The door to Cafe Diem swung open, ringing the little silver bell hanging from the doorframe. Everyone paused to glance at the uniformed man strolling through the door. He wandered through the collection of round tables scattered around the storefront and sat down at the counter. A plump, curly haired man in an apron materialized—literally, in a dazzling spectacle of lights and smoke—from behind the espresso machine. With one hand he waved away the smoke pouring from his curly hair and with the other he smoothed his apron. As he turned, he noticed the uniformed man staring at him.
“Oh! Hi, Sheriff.”
Vincent hustled over to the counter. “I’m so sorry. Have you been waiting long? I was in my infinite pantry getting some voatsiperifery for today’s special.”
Jack Carter stared at Vincent for a long moment, wondering if “voatsiperifery” was actually a food or if Vincent was just toying with him. In the end, he decided not to ask. Jack’s idea of adventurous cuisine was adding hot sauce to his grilled cheese and he didn’t need fancy words jumbling up his go-to menu.
“No problem; I just got here.” He scanned the cafe and nodded at the safe and orderly scene with satisfaction. “Can I get the usual?”
Disdain flickered over Vincent’s face. Jack Carter liked drip coffee. From the local grocery store. Pre-ground beans.
He sighed. “Sure. You want it in a To-Go cup?”
“No, thanks. It’s such a quiet day today. We don’t get a lot of that here in Eureka, so I thought I’d take a little break—”
Before he could finish, a boom filled the air, followed by the grinding of metal and shattering glass.
Jack reconsidered his order. “Actually, a To-Go cup would be great.”
Before he was even out of the cafe with his coffee, his cellphone rang. He shoved open the glass door with his hip and waded into the stream of panicked Eurekans who ran toward the calamity. As he moved with them, he pressed the phone to his ear.
“This is Carter.”
His phone clicked and beeped and then sounded like it was regurgitating its circuitry.
“Sorry,” Jack said, “can you repeat that?”
“It’s Jo—you know, your deputy?”
“Hi, Jo. Sorry, it’s hard to hear out here. What’s up?”
“We’re getting calls at the station about an accident in town. Do you want me to come out and help make arrests? Shoot anyone? Stand around looking incredibly menacing? I’ll take any of those. Or all of them. I love violence.”
“Let’s hold off on the violence until I can figure out what’s happening. I just left Cafe Diem and I’m heading toward the calamity now. Hang on a second.”
He took a sip of coffee, then picked up the pace, ducking through the crowd. He rounded a corner and came to a dead halt. The accident was another twenty feet ahead but he didn’t need to get any closer. He stuck the phone back up against his ear.
“Jo, call Henry and ask him to get his tow truck over here right away.”
“Okay, anything else?”
“Yeah,” he said, gazing at the hole in the middle of the street and the monstrous tree root that had burst up from it, stretching twenty feet high, taking three Smart Cars and a bicyclist with it. The trapped residents hung from the windows of their vehicles or bear-hugged the root for fear of falling, and were screaming for help.
“Call a gardener.”
“This is extraordinary,” Henry said, leaning against his tow truck and tipping his head back to take in the full view. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“You say that every time something crazy happens,” Jack said, “which is three times a week.”
Henry shrugged. “What do you expect? This town is populated with the most brilliant scientific minds in the country. Experiments are bound to go haywire from time to time. You know, the Department of Defense hires only those who are at the tops of their respective fields.” He paused and glanced at Jack. “And, of course, you.”
“Thanks.” Jack pointed up at the stranded victims, who were now being circled by prototype military drones whose weapons had been replaced with coffee and snacks from Cafe Diem. “How are we going to get those people down?”
“Obviously, we’re going to need the leading expert on gravitropism.”
“Right.” Jack’s eyes cut back to Henry. He gagged on the word. “Grapitopimorphicism…”
Henry waved his hands to silence Jack. “Gravitropism, Jack—how plants respond to gravity. NASA’s very interested in it for space travel and possible colonization. I’ll bet someone at Global Dynamics has an answer for this. Have you talked to Allison Blake? As the head of G.D., she can tell you who to call.”
“Just let me know when the cars come down and I’ll tow them back to my garage for repairs.” He climbed into his truck and drove away.
Jack pulled out his cell phone and hit the speed dial for Doctor Allison Blake.
“Hey Jack, how are you?”
His heart fluttered in his chest and he forgot what he was doing. “Hi. Fine. How are you? How’s things?” A scream from above brought him back to the present situation. He whirled around and looked up—
One of the stranded victims had received decaf from a military drone instead of regular.
“Listen, Allison, we’ve got a problem here in town. About a half hour ago, a gigantic tree root exploded out of the street and suspended a few people in the air. I need to get them down. Henry suggested that someone at G.D. might be running an experiment with plants and gravity. Gravimojo or something.”
“Gravitropism. Yeah, the government’s very interested in it so we’ve been conducting a lot of experiments lately. We have the leading gravitropism scientist in the world right here in Eureka. I’ll send him over.”
He hung up and turned around. To his surprise, Henry’s tow truck was heading back his way. Jack stepped back, away from the curb, and let him park.
Henry climbed out of his truck, holding a large metal gadget that Jack could only assume was a ray gun. Or maybe it was a space gun. Space ray gun, Jack thought.
