Collective Fiction: We asked academics to collaborate with science fiction writers to develop short stories that explore the ideas of collective intelligence. This is the fourth and last story in the series. Read an introduction to the project alongside the first story here, the second here and the third here.
This is a true story about a terrible coincidence. It's the kind of coincidence that just makes the universe look mean, and it happened to a woman called Narnia.
The short version is, Narnia sent Roland the Pig to go kick cancer's butt. But Roland the Pig bumped his head and saw stars.
Here's the long.
This story starts with stars. All the real catastrophes start that way. Star-crossed lovers. Star-crossed supertemps in the gig economy.
The story starts six months before Narnia befriends Roland the Pig. On the day Narnia logs into GigTwig and notices that a client has given her… three stars.
Those three stars ain't the problem. The problem is the two shadows squatting nearby. The dark stars. The stars Narnia didn't get.
Heart racing, Narnia fires open the Disputes tab.
And, for the next few months, Narnia can no longer make a living.
Narnia knows this is all her fault. She let herself get overexposed. Now the twigs of GigTwig have gone bare. Money longer grows there.
But Narnia is unbreakable. She'll just make a name for herself on the other micro-employment platforms. New ones pop up every day. She'll follow the top tips, work for free, build up her ratings, and get back in the game.
Narnia's motion capture rig lies in the corner, gathering dust. It should be gathering motion.
It should be gathering cash and stars.
While Narnia's GigTwig appeal bounces around the bureaucracy, it is back to food banks for Narnia and her two-year-old daughter Faye. It is back to 'cookies' made of flour and water, and begging in Starbucks for cups of boiled water.
When the days get colder, Narnia and Faye play a game. They dress up in all the clothes they own. They wear everything except Narnia's motion-capture rig.
It ain't Faye's favourite game, exactly…
Narnia's not too proud to launch a crowdfunder, just too scared. What could she even say? 'Hi, I'm Narnia, and I'm a bad mom. This is Faye. She's in real danger right now. Say hi while you still can!'
Narnia gets a little obsessed with a compassionate crowdfunding site called Everyday Angels. She watches the appeals, gnawing the edge of her thumb.
Every now and then, she leans in and taps "Let me be your Angel". Hell with it! Don't think about it too much! Give what you can! Classic crypto, GovCoin, old school national currency, hybrids, time credits, co-op and business-to-business credits, vouchers, loyalty points, VC lottery equity, all the arty and disruptive and avant-garde coins – Narnia keeps whatever she earns, never pays a conversion fee till she absolutely has to. By now the bottom of her Wallet is lined with a weird residue of value, tiny quantities denominated in countless crazy-ass coins. Wtf is SplashCash? Where did she even get that?
How broke is Narnia anyway? She can't tell. She feels broken. Being poor is every bit as complicated as being rich. The difference is, you can't afford an accountant to understand it for you.
"Let me be your angel", she taps. Maybe Indra in Wisconsin will find a lawyer who takes SplashCash. Maybe the three children and boyfriend-of-just-two-months of Ally, who drowned last week in a river in Denmark, will know how to spend 0.364 SpaghettiCoins, spend it just how Ally would have wanted. And maybe Octavia in Estonia can pay her anal fistula in CloudCredit to just go the fuck away.
Things ain't so bad, Narnia reminds herself. She could always sell the rig.
Only… a second-hand mocap rig fetches about as much as a second-hand teabag.
Besides, the heart of winter is coming. So long as she doesn't sell the rig, that's one last layer she could dress up in. Stay warm, stay well.
Faye goes for a special holiday at Daddy's house.
That's where people like to go on their holidays, right? Someplace nice and warm! Narnia visits Faye three times a week. It ain't sustainable. Soon it's once a week. Then she Skypes every day, then once a week.
Then she tries to Skype once a week, only sometimes Faye ain't available.
At least Faye's safe.
In a way.
It is during this strange interlude, while Narnia's GigTwig appeal is bouncing around the bureaucracy – this strange and mobled and ravenous and capital-idle interlude, this unbelievably brave and hopeful, "I am unbreakable, I'm gonna get back in the game" interlude, this wrenched-from-her-own-flesh-and-blood interlude, this by-the-way-there-is-something-else-going-on-here-something-really-important-I'm-not-admitting-to-myself interlude – that Narnia decides to eradicate every trace of numbers from her Wallet.
The first finance visualiser Narnia tries is called 'Pelfie'.
