As Olivia and William recover from their nightmares, will the emotions affect Jeanine as well?
Baron Oswald leaned back in his chair, “And that is why your predecessor instituted the current plan of taxation.”
As much as I wanted to criticize Olivia’s financial plans for Gaunner, I couldn’t. Her taxes were reasonable, balancing the need for ducal income against the needs of the people and the businesses who employed those people. Hell, I liked her approach so much I’d probably use it on Neert, too.
“Thank you, Baron, your explanation was both succinct and clear. I—”
My thoughts were blocked as a wave of triumphant rage swept over me. I found myself wondering who allowed such a sad and pathetic little man into my presence? Why should I listen to his defense of Olivia’s gutless plans? I ruled on Gaunner. My word was law. I—
“My Lady?” the little man bleated. “Are you all right? Did I say something to upset you?”
Drawing upon everything Grandfather had taught me, I fought the inexplicable rage. I concentrated on the small part of my mind screaming, Get a grip, Jeanine! This isn’t your rage or triumph. I drew strength from that distant voice and pushed back against the surging emotions.
“My Lady?” the little man repeated and his name — Baron Oswald — returned to me.
I waved a hand at the Baron. The gesture was supposed to appear nonchalant, but it took so much effort I’m certain it looked peremptory. The words I forced from my mouth grated on my ears, “I am… Fine, Baron… Leave me. Now!”
Without another word, the Baron jumped up and fled my office. I heard him babbling something to Edward, my assistant, before my office door slid shut. Beyond that, I paid no attention to anything except the struggle to control my own emotions.
Gripping my head with both hands, I moaned, “Grandfather, please help me.”
You don’t need my help, Jeanine. You know what to do.
Even though the words and the soothing tone were nothing but memories, they had an effect on me. Strengthened by them, I found the will to resist the alien emotions in my head. And, with sudden clarity, I realized what was happening.
The Star Stone. Through whatever means it used to see and hear everything I saw and heard, it was twisting and toying with my emotions.
“Get out of my head you pathetic AI. My mind is not for you!”
I felt myself gradually turning back the wave of emotion, forcing it from my mind. But in the last seconds of my battle the alien emotions mutated. The triumph vanished, replaced by confusion and then rising fear. Unprepared for the sudden shift, the Star Stone’s emotions ripped through my mental wall. I screamed long and loud and then fell into darkness.
The murmur of voices sifted through the lancing pain in my head. My eyes fluttered, but the light beyond my eyelids was too bright. I turned my head before trying again.
I knew I should recognize that voice, but couldn’t quite place it.
“Jeanine?” the same voice asked. “Come on, babe, answer me!”
Drake! He’s the only one who ever called me ‘babe.’ I turned toward the voice and fluttered my eyes again. The light wasn’t as bad this time, so I opened them all the way. My husband loomed over me, his eyes filled with concern. He was also blocking the light, which is why I could keep my eyes open. While Drake’s face filled my vision, I saw several others standing above him.
“Don’t worry, I’m fine,” I said. “If you could all back away, I’ll get off this floor.”
Drake gently pushed me back down. “I think you should stay here until the doctor arrives.”
The carpet was thick and comfortable, so I did as Drake suggested. “The show’s over, everyone. You can all go about your business. Is Baron Oswald still here?”
“What may I do for you, my Lady?” he asked.
“Please accept my apologies for my behavior at the end of our meeting.”
“Give the matter no further thought, my Lady. I am simply relieved you appear to be on the mend.”
“Thank you, Baron.”
The doctor arrived just as everyone but Drake turned to leave. The man checked me over thoroughly before allowing me to sit up. “Call me if this happens again, Captain Haral.”
“Or,” I growled, “I could call you myself, Doctor. I do know how to operate a comm.”
“She’s definitely feeling better,” Drake said as he helped me to my feet. “One of us will call you if this episode repeats itself.”
The doctor bowed, suggested I schedule a complete physical, and excused himself.
As soon as the office door slid shut, Drake demanded, “What the hell happened, Jeanine?”
My head hurt like hell but I couldn’t help smiling, “I’m pretty sure Jana has seriously pissed off the Star Stone.”
“And it did this to you in, what, retaliation?”
I shook my head and immediately regretted it as the pain hit me again. “Ow… I think this attack was unintentional. The Star Stone probably doesn’t even know it did it to me. I’m probably not even the only person it hit.”
“Still, if it can do this to you without trying…”
“Yeah,” I sighed. “What else can it do?”
“Do you have any idea what Jana did? Did the wave of emotions give you a clue?”
“No, but whatever she did scared the Star Stone. And I’d really like to know what that was.”
“Is that a not-so-subtle hint for me to send a message to Kelly?” Drake asked.
“You are a very smart man, Drake.”
“Obviously. I married you, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you did. I guess that makes you an extraordinarily smart man. Now, genius husband, find out what’s happening on Xapreathea. Whatever help they need, tell them I’ll send it. Anything at all. Got it?”
“Got it, babe.”
Drake gave me a quick kiss and left. I closed my eyes. Unbidden, the feel of the Star Stone’s fear rose up in my memory. My lips curled up in a predatory smile.
“I think your days are numbered, Star Stone, and the number is very, very small.”
How goes the planning to break into the Royal Palace? Find out in Chapter 38, coming Friday.