Terry had long since lost any will to vomit any longer. He'd lost the printed food and every meal as long as he could remember. So had Eshmaeel though his brother was in enough of a stupor not to vomit at all. Mom had dumped cleansing powder on what they'd spewed onto the floor and them absorbed both broken-down proteins and carbohydrates and minerals, with spent cleansing molecules. Through the floor.
He was sure it still stank
slightly but that could be him or his clothing, or just the smell
lingering in his nose.
The sandflea jumped and jumped
and jumped from razor sharp peak to peak, or tiny pockets of earthan
growth in the tsingy. It was so steady that the pounding was almost
soothing. He was completely restrained in the medical hold Mom had
laid on them before she began the real task of getting them out of
“Mommmm.” Terry tried not to
moan but Gerald had apparently pressed upon the machine a need for it
to move quickly.
“Terence. I am only moving at
a third speed of what a flying machine would be capable of. I am a
land-based model capable of top speeds of only two hundred thirty
kilometres per hour."
They must be coming up to the
edge of the continent soon.
“Mom. The deepest parts of the desert
are going to be ocean basins one day, aren't they?”
“Yes, Terence. At the moment
the bottoms of the fault lines are filled with steam and lava, since
the amount of water gradually brought down has made the ocean basins
“Mucky.” He closed his eyes
on the jerking, hopping views he had through the windscreen. “How
murky are we talking here?”
“As recently as six hundred
years ago, the sands in the bottom were traversable on foot, but
steady bombardment with water has raised the water table so that the
kilometres deep of sand and rock on what will be the ocean floor has
filled up with water, but only to within several metres of the surface, so the top layer is truly a layer of hot slurry.”
“Slurry.” He put his hands
over his face, feeling the pressure of each bound Mom made in his
hands pressing against his face and his body being pushed into the
restraints of his couch. It was like being embedded in jelly really
and he wondered if his image of him sloshing around inside a rubber, water-filled bean was very far off its target.
“Once I have traversed the
transition zone... from continent to basin bottom I will be forced to
slow my forward rate. I estimate that it will take this unit a full
ten days to cross the ocean basin, at my best speed. Should I find a
ridge of stone above the sand and water I shall be able to traverse
The machine meant switch from
whatever swimming or digging-like motion to this
“How many hops can you do, Mom?” Terry wasn't
quite sure why he was asking. He looked down at the control in his
hand. He also hadn't pulled back on the best Mom could do, either.
The light showed 'full forward'. “Eshmaeel... do you want to go
into more stasis?” He could hear the boy's nauseated moans from
“All right. I'll smooth out my travel on
the edge of the continent then so you can get some water into you and
get cleaned up some.'
“OOOOhhhhhh eeessssss.” He
assumed that was 'oh yes', given the boy's accent.
“I can only manage four hops
per second, Terence. Fifty metres per hop.”
“I sssss.” He clenched his
teeth hard and breathed through his nose. “I see. And digging or
“Ten days, estimated?”
"It took us weeks to cross on our birds.” Eshmaeel said from his bunk.
Terry couldn't turn his head to
“How bad was it, Eshmaeel?”
The boy started to laugh. “How
bad? How bad? The heat and pressure killed one of us the first day.”
"How many of you were there?"
A cough from the back. “I'm
not telling you.”
Mom broke into their discussion
at that point. “Coming up to continental transition zone. Brace
Terry wanted to yell at the machine Brace ourselves? How? With what? How in Prime's little green pajamas are we supposed to do that?
His eyes were open as wide as they could stretch. The machine bounded from spike to flat to spike to
spike and the land fell away below them, down and down and down. He
would have screamed except he'd screamed himself out far earlier.
The sandflea spread its hide
flat, catching the wind and extending all of its legs out towards the
other side of the canyon it had leapt into. Far, far below, mist
roiled and the clouds, full of dirt, mimicked solid ground but he
knew better and scrunched his eyes shut as the rock-face came rushing
up to catch them. Sparks flew and minor atmospheric flares blazed
for a second or two as Mom turned her downward and outward motion
into upward and onward even as they plowed through cascades of sand
and water and steam pouring down the smaller cliff face.
“Rear view,” Mom said as she
scrambled up over the edge through a mud and sand waterfall. The screen behind them showed the cracked
rock cliff of the edge of Xanadu, dirt and water falling over the
edges, mixing with the red ochre sand and mud on their side of the
“That is the crustal subsidence
area between what will become continents. Once there is enough water
it will hide this joint nicely.”
The sandflea was no longer
bouncing but more crawling and wiggling over and partially through
the deep, wet sand.
“Ten days?” Terry asked. “I
deactivated,” Mom said
A Question for Intharas
5 months ago