The Squire's Crystal
Roots: There are references to the Holy Grail, Atlantis, King Arthur, Howard Carter, Paddington Bear, Mata Hari, and Winnie-the-Pooh.
Dialogue Triumphs: "I was forgetting. He wasn't anyone important, he was just a guard. It's okay to kill off guards; I mean, it wouldn't have been a proper adventure without it. Only charismatic murderers like Dominic and Avril count, and we go about saying that we won't hurt them because it'd make us as bad as they are, all the time being perfectly happy to ignore the fate of poor little nonentities like Bill, who serve their purpose and then don't matter any more."
Continuity: The legend of the Soul-Sucker tells of Avril Fenman, a squire to a Knight of the Rowan (a revered order of female paladins) and her discovery of the Crystal Cavern. The crystals in the cavern allowed the user to swap bodies; having killed her knight, Avril was sentenced to death but used a crystal to swap bodies with her executioner, beginning a reign of notoriety, starting by killing the head of the Order of Rowan. She was eventually trapped in her lair, and her body sealed within. A children's picture book, The Adventure of the Crystal Cavern, recounts this legend. In fact, Avril lived on the planet Hera and was indeed a squire to a Knight of Rowan; Hera is also the location of the Crystal Cavern. She loved her Knight (Cherry) and was powerless to save her life. Using the power of the crystals to survive, she was branded a witch; switching minds with her executioner, she escaped and exiled herself, eventually giving up form voluntarily. She placed her mind in a crystal in a cave on KS-159 with the corpse of her last body long before the planetoid became the Braxiatel Collection (Tears of the Oracle) [although probably after the Delfans abandoned it]. Braxiatel allows her to remain on the Braxiatel Collection, dwelling in the cave where Bernice found her in the body of security guard Bill, whose mind was displaced by Lyence.
The crystals of the Crystal Cavern absorb minds, allowing users to switch bodies. Without a body or a crystal to inhabit, minds soon whither and die. The crystals can absorb the minds of animals, as well as intelligent beings. The cavern is destroyed along with the crystals, although at least one survives - Lyence uses it to switch bodies later in life.
Thanks to Dominic's treachery, Benny's mind is displaced from her body by the mind of Avril Fenman, left temporarily bodiless, and then forced to inhabit Dominic's body after Avril betrays him in the Crystal Cavern. Avril, living at the Braxiatel Collection in Bernice's body, burns Benny's research notes and diaries. She also has sex with Adrian Wall. Benny still hasn't met the elusive Broderick Naismith.
Braxiatel keeps Dyamon dagger-fish in his fishpond at the Braxiatel Collection (he has to replace them after the crystal drains their minds and Wolsey eats them). He has a copy of The Adventure of the Crystal Cavern. Benny keeps folders of notes that she has written, including Repetitive Poems of the Early Ikkaban Period (Revised), The Twentieth Century and What it Was Really Like to Live There, and The Lost Tomb of Rablev: The Truth.
Ms. Jones drinks sherry. Calvin Jersix is a security guard on the Braxiatel Collection. He is married but is having an affair with Security Sub Officer Tom Delaney, which Benny knows about.
Dominic Troy is actually Nico Lyence, the "Fifth Axis Gigolo". He was rumoured to have been killed when the Axis troops evacuated the Galamanus system after the loss of the Sixth Fleet. He is utterly narcissistic and obsessed with staying perfect, terrified of surgery or enhancement.
Arsine de Vallen is a trillionaire collector and rival of Braxiatel. He lives on the planet Hera [possibly an Earth colony]. He swallows poison intending to use a crystal to steal Lyence's body, but is stopped by the mind of Lyence and dies.
Inhabitants of the Galamanus system have smooth metallic golden skin with hair to match.
Hera was a matriarchal society ruled by the Knights of Rowan, but the activities of Avril Fenman led to a decline in trust of the Knights and increased misogyny, resulting in a coup by the male populace. As a result of Avril's activities, the Herans were forced to destroy their ability to space travel; their race memory of this means that they are usually suspicious of space travellers. There were once troll like creatures on Hera.
Frogfish Spacelines is a bargain fleet from the planet Hephaestus VI. Awablooms are apparently flowers native to that planet and are used to make wreaths.
Links: Benny is uncomfortable with joking about torture, which is probably a reference to Just War. Trying to guess Poppy's name, Benny tries Dorothy, presumably a reference to Ace. Benny recalls being trapped in the body of a cat (Warlock). She also notes that Wolsey has been human (Oh No It Isn't!). The Fifth Axis first appeared in Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Doomsday Manuscript. Benny sends holoprints of Lyence to a friend on Pakhar, a reference to Keri (Legacy, Happy Endings).
Location: Hera, the Braxiatel Collection, February 2600 [setting this story before Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Gods of the Underworld].
Future History: A medieval privy is discovered on Viola Cappa during January or February 2600AD. Monopoly is still played, using shilling notes and with properties including Ganymede and Io.
Unrecorded Adventures: Benny has visited Hera once or twice before.
The Bottom Line: Benny as a man makes for an entertaining time, as does her outrage at what Avril does whilst in her body (which will return to haunt her later in the range), but there is also a serious undercurrent as she is, in one way or another, subjected to various personal violations. The self-obsessed Lyence makes for an interesting villain, as does Avril, a woman warped by personal tragedy. All-in-all, an impressive effort from Rayner.