Devonian Ridpath.jpg

more tomorrow

BY PREMEE MOHAMED

 

Day 5

Anyway, it turns out trilobites aren’t very good eating even if you haven’t eaten in days. I had particularly high hopes for the fat, humped asaphids, thinking they would taste like shrimp, but everything I’ve caught so far is strictly armor and attitude, plus they bite. Discovered this morning that if you just hoik a trilobite in the fire and assume terminal temperature, it crawls out and shakes itself off like a little tank. Complete decapitation required. PAPER IDEA: Mechanisms of apparent trilobite invincibility. They're not strictly aquatic, either, they come right up on land and look at you while you're eating their friends. Jesus.

Also cut my fingers to shit butchering the first one; to be honest, it was hard to tell who was butchering who. (Whom?) Easier going now since I chipped an axe out of a piece of blue flint that I found a ways up the beach. Poor replacement for the one we lost, but it cracks the armor at least, and then you can roast them without explosions and shrapnel. Still have to cut them up to get the few calories worth of meat inside though (which doesn’t, incidentally, taste like shrimp). They’re survival food. A couple more days and I’m going after some of those big meaty arthrodires though, the ones I can see gliding through the crystal-clear water with little signs on their back saying “EAT ME.” I’m already tired of trilobite though not yet tired of surviving.

Note: Can I eat any of these algal mats. Different from seaweed at sushi restaurant how exactly.

Tomorrow I’ll probably hike up the hill and check out those whisk ferns that the mid-size captorhinidae keep nibbling but not eating. Clearly it’s nontoxic; maybe it’s medicinal. I could smush it into a poultice and put it on the cuts from those stupid trilobites. Maybe it won’t kill me. Maybe it’ll kill me sooner. Better than a dinocephalian getting me I guess, ha ha. More tomorrow.

 

Day 6

My fingers won’t stop bleeding, but the cuts on my cheeks have closed up and they don’t feel tender or hot. Hallelujah! I keep checking them in a shiny fragment from the Temp Box. No teenage snotball ever scrutinized her skin so assiduously. Sometimes I glance at what remains of the Box, and the old temptation steals over me: I can fix it! Of course I can fix it! But come on, I’m a paleontologist. I deal with very old things, not very new things (running gag: “That must be why you get along so well with Hap!”). I mean, if you handed a computer engineer a busted calculator, ten bucks says he would simply hand it back to you. They don’t make electronics to be fixed. They make them to work for a while and then you buy a new one later, with university money.

Anyway. Literally the dame who invented this thing couldn’t fix it now. Maybe, just maybe, if I swam down and found the spare—because of course we took a spare, it’s policy, like the Working Alone policy (to wit: “Don't do it, ever”)—I could see how badly the seawater got in and maybe try to piece it back together, splice it I mean, a piece from here, a piece from there. But today is not that day. Have you seen those fucking fish? The jaws look like they could go right through my ankle.

Hap should be back soon, anyway, from his collecting expedition. Let the record show that I did try to talk him out of it though. We agreed someone should stay for the S&R team. To reiterate: he said three days out, three days in, six days ago, “No sense wasting the time we’ve got here,” and took about 3/4s of the equipment we had left, including our only knife and most of our Rite-in-the-Rain paper. And it rains almost every day. Our shelter wasn’t great to begin with (cheap bastard university!), and now it’s almost better to sleep out in the open. Anyway, I’m going to write till the pen runs out of ink or till I run out of paper. Or till I get eaten. We’ll see what lasts longest.

Forgot to add: another option is that I die of some disease from eating undersea bugs. PAPER IDEA: Toxic loading in late-Devonian/early-Permian survival situations.

Forgot also to add: to be honest they would not taste so terrible if I had some salt, so tomorrow I might set up an evaporation still. Actually nacho cheese seasoning would be better. Part of me thinks I should be opening up their little gizzards to see what they’ve been eating down there but part of me thinks why bother, because they taste like rancid amphipods and fermented worm. Nacho cheese seasoning. The orange powder. That would help.

Trilodoritos.

Dortrilos?

COOL RANCH Triloritos.

If I manage to bring some back alive, they’re going to be the next big thing.

 

Day 8

Hap isn’t back but I’m not what you’d call panicking yet, not completely; when you estimate 3 days based on any measure of the world we used to live in—not accounting for the rain, the unfamiliar terrain, stopping to draw/write & collect specimens etc.—your estimate is bound to be off, because this isn’t that world. He’ll be okay though, there is potable water and adequate if unpleasant food (the other thing that would be really good: shichimi togarashi, a big dusky orange sprinkle of it, mmm yeah). Now that I’m using the flint axe, my fingers healed up, so it’s easier to write. About things that aren’t seasoning, I mean, which is clearly of prime importance right now.

