The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 20

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Mayne looked at Haruhiku.

"Oh, come on, now! I came all the way from--" He stopped as he noticed the pilot's grave expression. "Oh! That sort of thing could be serious, I guess."

He imagined he had seen the chief, Eemakh, come alert at the mention of the local G.o.d. Mayne sighed. It was going to be a long day.

He was saved for the time being by a hail from the direction of the village. A procession was approaching along the set of ruts between Mayne and the s.h.i.+p.

The place of honor appeared to be occupied by a two-wheeled cart of crude but ma.s.sive design. Upon it rode a Kappan driver, two Kappans with spears and the look of official guards, and a Terran with a death-grip upon the side railing. A brace of truculent beasts of frighteningly saurian mien shuffled ponderously along in the loose harness. From time to time, one or the other would stumble over a turn in his rut and emit a menacing rumble as if he suspected his team mate of causing the misstep.

Before and behind this conveyance marched a guard of honor of Kappan warriors. The rear contingent kept close to the cart, but the advance party had opened a noticeable gap between themselves and the hulking team.

The procession halted, the soldier in charge raised his spear in salute to Eemakh, and the shaken Terran was a.s.sisted to dismount. He introduced himself to Mayne as Robert Melin.

"Let's go over to the hut they made for us an' sit down," suggested Voorhis.

Melin, a tall, gloomy blond whose civilian suit seemed a trifle formal for the surroundings, acceded gratefully. He mopped the dust from his long face and watched the cart being turned around.

The procession moved off in the direction of the village, the advance guard stepping out especially smartly, and Mayne began to get his conference arranged.

He learned that the evicted crew of the Gemsbok had been living in the hut nearby. Before it stood a long table with benches, all evidently knocked together from recently felled timber. Melin was given credit for this by Voorhis, since before the arrival of the insurance adjuster and his crew, no power tools had been available to the men from the Gemsbok.

Mayne took a place at the end of the table. Some of the Gemsbok's crew came out of the hut to watch. Most of the Kappan warriors attending the chief took up stations between the table and the s.h.i.+p, in a manner suggesting long habit. Mayne guessed that attempts had been made to re-enter the s.h.i.+p.

He put Haruhiku at his right hand to translate should it be necessary. Melin and Voorhis sat at his left, their backs to the hut. To the other side of the table, Eemakh brought two Kappans who were explained to Mayne as being the tribal high priest, Igrillik, and Kaynox, who represented a sort of district overlord.

"I meant to land up by their city," Voorhis put in, "but we hit some bad winds up in the stratosphere. We got knocked around a bit in the storm, and set down where we could."

"Well, tell me about the details," said Mayne. "I want to get this straight from the start, if I can. By the way, Lieutenant Haruhiku, explain to the chief that a special envoy is on the way, that we want his friends.h.i.+p, and that he will be dealt with fairly."

He waited out the exchange of choppy speech between the pilot and Eemakh.

"He says he is sure he will be fairly dealt with," reported Haruhiku.

"I wonder what he meant by that," murmured Mayne. "If we make a deal here, and thereby with his overlord, will that cover enough territory to be official?"

"As much as you can get together anywhere on this world, sir."

Mayne nodded, then turned to Captain Voorhis.

"Now about this so-called crash?" he prompted.

"Well, there was this storm, like I said. Trouble was we didn't expect to hit it and ... well ... somebody took it in his head to blow some of the fuel tanks for a crash landing. That's why I'm not claimin' anythin' on the fuel," he finished, turning to Melin.

"We are perfectly willing to pay on that item," replied the insurance man.

"Anyhow," continued Voorhis, "I set down here where we saw the open spot, an' then of course we were stuck with nothin' to lift off with. It looked all right. We'd unload our goods, an' if the local crowd couldn't use them all, why they'd pa.s.s the rest on at a profit to themselves. So we come out to palaver, an' then they won't let us go back in the s.h.i.+p. We were just lucky my com man had sent out a landing report when it looked like we piled up, or the s.p.a.ce Force patrol never woulda heard of us."

"Was there any trouble?" asked Mayne. "Any unnecessary hostility?"

Voorhis considered, rubbing the back of his head thoughtfully.

"Well ... I suppose, lookin' at it their way, they coulda been a lot rougher. A couple of punches got thrown, an' one of my boys got a spear busted over his head, but mostly they acted ... well ... maybe more like cops than cannibals."

"Just enforcing the native laws, eh?"

