Author's Note: These gnomes are based on the ones from SCP-1956.
The hustle and bustle grew throughout the marketplace as the striped feet of gnomes darted about. The festival was long-awaited, with vendors lining up their stalls across the streets and the sides of the clocktrees. The glowplants covered the stalls and tents of leather and silk, providing illumination for the spectacle of the season’s wares.
The food stalls were filled with pies stuffed with the meat of large insects, and the foam overflowed from drinks that flew from client to client. There were acrobats balancing on streetlamps and juggling each other, making wide arcs and dramatic poses. The musicians played their trombeetles, coins and gizmos were exchanged between oos and aas, and not a single gnome would be caught dead with empty tendrils. The living moons danced like soapstone blimps above, carrying the night sky with them as they flapped their wings and tails.
In the middle of all the music and movement was a gnome with green and black stripes, a cap that split in four, and a pair of brass goggles. He was scrunching his oil-stained face and twitching his cap at the crumpled diagram he carried. All items crossed out, except one. He mumbled something about flying vehicles and rare crystals, not paying attention to the looks his poorly cut head tendrils were getting.
His project would look arcane and beyond everyday applications to most, and that was just how he liked it. Let others deal with scrubbing floors and serving meals. He was about to do something no other gnome in these parts had ever managed, and he would come back to tell everyone about it. Even if it landed him in another smoking crater.
He pulled his notebook from his pocket and started calculating the probability of finding what he needed and how much haggling he'd have to do. He was startled by the sound of something breaking under his foot, and furrowed his brow at the following sound. A child crying. He feared he might have stepped on a beloved pet for a second and was about to offer a mechanical substitute, but then he looked down and realized it was a simple wind-up toy.
He took it in his tendrils, pulled out a screwdriver, a rubber band and the gum he was chewing, and fixed the toy in ten seconds flat. He put it down, wound it up, and watched it walk back to the child, who wasn't sure if it was really fixed. He looked up at the child's mother, who was staring at him like one would at a roach they've been trying to get rid of for a long time.
"Well, if it isn't Plagum, the smartest gnome around." She knew that ever since one of his rivals had bested him in a glowplant design contest, Plagum was especially bothered by that sarcastic namecalling. He didn't resent being defeated fair and square, but Glibo's serenity had always seemed a bit off to him. Though they exchanged tube-letters frequently to keep score of their projects and exploits, Glibo frequently came out ahead. Plagum supposed the gardener attracted more sympathy with his simple manners, and he wasn't far from the truth. There was also the fact that Glibo's custom glowpants did not shear off head tendrils when mishandled, like Plagum's gizmos were infamous for doing.
"You mess up a celebrity's cap once, and you're labeled for life…" grumbled Plagum internally. He faced the mother and the child with as much politeness as he could. "Spare me. I congratulated the man and everything, and the kid's toy is fine. I have a project to finish." And with that, he kept going his way, paying a little more attention to his surroundings and putting another piece of gum in his mouth.
Just as he was finishing his calculations in a corner, Plagum imagined himself flying and taking pictures no one else could. Pictures so good that gnomes would ask him how he did it. He'd just smile and say it was all hard work and talent. Prizes, interviews, autographs. Maybe he'd even receive an invitation to join his heroes in the halls of the Great Crystalsight University, and study the marvels in the unexplored regions of Lagomia.
Before he could fantasize further, Plagum stopped in his tracks when he saw a stall with the item he needed. He smiled and was already putting his haggling posture on, when he noticed a sign that said "sold out". He huffed and contorted his needle teeth. Looking at the money he had left, and with the closing hour approaching, he undid his scowl and straightened his goggles. He smeared the oil-stain in the process.
"Excuse me, sir. Do you happen to have another one of those crystals stored away? I don't have much money left, but perhaps we can work something out real quick…" tried Plagum.
The vendor turned around and made an expression of shock. Before he could warn the tinkerer gnome of the acrobat about to fall on top of him, Plagum was already pleading for generosity. The squishy crash of a gnome falling on another resounded through the stall.
The slim and wide-eyed acrobat got up in a hurry and apologized about ten times to Plagum, who was far more worried that he might have to fix one of his tools. The acrobat turned around to apologize to the vendor, and saw that he had enough money for the same crystal that Plagum wanted.
"Hi there, good evening, sir! I've been saving up for that exact crystal for weeks before the festival started. It's the last one I need to finish my collection! Can you let me buy it, please please please?"
Collection? Didn't this boy realize the properties that it had in the right tendrils? Plagum would have complained and insisted he arrived first, but he had to admit the boy deserved it more for saving up in advance. The vendor was enchanted with the eagerness and dedication of the acrobat, and searched his stall for the crystal he asked for.
As he watched the young acrobat jump away in pure joy, Plagum felt his familiar anger boiling the oilstain on his forehead. He noticed gnomes were gathering around to see if anyone was hurt, so he composed himself. Now what? The festival would only last a few more days, and he could not get enough money with his deliverer job in time.
He hit a screwdriver against the side of his goggles and popped gum balloons until a glowplant shone inside his mind.
It was so simple. Why didn't he think of it sooner?
He just had to dig for the crystals himself. He had enough parts left to make a powered drill, he just had to make sure he didn't anger the sharkworms. He went home and headed straight to the workshop, where he began to disassemble various devices he had found laying around in festivals and sales. He drew the schematics of the drill on a writing desk that was far cleaner and more organized than him, and soon the roars of the machine sounded off into the night.
