Belly of the Beast

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Despite its near complete hegemony of economic and political power in the post war order, no one is entirely sure as to the exact workings of The Entente.  A series of overlapping contracts and intertwined alliances of loose confederations served as the organizational framework, but as to who developed policy or who wielded final authority is still not entirely understood. -Professor Duncan, “The Histories”

Allicen Uzrei did not know it, but she was the most powerful human being in the entire Solar System.  Billions lived, ate, slept, worked, and traveled at her whim and she was utterly, unbelievably ignorant of her own impact.  The Entente was a giant information machine.  Regulatory bureaucracies, global corporations, subcontractors, research universities, national governments, and borderless non-profits were all creating and sharing information with each other at a blistering pace.  Each organization had its own specific roles and responsibilities.  Some duties were well defined and their powers were jealously and fiercely protected.  Others changed daily, adapting on the fly to whatever new demands and circumstances presented themselves.  It was a nearly infinite spider web of interconnected and interlocking interests and information sharing.  This data machine was so vast that even though she sat at its center Allicen could not see its edges, let alone comprehend her own importance.  

Her official title and job description was the “Junior Vice Administrator of Human Resource Policy of the Office of the Pacific Trade Understanding”.  In the organizational jargon of the Entente, she was referred to as the “JV Captain of the PAC-U” or just “the JVC”.  Superficially these words and titles seemed meaningless.  Even the official role description filed with her own Human Resources department was necessarily vague and undefined.  Allicen herself did not honestly regard her position as either vital, important, or even all that demanding.  She would never openly voice that opinion, however, as her high bureaucratic rank within a powerful and well connected organ of the Entente granted her a life of privilege and leisure that no sane human being would ever jeopardize.  

In reality, meaning the reality created by the whirring, infinite information machine that was the Entente, Allicen occupied an unbelievably powerful position.  If one were to graph the interconnected decision making nodes of all the organizations of the Entente, then link them to the incentive structures that made each node operate, you would see that more and more meaningful decisions were made by Allicen’s office than any other node.  And while Allicen was not the Senior Vice administrator of her organization, and her boss also had a boss, the nature of human psychology meant that a lot of decisions that were ostensibly her superiors’ to make ended up on Allicen’s desk.  And though she occupied a senior executive level Allicen had no immediate subordinate onto whom she could pawn off her own work.  

So the great machine of the Entente whirred on, spitting out its endless stream of rules, regulations, executive judgments, and contracts while Allicen unwittingly fed this great beast what it needed:  human decisions.  

Except today she wasn’t.  Yesterday she hadn’t either.  For the entirety of last week, in fact, she had also failed to feed the beast. In her three and half years in the role Allicen had happened across a rather easy and straightforward algorithm to deal with the work her superiors didn’t want to do: 1) Call the mid level bureaucrats whom her current executive judgment (Ex-jug) or new policy will most impact and find out what will make them happy. 2) Call their boss’s secretary and find out what will make that executive official more powerful politically. 3) If the common people who will be affected don’t matter, go ahead and do it. If by chance the common person did have some sort of say she would contact the law enforcement office who would have to deal with the fallout. If the fallout is manageable, do it. If the fallout is too much and the people do matter, dial things down to a tolerable level. As she was fond of quipping at her presentation meetings, it wasn’t rocket science.

But this decision was rocket science. Or at least it was vastly more difficult and complex than any other decision she had ever had to make despite it appearing so straightforward. The question was simple enough. An organizational consultant had been sent to the moon to help reorganize some of the more troublesome colonies. This consultant had made recommendations that the local, somewhat independent officials did not like, but the Entente was intent on implementing. The treaty/contract/relationship between the Entente and this lunar colony was such that the colonists had some semblance of autonomy due to it being founded before the uprising. So here’s the question: does a third party consultant without official Entente credentials, and who is not accompanied by a senior Entente Official have de facto Entente powers? Could this consultant tell the Loonies (the name for Lunar colonists) to just shut up and deal with it?

To most the obvious question was yes. Allicen herself had barely even registered the question at first. But then she realized that the way future colonies were being propagated, and the necessity of using third parties for asteroid mining and exploration, saying yes would create a whole army of De Facto senior level decision makers. Also this new de facto army of hard decision makers would almost exclusively be off world. Something about this didn’t sit right with Allicen and she asked for a little extra time to do some research, which was granted. But now the time had run out. At 11 hours this morning she had a meeting with her Boss, her Boss’s boss, and six other top level executives from one university, three companies, and two national governments. There she would render her decision.

And she had no idea what she was going to say. It was already 9 hours. She’d been at her work space in her local offic building since 6 hours staring blankly at the wall of her cubicle. Everyone of her superiors had made strong intimations that they expected an affirmative answer. Why not? After all what solution to the problem of organizing Humanity, especially the Hoi Polloi, was there except to extend official Entente authority as far as possible? Yet every time Allicen pulled up her netbox to try and draft a memo she halted. There was something in the back of her mind telling her she was missing something. There was something very, very important and she had to figure it out.

