The offices of the USRE can be considered as the ministries of the vast federal state that is the socialist union. In the communal superpower, they are tools of vertical integration of communes, coordinating and bearing the political responsibility for large-scale, sometimes worldwide, projects and policies. The Offices are governed by the Socialist Republics of the USRE through an intercontinental assembly. As the USRE doest not possess a head of state, nor a formal government, they form the backbone of its identity as a polity.
In a communal democracy with a socialized economy, the main political currency is responsibility, be it financial, democratic or ethical. Within this framework, the Offices of the USRE are first and foremost responsibility-bearers; they answer to the people when it comes to the projects and regions they oversee, carrying both the power and duties of the Union of Socialist Republics of Earth.
THE BLUE COURT
I hopped off from the Coléoptère, trying to ignore the faint smell of organic fuel, mutated gooseberries, ancient salt and rotting trees the wind carried towards us, above the dead marshes of what had once been the eastern shore of northern America. This place had been a city. I could see the tips of old buildings peeking through the thick cover of the swamp, separated by phantom streets and, here and there, the grey-brown tops of sunken cars. No one had come here since the end of the industrial era. So, I thought. This is the place I will have to work with.
The Blue Court, formerly known as the Office of Environmental Reclamation, is the Office of State that is dedicated to coordinating the delicate task of reclaiming the various lost zones on Earth, all the while preserving healthy ecosystems. The Blue Court is focused on long-term operations. In healthy regions, the Blue Court operates as an advisor, providing scientific, financial and logistical support to USRE-sanctioned initiatives, as well as keeping human activities in check and, if need be, relaying its observations to Offices with legal power such as the Open Hand. In more compromised ecosystems, the Blue Court handles “Reclamation Zones”, i.e the regions where the USRE tries (sometimes desperately) to stem the tide of ecosystem collapse, slow-burning industrial disasters and autonomous weaponry left over from earlier ages. These places are de facto administered by the Blue Court, though it sometimes relinquishes this authority when local knowledge is more valuable than direct, top-down action. In Reclamation Zones as well as healthy ecosystems, the Blue Court is the entity that represents the rivers, lakes, mountain ranges, forests and other natural elements that USRE law considers as legal persons.
THE OFFICE OF INFRASTRUCTURE
Eglantine switched her torchlight on, then off, then on again.
“Alright, good news,” she told her djinn drone. “It’s still working. You fine, little one?”
The djinn beeped twice. It had deployed a small manipulating arm to brush off the mud that covered its small frame, to no avail. The sewers of Paris were old and mean, and they had swallowed many a thing.
“Now, the bad news is that we’re going to keep digging, because that…” she pointed at the wall with her torchlight. The concrete vault bore a cross-like symbol, with each tip made of four small pillars — the symbol of the Office of Infrastructure. “...that is still some good old USRE construction.”
The Office of Infrastructure was once known as the People’s Chamber of Great Works, a leftover from the Union of Socialist Republics — from the middle of the Low Age, from before the fateful century that had seen the Internationale truly become the human race. It is the oldest and largest Office of the USRE, and the only one that is directly financed by the taxes of USRE citizens. With more than twenty million employees, the Office of Infrastructure might very well be the largest non-military government institution in human history. The O-Inf, as it is sometimes referred to, is dedicated to urban and rural planning, infrastructure deployment and maintenance, as well as energy production. The O-inf primarily acts as a framework for infrastructure projects, providing financial investment, manpower and equipment to regional or national communes. In exchange for this assistance, the O-inf often takes half the ownership of such projects — and half the political responsibility. Continental projects, such as the Kenyan space elevator, may be entirely handled by the O-inf, that then becomes the primary employer of local communes and bears the political responsibility in their place.
THE OLD WELL
At first I did not understand the name they had chosen for themselves. What’s the link between knowledge, education and a well? Then I thought, maybe it’s about water? Water that helps grow crops, water that enables human life, like education nourishes humankind and...no, it was ridiculous. There had to be something else. A well...what is a well? A mirror, maybe. You look into it and...dammit. Doesn’t work either.
