With her friends safely returned from the Palace and the Star Stone report in hand, can Jana find a way to destroy the Star Stone?
Tilly and Mark had a sweet reunion with lots of hugs and kisses and even a little publicly appropriate caressing. Even so, Tilly shivered in a good way when Mark ran a hand down her spine. Then she took him by the hand and pulled him towards her bedroom.
“Don’t disturb us unless the RIA is breaking down the door,” she called.
Grinning, Kelly asked, “Banshee time?”
Tilly leered. Mark laughed. Nathan looked confused.
“What does that mean?” he asked.
“You’re a smart boy, I’m sure you can figure it out,” Kelly said. “If not, maybe you can coax your girlfriend into showing you again. And again. And, unless I miscounted, again.”
Comprehension dawned and Nathan’s face turned bright red. “I’m, uh, sorry we disturbed you.”
Kelly waved it off. “Just make sure it happens again.”
Confused, Nathan asked, “Don’t you mean ‘make sure it doesn’t happen again?’”
“Jana’s my friend and I like it when my friends are happy. Ecstatic is even better.” Nathan’s face, which had almost returned to its normal color, flared red again. Kelly rolled her eyes and said, “Lord, boy, you are such a newb. One week of Space Patrol training would wring that out of you quick-like.”
Nathan glanced at me and asked, “Why aren’t you blushing, too?”
“She’s already had this talk with me,” I replied, and then my face warmed.
Kelly laughed, “My work here is done!”
That reminded me of what I held in my hands. Holding up the Star Stone report, I said, “Mine isn’t, so please keep quiet while I’m reading.”
I thought Kelly would suggest Nathan and I engage in an enthusiastic round of…stress relief before I dove into the report. But when serious subjects arise Kelly gets serious fast. She just nodded, “I’ll fix some breakfast and bring it to you when it’s ready. Any requests?”
“Coffee,” I said.
“And bacon,” Nathan added.
Then Nathan and I sat next to each other and began skimming the report together. While Nathan is a better slicer than me, I read a lot faster than him. I quickly shifted from skimming to in-depth reading within the first few pages — and I still kept up with him. The report’s tone was dry and academic but the information it contained made fascinating reading. Not to mention illuminating.
About an hour later, with the remains of breakfast discarded on a side table and a hot mug of coffee in my hand, my subconscious suddenly put part of the puzzle together.
“Son of a bitch!” I said, surprise and disgust warring for dominance in my tone.
“What?” Nathan asked.
“Who knew what?”
“The Royal family. They knew the Star Stone was performing genetic experiments on the nobility!”
“I must have missed something, Jana.”
I shook my head and flipped back to an earlier page, “It’s all between the lines stuff. The report doesn’t come out and say it, but I’m sure no one could have gotten most of this information without going into the Star Stone and talking to it.”
“But you told me Queen Charlotte said no one who entered the Star Stone ever got out alive.”
I couldn’t stop a derisive snort, “And the nobility are such paragons of virtue that they never, ever tell lies, right?”
“Okay, you’ve got me there. But why would the kings and queens of the past cooperate with the Star Stone if they knew it was messing with their DNA?”
I flipped to another page and pointed to the text, “Because the Star Stone lied to them. Or didn’t tell them the entire truth, anyway. If I’m interpreting this correctly, the Star Stone convinced the Royal emissary that it was experimenting on nobles and would only use successful procedures on royalty. It implied it was turning them into superior beings. Hell, from the Star Stone’s point of view, it was even telling the truth.”
“Okay, but if you’re right, it also means the Star Stone doesn’t date back to pre-technological times. Not that I’m surprised the myth of the Star Stone is completely fabricated.”
“It pretty much told me as much just before you rescued me. I haven’t had much time to think on it, but it claimed it had been working on humanity for four thousand years. That means it appeared on the scene at the beginning of the space age — probably no more than a couple of hundred years after the first spaceflight.”
“If humans were already using primitive spacefaring technology and had begun making real scientific progress, how did the Star Stone end up at the center of an interstellar kingdom?”
I shrugged, “Your guess is as good as mine, not that I care very much. I can live without that knowledge as long as we can find a way to stop the thing.”
Nathan and I went back to reading and were quickly absorbed in the report. At some point, Kelly put sandwiches in front of us. We ate them without really noticing what we were eating. Sometime later I noticed Tilly and Mark settling into the couch across from us.
“Did you scream like a banshee?” I asked.
Tilly nestled up to Mark, “You didn’t hear me?”
I shook my head, “Sorry, the report has had my full attention.”
“Tilly’s voice doesn’t go as high as yours,” Kelly said. “Otherwise, your performances were remarkably similar.”
I gave Tilly a thumbs up, “Good for you.”
Smiling smugly, Tilly replied, “Very good for me, indeed!”
“Don’t you have a report to read, Jana?” Mark asked.
“Huh,” I said, “it looks like Scoop was right about men and sex talk.”
“He was also right about women and sex talk,” Nathan muttered. “Can we please get back to the report?”
Bowing to the wishes of the men, I returned to reading. Thirty-four minutes later, we turned the page and discovered the answer to my prayers — six small chips from the Star Stone and a detailed scientific analysis of them.
Handing the report across to Tilly, I said, “You studied chemistry. Do you understand any of that?”
Tilly scanned the analysis, flipping pages back and forth as she did. “Some of it is clear, Jana, but most of this is way beyond me.”
“Damn. I was sure that analysis could tell us how to destroy the Star Stone.”
“I think you’re right,” Tilly agreed. “I can’t understand all of it, but I know someone who can.”
As our heroes experience hope, what is happening with Olivia?