Sicco Thermaplugg marched towards Gelbin Mekkatorque’s office. He carried reports from the field, mostly bad news. There was determination in his walk. He had something new to show Mekkatorque today, not that it would make a difference, but it would be an opening the Mekgineer needed to get the High Tinker to listen.
There was a banging on his door, Mekkatorque sighed. The months of fighting troggs had taken a toll, and he was exhausted. Thermaplugg opened the door without waiting to be invited in, per usual.
“I have the latest numbers.” Thermaplugg dropped a pile of rolled up papers on the desk. “It’s not good news. I did want to talk to you about…” as Sicco spoke Gelbin closed his eyes, ‘Here it comes again‘, he thought, ‘that horror show Sicco had been pushing for months‘, but to his surprize, Sicco’s next words were not what he expected, “…something new.”
Thermaplugg unrolled a large schematic. “What is it?” Gelbin asked. On the table lay a schematic for a battle armor suit, a huge one. Sicco watched the High Tinker’s face light up, clearly he’d gotten Gelbin’s attention.
The Mekgineer continued, “We haven’t updated the mecha-marine units since the war with the orcs. They didn’t see much action, so there was not much field test data to work with. I call this rig the ‘Gnome Pounder’. This new design gives them sufficient power to outclass the largest troggs we have encountered and is still maneuverable enough to pass through the tunnels easily.”
It was a breath of fresh air for Gelbin. Thermaplugg had always squirmed in his position as the Mekgineer General of the Mecha-Marines. Could this be a sign that Sicco was done with his endless attempts at one upmanship and finally getting down to the business of his position?
Sicco continued pointing at the schematics and explaining, “I had originally wanted to put a canon on it here, but the recoil was too much and I had to go with a pulverizing arm.” Sicco turned to face Mekkatorque with a self satisfied smirk on his face. There was hope in Gelbin’s eyes, exactly what Sicco wanted. “There is just one problem.”
Gelbin felt the brakes clamp down on his enthusiasm. “What’s that?”
Sicco took a deep breath, “We can’t build it.”
“Why not?” Gelbin insisted surprised. His eyes scanned the schematics for something he had missed. “This all seems good Sicco, there is nothing here outside our ability to fabricate…”
“There wouldn’t be, if we had free access to the engineering bay. With the lock down in place there’s no way to get there from here without a fight. We’ve slowed down the troggs, but we’ve also cut ourselves off from our resources.”
The excitement on Mekkatorque’s face began to fade. He knew it was true. Gnomeregan was built it be incredibly easy to transverse, but once the invasion had begun, the lock down protocol had changed all that. It had been designed to keep the citizens sequestered while threats were pushed out of the city. Turning the city into a maze of disjointed rooms and winding passages with ‘defendable’ entrances and exits.
“The engineering bay is in the lowest section of the city.” Sicco stated plainly.
Gelbin turned to look at him with a questioning look on his face that quickly fell into a scowl, ‘here it comes‘ he thought, but this time he was more than just annoyed. “You are not going to strip my bolts with this again, are you!? I can’t agree to that atrocity you’ve been planning. Did you draw up these plans JUST to get me to listen to THIS again!?” Frustration bubbled up out of Mekkatorque’s voice.
Sicco had counted on getting Mekkatorque riled up, but now to see Gelbin like this it occurred to him that he had never seen the High Tinker like this before. It was a touch fascinating and terrifying. He really had know idea what this gnome, famous for his cool head and reliability, would do next. Thermaplugg pushed forward.
“How many gnomes have to die for you Mekkatorque?” Sicco pointed at the reports he had brought in. “You’ve seen the same numbers I have. This is getting worse, not better. We used the old kobold shield wall strategies and they failed, because the troggs are too strong. We used the tanks we built for pushing back the trolls and THEY failed, because they were too big to function under the surface. We are learning, but not fast enough. This isn’t a lab, we don;t have time for experimentation. The consequences are real!”
Mekkatorque began to crack, “Do you think I don’t see that? I know each time we are forced to change strategies we lose more ground…”
“And we lose more gnomes! Yet you refused to evacuate the city.” Thermaplugg shot back, “Now we have gnomes trapped behind enemy lines. At our current rate of iteration and development, how many more failures before we get the upper hand? How many gnome lives are spent while you sit around trying to figure something out?”
Mekkatorque rebuffed, “Every gnome I send out there has a fighting chance of coming home. If we do what you suggest, their blood will be on our hands, MY hands. Blast it, even the troggs don’t deserve the a cruel death you have concocted. It’s not a defense, it’s an extermination.”
“You’re worried about the well being of the troggs now!?” Sicco recoiled.
“That’s not what I mean and you know it Sicco.” Gelbin said with a sober tone.
It was true, but Sicco pressed the point anyway, “Ten percent.”
Gelbin finally replied after a pause, “Ten percent what?”
“Casualties to the gnome martial service under my plan. You may say that those lives would be on your hands if you do this, but I’ve seen these numbers.” Sicco picked up one of the scrolls of the table. “You’re looking at twice, maybe triple that from any of these alternate solutions. THOSE are the gnomes whose blood you need to think about. Gnomes who in the end could be ALIVE because of the decision you make. Face reality Gelbin. These aren’t our old enemies, kobolds, trolls, even orcs. These creatures don’t want our resources. They are frenzied killing machines. They will not stop until we are wiped out. We can’t drive them back into the tunnels they can from and seal them up, we have to eradicate them before they eradicate us.”
Sicco watched Gelbin silently for a long time. His face was unreadable. Sicco’s heart was racing, sure this was his last chance to present this idea and keep his position as Mekkatorque’s advisor.
“Bring me the plans and formulas for the irradiator.” Gelbin finally said; his tone betrayed no emotion. “And start setting up what you need. Once I give the final approval I want it ready to go.” He turned to look away from Sicco, “Time wasted is lives lost.”
“Right away, Sir.” Sicco surprised himself, he never called Mekkatorque Sir, not in all the years they had worked together had he done so. “Most of it is already set-up. My mephitichemists have been collecting the materials and brewing the fuel. We just need to cut into the main…” Gelbin held up a hand to stop Sicco.
“Just… bring me the plans and put the devices in place. You are dismissed.”
Sicco quickly hurried to the door, but paused at the threshold. His face somber he turned back towards the High Tinker, “Gelbin. I know this was hard for you. It’s the best thing for Gnomeregan. We are going to save a lot of lives.” Mekkatorque kept his back towards him.
Thermaplugg stepped out of the room. Once he heard the door close, his face pinched in to an insidious smile as he hurried down the hall. He had done it. Despite always being one step behind Mekkatorque, he was finally going to get his way.