They came straight down on Eglonsby, on Amaterasu, the Nemesis and the Space Scourge side by side. The radar had picked them up at point-five light-seconds; by this time the whole planet knew they were coming, and nobody was wondering why. Paul Koreff was monitoring at least twenty radio stations, assigning somebody to each one as it was identified. What was coming in was uniformly excited, some panicky, and all in fairly standard Lingua Terra.

Garvan Spasso was perturbed. So, in the communication screen from the Space Scourge, was Boake Valkanhayn.

“They got radio, and they got radar,” he clamored.

“Well, so what?” Harkaman asked. “They had radio and radar twenty years ago, when Rock Morgan was here in the Coalsack. But they don’t have nuclear energy, do they?”

“Well, no. I’m picking up a lot of industrial electrical discharge, but nothing nuclear.”

“All right. A man with a club can lick a man with his fists. A man with a gun can lick half a dozen with clubs. And two ships with nuclear weapons can lick a whole planet without them. Think it’s time, Lucas?”

He nodded. “Paul, can you cut in on that Eglonsby station yet?”

“What are you going to do?” Valkanhayn wanted to know, against it in advance.

“Summon them to surrender. If they don’t, we will drop a hellburner, and then we will pick out another city and summon it to surrender. I don’t think the second one will refuse. If we are going to be murderers, we’ll do it right, this time.”

Valkanhayn was aghast, probably at the idea of burning an unlooted city. Spasso was sputtering something about, “… Teach the dirty Neobarbs a lesson⁠—” Koreff told him he was switched on. He picked up a hand-phone.

“Space Vikings Nemesis and Space Scourge, calling the city of Eglonsby. Space Vikings.⁠ ⁠…”

He repeated it for over a minute; there was no reply.

“Vann,” he called Guns-and-Missiles. “A subcrit display job, about four miles over the city.”

He laid the phone down and looked to the underside viewscreen. A little later, a silvery shape dropped away from the ship’s south pole. The telescopic screen went off, and the unmagnified screen darkened as the filters went on. Valkanhayn, aboard the other ship, was shouting a warning about his own screens. The only unfiltered screen aboard the Nemesis was the one tuned to the falling missile. The city of Eglonsby rushed upward in it, and then it went suddenly dark. There was an orange-yellow blaze in the other screens. After a while, the filters went off and the telescopic screen went on again. He picked up the phone.

“Space Vikings calling Eglonsby; this is your last warning. Communicate at once.”

Less than a minute later, a voice came out of one of the speakers:

“Eglonsby calling Space Vikings. Your bomb has done great damage. Will you hold your fire until somebody in authority can communicate with you? This is the chief operator at the central State telecast station; I have no authority to say anything to you, or discuss anything.”

“Oh, good, that sounds like a dictatorship,” Harkaman was saying. “Grab the dictator and shove a pistol in his face and you have everything.”

“There is nothing to discuss. Get somebody who has authority to surrender the city to us. If this is not done within the hour, the city and everybody in it will be obliterated.”

Only minutes later, a new voice said:

“This is Gunsalis Jan, secretary to Pedrosan Pedro, President of the Council of Syndics. We will switch President Pedrosan over as soon as he can speak directly to the personage in supreme command of your ships.”

“That is myself; switch him to me at once.”

After a delay of less than fifteen seconds they had President Pedrosan Pedro.

“We are prepared to resist, but we realize what this would cost in lives and destruction of property,” he began.

“You don’t begin to. Do you know anything about nuclear weapons?”

“From history; we have no nuclear power of any sort. We can find no fissionables on this planet.”

“The cost, as you put it, would be everything and everybody in Eglonsby and for a radius of almost a hundred miles. Are you still prepared to resist?”

The President of the Council of Syndics wasn’t and said so. Trask asked him how much authority his position gave him.

“I have all powers in any emergency. I think,” the voice added tonelessly, “that this is an emergency. The council will automatically ratify any decision I make.”

Harkaman depressed a button in front of him. “What I said; dictatorship, with parliamentary false front.”

“If he isn’t a false-front dictator for some oligarchy.” He motioned to Harkaman to take his thumb off the button. “How large is this Council?”

“Sixteen, elected by the Syndicates they represent. There is the Syndicate of Labor, the Syndicate of Manufacturers, the Syndicate of Small Businesses, the.⁠ ⁠…”

“Corporate State, First Century Pre-Atomic on Terra. Benny the Moose,” Harkaman said. “Let’s all go down and talk to them.”

When they were sure that the public had been warned to make no resistance, the Nemesis went down to two miles, bulking over the center of the city. The buildings were low by the standards of a contragravity-using people, the highest barely a thousand feet and few over five hundred, and they were more closely set than Sword-Worlders were accustomed to, with broad roadways between. In several places there were queer arrangements of crossed roadways, apparently leading nowhere. Harkaman laughed when he saw them.

“Airstrips. I’ve seen them on other planets where they’ve lost contragravity. For winged aircraft powered by chemical fuel. I hope we have time for me to look around, here. I’ll bet they even have railroads here.”