The Old Well was born out of the reunion of two distinct Offices — the Office of Public Education and the Office of Public Research — when the USRE unearthed the industrial-age concept of modern universities. The Union guarantees free primary and secondary education (up to university studies) to all. When local communes do not have the means nor the resources to follow this principle, the Old Well steps in and supersedes them through the establishment of Popular Universities. These establishments are geared towards education, but also research: their laboratories and institutes are manned by the alumni of their secondary education programs. In some Socialist Republics, such as the USRE heartland of India, the Old Well is completely integrated into the national education systems. In other places, however, it is not necessarily seen as a benefit — the extent to which the Old Well has rooted itself within the society of the poorest Socialist Republics can be and is often seen as some kind of “intellectual colonialism”, even though the Old Well, in practice, is far from being a culturally homogenous institution.
THE OPEN HAND
“Hey, handsome, do you want to go to paradise? I can give you whatever you want. Sweet dreams, wet dreams, great dreams, no dreams at all! You want Vyirangan golden lichen? I have some, premium quality!”
“Not interested, thanks.”
“Not interested by golden lichen? Where do you come from?”
Amarthya sighed, took off her right glove and showed her hand to the dealer. The q-aug on her palm started to shiver, small tendrils of ink extending away from her skin, drawing a complex watermark that slowly formed the symbol of an open hand.
“I come from Shangri-La, idiot. Now get out before I remember the communal articles on off-world biological contraband.”
The Open Hand was once known as the Office of Internal Affairs, which was itself named...the Open Hand, the warband that ensured the safety of post-collapse indian nomads. This kind of semantic resurgence is somewhat rare in the USRE, which doesn’t want people to remember that it started as a nomadic band lost in the atomic steppes of what had been the second heart of the industrial world, but the Open Hand has always been a specific thing. Owing to the diversity and complexity of its various elements, the USRE has never been very keen on establishing a common, coherent law enforcement structure. The Open Hand is the exception to this rule. Its agents could be compared to solar envoys operating at the scale of the Earth; they carry the will of the USRE across the Socialist Republics, enforcing the laws of the Union wherever local regulators can’t, or do not want to intervene. Open Hand agents rarely operate alone, but in conjunction with communal enforcement whenever possible — they are not a “super-police” of the USRE, rather the mostly benevolent eye of the Union, turned towards a problematic situation that requires outside assistance.
THE OFFICE OF RICE
The fields undulated under a gust of summer wind. Once, there had been wheat and corn in the plains, but the ever-warming Earth had chased ancestral European cereals well up north, while water-guzzling corn had been banished from the continent altogether. In their place lied thousands of kilometers square of African sorghum, kept under the watchful eye of USRE airships.
The Office of Rice, formerly known as the Office of Agricultural Production, is named after the crop that nourishes half of humankind, including the USRE heartlands of India and western China. This massive inter-communal institution is, unsurprisingly enough, dedicated to guaranteeing the availability of foodstuffs and related products, both in quantity and price, for three billion human beings. While it seldom takes part in communal agricultural projects, the Office of Rice (sometimes referred to as just “the Rice”) takes more of an economic role than most of its counterparts, enforcing strict price control on all “priority productions” — in effect, all agricultural production except flowers, spirituals and medicine (which falls under the umbrella of the Office of Public Health). One of its main responsibilities, aside from price control, is to ensure that agricultural production meets demand all across USRE territory, which is the main reason why the Rice is also the largest shipping company in the history of humankind. The Office of Rice is also the primary legal and scientific authority on GMO deployment, as well as livestock regulation.
