Author : Bob Newbell

The hunting party moved toward the caves at Es Skhul, about 20 kilometers south of Haifa, Israel. Of course, no one in the tribe would have recognized any of those geographic designations any more than they would have regarded the time as being 50,000 BC. The hunt had been comparatively successful. The party, which consisted of twelve men and three women, were anxious to rejoin the rest of the tribe.

One of the tribesmen grunted a series of guttural syllables that approximated the sentiment “The hunt went well. We will have to give thanks to the Light Raft.” The “Light Raft” was what the tribe called the Sun which they regarded as a luminous god that sailed across the sky.

“It is a star,” said the tribesman known as Argin. The word was foreign. It was not the word his tribe used for the lights that dotted the night sky.

“What?” his compatriot asked.

“Yes,” Argin replied. “We must give thanks.”

Argin fell silent. He was thoughtful and brooding, something his companions had noticed over the last few weeks. He used to be much more talkative, they’d noted. Now, he spoke little and usually said something strange when he did speak.

A star, Argin thought. That’s what the Light Raft is. But what does that mean? As he walked on, the answer to his question floated up from somewhere in the depths of his mind. It is a ball of fire, he thought. Or something hotter than fire. And so are the tiny lights in the night sky. They’re like the Light Raft but much farther away. And both they and the Light Raft are hot and bright because… He shuddered. He looked up at the Sun. He lacked the vocabulary to express what he comprehended. But in some vague sense he knew what nuclear fusion was.

He knew when his bizarre way of thinking had begun. It was after he’d encountered the other tribe. He had been out scouting on his own and had come upon them. At first, he didn’t know if they were people or animals. Their skin was hard and bluish. Their legs were jointed differently than his. Their raft had been damaged. Argin had the strength to lift some of the wreckage that the small, frail people of strange tribe could not. They were grateful for his help in repairing their–

“Starship,” he whispered.

Somehow, he understood, if imperfectly, that the world was a giant round rock moving around the Light Raft and that they had come from a similar rock moving around another Light Raft very far away. He knew that one of their shamans had touched his mind, reworked his brain. He knew that the strange tribe had been as his tribe is now a very, very long time ago.

Argin felt depressed. He was acutely aware of how simplistic and backward his people were. He felt ashamed and embarrassed that he himself wore an animal pelt and lived in a cave. He had ideas he couldn’t express. He had thoughts that he could share with no one because they simply couldn’t be made to understand. The other tribe thought they’d given him a gift but it was a curse. That night, his tribe sat around the fire and ate and talked and laughed while Argin looked up at the stars and wept.

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