[OtE] Institutions of the Democratic Republic of Al Amarja - Democratic Senate

The "Institutions of the Democratic Republic of Al Amarja" articles series aim at presenting detailed data and non-player characters for the Over the Edge setting.

I have already posted most of the text of this series of articles on the Over the Edge mailing list. However, I'm well aware that not all Over the Edge Game Moderators have subscribed to it. Therefore, I'll repost these texts in completed and expanded versions, in several installments. Each installment will aim at presenting a specific institution of our beloved Democratic Republic of Al Amarja.

The Al Amarjan Democratic Senate

A large ultramodern (70's ultramodern that is) building located in Freedom City hosts the sessions of the Democratic Senate.

Situated at the very end of a wide, clean and sunny avenue (Death Scream Lane), surrounded by a nice darkened bronze fence complete with twin-machine-gun-guarded gates, spreads a large french-style garden parsed with decorative fountains, well-tended shrubs and fruit trees, blossoming with ever-scanning flowers and fragant security systems, and patrolled by smiling, friendly and heavily armed Peace Force officers.

Beyond the gate barrier, a car lane and a paved pedestrian way both meander through this garden to its heart: A large clearing at the center of which stands the main building of the Democratic Senate.

The car lane leads to an underground, guarded car park, specially designed for the parking of ultra-long-limos and unusual-sized vehicles. The car park allows access to the Senate through elevators. The main characteristic of the car park is its decoration, because its ceiling is covered with a colorful and utterly 70's Vasarely wallpaper, the angled, quasi-hypnotic patterns of which are supposed to put the mind at ease and really fail at it. 70's tracts are pasted in no particular logic to the car park's sustainment pillars, and outdated graffitis ("Kilroy wuz here", "I love chestrugs", etc.) mar the flaked and dirty gray walls. The -3 floor of the car park is restricted to Honorary Senators.

Few people apart from the janitors know that the Senate has a -4 level, only accessible through a concealed trapdoor opening to an emergency stairway, which itself is only available at floor -3. At the end of the stairway, the door leading to the -4 level is always locked, and has a security window reinforced with steel mesh. Someone venturing there and gazing through the cyclopean window would only observe the gleaming of flickering neon tubes, somehow unable to pierce a mist-shrouded darkness, and sometimes get a glimpse of contorting, obscene shadows. Needless to say, no janitor ever enters the level.

The pedestrian lane simply leads to the main Senate entrance.

The exterior, south-facing front of the Senate is made of large smoked glass panes, framed by slender beams of petrified wood, which allow light to penetrate the huge entrance hall but also dampen the glare of the sun.

The first thing in the visitors' sight when they are admitted into the hall through one of the three revolving doors, is the towering five-meter white marble caryatid on a one-meter-high platform who somehow always seems to stare right back at its admirers. The sculpture is obviously ancient. A latin inscription on the statue's base, though somewhat defaced, is still barely legible. No staff agent seems to remember exactly what allegory that marble sculpture was supposed to represent.

Surrounding the caryatid, four interactive video information plots display any data that might be required for guidance in the Senate.

Several wooden fans hanging from the ceiling generate a constant breeze throughout the hall, offsetting the oppressive heat caused by the mediterranean sun striking the glass veranda. The hall ceiling itself is crisscrossed by a titantium and petrified wood superstructure, supported by thick pillars of steel and tungsten. A part of the superstructure forms a overhanging gallery, which is part of the third floor.

Though two rows of typically 70's white, brownish, pink and yellow egg-chairs with simili-leather seats stretching along the dazzlingly brownish partitioning walls offer rest to visitors, they only do so under the scrutating gaze of the caryatid. Somehow no one ever seems capable to sit there for more than a few minutes, and even then, without fidgeting with unease. Perhaps it is due to the caryatid's stare, or perhaps simply because the seats themselves are uncomfortable.

In each corner of the hall strategically placed man-sized lava lamps of various colors add to the very seventies-like feeling one experiences upon entering the hall.

A thick azure, pink and orange carpeting with a Vasarely motif muffles the visitors' footsteps as they tread towards the only other available attraction in the otherwise empty hall: A reception desk of dark reddish lacquered wood, behind which two hostesses await the visitors, under the supervision of the chief clerk who usually indolently rests in a comfortable steel and leather throne, her coarse, rotund features lit by a nearby orange desktop lava lamp.

At the end of the hall, a closed door, two elevators and an emergency staircase provide admittance to the inner corridors and upper levels of the Democratic Senate, guarded by four Peace Force officers who check access cards.

There are two main types of access cards.

The first kind of cards are blue visitor badges, which only grant access to the garden and the main lobby of the Senate, as well as a few assorted rooms and inner corridors.

The second category of cards consists in greyish white security cards, which only differ from each other by a letter code followed by a eight-digit serial number, both enbossed in the hard plastic. The letter codes themselves are, in order of increasing security clearance, "ARMAITI", "HAURVATAT", "XSATHRA", "VOHU MANAH ASA".

