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When I was a kid I had access to a handful of "golden age" SF mags, out of which a couple of stories stick in my mind.

One of them started with a caveman returning from foraging with his companions, and demonstrating altruism by giving a branch covered with berries to the girl unable to fend for herself due to a broken back.

He later meets two (?) spacesuited individuals, who communicate with him using "tubes": there was an illustration which showed these as hoses attached to the suits rather than as handheld instruments or what we British would call "valves" **

Towards the end of the story he fights the pack leader, and then leaves carrying the girl with the broken back: the implication being that they were the ultimate ancestors of the Human Race.

Was this one of the published variants of Clarke's "Encounter at Dawn", something well-known by some other author, or simply a tale which has vanished into the mists over the seventy years or so since it was written?

** I think it's fair to contrast the author's casual mention of "tubes" in this story with the far more cautious approach taken by Adams in "Watership Down".

Possible cross-reference to "Pulp era" story: "Dachwu, remember?" which identifies one of the magazines as Super Science Stories, April 1949... unfortunately the USA edition at archive.org doesn't also contain this story although there is a possibility that the British one did if that's what I saw.

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After much scrabbling around in my pile of old scifi stuff I have found your story. It is This Star Shall be Free by Murray Leinster. It was published in the November 1949 issue of Super Science Stories.

This is the image you remember of the aliens in spacesuits with tubes:

This star shall be free

The protagonist is Tork. You have mis-remembered the story slightly. The girl is called Berry, and at the beginning of the story Tork gives her some fish not a branch with fruit on.

In an hour it appeared to have been forgotten. Tork cooked his fish. When his belly was quite full, a young girl named Berry stopped cautiously some yards away from him. She was at once shy and bold.

"You have much fish," she said, with a toss of her head.

"Too much," said Tork complacently. "I need a woman to help eat it."

He looked at her. She was most likely One-Ear's daughter, but she was slim and curved and desirable where he was bloated and gross and bad-tempered.

She said, "One-Ear smelled your fish. He sent me to get some. Shall I tell him he is a woman if he eats it?"

Her eyes were intent; not quite mocking. Tork scowled. To let her give such a message would be to challenge One-Ear to mortal combat, and One-Ear was twenty years older and sixty pounds heavier than Tork. He tossed the girl a fish, all cooked and greasy as it was.

"I give you the fish," said Tork grandly. "Eat it or give it to One-Ear. I don't care!"

Berry is a daughter of the chief One-Ear, but Tork doesn't fight One-Ear. He marries Berry and takes over without a struggle as One-Ear gets old. Lastly Berry doesn't have a broken back. She and Tork live long and happy lives and have many children.

The aliens are from Antares. They are water dwellers and their suits are full of water. The Antareans intend to colonise Earth, but Tork discovers that as long as his tribe are continually thinking of the Antareans they are unable to leave due to the mental bond they have formed with the Earthmen. He paints pictures of them on the cave walls (the first cave art!) to continually remind his people of the Antareans and in this way holds the Antareans hostage. Eventually a deal is made that the Antareans will not colonise Earth and in return Tork will destroy all the pictures.

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  • John, that's excellent. It's certainly a version of the story since I recognise the detail of the cave art, but in the one I remember the humans were pre-vocal (except that the girl with the broken back "crooned" when given the berries), the caveman left carrying the girl, and the cave art got covered up and forgotten but still had the desired effect on the potential invaders. Now that you've provided the author it will be easy enough to track down the variant story... from a personal POV it's interesting that both the ones I've asked about were in Super Science Stores of 1949. ATB, ex-cix. Dec 10, 2021 at 10:34
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    Wow. When I see "spacemen and cavemen" first thing I think of is Leinster's "This Star Shall Be Free". But the only non-generic details given, "girl with broken back" and "berries", don't match. Congratulations on getting past that.
    – user14111
    Dec 10, 2021 at 10:47
  • Scan at archive.org: archive.org/details/Super_Science_Stories_v06n01_1949-11/page/… noting that that's the American edition and that the British ones (circa '49) had different stories highlighted on the cover and could potentially have different story variants. A very quick read turns up more points that I recognise... there's obviously a chance (substantial after all these years) that I'm eliding two different stories. Dec 10, 2021 at 10:50
  • @user14111 "Congratulations on getting past that." Indeed. The differences are puzzling, but since nobody else recognises them I think that either the story was something /really/ obscure or I've imagined them... but it would be unusual to unintentionally fabricate coherent differences from both the beginning and end of a story like that. But if that variant of the story existed only in my mind it would explain why Google et al. don't know about it... Dec 10, 2021 at 10:58
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Maybe you're mixing up two stories from that same pile of Golden Age pulps? Murray Leinster's "This Star Shall Be Free" was in the November 1949 issue of Super Science Stories. The very next issue, Super Science Stories, January 1950 (available at the Luminist Archive), had "The Long Dawn", a novelette by Noel Loomis. There are no space aliens in the Loomis story, but there is a cavegirl with a broken back; the hero is trying to get medical help by taking her into the future (with her infant child and his pet pterodactyl and his pet tyrannosaur) via suspended animation in an underground time-vault:

Henderson left, and Chark, tired from the strain of projecting his mind so far, let him go and sat back to wait. He hoped it wouldn't take too long, for it was worrying him to think about the female back in the time-vault. Her back must be very painful by now. Twice had they been awakened in the last hundred million years, and each time Chark had tried desperately to find medical help, but each time he had failed. On both occasions she had been very patient and had not even whimpered, but Chark had seen the suffering in her eyes and it had been hard for him to take. This time he was determined to get help.

Perhaps it had been a mistake to try to save her, after all. Old Grak had said, when she fell out of the big moa-tree and lay writhing in the tall grass, "Let her alone. She'll die before sundown."

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    Aha, yes, well caught! :-) Dec 10, 2021 at 12:24
  • I think I remember that story which suggests that I found at least three issues... looks suspiciously as though I'm going to have to sit down and read through the entire archive. "I may be some time" :-) I remember that there was also "The Green Mandarin Mystery" but I've already tracked that down and it was a book. Dec 10, 2021 at 12:30
  • @MarkMorganLloyd Now you have a problem trying to decide which answer to accept, because both answers are correct! :-) Dec 10, 2021 at 16:37
  • John, yours is the closer one because of the artwork (which although uncredited looks like Bok). I recognise at least two stories from the other issue: the caveman one and the one with the (illustration of the) plants... probably also the one about a liner lost in space. If I find anything that can fill in the missing gaps I /will/ report back... I don't think it was a particularly big trove. There's a very slight possibility that it could be something I found later in e.g. one of the Amis/Conquest "Spectrum" collections, but I don't think so. Dec 10, 2021 at 17:02
  • @MarkMorganLloyd I believe you're right about Bok. The ISFDB credits the interior illos for "The Long Dawn" (p. 98 and p. 99) to Bok, and they are very defnitely in his style.
    – user14111
    Dec 11, 2021 at 1:48

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