Just as Allicen began to contemplate banging her head against the wall until something came to her, her best friend in the office sauntered up, “Hey, Ali-Oop!” She half shouted at Allicen, “What are you doing? It’s day four, we’re supposed to be on a plane to Rio this afternoon!”

“Oh, hey Kaya.” Allicen replied.

“That’s it? Oh Hey?” Kaya answered, “It’s South America Fashion weekend in Rio! Hell, I already moved our flight because of this bullshit meeting! We’re supposed to be in Brazil, baby! I’m already supposed to be sipping may thais by the pool while some HAWT latino boys toys are oggling me! What’s with this? What’s with you?”

Allicen exhaled deeply, “I don’t know. It’s just…for the first time ever in this job I don’t know what to do. There’s something important I’m missing, there’s something really very important in the back of my head and I can’t figure it out.”

“Well hell.” Kaya answered, “Girl this depression thing, and this working thing is getting me down. We weren’t put here to fix things, or even get it right. Getting it right is doing what the Entente wants. That’s it. So do that, cancel the meeting, and come with me! We can make an earlier flight if we leave in like 20 minutes!”

“I know, I know.” Allicen replied more despondent than ever. A major perk of her role was the fact that it could be done almost anywhere at anytime. Except this time. This time she needed to be in her office, rendering a decision, now. “It’s just, this is actually important to the way things are going to work going forward. I can’t just BS it like we usually do.”

Kaya scowled. The thought that their actions and decisions had any real meaning beyond rubber stamping their lives of privilege and excess was unwelcome to say the least. After a moment of thought Kaya said, “Well let me help, who’s on the call?”

“Hmmm.” Allicen said checking her scheduling assistant in her Netbox, “Well Gera, for starters, then there’s Greg from Rocket Plus, Trista from the mining consortium, some guy named Joshua on Venus is getting a recording, Harra from Helsinki, Indira is going to be on, and Oh, Muhammad weaseled his way into the Workflow as an approver.”

“Muhammad?” Kaya exclaimed, “God, I have had it up to here with those damn Germans! You know if those silly Krauts hadn’t snuck there way into the early Entente Alliance they wouldn’t even have a country!”

“I know!” Allicen replied, exasperated, “And he’s soooo German, too! I’ve seen him disapprove workflows on due dates because of autotext typos.”

“Uhhhggg.” Kaya answered, “Well there goes our early flight.”

“Yeah, kinda sucks.” Allicen answered.

“Hmmphh.” Kaya grunted in sympathy, “Well let me know if you need help. And, hey, I’m sure it won’t be that bad. I mean it’s not like they’re asking you to deal with Barret Pilgrim.”

“Yeah,” Allicen chuckled in response, “Thanks.” Kaya turned to leave but just as she did a light went off in Allicen’s head. Suddenly something clicked. “Hey Wait!” She called out to Kaya, “Come back! What did you say?”

“Say about what?” Kaya asked, “About Muhammed being too damn German?”

“No, no!” Allicen replied quickly, her mind flush with new thought, “About Barret Pilgrim.”

“It was just a joke.” Kaya replied, “I was just saying dealing with that racist asshole is worse than whatever you’ve got to do today.”

Allicen paused, pointing her gaze in no particular direction as her thoughts coalesced into a true realization. After a moment of staring she suddenly turned to Kaya, “Kaya, you’re a genius! I got it! I could kiss you!”

“Hmpph!” Kaya laughed in reply, “Ali, I have not had enough molly for that yet. But!” She exclaimed dramatically pointing her finger in the air, “Wait til Rio!” With that she left and Allicen sat down to draft her presentation.

Two hours later Allicen was in one of the conference rooms waiting for everyone to join. She was on with the holochat live at 1058. Muhammed, predictably, was already on the call. Within a few minutes the others had linked in (Except Joshua who would get a recording of the call then render approval or commentary). The only person missing was Allicen’s direct supervisor Gera who was the Senior Vice Administrator. At 1106 Gera finally came into the conference room and activated her netbox. Suddenly all the participants were together at a table in virtual space. Allicen wasted no time beginning.

“Everyone, I’m sorry to say this, but we can’t grant De Facto Entente powers to third parties in space.” Allicen said, “I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, but it’s what needs to be done. And I’ll explain why.” Her previous doubts and fears were gone. Her voice was strong and unwavering, her eyes were confident, her speech deliberate. For the first time ever Allicen had been asked to step up to the plate big time, and now she was going to swing. “It’s really very simple.” She began, “The reason is Barret Pilgrim.”

The room was aghast for a moment. But sure enough while others were near fainting at the barest mention of the most hated name known to the Entente, Muhammed was contemplating a question, “Why?” He asked plainly, “For starters he’s on Mars. And to follow it up he’s not Entente. He’s anti-Entente. He has no authority.”

