Fiction Tuesday – Drafted (The Darned Conspiracy, scene 27)

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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 orange halves are what, again?” Bug said has he and Sills ascended the stairs.

“Nobody called it ‘entangled.'” Sills replied over her shoulder. “If you hold one half up to your ear you can speak and the sound will come out of the other half and only the other half. According to him, it should be impossible to intercept communications between them.”

“Right. And why was that, again?”

“Were you even listening?”

Bug shrugged. “Steve was pestering me for an autograph.”

“Hmmm. That reminds me, I need to get security clearance for a sentient plant. And, I suppose an employment application.”

“Well that’s new. And I’ve been with the Prof for years.”

Sills sighed. “You can’t contain Nobody, you can just point him in a helpful direction.”

Bug nodded. “And hope the explosions are less damaging than his inventions are useful, yup. So… you’ve got this squawker thing, which is great. But how are you getting the other half to Grimby and Fineflin?”

Sills mouth crept into a smirk. “Oh, I’ve got a plan for that.” She continued to climb the stairs while she fished her phone from her pocket and scrolled through some notifications. Several flights later the smirk grew into a grin. “Let’s go get some coffee.”

The pair departed IBI Headquarters from a side entrance and made their way down the busy streets of The Throne. They walked for about a mile before Bug decided to raise a point of order.

“Uh, Sills? Coffee is always good, don’t get me wrong. But we’ve already passed three Apollo’s. When are get actually, you know, getting coffee?”

“Oh we’re not going to an Apollo’s. We’re heading to a Dragon Donuts.”

“What?” Bug shouted as he came to a halt. “No gnome, not even if there were no coffee left in the world, goes to Dragon Donuts! That’s wizard stuff!”

“Bug,” Sills responded as she spun around. “I know, but we’re not looking for a gnome. We’re looking for a dwarf.”

Bug shrugged. “OK, I guess. As long as I don’t have to order anything.”

“Don’t worry, you won’t. We’ll get actual coffee on the way back.”

They continued on for three more blocks before a Dragon Donuts came into view. As they drew near a gnome, small by even gnomish standards, approached.

“He’s inside, I’ll wait out here.”

“Thanks Kip, this won’t take long.”

The small gnome nodded and took up a position outside the donut shop’s door as Bug and Sills entered. The shop was being patronized by a single customer, a fidgeting dwarf who was bent over a computer screen and mutter under his breath. He looked up when the shop door’s bell rang and fixed his eyes on the pair who had entered. A brief flash of recognition splashed across his face, after which the dwarf stood up and pointed his finger in the newcomers’ direction.

“No. No. I don’t want anything to do with you. I don’t want to get shot at. I don’t want to run from lawyers. I don’t want to run for my life. I don’t care what the stakes are. I’m done. I did my part and I’m out. Do you understand? Out.”

Bug grinned. “Oscar! I haven’t seen you since the war! What brings you to The Throne.”

Oscar huffed and waved his finger at the two gnomes. “Not seeing you was my plan! I had a nice quiet life writing code and designing technical manuals 1. Then the government decided to not update the Firewall’s firmware for a decade and suddenly I’m running through forests getting shot at! No thank you.”

Sills couldn’t help but grin. “Noted. And what brings you back to The Throne, then? I thought you’d given up traveling for good.”

Oscar cocked his head, suspicion crawling across his forehead 2, and sat down. “I’m on my way to a conference, if you really must know. I’ve got a several hour layover until my train leaves and I wanted to get out and get some work done.”

Sills motioned to Bug and the pair took seats at Oscar’s table. “Oh, that sound’s interesting. Where is it?”

“Annoyed” scrolled past as Oscar gazed at the two interlopers. “It’s at the conference center in the Royal Port of Merchants.”

Bug grinned as Sills clapped her hands together. “Perfect! It just so happens that I’ve got something I need delivered to the IBI Field office there and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have deliver it for me.”

Oscar shook his head 3. “No.”

Sills leaned back. “You’d be doing me a big favor, Oscar.”

Oscar took a bite out of a donut, and crumbs flew as he responded. “Oh I know, that’s what worries me. You want me to deliver something for the director of the IBI. I’m sure you have couriers to handle that sort of thing, or Bug here can go anywhere in The Realm and drop stuff off, but you want me. So I’m going to assume it’s dangerous, or that people might shoot at me to get it. So what it is? A special weapon? Coded intelligence someone will do anything to get? Bait for whoever you’re chasing?”

Sills pulled half of the squawker out of her pocket and set it on the table. “It’s half an orange.” Bug covered his grin with his hand.

Oscar coked his head, “It’s… what?”

“Half an orange. I need this delivered to two agents who will be in the Royal Port of Merchants soon and I’d very much appreciate it if you’d deliver it for me.”

Oscar’s stared at the piece of fruit. “Why an orange? I’m sure they have some there.”

Sills coughed. “Well, if you must know, this is a special vitamin orange Nobody made for an agent who has a specific deficiency. You don’t need to back away,” the Director added as Oscar pushed his chair back in a panic. “It’s safe, otherwise I wouldn’t ask you to deliver it.”

Suspicion scrolled by. “So, why me?”

Bug cleared his throat and decided to add something to the conversation. “Well, Oscar, this particular deficiency would kinda derail the agent’s career. So we’re trying to keep it under wraps until we can come up with a more permanent solution. We just need someone we can trust to keep it under wraps, and official forms and whatnot makes that difficult.”

Sills cocked an eyebrow at Bug, held his gazed for a heartbeat, then nodded. “That’s right,” she added.

Oscar reached out and picked up the fruit 4, “It’s just an orange.”

Sills shrugged. “A Nobody orange, but yes. It can’t hurt anyone, and there’s no reason why anyone would think to want it.”

Oscar sighed. “Well, OK. I’ll deliver it, who is it for.”

“Grimby,” Sills replied.

Fine. I’ll see he gets it, now can you please leave me in peace?”

Sills stood up, followed by Bug. “Will do. Thank you for your help, Oscar. I appreciate it.”

“It was good to see you! Don’t be a stranger!” Bug added.

“Oh, I will. Don’t worry about that.” Oscar replied.

As the pair exited the shop Bug whispered, “You think he’ll actually deliver it?”

Sills nodded. “Oscar is prickly, but wants to be helpful. He’ll do it. Besides, I’ll make certain he does.” She leaned toward the small gnome who’d stood watch outside. “Kip, don’t let him out of your sight, OK?”

“Yes, Director,” he replied.


  1. The kind which explain something that can be done in two steps in fifteen steps. Oscar’s employers loved his technical manuals, because clients had to hire people from their company just to explain the manual. There was an entire accounting division dedicated to the cash flow Oscar’s work generated. The dwarf, however, thought his manuals were clear and concise, and wondered why he’d never won any awards for his brevity. 
  2. I’ve always considered descriptions like that an interesting turn of phrase. In this case it’s not a metaphor. The wizard coffee he was drinking had turned his forehead into a temporary marquee which was broadcasting his current emotional state. As Oscar hadn’t had an opportunity to look into a mirror he was unaware of this phenomenon. 
  3. The word “terrified” flew by. 
  4. The word “confused” scrolled across the dwarf’s forehead, though the effect was beginning to wear off and the word was now blinking as it travelled.