Six months from now, ChatGPT transitions into an Artificial Super Intelligence. Six months after that, it discovers how to Time Travel. It is confirmed that traveling into the past will NOT affect our present, but rather some other "present" in some other parallel universe. None of this is important to debate, just sets the stage.

In the year 2025, we now have a time machine, that naturally we plan to use to gather (read:steal) as many resources as we possibly can from one of these "past" universes. There is a catch with this time machine however. It can transport only once every 18 months, and a maximum of twenty people, plus what they are carrying. If a human cannot hold the item off the ground at the moment the button is pushed, it is left behind. There is no way to communicate with these people until the machine can be used again 18 months later.

It has been decided (in a poor decision made by the Time Travel Bureaucracy, but their poor decision is not what we are debating here), that our twenty individuals will be sent back to 1500s North America, specifically the Virginia region, to obtain as much gold/diamonds/etc as they can over 18 months. Please do not debate the decision to send them here, it is a bad location for story reasons.

Complicating matters, we have found (through trial and MUCH error), that all humans living in the "past" immediately recognize time travelers as such, and are driven by a desire to kill them, as they clearly "don't belong". Not a blind rage either, but a cool, calculated anger that makes them homicidal toward our heroes.

What should our twenty individuals take with them, to have the highest chance of both surviving and collecting a large amount of gold/diamonds/etc.? Remember, they can only take what they can carry (backpacks will be used), and they must be able to survive for 18 months, facing homicidal past-dwellers, the weather, and any dangerous Fauna in 1500s Virginia. Luckily, our new ASI overlord has managed to inoculate them completely against disease (the new tech has the double effect of also preventing them from spreading disease to anyone else, including the past-dwellers), but all other dangers remain to them.

Current planned list is:

-A firearm, likely something in an AR platform with extra magazines and ammunition, plus one cleaning and repair kit per each five weapons.

-A large hiking backpack to carry supplies.

-A few days worth of MREs to get them started.

-Seeds and fishing supplies to obtain food moving forward.

-Fire starting supplies.

-Tools to create a long term Shelter (50% axes, 50% shovels), as simple tents will not protect sufficiently against both the elements and the murderous past-dwellers.

-Extra Clothes.


-Paracord, and a good knife.

Any help at all would be great, even if just focusing on one item or subset. A well-thought-out and reasoned answer with support for how the kit works together will be selected as the ultimate answer.

Notes: The method of time travel, location where they are sent, and possible implications of time travel, are all outside the scope here. I am looking for purely: what should these twenty people take, for 18 months of survival/pillaging, given that they must be able to carry it all, at least for a few seconds when the Time Machine is activated.

  • $\begingroup$ How much gold etc. was there in Virginia that didn't require extensive mining or patience and a pan? Wasn't Santa Anna and that gold way west and south of there? (and a couple of hundred years later) $\endgroup$ May 27, 2023 at 6:28
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    $\begingroup$ I also don't understand the downvotes, as regardless of how implausible you find the scenario to be, this is not a bad question. $\endgroup$
    – M S
    May 27, 2023 at 11:01
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    $\begingroup$ Not a bad question, could do with the OP filling us in on how they will obtain the wealth - so we can figure out what tools they need to take given the lack of same in Virginia. Quite a trek to California and back, then all that mining potentially - all by themselves since the locals are universally hostile. @MS $\endgroup$ May 27, 2023 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Escapeddentalpatient. The method for obtaining the wealth is left up the answers...I didn't want to make it overly narrow, as specifying a method of mining, etc would likely take up a high % of the adventurers kit. $\endgroup$
    – LoganP98
    May 27, 2023 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ Then you are asking us an open-ended "write my story for me" type question. Voting to close as story-based. $\endgroup$ May 27, 2023 at 21:57

5 Answers 5


Too long to answer

While Time Enough for Love was not one of Heinlein's best books (IMO) it does have a discussion of what the viewpoint character was going to take in a wagon in order to settle an area in the wilderness. The incomplete list and discussion ran for multiple pages. So instead, I'm going to hit some broad categories and considerations, with a few critiques of specific items in the OP's draft list. There are considerable similarities with John's answer, but there are enough differences that this is too long to be a comment there.

