That was just about the situation. Spasso and Valkanhayn and some of their officers met them on the landing stage of the big building in the middle of the spaceport, where they had established quarters. Entering and going down a long hallway, they passed a dozen men and women gathering up rubbish from the floor with shovels and with their hands and putting it into a lifter-skid. Both sexes wore shapeless garments of coarse cloth, like ponchos, and flat-soled sandals. Watching them was another local in a kilt, buskins and a leather jerkin; he wore a short sword on his belt and carried a wickedly thonged whip. He also wore a Space Viking combat helmet, painted with the device of Spasso’s Lamia. He bowed as they approached, putting a hand to his forehead. After they had passed, they could hear him shouting at the others, and the sound of whip-blows.

You make slaves out of people, and some will always be slave-drivers; they will bow to you, and then take it out on the others. Harkaman’s nose was twitching as though he had a bit of rotten fish caught in his mustache.

“We have about eight hundred of them. There were only three hundred that were any good for work here; we gathered the rest up at villages along the big river,” Spasso was saying.

“How do you get food for them?” Harkaman asked. “Or don’t you bother?”

“Oh, we gather that up all over,” Valkanhayn told him. “We send parties out with landing craft. They’ll let down on a village, run the locals out, gather up what’s around and bring it here. Once in a while they put up a fight, but the best they have is a few crossbows and some muzzle-loading muskets. When they do, we burn the village and machine-gun everybody we see.”

“That’s the stuff,” Harkaman approved. “If the cow doesn’t want to be milked, just shoot her. Of course, you don’t get much milk out of her again, but⁠—”

The room to which their hosts guided them was at the far end of the hall. It had probably been a conference room or something of the sort, and originally it had been paneled, but the paneling had long ago vanished. Holes had been dug here and there in the walls, and he remembered having noticed that the door was gone and the metal groove in which it had slid had been pried out.

There was a big table in the middle, and chairs and couches covered with colored spreads. All the furniture was handmade, cunningly pegged together and highly polished. On the walls hung trophies of weapons⁠—thrusting-spears and throwing-spears, crossbows and quarrels, and a number of heavy guns, crude things, but carefully made.

“Pick all this stuff up off the locals?” Harkaman asked.

“Yes, we got most of it at a big town down at the forks of the river,” Valkanhayn said. “We shook it down a couple of times. That’s where we recruited the fellows we’re using to boss the workers.”

Then he picked up a stick with a leather-covered knob and beat on a gong, bawling for wine. A voice, somewhere, replied, “Yes, master; I come!” and in a few moments a woman entered carrying a jug in either hand. She was wearing a blue bathrobe several sizes too large for her, instead of the poncho things the slaves in the hallway wore. She had dark brown hair and gray eyes; if she had not been so obviously frightened she would have been beautiful. She set the jugs on the table and brought silver cups from a chest against the wall: when Spasso dismissed her, she went out hastily.

“I suppose it’s silly to ask if you’re paying these people anything for the work they do or for the things you take from them,” Harkaman said. From the way the Space Scourge and Lamia people laughed, it evidently was. Harkaman shrugged. “Well, it’s your planet. Make any kind of a mess out of it you want to.”

“You think we ought to pay them?” Spasso was incredulous. “Damn bunch of savages!”

“They aren’t as savage as the Xochitl locals were when Haulteclere took it over. You’ve been there; you’ve seen what Prince Viktor does with them now.”

“We haven’t got the men or equipment they have on Xochitl,” Valkanhayn said. “We can’t afford to coddle the locals.”

“You can’t afford not to,” Harkaman told him. “You have two ships, here. You can only use one for raiding; the other will have to stay here to hold the planet. If you take them both away, the locals, whom you have been studiously antagonizing, will swamp whoever you leave behind. And if you don’t leave anybody behind, what’s the use of having a planetary base?”

“Well, why don’t you join us,” Spasso finally came out with it. “With our three ships we could have a real thing, here.”

Harkaman looked at him inquiringly. “The gentlemen,” Trask said, “are putting this wrongly. They mean, why don’t we let them join us?”

