Chapter 8 Episode 2 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles

Deviatka returned two days later. “I have been waiting for you to come back, Karl, I have found an extraordinary thing,” said Adewole as his friend came through the door of Frey’s stable.

“That would be fortunate, because Peter Oster and I found nothing of note at all—it’s why we came back early,” sighed Deviatka. He handed his gloves and cap to Wirtz and slumped into a chair. “Tea, please, Wirtz, and something to eat. I’m starving. What did you find, old thing?”

From his friend’s polite face, Adewole knew he thought it would be some new folk tale or other. Now, Adewole would surprise him as much as Deviatka had surprised him that first flight in the autogyro. “Diagrams, machine diagrams, quite unexpectedly complex, I think. I believe they predate the Rising, though the book itself is handwritten, not printed, and looks as if it were bound not long after the Rising from individual notes rather than folios.”

“Not surprising, a printed book couldn’t be as old as all that.”

Adewole told him about the Library’s books. “The ones predating the Rising—at least a thousand years old, Karl—are printed, not transcribed. They had the printing press a thousand years ago!”

Deviatka whistled, only mildly impressed. “Lo how the mighty have fallen.”

“But they had more than that. Look.” Adewole spread a few drawings copied from the book on the table. “The entire manuscript is full of these drawings, quite detailed. I’m fairly sure nothing like this existed in Jero, and Eisenstadt hadn’t even been founded. I don’t know what it is, but I thought perhaps you might tell me,” he finished in triumph.

Deviatka gave him a good-humored smile and bent over the drawings. He fast became intent, flipping through the drawings over and over. “I have no idea what it is,” he murmured, “nothing like it before the last hundred, hundred and fifty years or so. This is pretty sophisticated gearing—nothing all that new about gearing, but in combination with the rest...these look like hydraulic cylinders, this looks like a piston engine.” He glanced up at Adewole. “Whatever this is, it’s more sophisticated than anything on Inselmond now, by far. It’s as sophisticated as the work we’re doing in Eisenstadt, perhaps more—this must be from a different book, eh?” said Deviatka, setting aside a sketch of something made of bones.

“No, it’s from the same book. It may be a different project than the other diagrams, or a random note bound into the rest by accident. I, ah, I haven’t finished translating it fully. I am trying something different this time.”

Deviatka looked up, eyes gleaming in the light from the black mercury lamp. “You must let me see the originals, Adewole. I congratulate you on your artistic abilities, but I must, I must see this book.”

Adewole grimaced. “I cannot. These are books kept under lock and key. They will not let anyone else in.”

“They’re afraid I might hurt them, or they worry the books might sprout legs and walk off?”

“Yes, actually—now, I beg you not to take it as a personal affront, Karl, nothing of the kind is meant. We can apply to Councilwoman Lumburgher, but I am afraid Dean Blessing’s behavior has set her against the University of Eisenstadt’s professors.”

“You’re a professor.”

“Yes,” Adewole smiled, “but Blessing openly despises me.”

“Perhaps I’ll kick Blessing the next time he bends over, that ought to put me in his bad books.” Deviatka paced round and round the table, Wirtz’s nearby tea and sandwiches forgotten. “I have to see it. Is it nothing but drawings?”

“No, there is text as well,” said Adewole. “I have been over it once, but I am not at all finished with the actual translation yet.”

“What does it say?”

“The most significant thing I have found in its opening pages is the island was probably a city named Cherholtz before the Rising, but I cannot be sure. I do not know exactly where or when the manuscript was written, though it appears to be pre-Rising.” Adewole hesitated. “The rest—and mind, I have read through it roughly, very roughly indeed—the rest does not make sense in the context of the illustrations, at least so far. It appears to be a religious treatise.”

Deviatka arrested his circling. “A religious treatise? What do you mean?”

“There are many mentions of a god throughout, but which god I cannot say. It does not seem to correspond with anything I know about the old religions of the Rhendalian Plains let alone elsewhere. Of more interest to you is the word ‘ichor,’ which appears over and over.”

“Ichor—the black mercury?” his friend exclaimed.

“Do not get over-excited, Deviatka. I do not think I ever told you, but ‘ichor’ in the language they spoke here pre-Rising means ‘blood of the gods.’ It might be just another religious reference.”

