Today’s blog is a section from The Darned Conspiracy, the sequel to my first novel In The Land of the Penny Gnomes
“There goes the power again,” Fineflin pointed as the pair drove down the road. The brownouts had started a few minutes after Nobody shut down the remaining reactors in the city’s power plant. When the young control room gnome felt the generators stop moving, they’d rushed in screaming about “saving the battery reserves” and twisting dials. The gnome had been furious for a few minutes–until Nobody pointed out that being furious was, in fact, better than not being furious because the alternative was being reduced to vapor–and “furious” wasn’t a state that vapor tended to achieve. After that the gnome asked them to leave, and they’d done so. The partners had dropped Nobody off at IBI headquarters and reported to Sills, who was not happy about the brown outs, but was very pleased they’d not blown up. After that, the two agents went to their respective homes to get a good night’s sleep.
Things hadn’t improved in the morning. The partners had seen a least seven Apollo’s Coffee shops with lines of angry patrons wrapping around the block. Several gnomes were shaking 1 with the signs of delayed gratification. If the plant didn’t get up and running soon, the city was going to get rather ugly.
Grimby grimaced when he saw a wizard trying to auction off his morning coffee to several desperate-looking gnomes. “Any idea when they’ll be able to start the reactors? This is getting out hand and its only been a few hours.”
“Sills seemed to think Nobody will find way of detecting the real pennies some time this morning. Something to do with applying AI to an etch-a-sketch with the right amount of tea leaves. He was having difficulty finding the right balance, apparently.”
“Huh,” Grimby huffed. “What happened when he didn’t have the right balance?”
Fineflin shrugged. “IBI headquarters now has several new coffee makers and one very surprised Dalmatian.”
Grimby smiled. “Well, that’s AI for you. It’s got a mind of its own.” Grimby drove on for a bit, ignoring the chaos outside yet another coffee shop. “Err, did Sills say anything about how the Sovereign felt about Nobody being called into ‘official’ service?”
“Yes. Sills said she understood.”
Grimby’s eyes widened. “She did not.”
Fineflin nodded. “She did. So if Nobody blows himself up as he tries to investigate…”
“…Sindy is going to come down on use like a pile of rubble.” Grimby completed the sentence.
“She’ll find a mine shaft and collapse it on us, yes.” Agreed Fineflin.
“That’s out of our hands at the moment.” Grimby pointed at a sign just ahead of them down the road. It read, “Good Ore Penny Delivery Services.”
“We’re here,” the dwarf said as he turned into the parking lot entrance. They stopped at the guard house and waited to be acknowledged.
“State you name and business,” grunted a bored-looking elf.
Grimby flashed his IBI ID, “Agent Grimby Headsmelter 2, this is Agent Fineflin Overshoot. We’re here to see Jinkoskov Buzzlifter.”
The elf glanced at Grimby’s credentials and yawned. “One moment, please.” He then shut the window to his station and picked up the phone. He nodded several times and then hung up. He pulled open the glass again and pointed toward a nearby parking lot. “He’ll meet you by building C, it’s just off to the right up there.”
“Thanks,” Grimby replied as he rolled up his window and put the car into drive. He pulled into a visitor’s spot in a near-full parking lot, whereupon a hurried-looking gnome came rushing over.
“Greetings greetings agents. We’re very busy at the moment can I ask what you would like to talk about please?” Buzzlifter didn’t seem to like punctuation.
The two agents unraveled the gnome’s welcome for a moment, but Fineflin finished first and said, “Mr. Buzzlifter…”
“Jinks my friends call me Jinks so you can call me Jinks because we’re friends here right?”
There was another short pause before Fineflin continued. “Jinks, I’m sure you’ve heard about the problems at the power plant by now…”
Jinks’ face scowled. “Oh yes it’s playing havoc on our delivery schedule I’ve got pennies piling up and I just saw one sack go into the wrong shoot and you know the problems that can cause we’re sorting it out as we speak.”
