The Pirates of Ersatz-Seventy-Five
So it was not too long after dawn, in that time-zone, when a sentry on the battlements of Don Loris’ castle felt a shadow over his head. He jumped a foot and stared upward. Then his hair stood up on end and almost threw his steel helmet off. He stared, unable to move a muscle.
There was a ship above him. It was not a large ship, but he could not judge of such matters. It was not supported by rockets. It should have been falling horribly to smash him under its weight. It wasn’t. Instead, it floated on with very fine precision, like a ship being landed by grid, and settled delicately to the ground some fifty yards from the base of the castle wall.
Immediately thereafter there was a muttering roar. It grew to a howl–a bellow; it became thunder. It increased from that to a noise so stupendous that it ceased altogether to be heard, and was only felt as a deep-toned battering at one’s chest. When it ended there was a second ship resting in the middle of a very large scorched place close by the first.Neither of these ships was a spaceboat. The silently landed vessel, which was the smaller of the two, was several times the sizes of the only spacecraft ever seen on Darth outside the spaceport. Its design was somehow suggestive of a yacht. The other, larger, ship was blunt and soiled and space-worn, with patches on its plating here and there.
A landing ramp dropped down from the battered craft. It neatly spanned the scorched and still-smoking patch of soil. A port opened. Men came out, following a jaunty small figure with belligerent gray whiskers. They dragged an enigmatic object behind them.
Hoddan came out of the yacht. His grandfather said waspishly:
“This the castle?”
He waved at the massive pile of cut gray stone, with walls twenty feet thick and sixty high.
“Yes, sir,” said Hoddan.
“Hm-m-m,” snorted his grandfather. “Looks flimsy to me!” He waved his hand again. “You remember your cousins.”
Familiar, matter-of-fact nods came from the men of the battered ship. Hoddan hadn’t seen any of them for years, but they were his kin. They wore commonplace, workaday garments, but carried weapons slung negligently over their shoulders. They dragged the cryptic object behind them without particular formation or apparent discipline, but somehow they looked capable.
Hoddan and his grandfather strolled to the castle gate, their companions a little to their rear. They came to the gate. Nothing happened. Nobody challenged. There was the feel of peevish refusal to associate with persons who landed in spaceships.[Illustration]
“Shall we hail?” asked Hoddan.
“Nah!” snorted his grandfather. “I know his kind! Make him make the advances.” He waved to his descendents. “Open it up.”
Somebody casually pulled back a cover and reached in and threw switches.
“Found a power broadcast unit,” grunted Hoddan’s grandfather, “on a ship we took. Hooked it to the ship’s space-drive. When y’can’t use the space-drive, you still got power. Your Cousin Oliver whipped this thing up to use it.”
The enigmatic object made a spiteful noise. The castle gate shuddered and fell halfway from its hinges. The thing made a second noise. Stones splintered and began to collapse. Hoddan admired. Three more unpleasing but not violently loud sounds. Half the wall on either side of the gate was rubble, collapsing partly inside and partly outside the castle’s proper boundary.
Figures began to wave hysterically from the battlements. Hoddan’s grandfather yawned slightly.
“I always like to talk to people,” he observed, “when they’re worryin’ about what I’m likely to do to them, instead of what maybe they can do to me.”
Figures appeared on the ground level. They’d come out of a sally port to one side. They were even extravagantly cordial when Hoddan’s grandfather admitted that it might be convenient to talk over his business inside the castle, where there would be an easy-chair to sit in.