It's a windswept day and all their heads are down; Gale Street was named so for a reason. Now, with winter finally appearing after a prolonged tease, the winds blow mightily through the slight ascent/descent of the street (assisting or resisting you depending on the direction you come from). You might think, were you a complete stranger to the City, that people would choose to stay indoors through such weather. But the City has its demands and its citizenry is eager to fill them, seeing as their very lives rely on the continued fabrication of the City's existence. And so, they set out in the horizontal rain, lashed to a fury by the wind, water hitting them full on in the face no matter what angles they try to twist themselves to. Some are buffered by fine clothing; Gale Street holds apothecaries, alchemist shops, and prestigious tanneries, all relying on its constant blasts to carry away the various malodors of their craft. Most of the people on the street wouldn't describe their clothes as a buffer as much as they'd call it a slightly reprieve, more the illusion of being less wet than the thing itself. Some on the street can't even comfort themselves in the idea that they are sheltered; tattered in whatever they could find before setting out into the warren of the district (if they even set out, if they even had a home which was not the blasted street itself), most of them have given up all such illusions and simply walk forward with a grim determination.
When the lightning flashes, closer than it should be, most of them keep their heads down. Seven look up, their faces suddenly chiseled by the omnipresent light. Dermal nooks and membranous crannies are picked out in shock-white, an illuminated bas-relief providing a vivid history of the face's bearer. Here is Lady Chitter, famed merchant and concocter of lurid and varied types of alcohol, her extremely expensive coat framing the scars on her face (caused, so they say, in the course of her pursuit of the perfect drink) so as to give her the appearance of a statue. There is Peter Stone, second-sergeant and consultant for the Guild of Guardsmen and Persons of Various Forceful Occupations, his crimson cloak snapping in the wind, it itself made a rich map of topographical features created by the light, a shadow-god sculpting away with its fabric. Next to him stands his charge, simply known as Parish, with the collar of his tan trench coat pulled up against the wind and his face occluded by the shadows. His eyes are visible; he is the only who is not afraid. Fear has made a home in the others' gaze but nowhere as strongly as in the countenance of Miranda Fallow, who is walking home, insomuch as it exists. Home for them is a corner where no one bothers them, a slightly less dirty and in the way section of an alley behind the Orange Markets. They think to themselves that this street is no different and that it might as well be their resting place for tonight but the lightning changes that; they, more than anyone else on Gale Street that night, are well aware of the bite and scratch and frightful yap of the weather.
Three more faces, as was already said, turn to face the clouds' illumination but the time to tarry on them grows short for a sound is coming fast on the light's heels. We might, as an abstraction, call it "thunder" but, in truth, any word we choose would fail to encompass the vibration which rolls over the street almost immediately after the flash of light. The sound is so mighty, filling all the places where even the light, by virtue of its immediacy and directness, could not reach, that it would overflow any assemblage of grunts and mutterings we would assign it. It washes over the denizens of Gale Street and stirs within them things both primordial and very fresh; memories buried deep within their bones and muscles, of wide open plains and hunger and fear, clash with more recent future-recollections driven by eyes and nerves, recollections of the very near future should they stay on this street. Both those modes of insight share the same visual and internal gist: something bad and big and unstoppable is coming and it's best if we were not here when it arrived. The gist multiplies, running from the very far recesses of individual minds, skipping the various processing centers of modernity and personality, and directly into limbic systems and production hubs of various hormones and substances which all coalesce into one directive: run.
And so, they run; they don't have much choice in the matter, seeing as the gist, the kernel of deep understanding which was both inherited by them and developed by a life of being afraid, sweeps over them irresistibly. Legs kick into motion, eyes swivel on their gimbals, both mental and physical, and the human machine does what it does best: it finds a path out of the darkness and the cold and the terrible, awful, retina-singing light and the terrible-within-its-right-but-somehow-different sounds. It finds a path, very quickly (and quick it must be for did it not, once, and through its ancestors, contend with the very best predators of the land and thrashed them?) and without a mess of questions like "is this right?" or "what about the others?" it executes whatever commands are needed to pursue that path. Then, and only then, once resources have been committed and fat is burning to power the demanding, incessant industry of muscles, does the gist, in truth the brain itself, look up and what it sees elicits an internal nod of "As it should be" and a few slight modifications to the path. You see, many people are running and many is better than some and it sure as hell is better than one and so, like so many starlings dipping at an aquatic dawn, the gist(s) augment the chosen path and one of the most dangerous and efficient entities in the entire world is formed, right there on Gale Street at eight p.m. of a Tuesday: a flock of humans, that most brutal and unstoppable social unit.
But, remember, seven individuals had turned their face into the temporary sun that had only just blossomed above the street. The roar of the thunder washed over them full force, the few mental defenses that they still had up until that point already much assaulted by the light. Make no mistake, they too will run. Not running is not an option, its an ontological impossibility. Not running does not metaphysically exist at that moment, not for anything (even the stones would like to run, if only they could; their sedentary spirits cry in frustration). But they will run a few seconds later and so, their own little group will form its own flock of humans. The others will be too far away by the time their brains respond and will instantly be catalogued as "them" and those nearer will suddenly, for an instance, become "us" and all divisions, classes, wealth, abilities, prestige, and bias will drop away in the face of that inexorable tide and the flock will move. Look, it's moving now! Away from the others, cataloged as enemy with a speed even more frightful than the lightning's, and in their own direction, silently agreed upon by chthonic pilots awakened to brief light by emergency.
They veer, our seven, into an alley leading from Gale Street and on to Silver Street and in that instant, swallowed in another showing of light, they are lost.Back to The Augmented World