- 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 blamed The Gnome. She really, really did.
Well she blamed Dr. Perilous, or whatever his name was for actually building the murderous crab-bot. The Gnome however, was to blame for the thing going berserk and for having not called the police earlier (it didn’t matter if that might end up saving officers’ lives if it ended up killing her), and he was especially to blame for the right angle her thought pattern had taken away from anything approaching logic.
Now, she found herself crawling up a mound of old plumbing and ventilation parts, wondering if she needed to be quiet while doing so because she didn’t know if robots could hear. It might not have bothered her so much if it helped at all to distract her from just how many discarded toilets she was crawling over.
Blame or not, the firecracker noise of the robot’s machine guns and the zaak sound of whatever its energy weapon was called made her worry about her ‘partner’. Whatever else she thought of him, he was brave—or stupid. Either way, he leapt at the chance to be the distraction and the steady fire and smashing noises meant he was doing a good job of it.
Now all she had to worry about was if the robot could hear her sneaking up on it, and if it could see what was above and behind it. If it could, she was in for a bad day.
After what felt like far too long, she crested the plumbing hill and got her first look at the machine. It kind of shocked her that it really did look like a giant, metal crab with one claw larger than the other, that one containing what she thought was the energy weapon in question, plus several other things she didn’t want to be on the wrong end of. And of course, its sensor arrays were stuck on the tops of eye stalks like a real crab’s eyes. She was starting to think Dr. Perilous was related to The Gnome somehow.
The one consolation to the headache she was getting from rolling her eyes so much was that the stalks made ridiculously easy targets.
Drawing in the deep breath, she willed more goo out of her pores and into the globs she had on her palms to aid in climbing. Useful as it was, versatile as it was, she couldn’t lie and say it wasn’t still disgusting. Putting that in the back of her mind, Virginia formed up a pair of cantaloupe-sized spheres of the goo and threw them at the crab as hard as possible, allowing them to trail thin, sticky tendrils connecting them to her.
Virginia had played softball freshman year and she was decidedly not a pitcher. Luckily, she was able to steer the globs in the air with the trailing strands. Both hit their targets with wet splats before oozing to cover the sensor arrays completely.
Waving her arms in tight circles, she wrapped the strands around her forearms before pulling both with her arms and her powers.
There was a reason combat robots didn’t have their sensor suites atop narrow, comparatively weak protrusions. While they weren’t ripped completely out of their housing, they were violently twisted around in twin flurries of sparks and screaming metal.
The crab-bot staggered, trying to orient itself to find the source of the attack with now-damaged sensors. At the same time, panels beneath the stalks irised open and articulated scopes tipped with tiny tools emerged and began to assess and repair the damage.
“Yeah, so that isn’t going to work for long…” Virginia muttered to herself as she retreated out of sight behind a gutted sump pump. She visualized the robot in her mind’s eye. It would protect its sensors from another attack most likely, so going for them was out. The whole thing was cobbled together from a mismatch of actual junk and shiny new industrial components or military-grade weapons. There might be seams she could get her goo into. Once inside, she could do some damage to its innards.
“Hey! Pay attention to me, gargantuan hostile crustacean!” It wasn’t hard to recognize that voice as belonging to The Gnome even before he added, “The Gnome is being distracting!”
There was a clang of metal on metal and sheering noises that Virginia couldn’t place. Crashes and a few, sporadic bursts of gunfire were testament that The Gnome was, indeed, being distracting.
Virginia edged around the sump pump and peered down at the crab. It was trying to angle the large claw housing its primary weapons at it’s own head. The reason for its seemingly suicidal behavior was that an eight-inch tall The Gnome standing astride it’s back. He was wielding a broken lawnmower blade like a machete as he hacked at the repair probes.
Whatever she thought about the boy’s sanity, she had to give it to him in the bravery department. He really was giving it his all as he fought the giant enemy…
“Oh, I’m so stupid.” She muttered. It was so incredibly obvious now that she was thinking the same way The Gnome or Perilous would. As much as she’d been mentally mocking the idea of making a huge robot crab, she hadn’t considered just how married to the ‘crab’ concept and mimicking what she guessed as a fiddle crab in every way—good and bad.
Mostly be, but that was good in her case because for once being surrounded by crazy people might just work in her favor. All she had to do was do something a little crazy herself.
Taking a deep breath, she crawled over to the other side of the heap. It was a good twenty feet to the ground with plenty of broken fixtures that could give her anything form tetanus to a bad case of ‘bleeding to death’ if she landed on them.
