Chapter 9 Episode 1 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles

September 23rd

The young Chorister serving as Melody Hall's gatekeeper was apologetic but firm: "The Choirmaster cannot see you, nay, he will not see you."

"But why not?" said Adewole. "Has a bad report of my character come to him? If so, I wish to address it with him, not through third parties."

"Nay, nay, you have the wrong of it, sir. Choirmaster Chandler turns away all from Dunalow."

"Why? What has happened?"

The baby-faced girl frowned. "Have your own folk not told you? Summon from Dunalow stole a Duet, sir--Poole, the creature. That 'un's the prince of all lies," she muttered.

Adewole must have missed some crucial events while buried in books. "But no one can leave the island without an autogyro, and there are few places to hide here. Surely he has been caught."

"He has not, else your Major hides him, the false deludin' man. And here I am, made a fool, Duet and heart stole together!" Color mounted high on her cheeks, and her eyes were puffy. "Now go along, sir. The Osters speak well of you, but Choirmaster says no one from Dunalow in the Hall ever again, and that's fine by me."

Adewole returned to the Library and gently prodded Mr. Buckan's defenses, to no avail; he would not talk about taboo subjects. Questioning set the small man's face in drawn, frightened lines.

The island's foremost "magician," the Choirmaster, would not speak with him. No theologian lived on this resolutely non-theistic island. He had to find someone to talk with about Risenton's past, and its taboos. Adewole waited until Buckan's disquiet subsided and said in diffidence, "Who would you say is the island's greatest living historian, Mr. Buckan? You?"

"Me? Oh, no, sir." Mr. Buckan looked around the now-cluttered room: an Eisenstadt chair; a carpet from Dumastra; spare kikois in eye-popping yellows, oranges, purples, turquoises and magentas; stacks of notebooks and foolscap; extra ink bottles and boxes of nibs and holders, stowed carefully away from the books. He shook his head as if to clear the magnificence from it. "I suggest you speak to Councilwoman Lumburgher again. She has the largest collection of privately held books, especially history books."

When Adewole entered Imogen Lumburgher's sitting room that night after dinner, he found her in a cantankerous mood; there would be no spicebush tea and oatcakes. "Magic? Why talk to me about magic?" said the Councilwoman. "Edward Chandler is the Choirmaster, go talk to him. Oh no, that's right, he took an Eisenstadter thief into the Choir and won't speak to any of you now."

Adewole suppressed the urge to fidget with the black and royal blue striped kikoi round his shoulders. "I wished to speak with you in any event, ma'am, because I felt Choirmaster Chandler would not be objective enough. As a fellow historian, I knew I could count on you to speak without bias." He was beginning to feel like the smooth talker Deviatka had accused him of becoming.

"I cannot believe you know nothing of magic. You have starcasters Dunalow, just as we do here," said the old woman.

"We look upon starcasting as a science, ma'am. It is reproducible, and it follows known laws."

"So does magic," snapped the Councilwoman.

"What I am trying to discover," said Adewole, "is whether magic in the days before the Rising was used in tandem with technology. We have no magic Down Below--at least nothing more than conjurers' tricks--and magic here, if that is what the Choir performs, seems limited."

Councilwoman Lumburgher's patchy face drained of color. "Magic? And machines? That's against the Oath. Do not speak of it. That's against the Oath." She wrung her hands in her lap. "Do not speak of it, I beg you."

"Why? What will happen if we do? Please tell me, ma'am, I can get no one to speak to me about the Oath, nor about the prohibitions against gods." The woman remained silent, her eyes averted and her bony fingers plucking at the fringe on an imported wool-stuffed pillow beside her. "Surely, Councilwoman Lumburgher, the head of the foremost Family on Risenton can speak to a fellow historian on the subject. You are not conspiring to break the Oath but helping me understand it more fully."

The old woman closed her eyes. Adewole hadn't ever asked after her age--it didn't seem appropriate--but at this moment, she looked older than anyone he'd ever seen. "You must understand, Professor, that we are inculcated in our childhoods not to speak of it. It is difficult to do so, even when we are willing."

"It is the nature of taboos, ma'am," he murmured. "Every society has them." He waited, and waited.

"Ever since the Rising," she began, "we have taken an Oath. We make it at adulthood, when we turn thirteen. 'Magic and metal no more: this I swear.'"


She shook her head. At her set face, Adewole took another tack. "And gods?"

The folds of Councilwoman Lumburgher's face shuddered. "God tried to kill us once."

"Surely not all gods," said Adewole.

"What does it matter? If one tries to kill you, you are warned against all."

"What was this god's name, and how did it try to kill you, ma'am?"

"Not me," she snapped, "my ancestors, the entire island! The oldest books I own--the ones I can read--say it wasn't an island then."

"What was it?"

"Few know this. We were a city, named Cherholtz. What everyone does know is God threw us into the heavens to kill us. We killed it instead. God is dead. We killed it, and we will not allow its return."

So the Risentoners believed this god rose the island. Adewole digested this. "What was its name?" he asked again. "Was it called the Machine God?"

Lumburgher paled further. "Its name is lost. But…but that description would be fair."

"And magic's part in all this? Why is magic not banned?"

"Magic and metal. To combine magic and metal is to worship the god. We cannot allow it. It is dead and we cannot allow it to return. Worship is enough to bring it back." Imogen Lumburgher leaned toward him, her rheumy blue eyes as sharp as any needle. "We cannot allow it to return, Professor Adewole. You may not have taken the Oath, but if you value your life and the lives of everyone above and below this island, you will respect it. I want to know the past as much as any historian, but if you have found something in those books that would bring God back, you must destroy it--or I will."


Gudy's picture


... we now have this. "Inauspicious" doesn't even begin to cover the situation. I do find her threat a little curious, though. "if you have found something in those books that would bring God back, you must destroy it--or I will." Hmm, wouldn't the actual problem be that the God, once brought back, would destroy them?

Also, it seems we've missed a typo after all:
"this god rose the island" rose -> raised

MeiLin's picture

Most High

If the god came back, she's convinced it would finish the job of destroying what was once Cherholtz. She means Heicz Vatterbroch's notebook, were Adewole to make her aware of it.

Gudy's picture


... on all that. It's just that on a scale of threats, "I will destroy this book" is considerably lower than "the Machine God will destroy this whole island", so the latter should be more of an incentive to do the right thing.

MeiLin's picture

Most High

I love Imogen, and I wish in retrospect I hadn't had her "snap" so much. Even though she is very snappish in general, "said" would have sufficed in many cases here. Sigh.

Some of my beta readers were confused that I gave the common folk of Risenton different accents and patterns of speech than the upper class like Imogen and the other Council members, and more learned folk like Mr. Buckan. Aren't they all Risentoners? See: "Downton Abbey." Upstairs speaks very differently than downstairs.

Americans tend to forget class differences. I like to write about class, myself. When other writers writing about periods and societies where class has to be an issue--by the writers' own admission--Ignore the differences or muddy them, I get a bit perplexed. I don't always get it right. I come from a moderately privileged background. But I try my damnedest.

gjh42's picture

It was clear to me that "you must destroy it" referred to "found something in those books".
Also, it is true that "raised" is grammatically correct English for the act of lifting up, but the somewhat anachronistic-sounding "rose" here fits the mythological status of the Rising, as if the god participated in the event rather than acting on it from outside. Or something like that...

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