"-and they agreed to a tithe on crypto-stamped art anyway!" exclaimed Bureaucrat MKine with a wave of eir hands, drawing looks from fellow pedestrians on the branch. Along side em fellow Bureaucrat Talos-Phi-Ibrama nodded absentmindedly. "Of course I can tell how much this is fascinating you," Mkine finished.
"I'm sorry," Ibrama said with a small apologetic bow. "I am interested but I'm struggling through the policy agreement for the allocation of habitable volume usage for social/religious festivities on a per-sophonce-quotient basis. I just don't understand its implications on the current cross-phyle interaction framework." As e spoke a meta-analysis of local Quorum decisions idly unfolded in the comprehensive exocortex provided by eir cowl. No matter which way Ibrama attempted to assimilate the data it just didn't make sense, seemingly full of conceptual narratives that both attempted to explain their assumptions as well as generate them. It was like trying to force a key into a lock only to find the key was a Klein bottle and would turn itself inside out before actually unlocking anything.
"Cross-phyle interaction framework? Yave save us from pansociological analysis. I tell you Ibrama you'd find it much easier joining us in non-fungible commodity taxation. It's just the art of economics applied to the economics of art." At this MKine began to make a loud clicking sound that Ibrama interpreted as a sign of amusement. "Well let us get refreshments whilst you struggle through that, I'm long overdue something fresh."
They took a bridge off the main branch onto a petal that had currently designated itself as a quiet relaxation zone. Thirty metres wide and fifty long the tapered platform was decorated with recliners and water features. Aquatic neogens released calming pheromones for those willing to sample them and formed music upon the water to match. As the two colleagues sat in a small booth that formed for them MKine busied emself ordering food from a server pool. Despite eir frustration with the new policy agreement Ibrama took a break to admire the view. The petal was part of a main branch, itself one of nine extending radially from low down the trunk of the Ythemany tree tower. Standing at just over five kilometres tall and twenty wide at the furthest branch tips, the colossal living arcology was home to just over fourteen million sophonts, and for the duration of the afternoon at least, two Bureaucrats of the Terran Federation. Glacially each branch moved as if blown by some lethargic wind. Up into the canopy Ibrama cast eir gaze across the thousands of different coloured petals of all shapes and sizes. E idly noted the residences, the museums, the galleries, and the myriad recreational facilities they boasted as the distant sun cast its rays through the intervening gaps. E found it very, strikingly beautiful.
Eir reverie was broken by the arrival of MKine's food. A plate of seemingly living rodents that scampered as if frightened of what was about to happen. In reality their fear was an illusion, generated by the biotech computronium they possessed in place of a nervous system. A compromising policy generated by a Quorum at some distant point in the past between advocates of non-sophont cruelty regulation and vivi-carnivorous clades. Ibrama emself had little stomach for watching such sophonts eat but thankfully the cowl that encircled MKine's head hid the sight, and the sound. A niggling pressure in his exoself drew Ibrama's attention back to the policy agreement. Eir mind/knowledge integration modules were repeatedly arriving at dead ends with every attempt to weave the policy into eir mental concept map. Ibrama sighed, it was a long shot anyway attempting to use the most effortless means to understand such a complex issue. Whilst the exoself modules could be relied upon to subconsciously impart all manner of knowledge and skills the policy was too far outside his typical cognitive faculties.
"Do you ever envy them?" MKine asked between morsels, interrupting Ibrama's thoughts for a second time.
"Them, all of them." MKine replied, nodding towards another group of patrons on the petal. The group in question was a mixture of perhaps four or five sophonts (it was hard to tell without utilising a social interaction module, the pair of brightly coloured cubes kept linking and separating preventing any obvious conclusion whether it was one vec or two) who were in intense debate over a projection of some sort. "Why would I be envious of them?"
"Because they can go about their vocations without having to think about the wider ramifications or the long term consequences. They can express themselves through whatever clothing or body style they like and above all: if they can't understand a policy agreement on allocation of habitat volume for whatever it really doesn't matter!" At this last point MKine consumed the last of eir prey with a flourish. Ibrama thought hard on what e had said, such thoughts hadn't occurred to him since taking up Yave's offer of joining the Bureaucracy two decades before. Sensing it would require more than a casual ponder, elements of Ibrama's exoself began drawing on nearby computronium to path out a concept tree to examine all the facets of the question.
As the conclusions bubbled into eir primary consciousness Ibrama turned to regard MKine; "No," e said. "Firstly because for them I'm sure whatever it is that they do is every bit as engaging as our work. It may have less consequence if you regard it in terms of the survival of the Federation, but not its prosperity which relies on a population of sophonts with passion and excitement. Secondly, our attire is as much an expression of ourselves as theirs is. We may not change it and it may be more austere than most but it shows that we choose to dedicate ourselves to the Federation. We take pride and fulfillment in the service to all others and to Yave above all." At this MKine began to make the clicking sound again and gestured for Ibrama to continue. "And finally, because we can leave at any time. Forcing us to a duty that we no longer feel the calling for is the antithesis of what the Federation aspires to and what we as Bureaucrats should strive to support." At that the MKine nodded sagely.
"Yes Ibrama, I think I needed to hear that. In truth I'm jealous of the passion you have for your work. I often feel mine beginning to wane when it comes to another big policy decision. But you're right; this isn't a cage, it is a calling."
"Thank Yave you see that. I was beginning to worry for a moment there. If you didn't have tax policy in your life what else would you bore me to death with?" At this MKine's clicking reached an unprecedented level.
"Ah Ibrama, it has been good to see you again. Unfortunately I'm going to have to say my goodbyes now and deal with some things that have been waiting. But with a good deal more enthusiasm than I felt earlier, I must say." At that they said their goodbyes and Ibrama was left alone on the petal. E glanced over to the other group to see that they had left also.
"Nothing for it then," e muttered to emself. "If it's going to take a bit more effort then time to request it." E reached out into eir exoself, past the truculent policy and the impotent modules still wrestling with it. Out towards a dormant part that felt to eir senses quiet, dark, and vast, like the surface of an ocean at night. Ibrama continued to mutter, this time repeating a ritual prayer e had become fond of, "Great Yave I thank you for this gift, that which allows duty to be fulfilled and the Federation served." At this the ocean began to stir, light swelling in its deep.
"Please grant this humble servant the means with which to understand, the means to know what has been and what must be." The ocean was turbulent now, the light filling it to the point of mental incandescence. Throughout the petal computronium awoke, thinking faster and drawing more energy in a few short seconds than had been used in the previous days combined. All of it centred around Ibrama.
"I remain ever dedicated, ever focused, and ever willing to see!" At that the ocean of light subsumed eir mind in a torrent of synergistic power. Or at least that is how Ibrama would have conceptualised it a moment before had the transavant spike granted to him not rendered such metaphors hopelessly lacking in description of the experience. E turned eir now vast mind on the policy and absorbed it as easy as a pool of water absorbs a drop. "Ah, now that makes sense." E said to no one in particular. Drawing more on the resources of the petal, Ibrama spent subjective weeks crafting a diligent explanation to emself, or at least what e would return to after disengaging the spike. Eventually satisfied, E finished with a flourish and opened eir eyes to see the tree, now with greater clarity than e ever remembered having.
"Beautiful," e said. "It really is very, strikingly beautiful." Table of Contents