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WolfSinger Publications

Don't Write What You Know;

Write What You Care About -- Passionately!

Small-g City
- S.D. Matley

Seattle is on the brink of disaster, but nobody knows it! Nobody except Ralph, a “small-g” god from Olympus, Inc.

Ralph suffers from extreme job burn-out, and no wonder-his job is to  reinforce Seattle’s notorious raised highway, the Alaskan Way Viaduct,  by disbursing his molecules throughout the unstable and hazardous  structure.

But Ralph’s molecules are feeling the pull of reconstitution. Will he  survive one more agonizing rush hour without resuming his humanoid form  and emerging from the viaduct, sending thousands of commuters to their  deaths? And what about the familiar shadow hovering over him? If Zeus  (Olympus, Inc. CEO and the Biggest of Big-G Gods) is spying on him, all  Tartarus is sure to break loose!


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Day One: Tuesday

The  summer sun rose early in the Pacific Northwest. Veronica squinted into  the east as she circled lazily around Columbia Center, dropped from  Fifth to Second Avenue and by the penthouse of the Smith Tower, then  swooped up several blocks of Fourth to admire the glass splendor of the  Seattle Central Library. Seeing the structures in person after studying  Seattle and its architectural history (a project that had spanned two  decades of her doctoral century) filled her with the thrill of  discovery. Finally she was ready to carry out her case study  demonstration, the last step to completing her PhD. The only step she’d  omitted in her exhaustive planning process was getting written  authorization from Dean Phineas to conduct field work. This was a rare  exception in her work ethic, but being on location was critical to  proving her case, and she was reasonably certain he wouldn’t furnish her  with permission to travel, for political reasons. Had he or anyone else  realized she was half a world away from campus?

Gritty,  humid heat rose stories above the city streets, coating her face with  urban brine. Seattle’s August was unusually warm this year, she’d looked  it up in the Hall of Weather before stealing away from Athens U last  night. Her gray pinstriped midi-toga, one she used to wear in her  undergraduate days at Athens U School of Business Administration, wasn’t  ideal flying wear but she was traveling light and the outfit was  necessary to her disguise.

Veronica  referred to a small, flat screen banded to her wrist. Tuesday 6:12 AM.  Hermes, her capable half-sibling employed by the family business, had  given her this mechanism—a combination watch, word processer, GPS and  communications device—for Beta testing. Wouldn’t he be surprised to know  she was giving it an international trial!

The  streets of downtown Seattle were nearly vacant, the hour early for  mortals to report to work. Along Third Avenue a few Metro buses pulled  to the curb to disgorge a handful of commuters. She noted the towering  Parthenon Building on Third and Madison and nodded to herself,  acknowledging she’d return there shortly to begin some crucial  undercover work. The sparkle of a stainless steel espresso cart across  Third from the Parthenon Building caught her bleary eyes. Veronica’s  mouth watered at the thought of a double skinny mocha with cinnamon  sprinkled on top. She swooped low to check the stand, lower than was  safe in terms of avoiding detection as her cloaking was faded from the  exhaustion of the long flight.  Alas, no chocolate-spiked steam rose  from the cart, just a striped awning lifting into place. Disappointed  and feeling pangs of caffeine withdrawal, Veronica pulled up and  continued on her course, zooming by thirtieth, fortieth and fiftieth  story windows of office buildings that still slumbered.

~ * ~

David  Bernstein’s high-top soles squeaked on the stress mat as he ascended to  the number six cart of Use Your Bean Espresso. As he raised the  supporting arms of the awning, the red and white striped overhang that  smelled like an old tent when the early afternoon sun beat through it,  the sky darkened for a second and a chill zipped down David’s spine. He  snapped the metal arms into the locked position and peered out from  underneath the awning at the white-blue August sky and the uninterrupted  blocks of office towers that lined Third Avenue. Headed north, a dark  figure flew. David couldn’t make out wings but his long vision wasn’t  anything to brag about. Benjamin, a friend he’d made from that one  dismal quarter at the University of Washington, was a big UFO freak but  David wasn’t a believer.

He  took a last squint at whatever it was. It had to be an eagle or  something big like that. And even if it wasn’t, downtown Seattle still  needed espresso, even if the temperature was climbing towards seventy at  6:14 AM.