I lost the first bunch of pages/days so I’ll quickly recap here even though neither of us are likely to forget it. To wit:

—Set up in the Chambers lab (ROOM 12C) for planned 5-day field visit

—Did correctly activate shielding, would swear in a court of law that the light was green

—Activated primary Temporochronicular Adjustor which had been calibrated to our weights + equipment (monitor clearly indicated WITHIN ACCEPTABLE RANGE)

—Did not (will also probably have to swear to this in a court of law) notice that the shielding light had turned red until this point of time

—Anyway the upshot is:

—Arrived in unknown but maybe correct location, and unknown but maybe 300ish million years prior to activation of Temp Box as planned

—However, damage to shielding resulted in DuCharme Vortex (Type III) of physical and chronological material at proposed landing site (mostly sand, water, fish, 1 v. large ammonite, abundant temporae and chronobosons)

—At this time, myself + Dr. Hapler + all equipment + spare Box were immersed in ocean and we swam back to beach having only recovered a small # of items

—Primary Box destroyed by ammonite.

Not sure I need to re-record that I pissed myself during the vortex—oh wait I just did. I can scratch that out later. LOOK AT ME USING A PEN LIKE AN UNDERGRAD. I miss my tablet. Also: socks, forks, golf carts, sunscreen, neon signs that blink and say “ALL-DAY BREAKFAST,” and the year 2029 in general. Also guns, but projectile weapons of any kind would do. I regularly wash in the pond behind the bluff as well as in the ocean to reduce my scent, but there are still a disconcerting number of pelycosaurs who stop, ostentatiously sniff the air, then stare at me before lumbering on. I have no way of killing them before they kill me and I’m so paranoid I’ve scattered the area around camp with shells, which sound like broken porcelain when stepped on. But I don’t need defense. I need offense.

I think I shall invent “the spear” while Hap is gone. An argument could be made for my inventing perhaps instead “the tent” but there’s nothing to repurpose right now except the scraps of carbon-fiber panels from our busted shelter. At least it’s warm out, small blessings etc.

It is not precisely that I want to be brave right now. But I want to do brave things. I want to be remembered as doing brave things. That’s all. Or at the very least, if I fuck up history, I want it to be in a way where I miraculously return and somebody buys me a shake & some eggs benedict. 

 

Day 9

SCIENCE my ETERNAL MISTRESS has NOT LET ME DOWN.

Grovel in wonder, all ye things without opposable thumbs, see what superior evolution can do. 

Managed to rip and braid kelp to form a rope, used a squid for bait. The line took five or six hours (I tried twisting but it wouldn’t hold—this is what I get for dropping out of Eagle Scouts to join the quiz team) whereas actually catching a fish took less than a minute. It bit almost through the line of course but because I had reflexively jerked backwards, it flew right out of the water before the line snapped. Maybe twelve pounds, pale green and black, some kind of placoderm. I have included a drawing of it in the back of the book dated Day 9 so I can ID when I get back, including jaw morphology detail. Was so damn proud, reached for my pocket to text Hap, and froze, hand in the damp khaki.

Anyway, now that I have rope, maybe I can rig some kind of cooking sling. Lack of wood on this beach is maddening, all I can burn are these gangling ferns & pseudoferns and hardly enough at that; I’m responsible for deforesting half an acre already just getting fuel for my pathetic fire. There are (worryingly?) a lot of bones, though, that have been making good substitutes for support struts and skewers, etc., but it’s not the same. It takes forever to saw through one, and breaking them sends pieces everywhere like a Christmas cracker.

(Later)

Hungry Man Placoderm Dinner is v. v. good. Flesh is greasy and juicy, like mackerel. Why? Those haven’t evolved yet! PAPER IDEA: Emergence of fish flavors during speciation. If I catch a dozen more I could get a good sample size. Except it is dawning on me that maybe I will never write another paper again. Will I.

Dean archaic fish.jpg

Where is the S&R team anyway? They know where we planned to go and there is still, last I checked, one more Temp Box in the world. Although, the shielding was likely destroyed in 12C and there aren’t many other access points, plus who knows what else happened in the lab just as we were sent, who knows what changed. Maybe they don’t have our coordinates anymore. Maybe another eight, nine days till they show. Let us hope it takes me more than that to get eaten by a pelycosaur, like the big dimetrodons I can see prowling in packs of four and five, their feet splap-splapping on the sand, tails clinking through my perimeter of shells.

Listen though. That spare, I can still see it. I am telling you that despite the tide and the sand I can still see it. I am going to try to grab it. As soon as Hap comes back. Not doing it alone.

