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Welcome to the Licensing Office
The Licensing Office in Affamarg is a good architectural example of licensing offices throughout the Empire. The public facade is impressive, several stories high, with deep, decorated double-arches across the entrance. In fair weather, two very large doors are kept open wide during public hours. In more inclement weather and after hours, the lobby is accessed through smaller 'man doors,' which are inset in the larger doors and have more standard sizing. Entrance is on the right, exit on the left - both are clearly marked. During public hours, at least one Monitor is found at each door, keeping any queue orderly.
The lobby is a long open room with high, vaulted ceilings and a variety of single-story offices. An open second story, accessed by several impressive staircases, is an area for long-term waiting, and has rows of modestly comfortable chairs, as well as a small selection of current periodicals and books. Writing boards and pens are provided for filling out justification forms. All Licensing Office property is marked with their seal, and the Monitors frequently search people leaving the building. At the end of the lobby below stretches a large central counter for dropping off and picking up forms and licenses. During public hours, the area is bustling, and there are commonly several hundred people in the waiting area, with several hundred more queued to the counter. A dozen or so Clerks circulate in both areas, assisting people in filling out their forms and making sure they are working on the correct ones.
To apply for any license, the person must first be a recognized citizen of the Empire. All children born to a couple with a valid procreation license are automatically legal citizens. They are tattooed on the inside of the elbow with a pattern of dots that identifies when they were born, what city they were born in, which hospital, and appends specific identification. This tattoo will spread and fade as they grow, but maintains the necessary information. It is 'touched up' when they become adult citizens, at the age of 17.
This tattoo pattern is added to each of a citizen's licenses; licenses are in no way transferable.
An unlicensed child may immediately be licensed if the parents can afford the (very steep!) fees to license them. Otherwise, the child is removed from its parents and put in an orphanage, and only becomes a citizen when (if!) they are adopted.
A Purist may apply to become a citizen before they apply for any other license; the process for an adult requires a mandatory accelerated education and several tests verifying that they understand the laws, system and language. If they cannot pay the fees the citizenship requires, they become a citizen in debt, and the fees are removed from their wages once they have been settled in an appropriate job (which is required before their citizenship is finalized). As with other types of license, they may receive a 'Pending License' which gives them some very basic rights.
To receive any license, it is necessary to file a justification form. Some licenses, including all permissions to access public works, the physical traits license and travel license, are justified at the Licensing Office directly. Some licenses, such as occupational licenses, and merchant credits, are justified by the guilds. Educational licenses are justified by the schools. Some licenses, such as housing license, must be approved by both the Guild and the government. All of these justification forms are filed at the Licensing Office, where the actual physical licenses are also printed. Guilds and schools deliver their pre-approved justification forms periodically through official runners.
Some justification forms, such as requesting access to basic lending libraries, are very straightforward, and consist only of a series of checkboxes and yes/no questions, verifying that the citizen has the correct background, requirements and fees for the license in question.
Other justification forms, such as marriage and procreation, are more complex and require detailed essay explanation of qualifications and why the citizen desires such a license, written recommendations from approved officials, and/or interviews with Licensing Office managers.
There are licensed professionals (similar to public accountants) who can assist with filling out justification forms, and in the cases of unlettered citizens, even file them in their stead. They are particularly common in the area where the Raalyan live, due to the prevalence of dyslexia in that culture.
A citizen applying for a license comes to the Licensing Office, picks up blank forms for the license they are applying for. Their name, verified by the Clerk who inspects their license, is added to a list for that day, along with the kind of the justification form they are taking. The justification form they take is marked with the date. Justification forms expire in 90 days.
They return to the Office later, with their filled out justification form. The Clerk taking their form verifies the license information they are claiming, inspecting their physical traits license, comparing it to their tattoo, checking their educational license, and any other prerequisite licenses that their form requires. The form is stamped as inspected, and the citizen is told when to return to the office for their license, or scheduled for an interview if required. Depending on the complexity of the form and the queue for that department, this can be a matter of days or months.
Very straightforward licenses are inspected by Assistants, who simply verify that all of the appropriate boxes are checked and process them as approved or not approved. Those justification forms which are not approved at this stage are filed in the pick-up files. A citizen returning for an unapproved license will not receive their fees back, and may request the forms for an appeal for most kinds of licenses if they feel a mistake has been made, but the appeal is expensive (and paid in advance), and they may simply return in 5 months (half a year) to reapply for most kinds of licenses.
Two Assistants inspect each license. If they agree in their assessment, the most basic kinds of license may be given final approval by a specialized Assistant-Manager.
Complex licenses, including any that require recommendations, interviews or essays, are given an assessment by the Assistant-Manager and must be reviewed by Department Managers. Departments include (but are not limited to): Zoning and Construction, Marriage, Health, Education and Public Access. Some of these departments work more closely with guilds than with individuals. Interviews may be conducted by Assistant-Managers, or Department Managers.
All cases where the assessment of a Department Manager does not match that of his Assistant-Manager, or cases where either one of those parties choses to elevate the issue, are moved up to the Master Manager. (In Affamarg, that individual is Baison.) He makes the final decision on all such licenses, as well as acting as a personnel manager for the office and doing random double-checks on the approvals being made below him.
