The Pirates of Ersatz-Sixty-Six

The Pirates of Ersatz-Sixty-Six

Presently, gloomy and a trifle dogged about it, he brought the spaceboat around to the modernized boatport of the yacht. He got into it, leaving the yacht in orbit. He headed down toward Darth. Now that he’d rested, he had work to do which could not be neglected. To carry out that work, he needed a crew able and willing to pass for pirates for a pirate’s pay. And there were innumerable castles on Darth, with quite as many shiftly noblemen, and certainly no fewer plunder-hungry Darthian gentlemen hanging around them. But Don Loris’ castle had one real advantage and one which existed only in Hoddan’s mind.

Don Loris’ retainers did know that Hoddan had led their companions to loot. Large loot. He’d have less trouble and more enthusiastic support from Don Loris’ retainers than any other. This was true.The illusion was that the Lady Fani was his firm personal friend with no nonsense about her. This was a very great mistake.

He landed for the fourth time outside Don Loris’ castle. This time he had no booty-laden men to march to the castle and act as heralds of his presence. The spaceboat’s visionscreens showed Don Loris’ stronghold as immense, dark and menacing. Banners flew from its turrets, their colors bright in the ruddy light of near-sunset. The gate remained closed. For a long time there was no sign that his landing had been noted. Then there was movement on the battlements, and a figure began to descend outside the wall. It was lowered to the ground by a long rope.

It reached the ground and shook itself. It marched, toward the spaceboat through the red and nearly level rays of the dying sun. Hoddan watched with a frown on his face. This wasn’t a retainer of Don Loris’. It assuredly wasn’t Fani. He couldn’t even make out its gender until the figure was very near.

Then he looked astonished. It was his old friend Derec, arrived on Darth a long while since in the spaceboat Hoddan had been using ever since. Derec had been his boon companion in the days when he expected to become rich by splendid exploits in electronics. Derec was also the character who’d conscientiously told the cops on Hoddan, when they found his power-receptor sneaked into a Mid-Continent station and a stray corpse coincidentally outside.

He opened the boatport and stood in the opening. Derec had been a guest–anyhow an inhabitant–of Don Loris’ castle for a good long while, now. Hoddan wondered if he considered his quarters cozy.”Evening, Derec,” said Hoddan cordially. “You’re looking well!”

“I don’t feel it,” said Derec dismally. “I feel like a fool in the castle yonder. And the high police official I came here with has gotten grumpy and snaps when I try to speak to him.”

Hoddan said gravely:

“I’m sure the Lady Fani–“

“A tigress!” said Derec bitterly. “We don’t get along.”

Looking at Derec, Hoddan found himself able to understand why. Derec was the sort of friend one might make on Walden for lack of something better. He was well-meaning. He might be capable of splendid things–even heroism. But he was horribly, terribly, appallingly civilized!

“Well! Well!” said Hoddan kindly. “And what’s on your mind, Derec?”

“I came,” said Derec dismally, “to plead with you again, Bron. You must surrender! There’s nothing else to do! People can’t have deathrays, Bron! Above all, you mustn’t tell the pirates how to make them!”

Hoddan was puzzled for a moment. Then he realized that Derec’s information about the fleet came from the spearmen he’d brought back, loaded down with cash. Derec hadn’t noticed the absence of the flashing lights at sunset–or hadn’t realized that they meant the fleet was gone away.

“Hm-m-m,” said Hoddan. “Why don’t you think I’ve already done it?”

“Because they’d have killed you,” said Derec. “Don Loris pointed that out. He doesn’t believe you know how to make deathrays. He says it’s not a secret anybody would be willing for anybody else to know. But … you know the truth, Bron! You killed that poor man back on Walden. You’ve got to sacrifice yourself for humanity! You’ll be treated kindly!”Hoddan shook his head. It seemed somehow very startling for Derec to be harping on that same idea, after so many things had happened to Hoddan. But he didn’t think Derec would actually expect him to yield to persuasion. There must be something else. Derec might even have nerved himself up to something quite desperate.

“What did you really come here for, Derec?”

“To beg you to–“

Then, in one instant, Derec made an hysterical gesture and Hoddan’s stun-pistol hummed. A small object left Derec’s hand as his muscles convulsed from the stun-pistol bolt. It did not fly quite true. It fell a foot or so to one side of the boatport instead of inside.

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