CHAPTER ELEVEN (draft)

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CHAPTER 11

At the moment we only intend to exercise this immense power over this one thing. The ancient ark-ship responds to our Plural Voice Chorus and after the sonic boom, goes predictably silent.

"Is it—is it done?" I ask, breaking the magic silence. "Will this hold it?"

"It had better," Aeson replies grimly. And he once again marks the time on his wrist comm.

The Imperator makes an effort to appear expressionless, then checks his own wrist device which has been emitting a gentle tone. "Eh! It's your mother," he says with a burst of annoyance, glancing at Aeson. "She wants to know where we are and if we're available for dea meal."

"By 'we' does she mean you, Father, or all of us?" Aeson watches him, fighting to maintain his own masked expression.

"Bashtooh! Who do you think? You, me, your Bride—everyone." The Imperator pauses, frowning, looks from Aeson to me, then back. "She must not be told about any of this. Do you understand? No one is to be told. Not any of your daimon friends, not any member of the IEC, no one."

"What of the guards?" I say. "They must know or at least hear and see something is happening—"

"The Imperial guards are trained to be discreet and silent. Both of you could learn discretion from them." Romhutat continues to glare at his son and at me. Not a word of praise for either of our performances in the Plural Voice.

"So, what now?" I say.

"We continue to wait." The Imperator taps his wrist comm and enters something with decisive quick movements. "But we do it back at the Palace."

"Is that wise?" Aeson says. "If we leave now and the ship reactivates yet again?"

His father's cheek muscle twitches with anger. "Nothing to be done beyond what has just been done. If three Logos voices working together could not accomplish—no, it is ridiculous. We sealed the safety lock. I am certain the Imperial Aural Block will hold now, and therefore I am leaving. Come! Or don't, your choice. Your Imperial Mother will expect your presence at dea meal, but feel free to disappoint her."

* * *

In the next half an hour we return to the Imperial Palace in the Imperator's hovercar, tense and silent. Romhutat Kassiopei wears a permanent frown on his face, and barely speaks to us. He and Aeson both continue to check the live feed of the Grail on various devices, and it remains blessedly silent.

"How long has it been now?" I ask Aeson quietly as he stares at his wrist. And then I point to his hand. "By the way, maybe I need to get one of these—one of my own—these wrist gadget things, Aeson."

Aeson looks up at me and raises one brow, then widens his eyes and exhales. "Of course! I've been meaning to get you a personal unit—sorry it's slipped my mind repeatedly. . . . When we get home, I'll have Gennio configure one for you tonight."

"No rush," I say with a tiny smile at the sight of his earnest distress in regard to me. And then I glance at the Imperator's stern profile in the seat in front of me. A bitter feeling stabs me in the gut, a reminder of what harm this man has done to my mother. And then I swallow the feeling and force myself to think of the here and now and what set of new difficulties lie ahead.

One problem at a time.

* * *

It is Noon Ghost Time when we arrive, and the Imperator dismisses us so that we can return to Aeson's own Palace Quarters to freshen up before dea meal, which will be served in the Imperial Quarters.

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