THE OFF-WORLD COUNCIL
The helicopter slowed down as it entered the megalopolis’ airspace, its blades mincing the warm air coming from the hinterlands. Up above was a thin needle coming down from the sky and reaching all the way towards Mount Kingangop, tethering the Earth to a counterweight several tens of thousands of kilometers above.
“Welcome to Nairobi!” said the pilot.
The Off-World Council, interestingly enough, predates the arrival of the USRE in Africa. It was born as the Outer Space Conclave, a regulatory entity dedicated to ensuring peaceful coexistence between the various space communes of the eastern African shore, the heart of the second space age. Under the umbrella of the USRE, it evolved into one of the major Offices, retaining its original role and expanding it to most of the planet. The Council enforces space-related regulations (Deep Sky including), coordinates vast space infrastructure projects (such as the USRE space elevator in Nairobi) and subsidizes local launch projects, thus ensuring even the smallest communes can benefit from independent space capabilities. Given that most of the Council’s resources come from taxes on space activities, paid in majority by large spacefaring communes, it can be understood as tool of “off-world redistribution”, ensuring the vast benefits of activities such as asteroid mining ripple all the way down to the smallest USRE entities.
This Office also handles interstellar USRE initiatives such as the Center for Interstellar Research, but it is mostly focused on the solar system.
THE OFFICE OF PUBLIC HEALTH
“It’s alright” smiled the doctor. “Take as much time as you want to think about it. I just want to ensure you that all options, including surgical reconstruction, are covered by universal insurance.”
“Even...I mean my commune is small and…”
“The USRE provides. Do not worry.”
The Office of Public Health, or OPHe, is often considered as the medical equivalent of the Old Well, ensuring free access to healthcare whenever possible, and building its own facilities whenever needed. This is, however, a highly restrictive view of the OPHe. Financed by the only universal tax in the USRE, the OPHe doesn’t only concern itself with purely medical issues, but with the well-being of terran citizens in general. OPHe funding and personnel can be find virtually everywhere, from local urban planning to transition therapies, surgery centers or water table management, making it a remarkably transdisciplinary and pervasive Office, with a noted tendency to absorb and reorganize lesser institutions under its responsibility. While all Offices may intervene in emergency situations, the OPHe is often the face of USRE disaster response due to its nigh-universal presence and rapid deployment capability.
THE HIGH FLEET
Elisabeth Hoyle gave me one of her gentle smiles, then resumed hiding behind her teacup and austere USRE flight suit. “Remember one thing,” she said, looking at the thin blue crescent of an early dawn above the Pacific. “You could say the most beautiful things about what it means to be in space, but most of the people down there remember a simple, implacable truth: we have four hundred kilometers of kinetic advantage over their own guns.”
It is somewhat ironic that the only true military of the USRE is to be found beyond the Karman line — and even then, the High Fleet is closer to a military alliance of member states than a true, national army. Each of the ten Socialist Republics contribute ships and manpower to the High Fleet and its (somewhat) unified command. Symbolized by the steppe eagle reminiscent of Baikonur and the early space age, the High Fleet often tends to be ignored by ground dwellers and for rather good reasons. The entirety of USRE population lives on Earth, and the solar system is a self-regulated, well-oiled machine that hasn’t known war in over two centuries. Why the USRE insists on maintaining a five hundred ships strong combat fleet, the largest official navy in human space and the third largest terran military, here is a good question. Maybe the Union sees it as its life insurance, capable of striking ground targets with unprecedented power and accuracy if need be. Perhaps it wants to keep a symbolic pressure on solar system dwellers and avoid the rise of a second meta-queen.
Or perhaps, much like Algorab, it is aware of what lurks between the stars.
Illustrations by author, except for the header, which is a socialist somalia propaganda poster from the 1970s, author unknown.
Though the vast majority of human settlements abide by a communal system, human space is far from being united in terms of legal and administrative traditions. While places such as the Traverse have region-wide regulations, these judicial and administrative principles are not shared between the regions themselves. In other words: while there is a consensus on the best form of government in human space, there is no consensus in terms of laws and regulations. This isn't just about different trade regulations or environmental laws: the very definition of individual property may vary between Traverse, Smyrnian or Communal Space worlds.
