WolfSinger Publications

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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!!!

“OUCH! SHIT! YOW! OUCH!”

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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