CHAPTER SIXTEEN (draft)

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CHAPTER 16

"What in all the rawah hells of Atlantis?" Oalla whispers, breaking the silence. "That's a planetary body!"

"Are we looking at the same object?" Xelio asks. "What happened to the plasma?"

Aeson does not answer immediately. He minimizes the window back to its original position to reveal the three others and starts tapping on the screen and scrolling through data on two of the windows. "Yes, the location and trajectory overlaps with the plasma image from before. This is the same object. It no longer shows a plasma holo-shield."

Ker is shaking his head slowly. "And according to this trajectory curve plot for the last several hours, and the projected points to fill in the missing data—" he taps at one data chart, "it is moving in a stationary orbit around us—around Atlantis."

"What? How?" I mutter. "You mean it's orbiting like a satellite?"

"Yes." Aeson glances at me and the others. He exhales slowly. "This is a moon."

Holy crap!

At this point everyone else in the room has stopped doing whatever they were doing, and they gather around us.

"Wait, what?" Gracie says, with a glance back to Blayne who's the only person still seated, but even he is positioning his legs around his hoverboard, ready to leave his small sofa and join us.

"I thought Atlantis has three moons," Blayne says, hover-floating up to the table.

"It does," Xel says with a confused frown.

"Well, apparently now it has four," Oalla says with a strange laugh through parted lips. "Is this crazy or what, Ker? A hidden fourth moon? What is its orbit relative to Amrevet?"

Ker checks data, still shaking his head, then says, "Based on the actual route traveled along the trajectory, as marked in real time by our instruments, it's about twice as distant from Amrevet's average orbit as Amrevet's orbit is from Mar-Yan's. And we won't know the shape of that orbit until a full revolution is completed and we account for closest and furthest apsis point irregularities—"

"In other words, it's orbiting very far out there." Aeson speaks softly, then turns to his wrist comm and starts working the data.

"Time to let your Imperial Father know?" Xel says with narrowed eyes.

"Oh, yes." Aeson makes a short sound. "Best he hears it from me—or from any one of our own personnel—rather than foreign sources around the globe. Though, no doubt, he must've heard already—I can just imagine the reports and calls pouring in right about now. . . . Not only from our own agencies but from everywhere else. Because it's happening globally as they observe that thing and reach the same consensus as we do."

Xel whistles.

"Okay, I don't understand what's going on," Gracie says.

"You're not the only one." Oalla smiles sadly at Gracie.

"Message sent," Aeson says. "Now bracing for call."

And as if on cue I hear and recognize the Imperial ring tone.

* * *

While Aeson gets up and steps away to talk privately to the Imperator, we continue to watch the data feeds.

"Time to send surface landing probes to take a closer look at this thing," Keruvat theorizes, as he reads the band of his wrist comm. "Then, after the probe data comes back, we send shuttles with human pilots."

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