I started awake to a curious tension in the air. It had a familiar flavor, and it only took me a moment to identify it.
It is time...
Can you feel it? I do, and I often wonder why.
Then the wondering stops, and the living begins.
It's a hundred miles wide, this scar of concrete and steel. Glistening in the blistering sun, the massive city absorbs tremendous energy from nature, only to hold it ready to pump out again along with the waste heat from gigawatts of generated power consumed keeping the heart and blood of the great construction in motion...keeping its occupants alive.
The very layout of the city makes it incredibly efficient at absorbing more of the energy impacting it than its surrounding landscape, the geometrically precise shapes concentrating heat into its canyons and concrete with ruthless intensity.
That same design yields a quick release of that energy under the right conditions. In laymen's terms, the city heats up quicker, stays hot longer, and pumps more energy into a cooling landscape than any creation in nature. The city is a heat engine of inconceivable proportions. Once large enough, and with a violent enough climate swing, it can even impact the weather.
During the summer the effect is readily obvious here. The Dallas-Fort Worth area is known for severe thunderstorms, and weeks of intense temperatures push the environment and the city to their limits. Disturbances occasionally roll in from the west and massive storms move rapidly across the landscape. As powerful as they are, the storms still wither and die as they approach, the radar images showing the system parting around the city and forming again on the other side. In this, the city heat engine has a positive effect, creating what some meteorologists have termed a "heat island" of conditions that the storms cannot penetrate. In short, they hit a wall of heat that overpowers the unstable conditions that sustain them, moderating the worst of the weather and leaving the city unscathed.
All well and good, until we remember that thunderstorms are heat engines too.
Occasionally, even in the dead of summer, a disturbance will be sufficient to overpower the "heat island" effect and allow the storms full reign. The wall is breached. When that occurs the heat of the city is rapidly released into the unstable conditions and instead of dissuading the storms, it simply goes to feed the rage of the developing tempest. In a spectacular display of unbridled power and ultimate chaos, the energy of the city is consumed by the very forces battering against it.
An unstoppable force against an immovable object. A god against a demon. Gasoline into a fire.
And into that, I ride.
Four-thirty in the morning is too early for even predawn light, yet there was plenty of light in the sky. Not the subdued brightness of the city reflecting off the clouds, but rather, to the west, a nearly constant barrage of lightning strikes provided an eerie flickering light and shifting shadows visible even deep in my garage. A barely audible yet powerful rumble from the continuous thunder stirred primal feelings within my soul and I suppressed the sudden and animalistic impulse to run. Instead I straddled my F6 Valkyrie cruiser and backed the big bike into the driveway.
The thunder pounded markedly louder and I snarled as much at my own feelings as at the threatening sky. Run? Ha! Even if I did, just where would I run to, anyway? Denied its desire to flee, the animal, the instinct, that dark side of the man, enthusiastically readied itself to fight. I laughed out loud at the quick turn of powerful emotions. The surge of exhilaration over the dark feelings was nearly overwhelming.
I pushed the start button on the metal beast beneath me and felt her come to life. The half-ton of man and machine roared down the alley and I grinned as I felt the acceleration unleashed with the slightest twist of my wrist, the precision directional control exacted with just slight pressure of the hands and knees.
Power in my own right.
The forces at my command are not at all subtle and I let out a howl as I turned onto the street and almost immediately reached what was no doubt an unsafe speed. The temptest above reflected in my soul...for now the laws of man were irrelevant.
Sometimes I'm not nearly as civilized as I pretend to be.
The streets were dry, and the roiling clouds seemingly struggling to reach me indicated this storm was not yet totally in control of its own destiny. The mixed hot and cold blustery winds told me it was still feeding on the heat of the city. Still building. That could work to my advantage.
The streetlights were all out, the lightning shutting them down and providing its own brand of illumination, and the Valkyrie and I had the concrete canyons nearly to ourselves. The gusts were getting colder, a welcome relief from the oppressive heat we'd been experiencing. The feeling of impending violence grew steadily as the smell of the storm flushed away the last of the odors of the city.
Those primal feelings stirred again. Soon now.
A few quick turns and I was southbound, headed for downtown on the freeway. The concrete walls threw the lonesome howl of the big cruiser back at me, but that was not nearly enough to drown out the thunder. The sound was of a predator, and it made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I could almost taste the electricity in the air.
The storm broke, dumping what seemed a solid wall of water directly in my path. I pulled hard left as the way looked clearer and found to my surprise that those lanes were clear. I was directly on the leading edge of this particular cell, and the demarcation was so distinct that while the right two lanes were pounded by the rain, the left two were untouched.
I laughed and savagely twisted the throttle. Isolated, no cars visible in front or behind, and riding between a concrete divider and solid wall of water, there was no need at all to watch my speed. As the needle shot well past the 100 mark my heart was filled with a savage joy. Lightning kept time with the pounding of my heart and even over the wind, the thunder still reigned supreme. The occasional deep rivulets of water running out of the right lanes were no threat and I simply slammed through them, the high speed of my passage yielding a puff of mist instead of a more traditional splash. Heavy gusts of wind struggled to divert my course but they were simply no match for the power and sheer size of the machine I was astride.
As powerful as they are, the storms are still constrained by the systems that sustain them. This cell was moving slowly north and east. It had little choice. I, on the other hand had plenty. I was only constrained by the fuel in my tank, my knowledge of the city, and the destination I hoped to reach. South and slightly east I went, and was soon out of reach of the heavy rains. I was not out of the woods, even as I headed back to the west I could see more boiling clouds readying for the charge. The conditions were right for more powerful storms to form. This race, this hunt, would go on for over 20 miles.
They were too late though. Even as they regrouped, my destination appeared ahead. I zipped into the lot and slid to a stop in my covered parking space. I sat there, the big bike rumbling beneath me, for fully a minute before I sighed, shut down the machine, and headed into the building. It took all my will to do simply that, my soul demanding I get back out there and ride.
I entered the back door on a tremendous gust of humid, cool, and threatening air. The security guard looked up as dust and paper bits blew in around me. I'm sure the grin on my face was a bit wild as he blinked twice before asking, "How was your ride?"
Lightning struck close enough for us to hear the "snap" just before being stunned by the tremendous thunderclap. The flash was blinding. A deluge of rain poured out of the sky hard enough to completely obscure the parking lot and send drops some twenty feet under the covered entry and spattering through the doors. To the surprise of the guard I shouted a "YES!" in appreciation of the powerful display outside.
I pushed the button for the elevator and turned to look outside just as lightning struck again. I heard a muffled exclamation from the guard and he moved to pull the doors shut as the wind was holding them open against the closers.
I grinned wickedly as the elevator arrived. I backed in, my attention still rapt on the chaos. "My ride?" I paused until the elevator's doors began to slide closed, "Absolutely perfect."
Can you feel it?
I'll see you on the road.