Siegfried Ansel kept Adewole well into November before he was allowed to return to Mrs. Trudge's lodgings. That teapot-shaped lady welcomed him back with tears and tea cakes before she left him in his old rooms. Deviatka's personal effects had been brought down from Risenton, and Blessing had directed Mrs. Trudge to pack up the dead man's belongings and send them to his family. The guitar remained; Mrs. Trudge said it belonged to Adewole now, his family didn't want it. He picked it up, plucked a few chords and put it down. Too soon for music, too soon for anything stringed, too soon for anything of Deviatka's. The man he knew hadn't existed. Nothing about his friend had been real, not even the friendship, but when Major Berger cleared him to return to Risenton, Adewole took the guitar along.
Adewole unfolded himself from the cargo pod. He ached all over, and not just from his injuries; the ride up from Eisenstadt had been extraordinarily rough. Even through his borrowed flight coat, gloves and hat the cold ate into his flesh, leaving his teeth chattering in the chill fall night. Inside the coat, alien to him in every way, nestled an old coilgun, another gift from the insistent Miss Goldstein who wasn't even sure it worked any more, "but better some gun than no gun."
Hildy gasped and stood up from her perch on the desk. "You can't expect me to believe that. A technology that powerful--that's approaching magic!"
"Magic, yes, it does sound like that, does it not?" Adewole switched tacks. "What makes black mercury so powerful, Hildy? Have you isolated what it might be?"
"Black mercury? What about it? What does it have to do with the rising of the island?"
"The ancients of Cherholtz--the city that became Risenton--called it ichor. It means 'blood of the gods.' It is more than a mechanical propellant. Yes, it can be used for that, but if one knows the old secrets it can be used for magic. The Risentoners make an oath at thirteen never to use magic and metal together, and I have discovered why: the ultimate fusing of magic and metal to create power akin to a god's, a Machine God, if you will." Hildy cocked her head and crossed her arms, but he pressed on. "The manuscript I have found details how to make such a god, and I have discovered what happened when he did. The God raised the island a thousand years ago. Thousands, perhaps tens, hundreds of thousands, died." At this point, her not believing him almost appealed. He could say, Ha ha, I was only joking, Miss Goldstein, no, I really need to get back up there because... Because what?
Two days after he regained consciousness, Adewole's condition had improved. Major Berger's attaché Isidore Lentzen had been by to see him, asking whether the professor knew where Deviatka might have gone to ground. He could say no with a clear conscience, as he was unsure himself. Doctor Ansel allowed him cautious walks through the hallways, clutching the ratty bathrobe Mrs. Trudge had brought from his wardrobe; a nurse always followed behind toting the basket crammed full of food Mrs. Trudge sent daily--far, far more than he could eat. He'd been passing it out to the other patients, a plausible excuse to get out of bed and a chance to scope out the hospital. Doctor Ansel's caution emanated from nothing more sinister than concern for his patient, but Adewole increasingly felt held prisoner. Back on his feet now, he had to plot an escape.
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."
The group flew every day after that.
The final practice day before the great expedition, the flight crew loaded sandbags onto all five aircraft to simulate their cargo. The autogyros took off in formation, Hildy Goldstein on point, all passengers aboard and black mercury in the boilers.
They flew over Lake Sherrat, low enough to make white caps on the water and to see the ferry passengers wave their hats. When they flew over the University, Adewole realized the yellow-and-red brick courtyards taken together made a larger pattern, a checkerboarded star. Was it intentional? Adewole wondered how many patterns could only be seen from the air.
The formation took no chances and skirted the financial district's steel towers, though they did fly into the Drift, beneath the island itself. Adewole did his best to stare up through the spinning rotors to study its underside, but he couldn't make out much detail.
Trinke snapped to even greater attention--Adewole hadn't thought it possible--and opened his notebook. "Minister Faber, you have a nine o'clock--"
"The Chancellor can wait for me for once, Trinke, the Founder knows I've waited for him enough times. Will my skirts be a hindrance, Miss Goldstein?"
They were not. The field crew tucked Faber into the two-seater autogyro seat and dressed her in goggles, gloves and a canvas duster hobbling her skirts enough to keep them out of the way. Hildy Goldstein took the pilot's seat behind her. The engine roared to life; smoke and steam billowed around it. Hildy opened the throttle, and the craft shot down the tarmac and wobbled into the air, rotors whirring.
Adewole came into the first briefing the next day not knowing what to expect. "I have never served in the military," he said to the officers ringed round the table. "Jero's is entirely professional. If you join, you join for life, and it was never my ambition. I think I have hit someone perhaps twice."
"Not much for you to do in the hitting line, Professor," said Major Berger, an older, mustachioed man; cheerful lines offset his naturally melancholy eyes. "You will be translating. With your background in anthropology and languages you're our linchpin. We don't know who we're facing up there, but we face someone. Miss Goldstein's private report gives us strong reason to believe the island is inhabited. And…" He cleared his throat. "We have some confidential intelligence I trust the officers and gentlemen at this table will consider privileged: not only are there people on Inselmond, some are aware of our existence. More than that, I cannot say. Yes, Quartermaster?"