“Well, if you want to put it like that,” Valkanhayn conceded. “We’ll admit, your Nemesis would be the big end of it. But why not? Three ships, we could have a real base here. Nikky Gratham’s father only had two when he started on Jagannath, and look what the Grathams got there now.”

“Are we interested?” Harkaman asked.

“Not very, I’m afraid. Of course, we’ve just landed; Tanith may have great possibilities. Suppose we reserve decision for a while and look around a little.”

There were stars in the sky, and, for good measure, a sliver of moon on the western horizon. It was only a small moon, but it was close. He walked to the edge of the landing stage, and Elaine was walking with him. The noise from inside, where the Nemesis crew were feasting with those of the Lamia and Space Scourge, grew fainter. To the south, a star moved; one of the pinnaces they had left on off-planet watch. There was firelight far below, and he could hear singing. Suddenly he realized that it was the poor devils of locals whom Valkanhayn and Spasso had enslaved. Elaine went away quickly.

“Have your fill of Space Viking glamour, Lucas?”

He turned. It was Baron Rathmore, who had come along to serve for a year or so and then hitch a ride home from some base planet and cash in politically on having been with Lucas Trask.

“For the moment. I’m told that this lot aren’t typical.”

“I hope not. They’re a pack of sadistic brutes, and piggish along with it.”

“Well, brutality and bad manners I can condone, but Spasso and Valkanhayn are a pair of ignominious little crooks, and stupid along with it. If Andray Dunnan had gotten here ahead of us, he might have done one good thing in his wretched life. I can’t understand why he didn’t come here.”

“I think he still will,” Rathmore said. “I knew him and I knew Nevil Ormm. Ormm’s ambitious, and Dunnan is insanely vindictive⁠—” He broke off with a sour laugh. “I’m telling you that!”

“Why didn’t he come here directly, then?”

“Maybe he doesn’t want a base on Tanith. That would be something constructive; Dunnan’s a destroyer. I think he took that cargo of equipment somewhere and sold it. I think he’ll wait till he’s fairly sure the other ship is finished. Then he’ll come in and shoot the place up, the way⁠—” He bit that off abruptly.

“The way he did my wedding; I think of it all the time.”

The next morning, he and Harkaman took an aircar and went to look at the city at the forks of the river. It was completely new, in the sense that it had been built since the collapse of Federation civilization and the loss of civilized technologies. It was huddled on a long, irregularly triangular mound, evidently to raise it above flood-level. Generations of labor must have gone into it. To the eyes of a civilization using contragravity and powered equipment it wasn’t at all impressive. Fifty to a hundred men with adequate equipment could have gotten the thing up in a summer. It was only by forcing himself to think in terms of spadeful after spadeful of earth, cartload after cartload creaking behind straining beasts, timber after timber cut with axes and dressed with adzes, stone after stone and brick after brick, that he could appreciate it. They even had it walled, with a palisade of tree-trunks behind which earth and rocks had been banked, and along the river were docks, at which boats were moored. The locals simply called it Tradetown.

As they approached, a big gong began booming, and a white puff of smoke was followed by the thud of a signal-gun. The boats, long canoe-like craft and round-bowed, many-oared barges, put out hastily into the river; through binoculars they could see people scattering from the surrounding fields, driving cattle ahead of them. By the time they were over the city, nobody was in sight. They seemed to have developed a pretty fair air-raid warning system in the nine-hundred-odd hours in which they had been exposed to the figurative mercies of Boake Valkanhayn and Garvan Spasso. It hadn’t saved them entirely; a section of the city had been burned, and there were evidences of shelling. Light chemical-explosive stuff; this city was too good a cow for even those two to kill before the milking was over.

They circled slowly over it at a thousand feet. When they turned away, black smoke began rising from what might have been pottery works or brickkilns on the outskirts; something resinous had evidently been fed to the fires. Other columns of black smoke began rising across the countryside on both sides of the river.

“You know, these people are civilized, if you don’t limit the term to contragravity and nuclear energy,” Harkaman said. “They have gunpowder, for one thing, and I can think of some rather impressive Old Terran civilizations that didn’t have that much. They have an organized society, and anybody who has that is starting toward civilization.”