Narnia downloads the free, ad-based version. Pelfie visualises her Wallet as an ethereal merry-go-round of the various meagre commodities Narnia can currently afford. Pelfie's images are live links to Google Shops, so Narnia can turn her coins-visualised-as-commodities into actual commodities with just a couple taps. Pretty cool. Like YO! Sushi but for everything.
Narnia's daughter is slipping away.
Narnia's own fault.
That client gave her a funny feeling.
Nobody put a gun to her head and made her get in the motion capture rig and do those forward rolls, for a couple of bucks and three bright stars and two dark ones.
Narnia's own stupid fault.
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And what about the Bread Fund?
Is that the real reason Narnia's scared to go public?
Welcome to Everyday Angels. You have 30934287 notifications.
What about the Bread Fund, Narnia?
What about the Bread Fund?
What about the Bread?
During the custody dispute over Faye, Narnia's case was bolstered by her membership in a Bread Fund for jobbing actors.
Bread Funds are income insurance co-operatives. Do-It-Ourselves fragments of social security for freelancers.
If people find out that Narnia is no longer in the Bread Fund… like, can Faye's daddy just keep Faye? How does that stuff work?
Narnia just needs to consult a fancy lawyer.
Any fancy lawyers out there interested in 0.135 SimonOwlCoin?
She watches Everyday Angels. She watches the forbiddingly huge icons drift by on Pelfie.
Everyday Angels is not all "woe is me". Some of the appeal videos are… just so clever and funny! These guys can sure sing for their crowdsupper.
She could do it.
She chews her thumb-edge.
One Wednesday, after Narnia's swallowed practically the whole thumb, up to the elbow, she swallows her pride and her fear too. She spends a glorious morning composing a dapper little script.
She spends a crushing afternoon, recording like a million different takes. Each take worse than the last.
"Hi, I'm – dum de dum de dum! Hello. Hi! Hi."
Narnia just can't get the tone right! She can't beg with grace. Narnia's place is in her rig, moving with grace.
She's like one of those tragic silver screen starlets that never made the transition into talkies, because they stared and moved like Egyptian goddesses, but spoke like helium geysers erupting under abattoirs.
"Hi – dammit!"
Narnia uploads her appeal on Everyday Angels.
Anonymous. No video.
Late that night, her heart racing, Narnia logs in again and…
You have zero angels.
A week later, Narnia's appeal gets a spike in traffic, when it is cloned onto a site called CrowdFucked, a curated collection of desperate people who have earned $0 of their target.
Narnia puts the rig on eBay.
Six minutes pass.
Narnia deletes the listing.
She can't sell the rig. What about tomorrow? She'll need it tomorrow. Her GigTwig rating will shoot up again. She'll get back in the game. Moving, getting captured. Where she belongs. Clambering around, a swarm of glowing stars, like a glass frog among the leaves and twigs.
And the day after tomorrow? Faye's gonna move back in with Mommy.
Maybe we should talk about frogs. Because frogs are about to come into this big time.
When Narnia was a little girl, there was this kind of frog called a glass frog. As you can imagine, the belly flesh of a glass frog is a totally transparent substance. As you can imagine, a glass frog is an unbelievably beautiful and also an unbelievably disgusting creature.
You know how biology students dissect frogs, so that they can gain various Bioscientist Powers? Well, glass frogs are like, lol already did. A glass frog's ember-bright organs are already laid bare. Seen from below, a glass frog is just a cute swarm of offal clambering through lush jungle canopies.
There are no more glass frogs. They were brittle. They were fragile. Narnia watches them on YouTube. The glass frogs are gone.
Nothing is inevitable.
We make our own stories.
What if Froggy kicks cancer's butt after all? By whatever means Froggy may muster? What if the long version is totally different from the short version?
Otherwise, what's even the point of a long version?
Say the story doesn't start with three stars. If it starts different, maybe it can end different.
Say it starts with three kinds of glass. Glass could be mistaken for stars.
First, the glass of the frogs. Narnia watches them on YouTube. She loves the glass frog videos, even more than the Everyday Angel videos. Crystals of the Rainforest, one frog video is called. Glass Frog Ninja, another.
But there are more "I-can-sure-sing-for-my-crowdsupper" videos than "Look-at-the-glass-frog" videos.
"Get close enough," enthuses one narrator – a narrator who is no national treasure David Attenborough, but a fine narrator nonetheless – "and you can see his organs hard at work. Mom is nowhere to be found. Dad does it all, guarding the clutch 24 hours a day."
The second glass is the glass of Glass Buttocks.
