193,000 BC, East Africa – From above, under the thick clouds and through the heavy rain, it is hard to distinguish anything on the rolling hills below. The frequent flashes of lightning, however, bring out a rugged landscape of trees and shrubs and rock outcroppings in sharp relief for several seconds before disappearing into the murk again.
In the back of a cave below, Prome huddles under a pile of furs and skins with the other seven members of his family. In the middle of their cave a pile of branches, sticks and tinder is distinctly not on fire. The piece of charcoal that is meant to be kept constantly smoldering to start fires with had gone out some time ago, leaving them with no fire. No heat, cooking, or light, and this storm had been raging for days now.
A blinding flash fills the cavern as lightning strikes particularly close, followed immediately by the reverberating KRAKOWWWWww of thunder. Branches explode off a short tree on a nearby hilltop in a shower of sparks. Slowly, snakes of flame creep up the tree and dance into the sky. An orange glow spills out into the formerly monochromatic landscape around the burning bush.
Prome and his father Iape both jump up to get a better look at the fire. It's probably only half a mile away, but it's over dark, wet, rugged landscape. Still though, they really need that fire. Prome, middle aged at 22, says to Iape "you stay here, I'm going to go get fire."
Prome wraps a fur cloak around himself tightly and, clasping his trusty spear, he hurries outside.
Prome is at once buffeted by the wet gusting wind. He steps carefully amid the slippery limestone scree on the hillside and makes his way down the dark slope. Slowly, he makes his way down among the boulders and dripping shrubbery. He keeps a vigilant eye out for dangerous animals, but he can’t discern anything in the gloom other than trees and bushes waving wildly in the wind.
A normally placid stream between the two hills has grown to a raging torrent. Prome eyes it with concern. He looks up to the hilltop, where an orange glow can still be seen. His family urgently needs the fire, there can be no turning back now! Hopefully the fire on the hilltop won’t be out by the time he can get there.
Finding the narrowest spot, Prome takes a running jump off a rock and lands with a squelch in the loam amid the tall grass on the other side of the stream. He hopes he’ll be able to make that same jump on the return while holding his spear AND a burning branch.
He begins the ascent. Lightning momentarily illuminates the left half of everything in front of him.
At last, Prome arrives before the burning bush. Several baboons that had been huddled around it for warmth scatter with startled hoots. Prome basks in the blessedly hot glow, such a wonderful feeling after being so cold and wet for so long.
He only allows himself a moment of basking, however, glancing back anxiously at the opposite slope where his cold family is waiting. Furthermore he feels a bit exposed up here on the hilltop. The fire, burning like a beacon, is liable to attract the attention of any living thing in the vicinity. He finds a good sized branch that is only burning on one half, retrieves it from the conflagration, and, mentally bracing himself for the cold, turns his back to the warm glow and steals away into the night.
He won't make it home with the burning branch, however.
Indeed, seen from above, the fire on the mountain is a singular landmark among the otherwise inscrutable dark undulating hills. Expertly surfing the violent buffets of the wind on its 20 foot wingspan, an enormous eagle, a teratorn, comes to investigate the fire. Even with the excellent vision of an eagle there’s not much to see in the darkness anywhere else anyway, and an eagle’s got to eat.
Something else catches the eagle’s eye, however. Moving down the slope from the fire there seems to be a smaller piece of fire bobbing around in a most unnatural manner. The eagle cocks its head to better examine this strange happening. Piercing through the rain and darkness the eagle is able to discern after a moment that it appears to be one of those smart relatively hairless apes carrying a burning branch. Not as much meat on their bones as some other things, but no tough hairy hide either. The teratorn commences several banking turns to put itself in position to dive upon its prey.
Prome notices a disturbing sound above him in the nick of time, glances up just in time to dive out of the way as a huge bird of prey plants its dagger-like talons in the ground where he’d just been standing. Letting out an angry screech, the monster bird knocks him over and tries to rip out his liver with its horrible hooked beak.
Prome instinctively bashes it on the head with the burning branch, causing it to pull back with an outraged squawk. He continues the initiative with a lunge with his spear but the eagle knocks the pole out of his hand with a giant wing. The eagle attacks again and Prome again bashes it with all his strength with the flaming branch. As he does so, he loses his footing and slips down the wet grass of the hillside. He goes careening through bushes and off rocks, holding desperately onto the burning branch.
Prome lies dazed for a moment in a damp aromatic thicket of fennel he’s finally come to a rest in. Despite the wild ride, he doesn’t seem to have any major injuries -- nothing broken. The branch is barely burning any more, but it should be enough if he can hurry it back to the cave. Prome tenses for another attack from the eagle.
Large green spots. Blinking and shaking its head, that’s all the eagle can see. Those humans, they aren’t particularly dangerous foes usually, but they can pull some strange tricks, and being wacked in the head a few times with fire does a number to your night vision. Looks like hunting time is over for now, best get back to the safety of the heavens. With a few heavy flaps of its great wings the teratorn takes to the air.
Prome wearily approaches the rocky scree near his cave. Almost home!
A rock underfoot skids across the one below it in a shower of sparks, sending the exhausted torch bearer tumbling backwards again.
He lands with a splash into a large puddle and the branch disappears underwater with a sizzle. He yanks it out and, slowly getting to his feet, he looks at it with extreme disappointment. It is totally out. He looks at his nearby cave and back at the faraway hilltop where the fire on the tree is starting to subside itself, incredulous at this disastrous luck.
After a few moments, Prome thoughtfully approaches the two rocks which had made sparks against each other.