Chapter 5 Episode 4 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles
Peter sat down next to Deviatka to finish his sandwich. “Ask him what they eat here,” said Deviatka.
Peter shrugged at Adewole’s translated question. “Depends on what’s to hand. Ma does well with frog, rat or snake—rabbit and goat when times’re good, but most all our rabbit and goat go to the City. Most everything goes to the City.”
“And when times are bad?”
“Times’re allus bad. Thass what angler bugs’re for.”
“Ask him what an angler bug is,” said Deviatka.
“Angler bugs?” said Peter, eyes open wide. “Do you have no anglers Dunalow? What do your poor folk eat, then? They’re everywhere about. Yea big—” he spread his fingers to an apple’s width—”not countin’ their pole.”
“Pole? You have a bug which uses tools?” said Adewole.
“Nay, nay, o’ course not!” said Peter with an affectionate, tolerant look. “A lightcrystal like, at the end of a pole on ‘is head—a feeler. Wait.” Peter disappeared into the scrub; the bushes rattled; a triumphant “Ha!” and Peter returned with the bug in question. Adewole motioned to Doctor Ansel.
“By the Founder,” gasped Ansel, “What a find! It’s nondescript—unidentified—I’ve never seen or heard of anything like it either in my own work or in my reading.” It was, as Peter had mimed, an enormous beetle about as long as an apple is wide. Breathtaking iridescent blues rippled across its black shell in the sunlight. A feeler sprouted from its head, a milky little node at its tip.
“That lights up at night,” said Peter. “Littler bugs come near to it, and the angler here snaps ‘em up. They sleep during the day and do you know where to dig ‘em up—well, everyone knows where to dig ‘em up. You eat ‘em raw do you mun, but cooked tastes better.”
“Ask him what they taste like!” said the horrified and fascinated Deviatka.
Peter gave him the same look he’d given Adewole. “Like angler bugs.” He let the beetle go; it scuttled back into the brush, the cursing Siegfried Ansel scuttling after it muttering something about a loss to the Society, and how could the man be so stupid as to let such a specimen escape?
Peter dug into the pouch hanging at his belt and handed each of the professors a flatbread, split down the middle and smeared with a light brown, herb-speckled paste. “‘Ere, thass Ma’s angler mash. She’s the best cook I know, and a dab hand with a needle, too.”
Adewole sniffed at the flatbread. The bread itself looked like oaten flour and had a pleasant, sour smell; the paste gave off an odd, savory aroma reminding him of the thin, dark brown sauce the Shuchuni poured over everything they ate. He took a tentative nibble. The angler bug paste was smooth, thick and as savory as it smelled, and the herbs bore the flavor of celery and onions. “It is quite edible, Karl,” he said. “Not the best thing I have ever eaten, but far from foul.”
Deviatka took a bite. “Needs salt.” He pulled out the little twist of salt Mrs. Trudge had included in her waxed-paper packages.
“That salt? You are rich, then!” Peter gawped.
“You have no salt? Well, no, that stands to reason on an island this size,” said Adewole.
“We have salt, but Saltern sends everything to the City, and I hear the salt’s runnin’ out. Most everyone sends everything to the City. The quality buy the best, and we get the rest. That yellow stuff ’s tasty,” he added, licking mustard off his fingers.
Adewole picked up the other half of Mrs. Trudge’s sandwich, feeling another set of eyes on him. Finished with her hunting, Ofira had drifted silently down from the marker to the grass beside him. “Wassat, then?”
“You name it, you feed it,” grinned Deviatka.
Adewole threw a bit of ham at the owl; her beak snatched it from midair, but she spit it out. “Thass dead! Unfeathered ‘uns—I never figure you.”
In due course, the expedition resumed its journey, Ofira flying ahead and rejoining them when she felt like it, settling sometimes on the dismayed Adewole’s pack, other times on the unflappable Peter’s barrow. “Not much further,” said Peter.