It wasn't completely like what we were in for, but many of the basic elements were there. I hadn't realized it until we were already in the middle of it.

Going in, I was trying to keep an open mind, not having any expectations one way or another. But suddenly there we were. The four of us discussing topics around the table in a way I hadn't dared to hope for.

I tried to remember how we reached that point. Arriving at the house, we had exchanged the usual pleasantries. Nothing out of the ordinary compared to any other number of similar occasions. Something was different this time though. But I couldn't put my finger on what it was. Maybe we had reached a point in our lives where the formerly impossible became possible. Maybe we were forced to face problems that pushed an urgency upon us that we never truly felt before.

Still, as the meal started, there was nothing particularly different. Just the usual small talk one might expect over any meal. I might have had a bit more alcohol than I would usually allow myself. When the conversation turned towards the state of the world, there may have been a greater intentness considering how close to home these topics were becoming.

Were it merely about abstract ideas and their far-off effects, we may not have treated the discussion with nearly the same amount of earnestness. Polemics and ideology gave way to practical life. Or at least they faded into the background a bit more. Ego and the need to be right were pushed aside by thoughts of personal and mutual survival. Perhaps some of us would've stayed silent in more impersonal discussions, but when the world would have direct effects on our lives, it was harder to not pay attention.

And there it was, an introduction to what was to come. Not all the pieces were in place, nor did we go as deeply as we would later. But it was the sprouting of a seed that had been planted long ago that would eventually fill up a barren landscape. It wound down much earlier that day than we would now, less intense, more shallow, a calm walking tour of the house before we left for the night.

But it laid down a blueprint from which many such future discussions would be built on. The creation of a new network. Or perhaps merely our joining into a larger existing one. It was hard to tell where our working group ended and another began, but they would eventually be extended in all directions. Linking us with all types of people and the things that mattered most to them.

Because new structures were springing up all around us, we became less attached to the old ones. And when the old structures began collapsing, we were much more ready to abandon them for the new ones, rather than attempting to repair systems that had been increasingly failing us for decades.

I didn't know it then though. At the time it was merely another meal with a casual acquaintance. But little did I realize it would mark my slow introduction into a new world and a new way of living, being built up under the shadows of a disintegrating empire, one where the rigidity of command was being replaced by the fluidity of freedom and the safety of easy escape.

Nothing changed overnight. Nothing ever did. We faded in and faded out, at first in small numbers here and there. But eventually the roots of our networks had run throughout the system. And while nothing could be ever expected to last forever, it eventually came to be that no matter where you looked, you'd almost always be able to find a flower in bloom, spreading itself into the fields around it.

The old cracks in the pavement were no longer dead, but teeming with life. The jungle had retaken the concrete.

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