Fiction Tuesday – The Flaw In The Copper (Darned Conspiracy, Scene 4)

Today’s blog is a section from The Darned Conspiracy, the sequel to my first novel In The Land of the Penny Gnomes

“You know, Professor, he does have a point.” Grimby spoke as he indicated the younger gnome with his thumb.

Nobody’s smile froze as he replayed the last thirty seconds of conversation back in his head. He then shook his head. “I’m sorry, I up to my limit in social insights for the week. What point?”

“Well, Professor,” Fineflin chimed in. “It almost seemed like you were happy someone had figured out a way to place a real penny into the reactor.”

Nobody’s brow wrinkled as his eyes opened in shock. “Certainly not! Only a troubled gnome would ever think such a thing!”

The other beings in the room stared at the old gnome after this pronouncement, which forced even Nobody to clarify things.

“I had that insight two weeks ago, though I do think perhaps it was just an extension of my social insight about the Penny Gnome detonator 1.”

The young gnome, dwarf, and elf continued to stare. After an uncomfortable silence, during which Nobody hummed the 1812 Overture, the light of realization washed over his face and his smile brightened.

“And I will have you know I am not troubled. I am addled. Sindy had me tested.”

The young gnome exhaled, but before he could make any remarks Grimby pointed at him and said, “You, out.”

“But I’m not supposed to leave…”

The dwarf held up a finger. “OK, I guess that wasn’t clear enough. We’re about to talk about sensitive topics and I don’t know you. So get out now or I’ll have my elf friend subject you to a two hour fashion lecture.”

Fineflin flashed a wicked grin. “Oh I haven’t done one of those for months. I’m a bit out of practice, though, it could take an extra hour or so.”

The young dwarf backed away from the two IBI agents, alternating his pointing finger between the two. “But you can’t do that. That’s cruel and too helpful punishment! I know I’ve got rights!”

“You’re also wearing striped pants with a checkered shirt.” Fineflin make his smile wider. “You’d be my special project.”

“But I don’t want to take fashion advice from you! You’ve got bird doings on your head!”

“Nevertheless I…” Fineflin’s grin vanished. “Would you please say that again?”

“You have bird doings on your head. Is it some kind of back to nature fashion? I don’t think I could pull it off.”

Fineflin’s grin returned, only it no looked as though it was made of glass. “Would you be so kind as to direct me to the nearest bathrooms?”

“Uh, sure… down the hall you came in. They’ll be on your right.”

Fineflin nodded and exited the room. Grimby’s wicked smile made even Nobody uncomfortable.

About half a minute after the elf had exited the control room the three remaining figures heard a groan of despair echo down the hall. Followed by a despondent, “Why?” Two minutes later Fineflin returned to the room with very wet hair.

“I am not speaking to you, Grimby.”

“Look, don’t blame me. I told you it was there.”

“You tell me something is on my head at least six times every day! How was I supposed to know you were serious this time?”

“Not my problem. I told you. Anyway…” the dwarf pointed as the younger gnome a second time, “Get out. Now. Go make yourself a sandwich or something.”

With a huff, the younger gnome brushed past the two agents. “I’m back in ten minutes, no matter what!”

“OK, great!” Grimby called after the retreating figure. He then turned to Nobody and asked, “OK, Professor, what have you found out?”

“Oh, yes! Well, I am pleased that I discovered what happened. But not that it happened, though I am impressed with the skill displayed. It’s remarkable, really. Truly a genius at work.”

“Great, Professor. What is it that they did?”

“Well,” the Professor paused in thought. “How much do you know about penny powered generators?”

“Next to nothing. Fineflin, how much do you know about penny powered generators?”

“I use sock power in my home. It’s fuzzier.”

“We don’t know anything, Professor, enlighten us.”

Nobody beamed with delight. “Wonderful! Then I can skip the basics and get right to narrative filler theory!

