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The Money Reform Party

Star Woes

Chapter 23

"You are, Your Grace, I have no doubt, Queen Tamara of Aldershott," stated Colonel Wannabee.

"We need to talk. Is there somewhere more private, Colonel?" said Mark.

"Certainly, Highness, my quarters, and if you don't mind, I think we'd all better remain incognito, for the time being."

"Yes, Colonel, er, Ken, please just call me ‘Tamara'."

Colonel Wannabee's quarters were very small, a tiny room just big enough for a bed, a chair, a table and a wardrobe, as befitted a humble cleaner on a crowded space-station. It possessed no natural window out to the galaxy but it did possess, as a standard feature in all quarters, a computer terminal. Tamara and Mark sat down on the bed.

"May I ask, Your Grace, how long you have known that you are the rightful Queen of Aldershott?" asked the Colonel, taking the chair at the table.

"Known? Well, you just told me, but I began to suspect this afternoon in your office."

"I suspected the moment I saw you, the two of you, with your father. I knew who he was, or is, although I suspect that maybe not many other Aldershotti do. His marriage to your mother was very brief, before... And he was just seen as this rather shadowy figure. Immensely wealthy even then, of course, one of the wealthiest men on Aldershott and on his way to becoming one of the wealthiest in the galaxy."

"It's been a crazy week, Colonel," admitted Tamara. "Last week I was lost and alone in the galaxy, then I discovered that my twin brother was both alive and with me and that the man who took me from Barcla the Hoard was my father and was, as you say, one of the richest men in the Empire, and now I discover that I am Queen of a planet, but a planet that was blown away twenty years ago, so really I'm Queen of nothing."

"Not so, Your Grace. There are many Aldershotti still around, many resigned themselves to service with the Empire in one form or another, others just became independent operators, free spirits, but we all look out each other. Not only that, but wherever we go in the universe, we are received with the utmost kindness. The warmth of the memory of Aldershott is so strong throughout the galaxy that it is almost tangible. Your Grace, you are Queen of many would-be devoted followers, there are hundreds on this station alone, but more than that, you are... you could be the symbol of hope."

"Hope, colonel?" asked Tamara.

"If the feelings are so warm, colonel, why are you a cleaner?" asked Mark.

"I am working undercover, as it were."

"Not for Aldershott, surely?"

"No, nothing will bring back home, but, Highness, there are many who regard the Empire as a failure. It has brought peace of a sort, but at the expense of a curtailment of freedom and the imposition of an oppressive taxation system. Taxes are high to pay for the Galactic Debt, and to pay them, everyone is frantically working ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day. As well as to pay for their own personal debts. There are plans by some planets to break away from the Empire."

"We've heard that there are plans for a rebellion," said Mark.

"You have?"

"We know who's financing it, Barcla the Hoard. My father is financing the Empire's military build up."

"Then join us, Your Grace, come and help lead the rebellion, be our figurehead and our symbol. Many planets would flock to your cause!"

"No," declared Mark. "That is not the way. It will lead to more war and destruction, and then you will all just end up in hock to Barcla the Hoard."

"There is no other way, Highness!"

"There is another way. It is our intention to save the galaxy from tearing itself to pieces, not to engage in such destruction. What do you know about money?"

"Money? It is ‘the sinews of war'," quoted the soldier.

"Yes, it is vital for war, as it is vital for everything else, and he, or she, who issues and controls the money supply controls everyone else who uses money."

The colonel nodded without fully understanding, then he produced his Aldershotti currency-notes.

"Economics was never my subject. On the matter of money I would claim only an expertise on Aldershotti currency-notes. These were my last connection with home, I studied them minutely, the type of paper used, the different inks, the engraving techniques, the numbering system, how the security and identification strip was made. Sitting here in my little room, it was one of the few things that kept me sane."

Mark wondered whether such nerd-like activity actually constituted sanity, but he kept his counsel.

"What are you thinking, Mark?" asked Tamara.

"Just this, the Empire is on the verge of internal collapse through massive indebtedness, planets owe taxes to the Imperial Government, and the Imperial Government, the planetary governments, companies and even lowly cleaners in bed-sits owe money to the financiers, and it is all because of an almost total reliance on IBDM."

"On what?" asked the colonel.