Narnia comes across an article about Glass Buttocks in the depths of despair and the whole experience gives her a real boost. If anyone tries to tell Narnia that the Google Glassholes of 2013 were early adopters, Narnia is going to tell them about Glass Buttocks.
Glass Buttocks was a popular subform of the Glass Delusions. The afflicted were frightened to sit on their shitters lest their hineys should shatter. If they had to sit, they sat ever-so-gingerly. Only on heaps of brocaded cushions, stuffed with swansdown. Only on heaps and heaps of hay, larded with cow dung.
We're talking Middle Ages here, so no YouTube. Which is a pity, because YouTube might humanise a mental disorder that (frankly) opens itself up to the suspicion that it is being deliberately hilarious.
The Glass Buttock Men all are gone. Glass Delusions can go extinct, just like Glass Frogs.
Narnia believes it's due a reboot. Glass Ass®. Obviously.
The third glass is the glass of the voice of the naturalist and documentarian and all round national treasure David Attenborough.
One day, Narnia stumbles across a meme that cruelly and unfairly heaps nothing but infamy on the head of national treasure David Attenborough, a national treasure who used to speak in what used to be called a "cut-glass English accent".
The meme has some data but basically what it says is: "Number of species of frog alive when David Attenborough began his career: LOTS. Number of species of frog at end of career: WHERE ARE ALL THE FROGS, DAVID? Not exactly what you'd call a 'legacy', David."
David Attenborough is gone. Not long gone, but gone. David Attenborough hippity-hopped into the big Notional Treasures Only recycling bank in the sky.
You should not blame him for the frogs. He did not murder them personally, as far as we know.
To remember him by, we have his life's work, and a state-of-the-art polar exploration vessel called the RRS Sir David Attenborough, and hardly any frogs.
Narnia's Pelfie visualiser resizes the icons relative to her discretionary spending. If it's a big purchase, it's a big icon.
An epic, slowly rotating tampon henge drifts through the cracked glass of Narnia's screen.
Why are sanitary products so expensive? Those monumental menstruation menhirs, or whatever, are somehow almost as depressing to Narnia as the numbers used to be.
Especially since Narnia's periods are crazy all over the place right now and she is kind of scared about that too. Never mind. She is unbreakable.
The tampons drift onward, and a three-bean wrap or whatever drifts in their wake. Then some cheap headphones.
If you don't just tap, but do a special wiggle with your finger – it's called a Deliverune – somebody delivers the thing to your GPS. But it's expensive.
Sometimes abstract stuff drifts by on Pelfie. Like a smiley face. If you tap on that, you don't get a courier on a bike bringing you a smiling face. That would be horrifying. No, you get booked into a robodiagnosis for referral to a Skype session with a micro-counsellor with the appropriate micro-counselling accreditation.
Yay! Now the smiley face is you!
One day a product drifts by that is so expensive Narnia has to zoom out to see it.
When she does, she bursts out laughing.
Why are sanitary products so expensive?
This one is a new luxury menstrual front-end called the Hencup. Narnia taps to find out more. The Hencup – the name is presumably a nod to the Mooncup, the last truly great disruptor in feminine hygiene, and maybe there's some secondary play-on-words on the word 'eggcup' as well – the Hencup will allow Narnia, about once per month, to lay an actual honest-to-goodness synthetic egg.
The powers of a hen. Something Narnia never even knew she needed.
The Hencup is totally discreet and comfortable and empowering and ecological and just a little bit feminist. Oh, and by the way, Narnia will be able to do all the things she totally definitely normally does all the time, for instance skiing and skydiving and lava-rafting and everything – and definitely not just living in her squalid bedsit with the rig and the dust and the frogs and the angels and the sickness and the bad stars and the blood down on her legs and the no Faye – and by the way, she will only have to change her Hencup every six months, and she'll get updates on all her devices so she doesn't accidentally forget and die of Necrotic Egg or whatever.
And with her Hencup in place, Narnia will go to bars and houses with balconies with her glamorous friends who also wear Hencups and they will laugh and laugh and laugh. And she'll always have that look about her, like someone who eats in restaurants and asks to see the manager, please.
'Want,' croaks Narnia.
Her feathers are all ruffled.
She chews the edge of her thumb.
She taps, and taps. And taps.
Are you sure you want to remove Pelfie from Wallet?
Next Narnia tries a visualiser called Pokémoney GOLD, which is really cool and funny, and Narnia likes the idea that your money is this cute fierce little monster warrior that follows you around and fights for you to get stuff you need.
Pokémoney GOLD is kind of a disaster for Narnia.
