Disclaimer: I do not now nor have I ever owned the Crystal singer trilogy. It belongs to the honorable and great Dragon Lady herself.
By Ethril Dragon
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," Angie read slowly, her fingers caressing the aged and fragile pages of the book in her lap. She smiled slightly as she let herself flow into the story, the images and details creating a vid right in her mind. Who needed technology when you had your mind and a good book?
Angelique, mostly known as Angie, was the kind of person to enjoy what was considered antique. Back on her home world she had restored her great great grandmother's bicycle; she had music from the twenty first century playing on her music player; she was even wearing an old chainmail pouch on her belt. Supposedly one of her deceased relatives had made it fifty years ago or so.
To call her strange was an understatement. In an age where ships flew throughout the known galaxies, powered by crystals, where ships had the minds of humans, young Angie McRune was strange. She turned the page of her book again, her mind enveloped in the words of the centuries old novel.
The door to her quarters rang and Angie looked up in surprise. "Who is it?" She asked brightly, confused and surprised by the interruption to her daily routine.
"Ship mate Talon here," The male voice said from the other side of the door. "You've been requested for dinner in the galley." The voice seemed a little hesitant and strained. Angie's smile faltered. For the majority of the journey from the Dmitry System back to Earth she'd secluded herself in her tiny cabin.
"I'll be there." With a sigh she gently placed the lace ribbon inside the book to mark her page, and then closed it. She didn't need to mark her spot, she'd read this book several times. She could find her spot in a heartbeat if she so wanted. But that wasn't the point now was it? Angie gently set the book down back in her suitcase and then looked in the mirror over the tiny sink. Calm amber eyes stared back at her. She reached up a hand and carefully pushed back a strand of brunette hair behind an ear and then made sure her high pony tail was still tightly in place. Angie contemplated cutting her hair again for the hundredth time; she'd let it grow out during the last few years at the academy.
Angie left her quarters then, her hands laced behind her back as she let the crew member lead her through the inner corridors of the ship. Her father, the distant man that he was, had paid for her trip back from the academy. He'd chartered this top of the line; well-equipped and well protected ship to bring her home. Angie's thoughts drifted as she thought about the years at the academy.
Angie was not only strange, but she was very much the black sheep of her family. She'd been born into a well to do and with important family contacts and friends everywhere. The majority of her family went into the family business, while she had looked elsewhere for her career. Music had always attracted her, even at a young age. When it had become obvious she wasn't interested in what her family did, her father had paid a large sum of money to send her to the best Fine Arts Academy. She had brothers to do what her father wanted, so it wasn't a huge loss that she focused her attention elsewhere.
For 7 long years Angie spent her time learning the fundamentals of music. She studied and fought to make her way to the top of her class. Now she was just a few steps away from the Stellars. She'd won awards, met the best of the best, and had learned how to play dozens of instruments. Her voice was finely trained and her ear just as perfect.
Her father had bragged that his daughter would become the next greatest Stellar in the Universe, but he never really cared about her passion for music. Nor did he care about what she really wanted to do.
Angie snapped out of her thoughts as they arrived at the galley were the best meal the ship could make was presented to her. She smiled winningly, as she had been taught during her performance classes. It wasn't just music that she had learned while at the academy, it was how to act and react to her audience. The captain stood and welcomed her to dinner, he pulled out her seat for her, she sat, and they ate. She joined in with the conversation when needed, but she wasn't really paying attention. She was more interested in her book back in her room then in the food.
Half way through the entrée, the first mate came hurriedly up to the captain. He whispered something in his ear and Angie was able to recognize distress in the man's voice although she did not hear the words. Angie covertly observed as the captains expression minutely changed from relaxed to stress.
"If you will excuse me Miss McRune." The captain said with a crisp bow. Angie nodded and the captain hurriedly strode off.
'Now that he's gone…' Angie wanted to get away from the rest of the crew that had been invited to the captain's table for the meal. Most of them were men and to be perfectly honestly she found them all to be rather boring.
With a tiny movement, she allowed her hand to be nudged by the man next to her. Angie relaxed her grip and the glass went spiraling into her lap. The man next to her jumped and began apologizing profusely. No big loss really, she told him, she didn't even really like this skirt. With as little fanfare as she could create, she excused herself to return to her quarters.
In record time she was back in her room and changed into her pajamas. A simple pair of loose shorts and a thin tank top and she was comfortably curled up in her tiny bed. Angie sighed and contemplated taking her book out again to continue reading. To be honest she was bored out of her mind. She'd lived by a busy routine back at the academy for years, so now that she was away from that schedule she wasn't sure what to do with herself. Her father would probably set her up for an audition or two among the Stellars; not that she needed it. Angie had plans of her own.
