“Ariadne!” It was her uncle Stefanos, pushing brusquely through the lab doorway, stepping past the startled Dr. Singh to plant himself close before his niece.
“Yes, Uncle?” Ariadne’s fingers were still touching the map in her pocket, luckily hidden.
“What’s this?” He spoke in Greek, jabbing a finger at the data printouts on the table.
“Final reports of our studies,” she answered in English, knowing it would anger him. She gestured toward her two researchers. “Doctor Espinoza and Doctor Singh are making a special effort to tabulate our results before they close up the lab, as you have instructed. I am very grateful for their efforts.”
“Good,” he responded stiffly in English, nodding at the two foreigners. “We thank you.” He turned to Ariadne, switching back to Greek. “We’ve captured a boat invading our waters.”
“No, a smuggler. An American, he acts the fool, but he has a military background and may be useful for training our recruits. The woman with him looks like a bleached whore, but she’s wearing our family ring. She says you gave it to her.” He was watching her eyes.
“I gave—?” She bit her tongue. Could it be? “Lisa.”
“She gave that name. She came by the ring honestly, then?”
Ariadne blinked. “Yes. . . .”
Lisa, here, out of the blue? At the worst possible time? She took a deep breath. “I need to finish the patient treatments, but please tell her I’ll join her for dinner. She must need to rest after her trip.”
“She will remain confined to her room until dinner.”
“Please ask Marta to treat her as a guest.” She turned her back on him, stepping over to clasp the hands of Teresa and Arun. “I must finish an errand now, then I will return to help you pack up the lab. Thank you, my friends, for your dedication to this work.” She turned quickly from their bewildered faces, past her uncle and out of the lab, past the gas canisters, power cables, and hulking metal curves of her father’s weaponized laser in its glassed enclosure, past her own alcove of a gem-cutting studio with its small triad crystal laser they had adapted for some of the healing experiments. In the dim light between fluorescent fixtures mounted on the rock walls of the passage, she strode past the turning that led to the RPH patients she had treated earlier, and the exit to the villa beyond. This passage led deeper into the mountain past locked storage rooms for weapons and supplies, to a massive metal door.
“Hello, Stavros,” Ariadne greeted the sleepy-looking soldier guarding it.
“Despoina Demodakis.” He snapped to attention. “You need to go for more springwater?”
“Yes, thank you.” She waited for him to signal the soldier on the other side, then unlock the door for her. She had obtained a copy of the key, but did not want her uncle or father to know that.
Ushered through the opening, she greeted the other soldier and continued along the tunnel that soon narrowed into the natural passage opening to a cave where Iris waited in her paddock for another trip to collect water at the mineral spring. This was also an emergency escape route to the coastal trail along the cliffs, but once Ariadne had followed a curve taking her out of sight of the guard, she flicked on a penlight and turned aside, squeezing through a low opening onto what appeared to be a dead-end rockfall. She had a found a way through while exploring these caves as a child.
Pausing a moment to listen and make sure there was no movement in the outer passage, she gripped the penlight between her teeth and climbed up the jumble of rough boulders that provided good traction to her sturdy sandals. Near the slanted stone ceiling, she gripped the top edge of a long boulder, working her way sideways, crouching, until she could swing her legs around the right side of the boulder into an open space. Groping with her toes, she felt a crumbled rock surface on the other side, and lowered herself onto it.
Catching her breath, she edged around, crouching to avoid a jagged low ceiling, and shuffled forward until the opening widened and she could straighten. She wiped her palms on her roughspun peasant skirt that was the ideal garment for her trips through the caves or along the baking rock trails outside. She had found this route from the outside when she was seven years old, escaping her father’s stern eye to run with the wild goats over the mountainside.
Now, as then, she needed solitude and at least the illusion of freedom. She needed a space with her thoughts. Her head pounded with the pressures converging.
Following the dim twists and turns past more dead ends or passages that led to sudden drops into darkness, she squeezed through tight openings and clambered over the uneven footing of broken rocks until she finally climbed down another jumble of boulders into a cave where eons of the slow drip of water had created ridged stalactites and stalagmites. But since her childhood, the drought had sucked away many of the hillside springs, and the cave held only a whisper of moisture.
Ariadne threaded her way around the stone formations, following a glimmer of light toward the exit high on the mountainside. Flanking the low opening, two ancient guardians, carved from the white stone in some unrecorded past, watched the distant blue sea. The faces, blurred by time and weather, were little more now than faint eyes and blunt noses, but they seemed to gaze calmly through Ariadne as she obeyed her childhood ritual and knelt to touch their smooth curves in thanks for safe passage through the labyrinth.
She sat crosslegged, taking a deep breath, trying to draw in the cool serenity of the distant sea, resisting the waves of the agitated electromagnetic fields she could feel swirling around her now that she had left the natural shielding of the caves. Her thoughts swirled, too, with worries about the dying patients below, the surging pandemic worldwide, the imminent return of the Tyrannos and her imprisonment in Headquarters where she would be denied even this escape onto the mountainside. The wildly improbable implications of the map, in her pocket, connecting the sacred sites. And the calls of the faithful for “Saint Ariadne” to declare herself and give her life to their desperate needs.
And now, Lisa here, too? She fought down hysterical laughter, touching her polished crystal pendant, willing the smooth calmness of the carved guardians to flow over her, seal her into the grace of silence in this place.
It was here she had always escaped as a child from her father’s angers, his lectures about the proper behavior of a young lady. She had come on her seventh birthday, fleeing her worry about her mother’s illness, her hand clutching the secret gift from her Uncle Demetrios, the carved sapphire crystal that had started it all. . . .
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