The Aldershott Media Corporation had begun its first HoloNet broadcasts by the time that the Jubilee Endeavour returned to Corelfornia. Colonel Wannabee had not stinted himself in his efforts to spread the word both about the discovery of the lost Princess and Prince of Aldershott and the truth about the corrupt money system that threatened the stability of the galaxy.
With the ardour of the convert, and with the talents of thousands of willing and well-paid programme creators, presenters and technicians, the message went out in various forms of information and entertainment. It was aimed at catching the attention of and informing all the sentient beings of the galaxy whatever their level of intellectual understanding.
Mark and Tamara, together with Kerry, Jerry and the colonel left the Corelfornian system aboard their new headquarters ship, the Aldershott Revival, the giant former Star-cruiser from Harlooff. They departed as soon as the huge ship was ready, for the reaction of the Empire to the new Queen was still as yet unknown. Caution was still the watch-word. The Jubilee Endeavour with its idiosyncratic crew went with them, just in case any more rescuing was needed.
Several newly commissioned freighters left the system as well, to establish the first HoloNet relaying stations around the galaxy, whilst aboard the former Star-cruiser, a dozen studios created and broadcasted a message of hope to the galaxy.
From necessity rather than personal preference, Mark and Tamara found themselves heavily involved in the making of some of these broadcasts. They were dressed and coiffured, prettied and prinked, made-up, cooled-down, rehearsed, coached, directed, prompted and interviewed until, after several weeks, they decided they could take no more.
One day they joined Kerry, Jerry and the colonel in an informal conference to consider their next move.
"We need to keep on the move for the time being," advised the colonel. "Both to spread the word more widely and to stay out of the Empire's clutches."
"Is the Empire our biggest worry?" asked Mark.
"They must consider Her Grace to be a potential threat, Highness, although there's been no formal reaction to Her Grace that we have detected so far. Perhaps they think that if they ignore us, so will everyone else."
"But the Credit Masters will have the greatest concern over us, surely?"
"True, but he who pays the piper calls the tune. I think we can assume that the Credit Masters are effectively controlling the Empire."
"Father is, at least."
"Yes, and if, as you say, your father is the Empire's biggest paymaster, then at least he may not want you both harmed. That may give us a degree of extra security."
"I don't know about father. He never really cared for us before," mused Mark.
"Ah yes, but you've proved yourselves to be two immensely capable young people. A man like your father will take great pride and pleasure in that..."
"In standing up to him?"
"Oh yes. Highness, oh yes, indeed."
"Is it true that he has a bounty out for us? A million Imperial Credits each, if we're handed over to him alive and unharmed."
"That just shows you how much he loves you."
"But you can carry on without us for a while, colonel?" asked Tamara.
"Certainly, Your Grace. You have further plans?"
"Yes, we have, plans for the future, plans for the creation of a New Aldershott. We'll take the Endeavour. Besides, if the Empire comes looking for us, the Revival is a more likely target as the centre of the HoloNet. The Endeavour is just a scruffy little freighter."
It was just a scruffy little freighter that landed in one of the docking bays on Tattoo One. Its visit enabled its captain to pay off a debt to one of Tattoo One's most prominent citizens.
Barcla the Hoard had business of his own in Skywalker City that day and he received the overdue payment with its extra interest with scarcely a second thought until, with his minions counting the currency, he happened to notice that a high proportion of the money was in Aldershott shillings, new Aldershott shillings, in fact, bearing the face of a dancing girl whom he had once owned. He oozed over and deigned to speak to the scruffy captain of the scruffy little freighter.
"Dan. You've been busy. Done well for yourself, I see."
"There's a lot more business about, Barcla. The economy's picking up."
Yes, but without it borrowing much from me, thought Barcla. Few of the lines of credit that he had extended to potential rebel planets had, in fact, been taken up. They had found work and money elsewhere.
"So how about a little job for me, Dan?"
"I can't do that, Barcla. I'm already chartered."
Barcla looked around for the outgoing freight and saw nothing.
"Is there another kind?"
Dan shrugged, but he felt uncomfortable beneath the giant slug's gaze. Barcla almost laughed. He had spies enough around Skywalker City to tell him about Polo's business without the starship captain having to reveal a thing, but he liked to make people to feel uncomfortable. That made him feel very comfortable.