With one last sigh she turned over and closed her eyes, forcing herself into the meditative sleep. When all your room mates and class mates were musicians, you had to know how to tune everything out to get some sleep.
There was a humming in the air as Angie ran through the flower filled glade. The dream was rather cliché and Angie couldn't help but chuckle. She'd been aware of her dreams for years, having learned how to control and manipulate them to her liking. That humming though was becoming louder and more distracting. Even when she focused to make it go away so she could return to her blissful dream it only became more insistent.
She stopped and looked around, trying to find the source of the humming. It wasn't that it was an annoying sound; on the contrary it was a rather soothing and pleasing sound. It just didn't fit in with the kind of dream she wanted to have at the moment. She went this way and that, trying to locate the humming. The more she focused on it, the more the dream took control over itself.
Angie soon found herself lost in a forest, glass like rocks scattered along the ground. She reached down and picked one up, turning it between her fingers. She sighed and tossed it over her shoulder. It made a twinkling sound as it landed and the humming picked up on that sound. The humming began to create a new melody, instead of the calming drone that it had been.
Intrigued by this new development she picked up more of the glass stones and gently dropped them on the ground, creating a tempo and rhythm. She was pleasantly surprised when the humming sang back to her.
Angie laughed and again the humming caught the sound, creating a new level to its music. Hesitantly and then with confidence, she sang out. There were no words in her voice, just a clear and rich voice. The humming seemed excited and joined her.
Angie spun around and was about to start a dance when –
There was a loud crash at her door. Angie sat bolt upright to find that the first mate had opened her door without permission.
"Miss McRune come with me." He insisted as he took the few strides needed to be next to her. He grabbed her arm and hoisted her out of her bed.
"What is the meaning of this?" She asked in surprise and slight anger. She was more shocked then angry.
"Pirates. We have to get you to an escape pod." The first mate began dragging her out of her cabin.
"Wait, WAIT!" She yelled as she wrenched herself from his grip and hurried to her bed. She a long case from under the bed and then went back to the first mate. "I'm not leaving this behind."
The first mate nodded and then grabbed her arm again, dragging her as he ran for the closest escape pod.
What she had grabbed, was her viola. It was one of the 2 Stradivarius viola's left in existence and she was not going to lose it. It had also been one of the only gifts her father had actually thought long and hard about giving her. It meant more to her than anything else because her father had chosen it himself rather then allowed his secretary or the servants to get it.
"In here." The first mate said as he carefully helped her into the single seat. He strapped her in and then handed her the case she set down. "You'll be safest in here. The shielding in the pod is the strongest in the entire ship. Once the pirates are gone I'll come get you."
"What if they don't leave?" Angie asked but it was too late. The first mate was gone and the door had sealed itself.
There was no window on the escape pod door, so she was unable to see what was happening. She felt the ship rock and she bit back a scream. She heard the sound of metal tearing and then there were loud and angry voices. She whimpered softly and clutched the viola against her chest. This was supposed to be one of the best ships ever made, with the best shields and weapons. How had the pirates boarded already?
There was an explosion within the ship and another. She heard what sounded like gun shots and there were screams. Angie closed her eyes and tried to ignore the sounds, she tried to ignore the pictures her mind was making of the crew dying and the captain trying to fight off the pirates.
She opened her eyes slowly when there was finally silence. She checked her wrist for the time, but otherwise did not move. Angie's breathing was shallow as she tried to keep herself calm. She thought she heard voices at one point, but they faded as soon as she heard them.
Angie was about to release her restraints when she felt a deep thrumming through the metal of the floor. She swallowed hard and soon she had to cover her ears as the sound became more than a vibration.
She knew that sound. One time at the academy, the crystal panel of the Organ had gone sour and when the technician had gone to do repairs the whole panel had exploded. This sounded a lot like then.
Angie knew what would happen if the ship exploded while out in space, no one would find them. She'd never get the chance to start her charity music school or be able to see her family one last time. Her father was distant and cold, but Angie knew he loved her.
"Launch Procedures initiated." A computerized voice said within the pod she was in.
"What…" Angie held the viola case tighter.
"Miss…Rune…" a pained voice came over the intercom.
"Captain?" Angie called out in disbelief.
"Pirates sabotaged…crystal…Ballybran closest." His words were forced and Angie knew he was dying. With his last breath he was going to save her; all because of her family status.
There was a clicking sound and she felt the pod release from the ship. The console around her lit up and she saw the autopilot take control. At the last second the captain said one last thing.
"Don't leave…pod." And with that the radio was quiet.
If there was one thing Angie had learned over the years, it was that there was a procedure for everything. An escape pod had several. The main one was to go to the closest inhabited planet and land. If a planet was not within range, then the pod was to send out an S.O.S signal and to either stay where it was or chart a course for the closest area that typically had traffic.
