I hadn’t seen Broglie Togglesprocket since the day before the Disaster. We’d met in the cafeteria as usual and chatted about our work and the Trogg problem over breakfast, then gone off to our individual assignments. Later that shift, High Tinker Mekkatorque had announced Mekgineer Thermaplugg’s plan to get rid of the Troggs by irradiating The City. The Seniors of my family had immediately rounded up all the Juniors, pulling us out of classes and away from tinkering, resisting our vigorous protests and questioning, and sent us back out to Gearloom Village on the surface.
“We don’t trust this plan,” my great-grandmother said, “and if anything goes wrong, we need you sproglings to carry on our work.”
They had been right, of course. For months, I looked for Broglie in each wave of ill, tormented survivors that came into the village needing shelter and comfort, but he was not among them. As we began to rebuild our shattered lives, I searched for him among all the other Gnomes who chose to accept the Dwarves’ hospitality. I watched for his face among the Leper Gnomes as I took my turn in the salvage missions around the main surface entrance to The City. Although I saw many other lads and lasses I had known, both among the survivors who made their way to Tinkertown and among the Leper Gnomes I had to fight, I sought in vain for Broglie.
Eventually, I convinced myself that Broglie had probably been one of the 80% of all Gnomes who had perished immediately in the Disaster. Despite what my great-grandmother had said, I had no heart for attempting to rebuild my family’s usual business. I had always had a litle magical skill and a lot of magical interest, so I now began to train seriously as a Mage. I soon set out adventuring, both to polish my skills and to earn a little money. I traveled throughout Dun Morogh and then Loch Modan, and I had made it all the way to Menethil Harbor in the Wetlands when the High Tinker began recruiting for a war to reclaim The City.
After participating in Operation: Gnomeregan, I found myself disinclined to return to adventuring. I stayed in my rooms in Ironforge and idled away my time in studying magic and making desultory progress at improving my sewing — that was not an area of the family business with which I had been conversant! A fortnight or so later, I decided to visit the New Tinkertown I was starting to hear so much about. I was so encouraged by what I saw there that I offered to stay and help. Knowing my family background in the textiles industry, the High Tinker assigned me to the group responsible for restoring the furnishings of the existing buildings and preparing furnishings for the new buildings. I spent a few happy months helping to design and manufacture carpets, curtains, and materials for various types of upholstery.
Although I had not seen it myself on my one excursion back into The City after the Disaster, I had heard many rumors of a group of Gnomes who had survived the irradiation with their health and sanity intact and were holding out in a hidden area called “the Clean Zone”. It bothered me somewhat that we hadn’t ever sent anyone into The City to rescue them, but when I suggested it, everyone else always said to me, “If the Clean Zone really exists, and if the holdouts there wanted to be rescued, wouldn’t they have come out with one or more of the many parties of adventurers who have gone into The City during the past several years?” So when the High Tinker announced the organization of a Survivor Assistance Facilitation Expedition (S.A.F.E.) to find and recover any Gnomes who may have survived both irradiation events, I signed up to be a part of it immediately.
Perhaps I also signed up because the announcement of S.A.F.E. had reawakened inside of me the most slender filament of hope that Broglie might have survived, after all — and if he had, I wanted to be the one to rescue him.
(AN: This story has gotten quite long. Follow the cut to read more.)
We started by decontaminating the Train Depot, which had been the epicenter of the second irradiation event. We were surprised at how easy that job was, relatively speaking, considering the apparent power of the second Irradiator. We then set up a thorough-decontamination room, both to cleanse the survivors we rescued and to cleanse us, before we returned to the surface ourselves. Next, we prepared triage and recovery areas where we would bring the survivors that we found. The Elevator had been repaired early in the construction of New Tinkertown, but bringing down all of the heavy decontamination equipment had strained it, and it wasn’t in the most reliable of conditions. We didn’t want to risk anyone, especially a newly-rescued survivor, getting trapped in the shaft if it failed suddenly, so we set up a transporter to more expeditiously move personnel up to the surface headquarters of S.A.F.E. in New Tinkertown.
