Nestled in the hills within the property is a large prefab steel building, about the size and general appearance of an aircraft hangar. The building can be seen from outside the fence, but only from at least 2 km away, so not much detail is clear. There is not much else of interest to be seen, even through binoculars.
The fence is protected by a low-voltage continuity circuit. If any fencing is cut, an alarm will sound within the building. There is a video camera at the gate, which can easily be seen by anyone looking at the gate.
The machine works as a conveyor, physically transporting itself and its contents back in time. It is powered by a bank of capacitors which are charged in the present by mains electricity. A small diesel generator is on board to allow charging the capacitors in the past. In its current configuration, the capacitors take 6.5 hours to charge fully at 120VAC at 20 amps (2.4 kW). They thus store 15.6 kWh of energy.
A jump to the past uses about 1 kWh of energy per 10 million years travelled. Discharges of less than 6.5 kWh and hence jumps of less than 65 million years don’t seem to work at all. The amount of time traversed is governed by how much energy is discharged through the machine’s “time coil mechanism” in a single burst. The controls allow setting a specific energy discharge, and thus a desired time jump, but the discharge and hence exact time traversed are limited to an accuracy of about one part per million. This means a jump to 100 million years ago (mid-Cretaceous) will be inaccurate by around 100 years.
A similar amount of energy must be spent to return to the present, but in this case the energy usage is governed by the return to the exact "present". Time passes at the same rate in the past as in the present: If you spend a week in the past and then return to the present you will arrive a week after you left. (This is the linearity principle from GURPS Time Travel.) Return to the present is governed by a sort of "elastic snapping" effect. The capacitors are connected to the time coil in reverse polarity and, if enough energy is available, the precise amount needed to return to the present is used. If there is not enough energy in the capacitors, nothing happens. Once in the past, the machine must return to the present before it can make another jump.
Since some jumps will drain more than half the energy from the capacitors, the return trip cannot be made until they are recharged sufficiently. This is the job of the on-board diesel generator. If the generator fails in the past, or the diesel fuel runs out, the machine and crew may be stranded! The generator supplies 120VAC, but at a peak output of only 5 amps, so charging is four times slower than from a mains supply: 0.6 kW. Charging may be slower if the generator is also used for other purposes, such as lighting and cooking. The time machine carries 30 hours of fuel for the generator as a standard load.
A jump to the late Jurassic (about 150 million years ago) consumes most of the energy in the fully-charged capacitors, so it takes over a day (26 hours) to recharge for the trip back. A return trip to the late Cretaceous (65 million years ago), however, can be made on a single charge, without needing to use the generator.
Note that the minimum time jump corresponds exactly to the end of the Cretaceous era. Nobody really understands this coincidence. Clever PCs with Paleontology and/or Physics might speculate that the asteroid impact which caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and the end of the Cretaceous has something to do with it. If a firm reason is needed, the excess iridium deposited on Earth by the asteroid impact is enough to upset the delicate fields generated by the time coil.
When a jump is made, the time machine remains in the same geographical location, and raises or lowers in altitude to remain the same average distance above the local ground. This is because the machine’s mechanism uses the local mass of the earth as a reference. However, the ground in the past is usually not flat, thus the long legs on the machine. At an average distance of three metres above the ground, most of the eight metre long legs end up anchored firmly in soil or rock, so the machine stays level.
Some of the physicists are genuinely worried that a significant enough change in the Mesozoic era will alter history. The most likely cause would be interfering with the direct ancestors of humanity, which are small shrew-like mammals throughout much of the Cretaceous. Killing one mammal might erase humans, or even all primates, entirely.
Thankfully, up until now, the Dino Park hunting expeditions have been concerned with capturing dinosaurs and have not interacted with mammals at all. The physicists have urged caution to the hunting parties, but most of the hunters have a rather cavalier attitude about this.
If a situation arises in which the physicists talk freely to the PCs, they will detail these concerns.
The disease is caused by a prehistoric virus, which vanished between the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The virus is only contagious if it enters the bloodstream. Vicki Johnson contracted it after being scratched by the claws of a small Ornitholestes she had been treating the day before she “disappeared”. The incubation period is about 24 hours, so she spent the night at home with the virus before falling ill the next day at work.
The disease itself resembles a viral fever of some sort. Lopez lies in a bed in a restless delirium, with an elevated body temperature, sweating profusely. Dr Louise Jones has placed him on a drip to keep his fluids and electrolytes up, but there is little else she can do. She has treated a small gash on his leg, caused when he tripped on a broken tree stump in the park, the day before he fell ill. This is how the virus got into his bloodstream.
If Dr Jones can be convinced to talk, she will state that the illness is like nothing she has ever come across before, but resembles some tropical jungle diseases. Since she knows nothing of the time travel, she naturally has no idea that this is a prehistoric disease. If she is told that the dinosaurs are being brought back from the past, she will initially not believe the PCs. Once convinced, however, she will quickly realise that the disease has probably originated from the past.
Dr Michael Penrose suspects the truth about the disease, but is too afraid to mention it to anybody. The physicists who might really understand what has happened are in the dark about the nature of the disease. They are under the impression that it is something well known.
Once the likely origin of the disease is understood, the PCs will have to realise that a possible way to cure it and prevent the death of Lopez is to retrieve sample carrier animals, so that antibodies can be extracted and processed into suitable treatments. Unfortunately, all the dinosaurs in the park have been injected with a cocktail of drugs to boost their immune systems so they don’t fall prey to modern diseases. This has corrupted the particular antibody required to treat the disease. All dinosaurs which did carry the disease are now dead, due to their immunity being wiped out.
A chat with Dr Penrose will reveal the dinosaur inoculation scheme and the fact that some dinosaurs died soon after being inoculated. If the PCs know this but insist on a thorough analysis of all the Park dinosaurs for the antibody, a secret Common Sense or Biochemistry roll should be made. If successful, the GM should allow a character with that advantage/skill to realise they will never find the antibody in the Park animals. If unsuccessful, the PCs are in for a long wild goose chase and Carlos Lopez will probably die.
The only solution is to travel into the past and capture a fresh antibody carrying dinosaur. If Lopez dies before they realise this, another Park employee will come down with the disease. Obviously the disease is still at large and a cure must be found, otherwise it might spread beyond Dino Park and into the community. For some real motivation, the GM might let Maria Lopez, Carlos’ wife, suddenly fall ill and be taken to hospital. Remember the 24 hour incubation period, though. The fears of the players can be played upon… is this the beginning of an unstoppable epidemic?
Next file: Travelling to the Past.