The information that Polo had landed two passengers, two young humans, one male and one female was very interesting and for reasons that Barcla could not explain, the knowledge that Nathan West had offered a large reward for the safe return of his son and daughter popped into his thought processes.
The young man and woman who had passed through customs as Mattick Sponsard and Tiff Woodsoe, sales representatives of the Harloof Starship Construction Company, had made their way to one of the Skywalker City's many cantinas. It was the sort of place that business might very well be conducted between buyers and sellers in the starfreighter industry. Yet it was not with a starship captain nor freighter company representative that the two young people shared a round of drinks.
The woman whom they met was one of the last farmers on the planet. Still struggling against the ever drier conditions to make a living from the parched soil.
The three of them were watched when they left the cantina. They climbed aboard the woman's battered landspeeder to head out to visit a number of outlying farmsteads.
Barcla the Hoard sent no one to follow them. Tailing could not be done surreptitiously on Tattoo One's lonely trails, besides, they would have to return to Skywalker City in order to depart from the planet.
Barcla the Hoard had a hunch, but then that was the way he was built. He also had a strong feeling that this young couple from Harlooff were not all that they seemed, so he sent a signal to a notorious bounty hunter, Fatt Bobb, of the No. 2 Alien's Detective Agency. Would Fatt Bobb like a slice of Nathan West's generous bounty?
From one farmstead to another, Mark and Tamara travelled the dusty out-lands around Skywalker City. They found themselves seated in a number of homely dwellings where, each time, they outlined their plans for Tattoo One. Their reception ranged from the enthusiastic to the sceptical, but no one offered any opposition. Many of the farmers were just to tired with their hopeless battle with the climate. Their lined and drawn faces looked at their two young, would-be saviours and dared not to hope too much.
Thus satisfied, Mark and Tamara travelled back to Skywalker City and the Endeavour. They said their good-byes to their hostess and walked without concern through the town, back to the Spaceport, quite oblivious of the fact that, once again, they were the subjects of intense scrutiny.
Passing along a narrow alley, their way was blocked by a large slug. Tamara recognised him, and whilst her blood ran cold, she feigned indifference.
"Excuse us, please," asked Mark politely.
Barcla gazed down at them both, a broad grin upon his features.
"Aren't you going to say hello to your old master, my dear? Or is Your Grace too grand for the likes of me, now?"
"What? What do you mean? We're from Harlooff."
"Don't play games with me, my little ones. You are mine once again, but you will be pleased to know that your father has a large bounty out for you both, for you alive and unharmed. But for that, I would squash you both. You, Your Royal Queen-ness, with your wretched currency-notes, most particularly. As it is, I shall place you in the secure hands of Fatt Bobb here, the notorious bounty hunter and proprietor of the No.2 Alien's Detective Agency. Take good care of them, Fatt Bobb, and make sure that you forward my share of the reward."
With that the blubbery slug oozed off to his next piece of nefarious business in Skywalker City. Fatt Bobb, his face concealed by a battered helmet, pointed a gun at them and motioned them in the direction of the docking bay that held his own private starship.
With the gun concealed by his free arm, and looking for all the world like a dutiful bodyguard, Fatt Bobb prodded them along the back-streets of Skywalker City to the Spaceport. The Imperial Customs officers had been suitably bribed and looked the other way, but a very hairy co-pilot who was quietly sitting by a wall and spitting tobacco juice to see how far it would travel, also saw the little party pass by.
Hewie slipped back to the Jubilee Endeavour where in the longest speech Dan had ever heard him say, Hewie explained all.
"Fatt Bobb got M & T."
"Hell's teeth. We gotta rescue them!"
"What'll we need? What'll distract a bounty hunter?"
Hewie held up a shilling note.
"Yeah, sure. Enough money'll do it. Let's get a case from the safe."
The two men picked up the case of money and set off towards Fatt Bobb's docking bay. The bounty hunter was just closing up his doors when they arrived.
"Fatt Bobb! Howdie!"
"I am working," intoned the bounty hunter tonelessly.
"So'm I... we," agreed. Dan. "You have time for business?"
He allowed the case to open fractionally, to show off its contents.
"I'd like to buy your merchandise."
