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The Funnel Begins

In the last episode of Karen Zipslicer’s adventures, she left Airship Downs, walking into the heart of town, headed for the ships that docked on its Southern side.

Karen could barely move her feet as she started the descent of Airship Downs, but she picked up speed as she went, and by the bottom, all her systems were in overdrive. Karen’s disappointment propelled her forwards. Desmond’s words kept repeating in her head: seaship captains sail over the edge of their maps. Maybe they could sail Karen home. She doubted it, but she wanted to find out. A chemical reaction had transformed Karen’s frustration into fuel, and it burned inside her. She wanted her red boots to tear across town like flaming rockets, and they did, for an hour. Then her movements clogged as she neared Lundern’s heart. Tough on the outside, her boots had pounded Lundern’s stony streets. Tender on the inside, her feet now suffered. Her left ankle was sore and her soles were blistered. She thought about slipping on her Heelys. However, she was too shy to do it in public. The pain was annoying, but what really delayed Karen was a congestion and compression of people and animals that filled every passage she walked down. Without noticing at first, her lone path had fed into a trickle which led to a stream which swelled into a river of Lundern life, all flowing towards Farrago Square, Lundern’s greatest meeting-place. Karen had no interest in the square, or the meeting, or the Lunderners going to it. She wanted to escape Lundern, not join its community. It was coincidence that her route to the river went through Farrago Square. This way was direct, so best for her painful feet. The streets were swamped, so flowed painfully slowly. Karen always hated it when people slowed her down. Her mind and body longed to get ahead.

Obstructed in her movements, Karen tried to break through. She jinked ahead of a waddling goose, but was trapped behind a herd of sheep. She tried to slip between a Welsh Corgi and an Old English Sheepdog, but a Scottish Terrier beat her to it. She nearly snagged her coat on a stag’s antlers, and she almost stepped upon a hedgehog. Karen was crammed in, hemmed in, hampered and impeded. She felt like she was walking to a big football match in the company of a zoo, though she did not like football, and was not keen on zoos. Fed up, she dived down a side street that led East, hoping to distance herself from the crowds. The street was empty, apart from two police constables – one a woman, the other an enormous brown bear. They instantly confronted her.
“Insurance!” demanded the policewoman. Karen shakily reached for the inside pocket where she kept her waiver. “Hands where I can see them!” shouted the policewoman.
Karen put her hands straight up. “I was just getting my insurance,” pleaded Karen.
“Oh yeah, were you? Go on then,” said the policewoman.
“It’s alright dear,” said the policebear, speaking in a mild, feminine voice to the policewoman. “I don’t think this one is going to be trouble, are you?”
“No,” said Karen, energetically shaking her head. She pulled out the insurance waiver and handed it to the policewoman.
The policewoman scrutinized it carefully. “Is this all you’ve got? Karen Zipslicer. Karen Zipslicer. Are we looking for anyone called Karen Zipslicer?”
“I don’t think so,” said the bear.
“Alright, you can go,” said the policewoman, handing the waiver back to Karen. Karen put it inside her jacket pocket and zipped her coat, then stepped to go past the policewoman…
“Not that way!” roared the policewoman. “Go back the way you came!”
“No need to shout,” said the bear to her colleague, in a mild, feminine voice. Then the bear told Karen: “you’ll have to turn around sweetheart, we can’t let anyone through this way.”
“But I want to get away from the crowd,” begged Karen. She begged the bear, as she was far too afraid to speak to the woman.
“Sorry dear. Orders is orders. Now you’ve joined the protest rally, you’ll have to stay with it.”
Karen pouted, and her shoulders drooped, but there was no sign of sympathy from these police officers. She traipsed back to the crowd making their way towards Farrago Square. Rejoining them, she soon realized that the police had blocked every side street. There was no way to leave the throng. Inside her hip pocket, Whiteley was restless as well, and too frightened to climb out.
“Me don’t like crowds,” said Whiteley.
“Me neither,” said Karen.

The streets absorbed more and more, until they were fit to burst. As Karen progressed towards Farrago Square, she went from striding confidently, to treading carefully, to tiptoeing cautiously as everybody competed for space. Nobody wanted to fall like a domino. The multitude now walked in unison, bustling and bumping along with each other. In the crowd, Karen felt alone, even though Whiteley was with her. Everybody else shared a common purpose; she was just passing through. The crowd burbled excitedly, waves of chatter rippling all around. Some carried placards or banners with messages like ‘freedom now’ or ‘we want our rights’. Whiteley hid inside her pocket, refusing to talk. Karen bit her lip. She watched her boots shuffling forwards. The eyes of the crowd were opened wide and burned with passion; they wore no black boxes. Whiteley kept being jostled when strangers accidentally brushed alongside Karen. “Go back,” demanded Whiteley. Karen thought of her poor feet, and about swimming against this tide. “We’ll be alright,” she said.

The buildings turned from wood to stone as they neared Farrago Square. They grew taller, grander and paler. The roads stretched wider and the paving stones lay smoother, which was a blessing for Karen’s downtrodden feet. She would have loved to heely-wheely down these roads, if there had been room to do so. Every inch had already been occupied by a foot, or a hoof. Now they passed a line of police – men, women, Alsatians, Dobermans and Giant Schnauzers – who guarded Lundern’s Treasury. Karen recognized it from the likeness on the pfennigs in her purse. Those coins were tiny. The Treasury building was monumental. It made surrounding buildings look like doll houses next to a real house. The line of police was unbroken, guarding the Treasury’s perimeter. They looked fearsome. The police dogs were attentive, with wide eyes and ears pointed forward. The policemen and women had helmets on their heads and faces behind bars, circular steel shields in one hand, and wooden batons in the other. The crowd kept its distance. Karen, desperate for space, broke the other way, towards the police. “Please officer, is there a way to walk around the Square, without going through it?” He did not blink, saying: “you can’t stop here, girl – now you’ve joined the protest, you’ll have to keep moving”. Karen did move on, muttering that she was “a young woman.” But there was not much further to go. Like many, she stopped and stood in awe after turning the corner, round the Treasury and into Farrago Square.

Wow. Some people pushed past to either side of Karen. Karen barely noticed. She was so small… they were so small… everything was so small compared to this open space. Airship Downs had impressed. Farrago Square exceeded all estimation, and boggled the imagination. It was shaped like a giant rectangular granite bowl, with a cascade of steps that ran down each side, leading to a flat expanse in its middle. Its size was matched by the weight of the crowd it contained. Though full already, more poured in from all four corners. In the centre of the square, a pillar rose five hundred feet above the sea of people. From that vantage point, the statue of Gilbert the Observant looked down upon the living ocean beneath, watching it through a pair of binoculars. And whilst he looked down on the square, birds looked down from him, having occupied every spot and space upon his head, shoulders, arms and around his feet. The birds had commandeered his column, and did the same to every roof of every building around the square, including the façade of the mighty Treasury. So many birds were flocking to the square that the skies were temporarily blackened. And above the birds, a giant airship hung, like a full moon over the ocean. Whichever way she looked, Karen could not take it all in. Her neck craned around, turning back and forth as she observed the scene. This was so much larger than the protest she had witnessed at Parliament Square in London. And whatever these Lunderners wanted, an awful lot of them wanted it, and they wanted it an awful lot.

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