“You can confirm your registered name is Charity Sweetling?”
Charis nodded, expecting to see the usual smile when she gave her full name, but this official just raised an eyebrow.
“I need you to answer me, please. You are in no way disabled so a full verbal answer is required.”
“Oh. Sure. Sorry. Yes. That is my registered name. But could I ask what this is about?”
The official glanced up, looking back to his screen, as if he had not heard her question.
“You were born on a non-Coalition planet and arrived in Central when you were assessed as being an estimated four years old, a certain Vor Franet declared you as a seeker of asylum on the grounds that were you to be returned to your home you would face certain abuse through enslavement.”
Charity nodded again, then realised and said quickly: “Yes.”
The official went on in the same uninflected voice as if he were reading a shopping list rather than dissecting her life.
“You were accepted into the Coalition Protected Children Program and placed with a family who ensured you received an appropriately supervised upbringing and education. On achieving full majority and adult status you undertook the required military service of the Program and completed it successfully.”
The official stopped again and looked across at her.
“I think it’s a bit unfair to describe my upbringing as just ‘appropriately supervised’. My parents gave me the very best they could. They gave me an awesome upbringing, a loving upbringing, a fun and caring upbringing – ”
“Var Sweetling,” the man cut across her, “are you wanting to challenge your upbringing as not being appropriately supervised? Or report the Coalition Program has been at fault in some way?”
Charis shook her head. Then, under the expectant glare of the man sitting opposite her, said: “No, I do not want to challenge anything about my upbringing.”
“And you will confirm the other details I stated are correct? Or do you need me to repeat them for you?”
Charity began to feel uneasy. This appointment, at almost zero notice, had been pushed on her out of the blue in a severely worded linkmail, which made it clear failure to comply would lead to any number of unpleasant consequences. It meant she needed to take half a day off work and fly back overnight from her scheduled stop-over to make it, forcing poor Ebon to jig some very creative adjustments to the roster. But since it came with the badge of the Central Immigration Taskforce, she was obliged to attend. Charis linked her mother as soon as the appointment arrived, but even she had no idea what it could be about.
“Probably just some un-dotted I or uncrossed T in their internal files,” her mother said. “But if it turns out there is a problem, just let me know and we’ll get it sorted out. Do you want me to come down there with you as your legal representative?”
Sometimes having a lawyer for a mother could be very reassuring. But Charis, not wanting to force her into the three-day planet hop it would have meant, told her not to bother and promised to let her know how it went.
“Var Sweetling? This is very important. Can you please confirm -”
“Uh – yes. Yes, you have the facts right.”
The official went on: “You have been employed as a pilot for the last eight years, working for the Rota Corporation in a role which complied with the reserved occupations list.”
“If by that you mean shunting big freighters around the galaxy, then yes.”
The official nodded as if pleased she grasped the idea of the interview at last.
“And you recently moved your occupation to work for – ” He paused as if in doubt about the words on the screen he read from. “The Wild Ride Superb Bus.”
There was an awkward silence.
“It is a tourist shuttle a good friend of mine, Ebon Wild, set up – it’s not really a job, more of a sabbatical. Just a chance to do something a bit different before I go back to cargo shunting.”
“I only require you to confirm the veracity of the details I have here, please, Var Sweetling.”
“Oh for -” she bit back the words and tried to calm down. “I mean, yes. Yes, I can confirm it. But what is all this about?”
“Your present occupation is not on the reserved list, Var Sweetling.”
Charity struggled to see that as an explanation and shook her head.
“I don’t see what that has to do with anything. It is a temporary contract and when it expires I’m back to the big ships again. Rota even told me they would take me back right away no need to go through the application and trials again. Like I said before, it is more of a sabbatical to help a friend get their start-up off the ground. Literally.”
The official seemed to be listening and waited, wearing a polite expression of indifference until she finished.
“Your present occupation,” he repeated, in the same toneless voice as before, “is not on the reserved list.”
Charis felt the confusion returning. It made no sense.
“I really do not understand what this is about.”
“Let me put it in plain words, Var Sweetling -”
“Oh please do, plainer the better – this is just sounding bizarre.”
“The Security of Place and Persons Committee has decided the term of your asylum is now over. The original conditions of it being in place – you being an unescorted minor in need of safety – no longer apply and the sole mitigation you held through working in reserved employment, is no longer valid. As a result, Var Sweetling I need to inform you that you are no longer a citizen of Central nor – since you were born outside it – of the Coalition.”
Concludes next week…
Part One of a glimpse into Fortune's Fools Haruspex:Trust A Few by E.M. Swift-Hook.