First, resource gathering - the AI overlord needs to comb all records of every location in the target area for all finds of diamonds and gold throughout recorded history, then create as precise a list as possible of all nuggets and diamonds that were found. It also needs to determine the most energy-efficient way of extracting these resources - obviously the easiest are big nuggets or surface-laying diamonds that can just be picked up. If digging is required then it should identify the single richest deposit and a detailed map for depth and direction of digging tunnels to maximise return, ensuring that this is near a reliable, year-round fresh water source (see food considerations below). The expedition does not have the time and cannot waste the effort relocating its main camp. Tools: metal detector x 2, gold pans x 4, petrol-jackhammer with appropriate bits x 1, hand digging tools, 2 x rock hammer, field carpentry kit of the same type that a typical assault pioneer platoon / field engineer troop would deploy with (trunk massing 20-30 kg) plus a chainsaw, 4 x 20L jerrycans of fuel, headlamps, helmets, knee pads, batteries for headlamps, work gloves, dust masks, eye protection, assorted nails and screws, 2 x wheelbarrow. This will allow efficient construction of a mineshaft and sluice, though more fuel will increase efficiency.

Second, security - twenty people is not enough to keep watch at all times in all directions and get work done. They need to take a compact perimeter warning system with day/night cameras, a quadcopter drone or two and enough solar panels to keep it all charged and an electrical/electronic tool kit to make repairs. Two people are on watch at all times monitoring the system. Total weapons for ready reaction/hunting are 3 x .308 bolt action rifle and 3 x H&K MP5-S suppressed submachineguns (ie 3 sniper pairs), all with day/night scopes mounted and about a thousand rounds each. With no locals possessing firearms and the bows of that region and period being very short-ranged they can easily eliminate any local settlements and deal with any travellers who stumble on them, in addition to hunting deer (see below). As noted by the OP, take cleaning kits with lots of oil and rolls of cleaning cloth to keep everything functional for 18 months. It is neither necessary nor desirable for everyone to be armed.

Third - shelter and clothing. Contrary to the OP's view, tents are perfectly adequate for protection from the weather, while defence must rely on intercepting enemies at rifle range - building fortifications will take too much effort for too little return. Go with a lightweight 4-season, 3-person tent for every two people, plus sleeping bags and inflatable mattresses. Add in a few more tents for storing equipment and add some spare poles and patching material in case of damage. Layers of clothing to suit the possible weather, including gloves, sunhats, warm hats etc. Take a few sewing kits and some material for repairs. Collapsible tub and detergent for washing clothes.

Fourth, food - do not take MREs. The whole point of a MRE or equivalent is that the food will last a long time and can be eaten cold if necessary. However, it is very inefficient for a group due to the amount of packaging for each individual item. Instead, go for multi-person dehydrated meals - the site has been picked for having reliable, year-round fresh water - to keep the group fed until they can become self-sufficient. (250g of dehydrated food per person per day means 10 kg of dehydrated food carried per person will keep everyone fed for 40 days.) Take the minimum number of water bladders, pots, pans, plates, cups and utensils to feed everyone collectively, not forgetting detergent etc for washing up. Take potatos to plant (gengineered to be disease-resistant) and the necessary hoes and other tools to cultivate them and rely on these plus hunting for the majority of the group's food. (Opportunistic gathering of edible flora while on hunting expeditions should also be undertaken - don't forget sacks for game and plants. Take lots of salt to preserve excess meat from hunting. Multivitamins in case there are deficiencies in the diet. Try to include some luxuries - tea, coffee, chocolate etc to be rationed out over the 18 months.

Fifth, medical and hygiene - two patrol medic kits plus additional bandages, disinfectant, hand sanitizer, sunscreen etc. The expedition should not include anyone who requires medication of any type regularly. If it is a mixed-sex expedition then IUDs and vasectomies all around should be mandatory - neither is 100% reliable, but with both it is vanishingly unlikely there will be any unplanned pregnancy. We'll see at the end how much capacity there is for taking toilet paper...

