Dumarest is released from the hospital with his bill paid by an anonymous benefactor. Dumarest, Kemmer and Marta bail out Santis (who was imprisoned for his interference in the arena).† Marta, with Kemmer as her agent and Santis as bodyguard, uses her gem to start anew earning passage money, while Dumarest meets Ellain, a brilliant singer with red hair and green eyes who reminds him vaguely of Kalin.† She needs help getting out of debt (a dangerous condition on Harge, where life is only possible in the self-contained ecosystem of the city, interest rates are ridiculous and chronic debtors are sold into labor contracts or evicted into the wild to be killed by sandstorms), so she can gain freedom from her patron Yunus and leave the world.† Yunus is an unpleasant chap who is stifling her career in order to make her his virtual slave.† Earl agrees to help after she offers to introduce him to Jwani, a rich eccentric who she claims has mentioned Earth.
Marta is killed at her final (obviously) performance by her singing gem, which is actually a symbiotic organism that has slowly been sucking the life out of her.† Ellain kills the gem by singing along with it, finding its primary harmonic and shattering it like glass.† Dumarestís surviving companions initially blame Martaís death on Dumarestís new girlfriend, but they get over it.† All this has little to do with the main plot, but itís cool.
Jwani turns out to know (or at least admit knowing) less than Earl already knows about Earth, but he is also an inventor, geologist and gray-market player in the planetís only export, tranneks.† These are extremely valuable mineral nodes that have numerous industrial uses, and are the waste product of the mineral-consuming sannaks as they bore through concentrated veins of rare elements as they feed.† Although the number of tranneks harvested from the nearby mountains has been in continual decline since the planetís colonization, Jwani thinks he knows how to find the ďmother lodeĒ.† To bypass the graduated tax (which makes it unprofitable to find and sell more than a few tranneks at a time), he just needs someone from outside the system to prospect and harvest them.
Dumarest, Santis and Kemmer sell Martaís stuff and Ellain sells all the valuable gifts Yunus has given her so they can buy equipment and hire a local guide to go trannek hunting.† Ellain survives increasingly insidious attempts by Yunus to further ensnare her while Dumarest, Santis and Kemmer survive sannak attacks and a sandstorm as they collect a fortune in tranneks using Jwaniís theories and Dumarestís survival instincts.† They return to the city and are aided by some runaway debtors in the sewer levels.
Meanwhile, Cyber Tosya has arrived on Harge and comes to the logical conclusion that Dumarest must be dead since ďnothingĒ can survive a sandstorm in the open desert.† Yunus had been working for Tosya and had secretly paid Dumarestís hospital bill, but lost interest after Ellain (the object of his obsession) fell in love with Dumarest.† Tosya kills Yumus for his lack of diligence, resigns himself to the prospect of being labeled a failure within the Cyclan hierarchy (he deduces they might actually let him live since Dumarest went into the desert before he even arrived on the planet), and leaves.
Dumarest and crew reach the civilized part of the city with the tranneks and are paid by Jwani, who also mentions that he somehow forgot to pass on to Cyber Tosya a report of a lock on a ventilation shaft that had been tampered with during the sandstorm.† Dumarest realizes that if Tosya had received that report, he would have deduced that Dumarest was still alive, and that Jwani has therefore saved his life.† Dumarest wonders why (and suspects that between Jwaniís knowledge of Earth and his inventions that seem designed to enable remote colonies to be self-sufficient, he may have something to do with The Original People), but Jwani explains no further and Dumarest wonít look the gift horse in the mouth (or beat a confession out of someone who has saved his life).
Santis and Kemmer decide that between Santisí street smarts and muscle, Kemmerís entrepreneurial instincts, and the fact that they now share with Jwani the secret to making a fortune in tranneks, they have a pretty good thing going, and decide to stay on Harge.† Dumarest is reunited with Ellain and the pair plans to depart together on the next ship that visits.† Dumarest doesnít usually place people he cares for at risk by letting them travel with him, but heís willing to give it a go for a while with Ellain despite realizing the relationship wonít last.† Of course, itís doomed because Ellain will eventually pursue her singing career and he will resume his search for Earth.† Oh, and maybe because of this too: Ellain is smart, talented, resourceful and beautiful, with a personality thatís only a little bit grating, but the real reason Dumarest is infatuated with her is because she reminds him of Kalin.† Sick, dude.† Who says Dumarest doesnít have any character flaws?