The air around Deviatka shimmered with repressed excitement. “Adewole, you must translate this, as quickly as possible,” he said, grasping at his friend’s coat sleeve.

Adewole started back. He’d hoped his friend would be interested, but he hadn’t expected this much interest. “I am working on it, I assure you,” he said, wondering.

Wirtz took to visiting him at lunch and tea to make sure he ate something, though he was never allowed inside the locked room. “Sir,” he’d bellow, “I will stand here outside the door and bang on a pot until you come out”—words which usually rousted the sullen Adewole at last. He could not bear the shame of a ruckus in a library.

On the nights he’d remember to come home, Adewole faced Deviatka’s interrogation. Had he translated more of the book? Had he figured out what the machine was designed to do? When would he be done?

“Karl, you have my drawings and you are an engineer, figure it out for yourself. It is a complicated thing, translation,” said the exasperated Adewole one night. “I am comparing it against other books, you know. I am reading more than just the one you are interested in.”

“Why can’t you read just the one?”

“Because it refers to the others in places. Some have survived, some have not, and it is taking me time to both find the other books and work out their significance. And I still do not understand what the machine is supposed to do. Have you any ideas?”

Deviatka took a breath as if to speak, but closed his mouth and shook his head in the end. “What does the text say?”

“It makes little sense, it goes on about magic and gods and ichor and living machines.”

Deviatka looked sideways at his friend and chewed his lip. “I went back to the Choir, you know, to look at those pendants. They call them Duets. I offered black mercury in exchange for a good look at one, and the Choirmaster said yes straightaway. Seems to be the only person on the island who knows what it is.”

“Did you get permission from Major Berger for this, for giving the Risentoners black mercury?” frowned Adewole.

Deviatka waved a hand in dismissal. “What does it matter? I’m a researcher. I’m researching. For all that, I cannot for the life of me understand how the pendants work, and the Choirmaster prattles on about magic. He says the black mercury in the pendants amplifies the singer’s will. It allows someone who knows the songs and how to focus the music to perform magic.”

“Do you believe them?”

“I don’t know what to believe, but the Choirmaster demonstrated for me—he played on my emotions as if I were a pianoforte.”

“I am often moved by music, and so are you,” smiled Adewole. “I recall in particular a night at the Opera when Johanna Diederich made you cry like a child.”

“You misunderstand me.” Deviatka picked up his pipe and began packing tobacco into it. “I’m not talking about a normal reaction to music—I couldn’t understand the words, to begin with. One moment I was feeling impatient, the next the Choirmaster started singing, and I had this euphoria I couldn’t explain. I’d never been happier. And then the song changed and I was angry, the angriest I’ve ever felt in my life. It changed again and suddenly I couldn’t stop crying! Then just as abruptly the song changed and I felt the same calm I’d felt when the Chorister sang to the soldier with the broken leg.” He looked down at his agitated hands; he’d packed twice the amount of tobacco in his pipe. “Damn,” he said, scraping out the excess. “In any event, I’m almost beginning to believe in magic. Ansel says it’s not hypnosis, but neither of us can figure out how else they’re doing it. I’m going to hang around a bit with Poole—that translator who quit to join the Choir— and see what more I can learn.” He puffed until a fragrant cloud hung round his head. “Do you believe in magic, Ollie?”

Adewole contemplated his friend, the pragmatic engineer. “Those are the last words I ever expected to emerge from your mouth, Karl.”

“Undoubtedly, but do you?”

“We are a mile in the air on a floating island, old thing,” said Adewole. “Up here, a ‘twaddle merchant’ like me might be expected to believe anything, but a sober engineer like you?”

Deviatka smiled. “Perhaps the altitude is getting to me.”


MeiLin's picture

Most High

There's that Johnanna Diederich again, pesky girl making everyone feel all the things with her beautiful voice. Johanna is the creation of Coral Moore, who had to drop out of the Drifting Isle project midway and who has graciously allowed me to reimagine the story she began but could not finish about Johanna.

I've already got that book, "Songbird," outlined waiting for me to finish book 3, but it dawned on me that it'd make a really good NaNoWriMo project, so there you go. I'm wanting to teach a Camp NaNo class for kids next year, but I can't very well do it if I haven't NaNo'ed myself, can I?

Add new comment

Get an exclusive free ebook from the world of the Intimate History! Exclusive content, contests, new releases and more.