When the landspeeder sped back across the dusty wastes of Tattoo One, it carried three more passengers on board than with which it had come. Fortunately, it was a seven-seater vehicle. Nathan West and the bodyguard who drove the vehicle sat in the front. Mark and the other bodyguard sat in the rear two seats, and Kerry. Jerry and Tammy were placed in the middle tier.
Tammy had been found some more suitable clothing, and she, Kerry and Jerry, wondered about these new ‘owners' of theirs. At least, they thought to themselves, their new masters were human, and the younger one even smiled at them. Tammy thought him rather cute.
Mark leaned forward to talk to his father's three new ‘acquisitions'.
"I used to live on this planet," he remarked, by way of conversation.
They all looked at each other to see to whom he was addressing his remark.
"So did I," said Tammy, deciding to be friendly and confident.
"We did, too," added Kerry and Jerry.
"Did? You don't live here now?" asked Mark, his curiosity aroused.
"No, I went to live on Standardia," replied Tammy.
"We went to Bacchanalia," offered Kerry and Jerry.
"I see. We went to Eylsium, my aunt and uncle and me. It's what they call a Restricted Planet. I lived with my aunt and uncle until... well, until recently."
"I lived with my aunt and uncle on Standardia. That's a Restricted Planet, too," returned Tammy.
"Yes, and Bacchanalia is as well, but we lived with our parents, our separate parents. We're not related or anything," added Kerry, as Jerry nodded his agreement.
"I thought you were together?" asked Mark of the two Bacchanalians.
"Well, we are kind of, but not really. If you see what I mean?"
"Yeah, I see," said Mark, although he didn't. "So how did you guys end up working for Barcla the Hoard?"
"Oh, that's a really weird story," offered Tammy.
"We offered to work as bar staff, to see something of the galaxy," said Kerry.
Mark decided that Tammy's weird story sounded the more interesting.
"So tell us, Tammy. What's this weird story?" he asked.
"Oh well, like I said, I was living on Standardia, which was okay, I guess, but... well, it sounds kinda weird, but I got into an argument with the Governor."
"Yes. The Governor of Standardia. He's the elected guy in charge, and after that everyone treated me like I had a screw loose, and so when that little green guy that works for Barcla showed up one time, I asked him for a lift and he said ‘Sure', and then I ended up at Barcla's palace, like you saw."
"Were you there long?"
"No, a week or so. A couple of days after I got there, Kerry and Jerry showed up, which kinda made things easier."
"Two questions arise," put Mark "What was the cause of the argument and what was Barcla's business with Standardia?"
"Oh, that's really the one answer. We had a loan with Barcla, Greenboi was there collecting the interest, and maybe paying out more as a loan, I shouldn't wonder."
"And the argument?"
"I tried to make the Governor understand that as we did not have any external income, being a Restricted Planet, so we'd never be able to pay off this loan. We'd end up..."
Mark suddenly raised his finger to his lips, and Tammy stopped abruptly. She frowned, puzzled, but he was the boss.
"Yes, I see," he said slowly. "Yes, these matters are always a difficult judgement."
"Not to me," declared an honest Tammy.
Mark made short, but distinctive shakes of the head, and Tammy decided that she was, for whatever reason, required not to speak anymore. Best get used to the masters' ways, she decided. At least he did not look like he would dribble all over her, like that slob, Barcla the Hoard.
Mark leaned back in his seat and all conversation in the vehicle died, but he had learned something useful. Tammy was not just a pretty face. He decided that she might prove to be a valuable ally, if only he could get to talk to her without being overheard.
The landspeeder slowed considerably to nose its way through the crowded streets of Skywalker City, which served as the main point of entry and departure to Tattoo One and consequently was a rather cosmopolitan place. Alien races of all shapes and sizes walked or lumbered about on their own particular business.
Nathan West turned around in his seat and addressed his companions.
"I have a little business to conduct before we leave. It should not take very long, but I shall drop you all off at the docking bay and see you through Customs. I don't suppose that you have Imperial ID cards?"
Tammy, Kerry and Jerry shook their heads.
"Right. So once you're inside, don't go wandering off, not unless you fancy seeing the inside of an Imperial prison cell. They're not very nice. I know, one of my companies builds them, and being not very nice is part of the specification. I'm sure that Mark will be able to entertain you for an hour or so."
They were waved courteously through Customs, one officer even saluted the tall hooded figure. Then West, trailed as ever by his bodyguards, set off out of the docking area to complete his business in Skywalker City..
