The emergence of the Jubilee Endeavour into sub-light speed was on the point of the hyper-speed zone closest to Elysium and there, sitting right in front of them, was an enormous Star-cruiser.
"Hell! Hewie, deflector shields up!"
Dan Polo worked the starship's controls to prevent it crashing into the enormous vessel, whilst his co-pilot put it into a defensive mode. As they swung past the looming battleship, they saw a squadron of fighters emerge from a docking bay and spread out to attack them from multiple directions.
"Oh hell!" cried Polo.
"What do you want us to do?!" called Mark.
"Can you fire an anti-ship blaster cannon?!"
"No, 'fraid not."
"How good's your local astrogation knowledge?!"
"How about you guys flying this ship whilst Hewie and me fire the cannons?!"
"Ah, maybe not."
"Then you just sit tight, guys, and leave this to old Dan and Hewie!"
A bolt of blaster fire caught their deflectors and rocked the starship.
"Hell! We'll not hold out against too much of that!"
"Maybe we should surrender," suggested Tamara.
"To Imperials?!" called Polo.
"You're sure they're Imperials?"
"You check that, Hewie! Are they communicating? What are they saying? Who are they?!"
They were rocked by more fire as Hewie checked the communications frequencies. The radio crackled into life.
"Ship in Elysium space-space! Surrender on the orders of the Bukeepin Judicial Council!" came through on the radio.
"Bukeepin!" yelled Polo. "What the hell do they want?"
"Let us find out," suggested Tamara.
Down below on Elysium, quite a number of citizens sat in their gardens and looked up to watch the fireworks above their heads, whilst they enjoyed a nice cup of tea. Members of the Starship Spotter's Club danced about declaring that it was a space battle raging, but their elders and betters dismissed this as arrant nonsense.
The subdued Jubilee Endeavour was taken into one of the Star-cruiser's docking bays, and Polo shut down his ship's engines.
"You know these Bukeepas, Dan?" asked Mark.
"Yeah, I come across them."
"What are they like?"
"In a word, ‘pedantic'."
The members of the delegation that awaited them as the ship's ramp went down were all slightly shorter in height than the average human. Their skin was pale to the point of whiteness, their hair was fair and neatly parted in the middle, and they all had beady little eyes that squinted through thick pebble spectacles. One of them stepped forward.
"Who is the captain of this starship?"
"I am," admitted Polo.
"Your receipt," said the Bukeepa, handing him a slip of paper.
"We have taken charge of this ship. When you want to recover it, you will need to present this receipt."
"And if I lose it?"
"Then you will need to complete Form LS25/12, which will need to be presented to the Lost Property Claims Tribunal, where you will need to provide evidence of..."
"Okay, I won't lose the receipt."
A second Bukeepa stepped forward.
"Greetings. My name is Darter Inpoot, I will be your host during your stay aboard our ship. I understand that I have the honour of addressing Her Grace the Queen of Aldershott?"
"That is myself," said Tamara.
"And the Prince Marco of Aldershott?"
"That's me," said Mark.
"Good, you are both here."
"And these are Kerry and Jerry, and Captain Dan Polo and Hewie," said Mark.
"Thank you, Highness, but these others are not statistically relevant. Please follow me."
"Can Hewie and me stay with the ship? If we ain't statistically relevant, an' all?" asked Captain Polo.
"Very well, but do not attempt to leave until you are authorised."
The other four were led a short distance to a conference room where they were bid to sit, Mark and Tamara at two seats at a table, their two companions on a row chairs behind them. Around the room, at a higher level was a gallery in which a couple of Bukeepas sat, notebooks in hand. High above in the vaulted ceiling of the room, hung an enormous chandelier. Mark glanced nervously up at it.
"I wonder how they've managed to create gravity on this ship," he muttered to no one in particular.
After a moment or two a file of very sombre Bukeepas walked to the side of the table opposite them, turned as one and sat down. They were all very non-descript, with pebble spectacles, careful hairstyles and anonymous clothing.
"I am Dubba Lentree, of the Bukeepin Judicial Council, and I am here to consider your case," said the central figure.
