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Crum's Crystals

 

Crum’s Crystals

(A Power Colors Short Tale)

Talee

 

 

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously

 

Copyright 2016 by Talee

 

First Edition: February 2016

 

 

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

Acknowledgements

 

Thanks to all those who have supported my efforts by reading my books and especially those who provided reviews encouraging others to read my books. I write for you, and am happy that you find my works entertaining.

This book is dedicated to all who struggle to find their way in the world. Remember great things happen in everyone’s life, the key is to make the most of them when they come.

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Crum’s Crystals

 

Crum pulled the plastisheet tighter around his shoulders and pressed himself up closer to the vent he had been lucky enough to get to first today. Winter would be here soon, and the nights were getting pretty cold. Soon he would have to fight to keep such a warm spot.

He looked around scanning every dark spot in the alley but there was no one there except the old woman curled up on the other vent at the end of the block. And she had her back to him. He looked one more time before reaching into his belt pouch and pulling out the tiny sliver of crystal.

This one was bright yellow and quickly began to twinkle when he held it in his bare hand. He could feel the warmth of it and knew that if he concentrated on being warm while holding it, he would be as warm as a summer day. But it was risky holding it out in the open like this. Others could see the colors flowing to it, and eventually someone would steal it if he was careless.

These were pretty valuable to some people, he had heard that masters would pay four times as much as he could get from the pawn brokers for one this clear. But he had no idea how to get close enough to a master to sell such a thing. When they came out with their pins or robes on, they were always surrounded by the working stiffs and he would be beaten for trying to push his way through them.

Not that he ever wanted to let one go. But he always seemed to have stretches like now when the guards were vigilant at the mine tailings and he could not get any stones to shape. Then he would have to sell them to eat eventually.

He reached into his bag and felt around for the piece of jerky he had been able to get from that lady in the park yesterday. That would not last long. Maybe through tomorrow if he was careful. And the lady did not come back to the park today. But the police were out in force and ran him off when he tried to approach a well to do couple.

He pulled the crystal shard closer and envisioned a full belly on a warm afternoon in the sun. Within seconds he felt the pinch in his stomach disappear and the goose bumps on his skin went away just as quickly. He slipped the shard back into his belt pouch and closed his eyes.

…”Get out of here! We don’t need your kind hanging around. There’s shelters on the other side of the strip. Go down there and leave us alone. Better yet, get a job and make something of yourself.”

Crum jumped just in time to avoid the booted foot that came flying toward his ribs. He jumped up and moved as quickly as he could down the alley clutching his small bag to his chest, and dragging the plastisheet. Sometimes these guys would try to take those things away to teach him a lesson for being where he didn’t belong.

Crum came out of the alley and merged into the early morning pedestrians all in a hurry to get to their jobs or appointments. Most gave him a wide berth but a few would bump into him or push him as they went by telling him to go back to the ghetto where he belonged.

Crum made his way down the street toward the edge of town. Maybe he would have better luck sneaking into the tailings today.

As soon as the crowd thinned and he could do so safely, he reached back into his bag and pulled out the jerky there, carefully biting off just a small piece and slipping the remainder back into his bag.

He paused briefly to look at his reflection in the mirror mural at the edge of the business district, and shook his head at the vision.

His blond hair looked nearly white in the morning gloom, and his round face showed the pock marks so common among the street people. But what made him shake his head was the gaunt frame he now had and the slight yellowing of the white portions of his grey eyes.

I got to get some real food pretty soon or I’ll end up in the hospital or worse.

He had known several people who got that yellowing of the eyes and never recovered. Most of them went a little crazy and then just found a place to lay down and die.

He reached back in the bag and pulled the jerky out taking another small bite. Clearly he had to have more than he had been eating. A second bite might not cure the yellow eye, but it couldn’t hurt.

He slipped into the drainage ditch with the ease of many years of practice, smoothly pulling the grate back over him as he went. He could take the underground ways most of the way to the first of the six mines this town had been named for.

A few minutes later he came out of the ditch within eyeshot of the tailings. He put the grate back in place and slipped into the shadows as he moved quickly across the distance scanning for the security team as he went.

He saw the first of the guards sitting on the top of the hill sweeping the whole area from the heights. There would be at least two more wandering the tailings, but if he was lucky they might all be on the same side giving him an opportunity to slip in quickly and gather a few stones while they made their rounds.

Crum slid from shadow to shadow until he located the other two guards. They were walking together making their way across the tailings in a pattern he had seen before. If he were patient, they would pass the hill nearest him in about 20 minutes and he would have time to move in, hopefully find a few stones and slip out before they returned. He could work his way around through the shadows to the side of the slope that would not be visible from the hill, but he could not do that until they passed his position or he would be visible to the two guards on their rounds.

Crum made himself relax staying in the crease created by the movement of the large mining crawlers until he heard the two guards pass his position. They were talking about the new shaft that had been started hitting cave after cave. That meant lots of undamaged crystals for a while. And that meant plenty of profits to pay for overtime.

As soon as their voices had faded away, Crum made his move, slipping from shadow to shadow, crawling through crevices and praying that the guards did not change up their rounds and come back early.

At last he reached the edge of the tailings and began running his hands through the fine silt that made up most of the soil on this part of the planet. But the caves had stone in the walls, and when it was broken up to extract the crystals, there would be hand sized chunks of stone that was discarded along with the silt.

