Their conference with the Emperor completed, Nathan's party was directed to the Station's recreation centre for a bite to eat and a chance to unwind from the exertions of the day. Here they found Kerry and Jerry window shopping in the Station's mall. They were all feeling hungry so Nathan led them to the mall's most upmarket dining facility.
Other people passing by gave them barely a glance, for there were many other civilians around and about, traders, pilots, administrators, as well as the staff who manned the mall's facilities.
An old man was mopping the floor as they walked by and his mop caught Tamara's foot. He glanced up to profusely apologise and then came squarely to attention.
Tamara stopped and looked at him, she laughed nervously.
"That's okay, no problem."
"Oh sorry miss, just for moment, I though you were someone else, but you can't be. She died on Aldershott."
"Aldershott? Did you say Aldershott? What do you know about Aldershott?" asked Tamara quickly.
"I come from there, miss, it's my home planet, like. Can't go back, of course..."
Mark came back to find his sister.
"Is there a problem, Tamara?"
"No, Mark, this gentleman's from Aldershott."
"Really? Pleased to meet you, sir," said Mark putting his hand out.
"Oh, I ain't really no gentleman," said the old man bashfully taking Mark's hand. Then he thought for a minute. "But you'd be too young to know Aldershott. It must be twenty years ago now."
"Listen, can we meet up sometime? I'd love to hear about Aldershott."
"And I'd love to tell you about it. Come down to the caretaker's office and ask for old Ken. I'm always about. Got nowhere else to go."
"Bye, Ken, see you later."
After eating, Nathan announced that he wanted to check out the Western Credit office on the Station. He intimated that Mark at least and possibly Tamara would like to join him. Tamara said that she'd like stay with Kerry and Jerry and do some shopping. Nathan smiled indulgently and gave her a cash card with more credits on it than she would be likely to want. He left with Mark in tow.
"Oh, great, I saw this wonderful little shop, with some gorgeous things," gushed Kerry when she realised that they now had some serious spending power.
"Fine, Kerry, you do the shopping, I want to see an old cleaner," said Tamara.
"Yes, really. Just buy me something that you think will suit me, but not a black cloak. I know that they're the ‘in' thing, but they're not my thing. See you later."
Down on the lowest level of the station, Tamara found the old man without difficulty, and he politely motioned her to be seated on one of the rather grubby plastic chairs that served for furniture for the mall's cleaning staff.
"Right," he said, "best introduce myself, the name's Ken Wannabee."
"Pleased to meet you, Ken, I'm Tamara, Tamara West."
Since she had always felt estranged from her uncle's surname, Tamara found that it was really easy to use her father's.
"Tamara. That is a pretty name, sums up Aldershott, does that name, you know."
"And that young man of yours, is he your... er, you know?"
"He's my brother, my twin brother"
"Oh, your twin brother. The Queen had twins, you know? Boy and a girl, just like you and your brother. There is a rumour that they wasn't on Aldershott when it... well, got destroyed."
"The Queen, you mean the Queen of Aldershott?"
"Yes. You must have heard of her?"
"Not really, my aunt never used to talk about Aldershott. She said it was best left in the past."
"Yes, I was brought up by my aunt and uncle, my mother died when Aldershott... you know?"
"And your father?"
"Oh, he's a... he travels a lot."
"So he wasn't on..."
"No. He's still alive. He's here, but he hasn't said much about Aldershott, and I only met him a couple of days ago. It's long a story."
"Yes? But I have to say that you do remind me very much of our late Queen Heneria."
"Heneria? That's my mother's name!"
"Yes? Here look, I've got a picture of the Queen on an old Aldershott currency-note. It's a five shilling one."
He pulled the small slip of paper from his wallet where it had been lovingly kept for nearly twenty years. Tamara looked at the picture and put a hand to her mouth. Then pulled out the picture of her mother that she had brought from Standardia.
"Oh, look, you have got a photograph of the Queen!" declared old Ken laughingly.
"Oh, my goodness," said Tamara, beginning to shake.
"Are you all right, love? You look a bit peaky to me."
