“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.”
“Let me get this right,” Charis said, incredulous. “You are telling me that because I took a break from the freight shunts to help a friend with their new business I am – ” It felt surreal and for a moment Charis had to close her eyes.
“No longer a citizen.” the official finished for her. “That is indeed so, Var Sweetling.”
She opened her eyes again and tried to deal with the situation in a calm and logical way.
“Look, if the Coalition needs me on the cargo runs so badly, I’ll go back to Rota tomorrow. They will be happy to have me back. They told me they would.”
The official’s face wore an expression which might even have held some trace of regret.
“I am sure you would and I am sure they would. But, I am sorry to say there is an issue with your doing so. Those posts are only open to those who are citizens of the Coalition. And, as you have now confirmed all the details which underlie the ruling of the committee, the status of your non-citizenship has already been confirmed.”
Charis felt her mouth dry up as her throat became suddenly constricted and sore.
“I want a lawyer,” she said, snapping out the words and without even waiting for permission she sent a link out to her mother. It failed to connect and dropped away.
“You are welcome to seek legal representation if you wish to re-apply for asylum, appeal the decision or seek citizenship, but only once you have been deported. As a non-citizen, you have no right to residency in any of the Central or other Coalition worlds, so whatever legal steps you feel you need to take will have to be conducted from outside them.”
The full horror of her situation impacted then and left Charis feeling weak, as though her muscles could not support her body. She felt herself slump back into the chair.
“I need to go home if you are going to deport me, I need my things. I -”
“That is not going to be possible. You will leave here for a detention facility where you will be informed as to what options may be open to you. I do suggest you co-operate as it makes the process less unpleasant for everyone, but most of all for yourself.”
“But – you don’t understand. I am a citizen of Central – raised here, educated here, my parents live here, all my friends are here, I don’t know any other life. I couldn’t survive a day on half the Middle World protectorates I’ve shunted cargo to, let alone on some below low-tech Periphery hell hole. I won’t know the culture, the way of life, the people. Why take me in and teach me, nurture me, make this my home – then throw me out? What was the point? It’s beyond pointless – it’s – it’s cruel.”
Her voice broke a little on the last word and she had to stop talking or risk allowing the tears of anger and frustration, which pricked in her eyes, from showing.
The official looked a little weary as if he found himself dealing with this situation one time too often.
“The Coalition always takes the cases of displaced minors, children who need asylum, very seriously and the Protected Children Program has been long established as a humane and fair way of treating unaccompanied or orphaned children who come to us in need. Those, such as yourself, who are accepted under Amendment D are required to repay the community through military service, which you did. After which you may be accorded rights of citizenship if you are working in reserved employment – as you were for many years. There is nothing unfair, pointless or cruel about it.”
Charis heard the door open behind her and, still in denial when her arm was taken in an iron grip, she felt as if the end of her life had begun.
“You can confirm your registered name is Charity Sweetling?”