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When it comes to heads of state on Atlantis, the Imperator's closest counterpart is Areviktet Heru, the Pharikon of New Deshret. Aeson explained it to me earlier, and now I'm about to meet this high-ranking individual for myself.

The monitor screen is activated once more, and Aeson and I watch the Archaeon Imperator of Atlantida make a call to the opposite side of the planet.

There is no apparent temporal delay and the screen connection goes live, showing the face of a very old man with very dark river-red-clay skin, wrinkled and dried into parchment. In stark contrast, his long hair is white and pulled back in braids—or as I see later, segmented tails. His black eyes are narrow slits among the wrinkles, but his expression is alert and shrewd. And in its resting state his face is as disdainful as that of the Imperator.

Unlike the Imperator, the Pharikon is formally attired. He wears a wide Egyptian-style collar of gold and dark gemstones over a robe or jacket made of an expensive-looking black fabric. And behind him, I can see some kind of dimly lit, opulent chamber, indicating evening.

"Romhutat Kassiopei, you are late," says the Pharikon of New Deshret in a rasping old man's voice, speaking Atlanteo.

As soon as he speaks, it makes sense why he might require vocal assistance. At his age and apparently frail condition the Pharikon is probably barely able to sing, much less execute complex voice commands properly.

"Shiokuh nuuttos, Areviktet Heru," Romhutat replies in an overbearing, arrogant voice, the type I've heard him use in public during Court Assemblies. And then he continues speaking several more words in the foreign language which I assume is the Deshi language.

I glance at Aeson who watches their exchange, and gives me a tiny nod of reassurance.

The formalities over with, the Imperator switches suddenly back to Atlanteo, then English, and casts a negligent look at me. "This is my son's new Gebi Bride. She is responsible for yesterday's disruption, but it has now been corrected."

Immediately the Pharikon turns his attention to me. I feel a complex scrutiny of his curious black eyes upon me. "This girl is Gebi?" the old man says in Atlanteo, and then switches over into slow accented English. "From Earth? You are from Earth? How are you the Imperial Bride?"

"Yes, yes!" the Imperator interrupts him. "That's another matter entirely—later. For now, I require you to check the situation on your end and confirm that the Ra Disk has been stabilized."

The Pharikon coughs harshly and takes in a deep breath before replying. He does not sound healthy at all, it occurs to me. "Require all you like. You will wait now," he says at last, regaining his voice. "I waited all this time, so now it is your turn, Kassiopei."

The elderly Pharikon grunts, lifts up a wrinkled bony hand drowning in a wide sleeve and moves into view a second mech-arm monitor, similar to the one here. I can see him turn it around so that we all have some inkling of what's on his second screen, and it's another live feed, this one showing a dark evening scene outside. In it, an immense, bright, artificially illuminated gold disk—a convex hemisphere, imbedded upright against a hillside—shines in high contrast against the barely visible panorama of indigo mountains and star-filled sky.

The Pharikon issues a spoken command to someone off screen, and we observe someone else's hands take over, and then a young voice sounds—girl or boy, it is hard to tell—singing, then speaking in Deshi quietly. Then the second screen display begins to zoom in on the Ra Disk, and soon the golden metal takes up all of the view. As it does, the golden surface is suddenly visible up-close as the camera makes contact with it.

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