"Not for sale."
"Everything's for sale, if the price is right? You're getting two million Credits, am I right? Say I offer you three?"
"Yeah, well, sixty million Aldershott shillings, but it amounts to the same, don't it?"
"Barcla the Hoard wants them out of the way."
"He does. But you? What do you care?"
From their secure positions behind the cockpit, Mark and Tamara added their arguments.
"So how'd you earn your way, Fatt Bobb? Hunting smugglers and rebels? The galaxy's changing. Soon there'll be no more customs taxes, so no more smugglers. There'll be no more high taxes or debts of any kind, so no more rebels. Who will you chase then? You could come and work for us. We've got plenty of money, see?"
Dan opened the case some more, for the hunter to feast his eyes on the crisp new notes inside.
"Put the money down," ordered Fatt Bobb. "I will count it."
It did not take long for that expert in money counting to assess that the money was good and it was all there. He locked it away in his on-board safe and then released Mark and Tamara.
"You go aboard your ship now," he ordered. "Leave this planet within the hour or I capture you again. Do not let Barcla's people see you. Understood?"
Back aboard the Jubilee Endeavour, they were off Tattoo One well within the hour, and, safely in extra-orbital space, they considered their narrow escape, whilst the ship's communications systems scanned the HoloNet frequencies.
"That Fatt Bobb is one true professional. Best in the business," declared Dan Polo.
"If he's so good why's he run the No.2 Alien's Detective Agency?" asked Mark.
"Because, unlike most others, he really does give a shit. But what's that you said about no taxes? Is that for real?"
"It's just that pretty much every government I ever come across, and I come across a few in my time, likes to tax folks to pay for all their officialdom, and pretty much for the hell of it, as far as I can see."
"True, but why do governments want all the officials that they have?"
"Because that‘s what governments do, ain't it? They govern. They need officials, bureaucrats to do the work."
"To some extent, but mostly they have all their layers of bureaucracies to overcome problems."
"Yes. For external threats you create a military, and for internal security a judicial and penal system. For health problems you need a health service; and for the material needs of your less economically able citizens, you need some sort of welfare programme. So you need government departments with their budgets and spending to deal with and manage these problems, right?"
"And you need taxes to pay for this spending, and to pay the interest for past government borrowing, when times where hard and the government could not get all the money it needed just from taxation."
"Yes, but that's just the way things are..."
"Are, yes, but need not be. Supposing a government could afford to employ anyone who wanted employment? Crime and welfare costs would be slashed. Supposing the level of debt and taxes on private business was so small that the pressures on these businesses was reduced? There would be less injuries and accidents caused by stress and overwork. People could work less and still enjoy a standard of living to which they can now only aspire. Supposing there was fair trade between the planets, with no great debt burden for any of them? Inter-planetary conflict would be reduced, eradicated even.
"So you when you eradicate the need for spending that is the cause of two-thirds or three-quarters of your budget, you reduce the need for taxation or borrowing. Agreed?"
"Then, when you eradicate the need for borrowing, you reduce the need further, because you remove the interest payments on borrowed money. You with me?"
"Right, so the government still needs to spend some money on its services and on new capital projects, not least to soak up those who would otherwise be unemployed. You charge taxes to pay for current services, which is only right as people have to pay for the things that benefit them, whether directly or indirectly, but these taxes would need to be only a fraction of what they were before. Yes?"
"Yes, I guess."
"Then new projects, which will increase the overall wealth of the communities they serve, can be paid for out the new money that the government will create which the economy will need as it develops and diversifies. Again no need to borrow or to mortgage future generations. Do you see?"
Dan gazed at Mark non-committally.
"It's too good to be true. What's the catch?"
"There's no catch. We stop people needing to create trouble for each other, and so stop the expenditure that is necessary to solve the problems that such trouble causes."
"If there's so much less spending, won't the Gross Galactic Product be reduced?" asked Dan. "I can't see many people liking that idea."
"Yes, it will, but why worry? We should not get hung up upon the size of the GGP. Too much and too long, we have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross Galactic Product, now, is over 800 trillion Credits a year, but that GGP - if we should judge the galaxy by that - counts air pollution and tobacco advertising, and ambulances to clear our speeder-ways of carnage.
