Today’s blog continues my long-neglected satirical fantasy, In The Land of the Penny Gnomes
Will stared at Sindy. Up until this point she hadn’t been interested in what Bug and Nobody were up to. In fact, she’d been outwardly hostile to their efforts. But something seemed to have softened her opinion. She didn’t pause after her announcement. Instead, she walked slowly over to the corner where the artillery piece stood and circled it in wonder. It took Will a moment to recover from Sindy’s sudden revelation. When he had, he found he had nothing to say except for, “Excuse me?”
“Copyright lawyers, kid. They came storming through one of the northern passes a couple of years ago and nearly wiped us all out. If Boarsblemish hadn’t broken the seige, our mountains may have been the last refuge for The Realm.”
“But, they’re lawyers — how dangerous can they be?”
Again, Will was startled when Sindy was the one who responded to his question. “How dangerous, Will? I’ve seen gnomes who have been hit by their injunction rounds. Some recover, but they lose something. They start dressing differently and they laugh a lot less. It’s as if they just lose a sense of enjoyment in life. A lot more, just… fade.”
The looks in Sindy’s eyes actually frightened Will. “Sindy, what do you mean, ‘fade?’”
Sindy didn’t respond to Will’s question. Instead, she looked down and covered her face with her hands. By the time Bug reached his wife and embraced her she was sobbing quietly. Nobody stared at the scene for a few moments, his face filled with a tender look Will hadn’t before seen on his features. Finally, when he seemed assured Bug had the situation under control, the Professor turned to Will.
“‘Fading,’ Will, is when someone from The Realm simply gives up their spark of imagination. The color slowly fades from their person, even the dye in clothing they wear begins to turn grey, and they… lose themselves. By the time they fade completely, they barely know who they are anymore, and hardly acknowledge their friends and family.”
Nobody’s face wore a haunted expression. Up until this conversation, Will assumed the Professor was simply a bemused, slightly mad, genius. He’d seen his eyes marvel at the random creations which sprang from the clutter in his home, and even his recitation of the arsenal he’d created took on the tone of a proud child revealing a piece of art to a parent. Now, he saw Nobody was more than his first impression. Will had been amused, and slightly alarmed, by The Professor. As he gazed into the Professor’s haunted eyes, however, he began to feel something new. Compassion.
“Professor? You knew someone who faded, didn’t you?”
Nobody nodded, “Yes, Will, I did. My Wife was in one of the first units which faced off against the Copyright Hoard. She took an injunction round in the shoulder and was sent back here for recovery. They got the bullet out, but she was never right after that.”
The Professor’s words faded into the silence which normally indicated he’d been distracted by a new idea. This time, however, a single tear rolled down his cheek. Sindy picked up the story, “You see, Will. We had no idea who these people were or what their weapons could do. The doctors took out the bullet and the wound healed, but people who’d been injured began to change. We just assumed they were shocked by what they’d been through, but they never got better.” With this Sindy returned her quiet sobbing. It was left to Bug to complete the tale.
“It was bad, Kid. The first sign we had something was really wrong was when injured gnomes lost the ability to see color. From there, it just progressed. Their hair turned grey, items which came into contact with them lost their pigment, and then they lost their sense of taste.”
“And then they died?”
Bug shrugged. “They faded. They were just, gone.”
“Yes, Will.” Will turned back to the Professor, who’d returned from his sojourn. “The last stage of fading is vanishing — they slowly disappear from view. Our doctors eventually linked it to a the spark of imagination being extinguished in those who were fading. Without that spark, they simply cease to be.”
“That’s horrible! And that happened to your wife?”
Nobody nodded, but Sindy spoke. “Yes, Will. She was one of the first wounded, and we didn’t have a treatment for the fading. By the time we realized something was wrong, it was too late.” Sindy broke away from Bug’s embrace and moved over to the Professor. She embraced the Professor and spoke, “I’m sorry, Dad. I though you’d just lost your mind. I didn’t know you were doing this because of what happened to Mom.”
“Yah, kid, the Prof is my father-in-law. Didn’t I tell you that?”
“No, you didn’t.”
Sindy released Nobody from her embrace and the distraught gnome looked up at Will. “Yes, Will, Sindy is my daughter. When her mother faded I threw myself into my work in Applied Imagination. I wanted to make sure no other gnomes would suffer her fate.”
“What was her name?” Will immediately realized he’d asked a painful question. The room became silent, only the hum from some unseen machinery filled the room.
Sindy was the first the recover. Speaking in little more than a whisper she responded, “We don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
Nobody shook his head, tears were beginning to form on his cheeks again. “No, Will, we don’t. It’s a side-effect to fading. Once the spark of imagination is extinguished our memories of the person remain, but their name disappears with them.”
“How is that possible? And even if you forget, don’t you have her name written down anywhere?”
“It’s not that easy, kid. See, when a person fades, their name actually disappears. I got a Christmas card from Sindy’s mom on the fridge, her name isn’t on it any more. Just ‘love’ and then… nothing.”
The Professor nodded in agreement. “Yes, Will, it is. And that is why I have thrown myself into my work. Before the siege of Boarsblemish was even fully engaged I had managed to create some injunction-blocking body armor. Over a period of about a year I worked with our top doctors trying to use applied imagination to find a cure for the fading. In the end, we were able to find a treatment. Now gnomes who are wounded by injunction rounds tend to only partly lose their sense of taste. It’s been extremely difficult, but we succeeded.”
“But, Dad, why didn’t you tell me? I just thought you were trying to stay away from me because you kept thinking about mom!”
Nobody patted Sindy on the shoulder. “I’m sorry, dear, but I wasn’t allowed to let anyone know. The council was afraid if the lawyers discovered we were using applied imagination to counter their weapons, Great Roll would have become a target before we were ready to defend ourselves.”
“But you could tell Bug?” It was clear Nobody hadn’t anticipated Sindy discovering this one hole in his story. He fidgeted a moment while pondering how to respond. Bug was, once again, twisting his floppy hat in his hands.
“Well the council wanted me to have an assistant, you see, and as Bug had gone with me to the meeting they thought it would be a good idea if he filled the roll. That way, people would just think he was helping out his mad father-in-law. Your reaction to his work was, unfortunately, hoped for.”
Sindy’s eyes widened in astonishment as he wheeled around to face her husband. “It was hoped for? Do you have any idea how furious I’ve been with you for the last three years?”
Bug grinned stupidly as Will circled around to stand next to the professor. He didn’t want to be in the line of Sindy’s wrath. “Well, dear, they knew how upset you were with your dad because of your mom. And they figured if you went around telling people your dad had lost it any spies the Lawyers had in in Great Roll wouldn’t think he was working for the war effort. I couldn’t let those people know how important the Professor was to The Realm.” Bug straightened his stance as he continued, feigning a confidence he clearly did not have in front of his wife. “And if I needed to have you furious with me to keep Great Roll from being a target, then it was worth it.” Bug walked up to his wife and placed his hand on her cheek. “I couldn’t risk what happened to your mom happening to you.”
“You could have given me a hint at least!”
“I know. But now we’re ready, and the Prof and I wanted you to be the first gnome to see the results of his work. The council doesn’t even know about our fair-use ammunition! Now, if the firewall fails, we can stand up to the Hoard!”
“And if not, my dear, the council wants to make certain the Copyright Hoard will never bother anyone, ever again.”