The festival had to end sooner than expected. While no one was hurt in the accident but Plagum, there was considerable property damage. Holes were torn into the sides of stalls by the shredding maws of sharkworms, products were devoured and the powered drill hit a rock that sent it flying into the face of a living moon. The celestial critter protested by hiding the stars it carried and spitting back the drill into the roof of Plagum's house.
The tinkerer would have been furious enough to chew through iron, but he had no arguments. If only he had arrived earlier, or saved up more, or just settled for a simpler project to show the University. But it was too late, and he was sentenced to a long period of community service, seeing as how he did not have nearly enough money to pay for the destruction.
"But that close up of the sharkworm's mouth was amazing!" he insisted to himself as he cleaned the debris of his foolish brilliance from the streets. His arm hurt from the glancing bite he had received from the subterranean model. Maybe his next project could be a way to better control the population of those devourers with no sense of taste…
A few days into the service, he was approached by none other than Glibo, who was carrying a covered handbasket. Plagum was surprised, and if he was honest with himself, pleased to see a familiar face that wasn't frowning. The gardener looked at the tinkerer's wounded arm, and shook his head. "You're going to become some animal's dinner if you keep this up". Even through the joke, Glibo could not bring himself to really mock the poor gnome. Plagum did struggle a lot with getting the recognition he wanted so much, and this wasn't the first accident.
"Tell you what, Plagum. When you are done for today, you can come over to my garden for lunch. I was worried that your accident might have wounded you a lot more, so when I heard you were still in one piece, I prepared something special to celebrate."
The tinkerer looked at the handbasket in those orange-black polkadot tendrils, and felt the the sweet aroma of mushroom stew. His stomach groaned loudly, and he told it to shut up. Glibo chuckled at that, and patted Plagum on the back. "Don't worry, I'm sure your stomach isn't angry at you. And you'll make it to Crystalsight soon, I am sure of it. Here, have this mushroom while you do your service." Glibo handed him a big enough fungus to silence his stomach for a while.
"Thanks, Glibo. You're a nice gnome. But don't you forget our score, you hear? I'll beat your tendril-jumper record someday!" The gardener gave him nod of approval and returned to his work. Plagum looked down and recognized a chunk of metal from the drill. He saw his reflected goggles and frown being warped by the metal's shape, creating a boogeyman of the sort that made little gnomes hide inside their bedsheets. And in his grumpy heart, he felt that the difference between the gnome and reflection was too small.
He would have something surprising indeed to discuss over lunch that day.
After weeks of community service (and a lot of temptation to use more gizmos to finish said service faster), Plagum was finally free. His parents gave him the usual speech and scolding, but were far more glad than angry when they saw he was OK. They decided to take him to the circus to cheer him up. Plagum took his notebooks to scribble down ideas as he was inspired by the acrobats' parabolas in the air. He noticed one of them was the boy who had bought the crystal before he could. He felt the beginning of a growl forming in his throat, but he remembered all the trouble his poor manners had brought him so far. He decided that this time would be different.
He stopped by a gizmo store after the show was over, and took some wood pieces, glass, wires and paint. He built a goblet-shaped crystal holder. The glass dome would open at the pulling of a lever, but when closed and placed under moonlight, the crystals hanging from the wires would form sparkling and multi-colored astronomic images.
The next time he went to the circus, Plagum approached the boy who had the crystal he needed. He breathed in and out, and felt a strange levity wash over him. His legendary frown dissolved and gave way to a smile. "Hey there, that was quite the spectacle! You must train a lot. What's your name?"
"Hey, it's you! I'm so sorry for falling on you during the festival! A bird got into my mouth and…what's that in your tendril? Oh, right, I'm Neebeem. You are the drill guy, right?"
Plagum mustered up his willpower to not get irritated at that "drill guy" comment, and to his shock, the next words came naturally to him. "Yes, that's me. My name is Plagum. I couldn't find something I needed in time at the festival, so I came up with a stupid plan that messed everything up. I should have followed your example, Neebeem. Speaking of which…" He showed the crystal holder to the acrobat. "I don't have a lot of money, but if you traded that crystal you bought for this, I'd be so very thankful." He instructed Neebeem on how to use the gizmo, and the boy was completely enchanted.
"Of course, mister! This is so cool! I'm gonna put it my room and watch it every time the moons come by! You're not mean like people say, you're awesome!" Even though Plagum scoffed, he didn't frown. "Ah, I wouldn't say I'm mean, but I have a project on good manners I need to work on. I hope you enjoy the crystal holder. See you around, and keep doing those awesome jumps!"
"Will do! Good luck with your projects, mister Plagum!" The acrobat went on his way, and the tinkerer felt a new glowplant shining in his mind. Now that he had the crystal, he could build the moonlight powered flying machine he had been imagining for so long. But he was bad at piloting, and he could not take detailed pictures of the living moons without losing control of the machine sooner or later. However, there was a solution. And it was so simple.
Later that month, on a scientific magazine that often published articles of respected scholars, the special edition's headline read in showy letters: "Ex-pilot gardener and young tinkerer use flying machine to take revolutionary pictures of living moons." On the article cited in the headline, it said: "Tinkerer is to be admitted into Crystalsight University."