Perihelion - October 2002
Between the Darkness and the Light - James P. Barrett
(page 7/16)

Between the Darkness and the Light

History - As near as can be told:

The trees were turning brown, and their leaves were falling one by one, as they had every year for longer than any living creature had survived. The forest below was clear and open for many hundreds of kilometers in every direction, undergrowth only formed where a natural tree-fall created a hole in the canopy which allowed light through. These trees had stood for many centuries, and the same forest had stood on this land when the land itself had been far away; yet now it would be only a few more centuries, within the current generation for the greatest of the trees, before the first axes would be taken to them and they would begin to fall before the steadily encroaching tide of agriculture. But that was still many hundreds of decades away. For now the creatures which would one day change every aspect of this land were still huddled around small fires slowly chipping away at crude flint tools.

Upon the hillside a cave opened, overlooking the valley from which the faint lights of their campfires rose. From the cave itself the characteristic flicker of firelight emerged, and within a single figure huddled. To describe him as an ape would be both inaccurate and unfair: many millions of years of evolution had shaped a creature perfectly adapted to the environment around him. With an upright stance and functional dextrous fingers, not to mention an expressive face and a mainly hairless body - he was clearly a member of the genus which would one day be labeled in a language, then dead, but at his time still millions of years from its birth, as homo. But evolution is never a static process, and nature never allows a species to remain unchanged, simply because it functions, and this single lonely figure bore great witness to that unavoidable fact of existence. For he was not entirely like his fellows, his brow was a little higher, and the set of his features a little softer, his hands were weaker, his metabolism slightly faster, and his eyes, as they reflected the flickering red and orange from his meager hearth, reflected a colour which was unlike any in his tribe. Slowly, as he sat in his cave he observed the movements in the valley below. With a feat of mental power previously unimaginable among his people he was able partly to understand what was driving his compatriates in the valley below, and although language in all but the crudest form was still far from forming, in a way he had been given a name, he was known, in the simple emotional way that simple grunts can convey meaning, as The Bringer of Light.

It had been only three dark-times since he had shown his tribe how the flint tools they held could be used to create light in the darkness, but already they had taken to it both with great enthusiasm, and with great reservations. For the elders in the tribe were still unsure of how this new development would affect their positions, and the chief was unsure of how he would remain chief if it was no longer his strong arm which kept the predators at bay. At the thought of the chief The Bringer of Light laughed, for he understood, as none of the rest of the tribe could, the relationship between cause and effect. It was ironic, although irony was a concept far beyond his understanding, that the birth of a child with his strange eyes, mothered by the chief's mate no less, had been taken as a sign that someone was displeased with the sacrilege of stealing lightning from the heavens and making fire on earth. It had been taken as a sign that he must die. They would come for him soon now, the huntsman sitting outside the cave entrance was still ready to stop him if he tried to escape. But that was the last thing on his mind. For the Bringer of Light had known for some time what would come, and it was for that reason that he had taken his flints to a member of the tribe in the next valley. It was beyond even his abilities to recognise that this man's mother and his own had been sisters, for the very concept of a cousin would not exist for many millenia to come, but he recognised that they were somehow connected, and they trusted one another. And so the idea he had brought would spread after he himself was nothing but a legend, and a pile of ash and bone in an ancient prehistoric settlement.

James P. Barrett