Steemjammer: Through the Verltgaat (22 page)

BOOK: Steemjammer: Through the Verltgaat
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“What now?” Bram smirked. “Sister to the rescue?”

“Would you look at those shoes!” Zylph scoffed, pointing.

Bram and his cronies cackled at Giselle, which only made her all the more determined.

“I’ll do it,” she threatened.

Zylph walked over to her.

“You pathetic sleeb,” she said. “Go on. We’ll say you did it as a
prank
, and they’ll kick you out of the Museum.” She narrowed her eyes. “Or we’ll drag you and your brother somewhere else. It’s not like anyone’s going to instantly appear and save you if you pull that.”

Giselle faltered, but only for a second. She gripped the lever tighter.

“Then again, maybe someone will,” she said, returning Zylph’s glare. “Either way, something will happen to you. I’ll see to it.”

Zylph, who wasn’t used to being challenged, seemed to shoot pure hatred from her pale eyes. Bram laughed.

“Go on,” he told Giselle as his cronies moved even closer to Will. “This could be amusing.”

She started to pull but stopped as her eyes caught motion.

“So, there ye are, Stevens!” an angry voice growled from somewhere down the hall.

 

 

 

Chapter
21

 

Doo-lally!

 

 

“I should’ve known not tah leave ye out o’ sight so long,” the deep, booming voice continued.

“Oh great,” Bram muttered, “the talking tree stump.”

To his great relief, Will saw a scowling Donell Ogilvy over by a Rembrandt painting, marching towards them.

“He’s so short,” Zylph hissed, returning to Bram’s side, “he has to reach up to tie his boots.”

The others stifled cackles, but Bram kept his unyielding eyes locked on Will.

“We’re still trying to decide,” he whispered, “if you’re gaaf or sleeb.”

Zylph rolled her eyes. “He doesn’t even get Dutch, can’t you tell? It means you’re ‘
like us’
or ‘
slime
.’”

“You’re poor and very odd,” Bram concluded. “You hang out with that sleeb, Ren-stink, so you’re probably sleeb. But you ticked off the midget. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a speck of gaaf in you. You’d better hope so. Sleebs don’t last long around here.”

Bram stepped back as Donell arrived.

“Stevens, dinna I warn ye about slackin’ off?” he bellowed. Then, he noticed Giselle. “Ye, too!”

Confused, Will stumbled over words. “Sorry.”

“That ye’ll be, ‘cause none o’ yer chores are even
started
! So on top o’ those, ye’ll be here through lunch, wipin’ glass and shinin’ brass!”

Bram let out a snicker.

“Oh?” Donell snapped. “Ye want tah polish glass, too? I’ll put ye and your gang o’ grinnin’ goons in the Steemjammer halls and make ye do ‘em twice!”

Bram’s oily smile vanished, and he said snippily, “We already finished our chore.”

“Goot, except that ye should’ve come tah find me and get another. Ye know that.”

“We were, but Stevens interrupted us.”

What a lie, Will thought, but he hoped it didn’t matter. No matter how angry Donell was, it was better than being trapped by Bram and his gang.

“Then what’re ye doin’, jawin’ and gawkin’ and bein’ about as useful as a case full o’ toothless gears?” Donell snarled. “Get tah mah office and wait. I’ll be there once I get this slacker properly motivated and give ye yer next assignment. Well?
Move
!”

Pausing defiantly for a second, Bram and the others went sullenly down the hall. The hulking bodyguard, who seemed faintly amused, turned to follow.

“First week on the job and hidin’ up here for a nap?” Donell growled at Will and Giselle. “Thought I wouldn’t notice? What am I tah ye then, a sap-headed tomfool?”

Feeling very confused, they said nothing. The short man spewed on a while longer before looking to check that the Rasmussens were gone.

“Hoo,” he said softly. His scowl vanished as a knowing grin beamed from his face. “Lass, tha’ was very brave o’ ye.” He patted Will firmly on the back. “Ye played ‘em like a well oiled steempipe, laddie.”

“Played?” Will asked, still puzzled but relieved to see that Donell’d been faking his anger.

“Best tah grease their belt drive, if ye catch mah drift.”

Will and Giselle shook their heads no, causing Donell to laugh.

“Keep ‘em wonderin’ why their axle slips, and they get no progress!” he said. “
Mislead
‘em! Come on, then. Ye best take me tah the others. They are close, aren’t they?”

