- 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
Tucker Kord was not a man who followed politics. He didn’t really care all that much about the issues of the day, be they on the local or national stage. It didn’t matter to him if relations with China and Brazil were maintained, or if the new descendant-led constitutional monarchy in Columbia was friend or foe. He’d heard of the Descendants Rights Movements and the Braylocke Laws and shrugged.
The only law that he cared about was one passed all the way back in 2034: the Innovation Protection Act. He could quote that one backward and forward: all about how it prohibited contracts that denied scientists credit and fair shares of the profits from their discoveries while working for a company. All about how it encouraged the real innovators to work harder to develop break-through technology.
He cared about that because as owner of the largest scrapyard in the tech capital of the east coast—if not the whole United States, tinkering geniuses who wanted to work even in their off time were putting his kids through college. People paid him to haul away their broken garbage, then others paid him to take it off his hands. He’d even thrown up some ‘workshops’ with sheet metal walls and locking doors that he rented to his regulars for their convenience.
Thanks to the Act, he barely had to do anything but hire drivers and security guards, then count his giant pile of money. Nonetheless, he still ran the front desk himself because it got him out of the house and if he were honest, sometimes the crackpots that came through the place provided him with great stories to tell his buddies.
He was having a late day snack at his desk when the two kids came in. Immediately, he knew he was going to have another story: the boy was wearing a pointy red hat like a garden gnome.
Before they caught sight of him, he grabbed a tissue form the box next to his keyboard and wiped the ketchup (Not just any ketchup: the Innovation Protection Act had made him rich enough to afford the fancy kind. The good stuff. Dijon ketchup.) from his burger off the corner of his mouth.
The boy noticed him first and directed the girl he was with toward the desk before belting out. “Greetings, deskmaster! I am The Gnome and we come…” He clearly paused for dramatic effect, “for art supplies.”
Tucker stared at him for a good ten seconds before the girl quietly cleared her throat and spoke. “It’s industrial found object art.” she explained, “You know, you take bits and pieces of junk and combine them into something that’s, um, art.”
Indeed, Tucker had heard of it. Maybe once every few months, he’d have an artistic type or two come in for that purpose—more often when the colleges were in session. Obviously the two in front of him weren’t in college, but the principle was the same. “Right.” He said. “Class project?”
The girl nodded. “Yes. Well, my project. Gnome…”
“The Gnome is just tagging along and helping me, really.” She fished her palmtop out of a pocket. “Um, anyway, we’re from the Liedecker Institute and my art teacher said you have a discount for students?”
Tucker remembered that meeting. A woman called Brant had come in and presented him with very convincing charts about how much of a profit such an arrangement could make him both in increased business from students in need of materials for science projects and from the good publicity.
All that had been unnecessary. After all, Tucker had kids of his own and wasn’t enough of a bastard to nickel and dime kids just trying to get an education.
“Yeah. We charge by material and weight here, so when you’re ready, bring your stuff up to the checkout out back and tell them I said to call me.” Unless they got a ludicrous amount, he was going to give them whatever they were after for twenty bucks regardless.
The girl offered him a shy thank you and headed out the back door that led to the yard proper. The boy gave a salute before doing the same.
Shaking his head, Tucker got back to doing the payroll. Yep, he saw a hell of a story coming out of those two.
A half hour later, The Gnome found himself bounding up a hill of metal, glass and ceramic parts. At six inches tall, the hill was more of a mountain with protruding ridges, deep caves and plenty of hand-holds. He was already planning to come back just to explore.
He was on a west-facing slope, making his way up a not-so-natural staircase formed by the buckled metal from a wrecked car door. The sun made the while ground white-hot, but the soles of his boots were thick and he made a point not to dally too long as he crossed it diagonally.
The reason for his trek out onto the door was a set of bent metal struts that looked like the legs of a desk on the other side. If he could reach them, it was a simple matter to use them to reach his current objective: a motorcycle cowling Virginia thought would be very useful for her project.
A quick glance found her down below, sifting through some computer parts at the bottom of the adjacent hill and not paying attention to him. The door felt sturdy enough that he could grow and reach the cowling from where he stood without a fuss.
But that was not The Gnome’s way, attention or no attention.
Instead, he leapt from the edge of the door and caught the lowermost spar, which he now realized was one of a pair of broken floor lamps. The thin metal tube started to bend under his meager weight, warning him that he had to be quick.
From a dead hang, he flexed his abdominal muscles. In his head, he imagined himself swinging from the lamp like a gymnast and then using the momentum to gracefully leap to the second. He did impressively well for someone who never did the parallel bars before, but what he ended up accomplishing was first kicking the second spar, then hooking one leg around it.