The two agents, by this point, had accepted that any sentence spoken by Mr. Buzzlifter was going to take a moment to unravel, but despite his apparent rush the gnome didn’t seem to mind the pause. This time, Grimby finished the extraction process first and asked, “Let’s just say, for sake of argument, we don’t know what sort of problems that would cause.”
“Oh it could send charged pennies into the economy this would make the pennies appear to be worth more to registers or it would sent spent pennies back to the power plant which would lower efficiency until the spent pennies all cleared out.”
There was the customary pause 3, and then Fineflin spoke. “So, you’re saying there’s times when pennies get mixed up?”
Jinks nodded. “Oh yes not often but sometimes. If you ever get more change back than you were expecting you probably had a charged penny in your possession or if your lights dim for no reason there probably was a few spent pennies in the hopper it happens. Sometimes it’s a lot and sometimes maybe even a single penny because we get a lot of pennies in here and things just happen it’s part of our billing rationale and we have to try to sort them out when we discover it happened and it is a big headache let me tell you.”
The two agents shared a glance before Grimby asked, “Thanks for that insight into penny delivery, Jinks. So you’re saying you get pennies both before and after they go to the power plant?”
“Oh yes it’s a government contract very lucrative and it keeps food on the table. We supply charged pennies for power and spent pennies to the local banks we all have to have passed government background checks and are inspected regularly but we’re glad to be of service here we’re civic-minded.”
“And how long do pennies stay in here while they wait to get delivered?” Fineflin asked.
Jinks cocked his head as he pondered this quest, which was the first pause the agents had seen him take. “Well spent pennies tend to go right out the economy has to keep going right but charged pennies tend to pile up because we don’t want them lying around the power plant so many ten days on the outside but that’s rare.”
Fineflin nodded and stroked his chin. “That’s very interesting. Thank you. Now, may I ask, have you had any shipping problems recently? Perhaps over the last couple of weeks?”
Jinks’ brow wrinkled. “Oh we did there was a train that broke down about sixty miles outside The Throne and it held up a shipment for a few hours while they got a new engine out there why do you ask?”
Grimby shook his head. “Oh, no reason. You’ve been very helpful, Jinks, and we appreciate it. We might have someone come down and talk to you a bit more, ok?”
Jinks’ eyes widened. “You don’t think something we did caused the explosion do you? Because that would be horrible and I don’t know what I would do if that were true.”
Grimby waved his denial. “Oh no, nothing like that. Really, you’ve been helpful and you might be able to help us some more, that’s all.”
“Oh ok I guess that’s all right then.”
“Thank you Jinks,” said Fineflin as he held out his hand. Jinks took it and he added, “We’ll be in touch.”
As the agents turned back to their car Grimby’s phone rang. “Grimby 4.” The dwarf listened for a moment and then started shaking his head. “Got it. We’re on our way.”
“What is it,” Fineflin asked?
“There’s a fight at an Apollo’s not too far from here that we need to break up.”
“They need two IBI agents to break up a fight?”
“This one, yes.”
“Because someone’s accusing a gnome of trying to pay with his coffee with a real penny.”
- Many gnomes theorized their race was born addicted to coffee. This wasn’t true, but it did give gnomes as good an excuse as any to keep putting espresso in their babies’ bottles. ↩
- A dwarf’s last name is actually a listing of occupations held by his ancestral line, ending with the generation prior to the current one. Generations which share professions don’t add to the length of the name, so the shorter a dwarf’s last name, the more stable people felt their family was. Grimby’s last name was actually, “Minerbadpizzabakerofficegruntoperasingerheadsmelter.” This was about average for dwarfs these days, and when working with other races dwarfs just used the last occupation as shorthand. By the way, Grimby’s father and grandfather were chief operators at a smelting operation and did not, actually, smelt heads. His great grandfather was a famous baritone. ↩
- OK, from this point forward, we’re just going to assume the pause is there. This is getting tedious. ↩
- You’d go with your first name too if your shortened last name was “Headsmelter.” ↩