Things had been going very well, and we were starting to venture further into The City in search of survivors, when the small, irritating earthquakes suddenly became huge, frightening earthquakes. We were afraid that The City would collapse around us! But the walls and beams held, and as we began to collect ourselves and clean and recalibrate our equipment, we found that the earthquakes had flushed sane and addled Gnomes alike up from the deeper areas of The City. Each day, I searched among the dazed, terrified Gnomes who wandered into the Train Depot. I helped the sane ones back to the triage area.
I zapped the addled ones into unconsciousness and checked under their helmets. None of them were anyone I had known, but some of them were people my comrades had known. We filed all of their descriptions into a catalog, to be matched against the endless lists of the missing.
I did not get to help with the first wave of rescued survivors for very long, though. The work of decontamination and setting up our operation had taken several weeks, and the chief of S.A.F.E., Nevin Twistwrench, was adamant that all S.A.F.E. operatives — himself included — could spend no more than three months “bottomside” in The City before they would have to be decontaminated and return to New Tinkertown for three months “topside”, working on keeping S.A.F.E. supplied, training new operatives, and rehabilitating the survivors.
Skin still stinging from the final decontamination process, I walked out of S.A.F.E. headquarters into New Tinkertown and stopped short, horrified at what I saw. The terrible earthquakes had caused damage that we hadn’t been able to assess from our position in the Train Depot. Ductwork in the part of The City directly underneath the airfield had buckled and burst, and the contaminated sludge contained therein had been forced up to the surface!
It was a huge mess, and everyone, even those who had just been rescued by S.A.F.E., had to help with the cleanup. Having something useful and purposeful to do surely helped them recover more quickly.
The earthquakes had caused other troubles, too. The Troggs were still not exterminated, and they had driven the Frostmane Trolls from their cave in the western part of Chill Breeze Valley. The pass to Ironforge in the northeastern corner of the valley had been blocked by falling rock, which had also exposed one of the upper equipment hangars of The City.
At first, the High Tinker had thought that this would be a good backdoor entrance into The City for further decontamination and salvage missions. Before the New Tinkertown crews could breach the walls of the hangar from the outside, however, they opened from the inside — Mekgineer Thermoplugg still held that region of The City, and was taking advantage of the new exit to deploy his minions against New Tinkertown!
As always, I checked under the helmets of the fallen Leper Gnomes and filed their descriptions into the catalog of the missing. I combed through the newest entries in that catalog myself every week of my three-month furlough on the surface, and while I occasionally recognized people I’d known, none of them matched Broglie’s description.
Meanwhile, the strongest of the rescued survivors adapted quickly to life on the surface. They seemed to lock away their horrible memories of years of deprivation and struggle just to stay alive, putting on cheery faces and heading out into the wider world. Others stayed huddled in the dormitories of New Tinkertown, afraid of the open spaces, overcome by their misery, and, in some cases, exceedingly bitter that the High Tinker hadn’t made a greater effort, sooner, to reclaim The City. For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to ask any of them, well-adapting or mal-adapting, if they’d seen Broglie down there in the depths of The City.
About the time that I returned to the Train Depot for my second “bottomside” shift with S.A.F.E., Nevin selected a small group of the very most daring, reckless S.A.F.E. operatives to form what he called “The G-Team”. An advance reconnaissance group, they ventured further into The City to assess the possibilities for S.A.F.E. to expand its area of operations.
“Additionally,” said Nevin, “third-party adventurers will not be deterred from the lure of forgotten treasure in the LOST CITY OF GNOMEREGAN! by the tale of a second irradiation event for much longer, and if we have operatives stationed at key locations deeper in The City already, perhaps we can persuade them to help us a little bit.”
The G-Team found the fabled Clean Zone almost immediately. It was in the Dormitory closest to the Hall of Gears, which was itself just past the Train Depot. Everyone in S.A.F.E. had friends or relatives whom they hoped to find alive in there, so we used the RNG to determine who would be first to accompany the G-Team back to the Clean Zone to meet with the brave Gnomes who had been holding out there for so long. Luckily, my number was among the first five, and I got to go with the first group.