That was the treasure he was searching for. With several new caves being discovered, there should be some good stone coming out of the mines right now. Crum moved as quickly as he could using the grid approach he had used successfully before, but he was not having any real luck. So far he had found only one small stone, and he was quickly running out of time. He ran his hands through the final grid of his plotted area and found nothing. Time was up, he needed to work his way back out and wait for the guards to pass once more, but there was no doubt they would notice the disturbed soil and change their pattern, forcing him to figure out the new pattern before moving again. And even then he would have to move to a different tailing area. This one would be under close scrutiny for the next few days. He gave the area one last look in the dim light hoping to see some change in the smooth surface that would indicate a stone. But there was nothing there just as there had been nothing when he arrived.

Disappointment filled his heart as he slipped away back the way he had come. One small stone to work with. That would yield one small figure if he was careful and did not break it. It might get him a decent meal, but no chance of anything more. He had to stick around and try to find another opportunity.

He was just about to slip back into one of the crevices that would take him to a crawler track when he heard the voices coming toward him.

Damn, they changed their pattern. No going out the way I came in. I will have to move ahead of them and try to get to the second tailing slope then work my way out through the path there.

Crum moved swiftly and silently moving through the darkness at a speed that would be foolish during full light. Only his years of moving in the shadows allowed him to put distance between himself and the guards. He reached the first tailings slope and skirted it until he reached the tunnel the mine had built to allow movement of the mining equipment across the tailings without having to risk going through the silt that would often turn into a slide.

He stepped in and the lights went on automatically causing him to nearly jump back out. He reached into his belt pouch and touched the crystal for comfort as he wished with all his might that he were invisible an undetectable by the proximity sensors. He increased his pace not wanting to be seen, or have the lights be noticed by one of the guards. He slipped out the other side of the tunnel just in time to hear the alarm as the guards reached the tailings and noticed the signs of his disturbance of the silt. That would delay them for a few minutes, but they would call in more security immediately to try to catch him on the grounds.

Crum moved as quickly as he could across the space between the first and second tailings slope. Now he had to be careful. No telling where the additional security would come from. Still he desperately needed to come away with something he could work and sell. He likely would not be able to get in here again for weeks.

He stopped long enough to scan the tailing slope, and sure enough he saw three places where there were small rises in the silt.

Well, if I don’t take the risk, I will starve before I get another chance. Just have to be quick about it.

He gripped the crystal shard for comfort and again wished he were invisible so he could retrieve something of value and get away safely. He reached the first rise in the silt and quickly slipped his hands in sweeping back and forth gradually going deeper and deeper until he felt it, a stone the size of his fist. That would yield something good. He pulled the stone out and slipped it quickly into his bag as he moved to the second small rise.

Once again, he swept back and forth eventually finding a stone about half the size of the first one. He retrieved it and slipped it into his bag and moved to the third. Another large stone. Crum could not believe his great fortune. Then he heard the voices. They were way too close, how had he missed them before?

Instinctively he slipped his hand back into his belt pouch and clutched the crystal shard, holding it tightly in his hand and praying that he would find a way to get out of sight before the guards arrived.

That was dumb, I should have left when I found the first stone. Damn greedy fool. It’s going to take all my skill and some serious luck to get out of here without being caught this time.

He slipped across a small opening and pulled back into a small crevice holding his breath as two guards came out of nowhere and walked right past him.

No way those two didn’t see me move across that open space. And how the heck did they miss me here in this crevice? Well, I’m not going to tempt fate. Best to move on and right quick.

Crum slipped out of the crevice skirting the tailing slope toward the crawler crease that would lead back to a ditch that he could follow back to another of the grates that would get him into the drainage ditch.

Just before he got to the crease, he heard the second alarm. They had found where he dug in the second tailing slope. He pushed forward moving as quickly as he could without moving into the full light.

He was just about to slip into the crease when he heard a crawler moving nearby, and the voices of several of the workers who would be moving with it.

Damn, just my luck. They will have proximity sensors on that crawler for sure. Best work my way back up to the tunnels and try to slip out on the western slope. Damn. If only I could go invisible like the masters are rumored to be able to do.

He focused on the various paths he could take to get to the western slope. If he could get there undetected, it would be a lot easier to move about there because they would have stripped those security teams to assist on this slope. But then he would spend the entire night getting back to the city. It could not be helped. He focused on the problem and started moving as his mind cleared and he felt the clarity he sometimes felt when working on forming one of the stones. Several times over the next hour he had to drop to the ground and pray he could blend into the shadows as security teams swept the area. Each time they somehow didn’t see him and moved on. Once a pair of guards walked within a meter of him and did not look his way even once.

Eventually, he reached the western slope and started working his way down next to another of the tailings slopes. Just before he reached the point where he would have to run across a clearing to get to the woods, something caught his eye in the tailings. There was something over there that reflected the light of the moons. He could not help himself, in spite of the danger he felt pulsing through his veins he slipped toward it. As soon as it was in reach, he grabbed it and nearly ran back to the clearing and across it.

Jesul, I am filled with stupidity today. When they find the disturbance in the tailings there these woods will be crawling with security. I better put some serious distance between myself and the tailings.

Crum slipped the new stone into his bag and ran through the woods at a reckless pace, nearly falling several times as he slipped on roots and kicked bushes. But he managed to keep his feet and keep moving. He was exhausted and pushing himself forward on will alone when he finally reached the other side of the woods and made his way down another slope to the stream that would lead him back toward the town.

He reached the stream and stopped to catch his breath and sip some of the clear cold water there. He was still breathing hard when he heard the alarm in the distance. They had found his mark in the third tailing slope.

Crum paused just long enough to fill his water bag, and then set himself to the ground eating stride he had used many times to go from shelter to shelter across town when the snows came and everyone was trying to get into one. The shelters furthest from the center of town were always the last to fill up, but they often weren’t open except when the snows came.

