Field Notes, Week 8: Olduvai Gorge

Week 8, Day 3

From: Andrea Chang

To: Mission Control

Subject: Health and Wellbeing Update

 To Mission Control:

It’s just after dawn on the first dry day we’ve had all week, and I’m having my usual breakfast of peanut butter oatmeal. Any chance I can request a different hot cereal to be included in our next resupply drop?

As per the orders of my field leader, I’ll start this report with a short health assessment. We’ve been in the Olduvai Gorge for nearly eight weeks now, and neither of us show any symptoms of malnutrition, anemia, or internal bleeding. The initial jump back of one million years left us relatively unscathed—at least once we recovered from the time-travel hangover. Neither Evelyn nor myself have sustained any serious injuries, though she has recently collected a number of superficial cuts on her feet and hands. None of those wounds show signs of infection, so the antibacterial cream and NuSkin bandages are doing their jobs. Finishing up our stay around Olduvai without any broken bones or stitches seems like cause for celebration, considering how many trees and cliffs we scrambled up.

But I wouldn’t say we both have a totally clean bill of health. Whatever Evelyn may claim about her nausea, she’s been getting sick after meals for nearly a week now. My (admittedly uneducated) guess is some kind of intestinal parasite or tapeworm, as she’s already treated herself with a dose of antibiotics and antifungals. Sharing food with other hominins might need to go on the list of things to avoid. Or at the very least, I think the food should only be shared when it comes from an obviously fresh kill, or when it’s been cooked. Seeing as I am but a lowly assistant, perhaps this is a rule that the directors might want to discuss with my fearless leader. (Meanwhile, my stomach is as steely as ever thanks to a diet of pre-approved supplies occasionally supplemented by wild meat and tubers that are always cooked to a crisp.)

I’ve been at the Mystery Box all this morning, collecting the last bit of data from our mobile weather station and removing the camera traps set up around the area. What I really want to be doing is chasing down the last possible hint of Paranthropus boisei. Just yesterday one of our drones identified a new cluster of hominins whose body profiles don’t match the Erectines. They looked smaller and seemed to be perching in trees. But they’re a full 12 kilometers from here, and I’m almost positive some kind of eruption event is imminent. If only time travel could also prevent natural disasters! The last thing I want is to be caught out in the open and roasted by magma or suffocated by poisonous gases or swept away by a lahar (the weather has been rainy enough the past few days for that to be a possibility). It is insanely frustrating to be this close to an answer about the question of whether two hominin species overlapped and interacted, and not be able to get a definitive answer.

Stay tuned for an update sometime in the next 24 hours. I suspect we might be forced to make our jump forward sooner than planned instead of finishing out the last week.

- Andrea Chang

Week 8, Day 3

From: Evelyn Willoughby

 To: Pia Schuster

 Subject: —

Pia, my love,

The ground has been shaking intermittently for nearly an hour now. Andrea just grabbed the last of the lab equipment and is stowing it away. Five more minutes and we’ll shoot off into space-time again, headed for our next stop. I’ll steal those five minutes to jot down this note for you.

Andrea saved my life today. I’ve been so absorbed by the work with the Erectines, so determined to see it through. I didn’t want to listen when she said the regional tectonics appeared worryingly dynamic. I set out from our cave to meet the group as usual. She chased me down with the drone, which blared its warning bell. The younger Erectines scattered, the older ones crouched behind trees and boulders, gripping their handaxes or spears. I wanted to shriek my exasperation. But then I noticed the ground rippling gently beneath my feet, so gently that my excitement may have masked it. And I ran and ran back to the cave, then on to the Dome. I prayed, Pia, for the first time in years. The words were just as familiar as they’ve always been, but also just as hollow. I wanted so badly for those words to have power. I prayed that the Erectines would be so alarmed by the drone and my sudden departure that they, too, would run.

If I’d listened to Andrea sooner, could we have explained some part of it to them? Could we have prevented their deaths by smoke or flame? Maybe there’s still time before the volcano erupts. Maybe not. I can do nothing now, save no one. My battered feet are bathed in cold sweat and my writing is a messy scrawl because I can’t stop my hands shaking. Outside the Dome’s porthole I see black smoke billowing into the sky.

I’m sending this at the last possible moment because I want you to know we’ve made it. We’ll make it. Tell my parents I’m sorry I never wrote, and I love them. 

- E.