Chapter 3 Episode 2 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles
Dean Henrik Blessing had already come round his desk and stood now before the thankfully glowing grate. He was a round man, almost short. A bulbous nose dominated his florid face, over a small mouth made smaller by a great mop of white mustache, which just cleared his upper lip. Small, pale eyes glowered beneath the most alarming eyebrows Adewole had ever seen; they rose in great white wings against his forehead—itself a majestic gleam expanding right on past where his hair once had been. Blessing dressed to the last precise detail; his heavy watch chain traced a perfect arc across his paunch, his heavy gold cufflinks and stickpin reflected the fire, and expensive tailoring marked his well-cut clothes. The man always looked as if he had money, perhaps more money than the Dean of a major university might ordinarily possess, and he liked to display it.
Blessing shook Deviatka’s hand. Adewole extended his, but the Dean ignored it and began the tirade Adewole could practically recite by heart. “I don’t mind telling you, young man, that if it weren’t for stupid Hubert Mueller flinging his money all over town you wouldn’t be here. I’ve said it before—why couldn’t the man have endowed an engineering chair! A humanities chair. Waste of money! Told him so to his face just before he died. ‘Hubert,’ I said, ‘if not the sciences, then music,’ I said. Now, music! That has utility. It is altogether a wholesome, orderly, mathematical thing, music, and I would have supported him even though the money would have gone to the Conservatory and not to the University. But no, he wouldn’t listen, and now I have to fill the Mueller Chair or lose the money, and I don’t mind telling you, young man, that losing the money would be even worse than gaining another daydreaming twaddle merchant, spouting nonsense and bumping into things while the rest of us get things done!”
Adewole didn’t know whether to turn tail and run, or burst into his own angry tirade. He could, of course, do neither, and stood rigid beside Deviatka instead. “I am a lover of music as well, Dean Blessing. I hope I do not spout nonsense. And as for running into things, I confess I have on some occasions grazed my head on low ceilings, but I do not make a habit of it.” Deviatka stifled a laugh more or less successfully.
“Impudence! Impertinence!” grumbled Blessing. The tea tray’s arrival spared them from the tirade’s resumption. The three men seated themselves around a small table. Adewole resigned himself to more misery in a cup, though Karl handed him a cup of milk and sugar with a just splash of tea. “First, Deviatka,” said Blessing, “you must know that the government is confiscating all black mercury in private hands—including the University’s. They’ll want your research notes as well.”
“No one gets my notes,” growled Deviatka.
For the first time in Adewole’s experience, the Dean seemed taken aback. “Now, Karl, it’s not up to me,” he said at the younger man’s darkening face. “You’ll just have to turn them over. Here’s some news that may make up for it: I’m told Hildegard Goldstein wishes to consult with you in particular, starting tomorrow. I’m excusing you from further teaching duties starting now.”
Deviatka gave a somewhat pacified nod. “We’ll get things settled with our teaching assistants right away.”
“I didn’t say both of you,” puffed Blessing. “Professor Adewole will be expected to maintain his full course load. Can’t foresee any difficulty. Ought to be able to pack a bag and recite fairy tales at the same time.”
“Professor Adewole shall be released from his obligations until such time as the Ministry deems he is no longer of service, Dean Blessing,” came a squared-off voice at the door: the efficient Trinke.
Blessing turned purple. “On whose orders?”
“Minister Faber’s, sir,” said Trinke. “I am here to collect them. They have appointments to be measured for outfitting.”
“By the Founder, I thought old Blessing was going to implode at last,” laughed Deviatka that evening before the sitting room fire.
“If I did not know he cannot rescind the Mueller Chair, I would have supposed I was fired,” said Adewole as he put away his bansu. “Say, what did you bring home in your satchel, Karl? You look as if you were carrying home the library. Are you grading papers after all?”
“Ah,” said Deviatka. “I’m just bringing home a few things for safekeeping. Nothing of note.” He opened his paper-stuffed satchel and pulled out a bottle filled with shiny, viscous black liquid. “Well, perhaps one thing of note. Just a bit. Enough to power a few lamps.”
“That is enough to power a few hundred lamps.”
“The day may come when I might need a few hundred lamps,” said Deviatka. “Now, where’s my pipe?”