“These crystals are…they’re…they’re astonishing,” said Bates, her awe audible even over the scratchy commlink in her environment suit.

Rowe scanned them with an indifferent gesture. “Quartz with impurities,” he said. “Worthless. All they tell us is how long this place has been without an earthquake or a meteor strike.”

“How can you say that?” Bates laid a hand on one of the shimmering giants, twice again as tall as she was. Her suit left an ugly handprint on the surface. Rowe grabbed her by the rear handle of her suit and hauled her away as the weakened crystal, its delicate structure compromised by Bates’s alien grime, collapsed.

“I can say that because I’ve seen bigger ones and more colorful one,” he huffed. “You can’t let yourself get hypnotized by every little thing, kid. You’ve got to grow a thicker skin. Me scraping jelly off a rock doesn’t do anybody but the underwriters any good.”

“Maybe it’s the other way around,” said Bates, crestfallen. “Maybe you don’t let yourself get hypnotized nearly enough.”

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