The Pirates of Ersatz-Fourty

The Pirates of Ersatz-Fourty

She stopped short. Don Loris appeared, beaming, at the top of the steps leading here from the great hall where conferences took place. He regarded Hoddan benignly.

“This is a very bad business, my dear fellow,” he said benevolently. “Has Fani told you of the people who arrived from Walden in search of you? They tell me terrible things about you!”

“Yes,” said Hoddan. He prepared a roll for biting. He said: “One of them, I think, is named Derec. He’s to identify me so good money isn’t wasted paying for the wrong man. The other man’s police, isn’t he?” He reflected a moment. “If I were you, I’d start talking at a million credits. You might get half that.”

He bit into the roll as Don Loris looked shocked.

“Do you think,” he asked indignantly, “that I would give up the rescuer of my daughter to emissaries from a foreign planet, to be locked in a dungeon for life?”

“Not in those words,” conceded Hoddan. “But after all, despite your deep gratitude to me, there are such things as one’s duty to humanity as a whole. And while it would cause you bitter anguish if someone dear to you represented a danger to millions of innocent women and children–still, under such circumstances you might feel it necessary to do violence to your own emotions.”

Don Loris looked at him with abrupt suspicion. Hoddan waved the roll.

“Moreover,” he observed, “gratitude for actions done on Darth does not entitle you to judge of my actions on Walden. While you might and even should feel obliged to defend me in all things I have done on Darth, your obligation to me does not let you deny that I may have acted less defensibly on Walden.”Don Loris looked extremely uneasy.

“I may have thought something like that,” he admitted. “But–“

“So that,” said Hoddan, “while your debt to me cannot and should not be overlooked, nevertheless”–Hoddan put the roll into his mouth and spoke less clearly–“you feel that you should give consideration to the claims of Walden to inquire into my actions while there.”

He chewed, and swallowed, and said gravely:

“And can I make deathrays?”

Don Loris brightened. He drew a deep breath of relief. He said complainingly:

“I don’t see why you’re so sarcastic! Yes. That is a rather important question. You see, on Walden they don’t know how to. They say you do. They’re very anxious that nobody should be able to. But while in unscrupulous hands such an instrument of destruction would be most unfortunate … ah … under proper control–“

“Yours,” said Hoddan.

“Say–ours,” said Don Loris hopefully. “With my experience of men and affairs, and my loyal and devoted retainers–“

“And cozy dungeons,” said Hoddan. He wiped his mouth. “No.”

Don Loris started violently.

“No, what?”

“No deathrays,” said Hoddan. “I can’t make ’em. Nobody can. If they could be made, some star somewhere would be turning them out, or some natural phenomenon would let them loose from time to time. If there were such things as deathrays, all living things would have died, or else would have adjusted to their weaker manifestations and developed immunity so they wouldn’t be deathrays any longer. As a matter of fact, that’s probably been the case, some time in the past. So far as the gadget goes that they’re talking about, it’s been in use for half a century in the Cetis cluster. Nobody’s died of it yet.”Don Loris looked bitterly disappointed.

“That’s the truth?” he asked unhappily. “Honestly? That’s your last word on it?”

“Much,” said Hoddan, “much as I hate to spoil the prospects of profitable skulduggery, that’s my last word and it’s true.”

“But those men from Walden are very anxious!” protested Don Loris. “There was no ship available, so their government got a liner that normally wouldn’t stop here to take an extra lifeboat aboard. It came out of overdrive in this solar system, let out the lifeboat, and went on its way again. Those two men are extremely anxious–“

“Ambitious, maybe,” said Hoddan. “They’re prepared to pay to overcome your sense of gratitude to me. Naturally, you want all the traffic will bear. I think you can get half a million.”

Don Loris looked suspicious again.

“You don’t seem worried,” he said fretfully. “I don’t understand you!”

“I have a secret,” said Hoddan.

“What is it?”

“It will develop,” said Hoddan.

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