Chapter 4

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"Guys," Cal said over breakfast, "we need to manage expectations. Yeah, we did great work with Chimera, but we don't want to peak too fast, right?"

"Good thought," Gene replied, "especially since I was thinking the same thing. What's your idea?"

"Chimera is good. Scary good. Maybe a little too scary. I kind of think we should go artsy on the next one. Grace, beauty, majesty. I'm sure you can spin all sorts of bullshit to the Big Guy over it." Cal looked like he tasted something disgusting in his breakfast.

Alex nodded. "The slaves think Chimera is a terror. They're worried that Zeus will task us to do even worse."

"What is it with you and the slaves, Alex?" Mack asked.

"I've..." he leaned forward and whispered. "I've kind of organized them into a spy network. Anything happening on this mountain, I know about it." He gave Cal a sympathetic look. "They trust us. I'm just the first to use that trust to our advantage."

"'Lea warned me about challenging the gods, hubris, all that," said Cal. "But if you can find a pin to pop that buffoon's bubble, I'll take the first poke."

"They're doomed, anyway," Alex pointed out. "In our time, they're nothing but stories. I wonder what happened to them, and when."

"Maybe they walked off after the Romans converted to Christianity," Cal suggested. "Makes as much sense as anything else."

"Okay, we've veered off-track a bit," Gene reminded them. "Let's talk about what we want to do for our next creature."

"I think Cal's got a good idea," said Alex. "Grace, beauty, uh... majesty?"

"Yeah." Cal grinned, perhaps for the first time since Airlea left his chambers and returned. "What animal would people associate with that? And, more importantly, how would we improve on it?"

The newest wonder had Zeus nodding, both in agreement with its "cool factor" and in need of a nap for the endless meaningless expostulation.

"Same issues as, uh, Chimera, with weight as an added wrinkle," the leader said before Zeus stopped listening. "We had to do a ton of genemod on the horse to get the weight down. The wings are a real bugger, sir. They have to hold him up, plus anyone he's got on his back—"

"It will carry a man?"

They whispered again. "Probably not," one admitted at last. "A woman, maybe, or a kid."

"A goat?"

"Sorry. A child. Maybe a small adult."

Zeus thought a moment. "It will do. I name it Pegasus." Again, he watched the celebratory hand-slapping. "I note that only three of you are here. Where is the fourth?" He knew which one was missing—the owner of the slave whom he had summoned. It was good; mortals angry at the gods seldom were at their best when they actually had to face the deity of their wrath.

"Oh. He's working on the next thing, already. Cal was the one who figured out the wings, too. He had to graft bird DNA into the horse brain, and you can see the tail—"

"I think you should gift Hermes with this new creature," Zeus interrupted. "Message carriers among the mortals seek his favor. Perhaps he would grant your creature to one of them."

"Great idea, sir! Once we get him flying, we'll totally do that."

"Excellent. Return to your labors. I am eager to see what else you might create. Something to match Chimera, perhaps?"

"We've totally got his measure." Gene looked at each of his friends. "He wants us to unleash all sorts of monsters."

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