“In this plant there are six penny powered generators. Each is fired by unprocessed Penny Ore. The pennies are brought into a Strong Imagination Field chamber and shaken to increase agitation. This causes the imaginative energy embedded in the raw pennies to become unstable. These are then shifted through the injecter which spits the pennies into the reaction chamber, where they are zapped with an electric current. This causes a massive explosion inside the chamber which turns the turbines. It also creates the occasional turkey hoagie, which the operator on duty is permitted to eat.”

“OK, fine,” Grimby nodded. “That sounds sensible enough, so what went wrong?”

“Someone figured out how to put a real penny into the injecter.”

“Professor, think of us as children,” Fineflin cut in. “Why would that matter?”

“Well, it shouldn’t be possible. We do get a few real pennies in circulation around The Realm 2, so it’s not like the problem isn’t something we were unaware of. But that’s why we have the safeguards.”

“OK, Professor. I’m tired, and Fineflin just found out he had bird poop in his hair. What problem, and what safeguards?”

“Oh, well I though that was obvious.”

“It wasn’t.”

“Oh, certainly. What is the problem? Oh! I remember. When a regular penny falls into the reaction chamber it doesn’t release any stored energy, which causes the turbines to slow down. And then several pennies are dropped in to restart the reaction, all at once, but for some reason the real penny then makes these new pennies catch fire and explode.”

“Wonderful,” groaned Grimby. “And what’s the safeguard?”

“Oh, well I did have some of hand in that! I have been told it isn’t bad form to point out one’s expertise if it’s pertinent to the conversation. Is that pertinent?”

“Sure, Professor,” encouraged Fineflin. “Let’s say it is.”

“Oh, good. So good to have expertise to share! Anyway, the system is designed to detect any penny which doesn’t have enough of a charge to cause the turbines to move, and drop them from the injecter.”

Grimby rolled his wrist like a wheel, “So if one got into the injecter…”

“Someone must have figured out a way to cause a real penny to appear to have potential imaginative energy stored in it. Fascinating, isn’t it?”

“That’s a big leap, Professor.”

“Oh ho! You doubt me? Marvelous! Come and look at this computer.” Nobody beckoned the two agents over to a nearby computer monitor.

“This is the reaction chamber output for the hour leading up to the explosion.

“OK,” the two agents said in unison, and then fired daggers at the other with their eyes.

“And this,” Nobody opened another file. “Is the reading of potential imaginative energy for this reactor this afternoon. As you can see, everything is quite normal, until after the penny had been dropped into the chamber. This chart…” Nobody hit some keys. “…shows what happened the moment the real penny entered the reaction chamber. As you can see, there is a sudden drop off of stored energy. So some time between the safeguard checkpoint and the injection chamber whatever was done to make the penny appear imaginative wore off.”

“And the end result of a real penny in the chamber ‘boom.'”

“Oh no, Agent Grimby. The end result of this scenario is a crater several miles wide around the where the power plant used to be. We got lucky.”

“I see. And what’s to stop this from happened again?”

“Right now? Nothing at all. Running the reactors right now is very dangerous.”

“So, we should shut them down?”

“Oh yes. Were I here,” the gnome tapped his nose as though he were a grand conspirator. “I would have shut them down almost an hour ago!”

Fineflin’s eyes were wide, Grimby stared in disbelief. The dwarf cleared his mind with some good blinking, and declared, “Professor, this week you’re on payroll. Turn off the reactors.”

“Are you sure? I’m not sure I’m supposed to…”

Disturbed by the prospect of a sudden, and explosive, demise, Fineflin barked, “Turnthemoffrightnowyoudaftgnomeareyoutryingtogetusallkilled??”

“Oh dear,” said the old gnome as he turned the dials on the control board. “I hope I wasn’t being antisocial again.”

  1. During the Copyright war, Nobody had been commissioned to create a device which would detonate all the penny ore in the Fifty Peaks Mountains. The resulting destruction would have wiped The Realm off the map, but this was considered acceptable because it would have taken the invading army of Copyright Lawyers with it. In a moment of rare clarity, Nobody realized the antisocial nature of such a device and used the grant money to increase snack chip production. 
  2. The Penny Gnomes will sometimes bring a penny from the real world back from their “shopping trips.” I have my own opinon about these trips, but won’t share it here.