The targeted ads and special offers are actually pretty good, and it's all done through Augmented Reality. So Bristol is suddenly transformed into this enchanted, fruitful universe, where radiant, kawaii treasure is artfully tucked into nooks and crannies, and tiny crafty monsters peer around corners, or go boldly marching to and fro on stumpy little legs.
One day Narnia pops into Pret and sends her Pokémoney chibitcoin waddling through augmented reality up to the till to seize her a three-bean wrap.
It is 17:13 and she hasn't eaten a crumb all day. Weirdly, with everything else that's going on, Narnia keeps forgetting to eat. Her appetite is gone. But she's not getting any thinner.
Her Pokémoney chibitcoin returns triumphant, as usual. Soon she's sitting in the window seat, playing with her map and her settings, choking down the three-ashes wrap.
And that's when the penny drops.
Nope. Nope. Nope.
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All this while, Pokémoney GOLD's idea of acceptable debt has been totally different from Pelfie's. Finance-vis really needs some kind of sector-wide protocol or standard.
Meanwhile, Narnia has been spending twice as much as she thought – especially after splashing out and going to see Faye three times last month, Faye who is growing up so fast, and basically now seems to Narnia like she might be seven or eight or even like 12 or 13 years old, even though she's definitely still only two-and-a-half, and defiantly loves her Daddy and her Mommy – and now Narnia is in way, way, waaaay more debt than she realised.
Are you sure you want to remove Pokémoney GOLD from Wallet?
Narnia is freaking out. Narnia taps. 'I'm sure.'
Technically, the dedicated lead of her Pokémoney GOLD chibitcoin is called 'Faye', just because she had to put in a name when she started, and at the time 'Faye' was all she could think of. So next it says:
Faye will be gone forever. Faye will miss having adventures with you! Are you sure?
Narnia taps. 'I'm sure.'
And so it's back to money-as-numbers for a bit, till Narnia's role model and occasional online friend Wenda Glitch tells Narnia Narnia absolutely must try Tulpay, and Tulpay is what Narnia sticks with.
Tulpay's a lot like Pokémoney, but a bit less gamified and AR-oriented, and more of a genuine personal finance organiser tool.
Plus she likes the way Tulpay does ads. Narnia's Tulpay avatar (it's called a 'Tulpal'), whom she calls Frog at first, and later Roland, just kind of constantly prowls around the corners of her device. And every now and then Roland discreetly drags an ad in, like a cat dragging in a mouse or bird. And cocks his head and looks at her as if her to say, "We both know this is bullshit," and then drags the ad away again.
Narnia appreciates Roland's grace.
Roland usually looks like a frog, moves like a cat, and stands idle like a medieval serf with Glass Ass. Whenever Roland is idle, he stands on his wobbly froggy legs, awkward, ungainly, bug-eyed. Like if Roland ever crouched like a real frog, he might disintegrate. "All flesh is glass, and the glory of man is the faultline of the glass."
But give Roland something to do? Grace.
Narnia believes Glass Buttocks is due a reboot, especially the bit about never ever sitting down. Who has time to sit?
Anyway, if you sit down, you might crush somebody. There might be one last glass frog left after all! And that last glass frog might hippity-hop onto your bench just as you are lowering your miracle-squishing haunches. Splunch.
How is that going to look to whatever is looking at you?
But there are no more glass frogs. They are all gone. The last glass frog hippity-hopped into the big Clear Glass Only recycling bin in the sky long ago.
By now Narnia kind of knows she might be dying.
Give me something to do, thinks Narnia. I want to show my grace.
Out of all the different Tulpay avatars, Narnia picked the frog-like one. There's something familiar about him. She can't quite place it.
Narnia thinks Tulpay is giving a deliberate sly middle finger to the advertisers who use its platform. Animating their logos all floppy. Sticking them in the mouths of digital cuties, and dragging them through the digital dust.
The advertisers probably know they are getting a sly middle finger but don't really care. They can appreciate cute.
Narnia has twiddled her settings so it's not just ads that Roland drags in. He drags in all her notifications. He's a universal intelligent personal assistant.
Roland is drooling all over something pretty interesting right now. Narnia's drooling too.
"Narnia, your GigTwig dispute: FINAL DECISION."
All this time, Narnia has been battling hard to keep her GigTwig appeal bouncing around. She has been Serena Williamsing that appeal.
Narnia's star-stingy client, she discovered early in her battle, was an arbitrage bot repackaging Narnia's motion capture work on another newish-at-the-time micro-employment platform called Noodl for single digit pence profit per trade.
No violations there.