"Our case?" queried Mark.
"As you are, of course, aware, the galaxy must always be kept in perfect balance; for every joy, there must be a sorrow; for every good deed, there must a bad deed; for every credit, there must be a debit."
"We did not know that," said Mark.
Dubba Lentree looked at his colleagues.
"This dearth of knowledge, which we keep encountering, is disturbing. Is there an abundance of knowledge upon other matters, to balance it?"
"That is the presumption, Master Lentree," said one of the other Bukeepas. "Many sentient beings absorb knowledge for no other purpose than their own interest or amusement."
Dubba Lentree allowed a sigh to escape.
"Ignorance is no excuse, however. We will proceed."
"What case is this?" demanded Mark. "Are you Imperial authorities?"
"Our authority is far greater than this... this Empire. The Empire is just one more factor among the many with which we must juggle. Our duty is to the Universe. We keep it in perfect balance. That is our unique calling and destiny - before, during and after this new Empire.
"As for your case... Your Grace, it has come to our attention that you have brought much joy and well-being to several member planets of the galaxy. We presume that you plan to continue upon this reckless path of magnanimity and munificence?"
"Yes, of course."
"It must be stopped."
"Because it will invariably bring sorrow and misery in its wake."
"Why? Because such woe is necessary to restore the equilibrium of the universe... to equipoise the essential state of the cosmos... to balance the books."
"To balance the books?"
"Yes, all must be kept in balance, and we find that you are unbalancing the books in two crucial areas. Firstly, your mere re-appearance and your actions upon several planets has brought about a heightened state of joy, which is itself exceedingly dangerous, and secondly, this money that you have created and are spending is a credit that is not balanced by a corresponding debit."
"You say that for every joy there has to be a sorrow?" asked Mark.
"I find that an absurd notion, but supposing it were true, what great joy corresponded to the misery of the destruction of Aldershott?"
"The destruction of Aldershott brought with it the end of the Drone Wars and peace throughout the galaxy. It was a classic example of a terrible sorrow bringing forth great joy. Do you deny that?"
"So, we must consider this fiat money that you have created. Credits with no corresponding debit. We consider that so far, your activities may not be sufficient to cause an excessive imbalance in the emotional state of the universe, but we are concerned about its economic state."
"But we have saved several planetary economies from collapse," protested Mark.
"In the short term, perhaps, but our concern is with the long term. Too much money chasing too few goods causes inflation. That is a well-known paradigm."
"Only when that money does not itself directly cause the creation of goods, and not just goods in our case, but capital projects that will have lasting benefits."
"You are creating credits with no corresponding debits. Do you deny it?!"
"You judge everything as if it were upon a ledger sheet. Either as a debit or a credit, with each necessarily balanced by an opposite..."
"That is the way of the universe, and also the way of prudent financial management."
"So you suppose that all activity must necessarily be buying or selling, of gaining possession or surrendering possession, and that is fine when dealing with a single entity, a person or a company, dealing with other, distinct persons or companies, but it does not apply when the credit is for a whole community, and not one community opposed to another community, but for a community that encompasses both buyer and seller, both credit and debit. To place something that exists to benefit both sides of an arrangement on one side of the scales or the other is quite distorting."
"Let us say that a community builds for itself a school, to educate its young people. That is a credit, it is not?"
"Well strictly, as an asset it would be regarded as a debit on a financial ledger, but we understand how you would regard it as a credit. Go on."
"So ask yourself, what debit stands against such a thing? Who loses out by its creation?"
"Those who would be unable to prey upon an otherwise ignorant populace would stand to lose out."
"But is that desirable?"
"Yes, if it maintained the equilibrium of the universe. It is important to understand Tinstaafl."
"Yes. There is no such thing as a free lunch."
"You say that you seek perfect equilibrium?"
"Is that desirable?"
"So when you have balanced all the good things with all the bad things and attained perfect balance, is that in itself a good thing?"
"Certainly, it is our purpose in life to attain it."
"So what bad thing exists to counterpoise this desirable equilibrium?"
