Even at supra-light speeds, the hyper-drive jump to their destination would take them several standard galactic days, so they were all assigned quarters aboard the Western Leader and Mark settled down to create the identity cards that his new friends would need at the heart of Empire.
Theoretically, as supposed citizens of the Empire, as opposed to exiles on Restricted Planets, they would need Imperial IDs, but the IDs that Western Credit issued to its staff were, to all practical purposes, as good as, if not better than, those carried by most Imperial citizens. Mark himself took on the job of creating them.
A tiny particle of skin tissue was taken from each of the three and placed in a tiny compartment on the starship's auxiliary computer. Here their respective DNAs would be analysed and a forty-six digit number/letter combination would be produced for each of them which would constitute their own individual ID number. Only identical twins had a forty seventh digit, a suffix of A or B, to separately identify them. Mark produced Kerry's and Jerry's, each with their long numbers shown in visual form as five lines of numbers and letters, together with a magnetic code strip built into the card.
When doing Tammy's, however, he paused. It had been explained to him, when his own ID card had been created, that much of the code would be identical to his father's, as he carried much of his father's DNA, the other half would differ, being that DNA that had come to him from his mother. As the numbers and letters came out, he noticed that many of the combinations were familiar. Some of the short meaningless words made by the letters on his own card, and which he had begun to think of as himself in code form, were appearing on Tammy's.
He quickly called up his own ID number and his father's on the computer and put them into a comparison screen with Tammy's. There, highlighted by the computer software, half of his matched his father's, half of Tammy's matched his own, and half of Tammy's matched his father's, although in different parts to his own. He clicked on the conclusion tab, and asked for a reading for all three pairings, even though he guessed what it would say.
For each of the three pairings the reading was: Parent/Child or Full Sibling.
He spun around on his chair and stared at Tammy long and hard. She looked back, smiled, looked away, became uncomfortable, then moved away. Mark printed out the card with trembling hands, then steeled himself to go to her.
He found her in the kitchen area, fixing herself a drink. He handed her her card.
"I'm sorry that I stared at you like that."
"Right," she laughed carefully, like one does in front of an employer, and then allowed herself to admit: "It was kinda creepy."
"Can I join you for a drink?"
"Sure, it's your pappy's ship."
And yours, thought Mark.
"So you lived on Standardia, but you came from Tattoo One, originally?" He tried, but failed miserably to make the gambit sound naturally conversational.
"Yes. Like I told you," she replied, guardedly.
"Yes, you did. And you lived with your aunt and uncle?"
"Who were related how?"
"My aunt was my mother's younger sister."
"Do you know what happened to your parents?"
"Yes. They both died when Aldershott... well, got blown away from what I've heard. Supposedly I was staying on Tattoo One with my aunt and uncle and my twin brother..."
"You have a twin brother?!"
"Had one, I gather, although Aunt Matta wouldn't say much about him. She didn't know much about him. He went to live with his father's folks. They didn't keep in touch. It's a shame I couldn't have stayed on Tattoo One a while longer, I could have maybe looked for my brother."
"No need for that, Tammy."
"Why not? Say would you help me look for him? After we've done... y'know?"
"No need to."
"No need to?!"
"Tammy. I am your brother!"
Kerry and Jerry had no resentment at all in not being fully included in the family reunion that occurred on the Western Leader that day. They were only too delighted that Tammy, with whom they had become friends in adversity in Barcla's Palace, was also the daughter of the man in whose power they undoubtedly were and the brother of the leader of their ‘secret mission'. They all also learned that Tammy's real name was Tamara and Mark's was Marco. Tammy decided that she preferred ‘Tamara'. Mark stuck with ‘Mark'. They both accepted Nathan's suggestion to adopt his own adopted surname of ‘West'.
Nathan West, by contrast was on strange new ground. He now had a family, even more so now that he had his daughter with him. She reminded him so much of his darling wife whom he had lost during the disaster of Aldershott.
After that dreadful day, with his children cared for by the different branches of their family, he had applied himself to his career. That was the only thing that he really understood and the only thing that blotted out that terrible sense of loss. Here now, he had the chance to get to know his children, two intelligent and independent young people. He would have try to cease to be a galactic financier and become something of a human being again. Then he reminded himself that he needed to talk to Kerry and Jerry about his new ‘acquisition' in the form of Bacchanalia, so he would not want to become too much of a human being.
That ‘evening' was a pleasant one for the passengers aboard the Western Leader. Neither Mark nor his father was much of a raconteur, neither their characters nor their life experiences lent themselves to it, but Jerry more than made up for it as he related tales of drunken exploits on Bacchanalia, and Tamara held her own by telling of the peculiarities of Standardia, and Kerry laughed loudly at everything.
Then as the ‘evening' drew to its close, and as tiredness and the effects of alcohol settled, there occurred one of those sombre moments that pops up almost as an inevitable antidote to the merriment just before.
