Like all my stories, when I'm writing them I'm not sure where they'll go. As the characters 'round the flame guess at what might be in store for them over the next three days, so do I. This is a work in progress; a story in motion; and together we shall find out where it leads.
With eyes closed I brought the bowl to my lips and drank deeply, and then passed the vessel on to Ahleeya, who sat beside me in the circle we had formed around the camp fire. Settling back in my chair, I remained preoccupied by the sensations the crackling flame was imparting, as I noticed how the fire was playing with all five, save that of taste. For this we had the water, which never gave me as much pleasure as it did now, next to the comparatively austere nature of its elemental forebearer. It was the second day we were staying in the valley, out of the five to which we had committed ourselves. Five days without food, electricity, or stimulus of any kind—only what the forest could provide, which was much more than even the skeptics in our circle had assumed. And I suppose we still had each other, and tonight, around hearth and flame, we took turns regaling our audience with stories of multitudinous form: our own, mostly, but also the tales of those who were not present who had, at some point, been kind enough to share cherished moments of their journeys with us; to pay homage to their good will we spoke of their adventures with more verve and wit than we were likely to speak of our own. It is curious, how that works; and I like how it is so.
When it was my turn to stand up and hold my friends' attention I froze momentarily, for I found not even a limerick had come to my lips, so enraptured was I by the present. I suggested then that we take a moment of silence to contemplate the experience we were currently sharing: the kernel of a new story to be told some day hence. A few giggles escaped my friends and skittered over this idea as they guessed at my loss for words, but I sat down and sort of led by example, at first closing my eyes and breathing in and out in big, pointed gusts. I was happy too when after a couple minutes all but the sound of our collective breathing seemed to fade away. Attention had now been given to the world around us, and, as is my habit during moments of silent meditation, my own mind immediately raced upward, weightless and careening, into starry space. I held the warm, central fire of our closely-knit camp within me as I contemplated the centre of the larger universe: it is a wonderful, curious centre indeed. Upon this thought I began to speak out loud, wishing for the inspiration I now felt to last so that I could take my friends along for the journey. I recounted the path traced by my mind's eye and waited for them to catch up, and then, together once more, we moved forward. And so I said,
“Like all things, this centre—that of our fire, that of our world—is a product of time and space. And, like all things, we cannot help but define it by its limit; perhaps because we are so supremely aware of our own. So the speed of light, too, is understood in these terms, and therein, my friends, we find the rub: for the extent to which we are able to see in any direction is a point relative to our frame of reference, and the centre of our world is always located precisely where we're standing when we chance to wonder where it might be. The centre I experience is entirely my own, as you too have your own, and we find that the universe is positively brimming with central points to such a degree that somehow the prefix uni no longer seems intuitive—such a notion would require us to constantly redefine what is included in the limits of its reach.
“Brothers and sisters, when we get together on nights such as this, within our conversation we are embarking upon a whirling, dizzying adventure through the labyrinth of perspective, to reach that point upon which the grand cosmos of our mutual design ultimately pivots. And, if you can put your trust in this, let us march forward: for there is no doubt that, banded together, we could travel farther and conceive of something greater than that which we could alone.” So I concluded, and my friends around the fire slowly opened their eyes. Glances and small smiles were shared over the orange flame licking upward into the night, and embers were sent adrift so that the cool, still air around our circle seemed alight with shifting stars. Lingering in the moment, not wanting the calm harmony with which it was imbued to end, we thought aloud about what the next three days might have in store for us. And then our energy began to dwindle with the waning heat of the flame, and in turn we took our leave to rest for the night.