But what do they need it all for? That’s what I don’t get. It’s a single outpost, waaaaaay out in the middle of the arsehole of nothingness, orbiting a scruffy ball of diddly that no-one would ever want to mine from a distance, much less live on.
And yet, somehow, they want forty-five tonnes — count ’em (I did) — of tea. For a flimsy outpost structure that couldn’t mass much more than forty-five tonnes itself.
Yes, tea. The plant. That is, the dried vegetable matter that people put in water and boil to make a drink of sorts when they can’t get coffee — as though bloody tea is even slightly a substitute for that damnable and necessary glory.
Forty-five tonnes. I read the manifest over and wondered about the numbers. An outpost of, what, a handful of thousand unfortunates, living with no gravity at all, only holding on to their last vestiges of muscle mass thanks to regular turns on the four centrifuges the facility was equipped with, at least two of which could generally be relied upon to be working, by all accounts… Surely, I mean surely, you’re going to want something a little cheerier than bloody tea to maintain a lifestyle that grim, no? I mean gin, surely, at the very least?
Gin I could’ve understood. An urgent rush job paying me a wad of credits to get gin here in short order. Yes, that would make sense. But tea?
Still, there was joy in the face of the dude who greeted me in the hangar. (There are no proper harbour facilities here — just lifting pads barely big enough to accommodate the Mouser’s patented big fat ass.) I mean the man was full-on radiating as he glided over to me. At least to begin with, I supposed it was just sheer delight that his cans of leafy stuff had arrived.
“My Lord!” he bellowed.
Gods damn it.
For a moment I was afraid he’d try to bow and flip himself over. He managed to restrain himself on that score, at least, and arrived alongside me, reaching out and grabbing the Mouser’s front leg. I don’t mind admitting I bristled. Twice. Once for the gratuitous noble-buttering he’d inflicted on me; and once more for his putting his unsavoury, and un-introduced, mitts on my ship without asking.
I suppose I should explain. Yes, technically speaking, I am recognised by the Empire as a ‘count’. But it’s really just decorative. It doesn’t do much. It doesn’t come with land or money or a free ship or let me condemn anyone to death — not that I’d do that, obviously, but we all have those days, don’t we? All it really does do is allow me to access certain systems I wouldn’t otherwise have been permitted to jump into; and it opens up a couple of ship classes I could buy for myself if I wanted to — and if I happened to have like half a billion credits to throw away.
A title like mine isn’t much of an achievement, is the point. I mean the Empire’s huge: there must be a million counts, twice that in viscounts, and I dread to think how many basic bog-standard knights there are. But you get given these frilly fake titles for ‘Service to the Crown’, which is all fine, but when that service has been shifting lettuce from one fleabitten backwater to another being told you’re a Count now really does start to feel like a bit of a skive. And it doesn’t matter what title you get for ‘Service to the Crown’ — if it ain’t been bestowed on you personally by the Emperor, with her knowing your name and everything, you better not go waving that title about at social occasions if there are going to be real nobles there. Trust me, that’s not going to go well at all.
Still, there are those people for whom ‘decorum’ doesn’t just mean not getting caught, but something to believe in; something to live your life by. And by gods, if that doesn’t mean addressing even a plastic count like me as ‘My Lord’, then it don’t mean anything at all. Sometimes you just have to put up with it. So in the end, I did. And the guy rushed about organising his loaders and making sure they all showed me the proper deference gods damn him, until we’d got all forty-five tonnes unloaded, and he’d paid me, and he finally, finally let me climb back aboard and shove the Mouser back out into the dark.