Chapter 17 Episode 1 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles

Doctor Ansel set an armed guard over Adewole's room in Founder's Hospital this time, a chamber set up more like a tiny study than a sickroom, but with round the clock nursing and enforced rest periods. "Oladel, my friend, you've stepped in it," he said, "and not just with the brass." He launched into a scolding featuring variations on the theme you could have been killed, you crazy Jerian.

Adewole shrugged. "Siegfried, it does not matter any more. I have no intention of escaping. I did what I had to do, and there is an end to it. I shall stay here until you tell me I may go."

"I certainly hope so. Berger left orders to fill you full of needles if you so much as stick a toe out of this room without permission. I can't vouch for what will happen if you get loaded up with that much anesthetic, even at your size."

Adewole spent his enforced recuperation reading and brooding. He had no doubts at all he'd done the right thing, though he wondered about the future--his own, and his work on Risenton. The original Vatterbroch manuscript lay buried under several tons of rock in one of the most dangerous places on or below the island and might have been destroyed outright. Only he knew where it was in any event.

"Professor Adewole--Oladel--you and I have seen some sights together, haven't we?" said Major Berger one cold late November day before the fire in Adewole's snug room.

A coffee table stood between them, a spirit burner's blue flame flickering beneath a water-filled copper coffee pot. Adewole removed the pot from the burner and took his time grating palm sugar into it. He stirred in freshly ground coffee and put it back on to boil. "I hope you do not mind it bitter, Major. I do not care for sweet coffee when I have such lovely oranges and chocolate to eat with it." He picked up an orange and peeled it, the fragrant oil squirting from the rind to mingle with the boiling coffee's rich scent. It reminded him of sitting in the warm breezes by the Chano River. In Jero, it was spring. So strange to be eating oranges and coffee on such a frigid autumn day. Perhaps now, after his great adventures, the University would take him back. Perhaps he might inquire.

Or perhaps not. He'd begun to adjust to the cold; he didn't wear fingerless gloves inside any more, though to be fair the hospital was warmer than his sitting room at Mrs. Trudge's. He and Deviatka never could afford much coal. While Mrs. Trudge was generous, she wasn't that generous.

Risenton floated in the view from his window. He missed it, cold and poor as it was. He longed for the Library and his home in the Freys' stables. He missed Ofira, the cheerful young Peter Oster, the women who farmed the old University's quadrangle, even cranky old Imogen Lumburgher. He missed William Buckan and would always mourn his death.

He mourned Karl's death.

Mostly he mourned Alleine.

Adewole returned his attention to the coffee. He turned off the spirit stove and poured foamy cups for Major Berger and himself. "Let the grinds settle, Florenz, before you drink it. You were saying we have been through many adventures together. Yes, this is so." He sipped the coffee. Just sweet enough, and near-scalding. He took an orange segment in his long fingers and popped it into his mouth, the juice cooling his tongue. "They happened too short a time ago for reminiscence."

"Reminiscence is not my aim," the Major answered. "I'm hoping I might get you to tell me more about that thing you insist on calling the Machine God."

"Alas, I am no engineer."

"I don't care as much about the engineering as I do the manuscript you translated. You performed the spell which killed it."

Adewole sat up straight. "I did not kill a god, I set a murdered child free. I do not think you understand what goes into making a being like the Machine God, Major."

"I think you understand more about it than you're saying, Professor."

The two men stared at one another across the coffee pot. "I do not understand the mechanics," Adewole said, "nor do I understand the magic, frankly, even having sung the spell. Engineering is the province of people like Deviat--like Dean Blessing, and Hans Diederich, and Hildy Goldstein. Magic is the province of the Choir. But I am a human being, and I know what is right and what is wrong. No one should be made to go through what happened to Alleine, even voluntarily. No one. It is wrong, in every case, for any reason. It is moot anyway, Florenz. Both the translations and the original were destroyed."

Nor was he any more forthcoming when Cecile Faber visited him. They sat for a comfortable hour talking around the matter, the Minister making the most subtle threats and promises, and Adewole letting them pass over his head like the wind.

The most shocking visit was from a bluff but surprisingly congenial Henrik Blessing. Adewole made himself coffee and the Dean tea. "They finally found Deviatka, you know," said Blessing. "Water taxi fished him out of Lake Sherrat yesterday. Not a pretty sight after so many days in the water. Had to go down to the tavern to tell his mother. Unpleasant business all around," said the Dean.

"Tavern?" said Adewole. "You met his mother in a tavern?"

"Where else would I meet the poor woman but her own tavern?"

Adewole's world shifted further to one side. "Karl told me his family had been aristocratic until his father died."

"The barley aristocracy, perhaps," puffed the Dean. "His family's owned a tavern for a hundred years or more. His father didn't die, he ran off with the taproom girl when Karl was about eleven. Left behind his wife, Karl and seven younger sisters." He played with the heavy gold watch chain draped across his waistcoat's wide expanse. "I, ah, I knew his mother before she married, back in my student days. She came to me after her husband left, when I was a senior professor. Introduced me to the boy. Clear from the beginning he was something special. Brilliant young man. Brilliant." Blessing grew silent. Adewole guessed their minds ran along similar paths, chasing a man they'd both considered special: gifted, engaging, charming, exasperating but hardly evil as far as they'd known.