 

Day 11

Camp is in pieces. Stupid, my fault, mea culpa. Left remains of dinner near remains of fire and a good lot of monsters came in the middle of the night to scavenge. Sleeping bag soaked, mauled. Raining now. Fire no help. Can’t keep it going under my bone + kelp shelter (reminder if I get back: Bone & Kelp is the name of my new hipster pop-up store. Guess what I will sell: SCIENCE.) Anyway, thought the rain would drive them off but can see their moving shapes through the water, circling, the circles steadily smaller. Some very big, activating some ancient terror feedback routine in my lizard brain. How big did we think carnivorous synapsids got here, based on the fossil record? Wish I could look it up but am thinking of that 2023 paper by el-Qadib et al. with the map.

Have not gotten around to inventing spear.

 

Day 14

{{}}< {{}}< {{}}<   plz stop touching me when i sleep trilobugs  >{{}} >{{}} >{{}}

 

Day 16

Sunny and hot. Haven't slept for days. Collected a pile of stones to keep near camp while I dry everything on top of the shelter. Watching it steam is pretty gratifying, though it’s funny that I should feel so much less protected with no clothes or boots on. Like a t-shirt and cargo pants is any protection against the monsters that still pace, licking their teeth, waddling urgently away from my stones. What do they eat, when they’re not trying to eat me? Each other? Fish? Their short, mean teeth look like they could bite through any of those armored buggers. Should have insisted on a kevlar suit, or chainmail, like we were saying. That nanoceramic stuff from the Chambers lab would have been terrific if prohibitive, you know, there goes our funding for the next two years. But we could have rented, not bought, just one. Taken turns. The whole point of them being lightweight is that you can use them either diving or on land. Plus Hap is around my size.

Refusing to say “was.” Not yet.

Not just yet.

Update: two gorgonopsids fighting or maybe humping (??) not 20 yards from camp. Gathered my stuff and bolted for the fern forest, where at least I can hear things blundering behind me. Thing is, I can’t bail completely. I need to get to the spare Box and see if I can get anything from it and to do that I need a plan and to do that I need to be here on the beach. And to calm down. Holy scrotes, calm down. Calm down. Calm down.

Back home (oh shit I just realized I should have brought some rocks with me SHIT) I remember walking around campus late at night and being like “No one is going to mug me, no one is going to jump me,” and then I’d hear a noise and panic, stiffen, gather my keys in my fist. Tough city, they tell you. Be ready to fight. But nothing ever happened. Here, I guarantee you, SOMETHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN.

OK listen. I’m going to get the Box tomorrow, I'll go without sleep to make a plan. Yeah it would be better if Hap was back, but if he doesn’t come, I can’t wait any longer. Already I can only see the barest corner of the thing, despite the clear, warm water. Ha ha, just thinking I never could afford a tropical vacation back home, but look at me now, splashing and sunbathing and enjoying the local wildlife.

OK. Plan.

 

Day 17

Fuck youuuuuuuuuuu Devonian

 

Day 18

To clarify: attacked by dimetrodon. Am not too bitten up (MUCH but maybe BLOOD POISONING LATER I don’t know) tho covered in bruises + scrapes from falling while getting away. Fast for their size. Must remember that. Still no Hap obv. Their teeth are serrated, sharp & rooted in v. thick gums much like finetooth shark, so interesting. Wish wish wish had phone so could have recorded afterwards. Not during.

Dimetrodon.jpg

Everything hurts. Am hungry, can’t even go get a trilobite for supper b/c took hours to get enough crappy plants to keep fire stoked overnight. Did clock the fucker in the face with a rock though & now it has just 1 eye. HAH.

Fire burns high in the rich air, good light, later on need to make a ton more rope. Found an anchor point half-buried in the sand, unknown synapsid skull, v. solid + heavy, can thread through orbitals or w/evs. Then, chum way down the beach where there’s that low point near the red coral. Current seems to be running that way. Plan to use a lot of sliced-up squid + fish if I can catch some tonight. Needs to be fresh, appealing. Not like me who will hopefully not smell like anything, therefore minimal chemotaxis. Remember that dinoflagellate article where they were like “these guys swim like a drunken undergrad following the smell of a hotdog cart,” I don’t want to be that hotdog cart. Just get in, get out.

Note: might need a harness or something for the Box, keep one hand free in case fish come back my way and are like “Lunch?” NO I AM NOT LUNCH.

(Later)

Napped a few hours by the fire, woke up sore.  But it’s time to go, it’s time to go, I have enough bait. Can I swim all the way down there I don’t know. 1-Eye watching me from the bluff, just far enough that I can tell it’s the same one. Hap if you get this, I hope you are okay, please tell my family that I love them & that I fucking hate trilobites. Also don’t you dare use my funding if I don’t make it. THAT MONEY IS MINE GO BEG FOR YOUR OWN.

(Later later)

Survived. Did not get Box. More tomorrow.

