The Department of Narrative Administration

You know California went Emergent last year? Yeah. Whole state. Wouldn't believe the rigmarole involved, even over here, to Balance it all.

This is day eight of the Ten Days of Blogging Challenge that I’m doing with my wife. Photo by Jo-H.

What am I doing for a living these days? Well, mate. It’s all stories. I’m doing stories. Narrative administration.

Basically, I have to write everything down. I have to keep reality ticking over. It doesn’t do itself, you know? The reason why we see stories everywhere and forge our society around grand narratives is because, well, they’re there. Someone wrote them.

MOMENTUM

Me? No. No, I’m not Grand Narrative grade yet, God no. Those things are all handled by committee these days anyway, since the restrictions got brought in back in the 50’s. Anyone with an Momentum Rank of C6 or higher turns up on my patch and I have to hand them over to my superiors in Reassignment; often they leave. That’s why all the socialites all hang out in the same place, by the way, and us plebs have to make do with just living near the places with visit. They’ve got friends. Well. Influence, anyway. They want to be in stories with their friends.

Yeah, like Made in Chelsea. I’m pretty sure that’s actually a satire of us – the whole “structured reality” bit. That’s pretty much what we do although thanks to the Counterbalance Act we don’t have to actually tell anyone what’s going on. Some of their stories are pretty good, though, I could see us recruiting them once the show’s over. Although I shudder to think what they’d do to Unawares.

Yeah, you’re Unaware too. I mean, you don’t believe me, right? Course you don’t. It’s bullshit. And some of it is; I mean, we can’t write every story that happens to you. In a lot of low-rent areas we’ll just whack an overarching story on the place – bind it into the local council, maybe Fatebind a couple of local youths in neighbouring postcodes – and let it simmer. Most of the stories you experience on a day-to-day basis are either Mass Produced or Emergent.

Mass Produced is, well, it’s that isn’t it. We have a warehouse full of people – in China I think? – and they make stories. Little short-form things, like funsize Mars bars but made out of Stuff That Happens. Fortune Cookies, we call ’em, although Management sent round a memo asking us not to on account of Racial Discrimination.

AMERICA

Anyway. Remember when you got splashed on the way to that thing and another person walked in and they were soaking wet too? Yeah. That’ll be our distribution metrics messing up. There’s a bit of a conflict, there, actually, between our regional heads in Telford and the Offshore guys. We’re very keen to keep it all quiet, you know, we’re all about customer service and the biggest part of the customer experience – for us anyway – is not knowing that any of it is going on.

Offshore, though, it’s all Serendipity and that nonsense, thinking that sharing similar stories next to each other is the same as one interwoven story, that it aids Togetherness and all sorts of shit like that. I’m like look mate, we’ve already GOT Emergent lines, we shouldn’t trust people to just jam their stories together and see if they stick. They’ve not got any of the proper training. None of the health and safety workshops. Plonk two stories like that next to each other they’re going to start cancelling bits of each other out and you end up with narratives just sort of… crumbling. Relationships breaking up. Lives going nowhere. That sort of boring shit you’d never see on TV.

Emergent is newer tech, really, we just got it in from America about twenty years ago, and it’s more… well, I don’t like it, to be honest. It’s hard work. Lots of testing. It’s a toolbox, really, like before when I talked about Fatebinding youths – that’s one bit – you just sort of put charged elements in an enclosed environment and it sort of takes care of itself. Like baking, I guess, but the cake comes out different every time. I don’t like it. It’s too much work. They say that Emergent storytelling will replace all of our hand-crafted ones, soon, but I’m not sure. I mean, look at America.

You know California went Emergent last year? Yeah. Whole state. Wouldn’t believe the rigmarole involved, even over here, to Balance it all. Our engineers were pulling all-nighters, and – well – I’m just a tradesman, you know, I do my hours and I leave – but my in-tray was certainly fuller than normal, put it that way.

Of course they say that California’s doing great – that it’s all running perfectly, that they’ve been able to restructure their offices and put more people into the Creative department, that all their stories run on solar energy and natural gas and fuckin’ unicorn piss. But it’s bollocks. We all know they’re just putting out fires, all day, every day. Rogue narratives bleeding over state lines, getting mixed up in pre-made stuff, causing havoc.

They have to send out teams, now, you know. On-site stuff. They can’t just read about it or, you know, fill out Corrections to counteract it or just do their bloody jobs right in the first place, no. Big teams of ’em, six of ’em, with all sorts of fancy gizmos and iPads and Coherency Scanners and, you know, all that stuff. They’re running around fixing stuff on the fly and it’s their own fault and I’m like, stable door, guys! Horse. Bolted. Yeah? Yeah.

PERMITS

Oh yeah, we’ve got patterns and modes and shit. Strict guidelines. Well, I say strict – once Friday comes around, if you can’t get the requis forms for a Urban Misdirection Permit (also known as a 32-FB, also known as “Getting Lost in a city”) then you might find yourself papering over the cracks a little. Maybe you steer them towards a park and use the Rural one instead, they’re easier to come by, and no-one’s really checking at that scale. That’s why so many couples go for walks in parks together. Or when you’re a kid, why you can remember woods but not streets. Been that way for years. Much easier. Toffs get all the proper city stuff, because thanks to the Tories we have to segment off Low-Rent Urban into different categories and, well, it’s shoddy stuff. Really crap parts. No point in using most of it.

