- 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
Virginia stared at The Gnome upon hearing that.
Half of her suspected this was more of his foolishness and resolved never to have dealings with him again.
The other half of her was taking in the man he arrived with. He didn’t look annoyed by childish, thrill-seeking antics. He looked terrified and trying to hide it with a look of mixed disdain and superiority. Say what she would about The Gnome (and that could fill a book), but he wasn’t frightening.
It was his presence and the state he was in that transformed the diatribe she had been preparing for The Gnome into a litany of questions that all crashed to the forefront of her mind. First and foremost, she wanted to know if there really was a car-sized mecha-crab out in the junkyard, trying to kill them. Then she wanted to know what The Gnome had done to make a car-sized mecha-crab want to kill them.
The former was answered to her satisfaction, but not her delight when something crashed through a pile of empty natural gas cylinders back in the direction the two males had come from. Despite The Gnome’s protests, Virginia stuck her head out around the corner.
Much to her disbelief, she suddenly wished she had listened to The Gnome.
Before her was… Well, it was certainly the size of a family sedan. And it was mechanized. And it was indeed a reasonable facsimile of a crab. It was also armed like it was meant to invade Russia in the winter and win. A scream rose unbidden in her throat as the sensor-covered head oriented on her, followed by some of its assorted weaponry. She choked it back and threw herself backward as a burst of machine gun fire ripped through the air.
Eyes wide, she regarded the pair she’d run into. “T-that was…”
“Indeed!” said The Gnome, “And The Gnome is deeply hurt that you did not believe him. In the meantime, we should run.”
Virginia took a moment to swallow. She could hear the thing trundling closer and didn’t have to be told twice that she didn’t want to be there when it arrived. They all three dashed around the next bend in the labyrinthine layout of the junkyard.
Once they had some breathing space, she demanded, “But… but why does it want you dead? What did you do?”
“It wasn’t The Gnome’s fault. The blame goes to its creator: Professor Perilous.”
“Paralus! Doctor Paralus, you refugee from a children’s show.” snapped the man Virginia didn’t know. The name was vaguely familiar to her though. The raving also rang a bell. “It isn’t a stupid codename. It’s my actual name and title. PhD: Biology and Biomechanics from the University of William and Mary. Robotics form MIT. Genetics from UNY. I am an expert in more fields than you teenagers even know you can get a degree in and have a working knowledge of more than you will ever even see on a class list of whatever internet training course you end up taking for your degrees.
“And it was not my fault that you interrupted me in the process of programming my TAAR!”
Virginia narrowed her eyes at the man. “Your…”
“TAAR. Tactical Acquisitions and Assault Robot.” said Dr. Paralus with all the haughtiness a man running for his life could muster.
“Whatever.” said Virginia, stopping in her tracks. They’d been running blindly away from wherever they heard the TAAR clambering and were now hopelessly lost in the junkyard anyway. “You’re the one that built that thing? All this is your fault?”
Dr. Paralus sniffed. “As I already explained: no. Had I not been interrupted and had my control box not been destroyed, not only would my TAAR not be attacking me, but I would be able to override the protocol it’s currently following: to slay any witnesses to its activities.”
There was a moment of tense silence as Virginia stared at him. She’d been brought up believing firmly in right and wrong and then learned the hard way that sometimes people had a poor conception of it. She spoke quietly and with surprising calm given the welling outrage bubbling inside. “You built… a robot and programmed it to kill anyone that see it…. and the only problem you have with that is that it’s going to kill you now?”
Paralus considered her words without registering the emotion and nodded. “Essentially yes. Though I can’t help but be relieved that my creation’s design obviously has poor tracking capability. Otherwise, we would undoubtedly be dead right now.”
Virginia’s calm tone dropped into something like a plea for some sense and humanity. “It’s going to kill us. It’s going to kill use, then it’s going to keep trundling around until it finds more people that see it so it has to go kill them too.” She stared down the mad scientist, trying to see something in his eyes.
Even though she was apparently innately evil in her mother’s eyes, right up until her manifestation, the big lesson was that people were created innately good. Even a man who built murder machines. It was something she held on to even when other things her mother told her turned sour in her mind.
But Dr. Paralus wasn’t doing anything to support that theory. He didn’t meet here eye, but it wasn’t out of guilt but because he was searching every corner and shadow for his robot. He shifted uncomfortably, but it was clear that he was winded, cramping, and wishing to sit down. His haughty expression had dropped, but only to give way to annoyance at her lecturing him.