"Father," asked Mark quietly. "What did happen to Aldershott?"
"Aldershott? You mother died on Aldershott."
"So I gather, but what exactly happened? People talk about how it just blew up."
Nathan West steeled himself. He knew that this moment would come sooner or later, and a part of him was glad that it had come sooner. Perhaps it would be cathartic to reveal the cause of the pain, the anger and the hate that had gnawed away inside him for so long. Now here was his son, with his daughter looking on, innocently asking how their mother had died.
"It was during the Drone Wars."
"The Drone Wars?"
"Yes, there were rogue planets within the Galactic Union, in the days before the Empire, planets who envied the success and well-being of other planets within the Union, which were strong and rich and impressive. These rogue planets built Drones, mechanical soldiers, battle-droids if you like, to make war on their neighbours and to capture and control unclaimed planets, some even used brain-washed organics and sent them off with bombs strapped to them. There was a Coalition against the Drone-makers, or rather against their leaders, the war-makers. It was a war against war.
"The Coalition was lead by the U-Sector Federation, which was the biggest of the pre-Empire federations in the galaxy. Certainly it was the most militarily powerful and most technologically advanced. Aldershott and many other planets were part of the Coalition. To destroy the war-makers, the U-Sector Federation built a gigantic space-station which contained a neutron reactor whose power could be channelled into a single laser. It was designed to destroy a Star-cruiser with a second's burst, or take out a town on a planet... It was never meant to be fired with a full sustained burst for that... that would destroy an entire planet. It was hugely expensive. The Federation had to borrow massively to build it. Officially it was called the Destructor Station, but the wits and satirists called it the Debt Star. It was the ultimate weapon."
Nathan paused and drank deeply from his glass before continuing.
"The current thinking is that some agents of the Drone planets got themselves on board the Debt Star. That was not hard. It needed so many people to man it that they were recruited from all over the place. They must have reconfigured some of its basic computer systems, which were so massively complex that no one understood it all. It was fired for its first and only time. It's target was wrong, and it fired full blast. It hit... it destroyed Aldershott!"
"But I thought you said that Aldershott was on the same side as the U-Sector Federation, part of the Coalition?"
"It was. It was the worst case of ‘friendly fire' in galactic history."
"But of course, you weren't on Aldershott?" Mark mused, asking the totally pointless question that pops up when one's mind gets boggled.
"No," said his father. "I wasn't, or I would not be here now. No, I was aboard the Debt Star."
"Because... because it was my loan that had paid for it. I just wanted to make sure that it worked."
Four young jaws dropped. There seemed nothing to say. Eventually something popped into Mark's head.
"I thought you said that we were headed to the Emperor... on business?" he managed, after a long pause.
"We are," confirmed his father.
"But if they already have this ultimate weapon, why do they need more money?"
"Because the Debt Star ended the Drone wars. No other planet wanted to face that awesome power, but it was far too expensive to be kept in commission once the need for it was over. Its weapons systems were removed and it was sold off, so that some of its cost, at least, was recouped."
"Who'd buy a thing like that?"
"The Wimsey Corporation. It is now a theme park, I believe."
Nathan West gazed blankly ahead. He had started, so he would finish his tale.
"So there we were. Under the leadership of President Palatable of the U-Sector Federation, the Galactic Union became the Galactic Empire, with Palatable as Emperor and a wounded war-hero at his side to add lustre to his reign. Supposedly, we now have peace and prosperity for all, but Palatable does not know how to run an economy. He does not understand the Source..." He checked himself. "He and Lord Bader know of nothing, but how to look cool in black, how to strike dramatic poses and wave blasters and light-sabres around. They are obsessed with image and the transient power of military domination. They do not understand money and therefore they will be like putty in my hands."
"So what is it you seek, father?"
"Only I and others like me have the understanding to rule the galaxy, and so we will, once we have all the planets and the Imperial Government itself bound to us in chains of debt, then will peace come to the galaxy."
"When everyone in the galaxy is your debt-slave?"
"Is that not a harsh way to run things?" asked Mark non-committally.
"Maybe, but necessary. What would you have for the galaxy, Mark? Peace and prosperity and freedom for all?"
"Is that not desirable?"
"Desirable, yes, but impossible."
"Give people prosperity and freedom and what do they do? They bicker and squabble like children. They gossip and bitch. Jealousies are aroused. One group, members of a different species or cult, will consider itself hard done by compared to others, and wars will break out. Even within sovereign states, wars break out. A Galactic Empire will not end wars. Give people peace and freedom and what do they do? Nothing, save laze about on the beach drinking beer..."
"... and then they get bored and drunk and they cost more to control than they usefully produce. So, I will give people peace by controlling their capacity for war. I will give them a limited measure of prosperity and I will allow them to feel free, so that they will not become resentful, but I will control them all, through the invisible bonds of debt, and you, my children and my friends, will help me."
He did not, Mark noticed, say ‘please'.