“I hate to think of what’ll happen to this planet if Spasso and Valkanhayn stay here long.”

“Might be a good thing, in the long run. Good things in the long run are often tough while they’re happening. I know what’ll happen to Spasso and Valkanhayn, though. They’ll start decivilizing, themselves. They’ll stay here for a while, and when they need something they can’t take from the locals they’ll go chicken-stealing after it, but most of the time they’ll stay here lording it over their slaves, and finally their ships will wear out and they won’t be able to fix them. Then, some time, the locals’ll jump them when they aren’t watching and wipe them out. But in the meantime, the locals’ll learn a lot from them.”

They turned the aircar west again along the river. They looked at a few villages. One or two dated from the Federation period; they had been plantations before whatever it was had happened. More had been built within the past five centuries. A couple had recently been destroyed, in punishment for the crime of self-defense.

“You know,” he said, at length, “I’m going to do everybody a favor. I’m going to let Spasso and Valkanhayn persuade me to take this planet away from them.”

Harkaman, who was piloting, turned sharply. “You crazy or something?”

“ ‘When somebody makes a statement you don’t understand, don’t tell him he’s crazy. Ask him what he means.’ Who said that?”

“On target,” Harkaman grinned. “ ‘What do you mean, Lord Trask?’ ”

“I can’t catch Dunnan by pursuit; I’ll have to get him by interception. You know the source of that quotation, too. This looks to me like a good place to intercept him. When he learns I have a base here, he’ll hit it, sooner or later. And even if he doesn’t, we can pick up more information on him, when ships start coming in here, than we would batting around all over the Old Federation.”

Harkaman considered for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, if we could set up a base like Nergal or Xochitl,” he agreed. “There’ll be four or five ships, Space Vikings, traders, Gilgameshers and so on, on either of those planets all the time. If we had the cargo Dunnan took to space in the Enterprise, we could start a base like that. But we haven’t anything near what we need, and you know what Spasso and Valkanhayn have.”

“We can get it from Gram. As it stands, the investors in the Tanith Adventure, from Duke Angus down, lost everything they put into it. If they’re willing to throw some good money after bad, they can get it back, and a handsome profit to boot. And there ought to be planets above the rowboat and oxcart level not too far away that could be raided for a lot of things we’d need.”

“That’s right; I know of half a dozen within five hundred light-years. They won’t be the kind Spasso and Valkanhayn are in the habit of raiding, though. And besides machinery, we can get gold, and valuable merchandise that could be sold on Gram. And if we could make a go of it, you’d go farther hunting Dunnan by sitting here on Tanith than by going looking for him. That was the way we used to hunt marsh pigs on Colada, when I was a kid; just find a good place and sit down and wait.”

They had Valkanhayn and Spasso aboard the Nemesis for dinner; it didn’t take much guiding to keep the conversation on the subject of Tanith and its resources, advantages and possibilities. Finally, when they had reached brandy and coffee, Trask said idly:

“I believe, together, we could really make something out of this planet.”

“That’s what we’ve been telling you, all along,” Spasso broke in eagerly. “This is a wonderful planet⁠—”

“It could be. All it has now is possibilities. We’d need a spaceport, for one thing.”

“Well, what’s this, here?” Valkanhayn wanted to know.

“It was a spaceport,” Harkaman told him. “It could be one again. And we’d need a shipyard, capable of any kind of heavy repair work. Capable of building a complete ship, in fact. I never saw a ship come into a Viking base planet with any kind of a cargo worth dickering over that hadn’t taken some damage getting it. Prince Viktor of Xochitl makes a good half of his money on ship repairs, and so do Nikky Gratham on Jagannath and the Everrards on Hoth.”

“And engine works, hyperdrive, normal space and pseudograv,” Trask added. “And a steel mill, and a collapsed-matter plant. And robotic-equipment works, and⁠—”

“Oh, that’s out of all reason!” Valkanhayn cried. “It would take twenty trips with a ship the size of this one to get all that stuff here, and how’d we ever be able to pay for it?”

