Tilly will take the chemical analysis of the Star Stone to someone who can read it.
Nathan and I made several copies of the Star Stone report and handed them out to everyone on the team. We gave Tilly an extra copy of the analysis of the Star Stone fragments, along with one of the fragments, to give the friend she thought could read the report.
“He’s not just a friend, Jana,” Tilly told me, “he was my mentor in college.”
“Even better,” Mark said. “Don’t college profs love it when beautiful former students visit and ask for their help?”
“It wasn’t like that,” Tilly protested. “Dr. Kristof was interested in my mind, not my body. He and his wife treated me like a granddaughter during my college years.”
“I’m not saying he had designs on your body, Tilly,” Mark placated, “but no matter how old a man is, he still enjoys looking at a pretty woman.”
“Whatever,” Tilly muttered. She grabbed a fashionable-yet-floppy hat from her room and headed for the door, “I’ll be back as soon as possible.”
“Hold it,” Kelly commanded. “I’m coming with you. I can help watch your back. I also want to check for messages from Drake.”
“You can do that from here,” Nathan said.
“Yeah, but I hate using the same access method more than two times in a row and I’ve done my last five checks from here. I’m just too paranoid to push my luck any farther than that.”
After Kelly and Tilly left, Nathan and I returned to reading the Star Stone report. Mark kept an eye on our security cams and alarms, leaving Nathan and me free to give all our attention to the report.
Since I was the faster reader, I was the one who discovered the biggest surprise in the report. “Holy crap!”
“What?” Nathan asked, looking up from his reading.
“You remember the holy man the Star Stone told me about? The only person before us who escaped from the Star Stone?”
“Sure. He thought he was meeting God, or maybe God’s instrument in the real world, right?”
“That’s the one,” I replied. “Only he wasn’t a holy man. He was deeply religious, which is why he discovered his soul connection and escaped, but the ‘holy man’ story was a cover story.”
“Maybe I’m a little dense, Jana, but what’s the point in an undercover mission to the Star Stone? Wouldn’t the Stone already know all about the guy?”
I shook my head, “He was a commoner so never came in contact with the Star Stone before or after his visit. He was also the Royal Intelligence Agency’s top data analyst and network system specialist. Apparently, he theorized the Star Stone was some kind of alien computer and convinced the king to let him investigate it.”
“Did they even have networks four thousand years ago?”
“Primitive ones, but yes. The thing is, this guy — they don’t give his name — entered the Star Stone less than two thousand years ago. By then, half the planets in the Star Kingdom were settled and the throne was well-established on Xapreathea.”
“Okay,” Nathan said, flipping to the agent’s findings in the report, “but the two of us aren’t slouches when it comes to networking and data systems. We didn’t learn anything useful about that stuff while we were in there.”
“We were concentrating on other things. Besides, the Star Stone basically gave the RIA agent a guided tour of its workings.”
“That’s what it says in this report.”
“But why would the Star Stone do something like that?”
“I don’t know, Nathan. Maybe it was lonely? Maybe it wanted to show off? Maybe it was certain there was nothing a mere human could glean from the tour? Maybe it thought it was crushing the man’s religious beliefs? Regardless of the reason, it’s a safe bet the Star Stone assumed the ‘holy man’ would never return to his body. So maybe it was just toying with the guy.” I caught Nathan’s eyes with mine, “The important thing is the man spent hours of real time inside the Star Stone.”
By now Nathan was flipping through agent’s report, his eyes moving rapidly over the information. “Assuming any of this information is correct, that analyst was very good at his job. I wonder how he convinced the Stone to divulge all this information?”
I waved that off, “Tricking the Star Stone isn’t hard. Or maybe the Star Stone is just so insufferably arrogant that it wants to tell us mere humans how magnificent it thinks it is. Besides, it always assumes anyone accessing it will never leave. For all I know, it’s watched too many adventure vids where the villain tells his entire plan to the supposedly-helpless hero. Whatever the reason, I think the agent’s report is as accurate a description of the Star Stone’s inner workings as we’ll ever find.”
“Maybe, but the jargon in here is way out of date. How long will it take to bring it up-to-date?”
“Not long. I researched a lot of that stuff before building the interface that let me access the Star Stone the first time.”
“Have I told you just how amazing you are?” Nathan asked.
“Not since we put our clothes on last night.”
A snort of laughter came from behind me. I’d forgotten Mark was still in the room! Before I could hide my face in chagrin, Nathan leaned over and kissed me.
“You’re amazing, Jana,” he said. A wicked grin crossed his face and he added, “With or without clothes.”
Mark laughed harder, gasping out, “Get a room, you two!”
“We already have a room,” Nathan replied.
“Then use it.”
Pushing aside my embarrassment, I said, “Maybe later. Right now, we’ve got work to do.”
“You do, anyway,” Nathan said. “I’d probably just slow you down if I helped.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got something I want you to do while I’m working on this.”
“Arrange a meeting at The Club with the fifty best slicers you can reach. If you even suspect any of those slicers are Recognized, don’t invite them.”
“I can do that. What should I tell them the meeting is about?”
“Saving the human race. We’ll tell them about destroying the Star Stone once they’ve all gathered.”
“Uh, isn’t that what Tilly is taking care of right now?” Mark asked.
I nodded, “If we’re lucky, yes. But it’s always a good idea to have a fallback plan.”
“Do we have a fallback plan for the fallback plan?” Nathan asked.
I shrugged, “There’s always my original idea of dropping the Stone in the nearest star, but doing that will probably start a galactic civil war.”
“Yeah,” Nathan said, “let’s not do that.”
He went back to his data rig while I got busy updating the language in the agent’s report.
While Jana and Nathan arrange their fallback plan, what’s happening with Tilly?