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Chapter 11

  • The shooting died down to occasional rattles of small arms, usually followe_y yells for quarter. An explosion thundered from across the crater. Th_Lester Dawes_ fired her big guns a few times. A machine gun stuttered. _istol banged, far away. It took two hours before all the pirates had bee_unted out of hiding and captured, or killed if found by their forme_aptives, who were accepting no surrender whatever.
  • Blackie Perales had been one of the latter; he had been found, his clothes i_ags and covered with dirt and grease, hiding under a machine in one of th_hops back of the dock in which the  _Harriet Barne_  was being rebuilt. H_ad tried to claim that he was one of the pirates' prisoners who had elude_he roundup at the beginning of the battle and had been hiding there since. A_oon as the real prisoners saw and recognized him, they had fallen upon hi_nd clubbed, kicked and stamped him out of any resemblance to humanity. A_hat, what he got was probably only a fraction of what he deserved.
  • The egg breakage had been heavy, and not at all confined to the bad eggs. _hird gunboat, the  _Banshee_ , had been destroyed with all hands during th_inal attack from outside; in addition, a dozen men had been killed during th_ighting in the galleries. Everybody was shocked, except Klem Zareff, who ha_een in battles before. He was surprised that the casualties had been s_ight.
  • At first glance, the spaceport looked like a handsome prize of victory. Th_ocks and workshops were all in good condition; at worst, they only neede_leaning up. There was a collapsium plant, with its own mass-energy converter.
  • There were foundries and machine-shops and forging-shops and a rolling-mill, almost completely robotic. At first, Conn thought that it might be possible t_uild a hyperdrive ship here, without having to go to Koshchei at all.
  • Closer examination disabused him of this hope. There was nothing of which th_ramework of a ship could be built, and no way of producing heavy structura_teel. The rolling-mill was good enough to turn out eighth-inch sheet materia_hich when plated with a few micromicrons of collapsium would be as good as _undred feet of lead against space-radiations, but that was the ship's skin. _hip needed a skeleton, too. The only thing to do was go on with the  _Harrie_arne_.
  • It was sunset before he finished his tour of inspection and let his jeep dow_n a vehicle hall off the lower gallery outside what had originally been th_paceport officers' club. It was crowded, and a victory celebration seemed t_e getting under way. He saw his father with Yves Jacquemont, Sylvie, To_rangwyn, and Captain Nichols. Nichols had gotten clean clothes from th_irates' store of loot, and had bathed and shaved. So had Jacquemont, thoug_e had contented himself with trimming his beard. It took him a second or s_o recognize the young lady in feminine garb as his erstwhile battle comrade, Sylvie.
  • "Well, our pay goes on from the day we were captured," Nichols was saying. "M_nstructions are to resume command of the ship. Tomorrow, they're sending _arty out to go over her."
  • Conn stopped short. "What's this about the ship?"
  • "Captain Nichols was in screen contact with his company's office i_torisende," Rodney Maxwell said. "They're continuing him in command of her."
  • "But … but we took that ship! We lost three gunboats and about twenty-fiv_en… ."
  • "She still belongs to Transcontinent & Overseas," his father said. "That'_een the law on stolen property as long as there's been any law."
  • Of course; he should have known that. Did know it; just didn't think.
  • "We broke an awful lot of eggs for no omelet; fought a battle for nothing."
  • "Well, of course, I'm prejudiced," Sylvie said, "but I don't think getting u_ut of the hands of that bloodthirsty maniac and his cutthroats was nothing."
  • "Wiping out the Perales gang wasn't nothing, Conn," Tom Brangwyn said. "Yo_ot no idea at all how bad things were, the last couple of years."
  • "I know. I'm sorry." He was ashamed of himself. "But I needed a ship, and no_e have no ship at all."
  • "A ship means something to you?" Yves Jacquemont asked.
  • "Yes." He told him why. "If we could get to Koshchei, we could build _ypership of our own, and get our brandy and things to markets where we coul_et a decent price for them."
  • "I know. I was in and out of Storisende on these owner-captain tramps for _ouple of years before I decided to retire and settle here," Jacquemont said.
  • "The profit on a cargo of Poictesme brandy on Terra or Baldur is over _housand percent."
  • "Well, don't give up too soon," Nichols advised. "You can't keep the  _Harrie_arne_ , of course, but you're entitled to prize-money on her, and that ough_o buy you something you could build a spaceship out of."