“Don’t you care?” She asked him in a small voice.
Dr. Paralus huffed. “It’s hardly what I intended, but it is in no way my fault, so I am absolved. Besides, with the control box destroyed, there’s nothing to do but wait until a sufficient effort is mounted to destroy it—and I suggest we do it somewhere that isn’t out in the open where it can easily find us!”
“Ha!” The dissonance of a laugh at a time like that caught both Dr. Paralus and Virginia’s attention. The Gnome had been watching, arms folded, as the exchange took place. “Like all villains, you lie, Dr. Perilous: There is definitely something The Gnome at least can do against this menacing mechanical monstrosity:fight!”
A bang followed by the clatter of mechanized legs seemed to answer his challenge. The TAAR crested a mound of cast-off appliances and let loose with another burst from its machine guns.
The Gnome leapt to try and push Virginia aside and out of the line of fire, but he found himself face-planting in the dust yet again that day. She had stepped forward, flinging her hands out before her as she did. From her palms flowed a translucent, gray sludge that bloomed out in front of her like an opening umbrella.
Where the bullets struck, they punched the barrier of goo in a few inches—but failed to pass through completely. The result was a forest of what looked like horizontal, dirty icicles, each with a bullet inside.
Looking up from where he hit the ground, The Gnome stared in open wonder. “I… er, The Gnome means, The Gnome did not know you could do that!”
“I always hopped I wouldn’t have to find out if I could or not.” Virginia said, her voice a bit higher than usual as she stared at a bullet that would have torn through her nasal cavity if not for her hasty barrier. Though hazy through the not-completely transparent goo, she could make out the TAAR just as it probed her defense with another burst of fire. More ‘icicles’ sprouted along the hastily erected barrier, some going farther than the last volley.
“We can’t stay here though. It’s going to shoot through sooner of later..”
Dr. Paralus had ducked behind Virginia when the shooting started. “Or switches to a more effective weapon.” He frowned at the two teens. “My god, are both of you psionics? What are the odds?”
“Quiet good when it comes to do-gooders managing to ferret out the likes of you.” said The Gnome, springing to his feet. “But for the moment, we have to get out of here.”
“Compan… you know what? Never mind.” Virginia took hold of the goo where strands of it were still extending from her hand and pulled it back before thrusting it forward, sending a wobbly missile of ooze toward the crab-bot. It burst like a water balloon full of snot, splattering the front of the machine in viscus goo, but the moment it lost contact with Virginia, the stuff started to evaporate, slowly, but surely.
Before it landed, however, Virginia was running again with The Gnome and Dr. Paralus taking their cues from her. This time, she was actually calm enough to think, realizing that she already had a course of action courtesy of the Liedecker Institute.
“I can’t believe I forgot.” She said, pulling out her palmtop. They had come to an area of the junkyard given over to small plane fuselages and parts alongside the city’s junked emergency vehicles, which was as good a place to catch their breath as any.
“Forgot what?” asked The Gnome, giving her a quizzical look.
Virginia raised her palmtop so he could see the icon she pulled up on the screen. “The panic button! The Institute gives us all a panic button program for our palmtops and tablets. All we have to do is press it and the alarm gets sounded with school security and the Descendants!” She tapped the icon triumphantly. “We’re saved! All we have to do is wait.”
Her relief was short-lived because a moment later, Dr. Paralus let out a nervous cough.
The Gnome glared at him. “What.”
Dr. Paralus coughed again. “I… you see, it was simple to anticipate that the TAAR’s intended targets might also attempt to call for help. To that end, I equipped it with an active signal jammer with a thousand foot range. Your panic call reached no one and consequently, we remain doomed.”
“What is wrong will you?!” The Gnome burst out. “You sir, are at best a glory-seeking science villain and at worst, a thief who doesn’t realize he could patent his creation for more money than it will ever steal. What was the point of making it kill anyone that see it?! What was the point of making it prevent them from calling for help?!” He lunged for the bad Doctor, grabbing fistfuls of his shirt and shaking him. “What. Does. That. Achieve?!”
Wrenching himself free of The Gnome’s grip, Dr. Paralus took a step back. He made a show of straightening his clothes as he said. “My aim was to ensure that my activities would not be interrupted by these so-called ‘prelates’, or if today’s media wasn’t so concerned about the trademarks of two minor webcomic studios: ‘superheroes’.
