CHAPTER THIRTEEN (draft)

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CHAPTER 13

STA Director Rovat Bennu arrives shortly, with a troubled expression on his long, leathery face, and for the next hour, Aeson and I observe the others bring him "into the fold," then argue.

Rovat Bennu is also not a young man, and most of his dark brown hair has left him years ago, so there isn't that much left to dye. But he attempts to gild it nevertheless, all around the large bald spot. He wears a light-blue coat-like tunic of thin fabric over his jacket, suggesting he'd arrived directly from a science facility and forgot to make himself presentable for the Imperial Palace. But none of it matters.

Now, Bennu knows.

"Unbelievable! You're telling me, the research site where I perform most of my work is not the high security basement of the stadium structure but is in fact the inside of the ancient colony vessel? And it's buried underneath the city?" Director Bennu asks in a nervous voice. "And—and you say there are levels that go even deeper than the Yellow Sector 79? Why was I not told about any of this?"

"Because up till now, it did not concern you," Director Tiofon says.

"Oh, and it apparently concerns you?" the STA Director retorts with growing indignation. "How is it that the venerable Science and Technology Agency, working for decades inside this relic, is kept ignorant, while the upstart Atlantis Central Agency, only recently formed to liaison with Earth, is apparently deemed relevant enough to be granted this critical inside knowledge? What else am I unaware of? Apparently quite a few things! And not just sensitive information, but details that could be crucial to our current field of scientific knowledge!"

"You always know what you need to know, Bennu," Shirahtet says in his calming voice. "Same for Tiofon, and other IEC members. It is how things work, there is no slight intended. We each have our place in the scheme of things."

"Oh, and I suppose you and your holy caste always get to decide who knows what?"

"As the First Priest of Kassiopei, granted authority unto the ages by the divine ancestors of the Dynasty we serve, it is my ancient role and function. Therefore, yes, I do."

"Enough!" the Imperator interrupts them. "Stop bringing up my chazuf ancestors, Shirahtet. I choke on them every night as I lie in bed thinking of all the ancient shebet they passed on to me in the form of Imperial duty. And you—we need a hard solution to this crisis, and it's why I called you, Bennu. You have been informed, you now have privileged information that must not leave this room, and you will remain discreet."

"My Imperial Sovereign—yes, of course." And Director Bennu inclines his balding head with courtly resignation.

The Imperator exhales fiercely. "Now then, let us discuss our options."

Rovat Bennu scratches the back of his head, causing a few of his remaining gilded hairs to stand up messily, then frowns and glances down at his feet and around the room. His darting gaze lands upon Aeson and me, and I see him blink a few times, as though considering us.

"For starters, I'd like to see it," he says. "The Grail Monument—that is, the ship. Is it broadcasting now?"

"Not now, but—judging by its earlier behavior—it soon will be," Hijep Tiofon says. "And haven't you seen enough of it from the inside?"

"Knowing what I know now—" Rovat Bennu shakes his head thoughtfully. "It will be with a new perspective. How, in the name of all divinities, did we as a culture, manage to keep the original colony ship hidden from the public for millennia? All public historical archives claim it's long-lost. But it's buried right here, under our noses. . . ."

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