- LI: Sophomore Year #1 – Rags to Rags Part 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #2 – Rags to Rags Part 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #3 – Rags to Rags Part 3
- LI: Sophomore Year #4 – Rags to Rags Part 4
- LI: Sophomore Year #5 – Rags to Rags Part 5
- LI: Sophomore Year #6 – Rags to Rags Part 6
- LI: Sophomore Year #7 – Gnome and Goo Part 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #8 – Gnome and Goo Part 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #9 – Gnome and Goo Part 3
- LI: Sophomore Year #10 – Gnome and Goo Part 4
- LI: Sophomore Year #11 – Gnome and Goo Part 5
- LI: Sophomore Year #12 – Gnome and Goo Part 6
- Liedecker Institute Annual #4
Dr. Anton Paralus was known to The Gnome.
The mad doctor of indeterminate scientific field had tangled with the Descendants at least twice in the last two years and for reasons The Gnome could not fathom (because the legal justification was boring) had evaded jail time even though he’d been captured both times.
Now, he was only a couple of dozen yards away and attempting to build what was no doubt some type of dangerous engine of vengeance which he planned to use in a plot to show them—show them all!
…Whoever ‘they’ were. The Gnome knew nothing of the man’s motives, but given that he was wearing goggles and a lab coat while building a robotic crab in secret pointed to something involving petty oneupsmanship and also loud, maniacal laughter punctuated by lightning flashing in the background.
The Gnome looked to the sky expectantly. The day was bright and clear; stubbornly devoid of lightning.
One couldn’t expect thing to go perfectly, reasoned The Gnome. Not only had he discovered the realm of adventurous possibility the scrapyard had to offer and now the universe had dutifully presented him with a genuine villain doing villainous things.
Best. Day. Ever.
Every the conscientious companion, The Gnome didn’t immediately leap into the fray without pausing to consider Virginia. It would be rude of him to have all the fun without her. Super-powered teens saw far less of their share of heroic action than comics and TV suggested they might, so she might not get another chance like this in weeks.
On the other hand, what he knew of the girl suggested she was shy and not all that comfortable with her powers. That could be a double-edged sword. One the one hand, The Gnome imagined that getting to see how fun and useful her powers were might bring Virginia out of her shell. On the other, thrusting her into a dangerous situation against her will would just be wrong and he never wanted to do that.
Faced with a moral quandary, The Gnome checks again to see what the man the Descendants had taken to calling Dr. Perilous was up to. He seemed to be engrossed in inputting something on a tablet computer. Whatever it was, The Gnome suspected he wasn’t going anywhere for the moment.
He pulled off his hat and rummaged until he found his palmtop. For reasons he felt he should really ask one of his teachers at some point, the device was faster while shrunken, but the internet and communications functions were much, much slower, as if he were on a delay or something. Rather than bother with the frustration of a voice conversation, he looked up Virginia in the student directory and sent her a text.
‘THE GNOME fnd a bd gai!!! u wnt 2 help tk him dwn?’
It took almost two minutes for him to get a reply: ‘a bad guy? Who whr?’
He typed out the next message as quickly as he could, knowing there would be another delay before she saw it: ‘U hr of Dr perilus?’
A few minutes later, she replied in the negative. The Gnome shook his head. The man fought the Descendants in two barely televised altercations in which minimum damage and zero repercussions were experienced. How sheltered did she have to be to not hear about him?
‘he fght the descendants. Nvr arrested.’
While he waited, The Gnome pulled out a pair of folding binoculars out of his hat and tried to figure out what Paralus was doing on the tablet when the man turned his back to him. It was nothing he could make out, just a programming code he hadn’t learned in school.
Virginia’s reply made him shake his head again. ‘wnt me 2 call cops?’
In fact, he laughed out loud. As if: the police might have powered armor, years of training, experience, jurisdiction, and authority, but they were severely lacking in Gnomely cunning. Also, superpowers.
‘lol. no. i’ll deal w/him. Wnt’d 2 knw if u wnt’d 2 help.’
After sending the message, he folded up his binoculars and looked around, planning his dynamic entry.
A third of the way down the junk pile on the side overlooking Paralus, he spied the lid off of a plastic storage bin. It was a good four feet by three feet and only precariously positioned; stuck between a broken vacuum cleaner robot and the head of a rake.
His path was clear. His cause was just. And he was going to look awesome doing it.
The tone signaling an incoming text reached his ears and he checked his palmtop for Virginia’s answer. ‘wht? NO. U shdnt either!!!! 2 dangerous! let me cll police!!1!’