"Interest-bearing debt money," explained Mark "The only way that the galaxy as a whole will ever clear its debts is to find another galaxy to off load them onto, because it takes more money to clear an interest-bearing debt that the amount of the initial debt itself, the principal, and you can't have more money than the amount you have!"

"Really?" said the colonel, trying hard to follow.

"It would be all right if every penny earnt in interest was spent back into the economy," Tamara reminded her brother.

"That's true, but if you're fabulously wealthy, there are only so many star-ships you need, and if you are really rich and really smart, what do you do with your money?" asked Mark.

"I don't know, Highness," replied the colonel, although he thought that a couple of squadrons of star-fighters and maybe a Star-cruiser would not be a bad start.

"You use it as the basis for more lending," explained Tamara.

The colonel smiled weakly. He still did not understand.

"Trust us, colonel," asked Tamara.

The soldier shot to his feet and bowed his head in salute.

"I am yours to command, Your Grace!"

"Sure. I'll just have to watch what I say."

"Colonel, with your knowledge of Aldershott currency-notes, could you produce some?"

"I could, but it would be quite illegal, without the authority of the late Queen."

"How about if you produced some with your new Queen's face and signature on them?"

The colonel turned to gaze at Tamara. A broad smile of realisation spread slowly across his face.

"Yes, that would certainly be legal! If you gave me written authorisation, Your Grace?"

"Sure, writing I can manage."

"Highness, are you planning to spend these new notes? Because they may not be accepted by traders, one does not have to accept any note of any currency when selling. After all, a note might be a forgery."

"No, colonel, we are not going on a spending spree, not as such, anyway. No, we shall be in the debt clearance business, and for that legal tender cannot be refused!"

"How many shall you want, Highness?"

"Take the size of the Galactic Debt in Imperial Credits, multiply it by twenty, then add a few more for luck."

"So hundred shilling notes would be best?" suggested the colonel.

"I think so."

"How soon do you want them?"

"Let's see... We also need to arrange transport off this Station, I cannot see father approving of our operations. Could you arrange that?" asked Mark.

"I shall see, Highness."

"So we want as many notes produced as possible in the time it takes for us to get transport off this Station."

He remembered something else.

"Oh, and yes, we have a friend in the sick-bay. I guess they'll keep her in ‘overnight'. Can we get all that done by tomorrow ‘morning'?" he asked.

"We can but try," said the colonel. "What is the alternative?"

"Do you enjoy your life here as a cleaner?" Mark asked him.

The colonel stared ahead for a moment. He was really not cut out to be a cleaner. Fifteen years, and he was still only Grade 4. Maybe helping to save the galaxy was more his forte.

He turned to his computer and started tapping out e-messages to various Aldershotti whom he knew. Some would provide the means necessary to produce some at least of the requested notes, others were star-freighter captains, interplanetary traders, and members if the Imperial bureaucracy whom he knew to be disaffected. Still more were just Aldershotti who would be glad to know that Princess Tamara and her brother had indeed survived and that the Aldershotti now had a queen again.

Mark turned to his sister.

"What now?"

"Catch our breath, I think. What's your idea, Mark?"

"Simply to hire a starship and head off as fast as we can to those planets who most need our help."

"But flooding the galaxy with Aldershott shillings, won't that produce inflation?"

"Not if we're careful. Each planet will get the minimum it needs to solve its financial problems, and we won't give the money away, far less lend it bearing a rate of interest, we will buy things... capital investment, if you like."

"I thought you said we weren't going to be spending?"

The colonel turned towards the twins and waited patiently.

"Yes colonel?" asked Mark

"People would like to see you, your Grace. Soon. Tonight if possible. Would 02.00 hours be in order?

"Two o'clock in the ‘morning'?" queried Tamara.

"Yes. Where?" agreed Mark.

"Staff Canteen number 3. It should be quiet then. Also, your Grace, I need to take your photograph and have an example of your signature."

Tamara signed her name on a digital signature reader and posed for the shot that would soon be appearing on the first new issue of Aldershott shillings for nearly twenty years.

The Colonel turned back to his terminal. Mark and Tamara resumed their conversation.

"You asked about spending and inflation?" he reminded himself. "We won't be spending on ourselves. I have not worked it out in detail, but here's my initial thinking. When we find a planet that needs our money to pay off its debts, we buy something with the money."

"Like what?"