The sky was already beginning to turn light when he reached the edge of the town and slipped into the drainage ditch once more. But he would not be able to completely relax until he got back to the part of town he knew best and got his treasures safely hidden. The mines would be watching for anyone who showed up with stones or crystals over the next few days, meaning he could not even work the stones for a while. Sometimes they came to town looking when there was one alarm, but there was no doubt a three alarm night would have them scouring the town for the bum that stole from them.

It was possible to find rocks in other areas, but they were rare enough that it would be assumed anyone with new rocks was the person who had broken into the tailings slopes last night. That meant he would be hungry for a few more days unless he could get into one of the soup kitchens or have success begging.

Stupid. How could I have been so greedy and so stupid? Damn, I needed to be able to turn one of those stones into some credits quickly. Now I won’t even be able to start working with them for several days.

Stupid!

Well at least I should find some light and see if what I got was worth the effort.

He changed directions and worked his way across to the side of town that was furthest from the tailings and slipped out around the broken grate that the city had not bothered to fix after the last great storm had battered it. Down the slope was a small stream that had been a raging river during that storm. Crum had been caught out in that one. He had been trying to gather some of the last berries before the storm washed them away and stayed too long. That was a long cold night, but the berries he had collected held him over for a few days when the citizens were in a much less generous mood.

His stomach rumbled at the thought and he was reminded of how little he had eaten and the likelihood that it would be a while longer before he ate well again.

The morning had blossomed into full light now and he slipped down to sit by the creek. He looked around for a while to see if there were any frogs or fish around that he might be able to trap, but nothing presented itself.

So he moved over under a tree and looked around peering into all the shadows before settling down and digging into his bag searching for the new treasures.

First he found a fist sized green stone, round and smooth from making its way through the sifting process at the mine. This was the largest one he had ever seen make it through though. He examined it and felt his focus solidify as he saw what the stone wanted to become.

Yes, that is excellent, animal figures always sell quickly and for top dollar.

He set the stone down next to him where he could quickly cover it if someone appeared. Then he went back to the bag and pulled out a slightly smaller version of the stone, only this one was a deep clear black, and his focus came on almost instantly revealing what that stone wanted to become.

Very nice, religious symbols are also quick movers. Too bad it is black though, they are so much more common than the white stones or even the green ones. Still, that is an easy design and will get me at least a week’s worth of supplies and possibly even a refresh.

He set that stone next to the other and reached for the third stone he had found in the greedy scavenging of that second tailings slope. This was the smallest of the stones, about half the size of the largest, but he caught his breath as he looked at it. It was bright yellow, the rarest of the stones he had ever come across. These held significant value without being worked. If he worked this one into a shape, he would save all the pieces he carved out and sell them as well. His focus came again quickly and he saw what that stone wanted to become.

That’s strange, why would a stone want to become the figure of a young woman? And why this particular young woman? I have seen that face before, on the vid casts, maybe my memory is overriding the true design the stone wants.

Still, if someone wants a figure of a woman in gold, it will be very valuable indeed. And if not, they can always change it. I have never gone wrong though, listening to what the stone wants to become.

Crum’s mind jumped immediately to the time when he ignored what the stones wanted and created several of the small pieces that were popular at the time. Two days later a man had approached him wanting the specific piece the stone had wanted to become. When he asked how much the piece would be worth, the man had given him a number many times what he had gotten out of the small pieces he had made instead.

If you want to become the Lady SalLia, then that’s who you shall become.

He slipped that stone into his shirt to keep it out of sight and close to his skin where he could feel that it was still there. He reached into his bag once more and found the small stone that he had gathered on the first slope. It was the smallest of the bunch and a deep red color that Crum had only seen once before. These were particularly hard to work, but the other one he had found sold very quickly for enough to buy a week’s supplies.

I guess, if you had to be this small, it’s good that you are a rare color.

Crum focused and saw what the stone wanted to become and nodded with satisfaction.

The pendant shape of a lady’s necklace. That will not be as hard to do with this stone as an animal or figure would be. And I can sell that one directly to a jeweler rather than have to go through one of those pawn brokers who rob you blind.

He slipped it back in his bag smiling to himself. He gathered the other two stones from the ground and slipped them back in the bag beside it.

Then his stomach rumbled again as he felt the small piece of jerky that remained brush his hand. He moved the jerky aside and felt one more smooth stone. This one was small and shaped funny. As he pulled it out he remembered the stone that reflected the moons’ light and caught his attention as he was trying to escape.

He pulled it out and his heart nearly stopped. This was no stone. He could feel the energy pulsing from it and the color ribbons rushed toward it. This was the largest crystal shard he had ever seen, and it was completely clear. He examined it closely and felt the energy fill him as he did so. He would never be able to sell such a stone, it was so beautiful and so… special. Crum looked around quickly to be certain he was still alone and slipped it into his belt pouch with the other shard.

As he forced himself to release it and let it settle in next to the much smaller one he had treasured for so long. His stomach once again rumbled.

Okay, let me see if I can find some fall nuts or possibly one of the skitters that gather them at this time of year.

Crum got to his feet and moved into the brush that grew around the small stream examining the limbs closely for any sign of seeds or nuts. No surprise that this close to the grate there were none to be found. He worked his way upstream constantly scanning the stream too in hopes of seeing a gathering of fish or perhaps a frog.

Hours past as he continued his search and eventually he could feel the skin on the back of his neck beginning burn from the bright sun. He moved over to a tree and slid down to rest for a bit and let his poor skin have a break. He was just about to slip into a well-deserved sleep when he heard the voice.

“A bit far from the city aren’t you? You looking for work?”