Except the arbitrage bot also awarded Narnia stars on GigTwig based on the stars it received when it resold her work on Noodl.
And, as Narnia has been arguing – pretty much doing a PhD-worth of digital sociology research along the way – GigTwig and Noodl have totally different user-bases and totally different user-base cultures. The ratings are not transferable.
Her data demonstrates that Noodl buyers are stingy with their celestial approbation. Whereas GigTwig buyers – they're in constant gushy supernova mode. Everything gets four or five stars on GigTwig! 'The seller was supposed to translate my documents into Spanish. They translated it into ancient Akkadian and fucked my mom. Four stars.'
So that three-star rating was supposed to convey, "This Narnia is pretty good! Would exploit again!"
But that three-star rating actually conveyed, "Whoever the fuck this clown is, she should never work in this town again. In fact, her forward-rolls are so bad, lol let's starve her daughter."
"Narnia, your GigTwig dispute: FINAL DECISION.
Having reviewed your last email, we are delighted to inform you… "
And boom! NARNIA IS BACK IN BUSINESS.
Unbreakable. The end.
One last thing. "People who live in glass asses shouldn't throw up stars." The sentence makes zero sense, but it sums up how Narnia feels.
Deep down, Narnia already knows. She's known for a while. The thing is, Narnia doesn't have anything fancy like Glass Ass Syndrome. Narnia has cancer, plain and simple. Pain and sample. Her dad died of it.
While Narnia awaited her GigTwig appeal, she somehow put her own body to one side. Some part of her just screamed Not this too! Not now! Not now! I can't do both!
And on the advice of that silent screaming something, she managed to believe it wasn't real. Told no one.
Gotta catch 'em early.
Now then, cancer. How may I help you?
The day Narnia wins her appeal, instead of getting straight back to work – the work of capturing the grace of her bloated, nauseous, always-needing-to-pee, always-full body – what Narnia does is get online and book a session with a biopsy witch in Bridport.
Bridport is a bit of a drive, but this guy is seriously lowballing the competition, and Narnia is still dirt poor. Don't count your eggs before you've even bought your Hencup, she tells herself.
The witch has great ratings and pretty good reviews. He does nothing but biopsies, and he has an NHS LLP biopsy clinician accreditation equivalent that's been robo-accredited by one of the hottest new robo-accreditation startups. This guy's no quack.
So when he tells Narnia it's ovarian cancer, pretty far advanced, no question about it, Narnia has no questions about it. No, "Are you sure?" No, "Can't I have something fancier? Could it be some part of me is glass? My heart, my face, my ass?"
Narnia sends Roland the Frog – embodying all her personal finances and hope of staying alive in one cute, easy-to-interpret, interactive avatar – to and fro across Bristol to fetch her the various assessments and treatments she needs.
Well, not the ones she needs exactly, but the ones that Roland the Frog is big and strong enough to get for her.
The Oncology Healthcare Commons, by reputation, is bewildering. Maybe that's true for some people, but Narnia actually navigates it pretty easily.
Roland is a huge comfort.
She even upgrades him to an "Intelligent Nurse-onal Assistant," which is totally free. From then on, she can tell Roland about her symptoms directly. Roland remembers her data scrupulously.
He passes it on to the Healthcare Commons, and he answers Narnia's questions as well as he is able. He tells her all about 'mucinous' and 'serous'. He speaks in a reassuring, vigorous, cut-glass English accent. He tells her about 'positive washings' and 'ascites'.
Roland has the best bedside manner. Only who has time for bed? All that nursing makes froggy hungry. Narnia gets in-rig. She grinds GigTwig.
She's been away six months and the platform has changed. Apart from a few boutique reaction gifs, all she gets now is sex stuff.
She decides she does not find the sex work liberating. But she does find it No Big Deal. Roland the Frog's body morphs a lot, as the different coins he's made of come and go, and to be honest sometimes he's not even that froggy. For a while, Narnia renames him Roland the Pimp.
The sex motion capture is almost all paid in KanyeCoin. Roland gets pinker and pinker, because he has so much KanyeCoin in him, and that particular hue of pink represents KanyeCoin. You learn to read your complex personal finances at a glance. That's the idea, anyway. He gets round and plump and snouty.
She renames him Roland the Pig.
She visits Faye way more. It's a balancing act now. A game. If she asks Roland if they can go see Faye too often, Roland will wane, all skinny and frail. Then when she sends him to go fetch treatments, he'll come home empty-trottered, and then maybe no more Faye at all. No more anything.
Roland the Pig still moves like a cat. He still stands like a glass man.
