It was the day of the Annual Flower and Produce Show in Little Elysium-on-the-Planet. A very neat and respectable looking starship, that looked like a well-designed spacecraft should look like, with a pointy bit at the front and some nice big fins at the back, emerged from the low cloud that hung over the village that day.
The starship naturally excited the interest of the members of the Imperial Starship Spotters' Club, none of whom had it in their spotting records, nor even in their ABC Guide to Galactic Hyper-Space Starships (Civilian). The local children also gathered around excitedly. The Old Tattoonians looked up from their nets practice, whilst the Demons stopped their velocipedes to watch, but most of the people of Little Elysium were far too concerned as to who would win the prize for the finest onion to be interested in starships. It would a be close call and so far no one had been persuaded to act as the judge upon the matter.
Nathan West emerged from his craft, backed up as ever by his two henchmen. Having jumped halfway across the Galaxy in hyper-drive, he was immediately confronted by a six year old urchin calmly watching and picking his nose. Older boys scurried about with open note-books and pocket reference manuals.
"Hey, mister! What kind of ship is this?" called out one.
The hooded figure paused, his head turning ominously towards the spotty youth. He waved a hand slowly through the air.
"You do not need to know what ship this is."
"We do not need to know what ship this is..." repeated the youth, "but you could tell us anyway."
The hooded figure turned away from the youngsters and, seeing crowds of people in and around the brightly painted parish hall, made his way towards it. Several people glanced up at the three figures that walked through the door, but each thought that they had probably come with someone else, and politely ignored them. It was Harold Sodbuster who first spoke to them.
"Ah, good afternoon, I don't think I've had the pleasure..." he began.
"Really?" said the smooth voiced space-traveller. "A man of your age?"
"No. I mean we've not met before, have we? I'm Harold Sodbuster, Chairman of the Elysium Gardening Club and, as it happens, Chairman of the Elysium Parish Council."
Nathan West had found the man he was seeking.
"I am Nathan West of Western Credit, Inter-planetary trader and financier. You have heard of Western Credit?"
"Yes, one of the banks on Tattoo One. Pleased to meet you Mr West. And your friends?"
"My companions need no introduction."
"What, famous are they?"
"No, they are infamous."
"Oh I see, I think. Well, never mind I am very pleased to meet you and welcome you to our Flower and Produce Show. Now Mr West, you are just the person I am looking for, you see, I've got a bit of a problem."
Nathan West was heartily relieved to be able to get down to business so easily. This planet would be less difficult to secure than Barcla the Hoard had seemed to think.
"Yes, you see, we need someone to judge the onions. Someone impartial. I am afraid there's too many loyalties and vested interests to get a proper decision. With everything else, its all very obvious, but I'm afraid the onions are too close to call."
"I know nothing of onions. I have come to trade."
"Trade? Oh, what have you got? I must admit we're very self-sufficient. Mind you, as we are forbidden by the Empire to trade off planet, we have to be. We're a Restricted Planet, I'm afraid, Mr West."
"I bring you slug pellets."
"Slug pellets! Now you're talking. Do let me get you a nice cup of tea!"
Over a nice cup of tea, they discussed slug pellets, then Nathan West was persuaded to judge the onions.
"Its a matter of taste, you see," explained Harold Sodbuster. "Taste and texture and general quality."
Nathan tried a first piece of onion, and declared that such an onion would be delicious if pickled. The second, he determined would be excellent fried, and the third would make a perfect onion soup. This result delighted the watching crowd who all agreed that Mr West was a thoroughly nice man who certainly knew his onions.
Thereafter, business was transacted. A large sack of slug pellets was removed from the hold of his starship and he received in exchange a very modest sum of Toy Town Pounds.
This was quite normal for the people of Elysium who worked for them, spent them and valued them as money was valued around the galaxy. None thought to wonder why someone like Nathan West would be happy with his side of the bargain.