This left him stretched painfully between the two, wondering why he thought that would ever work.
“Alright.” He said after an experimental wiggle of his leg confirmed that he was indeed stuck. “The Gnome seems to have gotten himself into a predicament. This will require much Gnomely cunning.
A quiet creak made his heart quicken. Looking along the length of the spars, he relaxed upon not seeing any new bends or buckles. When the creak sounded again, louder this time, he realized that new bends might not be the worst case scenario.
The bases of the lamps were buried in the junk pile and with the addition of his weight, they were shifting inside it. Like levers, they were starting to move everything above them—including the motorcycle cowling. Unsecured by anything but gravity, the hunk of machined aluminum teetered at the top of pile, promising lots of pain to anyone stupid enough to be beneath it when it fell.
“…and Gnomely cunning has failed me once again!” He shouted as the cowling began to fall.
Above was plummeting doom and below was a fall of dozens of feet to an ignoble splatter with a jaunty red cap on top. Was this really the ultimate fate of The Gnome? He hadn’t thwarted a single evil scheme! He hadn’t been haled as the hero with a ticker-tape parade! He hadn’t been to space! He hadn’t even kissed a girl!
He looked up and then down, choosing his fate.
“Oh. Wait. Perspective.”
At the last moment, he let go of the lamp, letting his falling weight pull his leg off the bar it was stuck on. For a brief moment, he was cartwheeling through the air, then with the crackling, surging sound he was so used to no, he grew, landed in a kind of shuffling sideways run that ended in tripping and falling in the dirt, and was completely safe. The motorcycle cowling and a collection of bolts and old palmtops clattered into the dust around them.
“Are you okay!” Virginia asked. She abandoned the pushcart they were collecting parts in to come check on him.
The Gnome grinned, looking back up from where he’d fallen. At six inches tall, the eight actual feet he’d fallen had looked a lot more dangerous. He adjusted his hat, which miraculously remained on his head, and picked up the cowling from where it landed beside him.
“Victory!” He declared.
Virginia stared at him and looked back up at where he’d fallen. “Victory? You could have been killed!”
“Actually, no.” replied The Gnome. “Luckily, my terminal velocity at that size is less than a velocity that would be literally terminal.” He gave her a serious, profound look as if revealing the secrets of the ages. “I learned this… in physics class.”
In a moment that was becoming all-too familiar to her, Virginia found herself blinking at him with nothing better to say than, “What?”
“Science loves gnomes.” The Gnome said, getting to his feet with the object of his quest tucked under an arm. “Now: with the cowling of…” he lifted the item to eye level and found the model logo, “Genokaze… found, what is the next treasure you seek?”
Virginia took the cowling and carried it back to the cart, a fretful expression in her face. “I don’t know, Gnome… The Gnome. I know I told you that you could come if you helped me, but if you’re going to put yourself in danger doing that, I really don’t want to…”
“But it was pretend danger.” said The Gnome, following after. “Like The Gnome said: Science loves gnomes.”
Hugging the cowling to her chest, she rounded on him, inclining her head toward the disturbed patch of dusty ground where he’d landed. “What if there were rusty nails on the ground over there?”
“Hmm.” The Gnome made a show of rubbing his chin in thought. “That would require a tetanus shot.”
“Or what if it was something sharp or pointy. Even if the fall didn’t hurt you, you could have still died. I don’t even see why you needed to use your powers for that anyway.”
Now he was the one blinking, as if she was the one talking like, well… him. “No one said that The Gnome had to use his powers. He only sued them to make this more fun—and it was: the Grand Adventure of the Shifting Mountain. At least that is what it will be called on The Gnome’s blog.”
After a second’s thought, he added. “He will probably leave out the falling part. And add giant rats. Giant rats are more exciting.” Virginia’s eyes darted unbidden to the immediate area, hoping there weren’t any rats about; giant or otherwise.
The Gnome noticed none of this and took a moment to brush his pants and shirt off. “So what next?”
Instead of answering, Virginia dropped the cowling in the cart and did a quick inventory. She didn’t quite have enough for her project, but she could probably make up the difference looking through the garbage at school. One good thing about her power was that the goo made excellent impromptu gloves.
It wasn’t hard to tell she was about to lie. The Gnome could see her taking in a deep breath and squaring her shoulders. Inviting her to play poker with himself and some of his friends would be a bad idea.