We had just come into the Clean Zone, and Hann Ibal was explaining about S.A.F.E. while I stared around in wonder at all the evidence of how the Gnomes living there had survived for the past several years, when someone I couldn’t quite see said, “Kelilla? Kelilla Gearloom? Is that really you?”
I swear, my heart literally stopped.
When the world stopped spinning, I took a step forward, and there he was.
“Broglie!” I cried.
“Kell! It is you!” He ran torward me and grabbed me in a bear hug. “I thought I’d never see you again!”
Behind me, I could hear another of the operatives sniffling.
We sat down at one of the tables and talked for hours. Broglie recounted the horrors of the first days after the Disaster, desperately searching for decontamination equipment and other supplies, finding that many — too many — of the Troggs had also survived, dealing with the dead, gathering as many of the living as he and others could find, and, worst of all, watching so many of the living become Leper Gnomes.
“So many other survivors left and made it to the surface… why didn’t you?” I asked.
“I was so busy with scavenging for supplies and helping others that I honestly didn’t think of trying to leave myself, at least at first,” he replied. “And then we got this place established –” he waved a hand at the room around us “– and I, and many of the others, thought, why should we give up? I was born and raised here, as was my father and my father’s father, and I had never been out of The City in my life. Why should I let the Troggs drive me from my home? Why should I let Thermaplugg’s faction win control of The City? And so I, and the others who felt like I did, stayed. We thought that having us here would help the High Tinker reclaim The City. When the adventurers started coming, we hoped that they would bring word of our resistance to the High Tinker. But it took him a lot longer than we anticipated to do anything about it, and even then, he didn’t get very far, did he?” He made a wry face.
“Well,” I countered, “why didn’t you, you holdouts here in the Clean Zone, do anything to stop Thermaplugg’s armies from setting up that second irradiator, if you were so determined to keep him from having total control over the City?”
“The Leper Gnomes and the Troggs had been keeping us pinned down pretty tightly in here for weeks,” Broglie said. “We could hear clanking and clunking and knew that something big was going on elsewhere in The City, but we couldn’t get out of the Dormitory area at all.” After a moment, he added, “And the barriers we set up to keep them from getting in were probably what protected us from that second irradation explosion.”
“How did you survive down here for so many years?” I wondered. “Surely, your supplies must have started to run low rather quickly.”
“They did,” Broglie acknowledged, “but we also had the resources of the whole City to draw upon, if we were bold enough to venture out to find them. Then, when the adventurers started coming, we thought of an even better idea. The adventurers kept asking us to identify the grime-encrusted objects that they’d picked up around The City, so we adapted a few of the Sparklematics from the kitchen and laundry to clean the things off. The adventurers were glad to give us a little money to use the Sparklematics, and once they’d gotten used to that, it was easy enough to convince them to sell us their excess food, clothing, and odds-and-ends when their bags were full. I remember a few adventurers who came here often who started bringing stuff just for us. But things did run out from time to time, especially medical supplies. We went through those really fast, keeping ourselves clean and stable from the irradiation we experienced when we went out to scavenge. It was when we got really desperate that I and some of the other Medics started experimenting with using magic for healing.”
Broglie stopped talking for a moment, and his face took on a distant, contemplative air. “When we finally got it right, it was an amazing feeling. It was like we were filled with light, and that by channeling the light through ourselves, we could use it to cleanse and heal!”
He sighed, then sobered. “We felt like we’d just barely begun to understand this new phenomenon when the Leper Gnomes and the Troggs laid siege to us. We’d gathered a pretty big population in here by then, and we’d been kind of overcrowded and stressed for supplies for a couple of years before the siege even began. Then there was that second irradiation event, and after that, the earthquakes, and people panicked. Over the past several months, many of them have just left. I don’t know where they thought they might be going.”