The Bukeepas said nothing. They just sat looking appalled and unsure of themselves.
"You say that there is no such thing as a free lunch," continued Mark. "But what of the universe itself?"
"The universe itself?"
"Yes, is not the universe and everything in it - you, me, all its creatures and civilisations - the ultimate free lunch? What debit corresponds with the credit that is the universe?"
There was a restlessness within the rank of Bukeepas. Glances were cast between one another.
"All I am saying," said Mark, "is that maybe it is not appropriate to regard everything as being on one side of the ledger account or the other... And have you ever thought that maybe there are things that never get put on the ledger account... That get overlooked...?"
"We are very thorough."
"Can you know everything?"
"We concern ourselves with the major things, those whose size may cause instability."
"So if you disapprove of fiat money, do you approve of money created as an interest-bearing debt?"
"Of course, it creates both a credit and a debit. It balances."
"It balances on paper, but it creates instability within economies."
"When rates of interest are low, some people borrow money as businessmen to develop businesses and others borrow as private individuals to buy the products of those businesses. The money that is borrowed is not of pre-existing money that is of limited amount, instead it is newly created by the borrowing process. There is no limit on the amount that can created out of thin air in this way, and there is no connection between the amount created and the amount of goods and services that are available, and, because it is far easier to create money than it is to create the goods and services that this money may purchase, the money supply invariably exceeds production, and so inflation occurs.
"To curb this inflation, the rates of interest are consequently raised, for that is the only mechanism that a government has in its power to influence the size of the money supply, at least by one that has abandoned the responsibility of creating the money supply. This rise in interest rates actually adds to inflation initially, and it is only with individuals and businesses experiencing financial difficulties, with bankruptcies and repossessions, that economic activity slows and inflation is controlled. People reduce the amount of goods and services that they buy as they can no longer afford them. The economy heads towards recession, then to prevent recession the interest rates are reduced and the whole process begins again."
"It is the natural business cycle," pronounced Dubba Lentree.
"It is not natural! It is entirely the consequence of an unstable money supply. It causes ordinary beings much misery and suffering. People take their own lives as a consequence of being forced into financial difficulties! How do you account for that in your ledger?! Does that cause great joy elsewhere? It is not necessary!
"A money supply that, in its creation, brought forth capital projects for the benefit of a community as a whole, that reduced taxes by virtue of abolishing the need for governments to borrow money, and whose amount was not dependent upon the rising and falling of interest rates, would eradicate the instability that causes a succession of booms and busts - the switch-back of euphoria and desolation that characterises the mood of the business community and those employed by them.
"And... and there is a further problem, an even greater long term problem with money created as an interest-bearing debt!"
"Which is what?"
"The amount of money needed to clear an interest-bearing debt is always greater than the initial debt itself. Agreed?"
"But if all, or nearly all, of the money that has been created within an economy is in the form of interest-bearing debts, then the amount needed to clear the total debts of that economy - government, corporate and personal - is greater than the total amount of money in existence. It is a debt that can never be cleared!"
"There will be sufficient money available when the creditors of these debts spend all their profits back with their debtors. Then there will be equilibrium. Perfect balance."
"But that will never happen. You know that. The financiers will never spend all their profits, or even most of them. They will just use them for further lending."
"But in theory, equilibrium may be attained."
"Are you concerned with the theoretical or actual equilibrium of the universe?" challenged Mark.
Dubba Lentree gazed thoughtfully at the four figures in front of him.
"Have you anything further you wish to add?" he asked them.
Mark, Tamara and Kerry shook their heads. Jerry raised an arm.
"Any chance of a drink?"
"We will provide you with refreshments whilst we retire to consider our verdict," declared Dubba Lentree.
Sure enough, as the line of Bukeepas stood, turned and filed out of the room, another sombre little Bukeepa came in bearing a tray of drinks. He placed the tray before them and departed.
"What now? I wonder," mused Tamara. "Who are these Bukeepas, anyway? What authority do they have?"