If what the captain had said was true, then the pod would head for Ballybran. Angie didn't see or hear the explosion, but she felt it. The pod itself had crystals, so she was able to feel the sonic wave through the pod's crystal panel. She felt a sob catch in her throat and she wept for the crew. She hadn't liked them, but they had been nothing but kind to her.
"Time to destination: 47 Earth hours." The pod told her as it wizzed through space. It was small enough and fast enough that any pirates that detected it wouldn't think much about it.
"Two days…" Angie mumbled to herself. She didn't even have her books to read. And she thought being on that ship had been boring.
She brought up the survival supplies on the pods console screen and was relieved to see that there was 5 days' worth of rations. Before she forgot, Angie silently thought a prayer for the crew and captain. They hadn't deserved to die.
For a girl that had led a busy and active life for almost a decade, the two days inside the escape pod nearly drove Angie crazy. Her entire body felt cramped and the ration bars had been disgusting. She was extremely relieved when the pod informed her that Ballybran was only an hour or so away.
"Unidentified pod, you are approaching Ballybran air space. Ballybran is a class four restricted planet. Change your flight path immediately to Shankill Moon base immediately" A voice crackled over the intercom jarring Angie out of her half sleep.
She clumsily messed with the controls for a moment to turn on the mic. "I don't know how!" She exclaimed as she looked at the console. She was a musician, not a pilot! "Everything's on autopilot." She didn't quite know what a class four planet was, but she completely understood what the word restricted meant.
"Identify yourself." The voice replied.
"Angelique Furor McRune," Angie replied quickly, determined to stay out of trouble. "The ship I was on was attacked by pirates and…" She swallowed hard. "The pirates sabotaged the crystal drive."
"Stand by." There was radio silence for several minutes, making Angie even more worried. She really didn't want to get into trouble because of the pods stupid autopilot.
What Angie did not know was that at that moment the current guild master was being hailed and being told of the situation.
"Angelique McRune," the voice of Lars Dahl broke the silence. "Allow the autopilot to land you on the planet. Do not exit the craft. An extraction team will arrive to take you off of the planet." His instructions were simple enough and Angie found herself nodding.
"From there FPS officials will debrief you on Shankill moon base and you will be given a ticket to anywhere you need to go." Angie took a deep breath and then another. Things weren't so bad; she wasn't going to be in trouble.
"Be advised that there is a light storm on the surface and you might get caught in it. Once the storm passes the retrieval team will come for you." And with that the radio went quiet.
A light storm? Why would he be warning Angie about a light storm? The pod was built to withstand most blasts and structural damage. A little rain shouldn't harm it.
At least that was what she thought before entering the planet's atmosphere. If she hadn't been strapped into her seat, the jolting would have thrown her into the ceiling of the escape pod. Her head snapped forward and banged uncomfortably against her viola case and then her head slammed back into the head rest of the seat. She had no idea what was going on outside, but from the way she was being thrown in her seat it felt like someone was playing tennis with the little pod.
If it weren't for the fact that the G's were forcing her down into her seat, crushing the breath from her, Angie probably would have screamed. She wasn't sure if the force of entry was so bad because of the 'light storm' or because of entry itself.
It all ended with the impact. "Malfunction." The pod chirped at her as she moaned. Angie's head really hurt for some reason. "Landing protocol Malfunction. Landing gear failure."
"No kidding." She mumbled before everything went dark. Something warm and wet dripped down her cheek and she wasn't even aware when the storm caught hold of her escape pod and began tossing it around on the landscape that was Ballybran.
When the storm finally ended, the retrieval crews were able to get moving. They had a ship that would lift the pod off of Ballybran and carry it back to Shankill. From there base staff and medical personnel would be able to get the McRune girl out.
"What if there was structural damage to the haul?" Killashandra Ree asked her guild master as they waited on the moon base.
"There shouldn't be. From what her father has told us, the ship she was being transported on was top of the line. That pod should be nearly impenetrable." Lars was sitting in his typical chair, his fingers laced just below his chin.
"Say that there is though, and she breathes a little of the air…" The situation would be good. The girl would be exposed to the symbiot. There would be no way of knowing though, at least for a couple weeks.
"Retrieval team here, we've found the pod." Lars leaned forward and changed the view of the wall screen. He watched as the ship landed. The pod was carefully hooked up to the ship. He held his breath as the ship slowly took off; the pod nestled against the ship.
"No response from within the pod." The Retrieval team reported as they lifted up out of the atmosphere and headed straight for the moon base. "Life is detected."
"Have medical ready on standby." Lars announced through the intercom. "Then have the pod's haul checked for any, and I mean ANY, breach."
"Right away Guild master." Lars sat back in his seat and waited. That was all anyone could do now, just wait.