The blindfold makes him nervous. He hopes the Guild hasn't sent him out for training with a maniac, but so far, he's been sitting silently in the second seat of the airsled for---forty minutes? An hour? Some interminable length of time during which the pilot has performed multiple series of acrobatic maneuvers designed to confound his sense of direction and unsettle his breakfast. The bastard is probably smirking at him right now.
"When I can take this blindfold off?"
"When we're on the ground. What's your name again?
Oh, terrific. He's stuck with one of those paranoid Singers he's heard about, a few measures shy of a liter. "Michael David Fitzwalter Daughtry Tragarth."
There's a groan from the other side of the cockpit. "Is there a short version? An attention getter? A 'Hey, you!'? Because that, my young apprentice, is a bit much."
It was always Mike or Mikey at home. Jordis had called him Davy as part of their bond. He'd forget all those things in time, he hoped, but he should keep his family name. "You can call me Trag," he says.
"Fine. Trag it is. Where do you hail from, Trag?"
"New Carpathia, in the Balkan system."
"Never heard of it. What do they do there? Is there anything it's famous for?"
"Farming...wool products, mostly. Nothing very exciting, Crystal Singer."
"Lanzecki. Unless you want me to call you Sheep Farmer?"
"I'm no sheep farmer," Trag snaps back.
"No? And what brought you to the little corner of Heaven we call Ballybran?" There's a sardonic note in Lanzecki's voice, but at least he doesn't sound like he's lost all his marbles.
"I heard there were credits in it." It's a lie, but it's one everyone believes because everyone wants a hefty credit balance, right? "So, Lanzecki, how long have you been a Crystal Singer?" he counters.
"I just celebrated the seventeenth anniversary of my first cut," the other man says, sounding smug.
Trag's stomach does a little dip unrelated to the sled's flight path. He's midway though his third decade, and his mentor had looked to be the same age when the training officer had introduced them in the hanger. But, he tells himself, that's Ballybran years, isn't it? Not Galactic Standard?
"Didn't they tell you during orientation? Survive the spore infection and you stay young for a long, long time."
Trag moistens his lips. "I must have missed that part." Too busy thinking about how dangerous it was to mine crystal. About the prospect of gradually forgetting the past, if he lived that long.
"Yeah," says Lanzecki wryly. The sled banks gently to the right. "That so-called disclosure? Crap! They made crystal singing sound like a sure thing, and there was a chance some of us might be transitioned into support staff. I was in a class of twenty people, and twelve of them died. Only three of us made Singer."
"That's pretty rough," Trag says. His class had twenty-eight members; they'd lost two and there were eleven Singers. A shiver runs through him. He feels the sled decelerate. It hovers briefly, then descends.
There's a moment of jockeying, a feather-light impact, and Lanzecki cuts the engines. Trag exhales, and feels the mask being plucked from his face. Lanzecki hangs it from one of the instrument levers. "Here we are. Let's get started while there's still light."
"Blue crystal," Lanzecki says when they're standing in a little cul-de-sac bearing traces of prior cutting. He shines a hand-light at the sheer wall of rock, and a section shines with sapphire radience. "I'm going to cut, you're going to watch. If you have any questions, save them. I need to concentrate."
Trag takes a step back and watches in silence as Lanzecki sets down the light and slings the strap of his cutter over his shoulder. He looks very focused...his eyes are almost as blue as the crystal...he has a small hammer in one hand, and he taps it briskly against the rock face.... Lanzecki adjusts his cutter, and before the note has died out, begins to carve the first block of blue.
The sound reverberates in the enclosed space, like standing beside a mighty gong when its mallet strikes it. Trag staggers back against the rear wall, which doesn't help, because there's more crystal there. It echoes through him, making his bones tingle. He gasps for breath, aware of Lanzecki scoring the wall with his cutter, the tool buzzing in counterpoint to the singing of the blue.
When the crystal falls silent, it takes a moment before Trag pulls himself together. All his nerve endings are flickering with strange hot-cold sensations, and he's...aroused, he discovers, in bemusement. He darts a glance at Lanzecki to see if the other man has noticed, but his mentor is standing there looking blankly at the crystal pyramid in his hands. He shifts it to catch what light there is in the narrow alley, a faint smile playing on his lips.
"Lanzecki?" There's no answer, and Trag doesn't want to risk damaging the raw crystal with a louder exclaimation. He claps his hands once, sharply, and the older Singer starts, looks around.
