It was the best view in the city. Perhaps on the entire planet.
And it was his and his alone to enjoy. Nobody around to disturb his brief moment of tranquility. It was his personal eye of calm in the perpetual (mostly metaphoric) storms of the world below.
For as far as the eye could see, rising above the clouds which had rolled in prior to the setting of the sun, were the tops of the megascrapers which allowed Chicago to claim the title as the tallest and most populous city on planet Earth. Grand spires which seemed impossibly thin for their height stood side by side with comparatively shorter, blocky shapes that occupied dozens of city blocks beneath a single roof. Competing with these building for the eye’s attention were more fanciful miracles of modern engineering and architectural design. Off to his left was the inverted pyramid of the Morrison Building. Near to the center of his field of vision was the double-helix shape of the Anthem-Cross complex. Off to his right, so distant even he could barely make it out, stood the fantasy medieval castle knows as Jenkins Tower.
Between and among these buildings, little flickers of rapidly-moving lights highlighted the interconnected skyways that encompassed the entire megatropolis like the web of some gargantuan spider. Far above, anti-collision strobes marked hundreds of sub-orbital shuttles and transports conveying passengers and material from one part of the globe to another. Other craft he could see would be ferrying people and supplies to and from the various ships and stations in orbit, or the Armstrong City Lunar Complex.
Once again the man was struck by the whimsical notion that, try as hard as they had, the directors and graphic artists from the heyday of cinematic science fiction, who had been hailed, feted, and awarded for their imagination and creativity for their visions of the far-distant future, had lacked the mental capacity to envision the reality of what the world would look like just a few hundred years after their deaths.
But to be fair, even as jaded and cynical as he’d become, there were times when the sight spread before him still filled him with wonder and amazement at just how far the human race had come.
Which was why he often found himself in his current location, perched on the outer edge of the roof over the largest, most massive structure yet built by human hands.
Taller than Mount Everest, with a three-kilometer-square footprint, Montgomery Tower was a city unto itself. Massive enough that, at any one time, a million more people lived and worked within its walls than had once populated the entire metropolis of Chicago prior to The Arrival. Yet for all that, it was still only a comparatively small part of the massive urban complex that stretched for half a hundred kilometers in all directions.
And that was only what could be seen above the layer of clouds and fog. As majestic and fantastic as the high-reaching towers were, what lay below, so far as his tastes ran, was far, far more appealing. Called “Lowtown” by most, it was a hodgepodge of low and middle height buildings, some dating back nearly to the city’s founding.
The sights, sounds, and sensations the ground-level portion of the city provided was a perpetual siren’s call to him. The rougher, more primitive culture of the denizens who called Lowtown home were far more to his liking than the urbane, civilized appearance and manners he was forced to adopt the majority of the time. Down there, he could lose himself for a time; indulge somewhat his more animalistic passions and instincts. In the towers he often felt like he was being restrained by a faulty stasis field, barely able to move and breathe. Down there, he felt more alive, more real, than at any time while confined within the tower’s walls where, by multiple necessities, he was forced to live.
But it had become something of a test for him to spend several minutes perched there on the ledge of the tower, anchored in place by both feet and one hand, on the nights he chose to act upon his impulses and desires. A dare to himself to see how long he could resist the lure of all that Lowtown offered.
But doing so was also a reminder to always be careful as to how far he could afford to let himself become lost in his amusements. After all, external appearances to the contrary, it was unlikely in the extreme that anyone (so far as he knew) who lived or visited Lowtown – or anywhere else in the city for that matter – could come close to being his physical equal.
Being perched upon that ledge, still only having to exert but a portion of his true strength to remain immobile, was also a reminder to, once he headed elsewhere, make certain he showed the appropriate levels of restraint at all times so that no secrets were exposed. After all, even with the human race having engineered itself to near perfection, they still fell far short of the abilities he sometimes took for granted.
For instance, few if any of those with whom he shared the planet would be able to crouch on that ledge, kept in place by main strength alone, for more than a handful of seconds before being blown either back onto the roof, or forward and over the edge, by the ceaseless, relentless, hurricane-force winds which even then were flattening his clothes to his frame and causing his coat and long hair to flap behind him.
None of the them could survive the bitterly cold air dressed in the same manner as he, clad only in slacks, shirt, and a thin overcoat, for more than a dozen minutes before succumbing to hypothermia. And without immediate medical attention after that brief period, perishing from the sub-freezing temperatures.
None of them could survive more than a few minutes at such a high altitude without a supplemental oxygen system. Even he sometimes had trouble catching his breath.
None of them could have felt through their fingertips as he did the minute vibrations imparted by the molecular stabilization field that infused the structure, the miracle of modern science that allowed the constructions of such massive edifices.
But he could have remained on that ledge, clad only in casual clothes, from dusk to dawn, hardly moving a millimeter, and experiencing only a little discomfort. It was an exhilarating and heady experience to be sure, but also a precautionary one. Never, ever let anyone see his true nature and abilities. His only realistic chance to live a normal life was if nobody ever suspected he was anything more than human.
But he’d been there long enough. It was time to move on. Unable to resist the lure of the world below the clouds for another minute, Thomas took one more look around him, then launched himself bodily over the edge of the tower, letting gravity do the work of taking him to where he most longed to be.