"It depends on what they have to offer, maybe we buy their wilderness from them..."

"Their wilderness? To do what with?"

"To do nothing, to be a tangible asset, or at least to stop them wrecking it in their need to meet their debts, I don't know, I'm just trying to think... or if they build star-freighters, we buy a load of star-freighters from them... Or if they have a lot people needing jobs, we hire them to... make things that other planets need... using the star-freighters we bought to ship them there..."

"But if the other planet can't pay for those things?"

"Then we just hope that they have some wilderness for sale! Or may be we make them interest free loans. Let us see what is needed on each planet and what each one has to offer."

"And that would prevent inflation?"

"I can't say for sure, but it's got to be better than war and rebellion across the galaxy!"

The colonel turned around in his chair.

"Your grace, Highness, I need to go out and make some personal visits."

"Oh, sure, go ahead," agreed Tamara.

"One other thing, if anything goes wrong, and you need to leave, head for dock 6B. I have arranged transport. The captain knows to expect you."

"Okay, otherwise we'll see you in Staff Canteen number 3 at two o'clock," said Mark.

Once the Colonel had left, Mark and Tamara also slipped out of his room and headed down to the sick-bay. They were followed at a discreet distance by a figure who was an expert at the art of covert surveillance, but his expertise was hardly warranted. Mark and Tamara had no notion that they would be the subject of such interest, not yet at least.

In the sick-bay, Kerry was sitting up in bed with Jerry sitting on a chair at her bedside.

"How are you doing, Kerry?"

Kerry smiled the wan smile of the sickly and allowed her head to loll towards her visitors. Everyone sucked their cheeks in to prevent themselves from giggling.

"I'm okay," sighed the ‘invalid'. "They've given me some pain-killers, and done some tests. They say they can't find anything wrong. I tell them it is something I just get now and then, you know... but they want to keep me in for 24 hours for observation."

Mark looked up to the ceiling.

"You're doing just great. Don't anybody look anyone else in the eye when we're in here."

"Why not?" asked Jerry.

"Because you'll start giggling," explained Mark.

So, gazing at the walls, the door, the bed, anywhere than at each other, the four played out their parts as invalid, worried boy-friend (sort of, you know), and concerned visitors. They all variously attempted to make polite subdued conversation, but subjects were hard to come to mind.

"How's things with you guys?" asked Jerry.

"Great. We've just discovered that Tamara is the rightful Queen of Aldershott," said Mark

Kerry had to put her hand over her mouth and turn her face away to stop herself from laughing out loud. She pretended to be in pain. Jerry stared fixedly at the wall opposite.

"I thought you said we weren't supposed to make each other laugh?" he intoned.

"Yes. Sorry, about that, but I want you guys to be ready to move fast. I don't know what's going to happen when, but things might, and we don't want to leave you behind."

"Your father wants to leave?"

"I don't think we'll be leaving with father," explained Mark. "We've had an interesting meeting and new plans have been made."

Jerry turned to look at Mark momentarily, before remembering himself.

"If anything goes wrong, head for dock number 6B and tell them you are friends of... of Colonel Wannabee," Mark instructed them.

"Right," agreed Jerry. "Not the Queen of Aldershott, then?"

"Oh, that should work, too."

Unable to stand the strain of their enforced seriousness any longer, Mark and Tamara left their two companions and headed back to the mall. They found a Computer Cafe and, with drinks ordered, settled down to do some studying. They looked up the history of Aldershott, its geography, its people and customs.

They sopped up the information like a dry sponge. Its facts and figures, its ideas, culture and lifestyle filled the great gaping voids of their own sense of emptiness. Once they could find nothing more about Aldershott, they moved on to other areas of interest. They gulped down the information like starving people at a feast.

"Are you two gonna be here all night?" joked the cafe assistant much later.

"No, sorry," spluttered Mark.

"It don't bother me, pal. We're open twenty-four-seven, but I ain't seen anyone scan through so many sites as fast as you have."

The assistant cheerfully collected some empty glasses and walked away grinning.

Mark checked the time: 01.49. Time to head for Staff Canteen number 3.

Walking along the now familiar corridor, they were stopped by a pair of uniformed Internal Security officials.

"Your IDs, please," they were asked.

They produced their Western Credit ID cards.

"Is there a problem?" asked Mark.

"No no, sir. Purely routine."