"Open that packing case for me," he tells Trag, and gently inserts the pyramid. He closes the lid, looks at the box and shakes his head. "First lesson---pack your crystal the second you get it loose." He chuckles ruefully. "Crystal is seductive. The first time I went out alone to cut, I found this place. I was here for a week and came out with a total of twelve crystals, because I kept falling in love with the damn things."
Okay, thinks the new Singer with relief. Maybe his physical reaction isn't so strange after all.
By the time they return to the sled at sunset, Lanzecki has cut a set of six pyramids, and he's allowed Trag to attempt a cut on the edge of the face.
Cutting is better than watching someone else cut, Trag has decided. The cutting device conducts the sound---it feels amazing---and he's noticed that Lanzecki is also hard when he cuts.
"You did good," Lanzecki says as they're waiting for the cooking unit to process their rations. "You didn't thrall. That's important."
Trag nods, takes a sip of his beverage. He'd been afraid of humiliating himself, the cutting had been so stimulating. He could scarely get the prism into the case fast enough.
"Are you always this quiet?" Lanzecki enquires. His dark hair is carelessly tousled and there's a rime of beard on his cheeks, not a speck of grey. He looks twenty years younger than Trag knows he is, and the younger man fights desire. Even if Lanzecki has a same-sex preference, that doesn't mean he's going to be interested in him. The Crystal Singer probably has his choice of exotic bedmates, and Trag doesn't see himself that way. He's stockier than the lean older man. Brown hair, brown eyes, tanned skin---he's practically invisible.
"We have a saying, 'It's better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.'."
Lanzecki laughs outright. The chime on the cooking unit signals dinner, and there's not much conversation for a while.
"I thought Singers had individual sleds," Trag says later. "Do they let you take a double when you're shepherding someone?"
"This one's mine. I won it in a card game a few years ago. I couldn't get off-planet during Passover storm season, and a bunch of us had this running game going for six weeks straight. I was the last man standing."
"Remind me not to play cards with you."
"Who's going to remind me?" Lanzecki quips, a flash of dark humor at a Singer's eventual fate. He's good company, and they do play some cards---strictly for points---before bunking down for the night.
The earth is moving and Jourdis is screaming for help. Trag hears the cries of "Davy! Davy!" but the ledge their sled was on has collapsed and he's hugging the rock wall praying the whole damn mountain doesn't land on his head, because it's rumbling---
He's in a sled. Not the sled on New Carpathia. He's on Ballybran. This is Lanzecki's sled. Lanzecki...and the blue crystal...Trag is aware of crystal music humming through the alloy of the vehicle, caressing him inside and out.
This is getting old. The need for relief is strong, and although it may be considered rude, Lanzecki seems to be sleeping and he has to take care of this, or he's going to be distracted all day. As long as he's quiet...Trag's hand slides under the waistband of his shorts.
"You need help with that?" Lanzecki says less than thirty seconds later, a touch of humor in his voice. Trag would swear his eyes are still closed.
"This is one thing I don't need an instructor for, thanks."
"Maybe you could give me some pointers?" Lanzecki sits up, swinging his long legs over the side of his bunk.
There's an erection tenting the shorts the Singer slept in, and Trag drawls, "It looks like you're pointy enough."
With one bound, Lanzecki is across the narrow aisle, straddling the younger man. Their cocks are rubbing together through two layers of cloth. Lanzecki's mouth descends on his, and Trag feels light-headed. The crystal song is more insistant, it's touching him in ways he never imagined. His partner's hands are busy; one hand is cupping his face they kiss, the other has invaded his shorts and tugs lightly at his erection.
When two fingers swirl against the head of his cock, that's it. It's the rock wall all over again, but this time, he doesn't try to hold back. Trag's hips buck beneath Lanzecki, who rocks his pelvis, stoking Trag's cock with his own...short, fierce thrusts, until Lanzecki groans and slumps against him.
For a few minutes, there's heavy breathing in the sled. The crystal music has faded away.
Lanzecki lifts his head. He studies Trag's face curiously. "Is that going to be a problem for you?" he asks.
"Not if I get to be on top tomorrow."
"Tomorrow? How about right now?"
"Now? Are you kidding? Move it, Lanzecki, we've got crystal to cut!" He waits to see what the older man's reaction is going to be to that impudence, but Lanzecki just smiles and stands up in the aisle, stretching.
"Good call. Put some clothes on, Michael David Fitzwalter Daughtry Tragarth, and let's go cut some crystal."
A/N: I've read the whole "Crystal Singer" trilogy, but am most familiar with the first one, where they talk about how different things were in the early days of the Heptite Guild. I wanted to look at those days, and at Lanzecki and Trag when they were young and playful.