One of Thousands
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Kirkwall/The Free Marches
Current Game: Dragon Age II
Runs Like Clockwork: Chapters 1-2
Chapter One: Too Much Information!
About halfway through my breakfast, my pointed ears harkened to the sound of rustling bedcovers and a good-natured groan. Ded was finally getting up! It surprised me that he was rising this early, when it was only 0745 hours. However, would he miss his chance to see me off to the Hall of Knowledge? Not on your life! He knew how important today was, and not only because it was my birthday or when I took my GKNAT. Today was the day that my entire adult future would be decided, for better or worse…
When Ded saw me, he smiled and laughed. “Ah, my sweet daughter! How are you this morning?”
“Nervous,” I answered, crunching down on my second piece of mole bacon. “The GKNAT’s today, and that’s not doing any wonders for my stomach. This sure is, though,” I grinned, gesturing to my plate.
“I see.” Ded winked. “Where are my eggs, Cook V?” The female clockwork gnome turned to attend him, her lens-eyes shining brightly. “Thank you. No bacon, please, because I’m trying to watch my waistline.”
“Since when?” I giggled. My father patted his belly good-naturedly. When Mother had been alive, or Mem, as I had called her, she had been trying to get us to eat healthier meals. However, when you live as we Gnomes do, secluded within mountain tunnels, then snake eggs, mole meat, and root vegetables like potatoes and carrots are staple foods. Turnips and beets had been my mother’s favorites, but after she—lost her life in a terrible accident—Ded told Cook V to stop preparing them altogether.
He sighed. “I wish that Ariadne could have been here today, if only to pester us about our food choices!”
I looked at Ded with suddenly-melancholy blue eyes. “Me, too. She would have been so proud of us.”
“She still is.” A slight pause. “She is one with the Solid Rock now, from whence she came.” We Gnomes call ourselves the Children of the Mountain, believing ourselves born from the stone of the Earth. Our distant kindred, the Dwarves, call themselves the Descendants of Dust. When you live underground, or concealed within deep stone labyrinths, you come to revere that which gives you shelter and life.
“What was Mem working on when—you know—the accident happened?” I took a very deep breath.
Father closed his steel-gray eyes and opened them again, slowly. “I suppose it’s time I told you the whole story,” he announced. “You are thirty-two years old today, and you deserve to know how your mother really died. She perished in an explosion—that much is correct,” he said. “However, you were told—and I was told to tell you—that Ariadne had been constructing a clockwork in the Enclave of Engineering, and it blew up. That is also correct, but she hadn’t been working on an ordinary machine.”
I leaned in closer. “What kind of clockwork was she building?” I was suddenly curious, and anxious.
“It was to be a watchman of our fair city,” Ded continued, “a sentry who would be assigned to one of the small but yawning caverns leading to our underground home. As you know, there are eight separate entrances to this place, and each one of them must be carefully guarded. Otherwise, foul creatures from the surface will overrun us if they get past our mechanical defenses. We can’t let that happen! Thus, your mother was one of the very few Engineers assigned to the clandestine construction task known as Project Y. The clockwork that she was building, and its seven identical counterparts, were to be fitted with explosive charges and detonate if anything bit or attacked them—including Gnome saboteurs.”
I shuddered. “I’ve heard about people like that from time to time. GINA’s told me.” GINA was our Gnomish Informational News Announcer, a clockwork that was stationed in our city’s Common Square. I talked to GINA quite a lot, especially when I was supposed to be heading to the Hall of Knowledge!
Ded shook his bald head, with a wiry ring of white hair around his scalp and ears, and gave a chuckle. “You spend entirely too much time conversing with that meddling metal-brain!” he grumbled cheerfully. “The more you learn about the world, either down here or up there on the surface, the less time you’ll have for tinkering and being a productive member of our unparalleled society!” He gave a snort. “I’m serious, now. Your mother was considered too curious for her own good, and in my opinion, there’s no such thing. Learn everything you can about everything you can, and don’t let anyone stop you.”
I was starting to get worried again. “Is that why Mem died? Did someone want to—eradicate her?”
This time it was my father’s turn to shudder. “No. Ariadne was considered a hero, not a criminal. Still, Project Y was a completely covert undertaking. No one except its Designers and Engineers was supposed to know about it until all of the sentries were built and ready for active duty at the tunnel entrances. However, when your mother accidentally misplaced one of the dynamite charges deep inside of the clockwork she was building and then activated it, the narfangled contraption exploded!” Ded was trying to hold back tears, and I was infinitely sorry I’d brought the subject up. However, he had more to say. “There was an official inquiry. Officially, we don’t build explosive clockworks. That’s why it was ruled an ‘unfortunate incident of spontaneous combustion’ in the Records! Hah! The only way I got to learn the truth was that in exchange for knowing what really happened to Ariadne, I pledged my loyal service as an officer in the GLEB—Gnomish Law Enforcement Brigade, you know—until my centennial birthday.”
Horrified, I asked, “Did they treat you well? Were they suspicious because—after all, you knew?”
“None of the other officers knew a thing. They simply assumed I was a new recruit, and that was that.”
Father must have noticed that my jaw had fallen slack. My third slice of mole bacon was also growing cold, being untouched. “There, there!” Ded cried. “Please don’t worry. You’ve got a GKNAT to take!”
I blinked. “How can I do that when I’ve just found out all of this?! It’s too much information!”
Ded stood up and squeezed my shoulder. “I know. However, we must go on. You know the truth about your mother now, and that she sacrificed her life for a good cause—our safety and protection. Ariadne was no careless Engineer. She was simply inexperienced using a material that according to our Refectory of Records, we Gnomes never use—except in our world-renowned fireworks.” He gave a sly wink. “Go now. Your instructors are waiting at the Hall of Knowledge, and you don’t want to be late today.”
I stood up from the table, gobbled down my last slice of mole bacon, and picked up my satchel. It contained four books: Math, Science, Reading, and Tinkering, and the gray suit that I wore for GIFT.
“Have a good day!” cried Ded, giving me a hug. I must confess that I returned it rather ferociously!
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