Chapter 4 Episode 2 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles
Dean Blessing waited in the hangar beside Minister of State Faber and the General of the Eisenstadt Defense Force. To Adewole's surprise, Blessing greeted him brusquely but professionally. "A momentous day, gentlemen. I hope we are all prepared for it?"
"As best we can be," answered Deviatka.
"Good," said Blessing, clapping him on the arm. He shook hands with Deviatka and then with the astonished Jerian. "Karl, Adewole, safe journey."
"Safe journey, sir," blinked Adewole.
"See?" said Deviatka as the Dean stumped away. "Not all that bad a man, really, but I'll be damned if I let him sell anything more out from under me, and that's a promise, friend."
In short order, the rest of the mission arrived. Trinke lined them all up before a bank of photographers. The military men wore light wool, dull gray uniforms trimmed in lighter gray piping, the trousers tucked into brown knee-high boots. The women--Quartermaster Cam Jagels and a corporal named von Sülzle--dressed much the same, their uniform trousers fuller than the men's. As civilians, Deviatka and Adewole wore black, high-necked, practical jackets and trousers also of wool, white linen shirts underneath and sturdy black field boots on their feet. A turquoise kikoi, the warmest one he had, rested round Adewole's shoulders. Hildy Goldstein's crew all wore their usual blue-gray coveralls, but brand-new and unstained. All wore heavy canvas dusters, leather gloves, silk mufflers and caps like Hildy's; their goggles hung round their necks. Cas Goldstein held up a confident thumb, and even Dean Blessing smiled for the cameras. The flash pans went off with a poof-bang so dazzling Adewole wished he'd been wearing his goggles.
The flight crews rolled the autogyros onto the tarmac in formation: Hildy Goldstein on point, Til Mencken and Captain Lentzen on her left wing and Cas and Deviatka on the right. Supplies bulged from all five, spare fuel carefully stored away from the boilers. All the passengers put on their goggles, wrapped their scarves and mufflers round their faces, strapped themselves in and waited…and waited…as the pilots and flight crews went over their crafts, checking and re-checking.
Finally the pilots climbed into their seats and fastened themselves in; one by one in formation, the five machines taxied out onto the tarmac. Adewole went all over cold and clammy; the boost the Jerians' cheers had given his courage faltered. Too late; the autogyros rushed down the tarmac, picking up speed, their engines roaring. The black mercury's hair-raising scent filled the air, ozone and a coppery tang Adewole's nose correlated with blood. As the tooth-rattling tarmac fell away, the autogyro lifted into the air. Deviatka let out a triumphant yell.
Hildy Goldstein led the wing over the city center once in a salute and flew east toward Inselmond. Once all were in position, she revved her engine three times--the signal. As one, all five craft streaked upward toward the floating island.
Speed pressed Adewole back against his seat. His nerves shrieked, and he might have shrieked aloud; he wasn't sure. His ears rang over the rush of wind. He couldn't look away from the island, even though the autogyro shook so hard his sight blurred; it made him more than a little airsick. Inselmond stayed far away in the distance, until it was all he could see. This time he could make out the underside. The island's bottom resembled a roughly carved bowl of rock; roots dangled into thin air around the island's fringes.
The formation crested the edge, not ten feet from the sudden ground; Adewole resisted the urge to pull his feet up under himself. Hildy Goldstein led them in a tight curve over an open field, where she floated her autogyro down like a brass feather. Still in formation, the other four landed beside her. When the rotors came to a complete halt, Hildy unstrapped herself, stood up, pulled off her muffler and goggles, and grinned round at them all. Into the sudden silence, she said, "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Inselmond."
Green--green everywhere, trees, grass, crops. They'd landed in a thickly planted field--turnips, perhaps. To the group's right, a pond rippled; on its manmade stone banks grew a spreading willow. About a hundred yards away on a small rise stood a cob-and-thatch barn. Yes, people lived on Inselmond.
Adewole wanted to charge into the barn, find the farmer, start asking questions. Instead, the farmer came to him; a man ran down from the barn, shouting and waving his arms. The Inselmonder stopped dead in his tracks, took a long look at the assemblage of people and machines, let out a startled yip and turned tail; he ran past the barn out of sight. "Keep your coilguns charged, but don't pull them unless necessary," said Major Berger. "Miss Goldstein, you may wish to set your pilots to inspecting the autogyros, just in case we need to get away in a hurry."
Wind eddied around them, sometimes carrying off words, but no mechanical sounds came to Adewole's ears--no sounds but the wind and the birds. "Where do you suppose we might find the government, if there is one?" he said.
Deviatka pointed ahead. "The government looks to be coming to us."
Over the barn came three owls, flying low. "A government of owls?" said Adewole.
"Professor Deviatka makes a pun," said the Major. "A group of owls is called a parliament, and for a reason. I forget you're not as conversant with birds as we are in Eisenstadt--those of us in regions with proper birds use owls as negotiation partners. I wish now I'd brought Portis--I may call for her later. I shall do the talking, if these owls talk--ah, but I may need you, Professor Adewole. We don't know their language yet." Owl was not among Adewole's many languages, but he squared his shoulders and hoped for the best.