Field Notes Part 3, Week 1: Zhoukoudian

Week 1, Day One

To: Mission Control
From: Evelyn Willoughby
Subject: Third successful arrival, with one minor problem

We’ve successfully arrived in Zhoukoudian, circa 600,000 years before present. For the first time since setting off on this mission, the Dome failed to “stick the landing.” We emerged out of the space-time vacuum as usual, but instead of rejoicing in solid ground, we felt a perilous lean. The machine slid for what seemed like a meter before clanging to a halt. Once we were certain no more movement would occur, I unclipped my harness and went outside. In reality we had only slipped several centimeters and come to rest against a large boulder. The earth is rocky and uneven; not an ideal landing site, but nothing around us offers better. The Dome is solidly in place and, again contrary to our first impression, tilting only about 10 degrees.

Neither Andrea nor myself have any medical complaints after this most recent jump. It seems my abdominal discomfort in Atapuerca was indeed a result of whatever parasite accompanied me for the time hop. We’ll both take a secondary dose of vitamins, drink extra fluids, and avoid strenuous activity today, as recommended. But I don’t foresee any health-related difficulties.

The only slight obstacle is that we’ve been unable to locate the supply drop. Although we received its coordinates as usual, there was no sign of it at the designated site. This could be due to the weather. Snow has been intermittently tumbling from the sky, impeding our view of the area. I attempted a quick survey, but dizziness prevented me from doing more than a few loops. We have enough food to last us a week, though it’ll cut into our reserve supply. Andrea and I will set snares and attempt some hunting as soon as we’ve recovered. Weather permitting, the drone will take off on its first flight tomorrow. We’ll have to hope that our own hunting won’t disrupt the foraging of any hominin groups that may be nearby.

As discussed earlier, we’ll investigate the shallow clefts in the area for evidence of hominin habitation. Based on the fossil record, I’m optimistic that this location might offer high population densities. If we can illuminate the question of early human populations in Asia and their migration routes, that might go a long way toward understanding more about our origins.

Please advise as to the location of the next drop. We’ll be on the lookout for the missing supplies, and will investigate the drop site in advance to be sure the topography won’t result in further problems.

Field Leader Evelyn Willoughby

Week 1, Day Five

To: Michael and Deborah Chang
From: Andrea Chang
Subject: I wouldn’t say we’re starving

Hi Mom and Dad,

Let’s start with the positives, why don’t we? First: Zhoukoudian has so far offered no sign of cannibalism, violent behavior among hominins, or scary predators. I mean yes, there are carnivores hanging around. The usual assortment of bears, hyenas, and big cats with pointy teeth have been ID’d by our drone, Batty. But they keep far away from us—maybe a sign that they’ve already had to compete with other two-legged primates for resources. Oh, and neither of us have any organ damage or anemia after this most recent jump through time! That’s also nice. Evelyn is healthy, I’m healthy, the air smells clean and fresh even though it’s freezing, and we’re having fun exploring this new location.

Now, the less good. Whatever Mission Control may have told you—or is being reported in the news—we are not starving to death. Yes, Evelyn is rationing our food just in case something goes wrong with the second supply drop. Yes, we’ve both tried our hands at hunting and concocted some unusual recipes (I liked the roasted fox with nuts better than the vole stew). And yes, we are, maybe, running a bit low on supplies. It won’t be hard to survive on the remaining food for the next week or so. Two full weeks might be pushing it. But that isn’t going to happen. So don’t worry too much.

We did end up finding the supplies on our third day here. Well, what was left of them. All the boxes unloaded by the package robot had tumbled down a steep bluff and burst open. The cardboard melted to pieces in the snow. Rodents managed to chew through biodegradable wrappers and eat most of our granola bars and dehydrated meals. We rescued some of the more solid containers, the ones with water purification tablets and salt and vitamins. Important, but not exactly satiating. Everything edible had been eaten or fouled by droppings. Looks like Mission Control provided a feast for the area wildlife.

I’m not worried, because Evelyn’s not worried, and Mission Control said they’re sending another big package within the next five days. I guess there was some kind of damage to the time machine they use for supply drops. It sounds like the machine landed on the side of a hill like us, but then flipped end over end. They said it was covered in dirt and scratches. Good thing the little robot inside survived. Unlike our poor tiny drone, Beetle. He got crunched by some bird of prey at Atapuerca, if you remember. We tried repairing him, but no dice. That’s another thing MC is supposed to send our way, but food is more important at the moment.

As of now, no sign of hominin life. We’ve been hiking the hills, monitoring the wildlife, looking for stone tools. But we’re completely alone as far as primates go. Just the two of us, sleeping in the Mystery Box, looking out the same old windows. It’s been seventeen weeks now since I’ve heard any human voice besides Evelyn’s.

Love and miss you,