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Author: Anne McCaffrey
Publisher: Del Rey / Ballantine, 1985
Series: Crystal Singer: Book 2

1. Crystal Singer
2. Killashandra
3. Crystal Line

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Science-Fantasy
Space Exploration
Avg Member Rating:
(65 reads / 23 ratings)


At first Killashandra Ree's ambitions to become a Crystal Singer, get rich, and forget her past, were going just as she had hoped. But after she grew wealthy, a devastating storm turned her claim to useless rock. In short order she was broke, she had crystal sickness so bad she thought she was going to die, and the only way she could be true to the man she loved was to leave him....



Winters on Ballybran were generally mild, so the fury of the first spring storms as they howled across the land was ever unexpected. This first one of the new season swept ferociously across the Milekey Ranges, bearing before its westward course the fleeing sleds of crystal singers like so much jetsam. Those laggard singers who had tarried too long at their claims were barely able to hold their bucking sleds on course as they bolted for the safety of the Heptite Guild Complex.

Inside the gigantic Hangar, its baffles raised against the mach winds, ordered confusion reigned. Crystal singers lurched from their sleds, half deafened by wind-scream, exhausted by their turbulent flights. The Hangar crew, apparently possessed of eyes in the backs of their heads, miraculously avoided injury as they concentrated on the primary task of moving incoming sleds off the Hangar floor and into storage racks, clearing the way for the erratic landings of the stream of incoming vehicles. The crash claxon pierced even storm howl as two sleds collided, one to dip over the baffle and land nose down on the plascrete while the other veered out of control like a flat rock skipping across water, coming to a crumpling halt against the far wall. A tractor zipped in to fasten grapples on the upside-down sled, removing it only seconds before another sled skimmed over the baffle.

That sled almost repeated the nose dive, pulling up at the last second and skidding across the Hangar floor to stop just inches away from the line of handlers carrying the precious cartons of crystal in to Sorting. Only a near miss, the incident was disregarded even by those who had barely escaped injury.

Killashandra Ree emerged from the sled, taking as a good omen the fact that her sled had skidded to a halt so close to the Sorting Sheds. She caught the arm of the next handler to pass her and firmly diverted him to her cargo door, which she flung open. She didn't have much crystal, so every speck she had cut was precious to her. If she didn't earn enough credit to get off-planet this time... Killashandra ground her teeth as she "hurried her carton into the Sorting Shed.

As the man she had pressed into her service quite properly put her carton down at the Hangar end of a line of ranked containers, Killashandra's patience evaporated. "No, over here!" she shouted. "Not there! It'll take all day to be sorted. Here."

She waited until he had deposited her carton in the indicated row before adding her own. Then she strode back to her sled for a second load, commandeering two more unencumbered handlers on the way. Only after eight cartons were unloaded did she permit herself to pause briefly, coping with the multiple fatigues that assailed her. She had worked nonstop for two days, desperate to cut enough crystal to get off Ballybran. Crystal pulsed in her blood and bones, denying her rest in sleep, surcease by day, no matter how she tried to tire her body. Her only respite was immersion in the radiant fluid bath. But no one cut crystal from a bathcube! She had to get off-planet to ease the disturbing thrum."

For over a year and a half, ever since the Passover storms had shattered Keborgen's old claim, she had searched unremittingly for a workable site. Killashandra was realist enough to admit to herself that the probability of finding a new claim as important and valuable as Keborgen's black crystal was very low. Still, she had every right to expect to find some useful, and reasonably lucrative, crystal in Ballybran's Ranges. And, with each fruitless trip into the Ranges, the credit balance she had amassed from her original cutting of Keborgen's site and from the Trundomoux black crystal installation had eroded beneath the continuous charges the Heptite Guild exacted for even the most minor services rendered a crystal singer.

By fall, when everyone else she knew--Rimbol, Jezerey and Mistra--had managed to get off-planet, she had labored on, unable to make a worthwhile claim in any color. During the mild winter, she had doggedly hunted in the Ranges, returning to the Complex only long enough to replenish food packs and steep her crystal-weary body in the radiant fluid.

"You really ought to take a week or two up at Shanganagh Base," Lanzecki had said, intercepting her on one of her brief visits.

