XV

As soon as the Space Scourge was unloaded, she was put on off-planet watch; Harkaman immediately spaced out in the Nemesis, while Trask remained behind. They began unloading the Rozinante, after setting her down at Rivington Spaceport. After that was done, her officers and crew took a holiday which lasted a month, until the Nemesis returned. Harkaman must have made quick raids on half a dozen planets. None of the cargo he brought back was spectacularly valuable, and he dismissed the whole thing as chicken-stealing, but he had lost some men and the ship showed a few fresh scars. A good deal of what was transshipped to the Rozinante was manufactured goods which would compete with merchandise produced on Gram.

“That load will be a comedown, after what the Space Scourge took back, but we didn’t want to send the Rozinante back empty,” he said. “One thing, I had time to do a little reading, between stops.”

“The books from the Eglonsby library?”

“Yes. I learned a curious thing about Amaterasu. Do you know why that planet was so extensively colonized by the Federation, when there don’t seem to be any fissionable ores? The planet produced gadolinium.”

Gadolinium was essential to hyperdrive engines; the engines of a ship the size of the Nemesis required fifty pounds of it. On the Sword-Worlds, it was worth several times its weight in gold. If they still mined it, Amaterasu would repay a second visit.

When he mentioned it, Harkaman shrugged. “Why should they mine it? There’s only one thing it’s good for, and you can’t run a spaceship on diesel oil. I suppose the mines could be reopened, and new refineries built, but.⁠ ⁠…”

“We could trade plutonium for gadolinium. They have none of their own. We could charge our own prices for it, and we wouldn’t need to tell them what gadolinium sells for on the Sword-Worlds.”

“We could, if we could do business with anybody there, after what we did to Eglonsby and Stolgoland. Where would we get plutonium?”

“Why do you think the Beowulfers don’t have hyperships, when they have everything else?”

Harkaman snapped his fingers. “By Satan, that’s it!” Then he looked at Trask in alarm. “Hey, you’re not thinking of selling Amaterasu plutonium and Beowulf gadolinium, are you?”

“Why not? We could make a big profit on both ends of the deal.”

“You know what would happen next, don’t you? There’d be ships from both planets all over the place in a few years. We want that like we want a hole in the head.”

He couldn’t see the objection. Tanith and Amaterasu and Beowulf could work up a very good triangular trade; all three would profit. It wouldn’t cost men and ship-damage and ammunition, either. Maybe a mutual defense alliance, too. Think about it later; there was too much to do here on Tanith at present.

There had been mines on the Moon of Tanith before the collapse of the Federation; they had been stripped of their equipment afterward, while Tanith was still fighting a rearguard battle against barbarism, but the underground chambers and man-made caverns could still be used, and in time the mines were reopened and the steel mill put in, and eventually ingots of finished steel were coming down by shuttle-craft. In the meantime, the shipyard had been laid out and was taking shape.

The Gram ship Queen Flavia⁠—she had been the one found unfinished at Glaspyth⁠—came in three months after the Rozinante started back; she must have been finished while Valkanhayn was still in hyperspace. She carried considerable cargo, some of it superfluous but all of it useful; everybody was investing in the Tanith Adventure now, and the money had to be spent for something. Better, she brought close to a thousand men and women; the leakage of brains and ability from the Sword-Worlds was turning into a flood. Among them was Basil Gorram. Trask remembered him as an insufferable young twerp, but he seemed to be a good shipyard man. He very frankly predicted that in a few years his father’s yards at Wardshaven would be idle and all the Tanith ships would be Tanith-built. A junior partner of Lothar Ffayle’s also came out, to establish a branch of the Bank of Wardshaven at Rivington.

As soon as the Queen Flavia had discharged her cargo and passengers, she took on five hundred ground-fighters from the Lamia, Nemesis and Space Scourge companies and spaced out on a raiding voyage. While she was gone, the second ship, the one Duke Angus had started at Wardshaven and King Angus had finished, the Black Star, came in.

Trask was slightly incredulous at realizing that she had spaced out from Gram almost exactly two years after the Nemesis had departed. He still hadn’t any idea where Andray Dunnan was, or what he was doing, or how to find him.