In a world where the geometry drive allows fast movement of people, information and goods between distant regions this lack of legal uniformity is a real problem when it comes to interactions between polities, be they conflicts or alliances. A diplomat who would be protected by the law in Communal Space may find their legal status voided in the Traverse. A wanted criminal on Mundis can find a safe haven on Earth. A trade ship with a hold full of Smyrnian goods might find themselves allowed to trade on Mars and forbidden from orbital insertion on Elora. And so on and so forth.
In the overall legal confusion, two shared elements were born as an attempt to give polities a common ground to solve their conflicts and carry out interstellar relationships. The first one is Flower Wars. The second one (which is a corollary to Flower Wars) is Solar Envoys.
A Solar Envoy is an individual who holds one or several of the universal licenses provided by the Samaris Accords, a set of legal dispositions that virtually all polities in human space have to abide by in order to be considered as part of the broader human civilisation. These legal dispositions enable Solar Envoys to carry out diplomatic, commercial and military tasks on behalf of their communal or cooperative employers.
Solar Envoys are most often directly recruited by the polity that employs them though a few of them are freelance contractors. In the post-capitalistic context of human space, material wealth is seldom motivation for Solar Envoys. These highly skilled individuals have personal motivations to leave their homeworld and risk their physical and moral integrity in the service of their communes. It can be deeply entrenched political convictions, a desire for change and adventure, or a less palatable reason - such as being a wanted criminal on their original world.
The existing licenses are listed below.
1 - Basic Universal License
The BUL is the simplest license in the Samaris Accords and the one that all Solar Envoys possess. It establishes the legal disposition of the Solar Envoy status as well as the terms of a Solar Envoy contract, including the "high treason clause" which is the only real way to break such a contract prematurely. If a Solar Envoy owns a spaceship (or any other valuable asset) then the BUL guarantees the inalienable nature of their belongings even in places that do not recognize private property. These Licenses are accepted by all the polities that are part of the Samaris Accords.
2 - Legate License
This is the most widely spread Solar Envoy license aside from the BUL. A Legate License allows an Envoy to represent their polity in official and unofficial talks of various importance. As opposed to a "regular" diplomat whose rights may change depending on the region of space they found themselves in, a Solar Envoy protected by a Legate License cannot be denied the right of passage in any circumstances and their person cannot be harmed or hampered in any way - doing so may provide the pretext for a Flower War or worse. Legate Licenses are accepted by all polities in the Samaris Accords.
A Legate License cannot be held alongside a Retribution License, as they cover radically opposed Solar Envoy missions.
3 - Solar Trader License
The Solar Trader license allows a Solar Envoy to buy, sell and carry "rare goods" on behalf of their employer. "Rare goods" as defined by this license is an umbrella term that covers alien artefacts, rare ecosystemic goods, rare technologies, works of art and exotic natural compounds that are illegal to trade in the vast majority of legislations. Under this license, however, a Solar Envoy never owns the goods they are carrying, which remain under the possession of a commune. A Solar Trader License is often paired with a Legate License. Solar Trader Licenses are not officially accepted by all worlds: Mundis in particular is known to treat Solar Traders as mere smugglers despite being part of the Samaris Accords.
4 - Retribution License
A Retribution License is the most permissive Solar Envoy license and also the most dangerous. When a Flower War isn't enough to settle grudges, polities may resort to using Solar Envoys to target high-value assets or persons in what is defined by the Samaris Accords as a "Solar Duel", a limited violent exchange between polities that is meant to avoid an all-out war. Retribution Licenses are very heavily limited. They are only given out for a limited time and a single target and only cover material damage, as Solar Duels, much like Flower Wars, are not meant to cause casualties. In exchange for these limits a Retribution License essentially shields a Solar Envoy from legal repercussions: should they be arrested while carrying out their mission they are considered as a war prisoner and not a common criminal.