“That’s the sort of base Duke Angus of Wardshaven planned. The Enterprise, practically a duplicate of the Nemesis, carried everything that would be needed to get it started, when she was pirated.”

“When she was⁠—?”

“Now you’re going to have to tell the gentlemen the truth,” Harkaman chuckled.

“I intend to.” He laid his cigar down, sipped some of his brandy, and explained about Duke Angus’ Tanith adventure. “It was part of a larger plan; Angus wanted to gain economic supremacy for Wardshaven to forward his political ambitions. It was, however, an entirely practical business proposition. I was opposed to it, because I thought it would be too good a proposition for Tanith and work to the disadvantage of the home planet in the end.” He told them about the Enterprise, and the cargo of industrial and construction equipment she carried, and then told them how Andray Dunnan had pirated her.

“That wouldn’t have annoyed me at all; I had no money invested in the project. What did annoy me, to put it mildly, was that just before he took the ship out, Dunnan shot up my wedding, wounded me and my father-in-law, and killed the lady to whom I had been married for less than half an hour. I fitted out this ship at my own expense, took on Captain Harkaman, who had been left without a command when the Enterprise was pirated, and came out here to hunt Dunnan down and kill him. I believe that I can do that best by establishing a base on Tanith myself. The base will have to be operated at a profit, or it can’t be operated at all.” He picked up the cigar again and puffed slowly. “I am inviting you gentlemen to join me as partners.”

“Well, you still haven’t told us how we’re going to get the money to finance it,” Spasso insisted.

“The Duke of Wardshaven, and the others who invested in the original Tanith adventure will put it up. It’s the only way they can recover what they lost on the Enterprise.”

“But then, this Duke of Wardshaven will be running it, not us,” Valkanhayn objected.

“The Duke of Wardshaven,” Harkaman reminded him, “is on Gram. We are here on Tanith. There are three thousand light-years between.”

That seemed a satisfactory answer. Spasso, however, wanted to know who would run things here on Tanith.

“We’ll have to hold a meeting of all three crews,” he began.

“We will do nothing of the kind,” Trask told him. “I will be running things here on Tanith. You people may allow your orders to be debated and voted on, but I don’t. You will inform your respective crews to that effect. Any orders you give them in my name will be obeyed without argument.”

“I don’t know how the men’ll take that,” Valkanhayn said.

“I know how they’ll take it if they’re smart,” Harkaman told him. “And I know what’ll happen if they aren’t. I know how you’ve been running your ships, or how your ships’ crews have been running you. Well, we don’t do it that way. Lucas Trask is owner, and I’m captain. I obey his orders on what’s to be done, and everybody else obeys mine on how to do it.”

Spasso looked at Valkanhayn, then shrugged. “That’s how the man wants it, Boake. You want to give him an argument? I don’t.”

“The first order,” Trask said, “is that these people you have working here are to be paid. They are not to be beaten by these plug-uglies you have guarding them. If any of them want to leave, they may do so; they will be given presents and furnished transportation home. Those who wish to stay will be issued rations, furnished with clothing and bedding and so on as they need it, and paid wages. We’ll work out some kind of a pay-token system and set up a commissary where they can buy things.”

Disks of plastic or titanium or something, stamped and uncounterfeitable. Get Alvyn Karffard to see about that. Organize work-gangs, and promote the best and most intelligent to foremen. And those guards could be taken in hand by some ground-fighter sergeant and given Sword-World weapons and tactical training; use them to train others; they’d need a sepoy army of some sort. Even the best of good will is no substitute for armed force, conspicuously displayed and unhesitatingly used when necessary.

“And there’ll be no more of this raiding villages for food or anything else. We will pay for anything we get from any of the locals.”

“We’ll have trouble about that,” Valkanhayn predicted. “Our men think anything a local has belongs to anybody who can take it.”

“So do I,” Harkaman said. “On a planet I’m raiding. This is our planet, and our locals. We don’t raid our own planet or our own people. You’ll just have to teach them that.”