The official read the cards with his card reader. He wondered why two people such as the Wests would be down in the Station staff area.

"Are you lost, sir, ma'am?" he asked politely.

"No. We... we arranged to meet a friend. He works here on the Station."

"Ah. You know where you are going?"

"Yes, thank you."

"Goodnight to you, sir, ma'am," concluded the official, raising his hand to the peak of his cap.

There was a crowd of about thirty people in the canteen when Mark and Tamara entered. As they did so, the hubbub quietened and everyone stood to their feet. Tamara glanced at their faces. All were well into middle age, some were positively old.

The colonel was there and he moved quickly to meet them and bowed briefly before his queen. Then standing respectfully to one side, he addressed the crowd. It consisted mainly of people who had deliberately come for this meeting, but there were a few small knots of ‘night-shift' workers just there having their lunch.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I have satisfied myself that these young people are the lost Princess Tamara and Prince Marco of Aldershott, and that consequently, the Princess Tamara is our rightful queen. Does anyone have anything they wish to say or to ask?"

There was a low murmur among the assembly, as people considered how they might establish the couple's bona fides.

"What was your mother's birthday?" called out one man.

"I don't know," admitted Tamara.

Mark shrugged.

"Think, ladies and gentlemen," spoke the colonel again. "They were mere toddlers when they lost their mother, and they have been told very little about Aldershott or their mother. I say I am satisfied, but let each decide for themselves. Ask them about their aunts and uncles."

"Did your uncle play the guitar?" asked one.

"My uncle Dillan did, yes," agreed Tamara.

"Can you sing one of his songs for us?"

"Oh, I can't sing."

"Oh, go on!" they all urged.

"Okay, but really, my voice isn't that good...."

Tamara thought quickly which of her uncle's songs she could best managed, then, pushing doubts out of her mind, allowed the gentle harmony to fill the room.

"In the mists of ancient time when the world was young and free

I learnt the ways of ancient days, the ways that meant to be

Let us share the joys of living, for the joy of life is free

And the joy of life is greater when it's shared by you and me.

"Growing up like all children, I would hope and yearn and be

Taking all at the moment, I took everything for me

Let us share the joys of living, for the joy of life is free

And the joy of life is greater when it's shared by you and me.

"But I changed as I grew older and I learned as well to give

And the more I loved the giving, the longer I did live

Let us share the joys of living, for the joy of life is free

And the joy of life is greater when it's shared by you and me.

"For the love of life is all to me and the love of me is you

In the changing and the giving and in everything I do

Let us share the joys of living, for the joy of life is free

And the joy of life is greater when it's shared by you and me."

Soon, in their minds, all of the crowd were back in the time when they were young, life was fresh and new and exciting and they could enjoy the easy rhythms and idealistic sentiments of Dillan Woodsawyer. It was not surprising that he had turned the head of the young Princess Mattana and she, renouncing her royal status, had eventually left Aldershott to live with the love of her life.

The crowd had very quickly joined in with the well-known song, and Tamara found herself simply leading them. The applause that erupted when the singing ceased was far in excess of what Tamara's talents merited, as she would only too readily concede. There were tears in many people's eyes. The song was not from Aldershott, for that planet had never been Dillan Woodsawyer's home, but they all remembered the time when the song was popular across the galaxy as a time when Aldershott, their home, their family and their friends still existed.

Then a man dropped to one knee, as did another, then two women, and then all of the crowd, save those having their lunch, were on their knees.

"I think everyone is convinced," called the colonel.

"Sure am," came a voice. "Dillan Woodsawyer had an awful voice too!"

A figure who had been watching from the shadows of the door moved towards an internal communicator. He tapped in the code that would connect him to the Western Leader. His report was brief but sufficient.

The colonel stepped forward.

"Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Some of you may be wondering, ‘What now?' Our Queen is restored to us, but Aldershott is gone forever... So where do we go from here? Well, it would seem that her Grace and his Highness have plans of their own, plans, which they tell me, and I happy to believe them, will be for the betterment of the galaxy. Many of you have your own plans and your own lives to lead, each is free to follow his or her own course. I will say only two things. Firstly those who wish to join the Queen, the Prince and myself on our mission will be very much welcomed. Secondly, I would ask all of you, to start to spread the word, to everyone you know, on this Station and around the galaxy, that the Princess Tamara of Aldershott has been found and proclaimed Queen!"