“Allison called me,” Henry said. “She says you need me.”
Jack stared at him. “You’re the top scientist on plant gravity? Why didn’t you say so when you were standing here a minute ago?”
“The research is classified, but Allison said it was okay to share it.” He hoisted the ray gun up onto his shoulder. “This is the Gravitoboobulator X-7000. Prototype, of course. It’s leaps and bounds above the X-6000, since it doesn’t turn plants into people-eaters.”
Jack’s eyes cut to the X-7000, then back to Henry. “Uh, yeah. So what does it do now?”
“This machine is the latest in gravitropism technology and can temporarily surround this root with graviphotons that will make it sink back into the earth.”
Henry frowned and repeated, “I’m going to create a repulsive vector force so that the root can float down nice and easy, like a cloud.”
“No, I understand your explanation but… repulse gravity? That doesn’t sound right. I mean, I only have a high school diploma, but that science doesn’t sound right to me.”
“Don’t worry, Jack.” Henry aimed the silver gizmo and pressed a red button near the trigger. The contraption whirred to life and radiated a green aura. “I’m the leading expert in the world!”
“Wait,” Jack said, “it’s getting dark out. Can you even see what you’re aiming at?”
“Trust me. No one’s going to get hurt.” Henry pulled the trigger.
A brilliant green light shined from the contraption, but it launched no projectiles. Instead, a latticed green field enveloped the root. The crowd oohed and aahed.
In the sky, the moon began to glow. Big. Bright. In fact, it looked bigger and brighter than usual. It began to radiate a dull green.
“Hey Henry,” Jack said, “is it just me, or is the moon looking really, really huge tonight?”
“Oh. Um… whoops.”
Jack’s head snapped in Henry’s direction. “Whoops? What do you mean, whoops?”
And then the ground began to shake. A crack broke open at the base of the root and continued upward. As it ran up the root, the crack fractured. Chunks of hard plant fell and crashed onto the pavement, squashing the onlookers. People screamed and scattered. The cars and the bicycle suspended in the air swung violently.
“Henry!” Jack shouted. “Stop!”
“I can’t! The Gravitoboobulator X-7000 isn’t turning off!”
Henry tried pointing the gun away from the root, but its graviphotonic field continued to envelop the root.
“Do something!” he shouted. “I can’t stop the beam!”
Jack grabbed the Gravitoboobulator out of Henry’s hands and slammed it against the curb. The green light wavered. Metal fragments broke off of the gun and flew everywhere. Jack smashed it again. And again. He continued to slam it against the ground until it was nothing but a sad silver nub.
The light finally cut out and the field around the root dissipated. Above, the stranded people stopped swinging and came to a stop as the root stabilized.
Henry glanced down at the destroyed Gravitoboobulator X-7000, then back up at Jack.
“When I said for you to do something, I meant to do one of those heroic sheriff things that saves the day.”
“I did. I destroyed your space ray gun.” Jack smiled. “I was very heroic.”
“That’s not what I meant.” He pointed to the partially flattened remains of two unfortunate onlookers. “We need to take those two to the morgue. Hopefully the coroner will be able to learn a little more about the situation.” Henry paused. “And since the coroner is also me, it’s convenient.”
“Or inconvenient,” Jack said, “because you’re also the town mechanic, the mayor, and the leading expert on plant gravity. When do you have time to do all this stuff? Are you also an expert on time travel?”
“That’s classified, Jack. I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Whatever.” He pointed up at the root. “The root is still there and now the moon’s green. And huge. What’s the deal with the moon? Why’d you shout ‘whoops’?”
Henry threw up his hands in exasperation. “I forgot that tonight is the super moon. There was a stronger supersymmetric interaction, and… well, to put it simply, the Gravitoboobulator X-7000 wasn’t strong enough. The gravitational fields began to pull the tree root apart.”
Jack gave Henry a long look, still clearly not believing his science. “Uh huh. So what do we do?”
“Obviously we need the leading expert on gauge theory as it relates to supermoon gravitation. I’ll go get him.”
Henry climbed back into his tow truck and hit the gas.
A half block away, the truck came to a screeching halt, made a U-turn, and returned to the curb where Jack stood. Henry rolled down the window.
“Lemme guess,” Jack said. “You’re also the expert on supermoons.”
“You guessed right,” Henry said, “and I hope you’re ready for another heroic feat, because we need you to up there and check things out.”
“Up there? Up where?”
Henry pointed his index finger at the sky. “The moon, of course.”
Jack’s face lit up. “Awesome! I always wanted to be an astronaut.” He glanced up at the giant greenish-white orb in the sky, then back at Henry. He jammed his hands into his pockets. “So how do I get there? Do you guys have some kind of exchange program with NASA?”
Henry balked. “A NASA rocket? Jack, this is Eureka. Our brilliant minds wouldn’t stoop so low as to using something as common as a rocket.” He leaned out of the window, close to Jack, as if sharing a secret. “We’ve got something better.”
“Henry, around here, ‘better’ never means better. It means not better.”
“You’re doing it anyway,” Henry said.
Stay tuned for Part 2, which will be posted next Sunday!