The news of the Gram base on Tanith spread slowly, first by the scheduled liners and tramp freighters that linked the Sword-Worlds, and then by trading ships and outbound Space Vikings to the Old Federation. Two years and six months after the Nemesis had come out of hyperspace to find Boake Valkanhayn and Garvan Spasso on Tanith, the first independent Space Viking came in, to sell a cargo and get repairs. They bought his loot⁠—he had been raiding some planet rather above the level of Khepera and below that of Amaterasu⁠—and healed the wounds his ship had taken getting it. He had been dealing with the Everrard family on Hoth, and professed himself much more satisfied with the bargains he had gotten on Tanith and swore to return.

He had never even heard of Andray Dunnan or the Enterprise.

It was a Gilgamesher that brought the first news.

He had first heard of Gilgameshers⁠—the word was used indiscriminately for a native of or a ship from Gilgamesh⁠—on Gram, from Harkaman and Karffard and Vann Larch and the others. Since coming to Tanith, he had heard about them from every Space Viking, never in complimentary and rarely in printable terms.

Gilgamesh was rated, with reservations, as a civilized planet though not on a level with Odin or Isis or Baldur or Marduk or Aton or any of the other worlds which had maintained the culture of the Terran Federation uninterruptedly. Perhaps Gilgamesh deserved more credit; its people had undergone two centuries of darkness and pulled themselves out of it by their bootstraps. They had recovered all the old techniques, up to and including the hyperdrive.

They didn’t raid; they traded. They had religious objections to violence, though they kept these within sensible limits, and were able and willing to fight with fanatical ferocity in defense of their home planet. About a century before, there had been a five-ship Viking raid on Gilgamesh; one ship had returned and had been sold for scrap after reaching a friendly base. Their ships went everywhere to trade, and wherever they traded a few of them usually settled, and where they settled they made money, sending most of it home. Their society seemed to be a loose theo-socialism, and their religion an absurd potpourri of most of the major monotheisms of the Federation period, plus doctrinal and ritualistic innovations of their own. Aside from their propensity for sharp trading, their bigoted refusal to regard anybody not of their creed as more than half human, and the maze of dietary and other taboos in which they hid from social contact with others, made them generally disliked.

After their ship had gotten into orbit, three of them came down to do business. The captain and his exec wore long coats, almost knee-length, buttoned to the throat, and small white caps like forage caps; the third, one of their priests, wore a robe with a cowl, and the symbol of their religion, a blue triangle in a white circle, on his breast. They all wore beards that hung down from their cheeks, with their chins and upper lips shaved. They all had the same righteous, disapproving faces, they all refused refreshments of any sort, and they sat uneasily as though fearing contamination from the heathens who had sat in their chairs before them. They had a mixed cargo of general merchandise picked up here and there on subcivilized planets, in which nobody on Tanith was interested. They also had some good stuff⁠—vegetable-amber and flame-bird plumes from Irminsul; ivory or something very like it from somewhere else; diamonds and Uller organic opals and Zarathustra sunstones. They also had some platinum. They wanted machinery, especially contragravity engines and robots.

The trouble was, they wanted to haggle. Haggling, it seemed, was the Gilgamesh planetary sport.

“Have you ever heard of a Space Viking ship named the Enterprise?” he asked them, at the seventh or eighth impasse in the bargaining. “She bears a crescent, light blue on black. Her captain’s name is Andray Dunnan.”

“A ship so named, with such a device, raided Chermosh more than a year ago,” the priest-supercargo said. “Some of our people tarry on Chermosh to trade. This ship sacked the city in which they were; some of them lost heavily in world’s goods.”

“That’s a pity.”

The Gilgamesh priest shrugged. “It is as Yah the Almighty wills,” he said, then brightened slightly. “The Chermoshers are heathens and worshipers of false gods. The Space Vikings looted their temple and destroyed it utterly; they carried away the graven images and abominations. Our people bore witness that there was much wailing and lamentation among the idolators.”


So that was the first entry on the Big Board. It covered, optimistically, the whole of one wall in his office, and for some time that one chalked note about the raid on Chermosh, and the date, as nearly as it could be approximated, looked very lonely on it. The captain of the Black Star brought back material for a couple more. He had put in on several planets known to be temporarily occupied by Space Vikings, to barter loot, give his men some time off-ship, and make inquiries, and he had names for a couple of planets raided by the blue crescent ship. One was only six months old.

