Kage Baker never got to explore any of her story ideas for Australia.
She had ideas, though – lots of them. Let us explore them, shall we? I’m trying something new with this entry, Dear Readers: and testing it on you. This is speculation, some new and some very old, on the history of Dr. Zeus in Australia – so I’m trying to set it down in a more literary style than usual. I want to see if I can tell you a story, and make it convincing.
So: Once upon a time (there you go, Buggybite), the Company chose Australia for the first Company Base, due to the continent’s relative isolation well into the 17th Century. The Base was dedicated to raising future Operatives, and it needed generous amounts of space and privacy – setting it in Australia would provide both for a long, long time. And as the full activities of the Company grew firmer and wider, it was realized they would also need places with room to keep the armies of rescued plants, animals and even humans that they were collecting.
For most of human history, in fact, Australia was as isolated a place as one could get. The fact that so much of it is made up of wasteland helped, too: easier to clean up the traces than in Europe or the Americas. Eurasia had traffic problems; most Company bases would have to be disguised completely from their founding – lots of mountain fastnesses and underground redoubts; lots of mysterious cities in unmapped valleys. Hominids, you see, have been all over the Mideast and Asia since they walked out of Africa. Apparently everyone who ever hiked out turned right at the Nile Delta and struck out across the Sinai Peninsula.
A few followed the coast of the Mediterranean and ended up in Europe. The Company built its Bases there out on the Doggerland Plain (until it was flooded), and then under the Alps, knowing that the initial thin scattering of Neanderthals would get a lot worse when the Cro-magnons arrived. Along the Eastern Med, hominids wandered in and out of the Fertile Crescent for millenia, before discovering barley, beer and bread; also goats, and the many uses of mud. And there, the Company built Bases deep underground and high in the mountains, and hid the local field offices in pyramids and ziggurats.
Most humans, though, walked onto the Asian landmass, and stayed there – evolving, cross-breeding with subsequent emigrants, and in general leaving enough weird little civilizations all over that the Company had a veritable cornucopia of Event Shadows in which to operate. Not to mention incredible amounts of hominid one-offs and micro-populations to sample, store, and convert into Operatives.
And, of course, lots of folks and at least 2 species eventually headed out to the eastern edge of Asia; they stood there amid the hills edging India, Burma, Vietnam; Sumatra, Thailand, Java … and then they just kept walking East. Because when they did it, these late Homo erectus and early Homo sapiens, it was perfectly feasible – the Sunda Shelf was still above water, and what are now fabled islands were then even more fabulous highlands in a drowning land.
Look at any decent topographical map of South East Asia and the waters that edge it. See how shallow the Andaman and China Seas are? See how all the islands are obviously the peaks of mountain ranges now under water? Well, they weren’t always. You could probably wade out for miles, following strings of marshy little islands to the tempting green sanctuaries of Malaysia, Bali, Borneo … or Flores. And once you got out into the real edges, where the water turned to blue and there was no sign but clouds of sea birds to hint at another horizon: well, by that time, you may well have figured out how to make a raft.
Some people did. They settled in Indonesia, in places like Papua New Guinea and the Philippines; those people still carry the traces of Denisovan DNA they picked up as they travelled through Eurasia. People reached the little island of Flores, but the earliest settlers weren’t Homo sapiens or any of their chance-conceived hybrids: they seem to have been Homo erectus, and most of them stayed right there. They stayed until the waters rose and the people shrank; elephants got small, rats got big, lizards got huge, and eventually bigger people arrived and the little folks – as they always do – drifted into obscurity in the hills.
The Company sampled them, stored them, and collected some of them. A small village (ha ha) throve for awhile under Company auspices; a few tiny children became specialty Operatives. Some of them ended up on assignment in Sumatra, shepherding the ROUS their ancestors had hunted on Flores, encouraging epidemiology and classical adventure stories.
In the meantime, some folks had reached the end of the island road in South East Asia. Along the Southern edges of places like Java and Timor and Papua New Guinea, the people observed that the birds flew south and then came back. They had to be landing somewhere … and once again, the peoples who had learned how not to drown tried their fortune on the sea. They came through the Torres Straight and the Timor Sea; maybe some of them had help from their gods, who would have been anxious that history turn out the way it was recorded …
Most of them were a unique population of Homo sapiens (eye colour, hair colour, bone structure), who had left Africa around 70,000 years ago – they had interbred with a few cousins along the way, but once they set out from Papua New Guinea, their bloodline would remain isolated for, oh, maybe 44.500 years. They did amazingly well, maintaining their culture for somewhere between 50,000 and 125,000 years: the oldest continuous human culture, on the longest held human habitation. The Company viewed them as a living library: not relict strains, but heirloom. An entire department of the Australian Base was dedicated to observing the Aboriginal cultural and physical development.
Possibly, some of them were also representatives of that old cousin, Homo erectus; they may have made their way over from Flores, through the Ashmore and Cartier Islands. Maybe those same anxious gods gave them a hand, too, or even a lift across the 800-odd miles of the Timor Sea. Someone would have had to make sure that their anomalous bones were eventually found in the Kow Swamp. Which they were …
Gods have to think of the little details like that.