Chapter Ten: The Bureau

The Bureau was not inside the palace; it was across the street. There wasn't room for the Minister to join Nyssa on the curiosipede, so it followed them across the boulevard. Nyssa wondered what the Bureau was like and what she would need to do to sort out her paperwork. The Minister dropped her off at the end of a long queue waiting for the attention of a little old lady, sitting at a desk in front of a truly intimidating rank of filing cabinets that looked like they'd really hurt if one fell on you or even just dropped a drawer on your head. Nyssa and Pomodoro were left alone in the line while the Minister returned to his palatial duties.

The people ahead of Nyssa gradually filed up, and received forms to fill out, and went to sit in chairs in the waiting room and write things on those forms for a considerable length of time. Nyssa had nothing to do to pass the time but look around and update her map with the lines of the city she'd seen. The name plate on the desk read "Cracy". When Nyssa reached the head of the line, the little old lady asked what the trouble seemed to be.

"One of the Queen's Ministers brought me here when I said I'd gone over the fence," Nyssa said.

"I see. Name?"

"Nyssa. And this is Pomodoro," said Nyssa.

"Reason for being in Ference?"

"Curiosity," said Nyssa, after thinking for a moment.

"Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm," hummed Cracy. "I see. Do you wish to solicit any additional premises?"

"Premises?" asked Nyssa.

"Premises. To prove that you are permitted in Ference by local ordinances," said Cracy. "You will begin with premises I approve for you and from there you may attempt to derive the legality of your presence."

"I - I'm afraid I don't know very much about logic," said Nyssa, alarmed.

"Then you'll need to be very careful about your premises," Cracy said, regarding Nyssa severely over her glasses.

"What happens if I can't prove it?"

"Well, if someone proves that you aren't allowed here, the case will be thrown out and so will you. If you can prove that it's unprovable either way, then you can appeal to the Queen, and if you can prove that you can't prove that it's unprovable or true or false, then those cases are resolved by the Princess. Unfortunately, she hasn't been around to hear any petitions for some time. The waiting room is getting a little full."

It was true; Nyssa could see people who appeared to be living in this waiting room, each camped out on their own chair with stacks of paperwork trying to make progress on their proofs, or taking breaks to nap under blankets of forms upon pillows of scratchwork. She saw a barbet, whose handwriting was large enough that she could read it from across the room; he was attempting to prove that it did not constitute a violation of local regulations to have fixed a bet after it was placed such that he won it.

"Can I -" Nyssa remembered the double negrater from the kitchen, containing something that wasn't not P. "Can I have the premise that I wasn't... not... allowed?"

"HMMMMMM," said Cracy. "HMMMMMMMMMMMMM indeed. Let me check." And she retreated to her filing cabinets, and heaved open a drawer that made a noise like a box of rocks tumbling down the stairs when it crashed open to its fullest extent, and she began to methodically flip through each folder hanging there, one at a time.

Nyssa began to be very aware of how the line behind her had grown. Someone coughed. She looked over her shoulder and a person queued three back was glaring at her.

"Steady now," Pomodoro whispered in her ear. "It's your turn and if you get it wrong you could be stuck here for a very long time."

"But they look impatient," Nyssa murmured back. "I can probably figure it out, right?"

"Not if you're stuck in this waiting room. It doesn't look like a very good place to study logic," Pomodoro answered. At that moment, a small man stuck in the farthest chair steadily etching line after line of proof on a stack of paper taller than he was (by the expedient of standing on a second, shorter stack) flung his pencil down and began weeping.

Nyssa nodded slightly and stood her ground, even when the man right behind her began to tap his foot.

Cracy slammed the filing drawer shut and began to look through a second drawer, climbing a stepladder to reach it. This one rumbled like thunder when it moved, and cracked like breaking wood when she slammed it shut again, not finding anything there either. Someone behind Nyssa sighed loudly.

"Excuse me," Nyssa said. "Can you tell me about how long this will take?"

"Oh, probably not more than six or seven hours," said Cracy.

Nyssa winced. "Can... I help?"

"Yes," said Cracy. "Come on over here and look through all the filing cabinets for people who are not allowed in Ference, and if you find yourself in those folders, then you won't be allowed your premise."

"- okay," said Nyssa, unclear on why finding herself in a folder like that wouldn't just get her thrown out immediately but not about to make that argument. She climbed over Cracy's desk and started hauling drawers open and looking through them. Everything was very clearly labeled and organized, which helped; it took her only a few minutes to finish a cabinet. There was only one stepstool, so she could only do the bottom and second-lowest tiers of the tall cabinets, but Pomodoro turned out to be able to cling to the sides of them and get the drawers open somehow and in this way they could cover things in parallel.

"You could help too," Nyssa ventured to the other people in line, "if you wanted things to go faster."

"We'd lose our place in line," someone said.

"You could all write your names down in order?" Nyssa suggested.

And so a bunch more people climbed over the desk. They stood on each other's shoulders; one woman got all the way on top of a cabinet, opened the top drawer, and then clambered over to the next cabinet to repeat herself. In much less than the estimated time they determined that Nyssa did not appear in any records of people forbidden to be in Ference.

"Your premise is granted!" proclaimed Cracy, and she stamped it onto Nyssa's paperwork and handed it over. Everyone else resumed their places in line.

Nyssa wrote down, under, "Nyssa isn't not permitted to be in Ference":

"Therefore, Nyssa is permitted to be in Ference."

And she got back in line, but everyone let her cut ahead. They were grateful that her idea was presently letting them drastically reduce the wait time on a person who was attempting to receive the premise "if wishes were horses then beggars would ride". When this premise had been located and granted, Nyssa was next. Cracy received Nyssa's form, reviewed the proof, nodded, and stamped it again. "There you are," she said. "Keep that on your person, just in case."

"All right," said Nyssa, putting it in her pocket. "Um, thank you."

"Of course," said Cracy. "It was a necessity. Next!"

And Nyssa let herself out to go across the street. She still hadn't seen the throne room.