Chapter 6 Episode 2 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles

"Keep a sharp lookout, people, guns away for now," said Berger.

"Oster," called a Council member, an irritable-looking man in blue, "what are you doing here?"

Peter's face veiled itself in stupidity; he touched a knuckle to his forehead. "They landed in the turnip field, sir. Asked me to come with."

"And you let them? Who are you to let a gaggle of--of clearly deranged people onto my property!"

"Peter Oster, move off," called Captain Winston. "These are none of yours."

"He is our guide," said Major Berger through Adewole. "We would prefer he stay with us--and he can tell you what he has seen himself."

Winston wrinkled his brow, but shrugged after a pause. "Well, your father was one of ours till he take one on the noggin, Peter, so I reckon your word's as good as his. Let him speak, gentles," he added to the Council.

"Oh, very well, let's get it over with," sighed a fat old Councilwoman behind Eichel. "Standing out in the street like this is fatiguing."

Peter described the strange flying machines worth more than everything on the island combined, the well-fed, well-dressed people now setting up camp in the turnip field. Perhaps he would explain how much the strangers had paid his family to use the turnip field another time, when his apparent landlord wasn't in attendance. Peter described the odd weapons they carried, and their effects. "And yet, they're kind and open-handed folk. 'Pon my word."

Councilman Eichel stared at them, his gaze ever more calculating and his jaw working meditatively; he turned to the youngest Council member. "What do you think, Iris?"

The young woman's heart-shaped face lit up and she clasped her hands before her. "I am fascinated!"

"I thought you might be," drawled Eichel. The thinner of the old women glared at the Council head, frown lines deepening around her mouth; she drew a breath to speak, but Eichel cut her off. "I already know what you think, Imogen."

"Oh, really?" she snapped, unabashed and obviously used to his dismissals. "I'm not sure everyone else here has your mind-reading abilities, Niles."

"I suggest we take this into chambers, where we might discuss things in more private surroundings," said a grandfatherly, bald old man. "Perhaps the gentle in charge of this unique procession might join us?" the man continued. "And you as his translator, of course? We will provide refreshment and rest for his retainers."

"All of us or none of us," said Adewole.

Eichel shrugged. "We do not invite servants in with their betters, but we will follow your whimsical...traditions?...for now." He gestured at the Guard leader; conical hats bobbed above the crowd, and a path opened.

Adewole translated what Eichel had said, and apologized for his own improvisation. "No, you did right," said the Major, "it's never wise to split the party."

The way through the crowd led to a middling-sized building newer than the University but still very, very old. Over its great doorway, carved into its stone lintel, read the Old Rhendalian words:

From the Center of the Earth to Heaven

The words chilled Adewole, and he pulled his turquoise kikoi closer.

The expedition followed the guards inside the Hall. Underfoot, mosaics bloomed, their colors unfaded even though they must have been laid down centuries before. Intricately carved rafters, richly hued hangings--it was as if every color missing on the rest of the island had been sucked into this building and hoarded.

They came to enormous doors opening into a bright, official-looking room. A fire burned in a small grate, fighting the chill radiating from the stone walls even in late spring. Six opulent chairs stood upon a dais at one end, and here the Council members made themselves comfortable. The room contained no other seating.

"This is all nonsense," said the irritated man who'd spoken so harshly to Peter. "I cannot understand why you've brought these people into Town Hall when they should be locked up in the Guardhouse. At best they're out of their minds, at worst they're positive oath breakers!"

"The Osters are your tenants, Kolb," said the young Councilwoman named Iris. "Are you suggesting they've been hiding ten lunatics somewhere on your property--ten lunatics who've managed to acquire enough metal and magic to break the Oath without anyone noticing?"

Kolb's face slackened. His expression turned inward; by the time he raised his eyes to his fellow Council members, he'd smoothed away the crafty look. "It can't be as he says, but I'll send my men to Kolbsgate and this particular farm right away."

"We will send the Guard," retorted the Councilwoman Eichel had called Imogen. "If there's something to these stories, then whatever these people brought belongs to Risenton, not to you, Fletcher Kolb."

