Today’s blog is a section from The Darned Conspiracy, the sequel to my first novel In The Land of the Penny Gnomes
Sindy took the elevator down to the garage where her driver, a lean gnome named Vicegrip 1 was already waiting with her car. The gnome pulled open the door as Sill approached, and the director gave him a nod.
“Morning Vicegrip, how’s the family doing?”
“Everything’s fine, Ma’am. Though Throatpunch is still peeing on the carpet a bit 2.”
“Sorry to hear that,” Sills responded as she got into the car. “You’re putting newspaper down?” she asked as her driver closed the door behind her. He got in himself before he was able to answer.
“Well, no Ma’am. She just eats it.”
“That’s got to be quite a mess, then.”
“Yes, but the oddest thing happens then.”
Sills cocked her head. “Oh?”
“When she… relieves herself… the paper all comes out as stock recommendations.”
Sills could see her driver nodding in the rear-view mirror. “Yup. And they’re pretty good, too. Remember that vacation we took to RPM last month?”
“That was because of the dog?”
Vicegrip nodded again. “Pretty keen animal, I’d say.”
A thought lit in Sills’ mind. “You didn’t adopt Throatpunch from Nobody’s Animal Rescue Services, did you?”
The gnomes’ face brightened, “We did! How did you guess?”
Sills sighed, “Just a hunch.” She then resolved in her mind to have a conversation with Nobody about letting animals too close to his AI field. Again 3.
The car entered the highway and Sills settled into silence. As she gazed out the window she saw a few fights down on the surface streets, only some of which were being broken up by The Throne’s police force. Things were getting out of hand.
“It’s pretty nasty out there today, Ma’am.”
Broken from her reverie, all Sills could do was nod.
“I wouldn’t worry too much, Director. We got through the war. We’ll weather this just fine.”
“Not if we can’t figure out who’s corrupting the penny supply. The hearing today is only the start. The Lintheads have been looking for an excuse to call the Penny Standard into question for a long time.”
“They do make a nice suit, I have to admit, Ma’am.”
Sills nodded. Not even she could say anything bad about the quality of a lint suit. It breathed, was water-resistent, and kept people warm in cold weather 4. “Even still, I don’t think we want the entire Realm becoming a giant lint farm.”
“No argument there, Director. I like to see the leaves on the trees.”
Vicegrip pulled the car of the highway and made his way to the Palace. After flashing his credentials at the gate they were waved through. Once he pulled into a spot Sills didn’t wait for the driver to open her door, much to Vicegrip’s disappointment.
“You can let me out at the Board Building,” she called over he shoulder. “I’m in a hurry.”
With that, the gnome keyed her way into a private elevator and was lifted to the office wing of the Sovereign’s Palace. When the doors opened she was greeted by two security Centaurs, who waved her through. She approached a desk outside the executive office, where a young gnome was seated.
“Ah, Director! You’re expected, please go right in.”
Sills straightened her uniform, took a deep breath, and entered the room. There, behind a large desk, was the Sovereign of The Realm–Sindy Moume. Seated across from her was an IBI agent Sills knew, a wizard from the Financial Branch named Bills Wadson.
“Glad you could make it, Sills,” Sindy said as she stood up. “It’s been a while.”
Sills took the seat Sindy indicated for her. As she sat she spoke. “We’ve been pretty busy with busting up smugglers the last few months, Sovereign. But this is something new.”
Sindy sat down again and nodded. “So you had to go and give my idiot father a badge?”
“Unfortunately, yes, Sovereign. I know you like to keep him away from state business…”
“Because the last time he was involved in ‘state business’ he figured out a way to blow up the entire The Realm 5,” Sindy interjected.
Sills sighed. “Yes, Sovereign. I know. But the truth is, Nobody is the foremost expert on pennies. And if we’re going to figure out how to protect the penny supply, he needs to have official access. At least at the IBI labs we can keep an eye on him.”
The Sovereign thought about this for a moment, then nodded. “I understand. Just tell Fineflin and Grimby that if he gets into a hole he can’t climb out of I’ll throw them into it as well.”
Sills nodded. “I believe they already understand that, Sovereign.”
Sindy smiled. “Good. As long as we’re all on the same page, then.” She pointed toward the Wizard seated next to Sills. “I believe you know Agent Wadson?”
Sills nodded. “Mostly by reputation. Her work in the broomstick embezzling case is well-known.”
“You gave me a commendation for creative forensic accounting.”
Sills smiled. “Well, tracking the receipts for all that polishing oil was brilliant.”
Sindy, smiled. “It was indeed. Even better that you closed off all the loopholes they were using to dodge taxes. A lot of roads were repaved because of your work.”
