Fiction Tuesday – Diversion Junction

Today’s blog continues my long-neglected satirical fantasy, In The Land of the Penny Gnomes

“What was that, kid?”

“It’s nothing, Bug. Never mind.”

Good idea, we’ll chat later.

Will huffed a sigh as he sat back in his seat. The others assumed he was simply bored by the monotonous travel and continued to chat amongst themselves as the teenager looked out the window. The plain surrounding No Entry was well-tilled and filled with small towns surrounded by farms. Fields of Wheat and Corn were interspersed with orchards of Apple and Orange Trees. Once, off in the distance, he even thought he spotted a few vineyards.

As the train travelled further into The Realm the scenery became a bit less idyllic, and Will began to notice some disturbing signs. Immediately outside No Entry the towns were generally thriving and the fields well maintained. The further they travelled from the Gnomish port, however, he saw more and more buildings boarded up in the towns. Many of the fields they passed appeared to have been left untended, and were growing a noticeable mixture of crops and weeds. The farms which were occupied began to look like armed camps, surrounded by high fences and patrolled by various beings holding weapons. The further the train travelled, the more the population dwindled. Here and there he even saw signs of damage he assumed had come from shelling — some of these buildings even appeared partially transparent.

“Fading isn’t just for people,” Sills breathed with a sigh. Having caught Will’s attention she continued, “You can see what we’re up against. The Hoard can literally erase us from existence if they want.”

“But what’s going to happen to these towns? Where are all the people?”

“You saw a lot of them, Kid,” Bug answered. “They’re camped around No Entry. A lot more moved further South and are in the fields outside of Dryer. Some even migrated to Boarsblemish.”

“So the Horde got all the way down here?”

Sills nodded grimly. “Yes. They would’ve gotten even further South if Boarsblemish hadn’t refused to surrender. The Realm owes a huge debt to those wizards.”

“And the gnomes who fought with them,” Sindy insisted.

“No doubt,” the agent agreed.

“But the Horde’s gone, so why didn’t the people come back?”

“The Horde’s been pushed back, kid, they aren’t gone. If the firewall fails they’ll be back in no time.”

“I still think the Council should have used a satire shield,” quipped Nobody to anyone who would listen. “It takes far less to power and requires almost no maintainence.”

Sills sighed. “We’ve been through that, Professor. Satirizing an entire countryside simply wasn’t feasible. And I still don’t see how you’d satirize farms.”

“Oh that’s not difficult at all,” replied Nobody as he waved his hand dismissively.

Sills blinked. “It’s not?”

“Oh no,” the old gnome smiled. “But there were unforeseen complications when our test shield had been activated… and that made the council a bit skittish.”

The agent grunted, “You actually ran a test on a wide-spread satire shield? Why wasn’t I notified?”

“Well, I had one in my pocket and several of the governors asked if I had anything I felt could really stop the Horde. So I said, ‘yes’ and activated it. They were quite impressed,” Nobody beamed at the memory.

Special Agent Sills paused for a moment to set her face into a stoic stare, before continuing, “You set off an untested Satire shield in front of some governors and no on thought to tell me.”

“I don’t think they wanted to upset you.”

Sill massaged her forehead. “Professor, I know I’m going to regret this, but what were the ‘unforeseen complications?’”

“When activated, the satire shield caused all the pigs in range to begin talking. Several of the governors insisted they couldn’t vote for anything which would ruin their enjoyment of bacon.”

“Bureaucrats,” grumbled Sindy and Bug.

Will didn’t want to get into a conversation on Realmian politics, or the merits of talking bacon, so he decided to redirect the conversation, “But the firewall thing is working, right? So why haven’t the people come back?”

“They’re scared, kid. They’ve heard stories of what it’s like up North and want nothing to do with it.”

“What’s it like up North?”

“I’ve seen it, it’s not pretty,” Sills intoned darkly. “Or, rather, it is pretty. And that’s the problem.”

Will was becoming accustomed to his persistent headache. “The North is pretty… and that’s a problem?”

Sill shook her head. “Not just pretty, pristine. North of here used to be the greatest manufacturing region in the entire Realm. They used resources from the Boundary Mountains and sent products throughout The Realm. They even had a legal export business going on with the Actualized lands.”