Narnia sends Roland the Pig to go kick cancer's butt.
More in this seriesFiction: Elevated, by Tim Maughan Fiction: Unshaken, by JY Yang Fiction: The Facility, by Ayodele Arigbabu
On YouTube, the glass frogs are still at it. Ghosts.
Narnia installs VoiceSwap, and sets the narrator to sound like David Attenborough. "Squadrons of carnivorous rainforest wasps take to the air. A frog nightmare. They're aggressive, persistent, venomous, and nearly as big as our glass frog. They're not interested in him. They want his eggs," says David Attenborough.
Narnia won't ask Faye's daddy for help.
She won't. She won't.
Narnia sends Roland the Pig to go kick cancer's butt.
Roland the Pimp never really sticks, to be honest. Just a transitional thing.
Sometimes she calls him Dr Roland the Pig, though.
Narnia picks up her phone and calls Faye's daddy and tells him she's dying.
He cries and cries and it's their first real moment for years. She believes Faye's daddy 100 per cent when he confesses that he's broke. Maybe worse off than she is. It's hard to tell when you're using different Wallet visualisers. You gotta compare oink-with-oink, right Roland?
And Faye's daddy can't look after himself, he says. And he can't look after Faye.
And he can't look after her, can't look after Narnia, and they both know now for sure that she will die, she will die for real. And they both want so badly never to have fallen out of love but it's still real, they stopped, they don't love each other.
They put an appeal on Everyday Angels. Faye helps her mommy and daddy. It's actually kind of fun.
"But if the wasps think they can eat his babies without a fight, they've got another think coming," whispers David Attenborough. "He's a frog ninja."
The second appeal does ok. There are a lot of cute little girls on Everyday Angels and frankly Faye probably ain't in the top 5 per cent.
At least this time Narnia doesn't end up on CrowdFucked.
Why does that site even exist?
The Healthcare Commons is more than a site, more than a marketplace. The Healthcare Commons is like a network of networks, and it exists because people, whether or not they're professionals, and whether or not they're in need, never stop trying to heal each other, never stop trying to care for each other, never stop trying to ease each other's pain, no matter what.
It has been a hard decade for the Healthcare Commons. A lot of innovative services, which were supposed to complement existing structures, suddenly found they were expected to replace them. A nidotherapy-and-ecotherapy-inspired app pops up? Great! 300 psychiatric beds close down.
It has been hard. The Healthcare Commons is in good shape, considering.
What Narnia really needs now is surgery and she can afford that when pigs fly. Maybe more competition would bring the price down. Competition between providers in any market incentivises them to raise their game. Competition offers consumers a greater choice of more innovative and better-quality services at lower cost. Oncology is no exception. Maybe if there was more competition among providers, Narnia could get that surgery she needs.
Narnia's not totally sure that's true.
Stuck in an epic jam on the M6 out of Liverpool, her mind begins to wander. She speculates that what the traffic system in this country really needs is fewer rules and more spurs to competition. If only there were more competition between different cars and lorries and buses and cyclists, that would incentivise them to raise their game. Underperforming vehicles would remove themselves from the road transport marketplace in blood-drenched pile-ups. This would clear the way for more innovative, efficient vehicles. Narnia can't fucking die.
Narnia has so much she still wants to do. On the dash display, Roland the Pig sprouts little wings, and Narnia takes it as a good sign.
You know what though? I'm going to have to stop the story there. The thing is, sometimes the short version and the long version are the same.
Otherwise, what's the point of even having a short version?
No, I can go on a little bit, if you want. We haven't talked about the terrible coincidence yet. But feel free to call it now, if you need to. Really. It's OK. I think I would.
Zoom out from Narnia, alive and angry and full of desire, stuck in traffic on the M6 coming out of Liverpool, marvelling at Roland the Pig awkwardly testing out his new, comically small wings. A small smile plays across Narnia's lips. Go do something else.
Because the terrible coincidence is one of those coincidences that just makes the universe look mean. It seems somehow simultaneously both significant and pointless, and it happens to a woman you kind of know, a woman called Narnia.
It starts . . . it starts much earlier. It starts with stars.
More than three.
About a dozen, spinning in a loop.
The client is requesting a bunch of sequences, mostly comic slapstick stuff. Forward-rolls and stuff like that. Narnia has a funny feeling about this client. But she's desperate and she takes the gig anyway. Faye is napping, and it's raining outside, and the client needs those sequences in the next half an hour. Narnia will have to record them here in her tiny apartment.
Narnia lays out her yoga mats and straps on her rig.
