The following day, Mark Skyspotter said his good-byes to his aunt and uncle, who still remained ignorant of the true identity of the hooded Nathan West. He bid farewell to Harold Sodbuster and Derek Moneypenny, quietly warning Derek never to be tempted by the blandishments of those who would lend money to Elysium that was not created and controlled by the Elysians themselves, especially not Imperial Credits, tempting though those might seem, and to make sure that the money created into the Parish Council's account was only used for capital projects and never ever lent to borrowers.
As they watched the starship lift off into extra-orbital space, Harold turned and spoke out loudly.
"He's a fine young man, that nephew of yours, Ewen. He'll go far."
"Yes," agreed Derek, "but then he is travelling in a hyper-drive starship."
Nathan's Ship, the Western Leader sped through hyper-space and emerged into sub-light speeds in the Tattoo system. There was Tattoo One and its sister planet, the deserted and abandoned Tattoo Two, which spun around each other as together they orbited their twin suns.
. "Recognise it?" asked West of his son.
"No. We left when I was a kid, and I never saw it from space."
Down on the surface of Tattoo One nothing was to be seen but dry light brown dust, with small scraps of vegetation, but high up in space that haphazard growth resolved it self into the traces of underground rivers and lakes that gave Tattoo One both its remaining capacity for supporting life and its name. Tattoo Two had once been similarly patterned and, long before that, had been green and lush.
Off to the right an Imperial Patrol Ship was clearly visible and as if to confirm its existence, the Western Leader's intercom crackled into life.
"Ship in sector 12GB745. Identify yourself!"
"Hello, patrol, this is Western Leader, code 145893, seeking clearance for landing on Tattoo One."
There was a pause, and then a very hasty: "Clearance confirmed! Sir!"
That last word caught, Mark's attention. From his memories of life on Tattoo One, and from comments made by the citizens of Elysium, Imperial officials, whether civilian or military, never called anyone ‘sir', unless they were, or thought to be, a superior in the Imperial hierarchy.
They landed at Skywalker City Spaceport and were waved through customs by some very deferential officers to a large, if otherwise unremarkable, landspeeder. It would be driven by one of West's bodyguards, who took the key from the hire-agency official.
"You know, I am not sure that I should be here, father," Mark mentioned as they sped across the dusty flatlands around Skywalker City. "I'm now a resident of a Restricted Planet."
"You're now an employee of Western Credit," said West easily, and handed Mark an identity document that had been prepared for him. "And a rather senior employee at that. I've given you the name of Mark West. If any Imperial officer asks for your identity, show him that. And if he is of less than planet governor rank, tell him what you want of him, but be discreet."
Mark gazed down at the little document that seemed to afford him so much power, and then gazed up at his father. It was one thing to hear of powerful men, it was quite another to be among them, to become one of them.
They sped across flat desert and Nathan pointed out the landscape.
"When I first came here, this was all green fields. Look at it now. Soon Tattoo One will be quite uninhabitable."
Across the flat desert could be seen a range of low hills, with mountains beyond. Towards these at a speed, Mark reckoned, that was just below Mach 1, the landspeeder raced. Eventually, a large, round and unremarkable building hove into view. It was unremarkable until one got closer and closer and it grew in size. It was huge.
"Now then, Mark, I have business with the owner of this establishment. Stay close and keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth closed."
The four cloaked and hooded figures, Nathan, Mark and the two bodyguards, strode through the enormous if untidy and rather dirty palace until they emerged into Barcla the Hoard's throne room.
"Ah, Nathan," boomed the giant slug. "I had not expected you so soon. Your business with the Empire has begun?"
"Not yet, Barcla, but I was passing, so I thought to drop in."
"You are welcome as ever, Nathan, and you are fortunate to find me at home. You have recruited another aide, I see."
"My son, Mark."
"Ah, welcome, young Mark West."
Barcla summoned his acolytes to their duties.
"Refreshments for my honoured guests, and you..." He prodded Tammy who, chained to his side, was scantily clad in little more than a jewel encrusted bikini. "... dance for my visitors."
Tammy stood up and started to gyrate her torso and wave her arms. She was extremely bored and neither temperamentally nor physically cut out for dancing.
Nevertheless, both Wests, father and son, stared in amazement at her. West senior gazed at her eyes. He had seen those eyes before. They haunted his dreams. West junior gazed elsewhere. He was just fascinated to see a scantily clad young human female gyrating in front of him. It was not the sort of thing that one saw in Little Elysium.
Pleased that his guests were entertained, Barcla watched as his two new members of staff came forward with drinks for his guests. They proved useful after all, he thought.
"The Empire has discovered the rebellion, I see," remarked Barcla conversationally.
It was he who had allowed the fact to become known.
"So I gather, the Empire is mustering its forces..." returned Nathan.
"And building more, I assume?"
"Once they have the money."
"You are on your way to the Emperor now?"
"Yet you found time to call in on your old friend, Barcla. How very considerate."
"You gave me a dud planet."
"Elysium. They know the Source."
"Really?! You surprise me."
"Oh, I don't think they understand it fully and with time and effort, I might be able to turn things around, but frankly, Barcla, I have neither the time nor the inclination. I have more important matters in hand. You said you had a spare. I want it."
"Nathan, you are the oldest and most sincere of my friends, but I would remind you of where you are."
"Barcla, I am ever glad that our business together over the years has been so mutually profitable, but there is a message on my starship set to go in two day's time. If I do not cancel it, and only I can, the Empire will know of your loan to the rebels."
"Of course, you can have the spare, my dear Nathan. That is precisely why I secured it, just in case one of us should happen to have need of it. You will, of course, buy the debt from me?"
"Of course, if the debt is mine, the planet is mine. How much?"
"Twelve hundred Imperial Credits."
Nathan raised a quizzical eyebrow to show that it was odd that Barcla should worry over so little.
"Every little helps," explained Barcla. "As it so happens, the two humans who served you your drinks came from that very planet. It's called Bacchanalia."
"Then, I'll take them as well, to learn something of the ways of my new home, as they are my property now. And the dancing girl, I'll buy her from you, as well."
"Oh, you can have her for nothing. She can't dance and she can't sing either. So, how big a loan will you be extending to the Empire."
"I thought that I would limit it to ten billion, and explain how it will take time to raise the funds from various sources around the galaxy."
Barcla chuckled heartily.
"It's like taking candy from a baby... and then what, ten billion every galactic year?"
"Yes, I think that would seem credible."
"Yes, besides, if we lend them too much, they'll cause too much death and destruction. You know what these military types are like. We don't want them to do too much damage to our galaxy. That's my thinking at least. We all remember Aldershott."
Nathan stopped smiling and looked very serious.
"Oh, my dear fellow," cried Barcla. "How unthinking of me. I am so very sorry."
"No. That's all right. I have got used to it. It is something of a cliché, these days."
"Yes, and a lesson for all of us. If either the Empire or the rebels even start thinking of building a new Debt Star, we do not advance them the funds for it. Agreed?"