An argument broke out: property rights; rights of the people, which Adewole interpreted as being the rights of the people on the dais rather than the people at large; possession meaning more than any claimed right; law trumping possession. "When we do claim these contraptions Peter Oster is on about, everyone should share the resources, not just the Families," said Iris.

Councilman Eichel raised his voice. "Gentles, this is academic until we know what is there."

Adewole had been doing his best to translate for Major Berger, but here he interrupted. "What is there, sir, belongs to our mission. You have heard young Mr. Oster's account of our weaponry."

"Who knows how you fooled him," snorted Councilman Kolb. "I know how gullible he is--known him all his life--but you can't expect to fool us. Besides, you are just a handful. Whatever's in my turnip field belongs to me."

The argument threatened to break out again, until Adewole boomed out a translation for Major Berger, echoing against the stone walls. "We are far more than a handful, and were my people to be attacked, hundreds more would be on the way in moments." Not strictly true, but Adewole was willing to sacrifice strict truth for safety.

"How would they know--assuming there's actually a they?" said the fat old Councilwoman. Adewole explained they were in active contact with their fellows. "I don't believe it," she said.

At a nod from the Major, Signalman Oberman unshipped his heavy pack and assembled his field radio on the mosaic floor. So much metal was enough to intimidate the old woman, and several Guards gasped aloud. Oberman cranked it hard, picked up the handset and listened. "Received, Base, this is Team One, Oberman reporting--over!" he bawled into the handset. "Hey, Sparks, the Major wants you to do him a favor. Talk to this old lady. You won't understand a word she's saying and she won't understand you, but she'll get the message--over."

The Signalman offered the handset to the old Councilwoman; she demurred, but with Eichel's encouragement she came down from the dais and gingerly held it to her ear. The entire group heard a faint voice: "What old lady? Hello?" The woman screeched and dropped the handset; Oberman dived for it before it hit the hard floor. "Hey, Oberman, what's going on?" squeaked the handset.

"Hold on, Base--over," he replied. To the Major, he said, "Anyone else, sir?"

The stately man said he might take a turn. One by one, the entire Council listened to the confused Sparks on the other end, Imogen Lumburgher going last. "It's music magic," she grumbled.

Another argument erupted over the nature of music magic; Adewole followed only partially and translated as best he could. "So they have a belief in magic," mused Berger. "I'm not surprised they think our technology is magic, but I wish to disabuse them of this notion. No one in this delegation is to claim anything we have or do is magic. We are not here to trick these people but to set up honest relations with them. That's an order. Are we clear?" Murmurs of "Yessir," sometimes reluctant, moved through the group. "Oberman, explain radio technology to the Professor here--just the basics. Professor, get it across to them that this is not magic but technology, technology we might be able to share but that they'll never be able to use let alone make without us."

Adewole translated the non-magical basics of radio, of the autogyros, of the coilguns--now brought out for display--until his head spun. He had no way to translate technical talk well; it taxed him to his utmost to explain it all. The long demonstration, the longer walk, the journey's stress and over-excitement all weighed him down. It hurt to talk. "Please, might I have somewhere to sit? I have my own water, but I am in need of a little rest."

"We are remiss," said Iris. "Niles, where might we house our guests?"

"I keep saying: the Guardhouse," muttered Councilwoman Lumburgher, though she contemplated the mission more respectfully now.

"We could each offer a room, except I don't have any to spare," said the fat Councilwoman.

In the end, Councilman Frey--the stately bald man--placed them in one of his outbuildings, a small stone-and-timber edifice usually housing his sedan chairs. "I think this used to be a stable," said Corporal Wirtz, eyeing the narrow stalls lining one side.

"As long as it doesn't smell like one, and even if it did, you're under orders not to care, soldier," said Quartermaster Jagels. "Get that barrow unpacked."

His own set-up performed, Adewole stretched out on the ground. His blanket roll didn't afford much comfort, but he didn't care; within moments, he fell asleep.

Comments

MeiLin's picture

Most High

The motto over the door of Town Hall is a paraphrase of a Latin property law phrase. When I read it, it sent a shiver through me. It fit Risenton's situation in such a weird way.

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