Saturday, December 5, 2009

Prehistory- A Trip in Time (Episode 1)

All rights reserved@2007. Any coincidence to any person living or dead is purely coincidental


It is in the year 2050. Time travel is now a reality. Since the 20th Century, physicists have thought about the idea in theory. It was a breakthrough when it became a reality in 2020. No longer mankind were chained to the present; mankind can now go forward and backward in time as we please. Gradually, a whole new industry has grown where a career in there is considered lucrative. Just like the life sciences industry a few decades ago, quite a lot of people jumped in the band wagon for profits and interests. I joined because of the interest as since young, I have a dream to go back in time to see prehistoric life in the flesh. Hoping to make my dreams can be fulfilled, after majoring in a triple degree in General Science; I pursued a career as a time traveller.

One day, Mr Sam Ng, our supervisor walked to our office. Friendlily, he said, “I have a mission for you guys and I am going to give you a briefing about it in 15 minutes. Call your teammates to go to briefing room. Hopefully your teammates have not gone AWOL to go to the shopping centre.” He laughed jokingly. I have two teammates, Serena and Oxy, and we have been friends since our school days. Both girls are friendly, have a pleasant disposition and are a joy to work with.

We were briefed by Mr Ng that a team of palaeontologists will pay handsomely for photos and videos of prehistoric life for their research. He handed is a long sheet of paper entitled “Mission Aims”. Basically, we need to go back into time to a lot of time periods and get the footage on site. Naturally, I was very thrilled but the look on Serena and Oxy’s faces probably showed that images of being in a T-Rex’s stomach. Sure I admit that this mission does have its hazards. But it is our job after all.

Firstly, it is time to hit the books. In this case, we have to read up a lot of sciences like geology, chemistry and biology. You may be tempted to think that being a time traveller is just a brainless job with lots of action only. Sometimes, to complete our missions successfully, knowledge of a lot of disciplines like science and history is essential. For example, on a previous time trip to Emperor Constantine’s Roman Empire, I almost got executed for nose-picking in public. On that occasion, I forgot my homework. Luckily for us, we have a personal library for this purpose and we make use of it very often. But I brought some references for my use during the mission.
As for our equipment, we have the following:

Food: Freeze Dried Meals, Canned and Dried Food

Drinks: Bottled water (50 L) of course---and also water produced as a by-product of the hydrogen fuel cell in our ship.

Gadgets: An all-terrain jeep to transverse through the prehistoric world, especially on open spaces. We also have an electronic handheld encyclopaedia for on-the -spot identification of the prehistoric organisms we see. We also have a medical kit for treating injuries. Hopefully it will never get used. It contains items like bandages, anti-pyretic, and life support equipment.

Weapons: Just in case things get too hair-raising, we do have an arsenal of weaponry. Some of them are an electron gun for stunning dangerous animals, an electric prod for aquatic use and a “repellent apparatus “. This “repellent apparatus “basically attaches to our Adventure Suit and is connected to a canister of chemical repellents like putrescine. Putrescine has the odour of rotting reptile flesh and will repel any creature that tries to get to close to us.

Adventure Suit: Composed of conductive polymers, it comprises of a metallic-coloured jacket and trousers, gloves and black knee-high boots. Underneath it lays aluminium-titanium armour for light and strong protection. For aquatic use, we also have a diving suit with oxygen tanks attached.

The day for our expedition has arrived. We were heading for our time shuttle, Chrono. Berthed at the time dock, she is metallic coloured and resembles a space shuttle. She is well equipped for our needs and she would be a second home and base camp for our mission. It has all kinds of functions and scientific equipment. We entered the cockpit with its multitude of knobs and switches. After entering the space-time coordinates using the touch screen, a multi-chromatic screen appeared in front of us. Engines are fired up as the ship accelerates and enters the portal.
Our feelings were mixed as we entered the time tunnel. Our feelings were mixed as we entered the time tunnel; excitement as we wondered what we will find; fear as we knew our mission is potentially hazardous and we do not know whether we will make it through unscathed but we have a job to do. Suddenly a bright beam of light appeared in front of us. Our adventure had begun..........
Chapter 1: The Cambrian Explosion and its Curious Critters
Chrono came out of the time portal. From the windows, we can see the land under our ship. It appeared brown and barren. There was nothing green. No trees were growing. The land was simply lifeless. We couldn’t believe our eyes. Was this planet Earth? Serena exclaimed, “You!@#$% idiot! You brought us to another planet!”

But there was no doubting our ship’s onboard chronometer. On the screen appeared the words” CAMBRIAN PERIOD 550 MYA, Earth, Canada”. I calmly pointed out this piece of evidence that we have reached the prehistoric past. Following that, I activated the on-board air sampler and analysed its composition using our gas chromatographer .The air contained 15% oxygen. I selected a landing spot near a beach just beside a mountain top. Chrono landed softly. We quickly wore our diving suits –with oxygen tanks and repellent apparatus.
On going outside we could see how alien our environment was. There is not even a single moss on the bare rocks. We did not see even an insect crawling about our feet. The water beckons us. What could lie beneath our surface?

Even before we could get wet, we have to deal with the stench of rotting flesh on the strandline. The sea have washed up dead & decaying bodies on the beach. Due to the absence of scavengers on land, the bodies just decompose. Despite the fact we had our diving masks on, the smell left us feeling nauseous. We entered the water.

The reef was on top of a limestone shelf and we soon find ourselves standing at the muddy sea bottom. Freakish arthropods swam above us. Jellyfish just like 21st Century oceans drifted lazily. Trilobites and worm-like animals burrowed at our feet.

