The Pirates of Ersatz-Thirty-Nine

The Pirates of Ersatz-Thirty-Nine

Hoddan’s ideas were not clear. But Darth was not a healthy place for him. It was extremely likely, for example, that Don Loris would feel that the very bad jolt he’d given that astute schemer’s plans, by using stun-pistols at the spaceport, had been neatly canceled out by his rescue of Fani. He would regard Hoddan with a mingled gratitude and aversion that would amount to calm detachment. Don Loris could not be counted on as a really warm personal friend.

On the other hand, the social system of Darth was not favorable to a stranger with an already lurid reputation for fighting, but whose weapons would be useless unless frequently recharged–and who couldn’t count on that as a steady thing.

As a practical matter, his best bet was probably to investigate the nine inexplicable ships overhead. They hadn’t co-operated with the Waldenians. It could be inferred that no confidential relationship existed up there. It was possible that the nine ships and the Waldenians didn’t even know of each other’s presence. There is a lot of room in space. If both called on ship-frequency and listened on ground-frequency, they would not have picked up each others’ summons to the ground.”You’ve got to do something!” insisted Fani. “I saw Father talking to them! He looked happy, and he never looks happy unless he’s planning some skulduggery!”

“I think,” said Hoddan, “that I’ll have some breakfast, if I may. As soon as I fasten up my ship bag.”

Thal said mournfully:

“If anything happens to you, something will happen to me too, because I helped you.”

“Breakfast first,” said Hoddan. “That, as I understand it, should make it disgraceful for your father to have my throat cut. But beyond that–” He said gloomily. “Thal, get a couple of horses outside the wall. We may need to ride somewhere. I’m very much afraid we will. But first I’d like to have some breakfast.”

Fani said disappointedly:

“But aren’t you going to face them? The men from Walden? You could shoot them!”

Hoddan shook his head.

“It wouldn’t solve anything. Anyhow a practical man like your father won’t sell me out before he’s sure I can’t pay off better. I’ll bet on a conference with me before he makes a deal.”

Fani stamped her foot.

“A practical man can always make what he wants to do look like a noble sacrifice of personal inclinations to the welfare of the community. I’ve decided that I’ve got to be practical myself, and that’s one of the rules. How about breakfast?”

He strapped the ship bag shut on the stun-pistols his pockets would not hold. He made a minor adjustment to the space communicator. It was not ruined, but nobody else could use it without much labor finding out what he’d done. This was the sort of thing his grandfather on Zan would have advised. His grandfather’s views were explicit.”Helping one’s neighbor,” he’d said frequently in Hoddan’s hearing while Hoddan was a youth, “is all right as a two-way job. But maybe he’s laying for you. You get a chance to fix him so he can’t do you no harm and you’re a lot better off and he’s a hell of a lot better neighbor!”

This was definitely true of the men from Walden. Hoddan guessed that Derec was one of them. The other would represent the police or the planetary government. It was probably just as true of Don Loris and others.

Hoddan found himself disapproving of the way the cosmos was designed. Even though presently he sat at breakfast high up on the battlements, and Fani looked at him with interesting anxiety, he was filled with forebodings. The future looked dark. Yet what he asked of fate and chance was so simple! He asked only a career and riches and a delightful girl to marry and the admiration of his fellow-citizens. Trivial things! But it looked like he’d have to do battle for even such minor gifts of destiny!

Fani watched him breakfast.

“I don’t understand you,” she complained. “Anybody else would be proud of what he’d done and angry with my father. Or don’t you think he’ll act ungratefully?”

“Of course I do!” said Hoddan.

“Then why aren’t you angry?”

“I’m hungry,” said Hoddan.

“And you take it for granted that I want to be properly grateful,” said Fani in one breath, “and yet you haven’t shown the least appreciation of my getting two horses over in that patch of woodland yonder”–she pointed and Hoddan nodded–“and having Thal there with orders to serve you faithfully–“

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