Bills smiled. “Just doing my job, Sovereign.”
“Speaking of which. You have something for the Director?”
The wizard brightened. “Oh yes! Director, as you know, ever since the broomstick case the Sovereign has had me on a special taskforce, based out of the executive offices.”
Sills nodded. “Keeping a look out for any financial irregularities. You’ve been quiet for a while, though, so I didn’t think it was working out. I was about to recall you to regular service.”
“Ah,” Sindy grinned. “The silence was my fault, I’m afraid. You see, for that last six months Bills’ task force has been tracking something… unusual.”
“Let me guess. Something to do with a renewed push for the Sock Standard?”
Bills nodded. “Yes. It started as usual Linthead chatter, but we noticed a spike of actionable language about two months ago.”
“Let me make another wild guess. It was about discrediting the Penny Standard?”
Sindy stabbed a finger toward her friend. “You guessed it.”
“So, why am only hearing about this now, Sovereign?” There was a hint of accusation in her voice.
Bills cleared her throat. “Uh, I’m afraid that’s my fault, Director. The targets of my investigation are so high level I didn’t want to create any chance they’d get wind they were being investigated. We thought they were weeks away from taking action, but even we didn’t know the lengths to which they’d go. When the dull pennies started popping up I knew I needed to bring you up to speed.”
“Ok, I understand. I may not agree, but if the Sovereign went along with it I understand. And by ‘high level’ you mean people close to the Governors?”
Sindy sighed. “Actually, some of the Governors themselves.”
“We believe some of the Governors involved in intelligence oversight are working with the Lintheads on this,” Bills added.
“That’s quite an accusation,” Sills replied.
“Which is why I’m not ready to make it, Director.”
Sills smiled, she enjoyed working with professionals. “Good. Make sure you get me all the information you have. Physical handoffs only, we’ll classify this at a level so deep there’d need to be twenty hearings just to read the headers. Sovereign, with your permission I’d like Agent Wadson’s task force to transfer over to IBI Headquarters. I’ll have them work in conjunction with our current investigation.”
Sindy nodded. “Done. Agent Wadson, go tell your team to pack up and get ready to move. Good work.”
“I just wish we’d been able to stop them before the penny supply was corrupted.”
Sills shook her head. “You went with your gut and didn’t move until you had evidence. That’s good work, and you’ve given us a bigger part of the picture. Now go. I’ll have transports here in an hour.”
The wizard stood up. “Yes, Director.” She turned toward Sindy and nodded. “Sovereign.”
“It’s been a pleasure, Bills. Keep up the good work.”
With that, the wizard turned and exited the room. When the door shut the two friends relaxed.
“You should have told me, Sindy.”
Sindy threw out her hands. “Probably. But I had the best forensic accountant in The Realm on the case and didn’t want to put you in the crosshairs before we were certain. Besides, this was like being back in the mines–trying to piece together all the personal conflicts so we could deal with them and get the ore out of the rock. No one on the task force though they’d take such… decisive steps.”
“They could have destroyed the city.”
“And yet,” Sindy grinned. “That may have worked against whoever’s behind this.”
“You think they jumped faster than they wanted to.”
Sindy nodded. “Bills does, anyway. There’s a few paper trails from this morning’s penny drops which are… odd.”
Sills smiled. “Good. Then we hunt them down as they rabbit.”
Sindy grinned back. “And maybe they’ll take a swing at Grimby when they do.” She then leaned back and narrowed her eyes. “But Sills, you cannot breathe a word of this in the hearing this afternoon. Without proof it’ll just look like a gnome defending her turf.”
“That’s going to be hard, Sindy.”
The Sovereign of The Realm smiled. “You were the liason officer for Cooly Nobody during the Copyright War. I think you can handle it.”
- His parents were woodworkers, but lacked something in the creativity department. ↩
- Vicegrip inherited his parent’s blind spot for naming. “Throatpunch” was both his dog and his favorite attack. ↩
- Nobody’s Animal Rescue Services was part of the Professor’s non-profit initiatives spawned from his snack chip empire’s success. But, as with all things Nobody, there’d been some “hiccups.” The tree frogs were very upset when, after a sudden bout of sentience, they found themselves living in cages. After a hefty settlement they got up and moved South, where they started a thriving cut flower industry. ↩
- Something to do with the residual dryer heat kicking in through morphic resonance. ↩
- The Penny Ore Detonator. It would have destroyed the invading Copyright Horde during the war, but had the unfortunate side effect of obliterating everything else along with it. Nobody never actually built the detonator, however, because he’d considered it antisocial. Instead, he invested the money he’d been given into more conventional weapons and a cure for Fading. This expended his social insights for about six months. ↩