"As much authority as anybody else in the galaxy, when you come down to it," explained Mark. "All authority exists only because people let those in authority have it or because those who have it are strong enough to enforce it, which is just the other side of the coin. Nothing in the universe has natural authority, except the laws of nature, and this of credits and debits having to balance, however an ancient belief it may be, is not a natural law."
"Unlike the Source," remarked his sister.
"The Source is not so much a natural law, as a way of understanding natural law. The Source is not one thing. It never has been. It has changed over the years, over the all the ages of time. It existed before sentient beings existed. Then when civilisations emerged, it changed from its animal state to the current cultural state, but even then it has changed as culture has changed.
"Once religion was the Source of power. For a time political ideology held sway. Military power has been supreme at times, but can only be so very briefly, and normally only as the servant of one of the three other great cultural influences. Nowadays, military power, religious power and political power are all dependent upon economic power. So whoever creates the money supply controls the economy and hence controls the galaxy. That is the current Source of power."
Mark looked at his three companions.
"Maybe I should not be telling you this so bluntly, without teaching all that must be understood, if that knowledge is not going to corrupt you to the dark side of the Source, but the dark side is only dangerous to those with inherent ambition. I was once ambitious. I was young and male and possessed a modicum of intelligence; ambition kinda goes with the territory. It took a long time to knock it out of me..."
Mark's ramblings were interrupted by the return of the file of Bukeepas back to their places. When all were seated, Dubba Lentree glanced left and right to his colleagues to remind himself of their decision.
"We have thoroughly considered your case," he announced. "You are, Highness, most learned."
"I was well taught... by a Credit Master himself."
"We understood that the Credit Masters disappeared long ago, which is why the galaxy's finances have been in such a mess."
"No. They did not disappear. They created banks and finance houses for themselves, with branches on every planet in the galaxy."
"Ah, yes. The essential pillars of a developed economy."
"Yes, so they would have everyone believe, but in truth they had all turned to the dark side of the Source. All save one."
"The dark side?"
"Yes, the dark side is the cause of so much misery and suffering. Suffering which, I think you'll find, has no balancing joy."
"Is not your relief the balancing joy?"
"I do not know, but our relief will end when the misery ends."
"This explains much, but this new information just reinforces our decision. We find you absolved of the charge of destabilising the equilibrium of the universe. Indeed, we find your efforts to create stability admirable and worthy of support!"
Dubba Lentree stood and was followed by his fellows.
"Your Grace, Highness, friends. We salute you and seek to support you."
As one, the line of Bukeepas bowed low.
Suddenly, there was a commotion in the gallery. The two note-taking Bukeepas hurried away as into the room burst a fiery-eyed starship captain and his inarticulate side-kick. Captain Polo looked down to see his friends below him and he launched himself at the chandelier.
"Don't worry, guys. Old Dan is here to rescue you!"
"We're not worried, Dan," Mark called back. "I don't think we need rescuing. Careful you don't break that chandelier!"
Dubba Lentree gazed up at the swinging starship captain.
"We were just about to retire for cocktails, captain. Would you care to join us?"
"I think I'm stuck. How do I get off this thing?"
Dan was rescued with very little damage done, and after the necessary forms were completed and the repairs were costed and paid for, they did indeed retire for a round of cocktails.
Their visit to Elysium, once they eventually landed, was just long enough for Mark to establish that the planet's financial arrangements were in as good order as when he had left. He introduced his long-lost sister to his aunt and uncle and, despite their attempts at a low-key visit, word soon spread around Little Elysium that the visiting Tamara West was none other that the new Queen Tamara of Aldershott.
This led to a serious difficulty for the visitors, for the ladies of the Elysium Gardening Club soon began to enmesh the royal pair in their clutches. They began to formulate plans for a string of afternoon garden parties, with each matron seeking to outdo her fellows in playing the hostess.
It was Dan and Hewie who came to the rescue. They both laid on the act as hard-talking, hard-drinking and hard-spitting ‘sons-of-bitches', which in fact did not require too much acting. Hewie hawked and spat like he never had before, and soon they were all allowed to depart, amidst much muttering about the company that royalty kept these days.