Today’s blog continues my long-neglected satirical fantasy, In The Land of the Penny Gnomes
“Yah, kid. That place I snatched you from? Most of the roads are blocked, but I think I can get you through. And General Isme gave me permission to try… if you want.”
“But, what about all that stuff the Professor said about my home not being there?”
Bug’s lips tightened as he contemplated his response. “Look, Will. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I don’t like our chances. If we fail you’ll probably be stuck here, and I don’t want that on my conscience.”
“But, doesn’t the Professor need you?”
Bug shook his head with a gentle nod. “He does. But if you want to go home you need me more.”
“Won’t Sindy be angry if you just abandon her father?”
Bug’s barked laugh echoed through the courtyard in which they’d parked their transport. “Kid, Sindy’s the one who told me to make the offer! Actually, the way she put it was, ‘You go in there and convince that child to get as far away from my father’s idiot schemes as he can! Take him home, Bug!’”
Will paused. “And you think you can do it? You think you can get me home?”
“I don’t know, kid. But we can try.”
“OK. Well…” the teen sighed as he closed his eyes. “I’m good, but thanks. I don’t think I could leave you all now.”
The gnome smiled, but pulled his hat from his head nevertheless. Bug began the now-familiar process of twisting which signaled his nervousness. “OK, kid. Will do. But I think Sindy’s going to be furious with the both of us, to be honest.”
Will grinned. “Well that’ll be a new experience. For me anyway.”
Bug flashed a deadpan stare at his teenage companion. “Great, you’ll have something to look forward to.” He stepped back as he placed his hat upon his head once more. “I guess you’d better get up, then. We’re about to be briefed on the trip to Firewall Control.”
Will nodded and exited the transport as Bug woke Grimby and Fineflin from their shallow slumbers. As the agents each stretched and yawned, Will took note of how different they appeared. While Grimby displayed signs of being the type of “morning disheveled” one would expect from a newly awakened slumberer, Fineflin looked immaculate and impeccably presented.
“I do hope they give us time to make ourselves presentable,” the elf mused.
“Presentable?” Grimby growled. “You look like you just got back from a spa weekend!”
“Well, some of us take pride in our appearance,” huffed back the elf.
Grimby flashed a nasty grin at Will and winked as he pointed to his partner, “Tell that to the three hairs you’ve got sticking up from the top of your head.”
Fineflin’s faced drained of color, “What?”
“All right, the two of you enough,” Bug snapped. “We don’t have time for this. Fineflin you look fine. Grimby, I don’t care how fun he is to poke. We’ve got things to do, and waiting an hour for an elf to satisfy his vanity is not on the agenda.”
The gnome stared at the dumbfounded duo in silence for a moment before demanding, “Do I make myself clear?”
“Yessir!” they replied in unison.
“Good. Now, let’s go.”
Bug turned and stormed off to a nearby campus building without checking to see if anyone was following. The others fell in behind him without a word, and were led into a second-floor classroom which had been converted for use in military operations. Will spotted Sindy standing next to her father and wandered over to them. Oscar stood along the wall opposite the trio, flanked by several of the surviving soldiers from their caravan. At the front of the room, standing before a screen, were several military officers Will didn’t recognize.
“I though you were going home,” Sindy whispered in the teen’s ear.
“I decided to stay.”
Steam began to leak from the gnome’s ears. “I see my father chooses his idiots well.” Will attempted to respond, but was cut off as one of the officers spoke.
“Captain Moume, is this your team?”
“Captain?” Will breathed.
“Field promotion,” Sindy hissed back. “Now hush.”
“And your… side trip?
The General betrayed a hint of a smirk as he nodded. “Good. Then let’s get on with the briefing.” Turning to his left he extended a hand to a nearby officer, “Major?”
“Sir,” the officer nodded as he stepped forward. “As we know, all major roads North are now blocked by the Horde. Our guard units have been able to prevent the Lawyers from encircling the city, but we fear it’s only a matter of time until they do so. More and more reinforcements are arriving through the glitching firewall.”
“So what hope do we have of reaching Firewall Control, then?” one of the soldiers challenged.
To Will’s surprise, it was Bug who responded. “If we tried to take a large force, none at all. But that’s why you Red Boots are here. Now shut up and listen.”
The major nodded, “Thank you, Captain. Now, as your commanding officer stated, a large force moving North has no chance to reach Firewall Control. Worse, the direction in which we travel North would almost certainly betray the location of of the control center, which we do not believe the Horde has managed to locate.”
“How do we know that?” squeaked Oscar.
“Because the Firewall, glitchy though it may be, is still running.”
“However,” the Major continued. “We do believe a small group, traveling along the mountain roads, might loop around the Horde’s area of control and manage to reach Firewall Control undetected. To aid in this endeavor, General Isme is prepared to launch an offensive at zero six-hundred tomorrow morning. We believe this will draw much of the Horde’s attention away from the mountain routes and give our delivery team a window to complete their mission.
“You will be under the command of Captain Moume, and will be escorted by the Red Boots who have been placed under his command. Additionally, the Guards have placed two scouts under your command. They’ll help lead you through the mountains.”
Will then zoned out as the Major went over, in agonizing detail, the route the group would take North. As the briefing droned on, he glanced around the room and felt more out of place than ever. Not only was he an alien in The Realm, he seemed to have no role. Oscar and Nobody were there to reboot the firewall. Bug had taken the mantle of leadership. The Red Boots were there to provide security, and the three IBI agents would probably assist them. Sindy, though untrained, possessed the rare gift of common sense. He couldn’t help but wonder what he was supposed to be doing on this excursion.
The briefing broke up, and the group was ordered to muster at the main barracks at ‘twenty-two hundred hours 1. As he made his way from the classroom he was stopped by Sills, who’d been standing in the doorway.
“Something bothering you, Will?” the agent inquired.
“I guess.” The teen waved his arms, indicating the others who were on the journey. “I just don’t know what my purpose is in all this. Why bother bringing me along at all?”
Sills smiled. “I understand. And, to be honest, the General didn’t want either you or Sindy to go along.”
“So, why are we going along?”
“Because Nobody said he wouldn’t go if you weren’t with the team.”
“But, why? That’s what I don’t get. Why bring me here at all?”
“Just between you and me, Will. I don’t think the Professor thinks the Firewall can be fixed. And when it fails, *you’re going to be the only person standing in the way of The Realm’s destruction.”
Will’s mouth dropped open in shock as a cold wave of fear raced down his spine. Before he could regain his composure to respond, however, Nobody wandered over. His face beamed delight as he clapped his hands together.
“Isn’t this exciting?”
- Will, like most Americans didn’t really get military time, he thought it meant “just shy of two days from now.” ↩