"Ken, Mr Wannabee, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"I doubt it, love. I'm thinking that if I don't clean the toilets on Level 2 in the next half an hour, I am for the high jump. Is that what you are thinking?"
"No. I was kinda thinking something else. I didn't know there were toilets on Level 2."
"Oh, there's toilets on every level, love, don't you worry about that. But I have to be off now. It's been lovely talking to you. Here, I don't know if you're interested in the bank-notes and coins of the pre-Empire days but we collect them down at the Numismatists Society. Come down this evening, if you like. Staff Canteen number 3. Any time between seven and nine, I'll be there."
When Nathan and Mark returned from their business, Tamara was able to show off the nice things that she, winking at Kerry, had bought. Nathan wanted to make some small purchases of his own, and whilst he was out of ear-shot, Tamara started talking very quickly and urgently to her three comrades.
"I want us to stay here a while longer," she old them.
"What for? asked Mark. "I've been trying to think of some way we can stop father's plans, but he has everything sewn up."
"Obviously you don't want to kill him, right?" checked Jerry.
"That would not solve the problem. The Emperor would just turn to someone else. I was thinking of trying to sneak into the Emperor's quarters, to tell him not to borrow money but to create all the Empire's money himself, but in my mind's eye I see myself being hauled off like some crazy fool, with father coming to bail me and treating me like I'm some half-wit."
"Mark, I think, I am not sure, but I think that I have discovered something truly amazing. I might be able to confirm it this ‘evening', down at Staff Canteen number 3, and I want you to come with me," said Tamara with a note of serious urgency in her voice.
"What? Father was talking about flying out. He has places to go, and we can sleep on the ship."
"Trust me on this, Mark. I need this ‘evening' at least."
Tamara turned to Kerry and Jerry.
"Can one of you guys feign illness?"
"What sort of illness?" asked Kerry.
"Any sort. Something that will get you into the sick-bay for, say, 24 hours, and delay our departure."
Kerry staggered, clutched her lower abdomen, groaned loudly and slumped to the floor.
"Oh, help! Somebody help us please!" called Tamara, as Mark and Jerry looked genuinely aghast.
A paramedic team was soon on the spot. They lifted Kerry gently onto the stretcher.
"Don't worry, Kerry, I'm with you. I'll stick with you," called Tamara. She looked at the paramedics for confirmation. They nodded agreement and they all whizzed off to the Station sick-bay.
When Nathan returned with his purchases, it was to receive the news that Kerry had been taken ill, and that Tamara had gone with her to the sick-bay.
"Is it serious?" he asked.
"No, I don't think so. It's something that she sometimes gets. Time of the month," said Jerry, playing his part.
"And Tamara's with her?"
"Yes, we just waited to tell you, then we were going to join them," added Mark. He sensed that his father would consider leaving the women, Kerry at least.
"Very well. I shall return to the ship. Let me know how she is."
The Constructor Station, like similar installations, had no natural diurnal time periods, so an artificial one was in place that corresponded with Imperial Standard Time. This was largely to enable the senior officers and administrators to arrange mutually convenient dinner parties for each another. Most lower ranks worked shifts that made such niceties irrelevant, but even so, the ‘evening' was the time when most social activities occurred, open for those not actually on duty.
That ‘evening', Mark and Tamara left Kerry and Jerry playing their respective roles in the sick-bay and went off in search of Staff Canteen number 3. They found it and entered.
Tamara spotted Ken Wannabee with a half dozen others sitting around a table, half-empty drinks tumblers before them, comparing some of their latest acquisitions and discussing the various peculiarities of each coin or note. Ken spotted his half-expected visitors and called them over. Tamara spoke urgently to her brother.
"Mark. There's something I've got to show you first. I should have shown it to you before, but the last few days were such a rush, it just didn't occur to me. Here, look at this photograph."
"Who is she?"
"Aunt Matta always told me she was my mother, our mother, and I have no reason to doubt her."
Mark held the photograph and gazed at it. He had never seem a picture of his mother before. His aunt and uncle simply did not have one. He fought back the tears.
"Hello, Tamara, love. Hello, it's Mark, isn't it? We met before."