The Western Leader was being checked over by all the members of its flight crew, who just looked up as their boss arrived. He left, and they were relieved that they had a little more time yet. They resumed their business, assisted by a member of the terminal staff.
The docking bay had a small waiting area, seats, toilets, and a drinks dispenser. Mark bought everyone a drink and then motioned them to sit down. He glanced around him and then up at the ceiling and around at the walls. Then he decided that he was being paranoid. There could be no listening devices here, surely.
"Once we go aboard the starship," he began, "I want you all to imagine that every word you say is being overheard by everyone else aboard the ship. My father is a very clever man, and I have no doubt that he has listening devices on board."
He glanced around the waiting area, just to reassure himself that this area would not be bugged by his father or listened to by some spying crew-member.
"I think that we're all right here, so I want to make the most of this time before my father comes back."
His audience exchanged nervous glances. They did not understand the situation at all.
"Back there in the speeder, Tammy, I shut you up when you started to tell us about your argument with your Governor. I'm sorry, I had to do it. When we go aboard that ship, and whenever we are within my father's presence, no talking about financial matters, okay?"
"Financial matters?!" spluttered Jerry. "I don't know anything about financial matters!"
"No, but I suspect that you soon will. I also suspect that you, Tammy, do. Tell us about your meeting with your Governor."
"Yeah, okay. Well, its like this..." she began slowly. "Standardia had been lent money by Barcla the Hoard, but after I'd thought about it a while, it seemed to me that sooner or later, the amount of money that we owed in interest would exceed the amount of money that we had in circulation. It was inevitable given that all our money was created as a debt..."
Mark nodded vigorously, but Jerry and Kerry looked baffled. Mark decided to explain.
"The amount of money needed to pay off an interest-bearing debt is always greater than the initial amount borrowed."
"Yes, that's right," agreed Tammy. "And like I said, all the money on Standardia had been created as an interest-bearing debt, lent to us by Barcla the Hoard. So no matter how hard people worked, and folks worked dammed hard - our growth rates must have been phenomenal..."
"Growth rates?" asked Jerry. Nobody talked about growth rates on Bacchanalia.
"Yes, essentially how much.... ‘stuff' the economy produces, goods and services... Every year we produced more food than the year before, more houses were built, more horses bred, more buggies sold, more roads built... Growth, y'know? The only time we had problems was one year when we didn't have much money, because we had to pay the interest on our first loan which reduced the amount of money in circulation. So then we borrowed more. But no matter how much ‘stuff' was created, the only time the actual amount of money in circulation increased was when we borrowed more from Barcla the Hoard, but because that too was an interest-bearing debt, it meant that we all just owed more. So, no matter how much more we borrowed, ever since we took out that very first loan, the amount of money in the economy would never, ever be enough to repay the amount of the outstanding debt, since, due to the payment of interest, the amount outstanding would always exceed the amount we had!"
Jerry's mouth dropped open as he tried to work out what had just been said. Kerry thought that she had ‘got' it.
"But surely," she asked, "if you all worked harder, you all earnt more and so all had more money? That's what happens doesn't it?"
Kerry's knowledge of money was limited to working at Brucie's Bar, and the more hours she put in the more money she earnt. Simple.
"For an individual, yes." said Mark. "An individual, several individuals, even many individuals can escape debt in an economy whose money is an interest-bearing debt... (Let's call it IBDM for interest-bearing debt money.) but the economy as a whole simply cannot, because within an economy, for every seller of goods, services or labour, there has to be a buyer. Its like a zero sum game, but one where, every year, a certain amount was subtracted to pay the interest. The only way out of the problem is either that whomsoever lent the money and earns the interest spends, I say spends, not lends, every single last penny that they earn as interest back into the economy. Alternatively, that economy could try to trade off planet and so basically unload the debt onto some other poor sucker."
"Yes that's what was happening on Standardia! Everyone was trying to unload their debt onto someone else. I thought at first that I was the problem, that I was lazy and didn't like work, but I just like to work out the easiest way of doing things, and then when you see everybody flying around like they've a wasp up their ass, you get to wondering why. And everyone you talk to is worrying about meeting their interest payments and busy rushing about earning every dollar they can, but still they want to look like they're something special, so they'll whitewash the picket fence to make it look even more respectable, even though it doesn't really need doing or buy a new dress or a new buggy to look grand in town, expecting for certain that they'll pay the interest this year, and next year will have to look after itself, and next year they borrow more to spend it on a bigger barn, another field, a horse or a buggy, because that'll earn them even more money to make it easier to pay their debt, and then the folks next door go one better than them in the respectability stakes, so they'd feel obliged to spend more even though they owe more... Sometimes, I'd sit on the hill overlooking the town, and it was like I was watching an ant's nest. And d'you know what? After all that work, they'll be deeper in debt to the slug than ever before."
