Chapter 15 Episode 1 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles
Hildy gasped and stood up from her perch on the desk. "You can't expect me to believe that. A technology that powerful--that's approaching magic!"
"Magic, yes, it does sound like that, does it not?" Adewole switched tacks. "What makes black mercury so powerful, Hildy? Have you isolated what it might be?"
"Black mercury? What about it? What does it have to do with the rising of the island?"
"The ancients of Cherholtz--the city that became Risenton--called it ichor. It means 'blood of the gods.' It is more than a mechanical propellant. Yes, it can be used for that, but if one knows the old secrets it can be used for magic. The Risentoners make an oath at thirteen never to use magic and metal together, and I have discovered why: the ultimate fusing of magic and metal to create power akin to a god's, a Machine God, if you will." Hildy cocked her head and crossed her arms, but he pressed on. "The manuscript I have found details how to make such a god, and I have discovered what happened when he did. The God raised the island a thousand years ago. Thousands, perhaps tens, hundreds of thousands, died." At this point, her not believing him almost appealed. He could say, Ha ha, I was only joking, Miss Goldstein, no, I really need to get back up there because... Because what?
Hildy sank back down on the desk; she contemplated the folds in her coveralls, absent fingers tracing their furrows, before looking up again. "It does explain the Oath, doesn't it? Magic and metal no more." At Adewole's widening eyes she added, "I got it out of that old coot at Camp Turnip, Peter Oster's dad--I picked up the language pretty quickly, thanks to you. He kept calling me an oathbreaker. I finally asked what he meant and he told me. I confess to thanking him politely and laughing my head off as soon as I was around the corner. That's what I get for dismissing old coots."
"I am surprised you are taking this at face value, and so calmly," said Adewole.
"Inselmond gets you thinking, doesn't it?" she said. "How did it get there? I've always wondered. You have to, living here. Whatever it was, it had to be the most powerful force ever. I mean, it couldn't be natural or there'd be at least one other floating island somewhere in the world I should think. But there isn't." She leaned forward, stained hands braced on her thighs. "This technology, magic or not--think how it might serve the world. So many problems might be solved. Hunger, disease, poverty, natural disaster--we could even end warfare."
"Or we might make our problems worse. I do not intend to release these secrets. I intend to destroy them."
"You're saying you've discovered technology which might benefit the entire world, and you refuse to share it? Ollie, think what you're saying."
"It might benefit the entire world, or it might benefit just one part of it--or one person. The man who created it was no altruist. Were I to recount his methods you might renounce engineering entirely. Everything Karl Deviatka needs to re-create this Machine God is in his hands, or will be soon, and now the army is after it as well."
"It sounds like one of those fantastical dramas on the radio, a madman holding the reins of an ultimate weapon," said Hildy, waving her hand.
Adewole's mouth twisted. "Karl Deviatka is not mad. He is doing what he is doing with a clear conscience and a clearer mind, and I need your help to find him before Berger does. The government nearly seized all this," he said, gesturing to encompass the hangar. "You know what it is like to have your life's work taken from you. This is far worse."
Hildy nodded, her face darkening for a moment. "Goldstein and Adewole save the world, eh?" she said, giving him a wry look.
"I am not interested in saving the world," said Adewole, "I am interested in saving one frightened little girl."
"How is a child wrapped up in this?"
"Her spirit is what powers the Machine God. Though she has technically lived a thousand years, she is in reality only nine. Hildy, she was murdered to make this thing. Would you want such power in the hands of someone as--as evil as Deviatka--" here he choked, "--or in those of a terrified nine-year-old in terrible pain?"
Hildy's kind face crumpled, her fair eyebrows drawn together. She composed herself, rose and tugged down her coveralls. "All right then, let's get going. I'll have to fly you up myself. No one cares whether I fly or not, but they watch everyone else like hawks. I'll have to explain it at some point, but who cares right now." She tucked a stray hair behind her ear. "Mind riding in a cargo pod? Because I'm going to have to smuggle you. Til's around here somewhere, and I trust him with my life every day. We'll make it happen between us. Stay here." She strode off, turning back at the door. "Who are you handing this off to up top?"
"No one," said Adewole. "The locals are in no mood to help a foreigner, and I cannot trust the army."
Hildy faced him, both hands on the door frame and a far less promising look on her face. "You're in no condition to fight Karl Deviatka."
"I agree," he said, "which is why I am hoping I might get my little girl to fight for herself."
"Let me help you."
"Your presence is likely to frighten Alleine further. I must go alone."
Hildy shook her head. "I don't understand. Ollie, you're an academic, not a soldier. Why you?"
"Because..." He had known Alleine a few days, but she fit into the hole in his chest where his sister Ofira had been, not filling it entirely--no one ever could--but giving him someone to belong to again after the death of the little girl who'd bound him to this world. Did he love Alleine? Perhaps. He thought so. Perhaps it was compassion for a child's helplessness, or perhaps after years of doing it he just needed to be a brother. In a deep sense, he and Alleine belonged to one another. "Because someone I feel responsible for is trapped in the heart of this Machine God," he resumed, "and I am the only one she can understand. No one else alive speaks her language. She is alone and in pain. I must do what I can for her, and in the process stop Karl Deviatka. If I cannot, it falls to you to tell Major Berger what has happened. My dear Miss Goldstein, please, please may we get under way?"