Khepera left a bad taste in Trask’s mouth. He was still tasting it when the colored turbulence died out of the screen and left the gray nothingness of hyperspace. Garvan Spasso⁠—they had had no trouble in inducing him to come along⁠—was staring avidly at the screen as though he could still see the ravished planet they had left.

“That was a good one; that was a good one!” he was crowing. He’d said that a dozen times since they had lifted out. “Three cities in five days, and all the stuff we gathered up around them. We took over two million stellars.”

And did ten times as much damage getting it, and there was no scale of values by which to compute the death and suffering.

“Knock it off, Spasso. You said that before.”

There was a time when he wouldn’t have spoken to the fellow, or anybody else, like that. Gresham’s law, extended: Bad manners drive out good manners. Spasso turned on him indignantly.

“Who do you think you are⁠—?”

“He thinks he’s Lord Trask of Tanith,” Harkaman said. “He’s right, too; he is.” He looked searchingly at Trask for a moment, then turned back to Spasso. “I’m just as tired as he is of hearing you pop your mouth about a lousy two million stellars. Nearer a million and a half, but two million’s nothing to pop about. Maybe it would be for the Lamia, but we have a three-ship fleet and a planetary base to meet expenses on. Out of this raid, a ground-fighter or an able spaceman will get a hundred and fifty stellars. We’ll get about a thousand, ourselves. How long do you think we can stay in business doing this kind of chicken-stealing.”

“You call this chicken-stealing?”

“I call it chicken-stealing, and so’ll you before we get back to Tanith. If you live that long.”

For a moment, Spasso was still affronted. Then, temporarily, his vulpine face showed avaricious hope, and then apprehension. Evidently he knew Otto Harkaman’s reputation, and some of the things Harkaman had done weren’t his idea of an easy way to make money.

Khepera had been easy; the locals hadn’t had anything to fight with. Small arms, and light cannon which hadn’t been able to fire more than a few rounds. Wherever they had attempted resistance, the combat cars had swooped in, dropping bombs and firing machine guns and auto-cannon. Yet they had fought, bitterly and hopelessly⁠—just as he would have, defending Traskon.

Trask busied himself getting coffee and a cigarette from one of the robots. When he looked up, Spasso had gone away, and Harkaman was sitting on the edge of the desk, loading his short pipe.

“Well, you saw the elephant, Lucas,” Harkaman said. “You don’t seem to have liked it.”


“Old Terran expression I read somewhere. All I know is that an elephant was an animal about the size of one of your Gram megatheres. The expression means, experiencing something for the first time which makes a great impression. Elephants must have been something to see. This was your first Viking raid. You’ve seen it, now.”

He’d been in combat before; he’d led the fighting-men of Traskon during the boundary dispute with Baron Manniwel, and there were always bandits and cattle rustlers. He’d thought it would be like that. He remembered, five days, or was it five ages, ago, his excited anticipation as the city grew and spread in the screen and the Nemesis came dropping down toward it. The pinnaces, his four and the two from the Space Scourge, had gone spiraling out a hundred miles beyond the city; the Space Scourge had gone into a tighter circle twenty miles from its center; the Nemesis had continued her relentless descent until she was ten miles from the ground, before she began spewing out landing craft, and combat cars, and the little egg-shaped one-man air-cavalry mounts. It had been thrilling. Everything had gone perfectly; not even Valkanhayn’s gang had goofed.

Then the screenviews had begun coming in. The brief and hopeless fight in the city. He could still see that silly little field gun, it must have been around seventy or eighty millimeter, on a high-wheeled carriage, drawn by six shaggy, bandy-legged beasts. They had gotten it unlimbered and were trying to get it on a target when a rocket from an aircar landed directly under the muzzle. Gun, caisson, crew, even the draft team fifty yards behind, had simply vanished.

Or the little company, some of them women, trying to defend the top of a tall and half-ruinous building with rifles and pistols. One air-cavalryman wiped them all out with his machine guns.

“They don’t have a chance,” he’d said, half-sick. “But they keep on fighting.”

“Yes; stupid of them, isn’t it?” Harkaman, beside him, had said.

“What would you do in their place?”