Crum nearly jumped out of his skin as his head swung around and he saw the boy climbing down the tree nearest to the one he was resting against.

“Dad needs some help with picking if you are looking for work.”

“Picking?”

“Yes, we own the orchard over there.”

Crum had to crank his neck to see what the boy was pointing at. Sure enough there were trees for as far as the eye could see in the direction he indicated. And most had sagging limbs burdened with ripe fruit in several varieties.

Crum’s stomach rumbled again as he saw all that fruit. And the boy laughed.

“Here, this is one of the seconds, has some bruising that dad says makes it unmarketable. We always end up canning twenty or thirty bushels of these and shipping many more off to the charities.”

Crum had to jump to catch the fruit the boy tossed him. It was a bright yellow fruit with a fuzzy skin. He had seen them before in the market, but had never had the money to spare for such luxuries.

“Go on, I have had so many I would probably pop if I ate another one. Besides, as I said we have lots of those.”

Crum took a bite out of the side and juices ran down his face dripping onto his shirt. It was delicious. Crum could not remember ever tasting anything so sweet and tender.

The boy laughed again.

“Good huh? We grow the best on the planet. So you want me to take you to dad to see about that job?”

Crum hated to swallow and lose the sweet taste that filled his mouth, but he really could use a job. And if it came with the benefit of tasting some of these every now and then. Well, he wouldn’t mind that. Of course there was very little chance the man would actually hire him since he had no experience and was just a street bum. But maybe Crum could con him out of another one of these delicious fruits.

“Um, yes. That would be wonderful.”

“Great, come on.”

Crum scrambled to keep up with the boy who was obviously used to running up and down these hills. By the time they reached the top of the hill he was breathing pretty heavy, but then the boy mercifully stopped and waited for him.

“Picking is hard work. You probably want to catch your breath before we go see dad. Might not go so well if he thinks you will be run down already.”

“Thank… you…. I’m sure… you’re right.”

Crum was no lazy bum, he routinely walked the city day and night, but he had not dealt with steep hills that much. In a couple of minutes he had regained his breath and told the boy he was ready.

“Okay, this time of day, dad will be in the shed checking his supply of baskets, and boxes. That will be in the end building over there.”

And the boy was off once more, but this time he kept a more steady ground eating pace and Crum had no difficulty keeping up.

“Dad! Dad! I found you a picker Dad.”

A tall powerfully built man came out of the shed and smiled as his son came trotting over. He picked the boy up with one arm and tousled his hair with the other.

“Boy, I told you about talking to strangers. You need to be careful. Where did you find this one?”

“He was walking up stream by the river, looking for nuts and berries I think.”

“Okay, well run on up to the house and get your lunch. Mom’s bound to be irritated that you let it get cold again.”

The boy jumped down and ran toward the big house. And the big man turned his look on Crum.

Crum’s knees almost gave out on him at the look in the man’s eyes.

“You ought to know better than to con a man’s son. I catch you near my boy again and we will have some new fertilizer in the orchard. Am I clear?”

“Yes… sir. Sorry, sir. I will leave immediately, sir. I did not mean to offend, just needed the work.”

Crum started to back away hoping to be able to get back to the stream before the man’s anger got the best of him. But then as suddenly as he had shown the anger, the big man smiled.

“You don’t have to leave, I really do need help if you really want to work. Just stay clear of my boy and my wife and we will get along just fine.”

Crum stopped, unsure of what to do now. On the one hand, that man could easily crush him and burry him in the orchard as he had threatened to do and no one would care. On the other, Crum was slowly starving to death, and it would be several days before he dared to try to work and sell one of the stones.

“Well, you want to work or not?”

“Yes, sir. I want to work.”

“Good. I’m betting by the look of you this will be your first time picking, so we will start you hauling the bushels up to the traveler. Pick up this box to get a feel for how much they way.”

He pointed to a large box with a cover on it and handles cut into the sides. And Crum obediently picked it up. It was heavy, but not as bad as the garbage bins he had moved one summer. He could do this.

“Well, you think you can haul those all day?”

“Yes sir.”

“Okay. You start right after lunch. The crew is eating over in the barn. You can join them if you are hungry, but we are half way through the break so you will need to hurry.”

Crum saw the open barn door and the group of men and women inside sitting at a makeshift table. He turned to go join them when the man spoke again.

“Hey, what’s your name?”

“Crum, sir.”

“Don’t you want to know what the job pays?”

“Uh, yes sir.”

“I pay 2 credits per bushel loaded. 8 credits per bushel picked. But you will get docked 15 credits if you drop a bushel and bruise the product.

I provide meals and you can spend the night in the barn with the others. We work from first light until dark with one break for lunch.

Still want the job.”

“Yes sir.”

“Okay go eat.”

Crum turned and hustled over to the barn. There he found a kettle of hot stew and some rolls. There were several unused bowls and spoons next to the kettle and he grabbed one quickly smiling as a young man filled the bowl for him and handed him a couple of the rolls.

“Thank you, sir.”

He moved quickly to the table and sat down in an empty space, shoveling the stew into his mouth as quickly as he could, given the need to cool it some to avoid repeatedly burning his mouth. Even so, there was still a little left in the bowl when he heard the big man announce that break was over.

He stuffed the two rolls into his pocket and followed the lead of the others taking his bowl over and stacking it by the door and then walking out the door toward a distant stand of trees. He tied his bag around his shoulders the way he had learned to do when he needed to have his hands free and hustled to stay with the crew.

They reached the trees and the group started to break up with most of them grabbing boxes and heading into the orchard.

“Xax, you will be picking this afternoon. Crum will replace you on the hauling crew.”

