Chapter 4 Episode 1 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles
Juni 15th: Expedition Day
To Adewole, the early morning darkness possessed a surface tension holding back the sun. Even the lamp light in Mrs. Trudge's dining room struggled against it. The room felt encapsulated and small, and Adewole fidgeted. "Mrs. Trudge," he said, "you did not need to get up before dawn and see us off."
"How was I to stay in bed, knowing two of my lodgers are about to make history!" she exclaimed, shoveling fish onto his plate. "No, no, no, if you're going to risk your lives in those flimsy mechanical whirlybirds, you'll do it with food on your stomachs." Adewole winced at the word "flimsy."
Deviatka saluted him over an enormous pile of fried potatoes. "Eat up, old thing! Death is optional, but Mrs. Trudge's breakfast is inevitable."
On the center of the table between the toast rack and jam pots lay the newspaper. A photograph of the delegation press conference took up most of the paper above the fold, but for the masthead and a six-column headline screaming:
Explorers Depart for Dangerous Journey!
The Question: Is There Civilization on Inselmond?
Adewole turned it over. Below the fold another picture, this one across two columns, bore the caption Minister Faber and Famed Jerian Scholar Odalay Adelwode. Adewole winced. "They could have at least spelled your name correctly," said Deviatka.
"They should have left the picture out entirely!"
Deviatka gave him a sympathetic look. "I suppose some of us are more used to that sort of thing," he said.
Adewole picked up his fork, put it down, picked it up again and tried to eat. As soon as he'd picked apart half a little fish, Mrs. Trudge moved to fill the empty spot on his plate. "No, no, ma'am, please, it is delicious as usual and I cannot eat what is already here, I assure you I cannot."
The front door bell rang; Mrs. Trudge's maid trotted into the dining room and exclaimed, "A great autocarriage is outside, sirs, a-waiting on you!" The professors wiped their mouths and hurried to their rooms for their few things not already packed on board the autogyro. At the door, Mrs. Trudge pressed waxed-paper packets of sandwiches and hand pies on them, the maid wiped her eyes on her apron, and the two women stood on the stoop beside the drooping geraniums, waving until the autocarriage turned the corner and cut them out of sight.
"What am I to do with this?" said Adewole, holding the large waxed paper parcel in both hands.
"Save it for later, then give it to me if you still don't want it. The woman's a frump, but she's quite the cook." Deviatka leaned against the autocarriage's doorframe; he pushed a hand through his shaggy hair and tapped his fingers against his lips. "Listen, Oladel, I need you to do something for me."
"Of course, I would do anything in my power for you."
"I'm going to be on the lookout for technology."
"I would assume so," smiled Adewole.
"No, I mean any engineering innovations Blessing might want." By now, Deviatka's right leg jounced up and down; had they been in their sitting room, he would have been pacing.
"What do you wish me to do?"
Deviatka turned to face him, every muscle in his face so taut Adewole expected a twang like a broken guitar string. "If you find anything you think I'd be interested in, don't show it to anyone else until you've shown it to me. Blessing mustn't see anything useful this time. I refuse to let him steal from me again."
"Dean Blessing is not coming with us."
A vague uneasiness washed over the Jerian, and for a moment he stayed silent. "Is Blessing as bad as all that? I mean, you have complained of his extreme venality, and I do not doubt it, but what we may discover is surely the government's, is it not?"
Deviatka's usual wry grin spread almost mechanically. "Oh yes, we come in peace for all humanity." The smile switched off. "It's how the man makes his money. I'm telling you, Ollie, we have to watch out for him. He has serious contacts in industry. Whatever we find up there he thinks he can sell, he'll find a way to sell it."
"If it is as bad as all that, why do you not report him to someone?"
"To whom? He has the Ministry of Education and the University's benefactors wrapped around his thumb--some are the very men who buy my discoveries from him."
"Well…surely there is the press?"
"Ah, that involves losing my job, tenured or no." Deviatka patted him on the shoulder and leaned back into the corner once again. "Never mind, I'll trip him up yet."
"I just do not understand why he hates me so much."
"Nothing personal, I assure you. He just hasn't figured out how to turn your work to a profit yet, for the University or for himself. Nothing annoys him more."
"How did he get to be the Dean if he is so corrupt?"
"He's the Chancellor's brother-in-law. He's also a great engineer, one of the best I've ever known, and not a bad man on the whole. Kind to dogs and children and all that," said Deviatka, "but when it comes to money, he's a venal bastard."
They kept silent now, Deviatka peering out the autocarriage's windows at the brightening sky and Adewole turning inward, contemplating the journey ahead and lecturing his stomach to stop churning. On the one hand, flying to Inselmond fulfilled a childhood dream. On the other, flying to Inselmond in an improbable contraption, powered by a new energy source, and piloted by a man with less than a month's experience in the air was more of a nightmare.
By the time they arrived at the improvised air field, the sun had broken past the horizon, proclaiming a bright, cloudless day. A crowd pressed against the fences and lined the roadway. Children sat atop their fathers' shoulders so they might see. Many spectators waved little Eisenstadter pennants, but as the autocarriage drew closer to the hangar, the pennants shifted from Eisenstadt's red, black and yellow bars to Jero's white, eight-pointed star against a gleaming green field the color of the fat, fertile Chano River. Bright kikois and faces dark like Adewole's own lined the roadway; the local Jerian community had arrived even earlier than the Eisenstadters. When Adewole stepped from the autocarriage, a hidden voice in the crowd shouted in Jerian: "Son of the Shining City! Make us proud!" The other Jerian expatriates took up a rhythmic chant, calling "Adewole! Son of the Shining City!" as they bounced from one foot to the other in the traditional celebration dance.
Since he'd left Jero, bitter and ashamed, Adewole's homesickness had battled anger. Now, pride in his people overwhelmed him; his head grew light. Their confidence lifted him up. Was he not still a son of the Shining City--the greatest civilization ever seen, whence all the world's goodness came? He would show no fear, no matter how afraid he was. He smiled and waved to the crowd; they went wild.
Deviatka took him by the arm as they walked into the hangar. "Well! Aren't you the hero of the hour."
"They are happy to see their countryman make history. It has nothing to do with me." Even though he knew the words to be true, a cloud rose from Adewole's heart, and he faced the autogyros with a new determination to make Jero proud.