It took Valkanhayn and Spasso more time and argument to convince their crews than Trask thought necessary. Harkaman seemed satisfied, and so was Baron Rathmore, the Wardshaven politician.

“It’s like talking a lot of uncommitted small landholders into taking somebody’s livery-and-maintenance,” the latter said. “You can’t use too much pressure; make them think it’s their own idea.”

There were meetings of both crews, with heated arguments; Baron Rathmore made frequent speeches, while Lord Trask of Tanith and Admiral Harkaman⁠—the titles were Rathmore’s suggestion⁠—remained loftily aloof. On both ships, everybody owned everything in common, which meant that nobody owned anything. They had taken over Tanith on the same basis of diffused ownership, and nobody in either crew was quite stupid enough to think that they could do anything with the planet by themselves. By joining the Nemesis, it appeared that they were getting something for nothing. In the end, they voted to place themselves under the authority of Lord Trask and Admiral Harkaman. After all, Tanith would be a feudal lordship, and the three ships together a fleet.

Admiral Harkaman’s first act of authority was to order a general inspection of fleet units. He wasn’t shocked by the condition of the two ships, but that was only because he had expected much worse. They were spaceworthy; after all, they had gotten here from Hoth under their own power. They were only combat-worthy if the combat weren’t too severe. His original estimate that the Nemesis could have knocked both of them to pieces was, if anything, over-conservative. The engines were only in fair shape, and the armament was bad.

“We aren’t going to spend our time sitting here on Tanith,” he told the two captains. “This planet is a raiding base, and ‘raiding’ is the operative word. And we are not going to raid easy planets. A planet that can be raided with impunity isn’t worth the time it takes getting to it. We are going to have to fight on every planet we hit, and I am not going to jeopardize the lives of the men under me, which includes your crews as well as mine, because of under-powered and under-armed ships.”

Spasso tried to argue. “We’ve been getting along.”

Harkaman cursed. “Yes. I know how you’ve been getting along; chicken-stealing on planets like Set and Xipototec and Melkarth. Not making enough to cover maintenance expenses; that’s why your ship’s in the shape she is. Well, those days are over. Both ships ought to have a full overhaul, but we’ll have to skip that till we have a shipyard of our own. But I will insist, at least, that your guns and launchers are in order. And your detection equipment; you didn’t get a fix on the Nemesis till we were less than twenty thousand miles off-planet.”

“We had better get the Lamia in condition first,” Trask said. “We can put her on off-planet watch, instead of that pair of pinnaces.”

Work on the Lamia started the next day, and considerable friction-heat was generated between her officers and the engineers sent over from the Nemesis. Baron Rathmore went aboard, and came back laughing.

“You know how that ship’s run?” he asked. “There’s a sort of soviet of officers; chief engineer, exec, guns-and-missiles, astrogator and so on. Spasso’s just an animated ventriloquist’s dummy. I talked to all of them. None of them can pin me down to anything, but they think we’re going to heave Spasso out of command and appoint one of them, and each one thinks he’ll be it. I don’t know how long that’ll last, it’s a string-and-tape job like the one we’re having to do on the ship. It’ll hold till we get something better.”

“We’ll have to get rid of Spasso,” Harkaman agreed. “I think we’ll put one of our own people in his place. Valkanhayn can stay in command of the Space Scourge; he’s a spaceman. But Spasso’s no good for anything.”

The local problem was complicated, too. The locals spoke Lingua Terra of a sort, like every descendant of the race that had gone out from the Sol system in the Third Century, but it was a barely comprehensible sort. On civilized planets, the language had been frozen unalterably in microbooks and voice tapes. But microbooks can only be read and sound tapes heard with the aid of electricity, and Tanith had lost that long ago.

Most of the people Spasso and Valkanhayn had kidnaped and enslaved came from villages within a radius of five hundred miles. About half of them wanted to be repatriated; they were given gifts of knives, tools, blankets, and bits of metal which seemed to be the chief standard of value and medium of exchange, and shipped home. Finding their proper villages was not easy. At each such village, the news was spread that the Space Vikings would hereafter pay for what they received.