The Gnome sighed in sympathy. Poor sheltered girl. Someday maybe she’d get it. But today…
He stowed his palmtop back in his hat and pulled out a pair of slim ski goggles and a pair of fingerless gloves. With the goggles firmly strapped to his face, gloves on his hand and pointy hat settled back onto his head, he never felt more ready for action in his life.
Only the fear of alerting his prey gave him the willpower to suppress a whoop of delight as he took a running start and leapt down toward the lid. He hit it with full force, tipping it withing the accidental bracket it was lodged in. For just a second, he thought it wouldn’t be knocked free. Luckily, the rake was cheap and the tines bent under the impact, allowing the lid to careen down the side of the junk pile like the world’s least stable snowboard.
The last months had not been kind to Anton Paralus.
Apparently, while ‘unauthorized used of company materials’ wasn’t a jailable offense, it was enough to be summarily dismissed. Being in two confrontations with the local superheroes similarly killed his prospects for a career with other firms.
In a city where the competition for scientists was so fierce that even a really good showing at a science fair could draw offers for a research position or two, Paralus was considered unemployable.
Luckily for him, he was smart enough to have been prudently invested with plenty of savings socked away. With his savings, he bought a franchise hotdog cart and prime sales territory in Wagner Park. Business was good. He wasn’t making ‘top bio-engineer’ money, but he was living comfortably—especially since some white-haired girl with a bottomless stomach kept coming by to smirk at him and buy hotdogs by the dozen.
So maybe they had been good to him, all things considered. But in his mind they hadn’t. He was a multiple PhD in the prime of his life—he was not meant to be selling hotdogs to surly, inexplicably wealthy twenty-somethings that seemed to be mocking him.
The girl and her smirks had earned her place on his list of people to punish once he was rightfully in a place of power, somewhere between the tenth research facility that rejected his resume and the pretzel lady from across the way who not only stole his business but repeatedly turned down his invitation to get coffee sometime.
Oh yes, revenge was going to be sweet, but he had to learn from his mistakes. He’s started to big last time, unleashing his plans on a large scale which of course attracted the attention of the Descendants.
If he wanted to be victorious, he needed to be smarter than that and start small. His Tactical Acquisitions and Assault Robot (TAAR) was step one on the road to greater things. The amphibious machine could attack cargo ships on the river from below, sinking the assets of any tech company that replied on the waterway for transport. Then, it could travel to the submerged wrecks and scavenge whatever he wanted from them.
And there was nothing the Descendants could do about it! The metal controller would sink and drown in his armor, the ice woman would freeze herself before anything else, and their fliers would completely lose their advantage to the TAAR.
The best part was that it was almost finished without anyone being the wiser.
Paralus couldn’t help but smile and hum to himself as he began downloading the various control and combat protocols into his glorious war machine. Anyone that did manage to discover his wonderful TAAR would be in for a deadly surprise when they discovered that the machine was also designed to detect and eliminate any witnesses with extreme prejudice.
All witnesses except for himself of course. The moment the kill protocols were loaded, he set up a reference file that would allow the machine to identify him and recognize him as a non-target. He would have uploaded it too, if at that moment a great racket hadn’t started up somewhere behind him.
Wary of any interlopers, he turned to see what the commotion was. In the minutes that would follow, he really wished he hadn’t.
Something was moving down the junk pile that loomed over his work area. It looked like the kind of plastic toboggans hardware stores sold in the winter that lasted maybe three trips down the sled hill before breaking. The big difference was that this one was coming down the side of the junk pile and knocking down a small avalanche of junk. There seemed to be a… doll of some sort riding on top of it.
Before he could move, the ‘doll’ shouted, “You’ll never get away with it Paralus!” The ‘sled’ hit a bump, going airborne and rushing right for the disgraced PhD. “So says…”
There was a surging sound and the doll seemed to unfold outward until it was replaced completely by a maniacally grinning young man in goggles and a red pointy hat.
It was like Paralus’s brain locked up. He knew the impact was coming but he was rooted to the ground, trying desperately to figure out just what in the hell was happening here. What this yet another new or reserve member of the Descendants come to torment him? Was this an actual garden gnome, perhaps conjured by too many long days inhaling hot dog steam?
Any further speculation was expelled along with all the air in his lungs as the young man slammed into him sled-first in a nigh-impossible dropkick. His tablet flew out of his hand and smacked into his chest. He could feel the screen cracking as the device was crushed between the sled and his body.
Hitting the ground was a mercy as disorientation was a confusion he could live with. Somewhere amid the thumps, clatters and crashes that followed as loose objects fell down around him, Paralus was vaguely aware of a few faint confirmation tones coming from his tablet. Whatever they meant, he was too busy trying to get air and equilibrium.