~ * ~

Veronica  soared over Seattle Center. The Space Needle slumbered, elevators at  rest, tall frame rising above the other nearby buildings, spike pointing  heavenward. Clifford, the immortal giant whose dispersed molecules held  up the structure, snored like a babe. His lip molecules—beyond  detection by mortal eyes but visible to Veronica—fluttered below the  roofline. Given his schedule Clifford could sleep later than most, a  rarity for a structureling small-g god in this city. Preparatory  research assured her that Ralph, the next structureling on her fly by,  would be wide awake. Hearing inside her head Dad’s tales about the  importance of maintaining secrecy when doing field work, Veronica  wearily re-activated her standard-level invisibility cloak, which had  faded so badly she could see her own arms extended before her. Masked  from mortal and small-g eyes, she turned south, toward the Seattle  waterfront. The route was short. She flew at a leisurely velocity and  wondered if anyone from Athens U had missed her yet. Her clandestine  escape was the first time she’d used her Biggest of Big-Gs-level  cloaking. Veronica wondered how Dad would feel if he knew his top-secret  proprietary information was being used to deceive him by his Olympus,  Inc., heir apparent. She longed for the day when cloaking wasn’t a  necessary evil amongst immortals, for a new era when the family business  could operate with transparency and openness.

She  hovered above the upper deck of the raised highway known as the Alaskan  Way Viaduct, a pothole-riddled concrete structure considered by many to  be the worst architectural eyesore in the city and a prime candidate  for collapse in the next major earthquake. Veronica tingled with a rush  of adrenaline. At last she was on site with the focal point of her  demonstration! Finally she was in a position to complete her PhD and, in  turn, revolutionize the Structureling Department, the biggest headache  of Olympus, Incorporated. Once the anticipated results were achieved,  Dad could no longer ignore her readiness to succeed him as CEO!

Veronica  listened intently to the groans that issued from the Alaskan Way  Viaduct, groans in a frequency that only an immortal could hear. Ralph’s  eye molecules, dispersed as all his molecules were to reinforce the  structure, formed a broad, faint etching of his real eyes. She noted his  eyes were half-closed, presumably with pain, as cars, busses and  freight trucks bounced down the north-bound lanes of the highway. Ralph  groaned a string of expletives when a cement truck thundered over a  metal plate, a temporary bolted-down repair.

Her  cloaked lips smiled. The benefits of the new structureling technology  should make Ralph an enthusiastic participant in her demonstration.  Reassured by the promise of good things to come, Veronica laughed softly  to herself. This small-g city would be everything she’d hoped for, as  soon as she could get some caffeine to ease the dull headache that had  just begun to throb in her forehead. Once fortified, she’d be ready to  pursue one last piece of research, something her considerable skill as a  hacker couldn’t uncover. At last there was a practical application for  the theatrical training Mom had insisted she receive as a youngster. If  her deception succeeded she’d gain a piece of insurance—a bargaining  tool if her demonstration plans met resistance.

The  balance of her morning thus planned, Veronica indulged in a  loop-the-loop and flew east, toward the spot on Third Avenue where the  espresso cart she’d spied earlier would now be open for business.

~ * ~

David wiped down the stainless steel counter and slid open the customer window. His stomach made a noise like a Drano commercial. It was going to be a long week between now and payday on  Friday. Last night he’d eaten cereal for dinner, saving his four boxes  of macaroni and cheese for later.

The  mac and cheese was an off brand he and his absent roommate, Mike, had  dubbed “Danger Boy,” reasoning “You’re in danger, boy!” when you had to  resort to such food-stuffs. He thought he’d be able to make it through  the summer without Mike, who’d gone back to his home town to work  graveyard shift at a paper mill, but David hadn’t found a summer  roommate. Paying the full rent on their two bedroom apartment in the  U-District had drained his meager savings account. He’d hoped his boss  would come through with a raise, especially when the boss had said  David’s cart was the top selling Use Your Bean espresso location for  three months running. But his hourly wage sat stubbornly at fifty cents  above minimum, not much more than when he’d started a year and a half  ago. At least he still had a cell phone. Mom had paid his contract a  year in advance for his last birthday, which made sense because she was  pretty much the only one who called.

David  turned the key of the cash register. With a series of electronic  grumblings it groaned awake. Third Avenue was quiet, but David knew from  experience the morning crowd would appear sometime during the next  half-hour. He switched on an old battery-powered radio he’d bought at a  second-hand store before his personal finances had turned completely  grim and listened to the AM station that played traffic news every ten  minutes. Good business practice,  he heard Dad’s tight-lipped voice say inside his head. Traffic  information was worth knowing. Backups on Highway 520 and snarls on I-5  could make rush hour brutal for the lawyers, accountants, bankers and  librarians bound for the downtown business district, not to mention  those poor souls thundering down the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

David  stepped down from the cart and trotted to the corner of Third and  Madison to take a quick look at the Viaduct, traffic lanes atop concrete  piers that everyone worried would tumble in the next big earthquake. A  blurred stream of vehicles confirmed that traffic was heavy and moving  fast. When he returned to the cart the radio was blaring. A  jabber-mouthed traffic reporter shouted I-5 was moving along, too,  though a semi-truck had jackknifed in the middle of the 520 bridge and  all lanes were at a standstill.

