Fiction Tuesday – Keeping Close (The Darned Conspiracy, scene 26)


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

“I’m not happy about this, Sills. You were the one who told me to help with the investigation.” Bug slammed the door to the Director’s office behind him and then crossed the room before slumping in a chair. Bug never tried to look “put together,” but on this occasion he was rather disheveled. It was no wonder why. In less than twelve hours he’d been ushered on to a bullet express from Great Roll, transferred onto the Royal Zephyr at No Entry, and then dragged to IBI headquarters in The Throne. The rapid travel was taking its toll on the annoyed gnome.

“I also told you to keep a low profile, which you did a rather lousy job at. Let’s see…” Sills looked down at a note pad and began to read. “You’re on video insulting a bunch of gnomes at an Apollo’s pop up stand in Great Roll…”

“They deserved it.”

“…you set off a security alert at the IBI building in the same city…”

“That was actually your fault.”

“…you threatened the well being of an agent who wasn’t moving fast enough for you…”

“He was a isolationist jerk who was refusing to help.”

“…and you, and if I hadn’t seen the video myself I wouldn’t actually believe it, held a press conference denouncing the isolationist stance of the gnomes in Great Roll.”

Bug shrugged. “Someone had to do it.”

Sills tossed the notepad down on her desk and sighed. “Yes, Bug. Someone did need to do that. You’ll get no argument from me. On the other hand, that ‘someone’ probably shouldn’t have the Sovereign thinking he was taking a cruise on Lake Narrative.”

“Yah… I guess I see your point, there.”

“Sindy called me after your presser, you know.”

Bug winced. “And how did that go?”

The Director picked up her coffee mug and smirked as she took a sip. “I managed to push most of the blame on to you by saying you over-stepped the favor I asked you do to.”

The color drained from Bug’s face. “I’m in serious trouble, aren’t I?”

Sills set her mug down. “Right now, Bug, better you than me. I’ve got work to do and I need Sindy to not be harboring a grudge against me. It’s bad enough that I had to make Nobody a temporary agent, but putting you in harm’s way was one step over the line. I should have never asked you to help in the first place.”

Bug’s eyes narrowed. “If you hadn’t, Grimby and Fineflin would still be sitting in customs at No Entry. Their badges didn’t mean a thing to the gnomes in the mountains, not even to other agents. I’ll take the heat, since it helps you, but you didn’t make a mistake.”

“That’s probably true, Bug. And I’m always thankful for your help. But, just remember, you’re not an agent. You’re not even active military any more. You’re an at-large representative for The Sovereign. What you say is what she says, and if I put you in a position to embarrass her, then it comes back on me.”

Bug managed a grin. “Yah? Well I don’t think my press conference embarrassed her one bit. She’s probably jealous that she wasn’t the one saying it 1.”

Sills sighed. “You’re not wrong. In fact, I’ve been ordered to start an agent rotation so the IBI office in Great Roll will better reflect the diversity of The Realm. Sindy wanted me to thank you for that.”

Bug pulled his floppy hat from his head and began to twist it in his hands. “Why’d she have you thank me?”

“Because she said she’ll be too busy being furious with you to remember it later.”

Sweat began to roll down Bug’s forehead. “Ah, I thought that might be it.”

“Yup. Now,” Sills stood and rounded her desk. “I need you to follow me.”

Bug got up and followed Sills out of the room. “Aren’t you sending me back to the Residence?”

Sills grinned. “No, not yet. We need to go talk to your Father-in-Law. He’s working on a project and I’d like your insight before I release you to the doghouse.”

“The Prof’s got his own lab here, doesn’t he?” Bug said as Sills led them to the nearest stairwell 2.

“Yes,” the Director nodded as she pushed open the door and began the long descent to the Nobody’s lab. “I had to give him clearance to work on our problem.”

“Yah,” muttered Bug.

“Bug, I’ve told you over and over. Request a badge. You’re more than qualified and I can think of several cases I could have used you on.”

Bug waved. “Eh, I’d never be allowed in the field. You know that.”

Sindy stopped on the steps and spun on her companion. “Look. Sindy wants you safe after what you went through in the war, sure. But she knows you’re a gnome who needs to be involved. Just ask. Narrative knows we could use you.”

“I… I’ll think on that.”

“Good, you do that.” Sills spun and continued the descent to Nobody’s domain. They arrived a few minutes later and when Sills pushed open the door to the lab she was shocked at how the space had been transformed from the day before. The bunker at the far end of the room had been removed, and the slime which had covered the walls had been scrubbed away. The white walls and brilliant light made her feel as though she were standing in an endless void.

The potted plant which had belched at Sills the day previous was still present. It had, however, donned glasses and was reading a book 3. It looked up at the two gnomes as they entered and waved a leaf.

“Professor, I do believe Director Sills has arrived, and she brought a vagabond along with her.”

Nobody glanced up from the box into which he’d been gazing. “Oh ho! Thank you, Steve. That is, in fact, my Son-in-Law.”

The plant raised up and cocked it’s flower. “The war hero? Well, I much say I was expecting… more. At any rate, welcome seekers of wisdom. The Professor will see you now.”

Sills, mouth open, stared at the plant for a moment before pointing at it and addressing Nobody. “Steve?”

Nobody smiled. “Yes, it seemed appropriate to give it a name, and Steve was its favorite.”

Sills blinked. “And you’ve made him your… assistant?”

Steve bowed its stem with a flourish. “It is my honor to serve, Director.”

“Vagabond?” Bug grumbled.

“My apologies, Mr. Moume. After reading your exploits in the war I was not expecting someone who looked like he’d not slept in days.”

“I haven’t slept for days!”

Steve smiled. “Well, that explains it then. I do apologize.”

Bug nodded. “Right. Well, as long as that’s settled.”

Sills had continued to point at Steve. “He reads?”

The plant cleared some pollen from it’s windpipe before responding. “In fact, I am a self-pollenating plant so the concept of gender is not appropriate for me. I had considered naming myself Gertrud, in fact, but Steve felt more noble.”

“Oh….k?” Sills replied as she shook her head in surrender. She turned toward Nobody. “Professor, what have you got for me.”

The Professor’s face flooded with glee. “Ah, yes! I had to find the old recipe, but I did manage it. Along with a few tweaks.” The gnome held up what looked like half of an orange, “I give you, the squawker.”

  1. This is, indeed, the case. Sindy had no time for gnomish isolation and had been planning on dismantling the remnants of their pre-war separation in a speech the following month. She was rather looking forward to seeing the look on the Mayor’s face during her pronouncement. 
  2. It would be a few years before Sills felt comfortable riding elevators again. 
  3. The Basic Improbability of Applied Imagination, by Cooly Nobody.