"I guess Barcla the Hoard did not spend much of his earnings with you on Standardia?" asked Mark.
"No, none at all, from what I saw, and we couldn't trade off planet."
"Because you were Restricted?"
"No. Well yes... that too, but the money that Barcla lent us was not Imperial Credits."
"No. Folks were afraid that if the Empire caught us using Imperial Credit Notes... well, that'd be the end of Standardia, so Barcla created our own currency, the Standardian dollar."
Mark gazed abruptly to the ceiling and put his hand to his mouth. He did not know whether to laugh or cry. The others gazed at him expectantly.
"So you borrowed what were intrinsically worthless bits of paper and agreed to pay interest on them?" he asked Tammy.
She laughed ruefully.
"But, then the payments of interest will be in worthless bits of paper!" exclaimed Jerry.
"Yes, but a diminishing supply of them. I presume, Tammy, that like us on Elysium, you lacked the technology to reproduce your dollar bills?"
"Oh, sure. We were still at the wooden block stage!"
"Do you have one?"
"Yes, I still got a couple. Here."
She produced the two bits of paper, with their seal of the Great Society of Standardia, their cropped pyramidal mountain with their watchful eye, and the legend ‘In the Source we trust'.
"What's the Source?" asked Jerry.
"The Source of power," said Mark, shortly.
"Really?! And what's that?"
"Its manifestation changes through time... I do not have the time now to explain it and... and an inadequate attempt might prove dangerous. One day, perhaps."
Jerry gazed at Mark with an increased respect. Mark ignored it.
"Back on Standardia, people used to say things like ‘May the Source bless you' or ‘May the Source be with you', like it was some kind of mantra. I don't think they really knew what it was."
"Obviously not," agreed Mark. "Or they would not have been fooled by Barcla the Hoard. Well, at least the fact that Standardia has its own currency which is unacceptable to the rest of the Empire limits the problem and will it make far easier to solve it, when we are able to get back there."
"But if the money wasn't Imperial Credits," mused a puzzled Jerry. "What did Barcla the Hoard want with it?"
"He wanted the people of Standardia to be in debt to him, so they would bow to his wishes. He wants the people to build him a new palace in which to hide out from the forthcoming war. This they will do in order to earn the money that they need to pay their interest charges.
"So, Tammy, how long before Standardia gets into real difficulties, do you think?"
"I reckon five years at the outside, but they'll probably start getting problems in only two or three."
"Okay, well, that gives us some time to save the rest of the galaxy."
"Save the galaxy?!" gasped Kerry and Jerry.
"Save it from whom?" asked Tammy.
"My father... and Barcla the Hoard... and all those other galactic financiers... and to save it from its own weakness and foolishness. Not a word of this to anyone aboard my father's ship, understood?"
"Understood. But hey, Barcla the Hoard lent money to Bacchanalia, too."
"He did? Imperial Credits or its own currency."
"Imperial Credits. Does that make it better?"
"Did he sell you things?"
"Yeah, the brewery and surf-boards."
"Then that probably makes things a whole lot worse! Now, I don't know what you're plans are, probably to get back to your home planets, and I don't know what my father's plans are for you. Myself, I have a simple mission - to forestall my father, Barcla the Hoard and all the rest of the money-grabbing parasites of the galaxy, and to prevent the eruption of the Empire into civil war. I would welcome your assistance, but it must be freely given."
"And next weekend?" joked Jerry.
"Count me in!" declared Tammy.
"And me!" added Kerry.
"Okay, I guess I'm in too," affirmed Jerry.
Mark put our his hand, Tammy took it, Kerry laid hers on top and Jerry laid his on top of hers and they all pumped their hands up and down.
"Ah, Mark!" boomed Nathan West, striding into the docking bay and seeing the little gathering in the waiting area. "When I said entertain our guests, I did not mean teach them to dance! Come along, let's get aboard. We don't want to keep the Emperor waiting!"