CHAPTER TEN (draft)

Start from the beginning

"No one is to be allowed here, do you understand?" the Imperator tells them. "Not even the building security. I want them all out. Inform them this is a mandatory safety inspection before we begin the reconstruction cleanup."

All but two of the guards immediately spread out across the vacant expanse and disappear inside the corridors of the nearby buildings.

The two remaining guards step back discreetly to a polite distance that is well out of hearing range. I watch them conversing on their wrist comms with the others who are elsewhere in the complex.

"Come!" the Imperator tells us meanwhile and begins walking toward the Grail, stepping over the cracks in the ground and the uprooted building material lining the floor of the arena.

We follow, stepping carefully over the crumbling sections underfoot, over what looks like concrete and rock and layers of twisted metal.

Oh my God . . . I did this.

My breath shudders as I test my footing before each step.

The grandiose golden stem portion of the Grail rises into the sky above us. Curving upward, it expands into the immense round bowl section that casts a circular shadow. Instead of looking up at it, I stare at what's on the ground in front of me—the barely convex horizontal "stand" portion which is the outer surface of the main hull, the buried bulk of the ark-ship.

"Come, come!" Romhutat beckons angrily with his hand as he steps onto the golden curving surface.

Aeson walks after him, and I follow.

My perception of the humming vibration increases exponentially, the moment I make direct contact. It enters my body through my feet, and I feel my teeth rattle with the horrible buzzing. It occurs to me, I am standing on top of the ancient ship. At once I am overwhelmed by the strange wonder, the implications—not only does it affect all my physical senses, but it stirs the mind with a cascading depth of emotion.

Ahead of me, the Imperator walks a few more steps along the golden curvature and stops at the base of the immense upright column—at least ten feet in diameter at the slimmest point—that constitutes the rising goblet stem. He puts both hands against the stem, fingers splayed and digging in with intensity like frustrated dragon claws. He lowers his head and closes his eyes, and then begins to sing the keying sequence.

C-E-G.

His dark, deep voice does not require amplification as it echoes with power throughout the stadium, bringing immediate silence.

We listen with rapt attention, and the guards listen from afar, as he follows the keying command with the intricate Imperial Aural Block sequence that resounds with eerie beauty.

The ship responds. Moments later, the resulting sonic blast we experience at this proximity feels like a small explosion. Aeson grabs my arm just to keep me from falling, while I huddle against him and put my hands over my ears, as though that would help.

Surely this cannot be healthy. . . . At least not prolonged exposure to such sound. Ugh!

The Grail is now silent. Only the local birds continue to screech and flap their wings as they rise into the sky all around us. Poor birds.

The Imperator remains in the same position, head still down, eyes closed, hands splayed against the ark-ship surface. It almost looks as if he's praying. . . .

And then he takes in a harsh breath and looks up, glancing at his son and at me. The light of Hel paints his face with washed out pallor. "Note the time," he says to Aeson. "We wait and time it—the interval of silence until—if it begins again."

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