The “great damage” caused by the bomb was about equal to the effect of a medium hurricane; he had seen worse from high winds at Traskon. Mostly it had been moral, which had been the kind intended.

They met President Pedrosan and the council of Syndics in a spacious and well-furnished chamber near the top of one of the medium-high buildings. Valkanhayn was surprised; in a loud aside he considered that these people must be almost civilized. They were introduced. Amaterasuan surnames preceded personal names, which hinted at a culture and a political organization making much use of registration by alphabetical list. They all wore garments which had the indefinable but unmistakable appearance of uniforms. When they had all seated themselves at a large oval table, Harkaman drew his pistol and used the butt for a gavel.

“Lord Trask, will you deal with these people directly?” he asked, stiffly formal.

“Certainly, Admiral.” He spoke to the President, ignoring the others. “We want it understood that we control this city, and we expect complete submission. As long as you remain submissive to us, we will do no damage beyond removal of the things we wish to take from it, and there will be no violence to any of your people, or any indiscriminate vandalism. This visit we are paying you will cost you heavily, make no mistake about that, but whatever the cost, it will be a cheap price for avoiding what we might otherwise do.”

The President and the Syndics exchanged relieved glances. Let the taxpayers worry about the cost; they’d come out of it with whole skins.

“You understand, we want maximum value and minimum bulk,” he continued. “Jewels, objects of art, furs, the better grades of luxury goods of all kinds. Rare-element metals. And monetary metals, gold and platinum. You have a metallic-based currency, I suppose?”

“Oh, no!” President Pedrosan was slightly scandalized. “Our currency is based on services to society. Our monetary unit is simply called a credit.”

Harkaman snorted impolitely. Evidently he’d seen economic systems like that before. Trask wanted to know if they used gold or platinum at all.

“Gold, to some extent, for jewelry.” Evidently they weren’t complete economic puritans. “And platinum in industry, of course.”

“If they want gold, they should have raided Stolgoland,” one of the Syndics said. “They have a gold-standard currency.” From the way he said it, he might have been accusing them of eating with their fingers, and possibly of eating their own young.

“I know, the maps we’re using for this planet are a few centuries old; Stolgoland doesn’t seem to appear on them.”

“I wish it didn’t appear on ours, either.” That was General Dagró Ector, Syndic for State Protection.

“It would have been a good thing for this whole planet if you’d decided to raid them instead of us,” somebody else said.

“It isn’t too late for these gentlemen to make that decision,” Pedrosan said. “I gather that gold is a monetary metal among your people?” When Trask nodded, he continued: “It is also the basis of the Stolgonian currency. The actual currency is paper, theoretically redeemable in gold. In actuality, the circulation of gold has been prohibited, and the entire gold wealth of the nation is concentrated in vaults at three depositories. We know exactly where they are.”

“You begin to interest me, President Pedrosan.”

“I do? Well, you have two large spaceships and six smaller craft. You have nuclear weapons, something nobody on this planet has. You have contragravity, something that is hardly more than a legend here. On the other hand, we have a million and a half ground-troops, jet aircraft, armored ground-vehicles, and chemical weapons. If you will undertake to attack Stolgoland, we will place this entire force at your disposal; General Dagró will command them as you direct. All that we ask is that, when you have loaded the gold hoards of Stolgoland aboard your ships, you will leave our troops in possession of the country.”

That was all there was to that meeting. There was a second one; only Trask, Harkaman and Sir Paytrik Morland represented the Space Vikings, and the Eglonsby government was represented by President Pedrosan and General Dagró. They met more intimately, in a smaller and more luxurious room in the same building.

“If you’re going to declare war on Stolgoland, you’d better get along with it,” Morland advised.

“What?” Pedrosan seemed to have only the vaguest idea of what he was talking about. “You mean, warn them? Certainly not. We will attack them by surprise. It will be nothing but plain self-defense,” he added righteously. “The oligarchic capitalists of Stolgoland have been plotting to attack us for years.”

“Yes. If you had carried out your original intention of looting Eglonsby, they would have invaded us the moment your ships lifted out. It’s exactly what I’d do in their place.”

“But you maintain nominally friendly relations with them?”

“Of course. We are civilized. The peace-loving government and people of Eglonsby.⁠ ⁠…”

“Yes, Mr. President; I understand. And they have an embassy here?”

“They call it that!” cried Dagró. “It is a nest of vipers, a plague-spot of espionage and subversion⁠ ⁠… !”

“We’ll grab that ourselves, right away,” Harkaman said. “You won’t be able to round up all their agents outside it, and if we tried to, it would cause suspicion. We’ll have to put up a front to deceive them.”

“Yes. You will go on the air at once, calling on the people to collaborate with us, and you will specifically order your troops mobilized to assist us in collecting the tribute we are levying on Eglonsby,” Trask said. “In that way, if any Stolgonian spies see your troops concentrated around our landing craft, they’ll think it’s to help us load our loot.”

“And we’ll announce that a large part of the tribute will consist of military equipment,” Dagró added. “That will explain why our guns and tanks are being loaded on your contragravity vehicles.”