“It’s  six twenty-three on another hot summer morning,” the announcer fired  off with the rapidity of a machine gun. “We’ve had some calls about a  mysterious object in the sky from listeners on Highway Ninety-Nine and  I-Five near Seattle Center. UFO or weather balloon? You call the shots  at station KA—”

“It’s  an eagle, nitwit,” David muttered as he clicked off the radio, stripped  off his wind breaker and prepared for a long, steamy morning at Use  Your Bean Espresso.

~ * ~

Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-ka-ka-boom sang the chorus of tires and gross weights bouncing along Ralph’s back.

“Ouch-ooch-ouch-gheez-oh-shi…” sang Ralph in response.

It  was bad for a Tuesday. Traffic hummed along without one lane-blocking  breakdown, without one over-burdened mattress truck losing its load,  without the eagerly anticipated weekly car fire (which blistered  mightily, but it was worth it if a few thousand commuters took a  different route). Traffic jams were one of the few events in his work  life that gave Ralph hope—weight he could handle, but the grinding  vibration of multiple daily rush hours was getting on his nerves. The  mortals had no respect, no appreciation for what he did for them every  single minute of every single day since the opening of the Alaskan Way  Viaduct.

Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-ka-ka-boom.

And this was the thanks he got!

Millennia  ago Zeus, the biggest of all Big-G Gods, had realized mortals were  designing and building architectural structures far beyond their  engineering capabilities—easy to notice as bridges of ambitious span and  buildings of perilous height kept falling down on top of the overly  confident fools. Zeus had pieced together some of their early  experiments, the so-called Seven Man-Made Wonders of the World, before  he’d arrived at the master solution: mortals didn’t realize many of  their innovative architectural structures, from ancient times well into  the twentieth century, were supported by the molecules of an immortal  giant dispersed throughout!

Ralph  gritted his teeth molecules. The only break in the killing monotony of  his morning, and it wasn’t necessarily a good thing, was the chill he’d  felt a few minutes ago when an unmistakable molecular density passed  over his top deck. “Big-G!” he’d thought, resisting the urge to cry out  the discovery. He’d felt the impulse to pull together into the shape  he’d been born with, but had mastered himself, staying the molecules in  their dispersal pattern before more than a slight tremor purred through  the piers and concrete slabs. He hadn’t been visited by a Big-G since  he’d taken this job in 1953! Ralph’s heart molecules fluttered. Had Zeus  come to move him to a new assignment? Was the Biggest of Big-G Gods  bringing the good news himself?

The  weight of a shadow had passed before his eye molecules but no one  materialized. “Cloaked,” he’d thought, heart molecules thudding with the  immediate interpretation of secrecy as a bad sign. In one of Ralph’s  weekly counseling sessions, Jim, the regional structureling counselor,  had let it slip that a corporate-wide shakeup was rumored for Olympus,  Inc., and Ralph wasn’t on the best terms with Zeus. Was the boss spying  on him, waiting to hear Ralph complain about his current assignment so  he could take disciplinary action?

The  structureling’s paranoid speculations about the hovering Big-G presence  had faded when traffic cranked up three or four notches on the pain  scale.

Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-ka-ka-boom.

Ralph  reached deep into his structureling tool box. He called up a Buddhist  relaxation technique he’d learned millennia ago in a World Religions  seminar at Athens Tech, drew a deep breath and slowly exhaled.

Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-ka-ka-boom.

The pain wasn’t so bad, really.

Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-ka-ka-boom.

The reward of relaxation is relaxation.

Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-ka-ka-BLAM! BLAM!! BLAM!!!


A  vast cement truck had hit some metal patch plates at just the right  speed and just the right angle to bounce and rattle mercilessly, jarring  his brain molecules into a stabbing tension headache. By the time Ralph  collected his wits and stopped swearing, the cloaked presence was gone.

Ralph  groaned in agony, his back molecules sharp with spasms. The pavement  needed resurfacing like nobody’s business. The temporary metal strips  were as dangerous as the cracks and pot holes they covered.

Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-ka-ka-boom.

Life as a geriatric raised highway sucked.

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