Keep a-movin’, Dan, don’t you listen to him, Dan
He’s a devil not a man
And he spreads the burning sand with water. – Sons of the Pioneers
The pain in the old man’s chest came on suddenly; like a hammer to an anvil. Falling back into his chair he groped with his right hand for the object almost out of sight. He knew that it was death if he didn’t get to it quickly.
Unable to breathe, nearly paralyzed, his head thrown back by the sudden onset of pain, he missed it. Straining against his frozen neck muscles he somehow managed to glimpse what he needed out of the corner of his right eye rolled downward; his head paralyzed in that position. The pain swelled by the second and he passed his hand over the object once, twice and then a third.
On the third try he grabbed it: the Chrysleat: his lifeline. He squeezed opposite sides. There was an audible high pitched whine. As sudden as it began the pain disappeared. With that relief came the vision of a terrifying expanse of black sand to the horizon. He held in his hand the familiar weight of the Chrysleat.
Replacing the old man was a young man of 26 years. Standing there, white as a ghost. It had been a near thing this time.
“That was close, ” he said attempting to catch his breath. “Much too close. Gotta switch off much sooner.” The immediate jolt of the ambient temperature was no surprise. From horizon to horizon there was only black sand and the hot, killing atmosphere of Subournem.
Oh, there was air, no lack of it. What there wasn’t, he’d been told, was water. The Chrysleat could shelter his mind and body from this hell for a short, indeterminate respite. He understood his problem, however. When his mind was interchanged in someplace he was unfamiliar with, allowing some transfer of another mind which, each time, somehow saved him. It also nourished him through the phantom usurpation of that other mind. He’d had to learn this on the fly which had left him at a deficit at the start. He had gotten to hungry and to thirsty he had earned this. Each time he used it cost one month of his life. Food and water, or, longevity. Such was justice here. Justice levied by a council of scientific magistrates who made and enforced law. There own law.