As Jana and Nathan fill evolutionary needs, what is happening in the Royal Palace?
Malaise gnawed at me throughout the morning. I found myself snapping at servants, aides, and even William. From their expressions, the aides and servants assumed my ill temper was associated with my pregnancy — hormones, and lack of sleep with a bit of petulant princess thrown in for good measure. God, how I wished that was the case, but I knew it wasn’t.
William was far from his usual, easy-going self. He actually shouted at one of the servant girls, something he never does. Sara, a grandmotherly woman who had worked in the Palace since King Bernard was a boy, took the poor girl aside and comforted her. I overheard just enough of Sara’s words to realize she attributed William’s behavior to “a man’s needs” going unfulfilled while I was with child. Wrong though Sara’s explanation was, it calmed the girl which was all that mattered.
I dithered until lunch before coming to a decision. Elizabeth, my personal assistant, came promptly when called. Her face betrayed none of the trepidation I’m sure she felt at my summons.
“How may I assist you, Your Highness?”
“Place a subspace call to the royal yacht. I need to speak to the Queen.”
“I’ll see to it at once,” Elizabeth bobbed a curtsey and left.
“Why are you bothering Mother?” William groused. “Is there some dire emergency of which I was not informed?”
I almost answered in kind but caught myself. Taking time to soften the tone of my voice, I answered, “It’s nothing, William. I just feel the need for some maternal advice. Mother to expectant mother.”
For a moment, the old William — my William — broke through the irritation. He flashed an affectionate smile, “I’m so very glad you and Mother have grown close since our marriage.”
I took William’s hand, “As am I, darling.”
We held hands until a servant told me the subspace connection was established. A moment later, I sat before the screen. Marie, Mother’s assistant, nodded at me in greeting.
“I’ll tell Her Majesty you’re ready.”
While Marie fetched my mother-in-law, I dismissed Elizabeth. I struggled to order my thoughts before Mother arrived and mostly failed. The brief moment of peace I’d shared with William was gone, once again displaced by the malaise of the morning.
My thoughts were still whirling when Queen Charlotte appeared on the screen. Her eyes narrowed, her lips turned down into a frown, and she demanded, “What is so important that you felt the need to interrupt my journey home?”
Her tone took me aback. I’d expected the calm, collected, and caring woman I knew and had come to love. Dimly, I realized she was the first Recognized noble other than William I’d spoken with since the nightmare. Being dozens of light-years away, I’d felt certain she would be unaffected by the events on Xapreathea.
Mother hardly gave me time to respond before she snapped, “Really, Olivia, you’re a grown woman. You shouldn’t require hand-holding nor should you expect it from someone of my station.”
“Your pardon, Mother, my thoughts are a jumble. Please give—”
“Why did you bother me if you weren’t ready for the conversation? Really, Olivia, I thought you were more level-headed than this.”
Her words stung and my few gathered thoughts fled. But when Mother reached toward the control board, obviously intent on disconnecting the call, I blurted the first thing that came to mind. “Did you and the King suffer nightmares last night at two twenty-six?”
I knew my parents-in-law kept the royal yacht on Xapreathean time and would follow the same sleep schedule William and I did. Mother’s eyes widened as my question registered and she sat back with a contemplative expression.
“How did you know?”
“William and I woke from nightmares at that time. Our dreams were identical.” I had Mother’s full attention now. “We found ourselves pursuing someone vital to our survival who always eluded our grasp.”
“Yes… Bernard and I had the same nightmare. We assumed the similarity was attributable to some strange hyperspacial effect. Since the four of us were affected, it’s obvious there is more to the story.”
“I’m afraid it wasn’t just us. Every Recognized noble on Xapreathea suffered the same nightmare. They all awoke at two twenty-six. Nobles who weren’t asleep suffered from extreme and unfounded irritation or anger for several minutes. Many of their unrecognized children had the nightmare as well.”
Always one to spot a discrepancy, Mother asked, “Most of the children? Why not all?”
“Dr. Edwards wondered the same thing. But I recalled something Jeanine said to me during a recent subspace call. I asked the Doctor if the children who were not affected were born of unrecognized mothers. To her surprise that held true for every unaffected child.”
For the first time in my life, I saw Queen Charlotte at a loss for words. After a few seconds, she simply asked, “But why? How can that matter? What did Jeanine say to you?”
Scrubbing a hand over my face, I said, “I am far from convinced by her theory, but she believes the Star Stone uses the Recognition ceremony to…infuse…us with alien genetic material and nanobots to tend to that material. She claims it allows the Star Stone to see and hear what Recognized individuals see and hear. I know the whole idea is preposterous but the Star Stone is the only connection to every person who had the nightmare.”
“Yes… Preposterous, indeed.” Mother spoke thoughtfully and her tone was far from the dismissive one I’d expected.
“Mother, you don’t actually believe what that woman told me, do you?”
Lost in thought with her eyes unfocused, she didn’t answer my question. Instead, she asked, “When you and William returned from Gaunner, I suggested that you read several private reports concerning the Star Stone. May I assume you haven’t done that yet, dear?”
“I’ve been busy and haven’t gotten around to it.”
“As soon as we disconnect, go to our private library and get the documents. Please finish reading them before Bernard and I return home.”
“Of course, Mother. Do you actually give credence to Jeanine’s story?”
“No. Or, rather, mostly not. But…” She waved her hand vaguely. “Just read the reports.”
“Jeanine was worried the Star Stone would…modify…my baby’s DNA to serve some strange purpose. Is that—?”
“That idea is absolute rubbish, my dear. Your mother was Recognized, Olivia, and so was mine. Do you think we’re not human?” I slowly shook my head and Mother continued, “The Star Stone is the symbol of our power within the Star Kingdom. God only knows what would happen if that symbol was discredited, but I’m certain the resulting events would play directly into the hands of that rebellion Jeanine associates with.”
I nodded, relieved by Mother’s words. “Sowing doubt over the King’s divine right to rule would serve her well.”
“Quite correct, dear. Now, why don’t you start reading those reports?”
“I will. May I take them to our suite?”
“By all means. The chairs in the library provide too little back support for a pregnant woman — even one still in her first trimester.”
“Thank you. I look forward to your return, Mother.”
“As do I. Goodbye, dear.”
After disconnecting the call, I fetched the reports and took them back to our suite. The information within was illuminating and surprising, but it was also deadly dull. I was relieved when William interrupted me later that evening.
“Olivia, it’s time to take the sleep aid Dr. Edwards left for us.”
Putting the report folder on my bedside table, I rubbed my eyes. “These reports are doing a fine job of putting me to sleep, already.”
“Even so, drink up!” William handed me a glass containing cloudy liquid before emptying one of his own.
I did as instructed. Soon we were both fast asleep.
What have Jana and friends been up to while Olivia read reports? Find out in Chapter 42, coming Friday.