Crum heard the quiet cheer from a tall thin woman near him as she quickly grabbed a box and headed for the center of the orchard.

“Crum, with me. The rest of you get to it.”

Crum hustled over toward the big man who was walking toward the large traveler that already held a large number of the boxes all stacked neatly to minimize the space they took up.

“You will be running down the far row of trees making sure the pickers have new bushels as soon as they fill the ones they have. Then you will be picking up the filled bushels and bringing them back here. They need to be stacked tightly as you see these here are, so we can get as many as possible on the traveler before I run it to the inspection area. I will take two of the runners with me to unload the traveler, the rest will remain here and cover the two rows vacated by those who go with me.

While the traveler is gone, you will stack the bushels here leaving room for the traveler to be brought back into this same location. When it returns the two who unloaded it will first load the stacked bushels onto the traveler and then resume their duties running.

Do you understand?”

“Yes sir.”

“Okay, good. Grab some bushels and let’s walk your row.”

Crum jogged over to the stack of boxes and grabbed 5 of them, then hustled back to join the big man.

“Good, you got the idea. You have 5 pickers and you want them to all have fresh bushels as soon as they need them.”

They entered the row he had indicated and Crum could see that there were indeed 5 pickers climbing ladders and picking the fruit carefully but quickly.

“Good job Xim. Kral why is your bushel only half full?”

Crum saw a young man just into his whiskers smile and an older one jump as the big man spoke.

Obviously the boss had no patience for slow work. Crum took the hint and closed up the box the younger man had filled and put a new empty box up there shifting the filled one out where he could pick it up on the return trip.

“Good. That’s how full we want the bushels. Any more and they will bruise the fruit, and less and the vendors will complain they are being cheated.

You notice each box has a mark on it. That’s the picker’s mark and indicates the person who gets paid for that bushel. Make sure you get those recorded correctly on the log by the traveler. Have you used a count sheet before?”

“Yes, sir. We used one when I worked one summer hauling garbage bins.”

“Okay, same concept. Just match up the marks and keep the count straight. Remember you guys all sleep in the same place and people get kind of unfriendly when they get shorted on their pay.”

“Yes sir. I understand.”

“Okay, good. Get to hauling, I will keep an eye on things for a bit to make sure you don’t fall behind. But then you will be on your own.”

“Yes sir. Thank you sir.”

Crum took off at his best sustainable pace and focused on getting the bushels picked up, moved to the traveler and getting back before the next set of bushels was ready.

He lost track of time as he worked, and the team he was working with appeared to be very good based on the number of bushels he was recording. As the light disappeared, it became harder to see if a picker had a full bushel or not, so he took to reaching into the bushel to check. That worked and he was able to keep up because the pickers were slowing due to the inability to see clearly as the light faded. Still, he was hauling a steady stream of full bushels until it got too dark to see.

He was tripping on rough spots in the path and stumbling as he stepped in holes before the big man appeared and called a stop to the picking for the day.

Crum was sore and a little bruised from using his body to protect the bushels, but he had not dropped any even when he saw others doing so.

As soon as the word was given, the pickers stopped and followed him back to the traveler. Each checking their bushel count and pressing their thumb to the total to verify. The boy who had actually outperformed the other pickers by a couple of bushels came over next to him after verifying his count.

“You did good partner. I didn’t have to wait on a bushel all day, and that’s a first for me here. We made some good money today. Looks like you will stick if you want to. I’m Xim. You?”

Crum saw the boy extend his hand and responded quickly.

“Thanks, I could sure use some credits about now. My name is Crum.”

“Crum!”

Crum jumped at the sound of his name in the big man’s booming voice. He quickly hustled over to the man who was standing by his log.

“Yes sir?”

“You did well. More bushels hauled than anyone except my foreman. You have the right to get your pay now and leave, but I have room for you on the crew for a few more days if you want.”

“Yes, sir. I mean, yes, I would like to stay for a few more days if you can use the help. Thank you sir.”

“Alright. You will stick with the same crew when we start at first light. The crew all certified their counts. Press your thumb here to certify your counts. Then you and your crew can head back to the barn.”

Crum pressed his thumb to the screen and turned to walk back to where the boy was still waiting for him. He had been joined by the other 4 pickers.

“All good, Crum?”

“Yes, he said we can head back to the barn.”

“Excellent. First crew always gets the pick of the desserts. Let’s go. You guys hear that, we were first crew today.”

There was some low key cheering and the whole crew headed back for the barn.

…Crum was exhausted as he pressed his thumb to the screen for the last time. The picking was complete for the year. He had joined the crew late, but he had still gotten almost three weeks of work in. More than that, he had made a notable amount of credits, enough to buy some cloths, rent a room and possibly get on with one of the labor crews in town. Something that he had not been able to do for several years.

He pulled his bag off his shoulders and checked one last time to be certain his stones were still there. They were along with the bread and trail snacks he had been able to stow away over the last week. Credits or not, he was not about to lose the opportunity to secure a few meals.

He pulled the bag back up to his shoulders and headed back down to the stream. Upstream would lead him to another orchard, then a couple of farms and then wild land for several parses. According to Xim, beyond that was a great star port and then a city that housed millions of people. Crum was not so sure about a city with millions of people, but he had heard about the star port.

Back downstream was the city where he had been an outcast for most of his life. Crum made his decision and headed upstream.

Always wanted to see one of those star ships. Maybe even meet someone important, like one of those masters that are so popular with the current government these days.

Crum liked that idea. Meeting a master could be very good for him, even though it was highly unlikely to occur. Rumor had it that they would pay top dollar for his crystal shards, not that he wanted to sell them, it seemed the longer he had them the better his luck had been. And they always drew those colorful ribbons in when he needed something to go his way.

