Cornelia glared out of her cabin window as she watched the black airship sail away across the sky. She supposed that she ought to count herself lucky that all that had come of the incident was the loss of an old map, but the situation had been far too precarious for her liking while it had lasted. Pirates could be far more dangerous than that, Cornelia knew, and a small freight ship like the Belle Marie would have stood no chance in the event of a real attack.
Slowly, Cornelia turned away from the window to look at Harold Ikonov who was sitting in the chair across from her.
"Well that was interesting," she said, leaning back in her chair and propping her boots up on her desk. "But there had better not be air pirates or unexpected rivals showing up once we reach Paris — I don't know if I can take any more surprises like this one."
"I apologize, Captain Harper," said Ikonov, "I must say I did not foresee recent events, myself, and I'm sorry to have caused such trouble."
"Trouble I'm used to," said Cornelia, "but if anything happens to my ship as a result of any more 'trouble,' know that you'll be paying for it."
Ikonov said nothing; he merely stared sheepishly into his lap. Cornelia removed her boots from the desk once more and sat upright.
"Well, it's about time you informed me of what exactly our mission is," she said. "It's all well and good to ferry you around from here to there, but I feel that as the pilot you hired, I ought to know where we're going with all of this."
Ikonov nodded. "Fair enough," he said lifting the large, ancient book from the satchel he wore at his side. He leafed quickly through it, and, apparently finding the desired page, passed the book across to Cornelia.
Cornelia took the book carefully in her hands and squinted down at the yellowed page. The paper was so thin that it looked as if a stray breath of wind could disintegrate it, and the ink was so faint that even with her sharp eyes, Cornelia had to struggle to make it out. Indecipherable Greek words crawled across the page like a line of tiny ants, but forming space for a sketch in the middle of the page. The sketch appeared to depict a humanoid figure and it was only after studying it for some time that Cornelia saw its true nature. It was not a human person at all, but rather a being composed of uncountable gears, cams, cogs, and minutely detailed machinery.
"Incredible, isn't it?" said Ikonov when Cornelia looked up again. There was wonder and enthusiasm dancing in his eyes.
"What is it?" asked Cornelia, handing the book gingerly back to him.
"It is an automaton. A mechanical man!" Ikonov tucked the book back into his bag. "Legend has it that Daedalus built an army of them. They were his life's work, his masterpieces. Of course, they were lost when he died, and the only clue to their whereabouts lies in this book."
"And where is that?" inquired Cornelia.
"The labyrinth of Crete." Ikonov let out an exasperated breath and his previous excitement seemed to flicker, then peter out like a candle flame caught in a draft. "But of course, that is supposed to be neigh unnavigable without the clue, Ariadne's Thread. The map."
Cornelia frowned. "But you did get pictures of it, didn't you?"
"Well, yes," admitted Ikonov, "but it's hardly the same thing. Remember the map? It moves. Because the labyrinth moves! It was constructed out of quicksilver — liquid metal."
"So you're telling me that this whole expedition is pointless without that map?" Cornelia asked, somewhat irritated, somewhat disappointed.
"Well, ultimately we will need Ariadne's Thread, yes," said Ikonov.
Cornelia stood up and crossed to the window, her eyes following the tiny speck that was the ship of their recent assailants as it sank toward the gray smudge of London. "Well I'm not about to go chase down any pirate ships, if that's what you're thinking," she said.
"No, of course not," said Ikonov. "For now it's to Paris to meet with my friend, Cliff Cornwall."
It was lucky that Cornelia had her back to Ikonov at that precise moment, for the expression that crossed her face at the mention of Cliff Cornwall perhaps would have shown far more than she cared. But she quickly rearranged her features to feign indifference by the time she turned back to face the professor. Still, it was with a feeling of utmost dread that she left the cabin a minute later to set a course for Paris.