In 2645, Wunderland aristocrat and xenobiologist Dr. Richard Schultz-Mann was no longer rich. He was studying stage trees on the uninhabited world of Mira Ceti-T, his starship on loan through a grant, when another spaceship landed. He was stunned (with a sonic stunner) and taken prisoner by the crew of the Puppet Master.
Their captain, a Jinxian calling himself "Captain Kidd", claimed to be a pirate, although piracy was unknown in the hyperdrive era. "Kidd" said he had located the hidden Puppeteer homeworld, where and his gang had taken rich cargoes from three incoming Puppeteer ships. But in attempting to return to Human space, the Puppeteers apparently tracked his ship, and the police forces of every Human world were alerted to his position. The pirates ran to the nearest binary star, thinking it would be deserted, and encountered Dr. Schultz-Mann.
As "Kidd" talked with the xenobiologist and questioned him, the gang unknowingly built a bonfire out of stage bush logs. When they exploded, killing or wounding several, Mann used the distraction to grab a lift belt and fly away.
The pirates searched for the Wunderlander, seeking revenge for his failure to warn them. He hid in the vegetation at the base of a large rocky spire, but soon realized the pirates would find him with an infrared detector. So he started a fire in the vegetation and flew away to another hiding place. The pirates brought the Puppet Master over and used the ship's fusion drive to flame the hot spot at the base of the spire — a giant stage tree, which ignited and blasted off!
His ship damaged by the stage tree's rocket exhaust, and out of control, the dying "Captain Kidd" radioed Dr. Schultz-Mann and exchanged information with him; the xenobiologist's knowledge of stage trees for the coordinates of the Puppeteer homeworld. Then the Puppet Master exploded. The formerly wealthy aristocrat planned to make himself rich again by using the secret to blackmail the Puppeteers.