“So that’s where all the people we’ve been picking up in the Train Depot have been coming from,” I said.
“‘Picking up’?” Broglie inquired.
“In most cases, literally, yes.” I replied.
“S.A.F.E.’s mission is to find as many survivors that may be remaining in The City as we can, and to heal them and bring them up to New Tinkertown, on the surface, so that when our population has recovered enough, we can reclaim Gnomeregan for real. We’d always planned to expand our search for survivors into the whole City, but so many people have been coming to us in the Train Depot and been keeping us so busy that we only just now got the G-Team organized as an advance reconnaissance group for finding survivors in other parts of The City.”
“Well,” said Broglie, “Now that you’ve found us, perhaps S.A.F.E. can help keep us supplied. We’d have to confer together as a group about it, but we could probably even let your G-Team use this area as a forward base for their further explorations. We can certainly tell them what parts of The City we’ve already canvassed pretty thoroughly in our scavenging, so that they can focus their efforts on places where there might be survivors even more thoroughly hidden than we are.”
“Now that we’ve found you,” I countered, “wouldn’t you like to come up to the surface with us? Surely you’ve felt trapped, scrabbling to stay alive all these years down here?”
“Ah, Kell,” he sighed, “You were born and raised on the surface, weren’t you? I don’t think you quite understand how those of us who were born and raised here in The City feel about it. Most of the Gnomes who’ve left over the years have been the ones who’d been to the surface at least once before in their lives. Those of us who are still down here — Thermaplugg’s crazies included — are the ones who’d never gone “out”… and never really wanted to. It’s been hard, alright, and there have certainly been times when we’ve felt trapped inside the Clean Zone, but I’ve never really felt like I was trapped inside The City itself.”
“That must be why none of you ever left with the groups of adventurers that came through.”
“Oh, that’s not precisely true. Every now and then, a few Gnomes would decide that they’d had enough and would leave. But you’re right that we never really felt inclined to leave with them as a whole group.”
“But why didn’t you at least send a list of all your names back up to the High Tinker with one or more of those adventurers? We kept a catalog of the missing in Tinkertown, and now in New Tinkertown, and there are so many people who would have been relieved to know that you had survived, after all.”
“To be completely honest, we never thought of it. Many of us had first-hand knowledge that most of the people we’d known were already dead or addled into Leper Gnomes, so I suppose we figured that there weren’t really any people we’d known left to worry about us.”
“Broglie,” I said, “I worried about you. I searched for you for years before I finally gave up and allowed myself to believe that you were probably dead.”
“My dear Kelilla,” he said, “I didn’t know what had happened to you at all. You were just gone. I was glad that I never found you among the dead or the Leper Gnomes, but that didn’t necessarily mean that you’d survived, or that you would ever be coming back. When the adventurers started coming, I looked carefully at each group to see if any of them was you –“
At that point, I burst into tears. Broglie came around the table and put his arm around my shoulders.
When I could mostly control my voice again, I explained, “I did come down into The City with an adventuring party between the Disaster and the High Tinker’s failed attempt to reclaim The City — once. I’d heard rumors of your Clean Zone and desperately wanted to try to find it, but the Paladin who was in charge was in such a hurry that I could barely even keep up, and he detoured completely around the Dormitory area.”
“So close, and yet so far away!” said Broglie, giving me another squeeze. “But you are here now.”
“Yes,” I said, “I am here, and I want you to come back to New Tinkertown with me!”
“Oh, Kell!” he said, sounding pained. “I have spent too long fighting for The City to retreat now.”
“Broglie, don’t tell me that you don’t want to come up to the surface now just because you’ve never been! Haven’t you dreamed even once of having a little bit of rest from all of this?”
The tender moment dissolved into an argument that lasted for nearly an hour before I finally convinced him to at least come up to make a report to the High Tinker.
“If you talk to the High Tinker himself,” I said, “I’m sure we’ll be able to arrange for S.A.F.E. to bring supplies to you down here.”
“All right, all right!” he exclaimed, “I’ll do it! But don’t expect me to stay up there. When do we go?”
