Fiction Tuesday – Reaching Out (The Darned Conspiracy, scene 25)

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

The door to Professor Nobody’s Lab swung open just as a mass of gloopy pink liquid splashed against the wall to its right.

“Oh! So sorry! I put too much baking soda in that batch! I think it was attempting to achieve sentience… fascinating,” Nobody called out. He then added, “Were you splashed at all?”

“No, Professor, none of it got on me,” Sills responded.

“Splendid! Though I do have an antidote handy if some did. At least I think it’s an antidote. I drank some myself, and am feeling very good.”

Sills entered the Lab proper and found Nobody standing near a bubbling cauldron, his assistants were huddled behind a makeshift bunker on the far end of the room. The gnome did seem to be unharmed, but the third arm that had grown from his chest was a good indicator his recent experiments had not gone as expected.

“Oh, don’t mind them,” the Professor said as he waved in the bunker’s direction 1. “My assistants are quite capable. But they are rather risk-adverse, I’m afraid.”

“Maybe that’s because whatever you were doing has caused you to grow a third arm?” Sills replied.

“This?” Nobody raised the third arm and waved the small hand. “It’s been shrinking for the last hour, it will fade soon, I’m sure. The antidote is doing it’s work wonderfully!”

“He used to have fifteen arms!” cried a voice from the bunker.

“Director, can I put in for a transfer?” declared another.

Nobody grinned. “I must say, I’m impressed by the sense of humor these agents possess. Did you know that’s the twentieth time one of them has asked for a transfer? But of course it’s all in good fun, who could leave this adventure for anything else?”

Sill glanced around the room, multi-hued stains dotted the ceiling, and the oozing liquid from the most recent splash had dripped down and covered a potted plant–which had caused it to grow several feet long and develop a humanoid mouth 2. The plant glanced at Sills for a moment, confused, and then belched.

“Yes,” Sill replied. “Who indeed?” In her mind she set a reminder to offer any of Nobody’s terrified assistants a chance to be reassigned to something less dangerous. Like narcotics raids.

“Precisely!” The Professor beamed back. “Now, what brings you to see me today?”

Sills pulled up a stool and pulled it next to Nobody. “First, how goes your efforts to increase our penny scanning capabilities?”

“Oh ho! Splendid, I should say. We’re still having some difficulty stabilizing the formula,” he said as he indicated the slime oozing down the far wall. “But we’ll get there. I have a feeling a teabag may stabilize the Applied Imagination field which will allow us to increase production four hundred fold. We should have enough detectors to cover the city in a week. A bit more if you want me to retrofit all the power plants in The Realm.”

“Yes, do that. Cities blowing up isn’t good for stability.”

“Ah, yes. I can see how that sort of thing would be frowned upon,” replied the Professor with one of his occasional social insights.

“Oh dear,” he added. “Do you know that’s my quota for social insights this month? Oh my, I may need to reallocate some social insight resources to increase capacity. A dreadful thought.”

“Just for curiosity’s sake,” Sills sighed. “How many attempts have you made at stabilizing your detectors so far?”

“Thirty-seven,” cried a voice from the bunker.

“The chips were good, though,” added another.

“Oh! Yes! I forgot!” The Professor tossed a bag of chips to Sills. The flavor was “Garlic & Dark Chocolate.”

“I expect, these to be a big seller!” Nobody added. Sills opened the bag and took a chip. It was, indeed, rather tasty.

“Not bad, Professor,” she affirmed. “Not as out there as a your Salt & Vinegar chips, but pretty good.”

“Ah, yes. Those never sold, people wouldn’t believe they were unreal for some reason I cannot fathom 3. But never mind, what brings you here?”

Sills glanced at the bunker. She was half-inclined to clear the room, but wasn’t sure they’d be willing to leave while the cauldron was still bubbling.

“I think the IBI’s communications may have been hacked.”

“Oh ho, spying on the spys! How fascinating!”

“Sills shook her head. Professor, we aren’t…” but she cut the sentence short as she gazed into the gnome’s eyes. To nobody, being a spy was as interesting as being a librarian, there was no reason to defend her profession from someone who’d be surprised he’d offered an insult.

“Look. Yes, it’s fascinating,” she managed to communicate. “But it’s also frustrating.”

“Hmmm, yes. I can see why that might be perturbing,” Nobody nodded. “May I ask why you think your communications have been compromised?”

“A few things. The elevator car was set to fall on a day I was officially out of the office. Grimby and Fineflin have met some folks who seemed to know where they were going before they did. And I just got off the phone with them, they had to report the death of a material witness to this case. All communications about these things have happened over our secure channels, but information about this case is getting out to people. I’d like to stop that, if I can.”

Nobody scratched his beard. “Hmm, so you would like an uncrackable communications device? For just the people involved in the penny case or the entire IBI?”

“Just this case. To start, anyway. Do you have something in mind?”

Nobody’s eyes popped open wide. “Oh, yes, I have an old military project I was about to put into production when the war ended. I still have the formula. Could you come back tomorrow? I’m afraid if I tried to make it now the detector formula would corrupt my efforts and create something… less stable.”

Sills nodded. “Tomorrow, then. See you then.” With that, the Director spun on her heels and made her way out of the lab.

The last thing she heard was, “Oh dear, Jacqueline I am quite sorry. Don’t worry, the tentacles will go away in an hour or so. Did you know I had an antidote?”


  1. The third arm waved, of course. 
  2. It later developed a kind disposition and was quite erudite. Nobody named it “Steve.” 
  3. The Gnomes tend to think flavors like Butter nut squash granola chips are “normal.” Something like “Barbecue” is considered exotic. No, I’ve never figured it out.