“And some not so legal exports too,” Bug grinned. “Remember when some smugglers sold a combustion engine to that fantasy role playing land?”

“Ugh. Don’t remind me. The customs patrol had me running around in shadows for months trying to track it down. They finaly gave up and let the entire region switch genres.”

Will was now pondering asking Bug for his headache mallet, but continued to press on anyway. “So what happened up North?”

Sills shrugged. “Oh. The Horde faded it.”

“The whole region?”

“Yup.”

“And now it’s… pristine?”

“Now, kid, it looks like folks never lived there in the first place. Roads, bridges, buildings entire towns… just faded away.”

Will swallowed. “And what happened to the people?”

“Anyone caught in the radius of the blast faded along with their homes,” growled Sills.

“What blast?”

“Oh,” Bug grunted. “That. The Horde used a weapon of mass injunction.”

The gnome’s face blanched when he said the words, shuddering as some previously buried memory rose to the surface. Will stared at Bug, not knowing what to say.

“But, ironically, it actually stalled their advance,” Sindy added, taking her husband’s hand.

“It did?”

“Oh yes, it was quite remarkable” crowed Nobody. “Suddenly where they had been roads and bridges and buildings and towns there weren’t any. So the horde had to retreat North and turn towards Boarsblemish.”

“And that’s where we stopped them,” Sindy finished with.

“I would like to see the technology the Horde used to create the bomb up close, however. There are so many practical applications!”

Sindy stared at her father with a flare of anger, and even Bug looked as though his father-in-law had said something inexcusable. It was Sills, however, who spoke first.

“Please tell me you’re joking.”

“Oh no, not at all. It’s clear the technology can destroy when used anti-socially. But think how how it could be used for redevelopment!”

Bug cringed. “Prof, let me get this straight. The horde set off a bomb which completely faded an entire region of The Realm, and you want to use the same technology for redevelopment?”

Nobody nodded enthusiastically. “It would be an excellent way to reduce pollution! Just fade it out of existence! And think of the benefits for mining, we could fade seams back into existence over and over and over without having to constantly dig deeper.”

Sindy and Bug shared a gaze, which ended when the former shrugged. Bug turned to Sills, “Is it just me, or did that actually make sense?”

“It’s not just you. But,” the agent turned toward Nobody. “…there is no way you should ever bring that up in the council.”

“Oh,” grunted Nobody with a pout. “Why not?”

“Because you’d give the power of fading to the governors.”

“Hmmm,” hummed Nobody as he scratched his chin. “That does seem problematic.” The professor nodded toward Will, “They tend to be quite antisocial. That was one of my social insights from last year.”

Suddenly, the train lurched to a halt. Bug checked his watch and shook his head. “We’re still an hour out of Junction. What’s going on?”

“Just pull the shades,” snapped Sills. “And let’s turn off the lights.

Will was alarmed at the seriousness with which everyone was treating their unexpected stop. Even Nobody was bright eyed and alert.

His nerves were wound so tight Will jumped when someone began pounding on the door.

“Professor Cooly Nobody, are you in there?”

Sills leveled her pistol at the door before barking out, “Who wants to know?”

“Agent Dan Other, IBI.”

Sills sighed in relief, holstered her weapon, and opened the door. Will looked over her shoulder and saw a tall man in robes which were adorned with an IBI emblem.

“I’m Sills, Great Roll Office. What’s up?”

“Raiders’ve cut the lines about four miles up. We’ve chased them off but it’ll be a while before we can effect repairs.”

“OK, thanks. We’ll wait it out.”

Dan shook his head. “No, you don’t understand, you all have to come with me right now. Boarsblemish has put out an urgent summons for Professor Nobody.”

“Oh my, really? How exciting.”

Other stared at Nobody, confusion etched on his face, until Sills prompted him to continue.

“Exciting as that invitation is, we’re on kind of a tight schedule. So may I ask why you want to take my charge into a war zone?”

“I don’t know all the details, but it’s something to do with an adaptive unprotected fan-fiction virus infecting the satire shield.”

“Oh my,” breathed Nobody as a shadow crept over his face. He then brightened quickly as he declared, “Well, I suppose we’re in for a detour!”

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