The clearances for the various security cards are :

Senate Cafeteria (where senators eat for free, and visitors don't) and Senate Souvenir Shop (where Senators don't go, and visitors do) "ARMAITI"

Senate Bank (where senators write unbounceable cheques) "HAURVATAT"

Security "XSATHRA"

Senatorial Great Hall and Special Meeting Rooms "VOHU MANAH ASA". Every senator has one and only one such card.

Obtaining a visitor badge usually involves buying (20$ to 600$ on the black market, depending on the political climate), stealing, or being lent one by an understanding senator, in return for a favor, of course.

Obtaining an access card to the upper levels is very easy and quite more complicated at the same time.

There is only one way to obtain such a pass card, and that is to ask the chief clerk at the reception desk.

The chief clerk upon her throne, a woman named Erika Haruspeck, can give upper-level access cards in two circumstances only :

- when the requesting person is a senator and can prove it ;

- when the requesting person has, in her opinion, conclusively passed "the test".

No one knows exactly for sure in what "the test" consists in. Suffice to say that Erika Haruspeck asks each person requesting an access card to accomplish a certain task, and, after having carefully gauged the performance of the task, only then decides on granting access or not. Success or failure in the task is seemingly indifferent, access having often been granted in a few cases of failure, and even more often denied in some cases of success.

In a small tray bearing the notice "Granted Accesses" resting on a file cabinet behind the reception desk, a dozen yellowed, crumpled, slowly mouldering envelopes contain access cards for people who conclusively passed "the test", but did not come to retrieve their pass. The faded names on the uppermost envelopes read "Hinckley, J.", and "Kaczynski, T.".

Designation of Senators

There are 241 senatorial seats available, 216 of which are accessible through the normal designation process of senators. The normal senatorial mandate lasts for a period of 1 year.

Any Al Amarjan adult or pube can win such a seat in the Senate, even someone who is already a Governor, Mayor, or Consigliere.

The last 25 seats in the Senate are honorary. Honorary Senators are appointed for life by Her Exaltedness after a confidence vote by the Democratic Commons. Therefore, Her Exaltedness usually appoints a new Honorary Senator only if the precedent passed away for some reason.

The normal process of the senatorial election involves two stages:

In the first stage, ballots are cast in order to determine the candidates who will enter the second stage of the election.

The ballots which are to be secretly cast by the public are given to them "blank". Every voter needs to fill his ballot himself, with the name of the person he wants to see elected as Senator. A minimum of 50 ballots in his favor is necessary for a candidate to enter the second stage of the election. The first stage of the senatorial election lasts three days.

Note that it is possible for someone who hasn't applied as candidate for the senatorial election to enter stage two if 50 voters marked that person's name on their ballot.

Stage two consists in an "innocent hand" drawing 216 names from a deep urn, filled with a large mass of tickets, each of which has one of those names which passed stage one written on it. These 216 names are those of the Senators for the new yearly session. Statistically, every candidate whose name is among those elected for stage two has a strictly equal chance of becoming a Senator.

In the case of fewer names than 200 in the urn, which happens once every three or four years, the minimum number of ballots necessary for entering stage two is divided by 5. The names of all witting or unwitting candidates who received more than 10 votes are put into the urn.

If there is still a lack of candidates for the designation, then the threshold is further divided by 5, meaning that any and all (witting or unwitting) candidates having received two or more votes can be designated as Senators.

Is this "innocent hand" really innocent? A lot of controversy has arisen concerning the possibility of interference with the seemingly statistically consistent random designation. The system which is currently used is that of finding any street urchin near the Senate at the moment of the designation and ask him to draw 200 names in exchange for food, money or drugs.

Needless to say, con men, bookmakers, Entropomancers, THEM (Theomagical Hierocracy for the Enslavement of Mankind), Movers, Pharaohs, Psychics, astral entities, probability-disrupting sentient eggshells, sub-random terrorists, mind-controlling aliens, fringe scientists, evil masterminds, Mr. Le Thuy, time-travellers, the Cut-Ups, and the plain old Throckmorton Device are all focused on the project of influencing or replacing the "innocent hand".

So far, it seems that all these factions have only succeeded in cancelling each other's efforts out, with the possible exception of the Throckmorton Device, though the time-travellers seem to oppose its influence to some extent.

However, in the last three years a lobby has appeared on Al Amarja which militates in favour of using a specially trained Empty wearing a crystal trap, a tinfoil hat, and a technology disrupter drawing the names from a transparent hat in a blank room protected by an astral stasis field, a technological force-field, and a white thought generator. That solution has thus far always been rejected, mainly on financial grounds.

Honorary Senators are appointed for life by Her Exaltedness after a confidence vote by the Democratic Commons, which usually causes much debate and controversy. They can easily be distinguished from regular Senators in that they wear a traditional roman toga over their normal clothes.

The Senate issues Parliament Laws in coordination with the Democratic Commons, and also participates in Constitutional Revisions.

The physical location of the Senate is in Freedom City: 264, Death Scream Lane.

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