While Anchor has its share of religious holidays, (some looked on more kindly by the Church than others) Audit Day is its only secular holiday.
Audit Day is busy.
By an ancient whim of the Bureaucracy, all licenses that it grants – from a license to use a ship to a license to sell cigars – expire on the same day each year. During Audit Day, citizens of Anchor queue to get their paperwork renewed; anyone who wants to do business in Anchor over the coming year queues to get their paperwork renewed; and anyone who doesn't particularly care about paperwork one way or another shows up to sell them pies.
For a lot of Anchor, the Audit is frightening and stressful, but actually not that complicated. Most manual labourers don't have complicated enough affairs that the Audit takes more than a few minutes (though the queueing is another matter). For people with more complicated personal matters, the Audit can be more taxing. The job frequently requires being shunted around several offices, some of which are only available at arcane times. Audit Day can involve a lot of waiting around on a complicated schedule of conflicting appointments.
A lot of the waiting takes place on the Plaza of Sands, just outside the central offices. The Plaza is out of the way of most of the bigger queues and has a couple of decent bars and coffee houses (whose Audits always go inexplicably smoothly and quickly every year, a fact that in no way could be attributed to their proximity to the Central Bureaucracy) – and most importantly, has a decent view of the Central Bureaucracy's clock tower. Throughout Audit Day the atmosphere in the Plaza is a curious one: a mixture of relaxed conviviality, euphoric hysterical terror, and subtle political machinations.
Audit Day is a party.
With most of Anchor temporarily unable to do more or less anything constructive besides stand in queues, Audit Day has become something of a national holiday as normal business grinds to a halt. It's a sentiment as old as manual labour: “Today's a write-off anyway, we might as well get drunk instead.” The situation is only exacerbated by the immense need of citizens to settle their nerves once they've got the licenses they need.
As more and more people crawl traumatised out of the far side of the Bureaucracy's gauntlet of paperwork to join the party, the celebrations grow and grow, finally coming to a head at dusk when the Bureaucracy's offices close and the poor souls whose applications were denied join the revelry to drown their sorrows. This phenomenon is known in Anchor as the 'six o'clock drop'.
Audit Day is superstitious.
With so much uncertainty crammed into one day, Audit Day has taken on a life its own in popular superstition. Audit Day is the day when everything changes, the day when your life takes a new direction. It's when you make or break resolutions, when you can climb to the top of the world or sink down to the bottom. Audit Day is the Wheel of Fortune, which can spin a king into a beggar or a beggar into a king. But unlike many 'world turned upside down' festivals, where the king-for-a-day is still a beggar at the end, Audit Day changes things for good. If you make your fortune on Audit Day, it stays made – and if you lose everything to a spin of the Wheel, it stays lost.
Audit Day is criminal. Oh, there's the obvious corruption, of course: bribes to smooth a person's flow through the process, to jump queues, to get licenses they shouldn't. That's the easy stuff. That's simple.
But Audit day is also when tensions in the subtle politics of Anchor come to a head. With all those people standing in queues and getting stressed, the Knights Anchorer spend most of their time on Audit Day keeping the Audit orderly. As such, law enforcement elsewhere on Anchor is necessarily more lax than usual. If a person has some dirty deeds that need doing, the most efficient way to hide them is to get them done during Audit Day.
Audit Day is political. It's when the individual's life takes a new direction, but it's also when important organisations choose their new directions. A number of the most powerful groups in Anchor choose their new heads on Audit Day; partially for the symbolism, and partially because it's convenient to get the business of elections done when everybody important is in one place. At the start of Audit Day, many organisations will elect two interim Audit Heads, to run things during Audit Day and Audit Night itself, and at the end of Audit Day, they elect their Year Heads, to run the organisation for the whole of the rest of the year.
It has occasionally been mooted within the Bureaucracy that perhaps it would be more efficient to do away with Audit Day, since it kills all of Anchor's productivity for the span of a week. This move has been firmly and rigidly resisted by much of the Bureaucracy: officially, on grounds that it would be too much effort to change everything over. Unofficially, the reason is that a considerable portion of the Bureaucracy's income is raked in from queue-jumping bribes.
Audit Day is today.
