Thursday, 26 July 2012

Chicago 4500, Part One

The helmeted young man piloted his yellow air taxi through the surging sky lanes over Chicago, zipping past the balconies of towering skyscrapers on his relatively low-level 100th-story route. Someone hailed the cab from the balcony of the historic Sears Tower, a quaint relic from an earlier age—now dwarfed by its 600-or-more-story contemporaries. As the young man maneuvered carefully through the lane separating him from his potential passenger, another air taxi cut him off, blocking his access to the balcony and taking the passenger. The young man honked his horn angrily and punched the radio power button. All seven lanes of traffic were now stopped at the red light suspended from cables stretched between two massive buildings.
Meanwhile, at the tallest building complex in Chicago (which, at a soaring height of 12,384 feet, was now vying for the title of world’s tallest building) a vast space cruiser was docking at an upper-level walkway. The complex’s lakefront setting made it an ideal location for a landing area, as it was one of the only urban-access sites with enough open space to land the enormous tourist cruisers and cargo vessels. The only boats on the lake were those of retirees: a popular retirement option was to buy a large houseboat and live on the lake. With access to Michigan’s wild, forested preserves, beaches, bustling Chicago, or ancient Milwaukee, the houseboat life was ideal for active centenarians. Even the more vigorous sesquicentenarians could sometimes be seen on the lake, leisurely fishing off their front porches.
As the dramatic orange and purple sunset became the backdrop of the space cruiser landing, it silhouetted the huge ship and the twin spires between which it docked. The city began to light up in varying hues, competing with the colorful horizon. As the sky faded from purple to deep blue to black, the stars were surpassed by the bright lights of the city. Even the moon, which now shone full over Chicago, paled in comparison to the radiance of the skyscrapers.
Deep below the rushing sky lanes, in the shady Chicago understory, a sleeping humanoid figure was hunched under a ground level window inside one of the towers. Here, more than two miles below the tips of the soaring buildings, the gritty pavement had fallen out of use centuries ago as the old forms of transportation died out. A potholed, cracked cement surface was all that remained of the once-traffic-filled roadways. Dirt and grime, however, were not the only things that thrived on the understory.
As dusk fell on the skyline, the sleeping figure stirred and woke. An eerie glow from the bright upper levels was the only light that shone on this part of the understory, where electricity was scarce. The man-like creature rose to its feet, shaking the dark, thick blanket from its shoulders. It was short and hunched, at a height of only four-and-a-half feet, and extremely pale, with wide eyes that consisted almost entirely of inky black pupils. Its fingers were long, ending in long, rough, grimy nails. A single short, black garment covered it from throat to thigh. The creature reached underneath the blanket to retrieve a grayish pack and a long black coat from a small trapdoor directly below the spot where it had been sleeping. Donning the coat and pulling up the hood, which covered all of the face but the black eyes, the creature rose once again, pack in hand, and began to make its way out into the dark, canyon-like street.