Built within a natural cavern, this enormous, sub-terranean facility spreads as far as the eye can see, recedes into shadow. A vast metal structure is anchored to the ceiling far above from which depend industrial light fixtures strung at intervals from thick cables. Highly polished floors gleam bright white. The horizontal aspect is interrupted only by a handful of lectern-style stations scattered about the otherwise empty space. Uniformed workers in hard hats move between the stations to monitor them, adjusting dials and switches, pressing flashing buttons. Though my companion and I look utterly out of place in our jeans and t-shirts, the workers do not deviate from their tasks as we pass. Our footsteps throb and echo.
We soon reach the object of our search — a large free-standing structure that resembles a sleek, stainless-steel armoire. On closer inspection, I realize it is a free-standing elevator. My companion presses a raised button on a burnished panel, and the elevator’s thick glass doors slide open noiselessly. Once we have entered, my companion again presses another button. The doors seal shut, and the elevator begins its descent. We head far, far below, to the facility’s power source — the heart of a nuclear reactor.
The elevator gathers speed with each second of its descent. Soon, my ears are filled with a faint “whooshing” sound. A dull red light begins to fill the downward shaft. I glance at my companion. He is silent, hands in his pockets, his gaze fixed above the glass doors to read the flash of numbers indicating our plunge. His apparent calm does nothing to alleviate my growing panic, which soon escalates to hysteria. Heart pounding, breath restricted, I spring at the burnished panel, indiscriminately punch buttons. When the elevator shudders and groans, interior lights flickering, I find the faintly luminous “up” arrow and lean the heel of my hand against it.
The elevator responds — agonizingly slowly. Reversing course. Beginning its initial ascent. Gathering speed. My panic is similarly slow to depart.