Estonia 1452 BCE
THE ROCK HAD traveled through the vast emptiness of the cosmos for thousands of years. Cleaved from the shell of a dead planet, it hurtled on a silent journey towards an eventual intersection with the third planet of a distant solar system. The rock’s fiery entry through the planet’s atmosphere awakened tiny, unwilling travelers—former residents of the devastatingly dismantled planet. Not all survived the long, frozen journey, and many more turned to ash from the heat of entry and its explosive landing.
The microbial astronauts were not animals, nor were they sentient beings. Yet, they were living organisms and shared a collective behavior that might have been called “instinct.” And instinct told them they had reached an end to their journey. Collectively, they motivated from the dark crevices and deep fissures of the cooling rock which had protected them from the cold temperatures of space and the fiery arrival on their new home.
Unfortunately, many perished as they moved from the dark shelter into the bright light of day. Their single cells steamed and smoldered when bathed in the harsh UV light of the planet’s sun, causing them to bloat and implode into a steaming soup of goo. Collective instinct now motivated the organisms to remain in the shadows. But countless more would die as the planet rotated around the sun, allowing its rays to reach deep into the black recesses.
The travelers were in an unstable situation.
Something had to be done.
A BURNING ROCK streaked overhead, igniting the gases surrounding it, transforming it from a chunk of a planet into a flaming meteor. Flecks, no larger than grains of sand, shed off as they intersected the upper atmosphere, painting the night sky with streaks of flames before completely burning up and fading from view.
A party of hunters noted its fiery show. This didn’t alarm the men, though, who only briefly paused while fixing their evening meal to wonder what the gods had disapproved of this time. After all, this celestial display was visible every year. It was one way they marked time. The addition of such a large object streaking over-head was unusual, but they trusted the shaman and his visions. The shaman would affix a proper understanding of its appearance. If he believed the hunters needed to know that something unusual was happening, then he would tell them. So, they watched the flaming object shoot across the sky in the direction of their village. With dinner forgotten, they wondered if their families and friends could also see this wonderment. Their attention remained firmly affixed on the fireball as it appeared to reach out and touch the distant hills.
Then there was a tremendous explosion. The ground rumbled, followed by a vivid eruption of flame and smoke that reached toward the heavens. The hunters no longer wondered if the people of their settlement saw this unusual occurrence. They could not explain what they just witnessed, but it did not portend well for them. Obviously, the rock had fallen to the ground, and it landed somewhere near their homes.
The successive sound wave assaulted the sensitive hearing of the wild dogs who followed the hunting party. Agitated into a frenzy, they danced around as though tethered and raised their heads, howling their desire to run free to seek the intruder. The dogs saw it as their side of an unspoken bargain to protect the pack—dogs and hunters—with humans providing food and the warmth of a fire. Both the quadrupeds and bipeds understood the advantage of joining forces in the high-stakes game of survival. But the dogs deferred to the will of the humans and waited for them to make the first move.
The hunters ignored the troubled animals. They just stared at the burning glow, dumbfounded by what they had seen. Moved to inaction by fear of the unknown. The shaman sung incantations to divine some understanding about what they had all just experienced.
The leader stood, and the alpha dog joined him at his side. Then the leader signaled for the shaman to be quiet. He barely tolerated the holy man as it was and now his vocalizations only added to the dread that was all too thick in the air. The leader looked at his followers, saying nothing, but nodded, and threw his head in the explosion’s direction, picked up his spear and bronze knife, and shouldered his bag. He snapped his fingers and grunted, sending the alpha and the other dogs out ahead. Though he acted as if nothing was wrong, there was an urgency compelling him to head home in the middle of the night and leave the safety of the campfire. A leader must project confidence, even in the face of danger or tragedy.
The hunting party walked throughout the night. The burning glow on the horizon grew brighter the closer they got to their village. Anxious feelings had made the miles fade away as they kept moving west. It was well after dawn when they crested a low rise. Instinctively, they knew they were close, but they could identify no familiar landmarks. Trees lay askew, touching the ground as though brushed aside by a berserker giant. Smoke rose from beyond the felled trees, and a smell of burning vegetation permeated the air.
The leader stopped. He whistled and pointed. The alpha dog raced away in the direction its human was sending him, with the omegas following obediently. The dogs would arrive at the village before the men and serve as a protective force if a threat was present.
When the hunters reached the top of another rise beyond the fallen trees, they stopped. They should have been looking down at a cozy verdant glen filled with houses and a barn, grazing goats, children playing, and adults doing mundane chores. Instead, all they saw was a smoldering rock sitting at the bottom of a large hole. Nothing familiar remained. Whatever this rock was, it was, in fact, the object that had destroyed their lives.
The alpha raised his head to the sky and howled out his sorrow. The rest of the pack joined him, as did the humans who wailed in emotional pain. Wives, children, mothers, and fathers were all dead.
Having already steeled himself for the worst, not actually imagining the worst could manifest itself in such a horrific way, the leader stepped closer to the crater. But the crater was much too hot to enter and investigate. His legs became unsteady with the weight of the catastrophe, then he collapsed to the ground in a ball of tears and anguish. He remained sitting in the same spot for the rest of the day and through the following day and night. Maybe the gods had sent them a message the shaman could read to help them understand why this had happened. Perhaps the rock still had some mysterious surprise that had yet to be revealed.
The alpha sat with the leader and rested its head in his lap. Together, they waited.