Sahara Light: a Novel. Part III. Chapter VII.

18 Mar

Echo rushed into the laboratory office of Hermes. She was excited and troubled by something that had just happened outside the building.

“A squad of armed men in chrome uniforms has arrived,” she reported. “They are members of the Phylax that Nessos Asriom has set up in Gamara.”

Hermes sprang to his feet, alarmed and disturbed.

“What are they after?” he asked both Echo and himself.

The two of them soon learned the answer to that question. They were about to exit from the laboratory building when they met the armed group preparing to enter it.

An officer with the insignia and emblemata of some kind of commander stepped forward and spoke in a gravely voice of authority.

“Halt! Are you two employees of the Institute of Light?”

“Yes,” answered Hermes. “I am the Director, Dr. Tmolos.”

The viridian eyes of the invader studied him for a second, then turned to Echo.

“What is your name?” he curtly inquired.

She told him who she was, staring without fear into his flinty face.

The commander raised his right arm and pointed at her with his index finger. Even before he gave any order, two of his subordinates moved toward Echo.

“Take control of this woman,” the officer commanded. “Place her in manacles and bring her outside to the ochema.”

Hermes suddenly stepped in front of Echo, shielding his lover from arrest. “She is innocent of anything criminal. What possible charge can be brought against her?”

The officer in charge of the squad exploded in rage. “Restrain this madman!” he shouted with all his vocal force. “Take him away while we escort the woman to our amaxa. We want her, not him.”

Two brawny men in chrome uniforms walked up and seized Hermes from both sides. While they carried him away, the other guards marched Echo out the door, to the ochema they had come in.

The men who had taken Hermes tied him up with ropes and put him in a corridor closet. By the time that the other research scientists came to untie him, the Phylax squad was gone from the Light Institute. Echo disappeared along with them.

Atlas Cimera left the area of ergati tents, entering the zone of the native inhabitants of Arethusa Oasis. Old clapboard stores and houses lined the street of packed down sand. He was growing not only tired, but hungry too.

A small distance away was the central basin, filled with reflections in its water. Where could he find something to eat? wondered the former publisher.

All at once, a painted sign over a large, cubeshaped building made of adobe clay drew his attention. It said “Venatic Estatiatorion” in bold red letters. A restaurant for hunters?  Or was it a place where their catches were cooked and served? Atlas decided to take a chance by going in and trying the table fare. He passed down a corridor of closed-off booths, taking a round stool at a counter where several men who looked like bachelors were the only patrons. A grizzled waiter handed him a worn menu opsologion. It featured the three main game animals of this part of the Sahara, daman, cony, and hyrax. There were also a number of rarities such as zibeth, gulo, agouti, chevrotain, pangolin, soricine, zoril, carcajou, and pichiago.

The hungry Atlas marveled at the list of food. His curiosity was stimulated. When a waiter came for his order, the traveler asked a series of purposeful questions.

“I am a stranger to Arethusa, but have knowledge of the Saharan hunting tradition. Tell me, how much of your supply of game originate in our Greek inheritance from the migrants who first came here from the homeland centuries ago?”

The waiter gave him a look of suspicion. “Nothing much has changed in this region of the desert. Hunters still live here at Arethusa. That profession is carried on by the same families, generation after generation. There is still game out on the sand, if you know where to look for it. The original creatures continue to survive.”

“Tell me,” said Atlas,”do the hunters keep up their somateion, the guild organization that goes back to the Great Migration and even earlier in our old land far away?”

The waiter answered with a nod of his head, but failed to say any more than that.

Atlas decided it was best to ask no more but to order his meal.

“Leporine stew,” he muttered, calculating that hare meat was cheap and something he knew he could easily digest, regardless of what the cook did with the rabbit flesh.

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