Her mother would probably think that was a better alternative, but her father and Ms. Keyes would be pretty proud of her. Part of her—the same part that occasionally led her to watch the same action movies she suspected The Gnome of watching way too many of—wondered if Ms. Keyes would give extra credit for saving lives with her powers.
Once again, she formed a pair of globules in her palms, only this time, instead of throwing them, she reshaped them into a pair of long, thin stilts. They were too short to reach all the way to the ground, but she managed to lodge one in a toilet tank and push off the heap.
With Virginia’s full weight on it, the goo-pole flexed slightly and tilted forward. As it did, she set the other pole down in the drain-hole of a broke, porcelain bathtub further down. She controlled the flex and flow of both poles, slowly but surely lowering herself toward the ground.
Distracted to not, this did not go unnoticed by the crab, which scuttled around to face her. At extreme close range, it couldn’t safely target her with its energy weapon, so it tried firing its machine guns—which both clicked on empty with no more magazines.
Ever the consummate engine of destruction though, the crab rotated the guns gun and rotated its flamethrower up. The actuators hummed as stabilizers locked the new weapon into place. It was all the warning anyone had. It was all The Gnome needed.
“I cannot allow my friend to be immolated!” the tiny teen bellowed, as loud as a group of full-grown men. He took a running jump from where he’d been attacking the eye-stalks and landed in the crook of the big claw. With a wordless battle cry, he stabbed his lawnmower blade into the home-made flamethrower’s fuel line.
Strong-smelling chemicals erupted out in all directions and at that moment, The Gnome knew he’d miscalculated because ‘all directions’ included both onto his person and into the flamethrower’s pilot light. He decided to forgo any new one-liners, instead abandoning his lawnmower blade and jumping for his life. In the air, he shrunk down as small as he possibly could to avoid as much flying shrapnel as he could.
The fuel ignited. Dull, red flames filled the interior of the big claw for a few seconds before the fire found its way into the compressed chemical tank through the fuel line. The tank went off like a bomb.
Still in the air, The Gnome was caught in the blastwave and swatted out of the air by it to strike the earth—which a tiny voice in his head felt was more like a dwarf than a gnome.
That same explosion tore the big claw apart in a hale of shrapnel—which pierced the particle cannon’s central power cell. That didn’t explode, but clear liquid sprayed out of the cell, which caught fire in a brilliant, blue flame that started melting everything still surviving in the heavily damaged claw.
At any other time, The Gnome would have thought that was the coolest thing over. The detail keeping it from being so was that the crab was still on its feet, staggering as it tried to compensated for the loss of the big claw’s weight. Staggering or not, it was still trying to round on Virignia.
Blue-white arcs of electricity started playing along the ‘tines’ of the tuning fork-shaped small claw. A Tesla Arc. The Gnome felt he really should have guessed that.
There was nothing he could do now. No matter how much he tried to stand, or roll over, or even grow, The Gnome found that his body was too beaten by the fall and the concussion wave from the explosion. All he could do was watch as the thing scuttled around to deliver doom to his new friend.
…Which was precisely what did not happen.
From his place on the ground, The Gnome could see Virginia through the robot’s legs. She was trying hard not to watch the Tesla Arc being brought around. Instead, she was summoning a ball of good into the space between her hands the size of a beach ball.
With just seconds to spare, she thrust out her arms, sending the ball into the hard-packed dirt under the crab, connected to her hands by greasy, filmy lines of goo. Then balling her fists, she thrust them forward, then jammed them up as if delivering a double uppercut.
The ball of goo reacted by expanding upward in the shape of a pillar that slammed into the robot’s undercarriage. The force of the collision was enough to lift the crab into the air a few feet, and the angle of impact was enough that the crab ended up rolling off to the side and into its back. The hit the dirt with a whoom that kicked up a cloud of dust.
For a moment, the only motion or sound were from the crab’s legs kicking uselessly in the air as it tried to right itself and Virginia breathing hard through her nose.
Then Virginia got her second wind. Sweeping her hands upward, she caused the material of the goo-piston to shift so that most of it was at the top. Then she brought her hands together to form it into an ax blade. The substance lost some of its translucence as she made it solid. With a final downward thrust of her arms, Virginia brought the ax down on the crab, aiming slightly off center. The machine’s composite armor split before the concentrated blow and the blade tore through wires and hydraulics until the crab stopped moving and its innards caught fire.
Her task complete, Virginia rocked on her heels and let out a weary breath.
He might have been not much smaller than a thumb and still a bit punch-drunk, The Gnome found the moment too good to remain silent over. “That was spectacular! How did you manage such an amazing feat?”