 

Day 19

Took a day off (but I assume I’m still getting paid) and 1-Eye came around again, refusing to be driven off by thrown rocks. It really is big, my first car was smaller than this thing. After I beat it around the head for a while with one of the beach bones, I gave up and ran, and it ate all my leftovers and most of my sleeping bag. Thanks for destroying one of the few things left that actually impacts my survival, a-hole. And so much for my day off. Did manage to have a hot meal though. More protein. I wonder if any of our freeze-dried food survived the storm? It’s in those watertight pouches, and while I was down there I did see a bunch of silvery-looking stuff, somewhat hassled by trilobites. STOP TOUCHING MY STUFF.

Oh yeah the rescue attempt. Short version: I’m not a strong enough swimmer for the current. And the current is particularly significant right where we landed. I suspect that’s why the Box hasn’t been completely covered yet, because it’s just so aggressively full rinse-cycle down there. Anyway, I got in, and even though the coast looked clear I only managed a few rapid blinks before the current battered the breath out of me and I had to resurface. Plus my harness fell apart. More arguments for not dropping out of Eagle Scouts, seems I can’t make a knot to save my life. We never covered this in my PhD. :(

Have to try again though. No faith remains, none, that there’s going to be a rescue. My bite wounds are turning red and puffy (not drippy yet, or black, but just...not right) and Hap still isn’t back. Something must have happened to him. And he’s got the first-aid kit with the Axonomycin powder that could knock an infection down. And there’s that cockeyed monster following me, pacing. Day and night. Must be their usual strategy? Attack, wait till weak, then go in for the kill when it’s easiest, like a komodo dragon.

I can hear it out there even now, in the dark. Sometimes I lift a stone from my pile and visibly heft it, hoping the monster is watching, and then pitch overarm as hard as I can. I haven’t connected once. Drives it off for a while though. If only there were a tree I could climb.

 

Day 21

Ohhhhhh come on. One-Eye has been joined by a ??mate??. Unfair. I couldn’t even get a date back home and this thing has a hulking, scarred paramour with claws like bananas. (Christ! I would kill for a banana right now. Actually I would kill for carbs in general. Toast. I would kill my grandmother for a piece of toast.)

I can’t wait any longer, I can’t. I’m going to get that Box, fix one of them, go back, and get help.

Now hear this, Universe: I did NOT drag myself through the essays, interviews, training, exams, simulations, and interrogations just to crap out of this expedition now. I did not come so far to not be brave. Where, I want to know, would science be if there were not us few lightly-gnawed, sunburned explorers willing to spend university money on plunging into the unknown in search of knowledge. I have to get that Box. And I am going to. I made even more rope, I made a belt for ballast, my harness is strong enough to hold several kilograms of stones, I’ve been practicing holding my breath and swimming in the tide. There’s a granite-lined cave about a mile away that might be okay for shielding. I can and I will.  

Hap: see previous note.

 

Day ????

Um.

How to start.

Personal health update: bite wounds mostly healed, no visible signs of infection. A miracle! Left some gnarly scars though, like the puckered kind you get from a steam burn. Coughing a lot.

Supplies update: thirteen packages of freeze-dried food, one 1.5L canteen of clean-ish water half-full, 5 live trilobites in specimen sack.

Weather update: foggy. Well, let’s just get it out of the way: smoggy. In fact, almost sepia. Visibility close to zero. Occasional long streaks of light in the distance that could be missiles or worse. It’s not too bad inside this bombed-out skyscraper, although going up twenty flights of stairs nearly made me choke up a lung in the chemical haze. Guess I need to do more cardio. This isn't even the highest one—am surrounded by a forest of buildings so high their tops disappear into the murk.

Going out foraging later, or at least going to try to find somewhere to refill my canteen. Found an overturned tank earlier but went back this afternoon and found a dead guy floating in it, his tear gas canisters emptying into the pool. I can get by for a while without food, but I’m paranoid about my water.

A little paranoid also about date. Refurbished box seems to indicate today is the 14th, the day after we left. I am not prepared to say that whatever happened was our fault (nb: was probably Hap). Not sure this journal will stand up in a court of law though. Am definitely out of funding either way. Should have stayed where I was, not at end but at beginning of things. Should have just made the best of it, at the start of the world.

More tomorrow.

 

Premee Mohamed is an Indo-Caribbean scientist and spec fic writer based in Canada. Her work has been published by Mythic Delirium, The Sockdolager, Pseudopod, Nightmare, and others. Upcoming work will appear in Analog. She can be found on Twitter at @premeesaurus.


Images: Ridpath's History of the World (1897); The Bashford Dean Memorial Volume: Archaic Fishes (1930); Water Reptiles of the Past and Present (1914)

Published March 13th, 2018