"I don't mind telling you, Adewole, I'm shocked," the Dean resumed. "Shocked. Karl had his problems, it's true. He was bad with money. It's why I kept him on a tight allowance. But this. I never expected it. Never." At Adewole's blank expression, he said, "I'm not surprised Karl never told you. His family embarrassed him. I'm not surprised he lied to you. I bought his father's debts and his army commission, and paid for his education. Couldn't bear to see such a promising mind go to waste among the beer barrels. He owed me a great deal of money, a great deal, and so I began doling out his pay. I kept a small percentage--now, I see what you're thinking, damn your impertinence, and you're wrong, he was bad with money and heavily in debt--and not to me, I might add. I forgave all that long ago. I used it to pay his other creditors. I--I was the closest he had to a father…and so I stepped into the role. I couldn't stand to see him ruined, and paying his bills just resulted in more bills. Taught him nothing. I gave him enough to live on, took a small share on his debts, made sure no one else would lend him anything, and banked the rest on his behalf. He never touched you for money? No, I shouldn't think so, Jerians not likely to get credit here. I always intended to give Karl's money to him when he married. Given it to his mother now he's…" Blessing cleared his throat. "Damn the boy," he coughed.

"He told me quite a different story," said Adewole. He recounted Deviatka's tale of his family's fall from grace, his struggles to keep them all fed, Blessing's avarice.

The old man deflated. "He said that of me? Of me? I know people joke about me, but I'm not ashamed to say I'm a good businessman as well as a good engineer. The joke's on them--I do well. But my main income, not that it's any of your concern, is quite, quite old and in no need of replenishing. Oh, Karl." Blessing's face turned gray, his mustache drooped, and Adewole wished he hadn't said anything. "Well," sighed Blessing, "at least now I know why Hans Diederich's been hammering at my door with nonsensical stories about deals he and Karl made. Explains why so much of Karl's research is missing, but why would Diederich be after me if Karl's already sold it to him?"

Adewole turned to the little writing desk in his hospital room and dashed off a note. "This," he said, handing it to Blessing, "directs Mrs. Trudge to admit you to Deviatka's and my lodgings. You will find the missing research there, I suspect. Deviatka brought home a locked satchel every night."

"Thank you, Adewole, thank you," said Dean Blessing. He tucked the note into his waistcoat pocket. "Now, we have you to discuss. You've become quite the celebrity."

"That is something I never sought, sir," said Adewole, shifting in his chair. He'd dreaded this conversation; the hubbub surrounding the Machine God was unbecoming to an academic. Blessing likely didn't want to search for the Mueller Chair's next occupant; on the other hand, Blessing disliked its current occupant so much, Adewole thought he'd use the sensational story as an excuse for dismissal. Adewole wasn't sure he cared.

"Hmf. I hear you're already quite the celebrity on Inselmond," said the Dean.

"I am rather more exotic on Risenton even than in Eisenstadt."

"You're quite the draw here now, too. Quite the draw. Quite." Now Blessing shifted in his chair. "Look here, Adewole. I know I've been tough on you. I don't understand characters like you. Always have your heads in the clouds. Impractical. Thinking about nothing important. Well, sometimes perhaps you think of important things. What you did--yes, that mattered. Pity the plans didn't survive, though. What we could accomplish with such technology--but I won't go into it, you've been firm in saying you remember nothing useful about the manuscript. That, I believe," he sniffed. "In any event, I want to offer you a full professorship at Eisenstadt. Not visiting. Tenured. Fact is, our connection is attracting attention, attention with money attached to it."

Oho, thought Adewole. "I do not understand, Dean Blessing. The last we spoke of it, you were content to transfer the Mueller Chair permanently to Risenton, and keep me there for as long as I held it."

"Things have changed. The Mueller Foundation wants to endow a new Chair--the Adewole Chair in Inselmond Studies. Based on Inselmond with lectures both up there and here on the ground." Adewole leaned back in his chair; he turned away from the Dean and stared straight ahead. His cheeks grew hot. "Obviously, you are to be its first holder," added Blessing.

The uncharacteristic wheedling in the Dean's tone disconcerted Adewole, but his spirits soared nonetheless. "I do not know how obvious it is," he said. On the one hand, the proffered Chair sounded something like a gilded cage; he would be wheeled out on grand occasions and displayed to alumni and potential donors as the famous conqueror of the Machine God and pre-eminent expert on Risenton's ancient origins--Inselmond, it would always be known as Inselmond on the ground. On the other, he would be paid to live on Risenton, to wander among the rare book stacks, to teach others the island's ancient secrets--and perhaps destroy the ones no one should ever know. "I will think on it," he murmured. "I wish to return to Risenton before I make the decision."

Blessing left before Adewole had finished his solitary cup of coffee. He drank the last, put his saucer over the top of his cup, swirled it three times close to his heart, turned it over and waited for the cup to cool. When he lifted it, the grounds inside formed a bridge. "A decision to be made, yes, thank you," he muttered.

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