The first room we enter looks like a New York City subway stop, possibly from the apocalypse. The chipped, white tile floor and walls are shadowed by the plant growth hanging from the ceiling and off the support pillars. There are five battered leather chairs patched with tape and a tv mounted in the right-hand corner, silently playing static as the image bounces up and down. In front of us, there are two dark green glass doors with handles made of crimson glass. On the left is a tunnel entrance with a single track coming out of it, but it is too dark to see into its depths. Etched into the tiles above the doors is another message.
Please have a seat and wait for the hostess.
We turn to look back the way we came, but it is a solid white tile wall to match the rest of the room. We give the newly formed wall a push, but it is solid. It looks like the only way out is through. We take a seat, the chairs squeaking as we apply our weight to them. They are lumpy and quite uncomfortable. There is a heavy sense of tension in the air as we sit and wait as instructed for this hostess.
There is an electric whirring noise from inside the tunnel as something makes its way up the track. The three of us stand in unison, moving to peer into the tunnel. I summon my scythe to me as Theseus places his hand on the hilt of his sword, and Polus closes his fists. We are ready for anything, and we all know just how tricky Daedalus is. Something rolls out of the darkness and stops at the end of the track. The three of us take an involuntary step back at the sight of it.
It is an automaton with no legs but a clamp attached to the tracks and a base that supports a clear chest where you can see wires, lights, and gears moving within. Its arms have a similar makeup with what appears to be human hands. But none of that is the reason for our alarm.
The thing has a full mane of blonde hair done up in a ponytail, blue eyes full of life, and the face, oh the face, is one we all recognize at once. It looks exactly like Ariadne, the girl with the thread who helped Theseus in the long ago.
“By my holy father,” Theseus says under his breath.
“This isn’t right,” Polus whispers.
“What in Tartarus is this abomination?” I ask.
The automaton tilts its head to the side as it regards us. When it speaks, it is in her voice.
“Your holy father, Poseidon, the earth shaker. I am completely right. I had maintenance last week. I am Ariadne 256, hostess model, at your service.”
It is the two hundredth and fifty-six incarnation of her model. Daedalus had always numbered his automaton. This was unnatural to look at and to listen to. Theseus steps forward, mouth agape, and examines its face. He reaches up with an unsteady hand and touches the cheek. As soon as his fingers brush her face, he recoils and steps back to Polus and me. He has gone as white as a sheet and looks at us with wide eyes.
“No, no,” he whispers.
I understand at once that the touch must have felt like her. Polus puts a comforting hand on his shoulder. Theseus closes his eyes and breathes slowly, attempting to process and get a grip on himself. My attention falls on the blasphemous machine before us. Its smile is warm and radiant, causing my stomach to drop as it fills with hot lead.
“My master, Daedalus, bids you welcome, Thanatos, God of death, Lord of souls. Welcome, Polus, Lord Titan, Lord of the Axis. Welcome, Theseus, son of Poseidon, hero of the old. You three will follow me to the maker,” Ariadne 256 says in a chipper tone.
With that, the automaton pivots, and a gold light beam shoots out from her chest, a mock-up of her thread. The green glass doors swing open, and from unseen speakers, the song “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” from The Wizard of Oz begins to play as the three of us exit through the doors.
The doors swing shut behind us, cutting off the music. I look down, and sure enough, the cobblestones beneath our feet are yellow. The automaton on her track is still to the left and directly next to us, so we may see it and speak to it if needs be. The four of us walk abreast of each other as we set off down this yellow brick road, further into the labyrinth.
Eventually, the yellow brick gives way to an electric sidewalk which moves us past mosaics depicting Theseus’s battle with the Minotaur. The song “The Swan” by Camille Saint-Saens plays from hidden speakers above us. Theseus seems barely aware of everything around us. All of his attention is on the automaton, and he has a sick look on his face. The electric sidewalk gives way to the yellow cobblestones again, and we continue our march through with no other mosaics. It is just the chipped white tiles overgrown with plants until we come across the next set of doors and the next level of the labyrinth.
It looks similar to the first room we entered, minus the chairs. The doors are crimson glass with violet glass door handles. Etched above this door is All hail the coming of the Red. We exchange puzzled glances, wondering what that could mean as Ariadne 256 whirs past on its track. The doors swing open, and we step inside to a flourish of what sounds like “The Liberty Bell March” by John Philip Sousa. This place keeps getting stranger and stranger.
We step onto an early twentieth-century city street as the doors swing shut behind us. Brick apartment buildings and shops line the streets. Model Ts and As are parked along the curbs, rusting hulks with flat tires, broken glass, and covered in dust. Along the sidewalk are electric lamp posts. Hanging off them are red sashes that bear an emblem of an open eye in black with banners of political rhetoric and propaganda. I begin to have a sinking suspicion about this place and the possible levels of the labyrinth. As we walk down the street, we read the banners in turn.
“A vote for Red is a vote for freedom,” Theseus says.
“The great Red one is watching,” Polus says.
“See something, hear something, say something. Report thought criminals today,” I say.
“Join the Red army today,” Polus says.
“Guys, what is this place?” Theseus asks as we continue to walk.
No one says anything right away, but I notice that there is a heavy amount of dust and cobwebs inside each dirty window of the buildings we pass. I feel a certainty that I know what is going on. I open my mouth to offer my theory to them, but the automaton speaks first.
“There are other worlds than these, as I am sure the God of Death well knows,” Ariadne 256 says.
“She is right,” I say. “I believe this is what I would have called a remnant world during my traveling years. It is a world whose time has ended and is void of life, so the only thing we see is the shell of that world. I believe the levels of the labyrinth are pieces of those remnants that Daedalus must have stayed in to hide from the gods. Somehow, he managed to stitch them together here to fill his labyrinth.”
“That feels right in my gut,” Polus says.
“Yeah, it does. It really does,” Theseus agrees.
“The Lord Death is correct. Ahh, no, stop, help. This is where Ariadne 10 broke down and died. This was the end of her line,” Ariadne 256 says in a flat monotone.
It began to move forward on its track as we all exchanged uneasy glances. We proceed with caution, all of us watching the automaton closely in case it broke down or attacked. We pass many more banners as the road bends and turns a corner.
“The great Red eye does not sleep,” Theseus says.
“Live, Laugh, Love, Be the Red,” Polus says.
“Death before dishonoring the Red,” I say.
We fall into silence, matching this piece of the remnant world. We are no longer interested in reading about this Red, yet I can not help but wonder if it was some sort of god in this world. My eyes catch a theatre marquee sign advertising Charlie Chaplin in In The Red Keep. I shake my head and press onward. We walk around another bend and see a door on the horizon beyond the overgrown city park ahead of us.
Despite the jungle-like foliage, a path had been well maintained for us, and we pass through with ease. We come to the next door, and this one is made of violet glass with pearl gray glass door handles. The automaton abruptly stops as there is no tunnel entrance for it to go through. Our eyes go up to the violet words etched above the door, “Ring Bell to Enter.”
“What bell?” I ask.
As soon as the words pass my lips, I see a violet pull rope on the right side of the door. Theseus reaches out and removes a white piece of paper from the rope, reading it aloud.
“Bell out of order, please knock. Can’t tell me you didn’t see this one coming,” Theseus says, his voice full of sarcasm.
“Fucking Wizard of Oz,” Polus says.
Theseus crumbles the note and pitches it at the automaton. I move forward and pound the side of my fist on the door three times. A massive bell chime fills the room, causing the ground to shake under our feet. A hole appears for the automaton as the doors swing open, and we enter the next level of the labyrinth.