When the Stolgonian embassy was seized by the Space Vikings, the ambassador asked to be taken at once to their leader. He had a proposition: If the Space Vikings would completely disable the army of Eglonsby and admit Stolgonian troops when they were ready to leave, the invaders would bring with them ten thousand kilos of gold. Trask affected to be very hospitable to the offer.

Stolgoland lay across a narrow and shallow sea from the State of Eglonsby; it was dotted with islands, and every one of them was, in turn, dotted with oil wells. Petroleum was what kept the aircraft and ground-vehicles of Amaterasu in operation; oil, rather than ideology, was at the root of the enmity between the two nations. Apparently the Stolgonian espionage in Eglonsby was completely deceived, and the reports Trask allowed the captive ambassador to make confirmed the deception. Hourly the Eglonsby radio stations poured out exhortations to the people to cooperate with the Space Vikings, with an occasional lamentation about the masses of war materials being taken. Eglonsby espionage in Stolgoland was similarly active. The Stolgonian armies were being massed at four seaports on the coast facing Eglonsby, and there was a frantic gathering of every sort of ship available. By this time, any sympathy that Trask might have felt for either party had evaporated.

The invasion of Stolgoland started the fifth morning after their arrival over Eglonsby. Before dawn, the six pinnaces went in, making a wide sweep around the curvature of the planet and coming in from the north, two to each of the three gold-troves. They were detected by radar, eventually but too late for any effective resistance to be organized. Two were even taken without a shot; by mid-morning all three had been blown open and the ingots and specie were being removed.

The four seaports from whence the Stolgonian invasion of Eglonsby was to have been launched were neutralized by nuclear bombing. Neutralized was a nice word, Trask thought; there was no echo in it of the screams of the still-living, maimed and burned and blinded, around the fringes of ground-zero. The Nemesis and the Space Scourge, from landing craft and from the ships themselves, landed Eglonsby troops on Stolgonopolis. While they were sacking the city, with all the usual atrocities, the Space Vikings were loading the gold, and anything else that was of more than ordinary value, aboard the ships.

They were still at it the next morning when President Pedrosan arrived at the newly conquered capital, announcing his intention of putting the Stolgonian chief of state and his cabinet on trial as war criminals. Before sunset, they were back over Eglonsby. The loot might run as high as a half-billion Excalibur stellars. Boake Valkanhayn and Garvan Spasso were simply beyond astonishment and beyond words.

The looting of Eglonsby then began.

They gathered up machinery, and stocks of steel and light-metal alloys. The city was full of warehouses, and the warehouses were crammed with valuables. In spite of the socialistic and egalitarian verbiage behind which the government operated, there seemed to be a numerous elite class and if gold were not a monetary metal it was not despised for purposes of ostentation. There were several large art museums. Vann Larch, their nearest approach to an art specialist, took charge of culling the best from them.

And there was a vast public library. Into this Otto Harkaman vanished, with half a dozen men and a contragravity scow. Its historical section would be much poorer in the future.

President Pedrosan Pedro was on the radio from Stolgonopolis that night.

“Is this how you Space Vikings keep faith?” he demanded indignantly. “You’ve abandoned me and my army here in Stolgoland, and you’re sacking Eglonsby. You promised to leave Eglonsby alone if I helped you get the gold of Stolgoland.”

“I promised nothing of the kind. I promised to help you take Stolgoland. You’ve taken it,” Trask told him. “I promised to avoid unnecessary damage or violence. I’ve already hanged a dozen of my own men for rape, murder and wanton vandalism. Now, we expect to be out of here in twenty-four hours. You’d better be back here before then. Your own people are starting to loot. We did not promise to control them for you.”

That was true. What few troops had been left behind, and the police, were unable to cope with the mobs that were pillaging in the wake of the Space Vikings. Everybody seemed to be trying to grab what he could and let the Vikings be blamed for it. He had been able to keep his own people in order. There had been at least a dozen cases of rape and wanton murder, and the offenders had been promptly hanged. None of their shipmates, not even the Space Scourge company, seemed resentful. They felt the culprits had deserved what they’d gotten; not for what they’d done to the locals, but for disobeying orders.

A few troops had been flown in from Stolgoland by the time they had gotten their vehicles stowed and were lifting out. They didn’t seem to be making much headway. Harkaman, who had gotten his load of microbooks stowed and was at the command desk, laughed heartily.

“I don’t know what Pedrosan’ll do. Gehenna, I don’t even know what I’d do, if I’d gotten myself into a mess like that. He’ll probably bring half his army back, leave the other half in Stolgoland, and lose both. Suppose we drop in, in about three or four years, just out of curiosity. If we make twenty percent of what we did this time, the trip would pay for itself.”

After they went into hyperspace and had the ship secured, the parties lasted three Galactic standard days, and nobody was at all sober. Harkaman was drooling over the mass of historical material he had found. Spasso was jubilant. Nobody could call this chicken-stealing. He kept repeating that as long as he was able to say anything. Khepera, he conceded, had been. Lousy two or three million stellars; poo!