Chapter 3 Episode 5 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles
The group flew every day after that.
The final practice day before the great expedition, the flight crew loaded sandbags onto all five aircraft to simulate their cargo. The autogyros took off in formation, Hildy Goldstein on point, all passengers aboard and black mercury in the boilers.
They flew over Lake Sherrat, low enough to make white caps on the water and to see the ferry passengers wave their hats. When they flew over the University, Adewole realized the yellow-and-red brick courtyards taken together made a larger pattern, a checkerboarded star. Was it intentional? Adewole wondered how many patterns could only be seen from the air.
The formation took no chances and skirted the financial district's steel towers, though they did fly into the Drift, beneath the island itself. Adewole did his best to stare up through the spinning rotors to study its underside, but he couldn't make out much detail.
By the time Miss Goldstein decided they'd had enough and guided them back to the hangar, Adewole was frozen through. He must wear heavier clothes under his duster, add ear muffs under his leather cap and silk liners to his gloves. Back in the hangar, he accepted a mug of tea just to have the warmth in his hands, if not to drink it.
Trinke whipped out his ever-present notebook. "Now, ladies and gentlemen, we will speak to the press. They're gathered just outside the hangar waiting for us." The delegation let out a collective groan. "None of that. We promised them a nice long press conference in exchange for leaving you alone."
"Leaving us alone?" echoed Doctor Ansel, the team's physician and biologist. "I've been trailed everywhere I've gone for the last month!" Murmurs of assent rumbled through the group.
"Did anyone actually approach you or ask any questions?"
Ansel screwed up his wide mouth. "No, but--"
"Well, then." Trinke snapped the notebook shut. "Let's not keep the press corps waiting."
The group marched dutifully through the hangar to find a long table on a dais, thirteen chairs behind it and a crowd of reporters and photographers before it. Minister Faber sat in the middle, Major Berger to her right and Adewole to her left. Trinke ran the press conference from beside the table and called on the shouting, jostling reporters by name. "What message will you be taking to the Inselmonders, Major Berger--if there are any?" said a squinting man in a tweed cap.
"There are most definitely people up there," interrupted Miss Goldstein. "I've seen their buildings and fields." The journalists scribbled frantically.
"We will be bringing a message of peace," said the Major.
"If the message is peace, why are you leading the delegation, Major? Will you be bringing weapons?" shouted a woman at crowd's edge. Berger remained unruffled, but his aide, Captain Lentzen, sat up straighter.
Trinke pointed to a more friendly-looking man toward the front. "Mr. Zirbes? You have a question?"
"Yes, sir, for Captain Lentzen. Are you proud to be our Army's first pilot, sir?"
Yes, Captain Lentzen was very proud; Miss Goldstein looked forward to building many autogyros for the government; Doctor Ansel assured they would bring back no exotic diseases; and Professor Deviatka felt certain there would be technological innovations aplenty.
A raw-boned man in a coat with sleeves far too short for him raised his hand. "Professor AAA-dee-wole?"
"Ah-DEH-woh-leh," said Trinke.
"Well, that's kind of the point, isn't it?" said the man. "He's a Jerian. Why is he part of an Eisenstadt military delegation?"
"A very good question," muttered Dean Blessing. The pencils scribbled further.
Major Berger's open face became a diplomatic block of ice. "Professor Adewole is the Ministry of State's special attaché for cultural affairs. He will serve as translator."
"But why not an Eisenstadter?" persisted the man. Blessing's pleasure at this line of questioning took on a life of its own and danced around the crowd. Adewole wanted to crawl under the table and throw his kikoi over his head.
A clear voice cut across the pack's mutterings. "I chose him myself," said Minister Faber. She placed a knobby hand, firm and reassuring, on his shoulder. "Professor Adewole is one of the world's most distinguished anthropologists, and arguably its pre-eminent comparative folklorist. He speaks more than a dozen languages old and new, can read sigils few know anything about, and has made Inselmond mythology his specialty. No one in this delegation is more qualified to be in it than he is. As to his being a Jerian, it is Eisenstadt's show of good faith to the world: we come in peace for all humankind."
The mutterings turned approving, the approval to outright applause; even the raw-boned man's expression went from hostile to dubious. A dozen flashpots poofed, the smoke redolent of Midsummer's Night fireworks. Adewole's cheeks turned hot, and Dean Blessing looked ready to blow his waistcoat buttons. "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, this concludes question time," said Trinke. "Tomorrow, we fly."