Voorhis did not swallow that quite so graciously. He did not know or care what the local laws might be, but he thought it suspicious in the extreme that he should have plopped down exactly upon the spot chosen by the natives for a temple.

"So do they have to use my s.h.i.+p to hang it on?" he finished plaintively.

"The company is in agreement with you there, captain," Melin put in. "You see, Judge, our point is that nothing is really lost or seriously damaged, neither s.h.i.+p nor cargo. They are merely being withheld from their rightful owner, and we believe that puts the responsibility for recovery upon the Terran government. Captain Voorhis has our entire sympathy--"

"Yeah!" said Voorhis. "An' if I get my head sliced off tryin' to get at that undamaged cargo, you'll come to my funeral! I say it's a loss!"

"Now, gentlemen!" interrupted Mayne. "Let me get on with this. Both of you, I'm sure, realize that I'm not a lawyer in spite of being a special judge. If the colonies way out here had enough lawyers to spare, I certainly wouldn't be sticking my head into this. Nevertheless, any decision I make here will be regarded as legally binding by the government of Rigel IX, so let us remain level-headed."

"Very well, Judge," said Melin. "Here are the figures on--"

"Please round them off," said Mayne. "If I have to listen to a long list in centicredits, I'll probably go off to see what kind of beer they brew here."

"You wouldn't like it," muttered Voorhis, staring sourly at the village.

"No doubt," grinned Mayne.

Melin swallowed and returned to an inner pocket a sheaf of papers he had withdrawn.

"Speaking very loosely," he went on, as if hating to do anything loosely, "the coverage was about as follows: for the Gemsbok herself, two million; but that was really a nominal figure accorded as a sort of courtesy. Otherwise, at her true worth, the authorities would hardly have permitted Captain Voorhis to take her into s.p.a.ce--"

"Get on with it," urged Mayne, to forestall any wrangle.

"Er ... yes. Then on the cargo, the purchase cost of two hundred thousand credits."

Voorhis visibly flinched and began to acquire a ruddy hue.

"And, finally, on the fuel load, the cost price of three hundred thousand. Of course, Judge, there are detailed clauses as to normal use of fuel. He was actually insured against defects, premature explosions, accidental loss, et cetera."

Mayne did some addition in his head.

"So your company," he said aloud, "is prepared to pay two and a half million for the loss sustained by Captain Voorhis. What seems to be wrong with that?"

Both men began to talk but Melin, struggling less with temper, got the lead.

"Actually," he said, "we feel liable for only three hundred thousand."

Now it will get tough, thought Mayne. He silently awaited elucidation.

The combined stares of all parties, including the enigmatic glance of Eemakh, calmed the spluttering Voorhis. Melin continued.

"In the first place, the true value of the s.h.i.+p, even if we consider her to be incapacitated--which we do not--is only about one hundred and fifty thousand."

"She's worth more than that as sc.r.a.p!" bellowed Voorhis.

"No, captain, just about that. It is exactly how we valued her. Do you have any idea, Judge, of how old that crock is?"

"Let's not go into that just yet," suggested Mayne.

"As to the fuel," said Melin, "I am willing, as a gesture of good will, to stick my company's neck out--and mine with it, you may be sure--and honor a full claim."

"Even though he used about half the fuel getting here?" asked Mayne.

"We'll ignore that. We admit that he is out of fuel, and we want to--"

"You want to give me a moon and take a star," said Voorhis.

"Just a minute!" Mayne held up his hand. "That's the s.h.i.+p and the fuel. What about the cargo?"

"Why, as to that, Judge, we do not admit that it is lost. It is right over there, easily accessible. We consider it more the job of the s.p.a.ce Force to restore rightful possession than it is the responsibility of the company to reimburse Captain Voorhis for the inflated value he sets upon it."

"I begin to see," murmured Mayne. "You can't stick each other, so you're out to slip me the bill."

That aroused a babble of denials. Mayne eventually made himself heard and demanded to know how the s.p.a.cer's evaluation differed from Melin's. Voorhis pulled himself together, glowering at the insurance man.

"In the first place," he growled, "I don't want his lousy payment for fuel. I said I'd take the blame for that, an' I will. On the s.h.i.+p ... well, maybe she ain't worth two million. Maybe she ain't been for a few years now--"

Melin made a show of counting on his fingers.

"... But they charged me premiums by that figure an' I say they oughta pay by that figure."

"But can you prove she's a total loss, captain?" asked Mayne.

Voorhis grimaced and spat upon the ground.