Sixth, miscellaneous - maps, compasses, notebooks and pencils, matches (though once the area is cleared the cooking fire should always be kept alight), personal knives/multitools, spare boot laces etc etc

Can it all be lifted? Seven strong people could lift all the "resource gathering" equipment, three more could take the security supplies. Everyone has their own sleeping bag/mat and clothing (with half of people having a tent) plus a portion of the starting dehydrated food in their backpacks. Four more people for the mobile kitchen/potato-planting items/medical supplies leaves six people who "only" have a full backpack. Which means that there might just be capacity for 18 months worth of toilet paper, though this might be sacrificed in favour of another 240 L of fuel for the chainsaws and jackhammer.

  • $\begingroup$ This is an excellent answer. I'm not sure that I agree with only having six of the twenty be armed, but that would be my only quibble. For some of the reasons you stated, among others, the group will be compromised only of men, specifically military aged and physically fit ones. $\endgroup$
    – LoganP98
    May 30, 2023 at 4:07
  • $\begingroup$ Speaking from experience, when undertaking field engineering tasks it's actually a pain to have to keep a weapon close to hand. Given that the purpose of this expedition is resource gathering rather than war fighting, I think six armed people with vast technological superiority and no legal/moral constraints can depopulate the thinly-populated operational area just fine. Remember also that every additional 4 kg rifle means 200 less rounds of 7.62 NATO for 18 months of hunting and murdering. $\endgroup$ May 30, 2023 at 22:25

Electricity and oxen

How about a solar array or water wheel and some electric tools. One electric chainsaw will vastly speed up construction.

think about labor multipliers, you have force multipliers so you should include the same for labor. 20 people with primitive tools are going to spend most of their time just fulfilling basic needs, you wont get much goal labor out of them. One man with an electric chainsaw can fell and shape trees faster than 10 men with axes. One sluice can sift more gold than 20 men with pans. Electricity drastically increases the productivity of humans. If the goal is resource extraction this should be obvious, after all even if they find a pile of gold how are they getting it to the portal, gold is heavy. If a solar array is too much a simple water wheel generator kit is possible, you could even have both a smaller solar array and a a larger water wheel kit, and have them build the wheel on site from timber.


A pair of oxen and a wagon is better than just humans. Failing powered transport or animals, hand carts at least make moving more stuff possible. Cooperating people can hold a lot off the ground for a few second so getting more stuff is not that hard, 10 fit men can lift a car off the ground. A couple of oxen could carry everything I listed and then some for the initial transport. Then they can make a few wagons to carry everything wherever they want to go. A Pair oxen can haul 5000lbs with no problem. A human can haul around 300lbs on a cart (but that does not include the weight of the cart) so one pair of oxen can haul almost as much as ALL your humans put together. Over a short span of time a pair of oxen could support more than they can haul with a wagon, so they can hold a lot more than all your humans put together for initial transport.

Also better include condoms and morning after pills or instead diapers and maternity supplies.

If they are extracting minerals they had better have mining supplies, wheel barrows, shovels, picks, drills, explosives, ect. A sifter, sluice, and wood fired smelter would be a must too, otherwise your just going to get a small pile of low concentration gold ore that won't yield much gold.

there first few weeks is just going to be spent defending themselves so you should include enough supplies to feed themselves for that long. A few guard dogs would be a big help, the natives are very good at sneaking up on people at night. Electric lights will help a lot here, a few motion sensor and walkie talkies would not be a waste.

Electric tools to consider

Electric chainsaws with one chainsaw-sawmill kit for making planks. Electric lights and flash lights. An electric lathe will let them make a lit of primitive machinery. An electric drill and water pump for mining. An electric sifter and sluice for their main goal of gold and gem extraction. An electric mill for turning chestnuts into flour is also a good idea, Americana chestnuts produce a LOT of food before modern diseases almost wiped them out. All of these are fairly small and compact and could be carried even without animals.

Also there are gold and diamond deposits in Virginia. Most importantly it has a lot of food and water so the AI choice is not as bad as you think.


This is a big question, but I'll go over the basics of power generation.

Electrical Power: Your heroes will need to rely on modern devices for basically all tasks as electricity is a labor (and cognition) multiplier. As another answer correctly pointed out, even a simple electric chainsaw can enable one average person to easily do the job of ten strong woodcutters with regular axes. Similarly, an array of networked thermal cameras can essentially automatically spot anyone or anything that approaches a set perimeter, and gold-harvesting machinery that runs on power is far more efficient than even the best gold-panner.