Some of the Aldershotti had places to go and jobs to do. They left the canteen, but many more stayed on. Some merely to get up close to their new Queen, to touch her. Tamara shook the hands of nearly everyone there, including some who had just popped in for lunch. Some discreetly wanted to discover the nature of their Queen's mission. A half dozen, put themselves in her service and were given instructions to head for dock 6B. Others had business with the colonel, whilst some just wanted to catch up with old friends.

There was still a fair crowd about when the door opened suddenly and in strode Nathan West. If any of the Aldershotti had any lingering doubts as to Tamara's identity, they were dispelled now. This was undoubtedly the wealthy but rather shadowy financier who had married their late Queen.

"Mark! Tamara! What is going on here?" he asked, rather more sternly than he intended

"Ah, good evening, sir. Welcome to our little gathering," began the colonel slipping into 'cleanerese'.

"Well? Are you not going to tell your father?" West said rather more soothingly.

Tamara faced him.

"Why didn't you tell us?!" she demanded of her father.

"I am not sure that this is a good time..." murmured the colonel, but he was utterly ignored.

"Tell you what?" asked her father.

Tamara held up the photograph of her dead mother.

"My mother, yes?"

"Yes," Nathan conceded.

Tamara held up an Aldershott currency-note alongside the photograph.

"I think we should have been told!" she said.

"So your mother resembled the late Queen?"

Tamara's fury knew no bounds.

"No, father! She was my mother!"

Nathan West said nothing. He could not deny it.

"Why didn't you tell us that she was Queen of Aldershott?"

"Because she is dead and Aldershott is gone, and nothing, nothing I can do can bring her back."

He glared around at the watching crowd.

"What foolish notions have these people been putting into your heads?"

The crowd glared back, and he saw the distrust in their eyes. He was from Aldershott himself and knew his people's love of sentiment and he despised them for it. Just as he despised the sentiment that he sometimes discovered within himself.

"You can't live in the past. You have to move on," he told them.

"We are moving on, father," said Mark soothingly.

"Good, I shall expect you back at the ship within the hour. We are leaving!"

"No, father," said Tamara. She thought fast. "We can't leave Kerry in the sick-bay."

Nathan snorted his contempt.

"She has to be there another twelve hours at least. I'm not leaving without her."

Nathan glanced his watch.

"Very well, you have until 3 o'clock this afternoon," he said, and with that he turned on his heels.

Hardly had he left when Staff Canteen number 3 received more visitors, a party of the Internal Security Department arrived, led by an officious young officer.

"What is going on here?" asked the officer politely.

"Oh, just a gathering of the Aldershott Reunion Society, sir," mumbled Ken Wannabee.

"It's three o'clock in the ‘morning'?"

"I know sir, but back on Aldershot, was we there, it would'ah been eight o'clock in the evening."

The officer considered this. How does one behave when one's planet gets blasted into nothingness? he wondered. Certainly he'd heard that the surviving Aldershotti had some strange rituals and customs. Finally, he nodded politely, and with a touch of reverence. He led his men out to further patrol the labyrinthine corridors of the Station's lower levels.

He was just the next level down when the full meaning of Ken's words hit him. Aldershott was a planet. It would have 24 time zones. It would only be eight o'clock in the evening in one of them. Without changing the pace of his walking, he lead his men back to Staff Canteen number 3. It was empty save for two electricians from Corelfornia who were puzzled and alarmed to be interrogated during their lunch.

The young officer decided that he would report the gathering, innocuous though it might indeed have been, but he would not relate the old man's explanation for the strange hour of the meeting.

The colonel, still in the guise of Ken Wannabee, the cleaner, Mark and Tamara went back to the colonel's quarters to plan their next moves. The colonel sat down at his computer and passed a few more e-messages. Mark and Tamara slumped onto his bed in a state of wretched tiredness.

"Here," said the colonel, "you need to sleep. Your Grace, the bed is yours. Your Highness, I have my old army bed somewhere."

After sorting out his guests' sleeping arrangements, the colonel watched his terminal and waited for the replies to return. They soon came back and the colonel considered them.

"Good," he said. "We should be already to go by noon."

Mark and Tamara were fast asleep.

Next: Chapter 24

Previous: Chapter 22

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