CHAPTER FOURTEEN (draft)

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CHAPTER 14

"You have no notion of what you speak, child," the First Priest Shirahtet says softly. "It's the one option we can never consider, for the simple fact that we don't know what would happen. We do not know which parts are dangerous and where they are located inside the ship—even assuming that such a separation is possible and it is not the ship in its entirety that presents the problem. If the ship's orichalcum layers are destroyed it might cause a chain reaction—a reaction of such magnitude that it would rip apart this planet and much of the space-time around it, opening a cascade of dimensional rifts far worse than the one that we already have to deal with."

"But you don't know that for sure," I say. "It might be completely harmless."

"True. But until we do know, the ship must remain as is."

"Okay, I see the risk now," I nod. "Which means you really do need to go back down inside that ship and try to find out the truth. And I would like to see for myself what's down there."

Even as I say it, it occurs to me that I've just volunteered to enter the secret research facility where the Imperator wanted to keep me as a test subject.

Even Aeson is staring at me.

I must be insane.

Which is right when the wrist comm alarm sounds, indicating to us that the ark-ship has just activated itself again.

* * *

For a moment we all go quiet, with only the noise of the TV feeds in the background.

The Imperator looks at Aeson and me with a grave expression, then beckons us with his hand to approach—yes, it's time again to do our newfangled vocal duty back at the Red Office with its monitors and camera-feed setup all ready and waiting for us.

But just as we stand up to leave the room—while the Imperator is using his wrist comm to initialize the machinery in his office to call up the stadium live feed ahead of our arrival, so as not to waste a precious moment—in that instant something odd happens on the TV.

The crowds go absolutely silent. Literally, the noise levels fall away in a span of a few breaths and it is near-dead silence around the complex—so much so that for a moment I think someone turned off the sound.

And then, in that deep pause, we hear the voice of the commentator from the main feed window.

"And—it appears to be—we have something, Poseidon! Yes, indeed, to all our viewers, this is not a mistake! Those of you down there on the ground—you have stopped marching and expressing your concerns, and you are all looking up! It's happening right now, even as I describe the scene to you, Poseidon! Up in the sky, yes, everyone is looking up—may we have a different view angle, please, over at control—"

There's a momentary scramble on the screen, and then the camera starts to rotate and pan away from the street view of the crowd where people's faces have gone slack, signs lowered, and they are instead staring upward. . . . The camera leaves them all behind and sweeps up past the background view of the surrounding tall buildings to the open night sky directly overhead.

"There it is!" the commentator says in a surprised voice, as the view moves across the deep indigo sky with its usual dense star field, past one of the rising moons—it's the largest, Amrevet—to rest on some kind of odd phenomenon in the shape of a glowing, shimmering, vaguely round blob of light.

At the same time the mesmerized crowds come alive and start to make a different kind of noise, which rises in a fearful swell.

"What the—?" Director Tiofon exclaims, leaning forward.

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