Chapter 14 Episode 3 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles
Two days after he regained consciousness, Adewole's condition had improved. Major Berger's attaché Isidore Lentzen had been by to see him, asking whether the professor knew where Deviatka might have gone to ground. He could say no with a clear conscience, as he was unsure himself. Doctor Ansel allowed him cautious walks through the hallways, clutching the ratty bathrobe Mrs. Trudge had brought from his wardrobe; a nurse always followed behind toting the basket crammed full of food Mrs. Trudge sent daily--far, far more than he could eat. He'd been passing it out to the other patients, a plausible excuse to get out of bed and a chance to scope out the hospital. Doctor Ansel's caution emanated from nothing more sinister than concern for his patient, but Adewole increasingly felt held prisoner. Back on his feet now, he had to plot an escape.
"Where are my clothes?" he asked his nurse, doing his utmost to make the question sound offhand.
"We had to burn them, Professor. They were in no way able to be cleaned, I'm afraid."
"Oh, dear," he replied mildly. "Might I get a message to Mrs. Trudge? I would just like a few of my things, linen, trousers, stockings, shoes and so on. And kikois--I suppose you would call them a shawl, you've seen Jerians wearing them, yes? Mrs. Trudge knows what they are. I am rather chilly, and a kikoi is a comfort to a cold, homesick Jerian," he smiled. "Getting up and getting dressed would be so pleasant, even for part of the day."
A bundle appeared the next day along with another food hamper. Adewole handed out half its contents to the less fortunate patients on the ward and stashed the half-empty hamper in a closet. He had the hospital exits mapped in his head, enough clothing to be decent if not quite warm enough for Risenton, supplies, and a plan for getting back to the island.
Adewole leaned against a brick building, not far from Hildegard Goldstein's hangar; his breath puffed in the night air, and his blood pulsed against his tender, still-bandaged, new scar. Doctor Ansel had dictated rest, and now he knew the rightness of the prescription. But he'd escaped from the hospital and had almost reached his goal. The hamper stuffed with food and his kikois hung heavy in his hands as he straightened and walked toward the fenced-off hangar.
"Halt," commanded a young soldier armed with a coilgun rifle, one of a pair of guards at the front gate. She squinted. "Hey, Professor! It's Corporal von Sülzle, sir, how are you? It's all right, Rosberg, I know him, it's Professor Adewole--we went up together in the first mission. You know, the Jerian guy in the newspapers, begging your pardon, sir! What're you doing here at this hour?"
"Corporal von Sülzle, how very good to see you!" said Adewole, hoping his exhausted smile didn't quiver too much. "Minister Faber has sent me. It is very important I speak with Miss Goldstein. Is she about?"
"Yeah, sure," said von Sülzle, shrugging a shoulder at the hangar. "She and her gang, they live here pretty much these days. She's moved some of her operation over, guess you'd say the finishing touches part and the maintenance part. They're sure turning out gyros, sir, like you wouldn't believe."
"At this point, Corporal, I think it is fair to say I would believe almost anything. May I go in, please?" Corporal von Sülzle not only let Adewole in, she carried the heavy hamper, an unexpected relief.
It had been some months since Adewole had been back to the airfield, at least when he'd been conscious. Bright lights flooded the hangar, shiny new aircraft filling its once-yawning cavern almost over-full; von Sülzle had not been exaggerating. With a cheerful "Stay right here, sir," the corporal plopped the hamper at his feet and went off in search of Miss Goldstein. Adewole looked around. No chairs, nothing like a chair at all, and his strength was fading.
Just as he considered whether the hamper might bear his weight, Hildy Goldstein herself appeared, wiping her hands on a red shop rag and wearing her habitual coveralls. She shook his hand in both her own. "I'm so very happy to see you, Professor! You didn't look at all well the last time I saw you, you know. You look a little peakèd still, are you sure you should be out? Come on in to my office, no, no, let me get the hamper." She ushered him into a cramped back room. Blueprints, spare parts, photographs of her smiling nephew in front of his racing autocarriage, newspaper clippings on the Inselmond expedition, and the ephemera of an overactive mind filled every vertical and horizontal surface. Miss Goldstein shut the door and motioned to the room's one chair, sitting on the edge of the desk herself. "Please, have a seat. What's this all about? Von Sülzle said Madam Faber sent you. I'm surprised you're up and about at all, let alone at this hour. I'm the one who flew you down from Inselmond--I just happened to be up at East Camp when Siegfried's call came through. You looked in a rough way."
"I thank you sincerely for my rescue. I was in a rough way, they tell me. I do not remember much past the initial attack. You have heard, perhaps, it was Karl Deviatka who tried to kill me."
Miss Goldstein's face dropped. "No. Karl? By the Founder, that's hard news. I trusted him. You were such great friends."
Adewole had already tired of the reminder. "Yes. Well. Miss Goldstein--Hildy--it is vitally important I return to Risenton as quickly as possible. I must find Deviatka. He has something of mine I must get back."
He felt like a guttering candle and by the way Hildy squinted at him, he looked like one, too. "If it's something like your honor he's taken, Ollie, I can't help you," she said. "Revenge is a dish best not served at all, and I certainly won't help you if that's what you're after."
Adewole let out a hissing breath. "The honor lost is his. He has taken my trust, to be sure, but I can never get that back. No, he has taken a physical thing, a very precious thing. In a way, I suppose it deals with my honor," he mused, "for if I do not get her back I have broken a promise, perhaps the most important one I have ever made. Will you help me?"
She crossed her arms. "Not without knowing what you're up to. What do you mean by 'her?' 'Her' like a woman or 'her' like a gyro? Don't tell me you fell out over some Inselmond girl."
"Nothing like," said Adewole, rubbing a long hand over his tired eyes. In a way, they had fallen out over an Inselmond girl, just not the kind Hildy thought. What could he tell her? Vatterbroch's hideous, fascinating work might be too tempting for an engineer like her to pass up. He tried to imagine Hildy Goldstein ripping the bones from a living child, and could not. He could imagine Deviatka doing it. Deviatka'd already shown he cared nothing about anything but regaining his family's wealth. "If I get this missing…girl…back, telling you will not matter anyway," he sighed. "No one shall ever know what I have found, but if I do not get her back everyone will know, in the worst way possible. May I have some water, please?"
Hildy poured him a glass, pretending not to notice how his hand shook; Adewole managed to drink it without spilling the water all over himself. "Without getting into details," he said, "I have discovered an ancient Risentoner technology among the books at their University. It is powerful, ludicrously so. Dangerously so."
"What does it do?"
"Whatever its wielder wants."
"I'm not following. What do you mean, whatever he wants?"
Adewole peered up into Hildy's gray eyes, the frown on her pale face at odds with the laugh lines life had left on it. He took the risk. "The last one to use it accidentally created the sentient birds and threw an entire city into the air a thousand years ago."