“Except what we gave him.” Allicen replied flatly, “We sent him to Mars as a Provisional Marshall. There’s no real job classification for that role. There’s no function code in the HR Database associated with that title. Maybe he was called ‘Provisional Marshall’ but he was on the books as Security Assessment Consultant subcontractor.”

“So?” Greg asked, “He resigned. It doesn’t matter.”

“That’s just it.” Allicen said more confident than ever, “He *can’t* resign. He may have publicly announced it, but his officially documented position does not allow the subcontractor to unilaterally terminate the contract. And, before anyone asks, we can’t unilaterally terminate it ourselves. Because of the sensitive nature of security work, only his hiring supervisor can initiate a recall. If that person is not the same person as the one who signed off on generating his HR log–which it isn’t because as soon as Barret pulled his little stunt that person was immediately terminated–Barret can demand a full panel, multi-aspect review that would clog up the Entente bureaucracy for years.

“I know, I know, we can try not telling him his rights, or sending the official communique to one of those feeds he never checks. But that turncoat bedwench Carrigan will know, and will check. We can’t kick him out just yet. Although I’ll be working on that going forward.

“That’s the catch, everyone.” She began her conclusion, “If we affirm that consultants and third parties contracted by the Entente are Entente, then we will make Barret Pilgrim the De Facto PAC-U Governing Minister for the whole planet of Mars. Everything he does will become our policy. The potential damage is…well limitless.”

The room was silent for a time as they all took in the dire news. After a sober moment of contemplation, Gera her supervisor asked, “Well can’t we just table this until we can get rid of Barret, officially?”

“I thought about that.” Allicen replied, “But there are two problems. First: the Loonies need and answer now. Second: do we really want to gamble that there won’t be any more Barret Pilgrims who weasel their way off world? Do we really want to leave a back door open for some asteroid cowboy to start setting precedent in the belt that we have to honor here on Earth?”

Again the room was silent. Allicen had had the foresight to only ask questions to which everyone already knew the answer. After an appropriately dramatic moment of silence Allicen concluded, “I know this is a disappointment. But we’ll have to tell the Loonies that we can’t render an official decision at this time. I’ve already drafted official communiques instructing them to wait for an officially sanctioned counsel to arbitrate this decision.

“I know this will take time and people will be upset, but it’s what needs to be done.” Allicen let her last words hang in the air for a moment. She held her breath and used every ounce of self control she had to keep her worry and uncertainty from being seen.

After a pregnant pause Muhammed finally chimed in. “I approve of this course of action. This is the smart thing to do.”

“I concur.” Came Gera’s reply. Suddenly the sense of dread that had been hanging in the air evaporated and the rest of the attendees quickly and enthusiastically agreed. In a flash this thing, this decision, that Allicen had been sure would be the end of her privileged life became like a new sunrise. Suddenly the horizon seemed closer, brighter, more inviting. After the compulsory minute for farewells and congratulations everyone signed off. The Holochat disappeared and Allicen was left sitting at a bare, plastic table in a dark room staring opposite her boss. Gera had a calculating, but warm look on her face. After a moment of being stared at Allicen asked, “Is something wrong?”

Gera smiled broadly and in a congratulatory tone she replied, “Maybe. Maybe this job is too small for you.”

“Too…small?” Allicen asked.

“Yes.” Gera replied, “Too small. This was a good catch. If we had plowed ahead like we wanted to, or if you weren’t as attentive as you are, we might have just handed Humanity’s newest home over to the worst kind of scum.” Gera got up and walked to the door to the conference room. Then she turned to Allicen, “This great, gigantic, governing machine we call the Entente has a momentum of its own. It’s very difficult for one person, one junior exec to make it slow down before it hurts itself. Yet you managed to do just that.

“I think I’ll confer with Indira about possibly moving you to another role. Something more suitable to your talents. There are a lot of conflicts in this big machine of ours. Someone like you might be able to sort them out. Provided you have enough time to do your research. And, of course, such a position would demand compensation, bureaucratic status and authority, as well as organizational networking becoming of such a post.”

“Did…” Allicen began, “Did I just get promoted to senior exec?”

Gera smiled again, “No, not yet. But I’ll talk to some people about it. Just don’t worry about it right now.” She then opened the door the conference room, “Oh, one last thing: enjoy Rio, you earned it.” With that she left. Allicen sat somewhat bemused. Was she moving up? Was she going to break into the next echelon of Entente authority? She wasn’t sure but she was sure of one thing: the new algorithm, the new purpose of decision making, no matter what, was to protect the Entente, even from itself.

Published by ciegetanks

What happens when you put Homer, Shakespeare, The Wrath of Khan, 90's Marvel Comics, and Akira in a blender and thought barf it onto the internet? My Sci-Fi Blog is what! Take a read see if you can understand, if not then at least tolerate it.

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