Every time that happened, things worked out. Like the time Xim had been assigned to a different crew. The colorful ribbons came, and someone else got selected. The boss had said he changed his mind, wanted to keep that top crew together. Then there was the time when he had tripped and dropped two bushels. He was praying that the fruit had not been bruised. The colorful ribbons came and hovered around the bushels, sure enough when they inspected the fruit it was all bruise free. The boss didn’t even dock him for dropping them. Just gave him that look and moved on.

Crum walked all day and just as the light was giving out, he found a little cave to curl up in until morning.

On the second day, he walked past the last farm and into the wild land. It didn’t look that much different than the farm land he had been walking through, except that it had no fences. About an hour before dark, he found a small shelter that had a fire pit and even a stack of fire wood.

That’s too good to pass up. When god gives you a gift, you best take advantage of it.

With that Crum settled into the shelter and managed to get a fire started in the pit. A little water in his small pan and one of the trail snacks would make a tasty warm meal. Crum settled in while the meal simmered and he began working the first of the rocks he had collected the night before he had the good fortune to wander onto the big man’s orchard land.

This was the stone that wanted to become Lady SalLia. His focus settled in and he lost track of anything except the stone. When the fire started to die down, he pushed more wood in almost without pausing in his efforts to make the image perfect.

He was consumed by the effort and lost track of time completely. Eventually, he let the fire die out because he had enough light to continue without it. And then it was finished and he examined it once more. Yes it was perfect, this would sell pretty easily to someone who had connections in politics; she was a very popular and very powerful first lady.

Crum wrapped the piece in a cloth and carefully placed it back in his bag. Then picked up all the stone chips his effort had created. Those were high value stone chips and he figured he could get a meal or two out of them. Then he saw the pan with the burned meal he had so treasured when he stopped yesterday. No saving that, it was charcoal.

Good grief, how long was I at it? I can’t believe I let good food go to waste so I could concentrate on that stupid stone.

Oh my goodness, look at the shadows. It is past mid-day already.

He flipped the pan over to dump out the charcoaled meal, wiped it out and put it back into his bag heading upstream once more….

…Crum had been seeing the outline of the great starships for the last two days. Now that the dark was coming on he could see the star port much more clearly as the horizon glowed.

The size of the ships surprisingly varied quite a lot, but even the smallest ones he could see were bigger than the largest buildings he had ever seen. And that huge black one on the left clearly could hold the entire population of the town he spent most of his life in. That had to be one of those war ships he had heard about, it even looked sinister with points and sharp edges everywhere.

Tomorrow he figured he would reach the star port if he got an early start. He had avoided working the other stones after the experience with the one that wanted to become the first lady. But it was time to work them. He had heard how expensive things were at a star port and he would need to have something to sell if he wanted to restock his dwindling food supplies before heading to the city.

He sat down and ate half of his last trail snack, carefully wrapping the remainder and putting it back in his bag.

Just in case I’m farther away than I think. I may need that snack to keep my energy up for another day.

Now which rock first?

He dug in his bag and pulled out the large green stone. His focus came quickly and he began working to form it into the large cat with vicious looking teeth. He had never seen such a cat before, but animal shapes always sold quickly and the green stone would not detract from that.

By the time he finished the stone, his fire had consumed nearly all the branches he had collected. He wrapped it carefully and put it into his bag, relieved that the effort had not consumed him the way the one of the first lady had.

Well, if I’m going to get going early enough, I had best get some rest. Maybe I will be able to sell these two to wealthy people arriving from some distant planet. I might get twice what I normally get if I can find someone like that to sell to.

Who am I kidding, security will probably run me off as soon as they see me. But my luck has been running pretty good lately, maybe it will last a few more days.

With that though, he drifted off to sleep.

…It had been a long day, but as the light faded, Crum walked up to the large building with the big sign that said “Main Terminal”.

Instinctively he reached into his belt pouch and clutched the two crystal shards there.

If I can just get past the guards that are surely just inside the door. I need to find some wealthy folks inside and sell one of the stones so I can replenish my supplies.

Please god. Let me get in there undetected.

Crum felt a tingling in his hand running up his arm and filling him as he approached the doors. He slipped in behind a couple that was talking up a storm about the trip they were going on. And in seconds he was inside a huge room with people streaming all directions around him.

Crum looked back at the guards by the doors as they moved to intercept a young man who looked like a younger version of himself.

They had not even blinked as he entered, but now were corralling the young man as he had thought they would go after him.

Strange. Why him and not me? Well I got through that’s all that matters. Now find a suitable target. Not too old, not too young. Someone who looks very excited to be here. Ah there you are lady. I’m betting you will want a large green cat to take home with you.

Crum dug in his bag and pulled out the green cat as he approached the young woman. He planned his sales pitch and slipped over next to her telling her how beautiful she was and how he could tell she was a woman of great taste. Did she like animals? Yes, she liked animals a lot, especially cats.

“Oh wonderful, look at this one, it is very rare. I carved it myself.”

“It’s beautiful! Oh my goodness, you are very talented, why are you not running an art studio?”

“Thank you ma’am, but I have a wife and three children that depend on me. I just do this to make a few extra credits so I can feed them.”

“Oh my. Where is your family, I would love to meet them.”

“I’m sorry ma’am, they could not come today, my little one is sick. But I will tell them you asked about them. So would you be interested in buying this piece?”

“Yes I would. How much do you want for it?”

“I’m sorry to ask so much, but my children are hungry. Could you pay perhaps 150 credits?”

“Oh that’s way too cheap for a work like this. How about 200. Here.”