The Lamia was overhauled as rapidly as possible. She was still far from being a good ship, but she was much closer to being one than before. She was fitted with the best detection equipment that could be assembled, and put on orbit; Alvyn Karffard took command of her, with some of Spasso’s officers, some of Valkanhayn’s, and a few from the Nemesis. Harkaman was intending to use her for retraining of all the Lamia and Space Scourge officers, and rotated them back and forth.

The labor guards, a score in number, were relieved of their duties, issued Sword-World firearms, and given intensive training. The trade tokens, stamps of colored plastic, were introduced, and a store was set up where they could be exchanged for Sword-World items. After a while, it dawned on the locals that the tokens could also be used for trading among themselves; money seemed to have been one of the adjuncts of civilization that had been lost along Tanith’s downward path. A few of them were able to use contragravity hand-lifters and hand-towed lifter-skids; several were even learning to operate things like bulldozers, at least to the extent of knowing which lever or button did what. Give them a little time, Trask thought, watching a gang at work down on the spaceport floor. It won’t be many years before half of them will be piloting aircars.

As soon as the Lamia was on orbital watch, the Space Scourge was set down at the spaceport and work started on her. It was decided that Valkanhayn would take her to Gram; enough Nemesis people would go along to insure good faith on his part, and to talk to Duke Angus and the Tanith investors. Baron Rathmore, and Paytrik Morland, and several other Wardshaven gentlemen-adventurers for the latter function; Alvyn Karffard to act as Valkanhayn’s exec, with private orders to supersede him in command if necessary, and Guatt Kirbey to do the astrogating.

“We’ll have to take the Nemesis and the Space Scourge out, first, and make a big raid,” Harkaman said. “We can’t send the Space Scourge back to Gram empty. When Baron Rathmore and Lord Valpry and the rest of them talk to Duke Angus and the Tanith investors, they’ll have to have a lot more than some travel films of Tanith. They’ll have to be able to show that Tanith is producing. We ought to have a little money of our own to invest, too.”

“But, Otto; both ships?” That worried Trask. “Suppose Dunnan comes and finds nobody here but Spasso and the Lamia?”

“Chance we’ll have to take. Personally, I think we have a year to a year and a half before Dunnan shows up here. I know, we were fooled trying to guess what he’d do before. But the sort of raid I have in mind, we’ll need two ships, and in any case, I don’t want to leave both those ships here while we’re gone, even if you do.”

“When it comes to that, I don’t think I do, either. But we can’t trust Spasso here alone, can we?”

“We’ll leave enough of our people to make sure. We’ll leave Alvyn⁠—that’ll mean a lot of work for me that he’d otherwise do, on the ship. And Baron Rathmore, and young Valpry, and the men who’ve been training our sepoys. We can shuffle things around and leave some of Valkanhayn’s men in place of some of Spasso’s. We might even talk Spasso into going along. That’ll mean having to endure him at our table, but it would be wise.”

“Have you picked a place to raid?”

“Three of them. First, Khepera. That’s only thirty light-years from here. That won’t amount to much; just chicken-stealing. It’ll give our green hands some relatively safe combat-training, and it’ll give us some idea of how Spasso’s and Valkanhayn’s people behave, and give them confidence for the next job.”

“And then?”

“Amaterasu. My information about Amaterasu is about twenty years old. A lot of things can happen in twenty years. All I know of it⁠—I was never there myself⁠—is it’s fairly civilized⁠—about like Terra just before the beginning of the Atomic Era. No nuclear energy, they lost that, and of course nothing beyond it, but they have hydroelectric and solarelectric power, and nonnuclear jet aircraft, and some very good chemical-explosive weapons, which they use very freely on each other. It was last known to have been raided by a ship from Excalibur twenty years ago.”

“That sounds promising. And the third planet?”

“Beowulf. We won’t take enough damage on Amaterasu to make any difference there, but if we saved Amaterasu for last, we might be needing too many repairs.”

“It’s like that?”

“Yes. They have nuclear energy. I don’t think it would be wise to mention Beowulf to Captains Spasso and Valkanhayn. Wait till we’ve hit Khepera and Amaterasu. They may be feeling like heroes, then.”