Chapter 8 Episode 1 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles
The next day, Deviatka and Peter left for their tour; Corporal von Sülzle went with them at Berger’s insistence, leaving Wirtz behind to care for Adewole. At first he thought it was a bit much, a whole corporal to himself, but once he’d filled two packs with his dictionaries, reference books, blank books, notepads, inks and pens Adewole appreciated Wirtz’s help lugging it all over to the Library.
Mr. Buckan had set up the rare books room as an office. He gave Adewole a key. “You must keep it locked at all times, Professor, even when you are in here by yourself. The books in this room are invaluable, irreplaceable, as I’m sure you realize.” A lightcrystal brightened the room. A sole stool provided the only seating at the long trestle table.
“I’ll send a barrowman to East Camp for a proper chair, sir,” said Wirtz. “You deserve better than that.”
“It does not matter,” muttered Adewole absently, his attention focused on a single book, lying on a goathair felt pad atop the table. Its binding looked like old books he’d seen bound in ostrich leather, its raised bumps a dark, dull shine against a creamy background.
Judging by the covers, the books spanned some three hundred years. Most were bound in cow leather, and he assumed they were pre-Rising. Some were bound in something else—goatskin, according to Mr. Buckan. He indicated the sole book on the table. “This one is particularly fragile, sir. It is bound in frog leather. I, ah, I should not be letting you handle it.”
Adewole pulled on his cotton gloves, never taking his eyes off the thin book. “I shall be quite, quite gentle, I assure you.”
“Your gentleness was never at issue, sir,” murmured the librarian. Adewole looked up at the nervous tenor in the man’s voice, but he had already left the room.
By now, Corporal Wirtz had unpacked Adewole’s tools and books. “Will you be wanting me further, sir?”
“No,” said Adewole, coming to. “No, Wirtz, go about your day.” The corporal made sure to leave a lunch basket where Adewole could see it, announced he intended to make sure it was eaten, and sketched a familiar, affectionate salute before leaving.
Once alone behind the locked door, Adewole sat down, absently shifting his kikoi so the fringed ends fell down his back. He smoothed the book’s bumpy binding. Who last opened this book, and how long ago? Did that someone know how to read it? He set his notebook, pencil, pen and inkwell far away from the book to his right, slid his reference books off to the left but close to hand, fumbled on his spectacles and opened the ancient book.
The pages looked as if they had been bound into the book from some other source. Written in large runes on the first page in a bold, almost overbearing hand was a name: Heicz Vatterbroch. Adewole scribbled a reminder in his notebook to ask Councilwoman Lumburgher and Mr. Buckan about the name, and turned the page. The manuscript continued in the same hand as the name—handwritten, not printed. Perhaps it had been a notebook before its binding. He riffled the pages as gently and quickly as possible—all handwritten, though the writing changed in the last few pages. Adewole held his breath in excitement. Other books from this period were printed. This was a primary document, not a history after the fact. He remembered to breathe and turned back to the first full page.
Adewole read the opening sentence, read it again. It didn’t make sense. He frowned, opened a reference book and slid a finger down a list of runes to ease his mind. He picked up his pencil and tapped it against pursed lips before he pulled his notebook to him and wrote out the first sentence’s translation:
Once upon a time, I built myself a god.
A religious treatise, perhaps? How does one build a god? Gods either were or weren’t, and gods made humans, not the other way around—at least as far as traditional theology, folklore and myth went. He scanned the page; the writer switched willy-nilly between three different runic alphabets, and it slowed Adewole down. Worse, the emerging phrases made about as much sense as the opening sentence had, and as the day wound on he ran over each line, trying different translations even after he’d assured himself he’d gotten it right.
Religious and technical language, all tangled up, just in the opening page. Was it a prayer book or the introduction to an autocarriage manual? “The spirit is drawn to metal, metal eternal. As I make it, so shall it stay. What on earth is that supposed to mean?” he muttered, throwing his pencil onto the open reference book. His spectacle temples cramped the muscles they dug into; he took the spectacles off and rubbed behind his ears. With no windows he couldn’t tell how late it was, but his stomach reminded him he hadn’t eaten.
Adewole squinted at the stubborn page. Perhaps it was time to give it a rest and return later; he had a preliminary translation. Working in stages instead of pushing each word to its final, perfect-as-possible form made him twitch. What a bad habit, polishing each page before moving on. He should just take a run at it, finish the draft and then go back to polish. He should, but he knew he would not. Adewole stood up and turned the page; when he returned to the book he would move on. The next page had no text. Instead, it contained a large illustration. Adewole put his reading spectacles back on. At first glance the illustration looked like a crudely drawn man; on closer inspection, the intricate, beautiful drawing resolved into a human figure made of metal, like a machine. He sat back down, picked up a magnifying glass and peered at the page. The idol—for such he assumed it was—swirled with patterns like roiling clouds or oil on water.
Adewole’s hunger retreated. He’d never seen a culture build a god figure piecemeal of metal like this—almost like a machine. He flipped through the following pages: diagrams, cutaways, intricate schematics. Perhaps it really was a machine, and perhaps by copying the draw- ings he might understand what the manuscript was trying to say. “The spirit is drawn to metal,” he murmured again. “Hmm.” He must show this to Deviatka, he thought as he settled down to his work.