Friday, July 12, 2013

95 - Mucky Ocean Basins

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 Xanadu.

“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 very mucky.”

“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 it faster.” The machine meant switch from whatever swimming or digging-like motion to this insane hopping.

“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 behind him.


“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 swimming?”


“Ten days, estimated?”

"It took us weeks to cross on our birds.” Eshmaeel said from his bunk.

Terry couldn't turn his head to look back. “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.”

“Of course.”

Mom broke into their discussion at that point. “Coming up to continental transition zone. Brace yourselves.” 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 crevass.

“Um...” “That is the crustal subsidence area between what will become continents. Once there is enough water it will hide this joint nicely.”

“Right.” The sandflea was no longer bouncing but more crawling and wiggling over and partially through the deep, wet sand. “Ten days?” Terry asked. “I could use--”

“Medical restraint deactivated,” Mom said

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