Excerpted from Anathem by Neal Stephenson, Pages 513-515.

. . . “In any case, he [Sark] recognized us in the street. He told us that a lone avout was being pursued by a mob. We saw it as an emergence.”

For a moment I thought he was slipping into broken Fluccish, trying to pronounce emergency. Then I remembered some of the Vale-lore that Lio had drummed into me over the years.

During the time of the Reconstitution, literally in the Year 0, when the sites of the first new maths were being surveyed so that the cornerstones of their Clocks and Mynsters could be laid down, a team of freshly sworn-in avout had journeyed to a remote place in the desert to begin such a project, only to find themselves under siege by mistrustful locals. For the place they’d been sent was covered with jumpweed plantations and they had stumbled upon a shack where the weed was being boiled down to make a concentrated, illegal drug. The avout were unarmed. They had been pulled together from all over the world and so had little in common with one another; most of them didn't even speak Orth. But it so happened that several of them were students of an ancient school of martial arts, which back in those days had no connection with the mathic world, even if it had been developed in monastic settings. Anyway, they had never used their skills outside of a gym, but they now found themselves thrust into a position where they had to take action. Some of their number were killed. Some of the martial artists performed well, others froze up and did no better than those who'd had no training at all. That sort of situation became known as an emergence. A few of the survivors went on to found the Ringing Vale math. According to Lio, they spent almost as much time thinking about the concept of emergence as they did in physical training—the idea being that all the training in the world was of no use, maybe even worse than useless, if you did not know when to use it, and knowing when to use it was a lot harder than it sounded, because sometimes, if you waited too long to go into action, it was too late, and other times, if you did it too early, you only made matters worse.

“The most salient feature of the enemy was its thoughtless aggression,” Fraa Osa said. He reached into air and closed his hand as though grasping the wrist of an attacker who'd tried to punch him. It was an eloquent gesture, which was convenient for me, since Fraa Osa did not seem inclined to say more than that about the strategy they had used. “You reckoned, as long as they are in such a mood, let's really give them something to be aggressive about,” I said, trying to draw him out a little more.

. . . “Well, anyway, it worked,” I said. “The mob turned against you—you staged a false retreat and drew them into a trap—then you made them panic.” More smiling and nodding. Fraa Osa simply was in no mood to wax eloquent about any of this. “And how long did you have in which to devise this plan?” I asked him.

“Not long enough.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“There is no time in an emergence to think up plans. Much less to communicate them. Instead I told the others that we would emulate Lord Frode's cavalry at Second Rushy Flats, when they drew out Prince Terazyn's squadron. Except that the canal edge would substitute for the Tall Canes and that little square would take the place of Bloody Breaks. As you can see it does not take very much time to say these words.”

I nodded as if I had some idea what he was talking about—which I didn't. I couldn't even guess which war he was alluding to, in what millennium.