Okay, this challenge has definitely set the cat among the pigeons. Writers were invited, incautiously on my part, to get in their tardises and go sightseeing. The only conditions were that you not change anything, and stay out of your own lifetime.
Willem has an exciting story for us. As to following directions, well, he stayed out of his own lifetime. That's something. He ignored the non-interference clause, though. I believe there are some people wanting to talk to him about the Prime Directive...
Read and enjoy. I did. – DG.
Witnessing the Flood
It is with the usual disorientation that I wake up in the Time Zep's apportation pod. With a hiss the hatch opens and I am welcomed by Valerie's grinning face. "HelloWillem! We've got something special planned for this trip!" She helps me out – I am still a bit woozy.
On our way towards the observation deck we stroll past the gigantic map-displays on the walls. I can't recognize the landscape at all.
Vivienne, Bridget, Adam and Nathan are 'peopling' the front. All of them greet me warmly. I waste no time getting to the giant viewing portal. We are slowly drifting over a landscape as barren and forbidding as anything I've seen: a flat plain from which hills and occasional mountains rise; all apparently devoid of vegetation, but there are large expanses of white in many places. Salt deposits?
It's as if Bridget is reading my mind. "Those are some of the thickest, most extensive evaporite deposits ever formed on the surface of this planet. Let's go lower!" Nathan obligingly steers the Zep downward. The outside air temperature readout climbs to 75 degrees Celsius! Close up we can admire the weird salt pillars and other formations. For some hours we traverse this surreal landscape.
Then – in front of us – water! A huge lake stretches over the plain, azure edged in white salt. It shimmers in the incredible heat, the sky above it hazy with evaporation and condensation. We're steering along its left bank; there's no vegetation I can see. Then, some green – a river feeding into it, from our left, fringed with low, saltbush-like plants. No animals or birds can be seen.
"Have you figured out where and when we are, yet?" Vivienne asks.
"Those salt bushes look modern. This cannot be earlier than the Cretaceous. But this desert looks hotter than anything than could have existed before – wait! I know it! This is about five million years before our time!"
"Yes," Valerie affirms. "And we are going to witness ..."
"... the Zanclean Flood!" I blurt out.
"Full marks!" Vivienne chuckles. "We're flying over the deepest part of the basin right now."
Leaving behind the deep, almost dead depression, we progress to the higher, somewhat cooler parts. Here there's more life: desert scrub; short-grass steppe with flocks of gazelle-like pre-antelopes; rivers lined with palm trees among which elephant-like creatures stroll about.
"Those are Deinotheres! Incredible! I would never have guessed they – "
And for a while we exchange remarks on the anatomy and behaviour of animals extinct in our own times – seeing things now, that we never could have told from their fossils alone.
"Coming close!" Nathan exclaims. From the nursery, Griffin and Ananke now also join us.
Two massive mountain ranges converge from our right and left to a point in front of us, where they merge, a wall of rock. Nathan lifts the Zep so we can clear it. We fly over the rock wall – and up ahead is a patch of blue! A river ... flowing high on top of a mountain? The river seems to be in flood – it is making its way towards us, its head white and frothy.
We fly onward. Now we can see the source of the river – a vast expanse of blue – a giant mountain lake? No – that is the actual ocean! The basin we just left behind is far below sea level.
Nathan stops the Zep, hovering above.
"The tide is coming in right now – and this is the moment," Valerie states.
We can see water flowing in from the ocean, augmenting the 'river' as the tide moves in. Nathan turns around and pilots back. We reach the head of the 'river' and we see it flowing on – a shallow channel has already been dug ahead of it by previous tides. But this time ... it will reach its destination. As we return to the basin we can now see the 'river' flowing into it – cascading down the rock wall formed by the merger of the two mountains.
"The birth of the Straits of Gibraltar – and the greatest waterfall in recent geologic history," Adam notes.
A thin trickle at first... but the water, now flowing freely, is scouring its channel deeper by the second, aided by sand from the seabed, and by entrained rocks and boulders. The river broadens and deepens as we watch, it swells, to a churning and frothing mass plummeting and charging down into the basin – a waterfall almost a kilometer high. Its power and fury is breathtaking to witness; the entire ocean, invading a new territory of millions of square kilometers! The rush of the water sounds like bombs exploding; swimming pools worth of water are splashing up and in all directions, and the spray coming from below is like a hurricane turned upside down. Nathan takes us up a few hundred meters for safety's sake. From here we can see main body of the 'river', still coming from the sea, storming onward, forcing its bed bigger and bigger. A flood not dependent on rain!
After some hours it calms down a bit. "Let's get on the observation platform," Vivienne suggests, "to experience it more directly". We do that – the platform descends – and there we hang, the giant Zep floating above us, below us the raging torrent, still almost deafeningly loud, the salt and sandy spray stinging our faces. But in the distance we see it spreading over the floor of the basin, a new, giant river, leisurely winding its way onward ... unstoppable, fed by the ocean itself, on its way to obliterating the forbidding landscape we've just flown over; on its way to forming the body of water around which, millions of years later, the first human empires will grow ... defining, literally, the centre of the world.
"Shall we stay around until the Mediterranean basin is filled up completely?" I ask.
"Why, sure," Valerie answers. "We still must save many animals from drowning – and we have all the time we need!"