The Retribution License is rather controversial and it should come as no surprise that the worlds that do not recognize Flower Wars do not recognize the Retribution License either.
The main mode of political, social and economic organisation of the interstellar age are communal systems. Three main elements constitute the political landscape of human space: Communes, Cooperatives and Qiths.
1 - Communes
Communes in their broadest definition refer to democratic social-political structures founded on shared principles. Communes may vastly vary in size and scope, from the superpowers that are the Moon Communes or the Giants' Collective to small station-based communes with a few thousand individuals.
Communes are the children of the Low Age and its radical redefinition of industrial-era politics and economics. While there are almost as many communal systems as there are communes, they all follow a set of principles that form the core of human society in the 26th century.
- Egalitarianism: all Communes strive to be as egalitarian as possible, especially in terms of individual wealth. Property in human space is neatly divided between what is considered as individual property - assets that do not produce wealth and whose ownership is not restricted - and private property - assets that do produce wealth. The restriction of the former to communal systems is one of the main tools to ensure economic equality inside a commune. From this shared economic basis, communes apply different degrees of enforced equality depending on their political alignment, from the complete quasi-communist uniformity of the USRE to the sprawling diversity of Eloran qiths. All communes, however, are virtually classless.
- Shared decision-making: communes try to maximize decision-making via consensus when it comes to commune-owned assets and properties. However, a fair share of communes has grown beyond the size where consensus is practical to implement and have installed democratic systems more reminiscent of late industrial-era direct democracies.
- Non-hierarchical structures: most small communes do not have hierarchies at all and implement a completely flat structure. Much like government via consensus, this system does not scale very well and elected hierarchies do exist in bigger communes, although they are always temporary and fleeting. The very structure of communes makes entrenchment of power very unlikely and industrial-era political dynasties are mostly unknown.
- Common principles: not all communes were formed around shared principles (cooperatives, typically, are formed around an economic activity) but all of those that endured the test of time did at one point agree on a common ideological ground that creates the cement between a commune's members. These principles can vary from entire socio-political projects to looser principles, and even sometimes religious or spiritual beliefs.
2 - Cooperatives
In the first decades of space settlement, all communes were also cooperatives, that is to say economic organisations owned and managed by their workers. As communes expanded and became the main mode of government in settled space, this paradigm changed. Many communes decided to stop coalescing around a simple economic service or activity in order to become a more comprehensive entity. Furthermore, the rise of truly massive communes with several million members created the risk of cooperatives starting to operate hierarchically once again, mirroring pre-Low Age corporations. The response to this state of things was the multiplication of smaller communes with streamlined institutions, focused solely on an economic goal. These cooperatives would often operate under the umbrella of a commune.
In very concrete terms cooperatives are the main building blocks of interstellar economies, to the point top-down, non-cooperative companies only exist in fringe cases, mostly as tightly controlled weapons manufacturers. In the solar system where communes tend to be massive structures entrenched in their political niches, cooperatives are the main vector of local democracy.
3 - Qiths
Qith is a neologism - though no one is certain where the word actually comes from. The concept was invented by Eloran settlers and covers the democratic institutions that constitute the building blocks of the Eloran polity. Qiths are not nations or countries, as they are not divided between territories but between different domains of activity and economic roles. They are not exactly castes either, as qith membership is democratic and voluntary. They are always centred around a strong identity that blends economic, social, political and religious elements, to the point qiths can be understood as small societies that collaborate to create a vast federation of cooperative elements.
The main qiths are qith Saïmour (manufacturing, shipbuilding), qith Masani (agriculture, settlement), qith Sahaak (warfare, law enforcement), qith Hoyle (shipbuilding), qith Al-Aqsa (terraforming, environmental management) and qith Miramar (bureaucracy, administration).