The vaulted ceiling soared overhead, its lofty heights making Edwin feel even less significant than he already did. He thought it was as little odd to have the petition office in an old cathedral. Clutching his papers, he found a seat in the waiting area and looked around for something to take his mind off what he was actually doing, the path he was setting himself on. The ceiling caught the corner of his eye. Looking up at it he could see where it had been inexpertly repaired. The painted decoration just wasn't there on the newer boards. There was no pattern to the replaced boards that Edwin could discern. He got so lost in trying to find one that he almost missed his name being called. And from the bite in the Caller's voice Edwin could well imagine that he had, in fact, missed it at least once.
Reminded of his reason for being there, Edwin made his way across the echoing stone floor to the available Petition Officer's table. His hands only shook a little as he handed his papers across the line that demarcated the public area and the Bureau's domain. The PO took the papers and, while scanning through them, checked each box that was marked 'For Official Use Only' if only, it seemed, to make it obvious he was doing something.
As he checked the final box the PO finally looked up again and with a bored look said, "All this appears to be in order, Mr Roberts. Is there anything else?"
"Well, I was hoping you could give me some idea of when I could expect a response to my petition."
"Ah, yes. Of course. No. We can't do that. Good day, Mister Roberts."
Stunned by the abrupt dismissal, he sat and opened and closed his mouth but no sound came out. He couldn't believe that all his preparation and nervous energy had been expended for so little.
"Mister Roberts? Good day."
"Oh. yes. Of course. I mustn't keep you. Thank you."
Edwin made his way out of the building still in a daze, his blood roaring in his ears. It had taken so long to work up the courage to fill out the forms. Making the decision to submit the petition for approval had been excruciating. Taking the time away from work in order to do it had been fraught with peril as he didn't want his employer to know what he was doing. He was startled out of his daze by someone calling his name.
"Edwin! Edwin Roberts! Good grief, man, are you awake or sleep-walking?"
He looked around trying to see who had called his name. He eyes settled on a familiar face right in front of him. Edwin belatedly realized he had, in fact, been trying to look around this same person for a couple minutes to see where he was going. He felt his face heating as the flush rose from his chest.
"Oh! Stephan! God damn, man! What are you doing here?"
"One might ask the same of you, Edwin," Stephan replied with a grin on his face.
"Well, I suppose. Say... Do you have some time right now?"
"Yeah, I suppose. Why?"
"Would you come and have a drink with me? I certainly need one right about now. I'll even buy."
"Well, in that case, who could refuse? Shall we?" He took Edwin by the arm and escorted him towards the Queen's Reach Pub which was just around the corner.
"Do you think we could get a booth in the back? A quiet one?"
"I guess. Why? Have you turned into a secret agent or something?" Stephan queried with a wink.
Edwin replied with a lop-sided smile "Something like that."
They found a booth that had just emptied as they arrived and Edwin waited impatiently for the bar maid to finish clearing it. He double-checked the benches for grease spots before slumping into a seat. He gestured vaguely at the other side of the booth for Stephan and turned to the bar maid.
"What? Oh, yes. I'll have a - well, what do you have on draft?"
"Oh, well... We've got Plummers, Old Horse bitters, Fred's IPA, and our in-house brown ale"
"I'll have the house ale. Stephan?"
"Hmmmm... Do you have Frog's Hops in a bottle?"
"Yes, we do"
"I'll have that, then."
"Excellent. I'll get those right out to you. Anything to eat?"
"Thanks, no," Edwin answered, "Perhaps later."
"So, what's all this about, then? It's entirely unlike you to pop in anywhere for a drink mid-afternoon. And on a work day, no less!"
"Well, it's like this. Ever since I heard that the manned mission to Saturn's moons might be a go I've been able to think of little else. It's possessed me completely. And God knows I don't have any real reason to stay here," he said flinging his arms wide as if to encompass the whole world. "And I really think I could be valuable to the mission if for no other reason than my nose for details. I know the whole thing is way beyond anything I've ever done or even thought about but... Well, just, I have to try.
"Oh. I see," Stephan smirked. "It's like that, is it? No thought for your neighbours and co-workers?"
"Gah! I knew I shouldn't tell anyone. You'll all think I've gone off my rocker. And maybe I have! But that's no reason..."
He paused while the bar maid delivered the beers were and he instructed her to run a tab.
"That's no reason to not try it! Nothing will happen without stepping outside the box a bit! Did Edison stay within the lines? And what about the early explorers? What if they had stuck to what was known?, he said, voice rising.
"Shhhhhhh! People are looking. Calm down a bit, have a drink of your beer."
"Don't 'shush' me! And so what if people are looking? They can look all they want!"
"Well, you're the one who wanted a quiet booth in the back," Stephan said with a half smile. "I had assumed you wanted some privacy."
"Bah. Whatever. Sorry. I'll be a little quieter. But it just gets me fired up when people don't take me seriously. I mean, so what if I've never done anything like this before? How many people have?"