Today’s blog is a section from The Darned Conspiracy, the sequel to my first novel In The Land of the Penny Gnomes
“OK, what did you discover?”
Sills was leaning back in her chair and sipping a large mug of coffee. Her hands betrayed enough of a shake to hint she was over her self-imposed four mug limit 1. Between the power and money problems impacting the city, the morning had been difficult.
“If my detector is working, then there were fifteen real pennies per five-hundred in the PAC.” Nobody replied, not looking up from his notebook–he was creating a diagram for a larger detection device 2.
Sills sighed. “And how many total?”
Nobody was lost in his drawing, so Fineflin chimed in. “We pulled seventy-five from the PAC, Director.”
Sills took another sip of coffee, and her eyes began to dance. “And if that ratio held out how many of these things do you think made it into circulation before we shut it down?”
“Hmm?” Nobody looked up. “Well, the PAC had distributed about a thousand pennies since its last service. At minimum it would be thirty real pennies out in the community.” The gnome smiled, “I must say, this is exciting! Such a wonderful mystery, I wonder what will happen next!”
Sills leaned forward in her chair, set her mug on the desk, and rubbed her temples. “‘Exciting’ isn’t a word we like around here, Professor.”
“Oh? Hmm, that must be why people are so unhappy at the moment. Perhaps excitement drills once a week would help people embrace the idea more. I could progam the building to do random failures on alternating Thursdays if you’d like.”
Sills raised a hand. She’d been Nobody’s liaison officer during the war and knew where the gnome could take thinking like that. “No. And, just in case you think there is any part of your statment that doesn’t cover, let me inform you it does. OK?”
Nobody cocked his head, as if he was gazing at an interesting bird, and said, “Oh, OK.”
“Great. Now, the reason we don’t like ‘exciting,’ Professor, is because it tends to make things dangerous. I’ve got reports of these pennies showing up all across the city, we’ve been suffering rolling brown outs all morning, and while the power plant is about start a single reactor to help get the grid on line there’s still a small chance doing so might make the plant explode. I don’t like exciting, because then I have to worry about what happens next. And it’s usually never good.”
“Oh ho! Happily, exploding will not be an issue! I sent my one detector to the power plant and they have assured me they will test every penny which goes into the system. I’ll develop detectors designed for direct integration into all the reactors if you’d like.”
“Why, yes, Professor. I’d like that very much.”
“Oh good!” Nobody smiled. “This means my social insight quota has reset! It’s such an interesting week when it does.”
Sills left Nobody alone for the moment and turned toward Grimby. “OK, not exploding is nice. Is there anything else you can tell me?”
“Well, it looks like the power plant was just an accident, Director. I think the real target was the economy.”
“And why is that, Grimby?”
“These real pennies started popping up all over the city, all from PAC’s serviced by Good Ore Penny Delivery Services. We think that delayed shipment may have been the one where the real pennies were added.”
“And why don’t you think the power plant was a target?”
Grimby shrugged. “Because we’re not vapor? The pennies in the PAC’s are in enough of a concentration to be problematic, but only a single penny got into the reactor. The concentration we found at the one PAC we checked out been put into the reactor…”
“…a rather large portion of the city would have been leveled,” finished Fineflin.
“So,” Sills picked up her mug and sipped. “Whoever did this could have blown up the city, but we should feel better because they chose to screw up the economy instead?”
“Yes indeed! The seem be rather sociable criminals,” Nobody’s bemused face looked up from his drawing. “Do you meet many of those?”
“No, Professor. We do not,” replied Sills.
“Hmmm. I would have thought being in a gang required some social skills. The coordination of outfits would lead me to think that, do you think that’s wrong?”
Sills ignored the comment, while the Professor turned back to his diagram.
“OK, look. We need to get this under control quick.”
“Sure, Director,” Fineflin responded. “What is it you want us to do?”
“Get back over to Good Ore Penny Delivery Services and find out more about that delayed shipment, for starters. And, Nobody?”
“I need you to make as many of your real penny detectors as you can.”
“Oh?” Nobody’s face brightened like a child’s on Christmas morning. “How many would you like?”
“Eventually? One for every PAC. In addition to the ones you make for the power plant.”
“You want a detector for every PAC in the city?” Grimby asked.
“No.” Sill shook her head. “In The Realm. We can’t assume this problem will say here.”
Nobody stood and offered a clumsy salute, when no one responded he lowered his arm anyway. “I will requisition extra licorice for the assembly line! I can have the first devices out later this afternoon!”
With that, the gnome pivoted away from his chair, stubbed his toe on a leg, and exited the room. Sills watched the gnome depart, and was about to speak when he peaked back into her office. “I must say, this feels almost like the war again, doesn’t it?”
“That’s what I’m afraid of, Professor.”
“At least this time I’m not building something anti-social!” The gnome’s head disappeared as Sills sipped more coffee. Sparks could now be seen flying across her irises. A buzz rang out from her phone and she indicated for Grimby and Finelin to remain while she picked up.
“Sills, go.” The Director’s eyes bulged. “Are you serious? Well get him in an interview room, we’ll be right down!” She hung up the phone and looked over to her two agents.
“What’s up, boss?” Grimby inquired.
“Someone just showed up saying they knew something about the bad pennies. They want to turn Realm’s evidence. I need you two to get down there and do the interview, now.”