Chapter 5 Episode 1 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles
Adewole didn’t dare turn around, but he sensed the soldiers creeping forward. “Major, get behind us,” called Lieutenant Lentzen.
“No need for alarm yet, Izzy,” murmured Berger.
“Dark man, do you tell ‘em we mean to take ‘em in to see the Council—by force do we mun,” the woman called to Adewole. “We’re on’y four, but more are on the way.”
“Nay, that is to our liking,” the professor responded. “We wish to speak with those who lead you.”
“Totty’s the talk wi’ the noose round yer neck!” yelled the excitable man. “The Council square oathbreakers up right!”
Adewole turned to the Major. “They say we are oathbreakers—I do not know what that means—they consider us under arrest, and they say more of their people are on the way. They want to take us to see the Council, which I believe to be their government.” He decided leaving out the man’s further remarks was for the best.
“Tell them we look forward to speaking to their Council and will come along peacefully but under no restraint,” said Major Berger. “Captain Lentzen, please return and tell the autogyros to be ready to leave. Is Oberman’s radio set up?”
“Tell him to notify the ground we’ve found people on Inselmond and to ready the support troops for the second wave. Cam, you have ten minutes to get those autogyros unloaded.” Jagels snapped a salute and jogged back to the autogyros, the two corporals on her heels. “Izzy,” the Major added to Lentzen, “you five pilots will return to the air field once Jagels is finished.”
“Sir, I have never cared for this plan. That leaves you with six military personnel, including yourself, and two civilians.”
“All of whom will be armed, and despite Professor Adewole’s reluctance to engage in battle I’m fairly sure he’ll stick up for us if push comes to shove. Professor, can you please explain to these people we mean to make a small demonstration as to what will happen if we are attacked? Captain Lentzen, our excitable friend if you please, and aim for an arm or a leg. Anesthetic, not poison.” Lentzen tensed, but he nodded.
Adewole hesitantly translated to the Inselmonders. “Show us what ye mun,” grunted the woman, “but you go to the City, and that—” she waved at the autogyros— “that’re in our turnip field, that makes ‘em ours, and I mean to have ‘em afore the Kolbs hear.”
Berger nodded to Captain Lentzen; he hefted his heavy coilgun rifle, squinted down the barrel and fired. A needle whistled into the excitable man’s bony left thigh just above the knee. The gun’s capacitor whined as it charged for a second shot, and the man fell over. “My leg! My leg is dead!” he howled. “He kilt it! Oh—” the man yawned. “I’m feelin’ a bit queer...”
“What do you do to my da!” yelled the youngest spearman. He charged, and Lentzen dropped him with a tidy needle to the neck.
The last spearman stepped between the others and the Eisenstadters, his hands twisting on the spear’s haft; the woman threw up her hands and dropped to her knees beside the unconscious boy. “Mercy on us! You kilt ‘em!”
“They’ll be on their feet in an hour or so. Tell them so, Professor Adewole. Add if anything untoward happens to any of our people—or our vehicles—we will do far worse than knock out some young hothead. Clean my language up a bit,” he smiled, “but get the gist of it across, please.”
In short order, Sergeant Jagels and her crew unloaded and sorted the supplies, Signalman Oberman set up his radio and reported in, and the pilots began the return trip to the ground. Adewole used soothing words, and some trade goods from Jagels’ supplies, to calm the woman, who said her family name was Oster. The spearmen were her two sons and her husband, a former policeman of some sort who “weren’t right in the head” after an accident. “What did Master Oster mean when he said we were oathbreakers—something about magic and metal?” said Adewole.
Mistress Oster’s eyes flicked to the autogyros and away; all the Osters’ faces turned gray and queasy. “About the metal,” she said. “One of your machines makes you the richest on Risenton. All of ‘em together, you’re worth more’n all that ever lived here.” Her youngest son, the hothead, had awakened from his drugged sleep; he yawned that all that metal was bound to tempt a raiding party once word got round. Adewole replied ten more soldiers were on their way to secure the camp. “Kolb won’t like it,” said Mistress Oster, shaking her head, “and what about my turnips?”
“She’ll be compensated,” said Jagels to Adewole. “Ask her where we might obtain pack animals.”
Adewole translated. “‘Pack animals?’” said the oldest of the Oster sons, a strapping young man named Peter. “What nature of animal’s that, then?”
“Animals which carry burdens—horses, oxen?” said the professor.
“Horses? Do you be a-listenin’ to fairy tales?” Peter’s face sobered as he looked Adewole over. “Eh, well, you come from a fairy tale.”
“You say you see a horse?” said Mistress Oster.
“Aye, ridden one,” said Adewole.
“Ah, g’wan, then,” said the youngest spearman, still groggy and squinting from the anesthetic. “Ma, do you believe such as that?”
“A fortune in metal fall from the sky into our turnip field, Will, and a man the color of a ploughed furrow beside, and do I believe such as horses? Who knows what’s down below?” shrugged his mother.
“We wish to tell everyone on Inselmond what is down below,” said Adewole.
“What they call this place in Eisenstadt—the city directly below you. It means ‘island moon.’ In my own language we call it Erukso’i, which means ‘floating island.’”
“We call it Risenton,” said Peter.
“You come from else as the rest, then,” said Mistress Oster.
Adewole nodded. “I am from a place called Jero. There, everyone is tall and dark like me, and it is much, much warmer. The others hail from Eisenstadt, the city below—eh—Risenton. What do you call the place down below?”
Peter looked puzzled. “We call it Down Below,” though the term came out sounding like Dunalow to an Eisenstadter ear. He nodded his head at Jagels’ neatly piled supplies. “Any road, you pack all that yourself. I push a barrow full of tools and such all the day every day, from the Grosse Baum to the Great Cache to Eichelgate to that I’m needed, and home again! Pack animal,” he snorted. “Do a man not pack a thing, that thing do stay behind.”
“Not a problem,” said Jagels when Adewole told her what the young man said. “Soldiers make the best pack animals—worth asking, though. We’re not taking it all, anyway.”
Nevertheless, help could be had. Major Berger decided to take on Peter Oster as a barrowman and guide, hired criminally cheap by Eisenstadt standards, criminally lucrative by Risenton ones. Peter received three bright red bandanas from Jagels’ stores; Major Berger augmented his pay with two copper coins and a promise for more at journey’s end. “We don’t know how long we will need you,” said the Major through Adewole, “but will this suffice for now?”
“Need me for a month, then?” said Peter, “for that would buy such.”
“A year more like,” gleefully whispered his younger brother; Peter silenced him with a surreptitious stomp to the toes.