Mr Sodbuster, perhaps feeling a certain sense of obligation to their benefactor, invited West to stay the night. He agreed to do so. He shut down his ship's systems to their lowest possible level of activity to reduce the chance of any passing Imperial Patrol Ships detecting its presence and with his two shrouded attendants made his way to the Sodbuster's cottage with its roses around the door.
"It must be a great inconvenience, this technological limitation," mused Nathan that evening as he joined Mr and Mrs Sodbuster for a nice cup of tea.
"We get used to it. It's actually quite nice in a way. There's no noisy machines for one thing, but there is something I do miss from Tattoo One."
"There is?" Nathan was interested.
"Yes. There's nothing better than waking up to a nice cup of tea all freshly brewed. But, of course, we've no electricity, have we?"
West thought for a while.
"I have heard that there is such a thing as a solar-powered teasmade," he remarked.
"Is there? Now, that is a good idea. Never mind your hyper-drives that whisk you across the galaxy in hours, a solar-powered teasmade is the very essence of civilisation. Mind you. I dare say even they give off a certain amount of radio-activity or whatever it is that the Imperials would be likely to detect."
"Not the panels, and providing you keep the rest indoors, it should not be detectable."
"Really? Well, I wonder... you couldn't... bring one on your next visit? No, bring several, I am sure that there'd be a demand."
"And more slug pellets?"
"Always very welcome."
"But please allow me to ask, Mr Sodbuster, if I accept your currency in payment for these items, how sound a currency is it?"
"Mm. For example, money that is printed off like there is no tomorrow is very unsound."
"Oh no. We've deliberately limited the supply, in order to keep its value, otherwise... otherwise, as you say, it just gets out of hand. And Derek Moneypenny does a very good job in regulating its issue."
"Good. I am pleased to hear it."
Night-time was an even quieter time on Elysium than the daytime. Even the Valhades Demons, lacking lights for their velocipedes, would be tucked up in bed come the witching hour, and as for the Imperial Starship Spotters, that was well past their bed-time.
Nathan West slipped out of his hosts' house and moved with habitual ease though the near total darkness to the house of Derek Moneypenny. It was not locked, as neither had been the Sodbusters'. As for Nathan's target, that was easily found. It was the only cupboard in the Moneypenny house that was locked. This was overcome with a simple sonic picklock, and there was the strong box, secured with its three padlocks. These also offered no challenge to the sonic picklock, and soon Nathan West had all the money wealth of Elysium's Parish Council, the total planet's currency reserve, in his hands.
He recognised it as being the same toy currency he had played with himself years ago as a child. So this was it, this was all that they relied upon as their money system.
He counted it quickly, made a mental note of the amount, then noticed a large ledger upon which the box had been resting. His hopes were raised and, upon scrutinising the first page, totally realised.
Here was the record of those sums that had been paid out to those Elysians who had undertaken work for the council. Also recorded were those sums earnt by the council, largely through the hiring out of the parish hall for parties and weddings. It showed quite clearly the total sum of money upon which the viability of the Elysian economy rested.
It was not, he was pleased to note, very much. It would not take many sacks of slug pellets or solar-powered teasmades to eradicate their currency from existence.
He carefully replaced currency, ledger and strongbox back in their original positions. The thought occurred that if he took the money now, he would wipe them out sooner. But no, he decided, the suspicion would fall too easily upon him and his plan would be lost.
His role was to be that of the trustworthy business partner. It would only take a few years.
His departure the following day coincided with neither the Annual Gardening Show nor nets practice, so quite a crowd of Elysians gathered to see him off, and to place with him their orders for solar-powered teasmades. As he blasted off, he left behind him a large number of the citizenry keen to undertake public works in order to earn sufficient money to pay for their new teasmades, when next he visited.
The Valhades Demons were something of an exception as their request for speeder bikes had been turned down by the Parish Council on the grounds that they could not be kept hidden from Imperial detection.