"What good would that really do?" she had replied, almost snarling at him in her frustration. "I'd still feel crystal and I'd have to look at Ballybran."

Lanzecki had given her a searching look. "You're in no mood to believe me," and he paused to be sure that he had her attention, "but you will find black crystal again, Killashandra. Meanwhile, the Guild has pressing needs in any shade you can find. Even the rose you so despise." A gleam shone in his black eyes and his voice turned lugubrious as he said, "I am certain that you will be distressed to learn that the Passover storms destroyed Moksoon's site, too."

Killashandra had stared at him a moment before her sense of the ridiculous got the better of her and she laughed. "I am inconsolable!"

"I thought you might be." His lips twitched with suppressed amusement. Then he reached down and pulled the plug on the radiant fluid. "You'll find more crystal, Killa."

It had been that calm and confident statement which had buoyed her flagging morale all during the next trip. Nor had it been entirely misplaced. The third week out, after disregarding two sites of rose and blue, she discovered white crystal but very nearly missed the vein entirely. If she had not been bolstering her spirits with a rousing aria, causing the pinnacle under her hand to resonate, she might have missed the shy white crystal. Consistent with her long run of bad luck, the white proved elusive, the vein first deteriorating in quality and then disappearing entirely from the face at one point, resurfacing half a mile away in fractured shards. It had taken her weeks to clear the fault, digging away half the ridge before she got to usable crystal. Only the fact that white crystal had such a variety of potentially lucrative uses kept her going.

Forewarned of the spring storm by her symbiotic adaptation to Ballybran's spore, Killashandra had cut at a frenzied pace until she was too hoarse to key the sonic cutter to the crystal. Only then had she stopped to rest. She had continued to cut until the first of the winds began to stroke the dangerous crystal sound from the Ranges. Recklessly, she had taken the most direct route back to the Complex, counting on the fact that she'd be the last singer in from the Ranges to protect her claim.

She had almost cut her retreat too fine: the hangar doors slammed shut against the shrieking storm as soon as her sled had cleared the baffles. She could expect a reprimand from the Flight Officer for her recklessness. And probably one from the Guild Master for ignoring the storm warnings.

She forced several deep breaths in and out of her lungs, dredging sufficient energy to complete the final step necessary to leave Ballybran. On the last breath, she grabbed the top carton and walked it into the Sorting Room, depositing it on Enthor's table just as the old Sorter turned toward the shed.

"Killashandra! You startled me." Enthor's eyes flicked from normal to the augmented vision that was his adaptation to Ballybran. He reached eagerly for the carton. "Did you find the black vein again?" His face fell into lines of disappointment as his fingers found no trace of the sensations typical of the priceless, elusive black crystal.

"No such luck." Killashandra's voice broke on weary disgust. "But I devoutly hope it's a respectable cut." She half sat on the table, needing its support to keep on her feet, as she watched Enthor unpack the crystal blocks from their plastic cocoons.

"Indeed!" Enthor's voice lilted with approval as he removed the first white crystal shaft and set it with appropriate reverence on his work table. "Indeed!" He subjected the crystal to the scrutiny of his augmented eyes. "Flawless. White can so often be muddy. If I am not mistaken--"

"That'll be the day," Killashandra muttered under her breath, her voice cracking.

"--Never about crystal." Enthor shot her a glance from under his brows, blinking to adjust his eyes to normal vision. Killashandra idly wondered what Enthor's eyes saw of human flesh and bone in the augmented mode. "I do believe, my dear Killa, that you've anticipated the market."

"I have?" Killashandra pulled herself erect. "With white crystal?"

Enthor lifted out more of the slender sparkling crystal shafts. "Yes, especially if you have matched groupings. These are a good start. What else did you cut?" As one, they retraced their steps to the storage, each collecting another carton.


"Ranked in size?"

"Yes." Enthor's excitement triggered hope in Killashandra.

"Forty-four, from the half centimeter--"

"By the centimeter?"

"Half centimeter."

Enthor beamed on her with almost as much enthusiasm as if she had brought him more black crystal.

"Your instinct is remarkable, Killa, for you could not have known about the order from the Optherians."

Copyright © 1985 by Anne McCaffrey



- ManyMoons

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