"It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwoods of Endwok and the loss of other natural wonders in a chaotic sprawl. It counts Star-cruisers and the cost of the Debt Star, and the armoured troopers who patrol our streets. It counts blasters and light-sabres and the HoloNet programs which glorify violence to sell toys to our children.
"Yet the Gross Galactic Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our planets; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile."
"Hm! That sure was a pretty speech. Who said that?"
"I just did."
A beep announced the arrival of a HoloNet communication. Colonel Wannabee appeared as a hologram, about half size, on the control panel of the Jubilee Endeavour.
"Greetings, Your Grace. Colonel Wannabee here. I am pleased to report that your plans are proceeding smoothly. We now have nine HoloNet transceivers in operation, with another five shortly to be operational. We have lost one, and we suspect that it was destroyed by Imperial forces. More planets are contacting us and in addition to Kerry and Jerry we now have eighteen fully trained negotiators. We have more freighters and HoloNet transceivers being ordered, and the staff to man them are being recruited and trained, and, with your permission, I should like to order another headquarters ship. We have had a close brush with an Imperial Star-cruiser. Although the Imperial authorities have not made any public denouncement of you, Your Grace, we suspect that they have instituted a Discreet Search to secure your person, and we understand that several bounty hunters are searching for you as well.
"My advice to you, Your Grace, is to stay hidden if at all possible. Those planets that are in greatest need are being the most closely watched, as it is assumed that they are the ones that you are most likely to visit. Several of our people have been taken in for questioning by Imperial authorities, but as they have committed no offence, the Imperials have released them after a few days. You are the key, Your Grace. You are the one they want, whether to get you out of the way or to use you for their own ends. Stay out their way, Your Grace, and may the Source by with you."
"Thank you, colonel. I shall heed your advice. You may order a new headquarters ship, and anything else you require... And thank you for your good wishes... but I think that I am the Source!"
The colonel's hologram was seen to smile and chuckle, then he disappeared and the four on the Jubilee Endeavour considered one another for a few moments.
"So that's it," mused Mark, "the plan is rolling out and will continue to do so, Tamara, all the time that you remain alive and free."
"So maybe we can take a look at Tattoo Two," suggested Tamara.
"Tattoo Two?" asked Dan. "That's just a desert. Nothing but dry dust."
"But we can still orbit it, can we not?" asked Tamara.
"Sure, Your Grace, sure. Whatever you say."
The journey to Tattoo Two orbit was so short that a jump through hyper-space was neither required nor possible. Below them the great planet shone its lambent topaz into the surrounding space. The heat which bathed the glowing planet was almost tangible even from a thousand kilometres above it surface.
Tamara and Mark gazed down upon it through image intensifiers until Tamara let out a squeal of delight.
"Ruins!" she cried. "Look, and that's a dried up river bed!"
"I see it. Yes, and there's more ruins along its banks," replied Mark.
"You seen what, guys?" asked Polo, mildly interested.
"It is as we thought, Dan, it was once inhabited. It did once have life. It had rivers and look, there's a dried up lake, a big one too."
"Sure. But the water's all gone now."
"No, not gone. Its all down there, but it's in the atmosphere," Mark told him. "The atmosphere is so hot that it can hold an enormous amount of water vapour."
"In the atmosphere? Really? So whatcha gonna do?"
"We will surround it with a night-cloak. That will drop its temperature and cause the atmospheric vapour to condense and fall as rain, and then life will return to Tattoo Two."
"You're kidding me?"
"No, Dan, we'll use the night cloak to save Tattoo One at first. We'll only need a partial one for that, then use a full one for Tattoo Two. Which we will claim for our own and it will become a new home for the survivors of Aldershott. It will become New Aldershott!"
"Wel, ain't that just dandy. You guys don't think small, do you? But I hope you guys ain't planning on going down there today, 'cos the temperatures down there will fry you alive."
"Certainly not, Dan."
"So you got any plans of where you want to go, to stay away from the Empire's clutches meantime?"
"No, Dan, we don't know the galaxy like you do."
"Well, maybe I know just the place. It's run by an ol' buddy of mine. I'll sure be glad to see him again. You know, I won the Jub off him at a hand of cards."
"Yup, and now he's running his own sovereign state, name of Cirrus City."