Tilly didn’t return that night. I stayed up waiting for her, but she didn’t come back. When I woke up, she still wasn’t there. When I heard the knock on the door, for a second I thought it might be her, but then I realized she wouldn’t bother knocking.
If it wasn’t Tilly, then who could it be? I wondered. They weren’t supposed to come for us until the afternoon. Was it the guards? Did they catch Tilly? Did they have her?
I opened the door, fearing the worse. It was Hera. That didn’t make me feel any better. And then she said, “I talked to your daughter.” and I froze.
Oh god! What could I do? Was it over? Were we found out? Should I run? “…Yes?”
“She thought you might want to come down to join us,” Hera said.
“Come down?” I asked. “Join you?”
“To breakfast. It’s being served now.”
“Huh?” I blurted out. “Breakfast. And T…Lina’s down there?”
“I suppose she didn’t want to wake you.”
I nodded. “Yes. I’m sure that was it. She…really is…such…an angel. Isn’t she?”
“She is,” Hera agreed, though she continued to refuse to show any emotion on her face. “We are all loving her.”
“Who’s we?” I asked.
“Some of the other guests. She has been entertaining some of the younger children.”
Entertaining? That had me worried. “Yes. Lina loves the children. I’d love to come down, Hera. Why don’t I change first, though.”
“Lovely. I’ll wait outside, Ms. Stone.”
After putting on some clothes that I thought were appropriate, I met with Hera and we went downstairs. We entered a large white room. There were no windows, but the ceiling was made of glass letting the sun light the room. There were large tables covered with food. I found Tilly playing with some small children. Noticing me walk in, she smiled and waved. I had no choice but to smile back and she knew it. “This is Lu Wu,” Hera said. “He’s the ambassador from China.”
The man she had introduced me to smiled at me as he shook my hand. “Hello,” I said.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Stone. It is Miss, isn’t it?”
I nodded. “Miss is fine.”
“Your daughter has been very entertaining.” There was that word again. “My children just love her.”
“Yes. She can be quite the charmer.”
“She must get it from her mother.” He winked at me.
“And where is Mrs. Lu?” I asked, changing the subject.
“She is dead,” he replied.
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.”
Ambassador Lu smiled. “It is all right. She died five years ago when the children were little. I have raised them alone. And where is Mr. Stone?”
“There is no Mr. Stone.”
I didn’t like the look on Lu’s face, a predatory type of hope. “We are both alone.”
“Except our children.”
“Of course. But that is just one more thing we have in common.” He grinned.
Ok, yeah, he was totally hitting on me. I backed away. I told him I was hungry and went to get some food, but he followed me over to the table. I didn’t know what to do to get rid of him. I could see Tilly wasn’t going to help me. She was enjoying my discomfort. How was I supposed to tell this guy that I was really a man? The truth was, I couldn’t. Especially since this body was entirely, 100% a woman.
Fortunately, Tilly relented and saved me soon after. And the two of us pretended to be happy as we made our way back to the room. As soon as the door closed, I asked, “Is it still working?”
“The simulation on the surveillance system? It never stopped.”
“Good…” Then letting my facade fade, I screamed. “What the hell are you doing?”
Mathilda looked confused. “I was having breakfast.”
I glared at her. “You know what I mean. You didn’t come back! I didn’t know where you were! You could have gotten caught! You could’ve been hurt!”
Tilly stared at me. “Seriously? Getting into the mom role a bit, aren’t we?”
“Tilly, I’ve known you since you were a little kid. We’re family. Don’t give me that nonsense. You need to be more careful.”
“Ok, ok,” she said, finally understanding that I was serious. “…But now can I finally tell you what I found?”
I glared at her. I was still pretty angry at her and wanted to keep yelling, but instead I let out a tired sigh. “What did you find?”
Tilly laughed. “Dragons! He’s got a dungeon with dragons! Real, firebreathing dragons!”
I shook my head. “What are you talking about? There’s no such thing as dragons.”
“Frank, we’ve traveled through time. We’ve flown in space. My father’s brain is in a dinosaur. You change bodies every few days. And you find dragons hard to believe?”
“Ok,” I said. “I’ll admit to the possibility that they have something resembling dragons. That still doesn’t explain why the general has them. It doesn’t explain what he plans on doing with them. It also doesn’t tell us what we’re supposed to do about it.”
“Kill them?” Tilly suggested.
“Just like that?”
She shrugged. “Why not?”
“Because we don’t know what they are. Because if they’re real…”
“What do you mean ‘if they’re real’?” Tilly interrupted.
“I’m holding judgment until I see them for myself.”
“So you don’t trust me?”
I sighed. “I trust you, Tilly. I just don’t know what you saw.”
“You trust me, you just don’t believe me. Fine, let’s go see them. I’ll show you they’re real.”
“We can’t,” I told her. “We don’t have the time We have to get ready for the party.”
to be continued…