The night was warm, and Ta was out underneath the stars. Ko was spending the evening with the other girls, and Ta was weaving baskets while Da nursed. After a moment, Da let go and looked up. He looked back and hit Ta on her chest with a tiny hand. “What,” asked Ta, “what is it?”
Da pointed up, and there was no mistaking what he wanted Ta to see. A brilliant arc strode across the night sky. It looked as if Ko had found a glowing white paint and drawn it there herself. Ta stared in wonder, Da babbling nonsense and hitting her and pointing and her hands weaving baskets on their own without need for her to even look.
The next day, the mood was different. The chief, always energetic, seemed to have even more of a spring in his step than usual. He shouted to call the tribe for a meeting. “Last night, many of you saw the sign from the Great Crocodile,” he boomed, to shouts and cheers. Ta cheered with them, holding Da’s little arm to show him how to shake it in triumph. Ko seemed to have learned something from her friends the other night – she put her hands to her face and howled like a wolf.
“A brilliant white mammoth tusk in the sky, pointing to the west. The Great Moon Crocodile has spoken – we must move west to the land of the mammoths! More mammoths, more food!”
The crowd’s response to this was mixed. Ta found the Moon Crocodile’s message strange. There were still more than enough mammoths here to feed the whole tribe for moons to come, and she had never seen her baskets so full of nuts and berries since they had moved here. Ko would be sad to leave her rhinoceros painting behind, but she could draw another one.
Over the next week, the tribe traveled west. Ta hated travel because she had to manage the transport of all her baskets and spears. When some got broken or left behind, which they always did, she had to work through the night to replace and fix them. She didn’t interpret the Moon Crocodile’s will, though, and it would not serve anyone well for her to be left behind, so she went along with them.
Eventually, the chief proclaimed that the tribe had arrived at “the land of the mammoths.” Ta didn’t see much difference from where they had left, but Ko drew an antelope on their new cave wall and it felt like home. Ta’s cautious nature helped her live a long and rich life. As Ko and Da grew into productive tribe members themselves, Ta grew to be a village elder, and her sage advice encouraged the tribe to become less nomadic and take advantage of staying in one place at least until the food began to get scarce. There was a scare when Ko came close to her deathbed in childbirth, but, thank the Great Moon Crocodile, surrounded by the love of her family and her friends she had known all her life, she pulled through.
Ta passed away at eighty six years of age surrounded by her great grandchildren and the countless people who she had helped during her long life. From far away outside time and space, The Entity looked on in consternation.
“WHO ALTERED MY UNIVERSE?” The message went out to everyone in the family, tinged with livid rage in a way not describable to one with only human senses. Just imagine that looking at seemingly ordinary text on a page you feel as if you are being screamed at. The text itself looks like it wants to bite your jugular out and leave you to bleed to death on the floor despite looking no different from any other text on your computer. You don’t want to look at it too long for the irrational fear that you might spontaneously combust.
By the time The Entity had noticed the break, over ten million cousins had taken trips through mortal lifetimes, many had taken thousands of trips. It did not go unnoticed, though, that Ta’s life had just happened to be much longer and more fulfilling. In fact, it was when Ta’s murderer complained that he never even got to meet Ta, let alone murder her, that The Entity had first realized something was wrong.
The Entity didn’t get a reply immediately. It doubted anyone had ever received an angry message in such a literal way before, and they probably were in doubt of how, or whether, to respond. It rewound the universe to see why the tribes never met. Here at this moment Ta’s tribe decided to move west for no apparent reason. The Entity took a low-level bird’s eye view of the action when it saw the tribe gathering. One man standing on a rock told them that the Great Moon Crocodile wanted them to go west. He wanted to because of a “sign” from the Crocodile that many had apparently seen last night.
Back up to last night. People are out, they’re looking up. Ok, let’s flip over and see what’s in the sky. A comet. Where did the comet come from? Move to the comet. Rewind, follow the comet’s trajectory, looking for it to wink out of existence or take an unexpected turn. The comet’s origin was when it formed from the meandering gas of the solar system. Then it flies a wide ellipse around the sun, occasionally coming near a planet and swinging into a different path. After a swing around Uranus it heads on its path leading to Earth, where a little over a year and a month later it makes the brilliant display in the sky that leads Ta’s tribe to wander a different direction. Everything looked to be in order except that the comet should not be causing anyone to move west and change the course of prehistory.
“I know you did this,” came an icy message from The Entity. Ta felt a chill wash over her reading it. She had never thought to include feelings in messages before and sent an innocent “did what?” with as much sweetness as she could muster.
“You know what. Now I have to restart the whole universe.” The disgust hung on every word.
“That sounds frustrating,” Ta sympathized, amping up the sweetness until it was like a whole mouthful of honey straight from a beehive.
“They’re going to die no matter what you do, Cousin. You may have lost your senses, but I can just keep restarting the universe as many times as I need to. You’re completely banned from even looking at it.”
Ta didn’t respond. After she figured out that her tribe would respond to a comet, she had taken only twenty-two tries to add an infinitesimal adjustment to one each time it rounded a planet. Enough adjustments later its course was dramatically changed, and her children were saved. When the Entity reset the universe, a set of rules inside its domain but outside of the universe would apply the same adjustments Ta had worked out. If The Entity found and disabled that, there was another one hidden elsewhere. Ta had constructed four hundred and fifty five thousand two hundred and seventy one such automated adjustment mechanisms hidden throughout The Entity.
Beyond that, she would just have to hope that it gave up finding them all and put up with Da living. She could satisfy herself that she had done all she could.
Meanwhile, in Ta’s own personal universe, she enjoyed another warm night under the stars. “Mommy,” asked the nine year old Da, wincing as Ta applied yellowroot to his scraped knee, “Why do bad things happen?”
The mortal Ta had dismissed this question, “The Great Moon Crocodile tests us in this life.” Ta chose to do something different this time. She took Ko’s face in her hands, “Bad things happen because people let them, my sweet baby Da,” she whispered, “Your mother will never let anything bad happen to you.”