"The uglies, umm, Humans, have a very nicely researched evolutionary sequence—for a people who apparently don't use much time travel." Doctor M'kabon told Doctor M'kabon. He broke off as the sound of scampering paws gave advanced warning to leave a passage clear. The striped herfit chick was in the lead, a well gnawed bone clamped in its jaws. The gold chick was hard on its tail, but skidded as it turned the corner and ricocheted off a cabinet, loosing ground.
As they scampered out of sight, the elder M'kabon hissed. "You really should keep those valuable specimens in cages."
"They're cute, plus they keep people away." The younger one protested. "Anyway, what I want to do is use your TS drive to scientifically sample the biota throughout Earth's past. One sample every five million years, Martian years, that's every nine point four million Earth years, will give us an excellent handle on the progression."
"You are talking about four hundred sampling stops." The elder told the younger in a mild voice.
"Well, the very early parts can be sampled at much greater intervals. It's only the last five hundred million Earth years that need the detailed sampling. One trip, sixty stops. It'll take perhaps three tenths of a year in the field to do a good job, probably less." He brought up the translated Earth Geologic Column and surveyed it. "Now, the Sun orbits around the Galaxy once every 106 million Martian years, so it should be easy to jump first to a multiple of that and then do inside-gravity-field jumps forward or backwards."
"It's not that simple, Nyx." The elder tried a paternal tone. "We don't have a good enough fix on the absolute velocity of the galaxy through space . . . " He trailed off for a long moment. "I wonder . . . maybe this would be a way to measure the motion relative to something outside the Universe . . . "
Nyx held his tongue and breath, knowing the old lizard was incapable of resisting an opportunity to advance his knowledge and score points on his academic rivals. And that he needed very little help to find such an opportunity.
"The Space Agency will never assign a ship to us." The Elder snapped suddenly, turning away angrily.
"I have the access codes for the Dzi." Nyx commented mildly.
"It's been mothballed." M'kabon snapped. "Now that we’re using alternating current on the outer field to produce space jumps without temporal displacements—and how the Sand did you work that out, you're not a physicist!—they scrapped all the older ships."
Nyx smirked. "Once we figured out the Earth equipment operated on alternating currents, the idea just leapt to mind. But the Dzi isn't really mothballed, it's just parked over in New Ice Fire. I checked it out, feeling a bit nostalgic, you know? I can load it up with a supply of food and so forth, all the sampling equipment I'll need, freezers to handle the samples, and we can be on our way as soon as you've calculated the settings."
Nyx staggered up the back ramp, his arms crammed with a last load of fresh food. Prime Wild Pike steak and a basket full of new laid pike and cheeper eggs right off the farm. His progress was hampered by the two herfit chicks that almost knew how to walk on their leashes. The newly installed used freezers lined one wall of the cabin, and he hastily opened the end one and shoved the food on to the empty shelves. He shut the door and spun the dial down to 20 below. That should do the trick. He frowned at the herfits. The problem with getting someone to watch them was that then they'd ask where he was going for a full three tenths of a year. So the chicks had to come. He pulled two big nasty bones out of the pocket of his lab coat, instantly riveting their attention, and tossed them into the small airlock. The chicks swarmed in and he closed the door behind them. He'd like to see them get out of that! He could toss the chicks food periodically, and use the big back airlock for coming and going, so that was settled.
Going forward, he started his pre-check. He'd flown solo in atmospheric craft and piloted the Dzi on the eighth voyage to Blue, but that was nearly ten years ago. Well, no doubt it would all come back to him.
The preflight was done and he was starting to fidget when the old lizard finally showed up. He helped him stow his gear, that is to say, made sure he didn't do anything really stupid, such as open the side airlock and let the chicks out, then took the navigation data chip his elder . . . relative . . . handed him and turned the computer loose with it.
Their first jump would be a single galactic year, a hundred and six million Martian years, which was two hundred million Earth years. Nyx sighed. He was working so much with the translated human data that he had to be very careful about time units. He triggered the jump.
At first glance, they were in the middle of absolutely nowhere, but a turn of the scanners showed the glowing galaxy filling the other half of the sky. His navigational program, working off of sensors that covered the entire spectrum, quickly located the radio source at the center of the galaxy, and the visual spectrum zeroed in on globular clusters, identified the spiral arms and just as quickly started scanning for a solo G2V star that ought to be right there. Nyx was pleased to be able to spot what was probably the Sun. "We missed by eighteen thousand lightyears," he smirked, as the comp reported confident ID.
The old lizard nearly purred. "Excellent." He was reading off the detailed scans nearly as fast as they were coming in. "I'll be much closer on the next jump." He tapped at the comp for a few splits. "All right, let's do it again."
One hundred and six million years later they nearly collided with Jupiter. As Nyx sweated and programmed in an emergency jump to get them out of the gravity well that was sucking them in, the old lizard crowed over his successfully getting them into the solar system.
It was five days before they landed on a warm sunny sand dune, overlooking a sparkling ocean that was soon to, or perhaps recently had, produced the first land vertebrates.
"That's beautiful." The old lizard smiled. "Did I see a barbeque in the back? And you mentioned steaks?"
"Great idea!" Nyx lowered the rear ramp and fetched out the grill and fuel.
As he walked back in, the old lizard opened the last freezer, and pulled out the wrapped steaks before the warm temperatures and appalling odor hit him. He staggered back, gagging and hit the side airlock controls. Striped and golden streaks snatched the offending packages from his paralyzed grip and dashed off. "Out! Out!" he shrieked, "Don't you dare rip those open inside!" but the chicks were already down the ramp and investigating their prizes.
Nyx recoiled from the odor and turned back to the freezer to examine the controls. Minus twenty, clear as could be. "I think it's been rewired incorrectly." He grumped. Opening the door carefully, he eyed the basket full of eggs.
"If you break one, we won't be able to live in here for a week," his older self clamped a breathing mask on his face.
Nyx lifted the basket carefully, and walked out as if on a tightrope. What to do with the noxious little bombs? The decision was taken from his hands as he tripped in the deep sand and sprawled full length, the eggs all rolling down the face of the dune and getting buried by the loose sand cascading after them.
"Good enough." Nyx grumped, heading back to the ship.
A quick inspection showed that the rest of the freezers were working properly, and after shifting the ship a few hundred strides down the beach to avoid any unpleasant odors, he waded into the surf with his sampling net and returned with a wide variety of trilobites, plenty for samples, plenty for live specimens, and the rest for dinner. Since the Earth voyages had first returned live specimens, the diets of the Martians had expanded enormously. Seafood, the Human's generic category for any edible aquatic animal, was very popular with Martians, and had adapted well to aquaculture. He rarely had the pleasure of anything this fresh, though.
Two days of sampling confirmed the absence of any animals on land except insixts and some fish that moved from ocean to lagoons to breed, so they jumped five million years forward. The Earth had changed, and something that was definitely an amphibian and a few proto-reptiles were present.
Another five million years, another jump in the complexity of land animals. This was going to be a dynamite paper. All these inarguable samples, live animals even. The University of New Ice Fire was going to be the most prestigious in the Universe.
Ten million, or perhaps five hundred million years ago, depending on one's perspective and length of year, an indignant cheeper chick dug its way out of the hot sand. Rolling to the bottom of the dune, it spied greenery and tottered over to take a bite. A few moments later it was joined by another chick, and then another. Hearing the call of a baby pike, they skittered away into the ferns.
Miles to the south, two herfit chicks romped in the surf, catching trilobites.