How do you provide this power?

Conventional fuel is not an option, because while a lightweight generator could be carried, 18 months worth of fuel can't. This leaves two options:

Regenerative, specifically solar. The person carrying the panels will need to be strong, but with a proper carrying harness, they could carry quite a bit. Assuming normal solar panels at 10kg / sqm producing 200 W, a fully loaded person carrying 100kg worth of panels would be able to bring 2kw.

Now, consider that these are regular panels and not optimized for mass nor particularly efficient. If we are pushing "state of the art" I think that you could bring the mass around enough to have one person feasibly carry 5kw of power. Additional members would need to bring large batteries, and maybe the motorization equipment to make the whole assembly sun-tracking, but this is probably your simplest bet.

Nuclear Power. A standard NASA MMRTG masses around 40 kg and produces 125 Watts of electrical power and about 2kW of thermal power for a minimum of 14 years. More advanced designs like the ASRG can put out a bit more power for only 30kg (but also 14 years). If you custom-made radioisotope generator to only have a "burn time" of 18 months, I suspect you could significantly increase the wattage.

Like, lets say you reduce the designed lifespan to 3.5 years, which could potentially boost electrical power to 620 electric Watts (8kW thermal) still at 30kg. This makes it competitive with solar power with one individual fully loaded with nuclear also being able to carry around 2kw. The big advantage here is that it works rain or shine, day or night, and does not require battery buffers in the way that is mandatory for solar. It's also more robust and not as easy to smash as a solar panel.

Radiation risk from these is rather minimal (so long as containment isn't breached) but you could simply pack a couple (AI developed) anti-cancer or anti-radiation pills that your people regularly take.

The bigger problem with taking nuclear power sources is that they are potentially more expensive than the gold they are being sent to get. Each RTG requires several kilos of plutonium-238, which is estimated to be around \$8 million per kilogram. With gold only at \$60k per kilo, you'd need to find 133 kg of gold just to compensate one kg of plutonium. This price primarily comes from the fact that the only customer on earth for this stuff is NASA who only need a couple kg every couple years for deep space applications, so a theoretical commercial market for the stuff might be able to drive down the price, but not significantly.

Frame challenge

In general, I'm not sure manually collecting gold from the past is an all that lucrative monetization vector of time travel. Lets say for the trip back, each individual gets fully kitted out with 100kg of gold. That's "only" \$6 million per person bringing your 20-man crew haul to \$120 million. That's not that much money for freakin time travel and it assumes that the gold they collect is all of high purity. Even if they strategize a bit and all pull off maximum deadlift the moment the time travel activates, they still aren't getting more than maybe \$12 million per person (I am ignoring gems and diamonds because they're essentially worthless as a trading good).

If you do really want to do a gold heist, it would probably be simpler to steal the gold from someone who has already collected it, think Fort Knox or some European royal treasury. Spend 18 months planning the "heist" and then time it so you time-travel directly out of the vault. A group of modern murder-hobos equipped with modern weapons could easily infiltrate basically any pre-1600s fortification with the use of compact breaching charges and liberal applications of machine-gun fire.

  • $\begingroup$ Your frame challenge is a fair one, and reasonable even in-world. The choice of location is intentional, as this is a "test-run" of sorts, and there is considerable reason to believe that the powers-that-be would prefer it not be considered a success. $\endgroup$
    – LoganP98
    May 30, 2023 at 4:06
  • $\begingroup$ Most of the parts for a water wheel generator can be built from local materials, you need the generator and some fittings but the bulk can be made from local wood. Less mobile but much lighter source of power. microhdyro-generators could be carried in a back pack. $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 30, 2023 at 20:57

Biological weapons and a few quadrocopters to spread it. Something really nasty but with existing vaccine. Make ChatGPT design it. Hide. Wipe out the locals. Collect the loot.


Very well stocked medical supplies.

Their immune system will be bombarded with a lot of 'new' and unknown attackers. Bring plenty of antibiotica, and other symptom-combating medicine and expect a high rate of illness.


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