 

***

 

“Here, have a groat klonk,” Donell said as they walked through a seldom-visited Museum display, offering a crumpled brown paper sack.

It hadn’t taken long to find the others, who were shocked to hear about Will’s close brush with Bram and his cronies. Angelica, who’d just asked if they could swing by the commissary for a snack, hesitantly reached in and took a lump that resembled dried mud with tan pebbles. It was dense, like something she could shoot from her sling.

“Go on,” the short man urged. “It dinna bite!” He lowered his voice and explained proudly. “They’re from an old clan recipe. Oats and honey, with things of this world, too. They make ye smile. Really.”

She put it in her mouth, fearing it would taste like dirt. Cobee bent close.

“Don’t chew,” he whispered. “That’s how a friend of mine split a molar.”

“I heard tha’!” Donell said with a pretend-growl, and then he chuckled. “Struth, mah klonks rival limestone in hardness, but tha’ way they never go bad. And tha’ boy, Peter Oostervank, has weak teeth. The whole family’s known for ‘em.”

“I’ll try one,” Will said, and Donell gladly shoved a dozen into his hands.

They each sucked a klonk (even Donell didn’t risk his teeth). The rock-hard lumps were coarse with a sweet but grainy flavor. Then, a zinger of sour hit their tongues, followed by tingly fruitiness. Their faces lit up as bursts of flavor seemed to sparkle all over their mouths.

“Tha’d be the skirlberries,” Donell said with a satisfied grin. “Their taste whirls around in yer mouth, like bagpipe notes!”

“We’re allowed to eat here?” Will asked, remembering the strict rules from the art museum on Old Earth.

“Hard candy or dried beef. Anythin’ tha’ doesn’t make a mess, aye. Yer Auntie Stef allows it. Bein’ able tah eat helps folk sustain themselves through this vast, tangled jungle o’ cluttered memories and past horrors.”

“Horrors?” Angelica asked.

“Murders, executions, massacres,” Donell said before Will could attempt to stop him.

After a quick glance at the little girl’s face, Donell realized he needed to soften his tone. “Oh, and noble deeds. Tha’ too.”

It didn’t help. Will and Giselle had shown them where Bram and his gang had been, and his sister had been horrified by the diorama of the soldiers’ attack.

“Why,” she asked, fighting back emotion, “would they burn our mill and kill people?”

“Only a few died there,” Donell said gently. “It’s sad, but the rest o’ yer family, including young Gerardus, escaped and moved far downriver tah Holland, where there was tolerance and freedom. If it weren’t for tha’, we wouldn’t be here.”

“But why? How can people be so bad?”

“Lass, the short answer is tha’ there’s evil in the worlds. The old one and this. Do ye really need the long answer?

“Of course not! Look, the Halls of History are amazin’, struth, but they can also be a
trap
. A spider’s web. There’s poison in here, venom that gets in yer head and rots yer brain, if ye let it.

“Plus the enormity of it! Endless wars, battles, and inventions. This group, they moved here. Then those ones, they sailed there, while these vanished completely. It’s enough tah drive a sound mind bampers!”

“Bampers?” she asked.

“Craicte. Ye know, doo-lally.”

“I think he means crazy,” Giselle suggested.

“Tha’, aye,” Donell said. “Pure plumb crazy!”

“Mom used to sing a song about people who were doo-lally,” Angelica said, smiling from the happy memory.

“I know it, too!”

Donell burst out singing in a loud voice, quite out of tune.

 

I once kenned a lass who lived by a firth.

Fed coins tah her cattle – she dinna ken worth.

At sunrise she prayed and crawled intah her bed.

Tah reach in her larder she stood on her head!

 

Doo-lally! Doo-lally!

Doo-lally! Doo-lally!

She called herself Annie but answered tah Sallie!

Doo-lally! Doo-lally!

Doo-lally! Doo-lally!

As craicte as anyone down in tha’ valley!

 

Recalling good times at home with their mother, warmth spread over Will and Angelica. They joined the short man in the last part, singing as loudly and off key as they could. They couldn’t help but laughing at Cobee and Giselle, who stared quizzically.

Donell smiled broadly as he looked over Will and Angelica. “Ye realize we’re kinfolk, ye two and me. Cobee and Giselle, yer kin o’ mah kin, so I feel strongly towards ye, too. Dinna ever doubt tha’!”