Once a justification form is approved, it is send to the printing offices, which are part of the sprawling buildings of the License Offices. The license is type-set, proofed, and printed. In some cases, more than one copy is required - for local and rural offices, a second copy would be send to the regional office to be filed, and for travel licenses (printed on a less durable paper), a copy is send ahead to the destination.
The final license is filed in the 'pick-up' files.
A citizen returning to pick it up gives their name and justification form number, is inspected (tattoo and physical traits license) and a Clerk is sent to find their license (or denied form!). In special cases, if pre-arranged, a license may be mailed to another office for pick-up elsewhere.
In some cases, no one comes to pick up the final license. Licenses are destroyed after 90 days, and justification forms are filed in special 'dead license' areas, where they are held for 10 years and then destroyed.
The Empire does not charge income or sales taxes - their government is funded by the monopoly on time crystal and on license fees.
All licenses, no matter how minor, require fees. These fees are paid upon filing a justification form, and are not refundable if the license is not approved, which keeps frivolous and unreasonable license applications from being problematic. Even the Guilds and Schools pay these fees, to cover the cost of the license printing, filing and storage.
These fees cover not only the cost of administrating the license, but also include government fees - some of which are to cover costs incurred by the privileges of the license (ie: maintaining museums, libraries and other public works), some of which is used as a simple monetary deterrent and also to cover training and education related to holding the license.
Many licenses require a basic level of schooling; an unlettered citizen would not be granted access to a library. Many more require very specific classes to be attended - and passed! - in order to verify that the citizen can successfully handle the privileges that come with the license.
Once a justification form has been approved and paid for, but the necessarily classes have not been passed, they get a temporary 'License Pending.' A merchant applying for a license to brew beer, for example, may get one of these while they are still training so that they can purchase brewing equipment and hire construction of brewing infrastructure. They must turn in their License Pending at the successful completion of their class for the full License.
A very special kind of license, the credit license is something that acts partly as wages for work performed. Rather than being issued by a shopping establishment or bank, a credit license would be issued by an employer, and the employer is the ones who pay the bills accrued on it. Depending on how a citizen negotiated their position, this may end up being the bulk of the pay for a job. If they didn't spend that portion of their wages every month, they wouldn't get it back in cash - the Empire really does want you to: Work hard. Buy freely.
The places to get credit licenses to would be very reliant on the job - a good job gets credit at the better shopping areas. A laborer may get credit at a very basic food and necessities supply store. A skilled assistant may get credit at a shopping bazaar offering higher quality food suppliers, with common fashionable clothing and cheap jewelry. A Science Leader in the regional government level may get more credit at a large shopping area with specialized gourmet foods available, high-end clothing and fine art. This is in part to keep citizens from spending outside of their budget, and works to keep them from accidentally falling into debt.
Any citizen would still be permitted to shop at higher (or lower!) class shopping establishments, they would just be required to pay cash.
These licenses, though they would be carried with a citizen's other licenses, are not issued by the Licensing Office, and are not verified by them in anyway. Merchants negotiate directly with employers for these contracts, and issue them individually - they are also responsible for catching frauds, and keep their own records about who has what kind of credit with them.
Falsification of actual licenses is difficult to pull off - the special paper and ink are very closely guarded trade secrets, and the stamp impression is challenging to duplicate. Additionally, a license can, if suspected, be 'challenged.' This involves a search of the Licensing Office for the approved justification form that must be on file. If that form is not found, the license is assumed false, and the citizen is in a pile of trouble. A challenge of the most complicated license (and therefore mostly likely to be falsified) that the citizen is carrying is part of the procedure of any arrest. A challenge can also be brought by any citizen.
This search can be lengthy, simply due to the size and complication of the filing system, and the consequences of calling a false challenge on a proper license are that the challenger will be required to pay the cost of the search for the form.
Most fraud occurs during the justification form stage.
Some justification forms are simply filled out falsely. Due to the sheer number of justification forms that come through the office, it is impossible to verify every piece of information. Forged recommendations can be purchased on the black market with ease. Clerks at the Licensing Office do periodic random verifications to attempt to combat this.
It is harder to get licenses that have earlier dates, but the black market can provide many things if you know who to ask... the staff of the Licensing Offices is quite extensive, and they aren't all upright citizens.
Theft of licenses is not unheard of! The victim needs to report the crime within 20 hours (one day) and give details of the theft to the Monitors, then apply at the Licensing Office within 60 hours (three days). A search is made of the justification forms on file for that citizen. This may take a long while, particularly if the search needs to extend to other cities for licenses obtained elsewhere. They are given a special kind of 'pending license' which serves their basic needs and identifies them as a citizen.
Stolen licenses may be altered - carefully - to change the tattoo markings on them so they can be applied to other citizens, but in many cases, the theft is usually just a nuisance crime, and the licenses are destroyed, or found defaced later.
Anyone caught in possession of stolen licenses is punished severely, and usually ends up in an institution, judged incapable of being part of society.
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Empire: A description of the bureaucratic Empire, which has assimilated a large number of different cultures during its history.