What? What do I do? Well, I mean, it’s not cradle-to-grave stuff. The way that most of the branches are working these days is that you’ll have different aspects of the story handled by different parts of the business. So, like, for a while when I started I worked in the Callcentre, as we call it, which has all the books. And you read them and find the important bits and you look for the signs like they’re written in your training manual and then you hand them back to processing, right, although generally they like you to photocopy the books because if they get lost, well, obviously no-one involved gets any stories and that’s bad for business.

MONEY

No, I don’t know how we make money. I don’t think we do. We’re partially Government-funded, and of course they pay us fuck all anyway. All the writers there have other jobs. I do stuff for Chat magazine, which isn’t a lot of money at the end of the day, but it means that I can go out and have a drink now and again. But no. There’s not a revenue stream, as far as I can see.

For a while back in the 80’s they thought they could tax people by siphoning off funds to us in the guise of a story, you know, but you can’t get the amounts right. Had to stop it after the Government stepped in. Flawed system anyway. We could do pence a day from everyone and they’d never notice, but you’ve got collection to worry about – it doesn’t just magic back to us, you know – and, yeah. And then there’s identity theft, but that’s too much off one person. It’s difficult and it’s not really a story and, yeah, occasionally you through a piece of work like a mugging or a theft or robbery and you think, hm, this guy’s doing okay, are we skimming something off the top of this? But, you know, I’d have no way of telling. And my job’s not illegal, you know? I’m just setting things up.

MERTON

Anyway, it goes back to Processing and then they divide it up through the relevant departments, and most of us are divided by geography and narrative to look after a certain borough or district or what-have-you, although every country does it differently. India actually have a Love Department, imagine that! Daft. We always have a laugh when we email through to the Love Department. Or Steve, when he calls them up, he always puts on this Barry White voice and he’s like “Hellooooo, is this the… Looooovve Department?” It’s fun. It’s fun. You’ve gotta have fun.

Anyway the boys and I look after Ingress to Merton, which means we deal with people moving into Merton and try to work out what reasons you have for coming here, tweaking bits and pieces. Ingress teams do a lot of cross-department work to set up the move, so that’s nice. It isn’t very glamorous but it pays the bills, and it’s honest work. Can’t say fairer than that. Plus the more money you get, the more Awares you get, and fuck that for a game of soldiers, you know?

AWARES

Awares. Yeah. Um, they’re usually ex-employees, probably from overseas or something, but sometimes they just happen to act in the right way. There aren’t many young awares anyway, because they split us up into teams now and we can’t get a handle on how the whole thing works. But – okay, so, we have the Books. And we read the Books to find out where Stories need to go, and then we write the stories and Bind them up and then they enter circulation again and, yeah.

Some of these guys have copies of their own books, I think, but it all wears off so they have to use them quick. You can sort of… copy edit your own. You have to be good at it, obviously, because if it doesn’t fit the others it won’t take and the ink just drips off the page – we had this one lad on his first day, oh man, he accidentally put the wrong characters in this poor woman’s life and he was working so hard that it knocked out all the ink in every adjoining chapter, black stains all over his legs and the floor. We had a good laugh at the time. I think she died. I dunno. Hard to tell. Not our doing, anyway.

Anyway, yeah, so you can edit your own. If you’re good, as I said. Some guys try to use their books to make sure they keep getting fresh copies of their own books, “by accident,” you know, although there’s no such thing as accidents like that, anyway. They all it an Oroboros Scheme. We’ve got posters up at work warning us about stuff like that; Persephones, Gandalfs, Lazaruses. You know. All the old classics. It’s hard to spot them but sometimes you can see the signs and call up Fraud and then the take the case off your hands. I think I’ve had it happen once. Not sure. But hey, you know, Merton, right?

But some folk – and I don’t like these folk, especially when I end up working on their files – some folk can manipulate ’em by acting right. Standing in the right way. Saying the right things. Like, if you toss coins a lot, you can start picking which way it’s gonna fall. Apparently. I mean you have to do it a LOT a lot, like, all day, and who’s got time for that?

Oh, it’s evolution, innit? If you’re good at making the Books do the right things, odds are you’ll breed more and then your kids’ll probably have it too. Or something. I don’t understand evolution.

What it boils down to, mate, is that if you think someone’s dead lucky that probably because they can influence their Book. Not everyone does it in the same way, or gets the same measure of luck, or gets it in the same sector. But they can start messing with their narratives better than we can, Corrections slip off ’em because there’s nothing to correct in the first place, suddenly we’re just trying to fix the world up behind ’em. The big ones, anyway. They’re like someone dropping a cement block in a paddling pond, and we’re the ones trying to stop all the water flying out. It’s thankless, sometimes.