Gunter and his two sons, Phillip and Tang were tending the grazing sheep in the meadow a few kilometers from their village, as they had the past several weeks. Soon, it would be the season to take them in for the shearing, and while that would cause them much effort, it would be a pleasure to sleep indoors again.
They huddled close to the fire, cloaks pulled tightly around them.
“Lad, another ale if you please.” Gunter held out his mug to Phillip, his eldest, who had the flagon by his side.
“As you will, Papa.” Phillip, always cheerful (and the light buzz from the ale was adding to that), readily lifted the flagon and filled Gunter’s mug to the brim.
The trio could afford to relax a bit. The dogs were stationed around the flock and the sheep were at rest for the night. The hired hands would be back from the village by morning.
“Look, Papa!” Tang, two years Phillip’s junior, pointed up into the moonless night sky. The constellations were beautiful and brilliant, but something among them was disturbing their orderly progression.
“The lights, again. Steady lads. So far, they have delivered no evil portent.” This was the fourth night the lights had appeared in the sky, two points of multicolored brilliance tracking in from the west, hovering over the flock for some minutes up to an hour, then abruptly disappearing, faster than the swiftest hawk.
“Papa, do you think it could be the Sky People?”
“Hush, Tang,” admonished Phillip. Don’t talk such nonsense.”
Phillip was less concerned about Tang’s words being nonsense than the worry of them bringing a curse on their family and their clan. The Sky People were legendary beings rumored to have such vast powers that they could reduce all of the villages of the Western Clans to ashes in a single act.
“I say steady to both of you. Be calm lest I give you cause for alarm.” Unknown to his sons, Gunter was also considering the legends, but among what was said about the Sky People was that they once lived among them when the world (supposedly) had buildings made of metal and glass that stretched up above the clouds, if one could believe such a thing.
There was much evil told about the Sky People, but also much good. However Gunter was not inclined to become overly fretful just because of lights that come and go in the night.
Phillip threw another log on the fire and then resettled himself next to his brother. They spent the time listening to the occasional bleating of the sheep and the crackling of the campfire while staring up at the now motionless twin lights hovering directly over the flock.
“Look!” Tang leapt up, dropping his half empty jug of ale and throwing off his cloak. “One of the lights!”
Gunter and Phillip each put down their ales and stood as well, but more slowly.
The young man was right. One of the lights was getting bigger and brighter. It was descending toward the plain that lay in the opposite direction of the flock, but not far from the shepherds.
The flock became disturbed, but the dogs, roused by their bleating, took station and kept them gathered.
“I say steady, lads. We’re not to panic. We must stay with the flock.” Gunter was terrified but he was also the family head, and these boys needed him to be courageous.
Tang was trembling both from cold and fear, but he did not move to retrieve his cloak, his gaze focused on the light now just a few meters above the grassy field.
They could see the light was roughly oval-shaped and bigger than the village square. Strange legs appeared beneath it which served to hold the oval upright as it landed in the plane.
“You boys stay behind. Be mindful of the flock. I will see to this.”
Gunter took up his staff, then reached under his cloak to check his sling and the four stones he kept in his pouch. He doubted that the method, with which he and his sons drove predators away from the flock, would do much good in the face of powers such as this, but besides his knife, it was his only defense.
The old shepherd cautiously walked toward the object, now emitting much less light than before. He stopped a stone’s throw away and waited. A chilly breeze picked up, stirring the grass and his cloak, and there was no other sound but the wind.
From a seamless, featureless oval, a doorway opened and out of the doorway, a ramp extended of its own will from the door to the ground. A shadow, the shadow of a man, appeared in the doorway and then began to walk down the ramp.
“Don’t be afraid. We won’t harm you.” The creature spoke in the tongue of the Western Clans though with an unfamiliar accent.
“Who be you?” Gunter issued the traditional challenge when strangers approached the flock.
“I’m a man, just like you, but I come from a very far place.”
Gunter could see him better now. He was man. Slender, wearing some one piece garment of a dark color and of material the shepherd didn’t recognize. He carried no weapon or tool, but it was possible he had a power to bring harm that wasn’t visible.
“Be you…Sky People?”
The man from the oval light reached the bottom of the ramp and stopped, having noticed the native had one hand inside his cloak. No need to provoke a violent response.
“I suppose you could all us that. My name is Granger Smith. To whom do I have the honor of addressing?”
“I be Gunter, of the family Schäfer, of Clan Padarsan. My boys Phillip and Tang are at the fire. This be our flock, so no trouble from you.” He knew his threat was probably useless, but he had a responsibility to the lads to show his spine.
“Like I said Gunter, I mean no harm. I’m just here to make friendly contact. This is the first time we’ve had the ability to come home.”
“Home?” Gunter was suspicious and incredulous, and kept his hand on his sling under his cloak, a stone already loaded within it.
“Do your legends tell of people who left your world, who flew off into the sky to another place?”
Gunter pondered the legends of the Sky People. “Aye. It is said that the Sky People once lived among us when cities of metal and glass stretched out for hundreds of kilometers and far above the clouds. They say you left when the cities fell.”
“That’s about right, Gunter. We left when the world became too poisoned to support us. We left to find another world far from this one, and another sun than the one you see in the sky.”
“Then the legends are true.” Gunter cringed against his will. This was more fantastic than even the wildest of sayings told of the Sky People.
“When we arrived at the new world, we lost the ability to return to this one. That was 800 years ago. Then we developed these…sky ships that let us make the long voyage back, to see what had become of the Earth and our distant ancestors.”
So far, Granger Smith had made no hostile moves, nor had he issued a challenge, so Gunter took a more neutral stance again (still keeping his hand on his sling).
“Now that you’re here, what is your purpose?”
“You have very few large population centers and we decided rather than land near one of them, we’d contact a smaller community, try to get to know you before revealing ourselves to more people.”
“You want to know us. We are but simple shepherd folk and tillers of the land.”
“In a way, that’s the life we wanted to make for ourselves when we left the Earth. Now we’re thriving and populous, and we just wanted to see what became of our mother planet and her people.”
Gunter removed his hand from under his cloak and stepped forward offering it to the stranger. “Never let it be said that Gunter Schäfer of Clan Padarsan turned away an offer of friendship.
Two human beings separated by almost a thousand years of history and hundreds of light years, took each other’s hand in reacquaintance and dim remembrance of a common ancestry.
“Come, Granger Smith. Let me introduce you to my lads and offer you a mug of ale and a warm fire.”
“I would be honored sir.”
This story could be related to She Who Endures, Tomb of the Pilot, or any of the other dystopian tales I’ve written of near human extinction and reversion to an agrarian society. What if a plague or environmental disaster reduced human population down to a small remnant? What if, to save themselves, humanity developed interstellar space fight and colonized another world, but in the process, lost the ability to return to Earth? What if those colonists in some distant future, regained space flight and decided to see what became of their home world?
This is one possible answer.