The stranger rode in on an eight-foot beetle and dressed like a tribesman, but he was not one of them. Nolefin crept close to the edge of the campfire’s light and listened to the man’s tales of the coastal settlements and beyond, to his home city under the sea. Nole had never heard the like. A flame of curiosity awoke and was soon a raging blaze within him.
“What is sea?” Delri asked from her place in the circle; her parents shushed her, but the visitor only smiled and told of so much water you could not see the end of it, like the sand in the desert. Around the fire, the gathered tribe gaped and whispered to each other as the fire flickered on their faces under the desert stars.
Then the man pointed to the sky and said, “There is even more: people who live on Avenir station. It is up there, orbiting Eclectia. Surely you have seen it at the times of its Approaching. But we all came from Earth to begin with.”
At this, the elders rose as one and rushed him out of camp to where his beetle slept in the sands. Nole exchanged a glance with Delri, the one promised to him, and inclined his head toward the east where the stranger was being hustled. Delri returned a sharp nod and then turned away quickly. They must not be seen to communicate; it wasn’t proper. No one had ever asked why, that Nole knew of. Perhaps the coming of this stranger was the first inkling that things might one day be different.
Nole straightened his shoulders and trekked around the camp at a safe distance. His heart beat out the wonder of it: there was a world beyond the desert, surely more amazing than he could imagine.
He approached and called to the one-not-from-here. “Friend traveller! I must beg pardon for the ways of my people.”
“But not for yours.” The man formed a stiff greeting sign, as if it was new to him. “I am Eron. How is it that you are so unlike the others?”