There was nothing Virginia wanted more than to keel over and sleep the rest of the day, but she followed his voice, knelt down and picked up the diminutive adventurer. “Easy: I thought like you: It’s not a tank shaped like a crab, it’s a crab that happens to be a tank.”
She gathered The Gnome up in both hands and turned to face the burning hulk. “Every year before I gained my powers, my family went up to Maryland for a day and for dinner, we would got to this all-you can eat crab shack. I might not be a marine biologist, but I know two things: One, crabs have a hard time getting up if you knock them on their backs, and two, that is how you crack one open to eat the meat.”
The Gnome stroked his, chin, nodding. “Daring and delicious. The Gnome approves!”
“I thought you might.” sighed Virginia. “Now can we please call the police to pick up the mad scientist?”
“The Gnome supposes that we have had enough adventure for the day. Very well, allow the local constabulary deal with Perilous now that his clawed horror has been defanged.”
Virginia decided not to point out that crabs don’t have fangs.
“What do you mean under arrest?!” Dr. Anton Paralous, PhD screamed in the face of the officer. He really wasn’t in any position to do much else, seeing as he was one the ground with a female officer’s knee in his back and two more of MPD’s finest, well aware of the ‘surprises’ scientists who’ve gone around the bin were capable of, holding guns on him.
The tall, ruddy-skinned officer conducting the arrest gave him a look. He’s already given Parlous the right to remain silence. It wasn’t his problem if he waived it.
“Do you have any idea how many atrocities against man and nature I’ve escaped because of loopholes and fines?”
The officer checked his tablet. “Would that be the $250,000 fine for conducting live genetic engineering experiments without proper containment? The $123,000 fine for disrupting a city event? Or one of the twelve other fines that have gone to warrant so far? That’s going to be on top of today’s assault with a deadly weapon, illegal possession of controlled weapons, manufacture of a robot greater than two tons without a license, unauthorized activation of an untested AI resulting in injury and destruction of property, reckless endangerment….”
Paralous let out a groan as he gave in completely, the list of charges still coming. He’d never felt so low. It was one thing to fail. It was one thing to be defeated by actual prelates. But he hadn’t been. He’d been foiled by what might have been the most humiliating opponents: meddling kids.
She told her friends that she did it in order to keep tabs on and subtly mock ol’ Doc Perilous. That was true… at first.
What she refused to admit to anyone but herself was that she kept going back because the hotdogs were so damn good. Where Perilous’s pretension and poor decision-making skills didn’t help him at all in the arena of supervillainy, it worked in his favor when it came to hotdogs.
All the other hotdog stands in Wagner Park sold bog standard dirty water dogs because that was really what most people expected when buying a hotdog in the park even at the mark-up. Perilous, however, couldn’t ‘lower’ himself to using sub-par ingredients. His dogs were all-beef and grilled fresh. Instead of basic yellow mustard, ketchup and relish plus maybe some onions or sauerkraut, Perilous offered twelve different mustards, five kinds of ketchup (including dijon ketchup, which she didn’t even know was a thing until she tasted it and realized it was the only kind with any right to exist), and a wide selection of fancy relishes and other fresh toppings. He even had a toaster oven in his cart to toast the buns.
If he had kids, she’d be putting them through college with how many hotdogs she bought there. If he were about twenty years younger, she would be forced to marry him because it would be cheaper than paying more for one dog than someone could make at twenty dollars minimum wage.
She might have been exaggerating on the last part—he was in fact crazy—but the bottom line was that she loved those hotdogs.
Which meant that when she went to Wagner Park the following Monday, the missing hotdog stand nearly prompted her to call her mother and start a full-scale investigation. It wouldn’t be to get the hotdogs back, she assured herself. It would be to make sure Dr. Perilous wasn’t running amok somewhere.
The investigation was postponed when someone called to her from further down the jogging path, near the drinking fountains.
“Hey, looking for the hotdog guy? Dr. P?”
The white-haired young woman looked over to find the woman who ran the pretzel stand giving her a casual wave. “Yeah?” She started trotting over. “When’d you last see him?”
The pretzel lady made a face. “Not for a couple of days, but good riddance: I hear the guy landed in jail.”
“Jail? Really?” It wasn’t surprising on its own. The fact that she hadn’t had something to do with it was.
“I know.” the pretzel lady groaned as she rolled her eyes. “All the ones that seem good, right?”
The white-haired girl blinked. “Wait. What?”
With a dramatic sigh, the pretzel lady shrugged. “He seemed alright. Smart, kinda high falutin, but I bet that’s ’cause he had money. Lucky for me, I always had something I needed to do whenever he asked me for coffee, huh? Someone must be lookin’ out for me.”
End Gnome and Goo.