He looked around to make sure they were still alone.

“Yer ma and I are third cousins,” Donell told Will and Angelica proudly. “We share great-great Ogilvy grandparents. Which makes ye and me what?”

“Fourth cousins?” Will guessed, counting on his fingers.

“Hah, ye’d think so, but no. Third cousins once removed. Now, if I ever have a wee little bairn – littlin, er, a babe - he or she’d be yer
fourth
cousin. See?”

“No. How do you keep it straight?”

“Struth! It takes work. Like absorbin’ all this mickle muckle.” He gestured at the displays. “So put it out o’ yer heads, because it won’t fit. Oh, dear.”

“What?”

“I can’t be seen helpin’ ye. We have tah get out o’ here.”

His face soured with a terrible grimace. A loud, prolonged belch escaped from him, and he had to twist his face and thump his belly to get the last of it out.

“Och, history gives me gas,” he said with a shudder, then brightened. “Brain-valves! I have an idea. Hurry now, and hang onto yer klonks, as ye may be needin’ ‘em. It’s said they combat motion sickness.”

“Huh?” Giselle said, but the short man was almost running as he led them down a hallway.

 

***

 

“Ye got tah spit on it!” Donell shouted. “More!”

For a “safe” place to talk, Donell’d led them to a miniature station and summoned a small, amusement park type train, which clattered to a stop on the narrow gauge tracks in front of them.

Each car was made to look like a very fast, brightly painted animal. There was a falcon, a cheetah, a shark and a bee. For fun, the last car was a pink and gray snail, but her shell was bent forward, as if she was made for speed. The animal faces had sly grins and wicked slants to their eyes, as if each knew it was the fastest.

Urging the kids on board (Angelica and Giselle sat in the bee for “Angie-bee”), Donell passed out rags and tin cans filled with an odd-smelling paste. He dropped a punch-card into a slot, and with a mighty HUFF from a steam catapult under the platform, they shot off at a steep angle up a narrow track. The jolt of acceleration shoved them back into their seats.

“Spit!” he shouted above the clattering and roar of rushing air while pointing at a rag. “More than tha’. It takes a real mouthful.”

He urged them to clean the cars’ brass handles and decorations while they zoomed around the Steem Museum at high speed on what he’d called a “Fast Tour People Mover” and not what the kids were calling a “roller coaster.”

“Roller toaster?” he shouted. “What that is, I dinna even ken.”
Know
.

He explained what a good plan this was - how they could take the “Fast Tour” and see the Museum, while anyone noticing them would assume they were being punished and made to spit-polish the little train’s brass.

“See?” he shouted, tapping his head. “Always usin’ mah noggin. Och, hold on!”

They grabbed handles just in time as the train banked into a high-speed turn and then shot up a steep ramp. Tin cans and rags went flying.

“No matter,” he shouted, handing back more. “Just dinna run out o’ spit. If ye dinna spit the rags, the paste won’t work.”

They found they didn’t have much spit left in their mouths, but Donell was happy after they went through the motions of doing so and then rubbing the brass handles.

“Goot,” he yelled. “Mah grandad helped make this little train. The museum’s huge, as ye can see. Who wants tah walk? And who wants tah get stuck on the borin’ old boat tour?”

He nodded down at a canal filled with water that had been dyed blue, where little boats chugged along at very slow speed. A couple of young children sitting in one stared up in awe as the little train rocketed by on the clattering tracks.

“This is really more a giant factory,” Will shouted as they left the exhibit area and rolled through a large foundry where a giant crucible of white-hot molten metal was being poured into a set of molds. Past that a group of people in heavy, protective clothing banged and shaped a white hot piece of steel with hammers. “The museum displays are just a small part, I guess.”

“Right,” Donell shouted. “Workshops go on and on, and a lot more than steemtraps get made, though they’re quite popular. I keep wantin’ tah build one o’ mah own, but I never can think up a design I like enough.”

The tracks ran straight for a while, up near the high ceiling of a series of machine shops filled with steam powered rolling presses, stamping mills, and drill presses.

“Now that we can talk,” the short man continued, “by the Maker’s beard, Will and Giselle, what were ye doin’ takin’ on that entire Raz gang by yerselves?”

“What is Bram even doing here?” Will countered. “And please don’t say it’s because the Steem Museum’s open to everyone.”

BOOK: Steemjammer: Through the Verltgaat
13.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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