoddan had absorbed it, on Zan.

Within minutes, then, the stronghold of Don Loris was startled by a roaring mutter in the sky high overhead. Helmeted sentries on the battlements stared upward. The mutter rose to a howl, and the howl to the volume of thunder, and the thunder to a very great noise which made loose pebbles dance and quiver.

Then there was a speck of white cloudiness in the late afternoon sky. It grew swiftly in size, and a winking blue-white light appeared in its center. That light grew brighter–and the noise managed somehow to increase–and presently the ruddy sunlight was diluted by light from the rockets with considerably more blue in it. Secondary, pallid shadows appeared.

Then, abruptly, the rockets cut off, and something dark plunged downward, and the rockets flamed again, and a vast mass of steam arose from scorched ground–and the spaceboat lay in a circle of wildly smoking, carbonized Darthian soil. The return of tranquility after so much of tumult was startling.

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