Offices of the USRE
The offices of the USRE can be considered as the ministries of the vast socialist federal state. In the communal superpower, they are used for the 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.
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 conservation initiatives. 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 ecosystemic 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 trials and judicial procedures, the Blue Court 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 the symbol of the Office of Infrastructure. “...that is still some good old USRE building.”
The Office of Infrastructure was once known as the People’s Chamber of Great Works, a leftover from the Union of Socialist Republics, the Low Age precursor of the USRE. It is the oldest and largest Office, 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 weight. 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 apply 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 system. 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 ministry, 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 very peculiar institution. 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 Union; 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 any 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 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 space infrastructure projects (such as the USRE space elevator in Nairobi) and subsidizes local launch collectives, 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 found virtually everywhere, from local urban planning to transition therapy initiatives, surgery centers or water table management syndicates, 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 the people down there remember a simple, implacable truth: they live under our missile coverage.”
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 Socialist Republics commits ships and manpower towards 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.
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