The way news filtered about in the Old Federation, that was practically hot off the stove.

The owner-captain of the Alborak had something to add, when he brought his ship in six months later. He sipped his drink slowly, as though he had limited himself to one and wanted to make it last as long as possible.

“Almost two years ago, on Jagannath,” he said. “The Enterprise was on orbit there, getting some light repairs. I met the man a few times. Looks just like those pictures, but he’s wearing a small pointed beard, now. He’d sold a lot of loot. General merchandise, precious and semiprecious stones, a lot of carved and inlaid furniture that looked as though it had come from some Neobarb king’s palace, and some temple stuff. Buddhist; there were a couple of big gold Dai-Butsus. His crew were standing drinks for all comers. Some of them were pretty dark above the collar, as though they’d been on a hot-star planet not too long before. And he had a lot of Imhotep furs to sell, simply fabulous stuff.”

“What kind of repairs? Combat damage?”

“That was my impression. He spaced out a little over a hundred hours after I came in, in company with another ship. The Starhopper, Captain Teodor Vaghn. The talk was that they were making a two-ship raid somewhere.” The captain of the Alborak thought for a moment. “One other thing. He was buying ammunition, everything from pistol cartridges to hellburners. And he was buying all the air-and-water recycling equipment, and all the carniculture and hydroponic equipment, he could get.”

That was something to know. He thanked the Space Viking, and then asked:

“Did he know, at the time, that I’m out here hunting for him?”

“If he did, nobody else on Jagannath did. I didn’t hear about it, myself, till six months afterward.”

That evening, he played off the recording he had made of the conversation for Harkaman and Valkanhayn and Karffard and some of the others. Somebody instantly said:

“That temple stuff came from Chermosh. They’re Buddhists, there. That checks with the Gilgamesher’s story.”

“He got the furs on Imhotep; he traded for them,” Harkaman said. “Nobody gets anything off Imhotep by raiding. The planet’s in the middle of a glaciation, the land surface down to the fiftieth parallel is iced over solid. There is one city, ten or fifteen thousand, and the rest of the population is scattered around in settlements of a couple of hundred all along the face of the glaciers. They’re all hunters and trappers. They have some contragravity, and when a ship comes in, they spread the news by radio and everybody brings his furs to town. They use telescope sights, and everybody over ten years old can hit a man in the head at five hundred yards. And big weapons are no good; they’re too well dispersed. So the only way to get anything out of them is to trade for it.”

“I think I know where he was,” Alvyn Karffard said. “On Imhotep, silver is a monetary metal. On Agni, they use silver for sewer-pipe. Agni is a hot-star planet, class B-3 sun. And on Agni they are tough, and they have good weapons. That could be where the Enterprise took that combat damage.”

That started an argument as to whether he’d gone to Chermosh first. It was sure that he had gone to Agni and then Imhotep. Guatt Kirbey tried to figure both courses.

“It doesn’t tell us anything, either way,” he said at length. “Chermosh is away off to the side from Agni and Imhotep in either case.”

“Well, he does have a base, somewhere, and it’s not on any Terra-type planet,” Valkanhayn said. “Otherwise, what would he want with all that air-and-water and hydroponic and carniculture stuff?”

The Old Federation area was full of non-Terra-type planets, and why should anybody bother going to any of them? Any planet that wasn’t oxygen-atmosphere, six to eight thousand miles in diameter, and within a narrow surface-temperature range, wasn’t worth wasting time on. But a planet like that, if one had the survival equipment, would make a wonderful hideout.

“What sort of a captain is this Teodor Vaghn?” he asked.

“A good one,” Harkaman said promptly. “He has a nasty streak⁠—sadistic⁠—but he knows his business and he has a good ship and a well-trained crew. You think he and Dunnan have teamed up?”

“Don’t you? I think, now that he has a base, Dunnan is getting a fleet together.”

“He’ll know we’re after him by now,” Vann Larch said. “And he knows where we are, and that puts him one up on us.”