Above: The Cambrian Ocean as we visited it

Suddenly a Pikaia appeared. It was purple and was segmented. Swimming above the sea floor using its body and expanded tail fin, it moves like an eel. It seems to be a filter feeder. We were probably the first person to seethe ancestor of the vertebrates.

It was a long day of filming and the day flew by very quickly. One day in the Cambrian Period lasts only 21 hours, rendering our 21st Century watches useless. It became too dark for filming. Unwillingly we went ashore, went back to Chrono and we fell into Dreamland.

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast of hash browns and burgers, we continued on our expedition. We have already decided to split up so that we can film more organisms.
I saw what would the most curious animal of our expedition- a Nectocaris. It looks like as if someone has stitched a fish body to an arthropod head. A free swimming animal with 2 eyes on its head, one pair of unjointed appendages, long fins running the length on the top and bottom, and a shield on the rear, the creature ignored me and fed peacefully on the small particles of food in the water.

Meanwhile, the girls were preoccupied near some sponges with some Aysheaia. As I came around them to look closer, some “caterpillars” were seen clinging to the sponges. However, they possess spikes on their legs, finger- like projections around the month and 2 grasping legs on the “head”------a fact Serena found when she got pricked by the spikes during an attempt to handle them. Rule no.1 when travelling through prehistory: Look, but not touching. She dropped the “caterpillar” and it quickly hid in the sponge as fast as it could crawl.

The Cambrian sea have not failed is to amaze us with their biological diversity and that will not cease anytime soon. As soon as we regrouped, we saw a group of Marrella, so numerous that they surrounded us on all sides. They possess head shields with spikes directed rearwards, two pairs of antennae--- one long and one short. They also possess pairs of “limbs” with each “limb” divided a leg and a feathery gill. Their eyes were on the underside of their heads. They were eating bits of food on the sea floor when we found them.

Suddenly an Opabinia appeared out of nowhere. It swam with its flap-like appendages attached to its segments along with gills. With its 5 stalked eyes on its head, it caught its victim---- a Marrella that couldn’t escape just in time. Using its long, flexible, hose-like proboscis, it picked out its unlucky victim; held in its place by the grasping spikes of the end of the proboscis. The Opabinia brought the poor creature to its mouth on the underside. But it will be soon become prey itself.

Opabinia did not notice a large animal coming from behind. It failed to escape in time and was eaten by an Anomalocaris. Two large eyes adorned the latter’s head. It used its large “arms” with barbed spikes to grab its prey and brought it to its disk-shaped mouth, swimming using its flexible lobes. Crunched! As the pineapple-slice mouth made short work of the Opabinia. As the Anomalocaris was 2 metres long, the Opabinia was simply outclassed. However, the sight of such a large animal adorned with mean looking spikes is enough to make Oxy brandish her electric prod. I asked why she did that and she replied, “I’m so scared, what if it eats me up?” But the Anomalocaris ignored us and ate its lunch. The rest of the group of Marrella have already escaped.Srena exclaimed: “Look out everyone! There is another one! “

A second individual has appeared. The first one ceased to eat and swam with its flexible lobes to face the intruder. After sizing up one another, they fought to the death. They swam, tussled and rolled in the water, using their vicious “arms” as weapons. The fight lasted quite a while before the first individual, using its “arm”, sliced the body of its adversary. Bits of exoskeleton sank to the sea bed, revealing a wound with the insides exposed. Another blow sliced the enemy’s body into two portions. The carcass sank to the sea floor, where worms quickly made short work of the carcass. We were so held on awe by the sight until we realized Oxy was missing. ”Hey, did you see her?” I asked, taking the parade state. Serena replied,” I really don’t know!! Where could she have gone?”

Just as we thought Oxy was MIA, we heard “AHHHHHHHHHHH!!” From behind us,we turned back and saw Oxy on the sea floor clutching her foot. We quickly rushed up out of concern for our teammate. She pointed to her foot and said, “I think I stepped on something and now my foot hurts really badly” I looked at her foot and foot and saw a spike embedded in her boot with reddish blood oozing out. I saw the Wiwaxia just nearby crawling on the sea floor. It has a pineapple-like body with spines sticking out of its body in 2 rows. She probably stepped on it by accident. I helped her pull the spike out of her foot carefully. We helped her and acted as her crunches
Just as we were about to return to the ship, Serena and I saw something. There was a mudslide down the seafloor, threatening to wash us into the abyss quickly into a watery grave. Already some of the animals are the victims of this catastrophe. Serena said frightfully,” We are all going to die!!” I suggested,” Maybe we should go on the surface of the water.” We swam to the surface and went back to the beach we set off from. As we reached the beach, Serena said with a sigh of relief “Whew we finally made it!!”

Upon reaching our ship, we carried Oxy into a bed. Serena brought the medical kit. I cleaned the puncture wound with potassium manganate(VII) and bandaged. I injected her with a jab and she quickly nodded off. She probably had a bad day. That next morning, she woke up and said gratefully to Serena and said gratefully to Serena and me, “Thank you very much for saving my life. I own you guys one.” Serena and I replied:” Hey, we are teammates after all.”

Serena and I looked through our footage. We had 8 hours of video and 150 photos. The Cambrian leg of our mission had been a success. We went to the dock and I pressed another set of space-time coordinates. A crimson time-portal appeared and we entered it....


Trailer for the next episode....
Scene 1: Serena & I on a land with weird plants with green branched stems and brown spore packets
Scene 2: I tussling with the sea scorpions
Scene 3: Serena & I with a shelled squid-like animal
Scene 4: Shoal of small, jawless fishes with me in the muck.
Watch the next episode of “prehistory : a trip through time”
Reported by: Immortal SSW

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