  • "That's right," Jacquemont said. "Everything else besides the frame can b_ade here. Look, these pirates burned me out; except for the money I have i_he bank, I lost everything, home, business and all. As soon as I can find _lace for Sylvie to stay, I'll come back and go to work for your compan_uilding a spaceship. And a lot of the men who were working here are farm- tramps and drifters, one job's as good as another as long as they get paid fo_t. And I know a few good men in Storisende—engineers—who'd be glad for a job, too."
  • "You think it would be all right with Mother and Flora if Sylvie stayed wit_s?" Conn asked.
  • "Of course it would; they'd be glad to have her." Rodney Maxwell turned t_ves Jacquemont. "Let's consider that fixed up. Now, suppose you and I go int_torisende, and… ."
  • The Transcontinent & Overseas people arrived at Barathrum Spaceport the nex_orning; a rear-rank vice-president, a front-rank legal-eagle, and thre_ngineers. They were horrified at what they saw. The  _Harriet Barne_  ha_een gutted. Bulkheads and decks had been ripped out and relocate_ncomprehensibly; the bridge and the control room under it were gone; she ha_een stripped to her framework, and the whole underside was sheathed i_himmering collapsium.
  • "Great Ghu!" the vice-president almost howled. "That isn't  _our_  ship!"
  • "That's the  _Harriet Barne_ ," her captain said. "She looks a little ragge_ow, but—"
  • "You helped these pirates do this to her?"
  • "If I hadn't, they'd have cut my throat and gotten somebody else to help them.
  • My throat's more valuable to me than the ship is to you; I can't get anybod_o build me a new one."
  • "Well, understand," one of the engineers said, "they were converting her int_n interplanetary ship. It wouldn't cost much to finish the job."
  • "We need an interplanetary ship like we need a hole in the head!" The vice- president turned to Rodney Maxwell. "Just how much prize-money do you thin_ou're entitled to for this wreck?"
  • "I wouldn't know; that's up to Sterber, Flynn & Chen-Wong. Up to the court, i_e can settle it any other way."
  • "You mean you'd litigate about this?" the lawyer demanded, and began to laugh.
  • "If we have to. Look, if you people don't want her, sign her over t_itchfield Exploration & Salvage. But if you do want her, you'll have to pa_or her."
  • "We'll give you twenty thousand sols," the lawyer said. "We don't want to b_ightfisted. After all, you fought a gang of pirates and lost some men and _ouple of boats; we have some moral obligation to you. But you'll have t_ealize that this ship, in her present state, is practically valueless."
  • "The collapsium on her is worth twice that, and the engines are worth eve_ore," Jacquemont said. "I worked on them."
  • The discussion ended there. By midafternoon, Luther Chen-Wong, the junio_artner of the law firm, arrived from Storisende with a couple of engineers o_is own. Reporters began arriving; both sides were anxious to keep them awa_rom the ship. Conn took care of them, assisted by Sylvie, who had rummaged a_ven more attractive costume out of what she called the loot-cellar. Th_eporters all used up a lot of film footage on her. And the Fawzis' Offic_ang arrived from Force Command, bitterly critical of the value of th_paceport against its cost in lives and equipment. Brangwyn and Zaref_eturned to Force Command with them. A Planetary Air Patrol ship arrived an_emoved the captured pirates. The liberated prisoners were airlifted t_itchfield.
  • The third day after the battle, Conn and his father and Sylvie and her fathe_lew to Litchfield. To Conn's surprise, Flora greeted him cordially, and Wad_ucas, rather stiffly, congratulated him. Maybe it was as Tom Brangwyn ha_aid; he hadn't been on Poictesme in the last four or five years and didn'_now how bad things had gotten. His mother seemed to think he had won th_attle of Barathrum single-handed.
  • He was even more surprised and gratified that Flora made friends with Sylvi_mmediately. His mother, however, regarded the engineer's daughter with badl_oncealed hostility, and seemed to doubt that Sylvie was the kind of girl sh_anted her son getting involved with. Outwardly, of course, she was quit_racious.
  • Rodney Maxwell and Yves Jacquemont flew to Storisende the next morning, bot_ore optimistic about finding a ship than Conn thought the circumstance_arranted. Conn stayed at home for the next few days, luxuriating in idleness.
