After barely escaping from the Star Stone, Jana announces Tilly has to steal some of Olivia’s blood.
I stared at Jana trying to make sense of her words. After failing utterly, I said, “Would you repeat that again and this time use words that don’t sound crazy?”
Jana rose from her place on Nathan’s lap and headed for the hallway. Over her shoulder, she repeated, “We need to get a sample of Princess Olivia’s blood. Maybe two of them though I’ll have to think about that.”
As the three of us hurried after her Kelly murmured, “Are you sure all of her mind came back from the Star Stone?”
“I heard that,” Jana called. “I know this all sounds ridiculous but it will make sense after I’ve explained everything to you.”
“Oh, good,” I said. “Knowing it makes sense will make it so much easier for me to slip into the Royal Palace and take a couple of blood samples from the Crown Princess. The pregnant Crown Princess. The pregnant Crown Princess with the large, muscular, overprotective husband. Not to mention an army of overzealous guards who are probably just itching to shoot someone like me.”
“I’m not saying it won’t be dangerous, Tilly,” Jana said, flopping onto the sofa. “I’m saying we don’t have any other choice. I’ll do everything in my power to keep you safe while you do this.”
I dropped into a chair opposite the sofa. Nathan joined Jana, sitting close and watching her with worried eyes. Kelly took a seat more or less between us. I got the idea she hoped to moderate the argument she thought was coming. Since I didn’t want to put Kelly in that position, I forced myself to calm down.
“You know I’ll do everything I can to protect you, Tilly,” Jana said, her voice was still tight with stress. “I’m sorry I sprang all of that on you without leading up to it but what I learned from the Star Stone this time really rattled me. It didn’t help that it was about to kill me when Nathan pulled me out of there.”
Jana suddenly had another case of the shakes. Nathan pulled her into a tight embrace and whispered quietly into her ear. Whether it was his words or his presence that did the trick, Jana’s shivers slowly subsided.
“Why don’t you take some time to rest and recover?” I asked. “Whatever happened inside the Star Stone has really shaken you up. Don’t make yourself re-live it right now. I can wait awhile to have my questions answered.”
Jana shook her head, “I wish I could wait, but this is just too important. We have to move fast before it’s too late.”
“If you say so. Why don’t you start at the beginning and build up to why I have to get that blood sample?”
Jana took a deep breath and began, “I’ve learned the Star Stone’s true purpose. It is an artifact from an extinct sapient race. Those aliens created the Star Stone for one purpose — to ensure the rebirth of their race. Everything about Recognition serves that purpose.”
“Are you telling me the Star Stone really does put nanobots or something like that into people during the Recognition ceremony like you originally guessed?” I asked. “That’s…disturbing.”
Jana gave a humorless laugh, “You have no idea, Tilly. ‘Disturbing’ doesn’t even come close to the truth. It puts nanobots and alien genetic material into everyone who gets Recognized. That’s how it sees and hears what they do. It can even mark the children of Recognized adults. That’s easy when the mother is Recognized because the Star Stone’s little helpers have access to the child for nine months. It’s a little more tenuous when only the father is Recognized, but every one of the father’s sperm cells carries a nanobot rider.”
“That’s how the Star Stone knew about Jeanine, right?” Kelly asked. “Her mother was never Recognized but her father was a Recognized Duke.
I waved away that subject, “Yeah, that’s really interesting but it doesn’t explain why I need to steal some of Olivia’s blood.”
“Okay, I’ll skip a lot of the backstory and get to the point. The Star Stone has been performing genetic experiments on babies forming inside Recognized mothers for thousands of years. The alien programming gives the Star Stone its purpose but also imposes certain restrictions on it. The most stringent of those conditions is only met once every few hundred years, but right now is one of those rare times. We’ve got two intelligent, strong-willed, powerful Recognized women in the Star Kingdom.”
“Jeanine and Olivia?” Kelly asked.
“Jeanine and Olivia,” Jana agreed. “Using its nanobots and genetic material, the Star Stone will begin genetically engineering Olivia’s baby soon — maybe in the next few days. It’s going to turn that little princess — the Star Stone will ensure the child is a girl — into something that looks human but is really the first of its creators’ race reborn. When Jeanine gets pregnant, her daughter will get the same treatment.”
I felt a shiver of horror run up my spine. “You can’t be serious. Please, tell me you’re not serious.”
“I wish I could, Tilly. But I can’t.”
“Can’t what?” Mark asked, stumbling into the room. “And why didn’t you guys wake me up if you were going to have a serious discussion?”
“It’s a long story and I’ll fill you in later,” Nathan said. “For now, just sit down, shut up, and listen.”
Mark shrugged and lowered himself into a chair, curiosity written all over his face. But he followed Nathan’s instructions and kept quiet.
“If you’re right about this, Jana — and I don’t doubt that you are,” Kelly said, “we have definitely got to do something about it. Drake and Jeanine have been through too much already. I will be damned if I’ll let something happen to the child they haven’t even conceived yet!”
Mark’s curiosity turned to confusion, but he didn’t interrupt. I’d have been firing questions left and right if I were him.
“I know we all agree with Kelly,” I said. “But how can a blood sample from Princess Olivia help?”
Jana ran a hand through her hair, “I’m kind of shooting in the dark here, but I think a xenozoologist can test the blood for alien biological matter. If he finds the nanobots or the alien genetic material, we’ll have all the proof we need to get Olivia and William to listen to us.”
I felt a wave of relief wash over me. “If that’s all you want to do, I can just arrange to visit my great-grandmother and get a blood sample from her. She’s been Recognized.”
Jana shook her head, “If we had more time I’d agree with you. But we’ve got the RIA breathing down our necks. If they capture us, we may not have a chance to talk to the Royal family until it’s too late to save the baby.
“And even if the xenozoologist finds alien material in your great-grandmothers blood sample, you know the Royal family would insist on performing the same test on Olivia’s blood. By then the Star Stone will know what we’re doing. Maybe it has a way to keep the nanobots and genetic material out of a blood sample. If we get Princess Olivia’s blood without her realizing we’re doing it, the Star Stone won’t have a chance to do anything. And we will have incontrovertible proof that something strange is going on.”
“I know I’m supposed to shut up and listen,” Mark said, “but I think Jana is on to something. If the Star Stone couldn’t keep its stuff out of blood samples, surely someone would have found some evidence of this alien crap during routine blood tests. I mean, the Star Stone has been around for thousands of years. That adds up to a lot of blood tests.”
“That’s why I keep Mark around,” Nathan said. “Every now and then he says something really smart.”
“And he makes a damned good point,” Kelly added.
“Yeah, he does,” I muttered. “Add it to everything Jana has said and it makes a pretty compelling case. Or maybe it doesn’t and I’m just too frazzled to see it any other way. Regardless, it looks like I’m going to break into the Royal Palace and pretend I’m a vampire.”
Meanwhile, what’s happening elsewhere?