Netherlandia (Excerpt)

Chapter One

The smell of tulips wafted through the air of Zuid-Holland. Hedgerows sat in orderly lines around the windmill. The gardener lazily poured water into a funnel. The water sloshed down through a series of pipes, and erupted out of a complex sprinkler system, watering the whole flower bed evenly. The water kept raining down for a couple more seconds before stopping. The gardener paused to admire her handywork before easing herself down onto a bench whose faded paint was beginning to peel away. Suddenly the hedge around the garden started to quiver. The gardener muttered to herself about a trouble making “wasbeer” that had plagued the garden recently. But, before she could reach the hedge, a whistling sound that screeched across the plains burst forth from the orderly shrubbery. Unfortunately she knew what that meant. That was the sound of a Stoompistool ready to fire. She scrambled backwards, trying to warn the chemist that toiled away inside the windmill. But it was too late. Steam rushed from the sprinklers, it felt like it was turning the air to fire. And still the whistling screamed on, now mingled with the screams of the gardener as the burning steam touched her skin. Gray figures stepped out from the hedges. They wore baggy rubber suits to protect against the steam. Strapped on their backs were huge water tanks that fed their Stoompistools. The gardener crawled away from them, her face flushed and boiling like a lobster. All the beautiful tulips around her were withering in the steam’s heat, turning from their previous pastel splendor to charred twigs. The gray figures marched past her – there had to be dozens of them! She noticed that they all sported badges shaped in five-pointed-stars. Each of the star’s points contained a single, glaring eye. The people entered the wind-mill, slamming the door behind them.

Once inside they removed their face-masks. The steam couldn’t harm them in here, and it would disperse in a few moments anyway. In the center of the mill was a chugging, many-geared, wind-powered machine that fueled the various scientific instruments that were placed around the room. Glass tubes, beakers, and jars of mysterious chemicals bubbled in most of them. A staircase wound around the mill’s main gear-shaft. There, on the stairs, stood Petrus Jacobus Kipp. He looked to be in his thirties, with red-brown hair, placed in a messy comb-over. He wore a ruffled suit decorated with a cravat. He had obviously come downstairs to see what the commotion was, he had certainly not expected this.

“Jeetje.” He pouted.

“Kipp!” called the one in front, a mustachioed, dark-skinned man, his hair ruffled from being inside the face-mask. “Hand over the inrichting!”

A chuckle escaped Kipp’s lips, though his face still read nervousness. “Is that what you want? I can’t see why. Unless you want to prepare small volumes of gases.” He looked thoughtful. “Do you?”

“It is of no matter,” the leader growled. “Give it up.” He held out his hand, behind him the others readied their Stoompistools. The scientist backed up slowly, back up the stairs. He only made it a few more steps before he broke the charade and ran. Steam rushed from the Stoompistools in small controlled bursts, totally unlike the screaming cloud in the garden. But the chemist was surprisingly agile, he dodged the worst of the blast, escaping through a hatch in the ceiling.

The leader nodded, signaling for the rest of his troops to follow up the stairs. They reached the hatch without any difficulty. The room they entered was obviously Kipp’s study. Bookshelves lined three walls, the other was made entirely out of glass, which gave an excellent view of the windmill’s giant blades, swooping in and out of sight. Like the story below, this room had a gear-shaft sprouting from the center like an ever-turning wooden pillar. Facing the glass wall was a hard wood desk. Kipp crouched behind the desk, quivering. He now held a Stoompistool of his own, a small, glass model, possibly his own invention. It was a strange one, heated, not by fire, but by a magnifying glass attached to one side. Unfortunately for the chemist, only a few rays of sunlight filtered through the fog of steam that drifted around the windmill.

“Kipp!” shouted the leader. “We don’t want to have to hurt you, so come out from behind the desk and give us your apparatus!”

“Or w-what?” Kipp said, his voice shaky.

“We smoke you out!” The leader said, raising his hand, which now held a handkerchief, embroidered with the same five-pointed star he sported on his badge. Everyone in the room knew that if he dropped it, the steam guns would fire, drowning the desk and the scientist underneath it in a blanket of pain. However, he wouldn’t have to drop it if Kipp came out now. But apparently, Kipp had enough solar power for one good steam-blast. He pulled the trigger and the leader got a face full of boiling steam. While they were stunned he leapt over the desk, trying to escape. But the dark-skinned man wasn’t as fazed as he appeared. He grabbed Kipp and forced him up against the glass wall with so much strength that fracture lines appeared on it. Through the window the leader could see that the steam was dispersing.

“Where… Is… The… Inrichting?” with every word he pounded Kipp farther into the window, causing the cracks to spread farther over the wall.

“I don’t have it,” the chemist groaned, his voice hoarse. “It’s not here; it’s on it’s way to Delft for a patent.”

The leader dropped Kipp to the ground. They walked toward the door, two or three walked backwards so they could fill the room with steam as they left.

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