Field Notes Part 3, Week 7: Zhoukoudian


To: Mission Control
From: Evelyn Willoughby
Subject: Research and wellness updates

We have at least scene our first definitive glimpse of AsianHomo erectus. Following the end of the snow storm, Andi manually piloted the drone to search for any sign of life. After taking it on gradually widening sweeps of the area, she identified a long trail of footprints some nine kilometers from our location. She flew the drone as far as its range would allow, approximately 25 kilometers further. At the end of this secondhand journey, we spotted a thin cloud of black smoke creeping up from the hilly horizon. Although we did not locate the hominins themselves, these multiple signs offer proof positive of their existence. 

The weather being slightly warmer than the previous week, I ventured out on my own to investigate the footprints. Andi monitored from above with the drone, though I was also equipped with the usual chemical precautions we’ve successfully used against wild animals. The slog through such thick snow hampered my progress, but I found my way to the trail sometime in the early afternoon. 

Sunlight and increasing temperatures melted the depressions slightly, but I was still able to prepare the snow and make casts of a half-dozen footprints. The prints varied quite dramatically in size, suggesting that the walkers included children and adults. Much of the trail had been crossed by multiple walkers, so it was difficult to ascertain the size of the group, but I would hazard a guess that five or six were traveling together. Had Andi and I been together, we could have followed the trail for several more kilometers than spent the night away from the Dome. By myself, I chose the more prudent option of walking back before sunset. 

Our health remains good, though Andi still struggles to place any weight on her injured leg. The collapsible crutches have been useful for her to hobble around the Dome, but until more of the snow and the ice melt, she’ll be confined in here. I am still concerned over how her ankle is healing, but know that my concerns are of little consequence to the Mission Control staff. 

More updates to follow soon, along with the footprint casts.



To: Jun Nakamura
From: Andrea Chang
Subject: Homecoming 

Hi Jun,

Prepare the welcome wagons, get ready for a media blitz, and clear out your social calendar, because—drumroll—we are coming home. One more week in the Pleistocene, then I’ll be back in modern America, ready to take on the real world. Or at least do lots of interviews and probably have ankle surgery, which is what Evie anticipates will be happening for the first month or so. 

I know you wouldn’t need to ask if I’m sad or disappointed because you know the answer is YES OBVIOUSLY, so I won’t waste any time spewing all my feelingson you. I’ll save that for when we’re together in person again, and can go out to dinner for hot pot and I’ll try not to embarrass you too much by getting all emotional in a crowded, noisy restaurant. Instead of worrying about what’s going to happen next or dissecting how I’m coping at the moment, let me take you on one last vicarious adventure. You didn’t think I could leave the past without having one final animal encounter, did you? 

Picture me, still partially hobbled by a clunky cast but increasingly adept at maneuvering with crutches. A warmer day, sunlight finally recharging the batteries of the Mystery Box and allowing us to take hot showers. I feel refreshed, rejuvenated, ready to leap back into field work. Evie is hesitant, she chews her cheek, she considers and requires some cajoling before she will relent and allow me back into the untamed wilderness. But the air is so sweet and clean after weeks in the Box, and the sky looks endless, and I can’t believe anything will go wrong on a short walk around the area. 

But what’s that just a short distance from the Box, ponderously lumping its way out of a dark cave? Could it actually be—the rare—the little understood—the Chinese cave bear? A black snout is highlighted by white snow! Four enormous paws! One HUGE bear, rising to its hind legs and staring straight at us!

Evie shrieks at me to hurry back into the Dome. She picks up a nearby rock, hurls it in the bear’s direction, pulls out her mace, and stands in front of me as I hobble my way to the safety, pulse already trying to pound clear of my throat. I make the door, turn back to see why she hasn’t followed me, already petrified, deciding if I should lunge at the bear—and I see Evie on the ground, toppled over with laughter. The stone, it seems hit the bear square in the nose, and it fell straight onto its ass before rolling over and grumbling its way right back into the cave. 

It was such a moment of relief and lightheartedness, Jun. Because we both knew it might have gone differently. And even though it didn’t, even though no one was hurt (except maybe the poor bear), we clearly understood an alternate outcome. That’s why we have to leave. It’s just too risky. 

Can’t wait to see you!