“Fight. Try to kill as many Space Vikings as I could before they got me. Terro-humans are all stupid like that. That’s why we’re human.”

If the taking of the city had been a massacre, the sack that had followed had been a man-made Hell. He had gone down, along with Harkaman, while the fighting, if it could be so called, was still going on. Harkaman had suggested that the men ought to see him moving about among them; for his own part, he had felt a compulsion to share their guilt.

He and Sir Paytrik Morland had been on foot together in one of the big hollow buildings that had stood since Khepera had been a Member Republic of the Terran Federation. The air was acrid with smoke, powder smoke and the smoke of burning. It was surprising, how much would burn, in this city of concrete and vitrified stone. It was surprising, too, how well-kept everything was, at least on the ground level. These people had taken pride in their city.

They found themselves alone, in a great empty hallway; the noise and horror of the sack had moved away from them, or they from it, and then, when they entered a side hall, they saw a man, one of the locals, squatting on the floor with the body of a woman cradled on his lap. She was dead, half her head had been blown off, but he was clasping her tightly, her blood staining his shirt, and sobbing heartbrokenly. A carbine lay forgotten on the floor beside him.

“Poor devil,” Morland said, and started forward.


Trask stopped him with his left hand. With his right, he drew his pistol and shot the man dead. Morland was horrified.

“Great Satan, Lucas! Why did you do that?”

“I wish Andray Dunnan had done that for me.” He thumbed the safety on and holstered the pistol. “None of this would be happening if he had. How many more happinesses do you think we’ve smashed here today? And we don’t even have Dunnan’s excuse of madness.”

The next morning, with everything of value collected and sent aboard, they had started cross-country for five hundred miles to another city, the first hundred over a countryside asmoke from burning villages Valkanhayn’s men had pillaged the night before. There was no warning; Khepera had lost electricity and radio and telegraph, and the spread of news was at the speed of one of the beasts the locals insisted on calling horses. By midafternoon, they had finished with that city. It had been as bad as the first one.

One thing, it was the center of a considerable cattle country. The cattle were native to the planet, heavy-bodied unicorns the size of a Gram bisonoid or one of the slightly mutated Terran carabaos on Tanith, with long hair like a Terran yak. He had detailed a dozen of the Nemesis ground-fighters who had been vaqueros on his Traskon ranches to collect a score of cows and four likely bulls, with enough fodder to last them on the voyage. The odds were strongly against any of them living to acclimate themselves to Tanith, but if they did, they might prove to be one of the most valuable pieces of loot from Khepera.

The third city was at the forks of a river, like Tradetown on Tanith. Unlike it, this was a real metropolis. They should have gone there first of all. They spent two days systematically pillaging it. The Kheperans carried on considerable river-traffic, with stern-wheel steamboats, and the waterfront was lined with warehouses crammed with every sort of merchandise. Even better, the Kheperans had money, and for the most part it was gold specie, and the bank vaults were full of it.

Unfortunately, the city had been built since the fall of the Federation and the climb up from the barbarism that had followed, and a great deal of it was of wood. Fires started almost at once, and it was almost completely on fire by the end of the second day. It had been visible in the telescopic screen even after they were out of atmosphere, a black smear until the turning planet carried it into darkness and then a lurid glow.

“It was a filthy business.”

Harkaman nodded. “Robbery and murder always are. You don’t have to ask me who said that Space Vikings are professional robbers and murderers, but who was it said that he didn’t care how many planets were raided and how many innocents massacred in the Old Federation?”

“A dead man. Lucas Trask of Traskon.”

“You wish, now, that you’d kept Traskon and stayed on Gram?”

“No. If I had, I’d have spent every hour wishing I was doing what I’m doing now. I can get used to this, I suppose.”

“I think you will. At least, you kept your rations down. I didn’t on my first raid, and had bad dreams about it for a year.” He gave his coffee cup back to the robot and got to his feet. “Get a little rest, for a couple of hours. Then draw some alcodote-vitamin pills from the medic. As soon as things are secured, there’ll be parties all over the ship, and we’ll be expected to look in on every one of them, have a drink, and say ‘Well done, boys.’ ”

Elaine came to him, while he was resting. She looked at him in horror, and he tried to hide his face from her, and then realized that he was trying to hide it from himself.