"Yes, that's right."
"Sit yourselves down. Can I get you a drink at all? Not much of a selection, I'm afraid. Not like the officers' mess."
"Ken, do you have that Aldershott currency-note?" asked Tamara.
"Yes, I do. He'd be interested, your brother. So were you actually born on Aldershott?"
"That's right, and like you, we weren't there when..."
"But your mother was?"
Mark looked at the note, then he looked up and stared at his sister. She stared back.
"And Ken? You said that the Queen had twin children, a boy and a girl?"
"That's right. You know, they'd be about your age now if they were still alive. Some people reckon that they are, that they weren't on Aldershott when... But you can't go around believing such silly tales can you?"
Mark turned the note over slowly in his hand.
"Very nice," he managed to say. "A nice collector's item but quite worthless now, of course."
"Oh no. There you're wrong. Aldershott notes are still legal tender."
"Oh, yes. When the Empire was formed and the Imperial Credit was created as the galactic currency, all the other money systems were given a set period to allow people to change to the new currency before their money ceased to be legal tender and just became collector's items, but Aldershott shilling notes were never de-legalised. No, in fact, it was incorporated in the Imperial decree that Aldershott shilling notes would remain forever legal tender throughout the Empire at the exchange rate of twenty Aldershott shillings to one Imperial Credit. A bit of a memorial, I suppose. But they're actually worth more than their face value to collectors."
Mark thought fast and furious.
"Who is, or was, authorised to issue Aldershott bank-notes?"
"Not bank-notes, currency-notes. They weren't issued by any bank, but only by the Queen."
"The Queen, not the King?"
"Aldershott never had a king. The crown only passed down through the female line, eldest daughter of eldest daughter."
"And she would do what to authorise and issue them?"
"I don't know, but you see that her signature is on the note, like it was on every note."
"So who ever is Queen of Aldershott is authorised to issue Aldershott currency-notes which are legal tender throughout the Empire?" asked Mark slowly.
"Well, yes. If she wasn't dead, of course."
"But if her daughter was alive..."
"Well, her daughter would now be Queen, of course..."
Mark and Tamara stared deeply into each other's eyes.
"Are you two all right? You're both looking a bit peaky, if you don't mind me saying so. Now, here's an interesting note. It's from the former Yewropian Federation of planets..."
But Ken's voice went nowhere near either Mark or Tamara's consciousness.
"We need to think," said Mark.
"We need to find out as much as we can about Aldershott shillings," added Tamara.
"Yes, Information first. Think later. So... er, Ken. Do you have any other Aldershott notes?"
"I also got a one and a ten, but they're not such good quality."
"How much do you want for them?"
"I don't want to sell them. There're the only bit of Aldershott that I've got left."
"How much are they worth?"
"As collector's items? The five is probably worth about three Imperial Credits, as it is in such good condition, the one and the ten, maybe, one Credit each."
"Would you take fifty Credits for all three?"
"Fifty Imperial Credits?"
At the size of the sum mentioned, all the other collectors turned to take a keener interest in their young visitors. Then Ken stood up and gestured for Mark and Tamara to follow him.
"Come with me, if you please, young sir and miss."
He waddled out of the canteen into the hallway. Mark and Tamara followed him. In the hallway, the old man turned and studied them closely.
"Now, I apologise if I offend," he began in his usual deferential manner. "But I would like to ask you both some questions."
"Fire away, Ken."
"You say you that you were born on Aldershott, but that you left there when you were very small?"
"With whom were you staying?"
"My mother's sister. She lived on Tattoo One."
"And her name was?"
"And her husband's name?"
"The famous folk singer," remarked Ken.
"Famous? I didn't know he was famous."
"Before your time. And your father's name? His real name?"
"Anarkist Skyspotter. He then changed it to Nathan West."
The old man glanced about to see that no one was about in the corridor, then he dropped to one knee with a litheness that belied his age. He stood up, no longer a doddering old codger, but possessed of the easy stance of the trained soldier.
"Your Grace, I am Colonel Kenyo Wannabee, formerly of the Aldershott Secret Service, now entirely at your service."