“Registration has been completed for vessel VR-404, registered name, ah… Serious Mouser.” The dumpy little clerk smiled winningly, and pushed a datastick across the counter. “This is your confirmation document, Master Drowe. Please ensure you keep this aboard the vessel along with your spaceframe warrant and ship’s log. These documents must be presented for inspection at the request of the Imperial Flight Operations Bureau or other authorised agent. Will there be anything else today?”
“No,” she replied. “No, that’s all I need, thanks.” Ceit reached out and picked up the stick. She held it up and gazed on it for a few moments in the fluorescent light of the office. This was it. This was her new life. New opportunites; new avenues to explore. The light glinted from the stick’s translucent casing and for a moment she appreciated it as a precious gemstone, a glittering jewel in the office’s institutional fluorescent light.
She noticed the clerk watching her with an amiable expression, and she felt rather silly. She realised he’d been speaking.
“I said,” the man repeated, “That I hope you enjoy many fruitful years with your new vessel. You’ve chosen a fine Imperial class, if I may say so,” he added. “The Courier is an agile and capable craft; excellent handling, and beautiful lines. I’m certain it will serve you admirably.”
Ceit stood up, and the clerk followed suit.
“I’m sure it will,” she said, and with a bow of her head, she turned to leave.
“Hail the Emperor,” the clerk called out behind her. She stopped, turned, glanced up at the man, and remembered her manners. She shot him a grin. “Bask in her glory,” she replied, and stepped out into the street.
She spent most of the journey back to the airport rolling the datastick around in her hand. The train snaked its way along the edges of the glassy Lake Strazow. Beyond the waters and the forest lands on the far side, the Ecrosia Mountains, renowned throughout the sector for their haunting natural beauty, shone bright in the late afternoon sunlight. But if the landscapes of Experiment were trying to impress Ceit, then at least this time they fell short. For now, in terms of importance, candles could not be held by mere geography to the stick resting in her hand.
This was the final piece of the documentation she needed, and the culmination of a run of surprisingly good days. This week had already seen her granted the full citizenship of Imperial society. Last week she’d been a serf: a subject, but not a citizen. This week, in boilerplate and impersonal thanks for her dedicated service to Imperial logistics organisations, the Emperor herself, prompted by a faceless database and a number of layers of bureaucracy, had chosen to bestow upon Ceit the status of Master.
Which sounded, Ceit reflected, a lot grander than it was. “Master” wasn’t a rank so much as it was a basic courtesy title: in Imperial Society, Ceit could now expect to be addressed as “Master Drowe”. It wasn’t a noble title, by any means, but in theory it represented full citizenship and granted certain rights — most of which were archaic and largely irrelevant in the modern day. Though, it did allow one the right to petition one’s system’s governor, or the senator in whose domain the system lay. And it did, admittedly, serve as a stepping stone to greater heights. As a full citizen Ceit was permitted to begin climbing Society’s ladder. If she impressed a higher-ranking patron she could be sponsored, which could lead to a position as a squire, and perhaps, eventually, even a knighthood.
But these were dizzy thoughts. Citizenship didn’t guarantee such advancement. There were, after all, millions of Imperial citizens, millions of “masters”, and only a small portion of them, relatively speaking, ever moved up.
The sky was darkening as the train rolled, slowing, into Rasa Rho Terminal. The lights of the carriage reflected from the windows, but here and there the gathering dusk was lit by engine flares, as ships climbed away from the terminal and began boosting themselves towards the heavens.
And somewhere, in one of the hangars built underneath the terminal, sat a ship that would soon be carrying Ceit herself away from this planet. The Serious Mouser, newly registered, all fitted out and ready to go. And now, all she had to do was decide where to.