“Ha!” The same boisterous voice said from somewhere nearby. They also seemed to be on the ground and out of breath, but happy about it. “Citizens arrest! The Gnome hereby places you under arrest for building giant enemy crabs without a permit!”
Crab? Paralus rolled over onto his knees, dropping the table into the dusty ground. There were new sounds now; metal sliding on metal, hydraulics pressurizing and servos whirring. That… was not junk falling.
“Stand up, villain. And keep your hands together because The Gnome did not bring handcuffs.”
Paralus ignored the rantings coming from nearby him and instead scrambled to retrieve his tablet. It took some searching to find where it bounced when he rolled over, but he finally got it up to his face and the screen dusted off.
Just as he feared: there was several large cracks running across the interface and the touch controls were shot. The screen itself was working though and showed that the button-up sequence had been initiated. His TAAR was coming online.
A feral grin split his face. “I think not, you reject from a little old woman’s garden.”
The fact that he was about to be backed up by eighteen hundred pounds of murder machine inflated his confidence just like it always had before. He turned to fact the young man who was getting slowly to his feet. “Do you have any idea who I am? I am the best engineer biological, electrical and mechanical in this city—nay, the world! I was earning degrees when you were earning participation ribbons.”
This made the odd young man’s face screw up in outrage. “The Gnome earned those ribbons through wholehearted and thorough participation!”
“As if it matters!” crowed Paralus. “I am Dr. Paralus and in a moment, my Tactical Acquisitions and Assault Robot will exit its diagnostic mode and automatically kill every witness to its presence—starting with…”
Only now did the thought strike him. Did he manage to load the parameter files that excluded him as a target?
He checked his tablet. There was nothing to confirm whether he had or not.
“With…” He looked back. The diagnostic mode had just finished up and the machine rose up on its six articulated legs and scuttled around to face the pair of them. Daylight gleamed on the sensor suites mounted on the crab’s ‘eye stalks’, adding to its menace.
Gun ports opened, extruding the thick, stubby silencers he’d designed. These were actual silencers, not the suppressors most people called ‘silencers’ in movies. There would be no point in killing witnesses if the act just attracted more.
One of those barrels was tracking toward him.
“With… Oh dear.”
He went to dive for cover, only to find himself grabbed by the arm and dragged aside at the last moment. Two bullets pinged off random metal in a nearby junk heap.
Paralus struggled to get his feet under him as he found himself being pulled along in a zigzag pattern across his workspace by the very person who started all this: the one who called himself ‘The Gnome’. “You! This is all your fault!”
“The Gnome does not recall building a killer robot.” said the young man, pulling them right and around a pile of old, empty propane tanks. “Now, explain how to stop your crab!”
“It isn’t meant to be stopped! I don’t build weak points into my designs for people to exploit!”
Even with the crab-bot out of sight, The Gnome didn’t stop running and didn’t let Paralus stop either. “That does make some sense, but there has to be a way to stop it. Or at least wait it out. How man bullets do those magazines have?”
“Thirty.” Paralus rattled off. He might not have had an eidetic memory of a hypercog, but he knew his designs.
“Oh. Well it won’t take that long to wait until it runs out.”
“–then it will abandon it’s stealth kill directive and resort to heavy weaponry: the plasma lance, the particle beam cannon…”
The Gnome looked up at him and Paralus was uncomfortably sure the boy’s eyes were sparkling. “You have a particle beam cannon?”
Paralus coughed. “It might have been rerouted from my previous employer…”
“And that is why The Gnome must bring you to justice—despite the awesome toys you have at your disposal.”
Being out of breath made it hard for Paralus to growl properly at that. “The point is that because of you there is no ‘waiting it out’, my TAAR will hunt down and destroy us by any means necessary. If you had only waited a few minutes more, it would only be trying to kill you instead of me!”
“This is course of discussion is not encouraging The Gnome to continue saving your life!”
They turned another blind corner and almost plowed into Virginia and her wagon full of parts.
They girl jumped back before that could happen and fixed The Gnome with an unhappy look at was almost a glare. “That wasn’t funny, you know. I almost really did call the police until I realized you were just playing around.”
An expression of hurt crossed The Gnome’s face. “The Gnome would never lie to you like that. He was telling the complete truth!” Then he glanced over his shoulder. “and now there is a very important question I’ve got to ask: do you know any way of killing a car-sized crab tank? One might be chasing us, trying to kill us… that sort of thing.”
To Be Continued…