"Try to get near her, Judge! You'll get proof fast enough!"

"Well ... about the cargo, then?"

"That's where he's gouging me!" exploded Voorhis. "The idea of using the cost as of loading on Rigel IX! h.e.l.l, you know the margin of profit there is in trading on these new planets, twenty to one at least. I figured to lift off with four million worth of ores, gems, curios, and whatnot."

"So your point is that the mere transportation of the goods through s.p.a.ce to this planet increased their value. What about that, Mr. Melin?"

Melin s.h.i.+fted uncomfortably on his bench. Mayne would have liked to change his own position, but feared splinters.

"There is an element of truth in that," admitted Melin. "Still, it would be rash to expect such a return every time a tramp s.p.a.ces.h.i.+p lands to swap with some aboriginal easy marks."

"I suppose," said Mayne, "that our orange-eyed friends speak no Terran?"

"I hope not!" exclaimed Voorhis.

"Well, anyway," Melin said after a startled pause, "how can we be expected to pay off on hopes? He wants the paper figure for the s.h.i.+p; but he refuses the paper figure for the cargo."

Mayne shrugged. He turned to Haruhiku.

"If Captain Voorhis and Mr. Melin don't mind, lieutenant, I'd like to get the chief's view of all this."

"Hah!" grunted Voorhis, clapping both hands to his head.

Melin contented himself with rolling his eyes skyward.

With Haruhiku translating, Mayne began to get acquainted with the Kappans. The visitor from the neighboring city chose mostly to listen attentively, but Igrillik, the priest, occasionally leaned over to whisper sibilantly into Eemakh's recessed ear. Mayne fancied he saw a resemblance between the two, despite Igrillik's professional trappings--a long robe of rough material that had been dyed in stripes and figures of several crude colors, and a tall cap to which were attached a number of pairs of membraneous wings.

The first thing that Mayne learned was that the Gemsbok was not a s.p.a.ces.h.i.+p; it was a symbol, a sign sent to the Kappans by the great G.o.d Meeg.

"And why did he send it?" asked Mayne.

He had sent it as a sign that he was impatient with his children. They had vowed him a temple, they had set aside the necessary land, and yet they had not begun the work.

"Is that why they're all over there, slaving away so feverishly?"

It was indeed the reason. After all, Meeg was the G.o.d of the inner moon, the one that pa.s.sed so speedily across the sky. If he could guide the strangers' s.h.i.+p directly to his own plot of ground, he might just as easily have caused it to land in the center of the village. They had seen the flames that attended the landing. Could the honored chief from the stars blame them for heeding the warning?

"I see their point," muttered Mayne resignedly. "Well, maybe we can talk sense about the cargo. Tell them that there is much in the holds that would make their lives richer. Tools, gems, fine cloth--give them the story, lieutenant."

This time, Eemakh conferred with the high priest. It developed that the cargo was a sacred gift to be used or not as the G.o.d Meeg might subsequently direct. The chief meant no insult. The Kappans realized that Voorhis and his crew were no demons, but starmen such as had often brought valuable goods to trade. The Kappans had not sought to harm or sacrifice them, had they? This was because they were both welcome as visitors and respected as instruments of Meeg.

Eemakh wished to be fair. The starmen might think they had lost by the divine mission. Very well--they would be granted land, good land with forest for hunting and sh.o.r.eline for fis.h.i.+ng. But go near the temple they should not!

"Could I get in to inspect the cargo?" asked Mayne.

Haruhiku took this up with the Kappans, who softened but did not yield.

"The best I can get, Judge," said the pilot, "is that they wish it were possible but only those who serve the purposes of Meeg may enter."

"They would look at it that way," sighed Mayne. "Let's leave it at that, until we can think this over some more. It's time for a lunch break anyway."

He and Haruhiku were flown back to the scout s.h.i.+p. Mayne brooded silently most of the way. Voorhis thought he was ent.i.tled to about six million credits for s.h.i.+p and cargo; Melin thought half a million for the s.h.i.+p and fuel would be stretching it. Mayne foresaw that he would have to knock heads.

The two of them lunched in the pilot's cabin, with hardly room to drop a spoon. Except for companions.h.i.+p, Mayne would as soon have eaten standing in the galley.

He considered the vast area of the planet's land surface. Would it be wiser for the envoy to land elsewhere? What sort of ties were there between tribes?

"Loose," the pilot told him. "Still, word gets around, with no great mountain or ocean barriers. They've split into groups, but there is a lot of contact."

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 20

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