I explained that I had to stay down in The City for another month and a half, until my current S.A.F.E. assignment ended. Broglie agreed to come with me when I returned to New Tinkertown at the end of that shift.
The Clean Zone council did decide to allow the G-Team to use their location as a forward base. Over the next few weeks, the rest of the current “bottomside” members of S.A.F.E. visited the Clean Zone, and at least a few of them had happy reunions with friends or family members whom they had thought lost. S.A.F.E. went over the Clean Zone with our own decontamination equipment, which miffed some of its inhabitants, but their pique was assuaged by how impressed we were at how well they’d managed. Broglie and his companions compiled a list of everyone who was or had been a resident of the Clean Zone. I returned to the Clean Zone every few days to talk to Broglie. After a couple of weeks, he began coming out to the Train Depot to chat with me. Shortly before the end of my “bottomside” shift, the G-Team reported that they’d explored all the way to the boundary of Sector 17, and found those areas mostly clear.
“Wasn’t that where the High Tinker’s quarters were?” Broglie asked me.
“I should be asking you that!” I replied, with a smile.
“You have a point!” He grinned. “I should probably put that news into my report for the High Tinker.”
At last the day came for us to travel up to New Tinkertown. Broglie surveyed the white and blue robe the Sanitron 500 had put him in with some amusement.
“I look like one of those Priests from all those groups of adventurers!” he chuckled.
“You’re a Medic who has learned to touch and call upon the power of the Light,” I said. “In the minds of our allies, that ability is what makes a person a Priest.”
Some Gnomes, coming Outside for the very first time, were frightened and couldn’t wait to get back inside a building again. Not Broglie.
As we came out from S.A.F.E. headquarters, he stopped and stared around him for several long minutes, utterly amazed by the great blue bowl of the sky, the snowcapped mountains, and the sweet-smelling pines. Then he wanted to explore — and have me explain — everything he could see. That night, as we sat under the stars and I pointed out all the constellations I knew, he exclaimed, “I had read about the surface world, but I had not realized that it would be so beautiful!”
The next morning, I guided Broglie to meet the High Tinker myself.
I introduced him as “one of the brave Gnomes who has been holding out in the Clean Zone of Gnomeregan ever since the Disaster!” before leaving them to conference in private. Broglie’s report must have been quite well received, because he emerged from the meeting in a jubilant mood.
“The High Tinker is coming down to see us himself!” he said. “It’s about time!”
As delightful as he found the surface world, Broglie’s heart remained down in The City. He stayed in New Tinkertown with me for only a week before returning, but before he left, we set up a pair of Gnomecorders to allow us to talk to each other while I was still on the surface.
After receiving Broglie’s report on the Clean Zone and the G-Team’s reconnaissance report concerning the rest of The City, and visiting the Clean Zone in person, the High Tinker began organizing security and cleanup squads to go into the emptier areas. He went into The City himself to assess their progress every few weeks. A couple of months later, not long before the end of my “topside” shift, Broglie told me about a very juicy rumor currently circulating in the Clean Zone and the Train Depot — there had been a great deal of noise in Sector 17 one night, and while Thermaplugg’s factory was still producing the robot decoys that fooled so many adventurers, it seemed that Thermaplugg himself had not been spied since, so some people were speculating that the High Tinker had dueled Thermaplugg and won!
If only such an outlandish story could be true! Then The City really would be within our grasp again. And perhaps, when that had been achieved, there would be time for Broglie and me to decide if we truly wanted to be coupled.
(AN: Wondering what the occasional words in navy blue are all about? I’d already been thinking about starting to work on this story again when Big Bear Butt threw down a challenge to write a story/poem/whatever that incorporated seven arbitrarily chosen words. As I looked at the list, I realized that it would be quite easy to work them into this story, and having BBB’s deadline to work toward made it easier to finish the story, too! Many thanks also to Rades for tipping me off to the sneaky tricks that made the pictures containing both Kelilla and Broglie possible.)