“You mean like the ones that might have swooped in ans saved us by now?!” demanded The Gnome.
He was kept from another tirade by Virginia grabbing his shoulder. “Gnome… er… The Gnome, leave him alone. There’s something more important going on now.” When he gave her a questioning look, she elaborated, “We’re not the only people here at the junkyard—at the very least, that nice man at the front desk is here. No one can call for help, and that crab thing isn’t going to stop until someone stops it.”
The Gnome’s eyes seemed to twinkle. “You mean…?”
She sighed and nodded. “Yeah. Just like you wanted earlier today: we’re going to have to be heroes. We’re going to have to stop that crab thing on our own.”
A slow smile spread on the teen’s face. “This is The Gnome’s very best day ever. The Gnome… he would cry if he wasn’t in the presence of a villain.”
“Oh please.” scoffed said villain. “Go right ahead the both of you. My only hope as that your deaths will be drawn out long enough for me to escape this oubliette of trash and get far enough away to call in anonymous tip to the authorities—after my TAAR has killed everyone who can implicate me, of course.”
He started backing away from them, clearly wary that they might try and stop him. The Gnome moved to do just that, but Virginia, still with a hold on his shoulder, halted him.
“Just let him go.”
“But you could easily mobilize him with your incredible, shape-changing excretion!”
Virginia let him go, making a face. “First: can you please never call it an ‘excretion’ again? And two: I can only make so much at a time and I wasted a lot earlier. Unless you have some other way to tie him up or something, we have to let him go. We have more important things to do.”
Glaring at the retreating villain, The Gnome finally turned and nodded to her. “Indeed. According to Prelates of Mayfield #3, saving lives takes priority over punishing wrongdoers. According to the writer interviews on ComicsSanctuary.forum, that was an actual quote from Darkness.”
While she had little awareness of comics or even the local superheroes, the sentiment was one she agreed with, so Virginia smiled. “Good. Well I guess that means we have to save lives…” Her confidence ebbed as the scale of what she’d undertaken dawned on her. “…by fighting a robot designed to kill us. What was I thinking?”
Now it was The Gnome who was smiling. “The Gnome believes you were thinking that you had exhausted all other options. That the risks to ourselves are worth it to prevent harm to others. The Gnome finds these thoughts admirable—and surprising. The Gnome admits not thinking you had it in you.”
Virginia looked away, trying to disguise her shyness in searching for the TAAR. “I was raised to do the right thing.” she said at length. “Even if it’s hard to tell what the right thing is anymore sometimes.”
“Well The Gnome is certain this is the right thing. But… The Gnome was under the impression that you didn’t like your powers. Why are you so good with them?”
“I never said I didn’t like them.” She started walking back in the direction they’d come from, figuring the robot might be following their trial. “My mom didn’t like them. And I don’t like things about them because my… goo… is kind of disgusting when it’s not shaped. And I really don’t like being made fun of it for it.”
The Gnome nodded, though he didn’t know exactly how she felt. From what he’d seen, her powers were really cool. And it wasn’t important at all what Betty Sinclair and her friends thought. Virginia on the other hand found herself frowning at the things she remembered people saying about her powers. Still, she soldiered through to her point.
“But both my dad and Miss Keyes say my powers are a gift and that I should learn everything about them and eventually figure out how to maybe put them to good use. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
“Most excellent!” said The Gnome. “So, what’s the plan?”
“The plan for stopping the robot crab. You have one, yes?”
Virginia stopped walking. “I… well no. I mean, I figured we’d find it and hopefully catch it by surprise. I didn’t know I had to have a plan.”
“Of course you have to have a plan.” said The Gnome, “We’re dealing with a lethal robot. Built by what might be a super-genius… at least in specific fields.”
“Did you have a plan when you ended up smashing Dr. Powerless’s control thing in the first place?”
The Gnome laughed. “Of course not! I’m The Gnome. Thought before action is completely expected for me! You however, are quiet and therefore likely to be careful. It makes sense for you to have a plan and to be the one to stop me from charging in without one. If we’re going to be reversing this dynamic… well we might be in trouble.”
Somewhere up ahead, around a bend, something large crashed, followed by many secondary crashes as junk fell down around it.
“The Gnome hopes that you were kidding about not having a plan.” said The Gnome, stepping closer to Virginia.
“I really, really wish I were.” Virginia replied, clasping her hands together and summoning a handful of goo.
To Be Continued…