It's a myth, the thing about glass being a liquid, by the way. Although who knows, maybe it still flows. If cash can flow, why not glass?
Anyway. Narnia flows.
By the time she gets to mo-cap sequence number five, Narnia is totally in her zone. Sequence five starts with a little jump backward, followed by a big fall that turns into three loopy forward-rolls, and then Narnia is supposed to sit up and look around dazedly, like she's seeing stars.
Narnia memorizes it, imagines it, glances over the procedurally generated aesthetics spec sheet, imagines it again. Narnia makes little motions with her shoulders and hands, and hums a little rhythm to herself. She's in her zone. She's in her flow. These are magical preparatory rites that are somehow microcosms of the larger motions yet to come.
The rain beats on the window. A drop leaks into the empty icecream tub below.
Some Velcro came loose during her last manoeuvres, she reattaches it. Narnia nudges her yoga mats back into position, and . . .
The little leap and the first forward-roll flow smoothly. Narnia's second forward-roll turns out a little loopier than she intended. She knows the space she's moving through intimately, and she knows she's right up against the wall.
But Narnia, forward roll-wise, is in the zone. There will be no need for a second take. Narnia uses her awkward placing to her advantage, adeptly scootching her head as her legs go tumbling over, so she actually winds up kind of going backward and losing ground on the final forward‑roll.
Narnia checks her mo-cap silhouettes, making herself laugh. Perfect, because 'rib-tickling' is ticked on the aesthetics spec sheet.
She thinks nothing of it at the time. Why should she? It's top-notch, but her work is always top-notch. She crops the recording, saves it into the folder, and moves onto the next sequence. The whole job is delivered to the client with eight minutes to spare.
Her own damn fault.
Later, Narnia eliminates numbers from her Wallet. Fuck numbers.
And later still, Narnia befriends Roland the Frog. And when Roland the Frog becomes Roland the Pig, and when Roland the Pig sprouts tiny wings, Narnia gives money-as-numbers one last whirl, to figure out just what those damn wings can do. Narnia flips Dr Roland the Pig over and squints down his Glass Ass. Narnia takes a deep dive into the financial sausages.
Roland's feathers, she discovers, are a kind of exotic Complex Dynamic Liquidity coins. These particular CDL coins are called Elpis.
This afternoon on the M6 her Elpis hit critical mass and poof! out came Roland's wings. They are a really peculiar form of value. Narnia can't decipher them, neither as Roland's wings nor as numbers.
'Roland, would you go to Wikipedia for me and ask about Elpis and about CDL coins?'
Roland is on it.
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CDL coins, it transpires, are rooted in really beautiful sounding philosophy by this guy Bernard Lietaer, all about being sustainably abundant. The first generation CDL coins were hippy-dippy and the second generation really, really nasty. States and corporates saw they could pretty much track and micro-manage people's whole lives by paying out wages and benefits in specially tailored coins, where the things you could buy changed according to whatever the coin was most recently used to buy.
She's been getting a 15 per cent mix of Elpis with her KanyeCoin from some of her HentaiPlay and BonerHamster work. Narnia currently owns 30.45 Elpis.
A kind of audacious intuition is creeping through Narnia's body now. It grows and grows, till it is half panic, half pure pleasure.
What if Narnia's rich?
There was a backlash, and things get really murky with the third generation, and now it's either fourth generation or fifth generation depending who you're talking to, but the consensus is Complex Dynamic Liquidity isn't intrinsically good or bad, it all depends on . . .
Fuck this. Narnia banishes the Wikipedia tab. 'Roland, please can you scoot over to the Healthcare Commons for that initial debulking surgery and bilateral salpingo‑oophorectomy? Like we talked about before.'
What if she's rich?
When the seller map assembles, Narnia's heart sinks. It's the familiar crowded landscape of cute, moss-covered, turrety castles, all ringed by lily-filled moats. The castles may be cute, but they're also impenetrable. Pig Roland to the Dark Tower Came . . .
In Tulpay, things you can buy are represented by idyllic little meadows and knolls and glades, bristling with obstacles and puzzles. There's always some precious crunchy fruit at one end. You can tap bits of the landscape and clouds bloop up to explain the underlying finance. In a successful transaction, Roland marches across this landscape, getting tangled in puzzles and challenges that make him morph his form, and eventually chows down on the fruit.
Things you can't afford show up as castles.
It's not quite that simple. Sometimes a drawbridge will lower for the Creditworthy of Heart, but Narnia's already tried that about a million times.
Narnia is just about to dispel the seller map, when . . .
