Jeanine sends Jana to discuss the Star Stone with Drake.
A member of the palace’s ever-observant staff noticed my expression as I exited Jeanine’s office. Without hesitation, she asked, “May I help you, Miss Ward?”
“Yes, please! I’m looking for Lady Smythe-Warrington.” Before he left, William told the staff of Tilly’s title and, much to Tilly’s disgust, everyone on the staff now used it. “I’m on my way to Captain Haral’s office and need her to meet me there.”
The woman smiled brightly at me. “Don’t worry, miss, we’ll find her. Do you know the way to Captain Haral’s office?”
“I do,” I replied. “Um, I forgot to get breakfast this morning. Could you possibly have some food sent to his office for me?”
“I’d be happy to. After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day!”
The woman was already speaking into her comm as she turned away. Confident that Tilly and food would be at Drake’s office soon, I headed that way.
Tilly, looking disgustingly well-rested and impeccably dressed, met me in Drake’s outer office. Drake was in the outer office waiting for us.
As he ushered us in, he said to his receptionist, “Sally, don’t disturb me unless it’s Jeanine or a life-and-death emergency.”
“I asked to have some breakfast delivered,” I said. “Could you please allow an exception for that?”
Drake flashed a grin that didn’t rise to his eyes. “For you, Jana, anything.”
Drake’s office was large and ostentatious, though it was still surpassed by Jeanine’s office. It had the same basic layout, and Drake settled us into the sitting area to one side of his desk.
Without preamble, he said, “Jeanine told me to drop everything and meet with you immediately. That’s all she said. As you might guess, that has me concerned. What’s this about?”
He and Tilly turned expectant looks my way, but I wasn’t quite ready to come to the point yet. Turning to Tilly, I asked, “You’ve never been Recognized, have you, Tilly?”
Drake’s brows drew down in what I guessed was anger. “What the hell difference does that make? Answer my question!”
“I will, Drake, but you have to be patient for a minute.” I turned back to Tilly. “Well?”
Tilly was nonplussed by the question, but shook her head, “No. I’ve never even seen the Star Stone in person.”
“And your mother? Or, for that matter, your father?”
Tilly’s eyes flashed, joining Drake in anger. “No! And I don’t appreciate this interrogation. You asked me to be here, after all.”
I held my hands up in a placating gesture. “I know, and I’m sorry, but you’ll understand why had to ask that once you hear my explanation.”
Of course, that’s when my breakfast showed up. The young girl—I think her name is Mary—immediately felt the undercurrent of tension in the room. She glanced nervously at each of us, and each of us offered up a strained smile.
“Should I take this away, Captain Haral?” the girl asked.
“No, Mary,” he replied. “I know Jana is quite hungry.”
“That looks delicious,” I said, as the girl placed dishes in front of me. “Thank you.”
Mary curtsied and quickly left with her empty cart.
The second the office door shut, Drake and Tilly turned hard eyes my way. Tilly spoke first, “Spill it.”
I told them what I had told Jeanine, wrapping up with, “I’ve been thinking a lot about the children of Recognized parents and am pretty sure the Star Stone can only see and hear through kids whose mother was Recognized before they were born. Whatever the Star Stone puts into a Recognized person’s body has nine months to…I don’t know if infiltrate is the right word or not, but it’s all I can think of. So, nine months to infiltrate the baby’s body. A Recognized father’s only direct bodily interaction with the baby is at the moment of conception. I think the Star Stone can plant a marker that way, but that’s probably it.”
My two friends looked at me, aghast, as I wrapped up. Tilly assayed a slight smile, “Well, that certainly explains all your questions before we got started.”
I returned her smile. “I’m sorry, but I had to be certain.”
Drake looked down and rubbed his temples, an expression of weary resignation crossing his face. “Well, so much for the family Jeanine and I were planning.”
“I wouldn’t go quite that far,” I said. “At least, not yet.”
“Did you listen to what you just told us?” Drake asked. “I will not inflict the Star Stone on any child of mine!”
“I understand, Drake, and completely agree with you. That’s why the three of us are meeting right now.” I looked back and forth between my two friends. “We need to find a way to wash the taint of the Star Stone from Jeanine, and then we need to destroy the damn thing.”
“Destroy the Star Stone?” Tilly asked. “Are you serious? I mean, it’s right there in the Royal Palace on Xapreathea, the most heavily guarded planet in the galaxy. I don’t care how well-equipped your rebellion is, there’s no way an attack like that could succeed!”
Drake nodded, “She’s right. A truly determined suicide attack might get through, but who knows if it will be able to destroy something like the Star Stone. By your own admission, it’s some kind of alien artifact. For all we know, it’s indestructible.”
“I doubt it,” I replied. “But you both have very good points — that’s why we’re not going to attack Xapreathea. Like you say, it would be suicide. Even if we destroyed the Star Stone, it would also destroy the rebellion. No, we need another approach.”
Tilly arched one eyebrow. “Like what?”
I grinned at her. “Funny you should ask, since you’re going to be integral to my plan.”
Tilly pulled as far back from my grin as she could. “Oh, no! Please, tell me you’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking!”
“I’m not thinking what you think I’m thinking.”
Suspicion tinged Tilly’s next word. “Really?”
“Well, yes, I am thinking what you’re thinking—but, it’s not step one.”
Drake looked back and forth between the two of us, frustration evident on his face. “Since I’m not on the same wavelength as the two of you, could you stop speaking in code and just tell me what you’re planning?”
Tilly jerked a thumb my way. “Jana wants me to steal the Star Stone.”
Drake’s head swiveled in my direction. “You can’t be serious?”
I met Drake’s disbelieving stare. “I can, and I am. But, I don’t expect Tilly to do this all by herself, and it’s entirely possible we won’t even need her to do that. It all depends on what I find out.”
Tilly’s eyes narrowed. “Find out how?”
I shrugged, “I need to go back into the Star Stone.”
After Jana’s near-escape the first time she went into the Star Stone, can she truly be serious about returning?