“If you’re done, The Gnome shall go exploring in the cyclopean depths of these heaps until sundown for his own enjoyment. So you might as well get some use out of me… The Gnome.”
Virginia looked over her shoulder and gave him a curious glare.
“Sometimes The Gnome forgets. It is a very difficult speech pattern.” He said with a shrug. “Anyway, the meat of the matter is securing your art supplies. Now tell The Gnome: what’s next?”
Her shoulders slumped and she let out the breath she’d taken in preparation to ask him to stop. In hindsight, she should have known that he wouldn’t just give up because of a little thing like danger. He’d just recently told her he couldn’t wait to get mugged, after all.
“Okay…” she said in a small voice. “Some hubcaps would be nice to use.” And she’d just seen some cars close to the ground which wouldn’t require him to put himself in danger to retrieve.
The Gnome snapped a salute, then scanned the area for likely hubcaps. A pile of partially crushed cars instantly caught his eye. Those at ground level were right out: no challenge. However..
“Hark!” He declared, pointing. “What light off yonder windshield reflects? It is an antique muscle car, and its hubcaps shall be ours!” With that, he charged toward the mountain of cars with childlike glee.
“But there’s…really no point in discouraging you.” Virginia sighed and started pushing the cart slowly after him. All the while, she wondered if the man at the main building had a first aid kit. It wouldn’t surprise her if she wound up finding out.
Far out ahead of her, The Gnome reached the pile of cars and launched himself at them in a flying leap. At the same moment, he shrunk, drastically reducing his mass while the same amount of force worked on him. In a single bound, he landed on the sill of a driver’s side window. Said window was open, so he had to grab the frame to keep from falling into the musty-smelling interior.
That didn’t keep him from getting a snoot-full of the smell. A short coughing fit later, The Gnome was holding on to the rubber seal around the window and looking up at the precipice he was trying to climb. A lot of the cars higher up also had broken or open windows. “It seems that The Gnome’s primary opponent in this venture will be funk.”
Moving slowly and carefully, he managed to maneuver himself over to the rearview mirror and from there to the hood. Another car’s tire was denting into the hood and it was turned so that part of it was clear of the wheel well. It was almost nothing to scramble up the treads and then hop up onto the hood of the next car. From there he got a running start and caught onto the rear bumper of the next car and pulled himself up onto it.
With leaps, bounds and more climbing, he easily scaled eight cars in short order before stopping to take a rest on the hood of an old town car. From where he stood, he had a good vantage of that part of the scrapyard, from the piles of unsorted junk to the ordered rows of industrial tanks, propane canisters, pipes, and other sundry items from wings off a small plane to a backhoe blade.
He also had a good view of one of the rented ‘garages’. It was more or less four sheet metal walls with a ceiling and some space out front of it, but whoever was working down there was making good use of it, The Gnome observed.
From what he could tell, they were building a big, mechanical crab out of disparate parts scavenged from the junkyard. One of its claws, the smaller of the two, was shaped into what appeared to be a tuning fork, while the larger had its outer casing opened up to reveal several nasty-looking implements on some sort of actuating rack. Its back was also split open to reveal more machinery and the back of whoever was working on it.
Being a connoisseur of sorts of the various mechanical monsters that appeared on Live Metal and mecha movies, The Gnome forgot his mission for hubcaps and crawled out to the edge of the trunk for a better look.
The crab looked honestly too small to compete on Live Metal and too big to be a personal toy, being about twice the size of his bed back at the institute. The things inside the big claw were definitely weapons though. The Gnome had seen one or two documentaries on the kinds of dangerous things that were somehow legal because they were piecemeal and so had the designer, who built an exact replica of the flamethrower featured n one.
“Hmm.” The Gnome said, sitting down at the edge of the car. This being Mayfield, there was a better than average chance that someone was building a huge, weaponized crab for good reasons. Not sensible reasons, but understandable ones. If he had the know-how, there was no telling how many mechanized arthropods he might build on his own.
As he watched, the builder of the magnificent crab-bot finally crawled out of his creation’s spinal cavity and made his way over to the tool box.
The Gnome recognized him immediately. On more than one occasion, that man had menaced the Descendants with a vast array of bizarre and dangerous invention. In fact, The Gnome would go as far as to say that the man was one of the team’s most dangerous and wily foes because he hardly spent any time in jail after any of his assaults on their fair city.
That said, it took him a moment to remember what Facsimile called him in the news footage.
When he did, he rose form his seat and struck a heroic pose. “Ah yes. The Gnome knows of you and your galling acts and he will not stand for them… Dr. Perilous!”
To Be Continued…