How did she miss it? There, smack bang in the centre of the serried fairytale forts, is a solitary greensward. Open grass. And poking up from that patch of grass is a pale marble plinth.
And balanced on that pale marble plinth is a pineapple.
When Narnia spots the pineapple, the feelings within her rise to a strange intensity that almost resembles tranquillity. Like when an overwhelming clamour turns to a white roar, and it's almost like silence.
Narnia sends Roland the Pig to go kick cancer's butt.
Zooming in, Narnia and Roland arrive in a green meadow lit by small pale flowers. She has never quite seen a scene like this. She doesn't know how it works within Tulpay, what it means. For some reason, this provider's pricing dashboard must be an outlier in the market.
The meadow is split in two by a deep zigzaggy chasm, its banks linked by a rickety rope bridge. On the other side stands the plinth, jauntily askew, crowned with the tall, juicy, jagged pineapple.
Narnia taps on the pineapple and reads carefully. Roland stays at the right edge of the scene, swaying awkwardly, occasionally grunting, or rooting around, or flapping and lifting off by a zephyr's worth of pixels.
'Hush, babe,' Narnia murmurs, without even noticing that she has.
Eventually Roland flips into the moist grass and wallows and purrs and licks himself clean.
The pineapple can save her. It represents the right surgery, plus insurance and after-care and everything. The whole package. Nothing missing, no catches.
Narnia taps Roland, and draws a bee-line to the pineapple.
She has an idea about what will come next. Roland will half-prance, half-flutter across the rope-bridge, tickling it with his trotters and setting it swaying. This provider wants her pig's wings. This provider wants those CDL Elpis, and they want them now. If Roland hadn't had the wings, the rope bridge wouldn't sustain his weight.
Not rich in every way. Just rich in one way, and maybe only for one moment.
Not rich in every direction. Just rich in one direction she needs to go. Toward living. Toward Faye.
Toward being. Toward more. Toward maybe. Toward Narnia. Yeah right. Yeah right. Look at that pig fall down. Look at that pig fall down. That pig is her. That pig is her. She's going to die. She's going to die.
Narnia sends Roland the Pig to go kick cancer's butt. But before Roland the Pig even sets one trotter on the rickety old rope bridge, he bumps his head against the stanchion securing the bridge to the near bank.
The rope bridge sways and creaks, and a wooden slat plunges into the darkness, and two white feathers are knocked loose from Roland, and slowly, zanily, they float down into the darkness after the slat.
Roland does two, three forward rolls, and as his bacon butt plops into the grass, Narnia thinks calmly to herself that Tulpay is such a great product. Because even though Narnia has never seen this animation before, it still communicates everything it needs to. Beyond doubt it is a bigger and badder version of animations she already knows, animations that mean, 'Oh my God, what? You can't even almost afford this!' Narnia even knows more-or-less why the downy dandruff is drifting down into the chasm. This provider charges a CDL-denominated fee just to deal with Narnia's enquiry.
Of course, in a way, she has seen that animation before.
Or at least, she's danced it.
This is a terrible story about a terrible coincidence. It seems simultaneously significant and pointless, and it just makes the universe look mean.
At the edge of the chasm, in the shadow of the plinth, Roland the Pig sits stunned. Over his pretty pink pecuniary porcine head, the stars stir and stir and stir.
It's her work. One, two, three little forward rolls, the first succinct, the second one going a little farther forward than intended. And the third forward-roll took Roland a little bit backward.
It's a very distinctive motion set.
And just like she always knew, it's top-notch work.
On a whim, Narnia mutes the wings and the pink. That makes Roland look a little froggy again. Her skinny little tree-frog, her knot of crystal, her hippity-hop rhinestone with a cut-glass accent and, just like her, hardly any appetite.
Narnia shuts her laptop lid, and tries to see the funny side.
It just gets worse. We really have stop. It just gets worse. It's not even the dying that's the problem. Narnia goes back to Everyday Angel with a fresh idea. She creates an appeal using her rig and some basic animation software, and it's wildly successful. It's even a bit of a game‑changer within the Everyday Angel community, and within compassionate crowdfunding more widely. You know when you are struggling so hard, and then life just does something totally unexpected, unconnected to everything you've been struggling with? Something else happens soon, and I can't even get into it. It's all to do with Faye. It's all to do with the Childcare Commons. Competition between providers in any market incentivises them to raise their game, offering consumers a greater choice of more innovative and better quality products and services at lower cost. Childcare is no exception. Please. We have to stop. This has to stop. We can do better. We will. We have to stop this. This has to stop. This story starts with us.