She pulled out a 200 credit chit and handed it to Crum, and he quickly made the exchange.

“Oh thank you ma’am you are most generous. I hope you have an incredibly pleasant stay. Thank you again, and my children thank you too.”

Crum rushed away before she changed her mind.

200 credits! Wow! The most I ever got before was 100 and I didn’t expect to get more than 75 for this one since the stone was green. I wish I had a few more to sell.

Best count my blessings and get those supplies I need without getting thrown out on my ear. Ah, there we go a food regeneration station.

Crum walked over, sat down and pulled up the menu.

Holey crap. That’s ridiculous. 10 credits for a water? 50 credits for a bag of jerky? Better be a big bag for that price.

What are the chances I will get thrown out of the snack shop over there? Pretty good I bet. Well, I guess I will buy a bag of jerky for 50 credits first, just in case.

He selected the jerky and watched as a service fee was added along with tax and when all was said and done, he had paid 60 credits for the bag. It was not a big bag, but he figured he could make it last a couple days if need be. He inserted his new 200 credit chit and received two fifty credit chits and two twenties in change.

Well at least I got that much out of it. No human would have expected me to have a 200 credit chit. The fifties won’t be quite so suspicious since that’s a reasonable week’s pay at the labor on demand places.

He slipped the two fifties into his belt pouch and put the two twenties in his pocket for use at the store.

Then he walked across to the snack shop. As soon as he entered the clerk looked up and signaled and he picked up a tail.

Whew, that’s a relief. Looks like they want my money, just want to keep an eye on me to keep me from stealing. I can deal with that. Just be very deliberate and keep my hands in plain sight.

Now let see.

He walked around the store and the prices were just as bad as the regenerator, but he finally found the clearance rack and sure enough there was a bag of jerky and a couple of energy bars. Still very pricey, but he could get all three for his two twenty credit chits.

There goes my extra profit on the cat, but it should be enough to get to the city where prices should be reasonable again.

He picked up the items and kept them in plain sight as he walked over to the counter to pay the clerk.

“Is that everything?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Sure you don’t have something else tucked away?”

She didn’t look at him she looked behind him at his shadow.

“No ma’am. I didn’t even touch anything else. Just this please.”

Apparently his tail confirmed what he said because she nodded and rang up the items.

“That’ll be 39 credits. Cash.”

Crum felt the anger well up at the assumption that he was still trying to steal from them. He pushed it down and reached into his pocket to pull out the two twenty credit chits.

I hope you get treated like you treated me sometime real soon, bitch.

Crum saw the color ribbons flow toward his belt pouch as that thought flowed through his mind, and he nearly panicked. What if someone saw that? They would know he had crystals stored away there.

As soon as the clerk handed him his change he gathered his items and nearly ran out of the store.

“Hey you. What are you doing in here? Get him.”

Crum saw the officers converging on him and bolted for the nearest door. He crashed through the door and realized he was in a public relief station.

Damn, I’m trapped!

He moved quickly to the back of the room slipping into one of the privacy cubes at the back. And looking desperately for the service portals he had heard were at the back of these rooms. Sure enough, there was a small square door in the back wall next to the relief station.

He bent down and pulled it open crawling in as he heard the security team burst into the room.

He got inside and managed to pull the door closed and sat there in the dark cramped and praying that they did not think to look inside. He had not realized that these were just built to access the plumbing and went nowhere.

He felt the crystal shards pulsing as he prayed that he would not be discovered. He felt the tingling flowing through his body and kept praying with all his might.

He heard the door to the privacy cub open and two guys speaking.

“Not here either. He couldn’t have just disappeared.”

“Check the access panels. He might be able to squeeze into one of those. He has to be here.”

Crum’s heart dropped and he prayed even harder as he tried to squeeze his body further back in the hole.

He heard someone prying at the door and prayed that it would stay closed. The tingling flowing through his body increased and he heard cursing.

“This one’s locked.”

“Okay, no way he had time to pick the lock crawl in and somehow lock it again. Move on.”

Crum had just a brief moment of relief as he heard the guard move away. Then he realized if the panel was locked all he had really gained was some time in a cramped space. He would not be able to get out until someone came and unlocked it.

He pressed against the panel and sure enough it held fast. He was locked in. Once again despair pushed him to start praying again. And again, he felt the tingling flow through his body as he willed the panel to be unlocked.

He stayed still praying until he could hear no one in the room any longer. Then he gently pressed against the panel once again and it slid open smoothly.

Crum said a silent prayer of thanks and crawled out not believing his luck.

“Ah, there you are. I wondered how long you would stay in there.”

Crum’s heart stopped as he saw the short muscular man standing in the doorway that had been empty just seconds earlier. He was an older man with a band of white hair contrasting his very dark complexion. The man stood there with a smile on his full lipped mouth, staring at him with large dark brown eyes that seemed to see right through him.

Crum could not think, he just stood there frozen by panic.

“Oh relax, I’m not going to hurt you. But you could not possibly think that using a key crystal here would go unnoticed. You drew on my crystals clear across the star port.”

“Key crystal? Wha…”

Crum was confused and totally embarrassed at his lack of control.

“Yes, key crystal. I know you have one, I followed the draw and it brought me here. That’s quite a talent you have, and a bit of overkill if you ask me. If you wanted to escape, why not just form a teleportation weave and go somewhere else? Or an invisibility weave and walk right past the guards. That lock you put on the access panel would have kept me out, but I still have to ask why?”

“Lock? I don’t know what you mean?”

“Surely you don’t think you can deceive a Nar Master. Don’t play dumb with me. You have a key crystal and you used it to put a potent lock on the access panel.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I do not wish to anger you. And I know that a master would know if I were trying to deceive, so I am telling the truth when I say, I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“Hm. Okay I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.”