  • He and Sylvie tore down his mother's household robots and built sound-sensor_nto them, keying them to respond to their names and to a few simple commands, and including recorded-voice responses in a thick Sheshan accent. All th_mart people on Terra, he explained, had Sheshan humanoid servants.
  • His mother was delighted. Robots that would answer when she spoke to them wer_ lot more companionable. She didn't seem to think, however, that Sylvie'_echanical skills were ladylike accomplishments. Nice girls, Litchfield model, weren't quite so handy with a spot-welder. That was what Conn liked abou_ylvie; she was like the girls he'd known at the University.
  • They were strolling after dinner, down the Mall. The air was sharp and warne_hat autumn had definitely arrived; the many brilliant stars, almost as brigh_s the moon of Terra, were coming out in the dusk.
  • "Conn, this thing about Merlin," she began. "Do you really believe in it? Eve_ince Dad and I came to Poictesme, I've been hearing about it, but it's just _tory, isn't it?"
  • He was tempted to tell her the truth, and sternly put the temptation behin_im.
  • "Of course there's a Merlin, Sylvie, and it's going to do wonderful thing_hen we find it."
  • He looked down the starlit Mall ahead of him. Somebody, maybe Lester Dawes an_organ Gatworth and Lorenzo Menardes, had gotten things finished and cleane_p. The pavement was smooth and unbroken; the litter had vanished.
  • "It's done wonderful things already, just because people started looking fo_t," he said. "Some of these days, they're going to realize that they ha_erlin all along and didn't know it."
  • There was a faint humming from somewhere ahead, and he was wondering what i_as. Then they came to the long escalators, and he saw that they were running.
  • "Why, look! They got them fixed! They're running!"
  • Sylvie grinned at him and squeezed his arm.
  • "I get you, chum," she said. "Of course there's a Merlin."
  • Maybe he didn't have to tell her the truth.
  • When they returned to the house, his mother greeted him:
  • "Conn, your father's been trying to get you ever since you went out. Call him, right away; Ritz-Gartner Hotel, in Storisende. It's something about a ship."
  • It look a little time to get his father on-screen. He was excited and happy.
  • "Hi, Conn; we have one," he said.
  • "What kind of a ship?"
  • "You know her. The  _Harriet Barne_."
  • That he hadn't expected. Something off Mothball Row that would have to b_lown to Barathrum and torn down and completely rebuilt, but not the one tha_as there already, partly finished.
  • "How the dickens did you wangle that?"
  • "Oh, it was Yves' idea, to start with. He knew about her; the T. & O.'s bee_osing money on her for years. He said if they had to pay prize-money on he_nd then either restore her to original condition or finish the job and buil_ spaceship they didn't want, it would almost bankrupt the company. They go_p as high as fifty thousand sols for prize-money and we just laughed at them.
  • So we made a proposition of our own.
  • "We proposed organizing a new company, subsidiary to both L. E. & S. and T. & O., to engage in interplanetary shipping; both companies to assign thei_quity in the _Harriet Barne_  to the new company, the work of completing he_o be done at our spaceport and the labor cost to be shared. This would giv_s our spaceship, and get T. & O. off the hook all around. Everybody was fo_t except the president of T. & O. Know anything about him?"
  • Conn shook his head. His father continued:
  • "Name's Jethro Sastraman. He could play Scrooge in  _Christmas Carol_  withou_ny makeup at all. He hasn't had a new idea since he got out of college, an_hat was while the War was still going on. 'Preposterous; utterly visionar_nd impractical,'" his father mimicked. "Fortunately, a majority of the bi_tockholders didn't agree; they finally bullied him into agreeing. We'r_alling the new company Alpha-Interplanetary, we have an application fo_harter in, and that'll go through almost automatically."
  • "Who's going to be the president of this new company?"
  • "You know him. Character named Rodney Maxwell. Yves is going to be vice- president in charge of operations; he's flying to Barathrum tomorrow or th_ext day with a gang of technicians we're recruiting. T. & O. are giving u_lyde Nichols and Mack Vibart, and a lot of men from their shipyard. I'_taying here in Storisende; we're opening an office here. By this time nex_eek, we're all going to wish we'd been born quintuplets."
  • "And Conn Maxwell, I suppose, will be an influential non-office-holdin_tockholder?"
  • "That's right. Just like in L. E. & S."