Not for you the sweat and hubbub of the Plaza of Sands! Characters at Tales out of Anchor have managed - by fair means or foul - to secure themselves a ticket to Perch Audit, where they will spend a day and a half locked in the grounds of one of the half-dozen fancy hostels that surround the plaza. The high walls of the Perches keep the riff-raff out, but they also keep you in, meaning that much of your wrangling of the city outside must be done through letters and licenses to the outside world.
Life in the Rockery is guided by Licenses - the rare resources, food, metal, water, even housing and education, are all determined by Audit - ostensibly to ensure that they are fairly shared - resources going to those who are most deserving in the eyes of the Bureaucracy. Annual Licences are not the only way to get by - as the year progresses, citizens can request daily, weekly or monthly licenses for certain permissions, but the Annual Licenses are the winning formula to making life easy for oneself.
However, there are only so many annual Licenses to go around.
In recent years, Bureaucrats from a variety of Departments have been recruited to act as Interim Auditors - smiling, warm-hearted individuals who can help or hinder citizens with the process of Audit. Interim Auditors normally assist with pre-audit checks, speak with the citizens about their wishes and desires for the coming year and help guide them through the sticky mire of Audit day. They are often guided by a Senior Auditor, who oversees an Audit station.
During Audit, most citizens will undertake an Audit Interview, where their case is reviewed and they are given an initial opportunity to present supporting documents or petition Auditors to hear their case more clearly. With so many people to process, however, Audit stations are often supplied with sand timers to limit the Audit Interviews to very reasonable few minutes. Interim Auditors in some disreputable districts have been accused of using Audit Interviews as an opportunity to take bribes or otherwise profit from the process of Audit. Whilst there is nothing illegal in citizens giving gifts to Bureaucrats hard at work, and Auditors are expected to use a certain amount of personal discretion, repeatedly accused individuals can find themselves investigated by InSEC, with formal complaints added to their narrowly decreasing backlog.
Less astute Citizens will assume that they can rest easy the night before Audit, or that once their Audit Interview is over they can only sit and wait for the results to be announced - and they would be forgiven for thinking this, but the truth is that work for the department has only just begun.
Once all the interviews are complete, there is a further period of time while Senior Auditors wait for supporting documents to arrive - in which citizens have often been frantically writing to their contacts elsewhere in the City to leverage support for their case. People pull in favours, gather information and desperately attempt to raise their status with the Bureaucracy - whilst some more savage types write to muddy the names of those around them, in an attempt to be at the top of the list when it is time for the Count.
When all is said and done, all supporting documents have made their weary way to the hands of the Senior Auditor overseeing the Audit Station; and all palms have been greased or washed clean, the Senior Auditor sits down to perform The Count. This establishes which citizens have demonstrated their loyalty to the Bureaucracy and the Rockery at large. The overseeing Senior Auditor takes the recommendations made by the Interim Auditors during the Audit Interview, considers any additional Supporting Documents and applies their final consideration to the citizen's yearly Audit Score to work out which citizens have obtained the limited Licenses that the Audit Station has available to it.
Many citizens do not get what they had originally pinned their hopes on.
Some citizens begin negotiating with their colleagues and friends or engaging in blackmail, bribery or outright threats to leverage the Licenses that now lie in another's hands, whereas skydancers and more seditious elements in the City have been known to cite this process as examples of why the Bureaucracy has no love for them. Some districts have used this disappointment and discontent to foist revolution on an already overburdened city. In more recent years, riots and demonstrations have become common. Seditious Songs are sung in the streets, leaflets distributed. Some even claim the capital is on the brink of outright revolution.
In the hours following Audit Day, people's minds turn to celebration, commiseration and negotiation. People return to their homes to celebrate with their families or remain late into the night in Teahouses nearby to cut deals with each other or write Swifts to call in further favours. Many people begin sending word of the Annual Licences that they have obtained to social bodies that they have invested in, or that have invested in them, in order to effect change on the City around them. The rise and fall of the capital continues. Power grows or wanes as groups lay plans against each other in the great game. Individuals claw their way to the top.
Duels may be fought over the results of Audit, people collect on illicit wagers or lay the final pieces in schemes that have only now come to fruition. Still others merely relax, enjoy the feeling of success or a chance to finally rest after the lengthy process of Audit Day.