Crum saw the color ribbons flow to the man very quickly and the man moved his hands and eyes and the ribbons wound around one another then came floating toward Crum.

Crum felt the tingling as they settled onto him and suddenly he remembered the tingling he felt while he was hidden behind the access panel praying that no one would open the door and see him.

“Okay, I just put a truth weave on you. Tell me again about the key crystal.”

“Sir, I felt the same tingling I felt when the color ribbons settled on to me just now, earlier today. I was cramped in that hole praying that no one would open the panel and the tingling happened, then they tried to open the panel and it would not open for them. But I know nothing of a key crystal whatever that is.”

“You do have a clear crystal do you not?”

Crum’s heart sank. This man intended to take the clear crystal shard from him. How could he possibly know that Crum had one?

“Yes, sir. I have a clear crystal shard. Please don’t take it from me, I could not bear to part with it.”

The man laughed and the walls of the cube seemed to shake.

“Son I would never take a crystal from anyone who can use it as effectively as you just did. Especially if you did so without knowing you were doing so.

Let me introduce myself to you. I am Nar Master O’Rvl emissary from the High Councilor RinTorl. I was just preparing to leave for some much needed time off on T’Ing, my home planet when you drew my attention.

It is clear by your clothing and manner that you have not had a comfortable life here. But somehow you managed to find a key crystal and you have the talent to make use of it. So, I am going to make you an offer.

If you will promise me on your key crystal that you will dedicate yourself to the study and not steal, or cheat while you are with me. I would like to offer to train you in the use of the power colors and any other mastery skills you have. Will you so promise?”

“Train me? What will that cost?”

“As my apprentice you will be provided food, a place to stay, and work to offset those costs. So in your terms it will cost you dedication and hard work, nothing else. But I must have your promise on the key crystal.”

“But you said you were leaving for T’Ing. How would you train me if I’m here and you are there?”

The laughter came again and Crum felt the blood rush to his face.

“Oh my young friend, you are a delight. You would have to come with me of course.”

“Oh! You mean to take me to your home? I cannot afford to pay for a meal here, there is no way I could afford to travel by starship.”

“I beg to differ with you. That crystal you hold is one of the most valuable possessions in the realm. But I have no intent of asking you to pay for your travel. The high councilor has approved travel for any apprentices I need to have travel with me.”

Crum stood very still thinking.

If this is for real, he is offering to train me to be a master. What are the chances it is for real?

Either way, he clearly is a master and can take what he wants, so I really have nothing to lose. I have nothing here, what’s the difference if I have nothing there?

“Okay, I don’t see that I have any real choice. What do you want me to do?”

“No, that is not good enough. I will not take on an apprentice who does not want to learn. You can walk away right now, no strings attached. I will even escort you out of the star port so you don’t have the threat of the guards snatching you up.

But if you want to learn to use those talents you have. If you want to become valuable to society. I am offering to take you on as an apprentice.”

“You will walk me out of the star port? And just let me go? Without taking my crystal shards?”

“Yes, I swear it on the mastery.”

Crum saw the shimmer in the air as Master O’Rvl made that statement, and he somehow knew the man would die before he broke that word.

Without thinking, Crum reached in his belt pouch and pulled out the two shards raising his hand toward the master.

“I swear on these crystal shards that I will dedicate myself to the study of the mastery. And I will not steal or cheat while I am your apprentice.”

Crum saw the air shimmer and felt the weight of the oath settle onto his heart. His destiny had just changed, he knew it.

“I swear on the mastery that I will train you to the best of my ability in the arts and skills of the mastery and strive to help you become the greatest master you can be.”

Again the shimmering in the air and Master O’Rvl stepped aside and indicated Crum should come out of the cube.

“Well, if you are to be my apprentice, I suppose I should know your name.”

“Uh, sorry sir. My name is Crum. Some call me Crum the bum.”

“No longer. Now you are Crum, apprentice to Master O’Rvl and I will not tolerate anyone disrespecting you. Let’s go get you some travel cloths, the ship is waiting for us.”

Other books by this author

 

Current Power Colors Tales:

P’Hilz Story Available now

The K’Jin Mission Available now

K’Jin Released Available now

Alla’s Path Coming Soon

 

Current books in the Power Colors Saga:

 

Torl’s Journey Book 1 in the series

Rebuilding a Legacy Book 2 in the series

End of an Era Book 3 in the series

Seala’s Burden Book 4 in the series

Taarl and the Fools

Game Coming Soon

 

Power Colors Short Tales

Master Mixer Sslasl

Sslasl and the Mastery

Mika’s Art

Zaable’s Destiny

Crum’s Crystals

Corporal Xasl

Aarn Becomes a Man

Healing Cil

 

 

General Reference

 

All Things Real A reference to the people and places in the Power Colors books.

Barth Reality A reference to the people and places in the Barth Novels

 


Crum's Crystals

Crum had learned at an early age to polish and shape stones he gathered from the tailings of the nearby mines. Not only was he able to sell them on the street for credits that would buy food and occasionally a night in one of the flop houses, but the work made him feel like he was a part of something meaningful. Once or twice he had found shards of the crystals that were mined here and he would feel great comfort in their touch. But always those had more value than any of the stones he formed and he would invariably have to sell them to eat. Each time it was harder and harder to let them go though and he knew that one lunar it would not be possible for him to let them go.

  • ISBN: 9781311289308
  • Author: Talee
  • Published: 2016-02-09 16:20:12
  • Words: 10944
Crum's Crystals Crum's Crystals