Spirit of London (Elevator)
He ran as fast as he could and started climbing the stairs. ‘Clara, wait,’ he shouted, but his sister was already through the door and out. Johnny followed. He pushed the door open to find her standing right in front of him. They’d emerged into the main building at the T-shaped junction of two corridors. Several thick-set men in suits were calmly walking towards them from both the left and the right – there was only way to go. ‘Come on,’ said Johnny, grabbing Clara’s hand and dragging her forward, running towards a lift at the far end. Perhaps if they got there in time they could lose their pursuers on the upper floors.
Clara was shaking her head from side to side. ‘I don’t understand,’ she said. ‘I thought they were my friends.’
‘Well they’re not anymore,’ said Johnny. They reached the lift and he pushed the call button over and over again. He turned to see two of the men in suits with their weapons out, walking together towards them. A bell chimed and the lift doors opened. Johnny and Clara backed inside.
‘We’re not supposed to go in the lift,’ Clara muttered, more to herself than Johnny. ‘Use of the tower lift will lead to automatic expulsion.’ She seemed to be mimicking an announcement she must have heard many times before.
‘That’s the least of our problems,’ said Johnny, now frantically pushing the only button in sight, hoping the lift doors would close before they were caught. But they were staying resolutely open and the men in suits were now only five metres away. Unexpectedly, the men stopped. One of them pointed his weapon at Johnny and made a pretend shooting movement. Then he lowered it and, as the lift doors finally closed, Johnny could see him laughing on the other side. The truth dawned on him. They had been directed here. It was a trap. He’d walked right into it and brought his new-found sister with him. The lift started going up – and quickly. The odd thing was it didn’t show any sign of stopping. Its walls began glowing electric blue. They were still going up. Johnny braced himself – they were bound to smash into the roof at any moment. The tower was tall but it couldn’t be that tall. Gradually, though, the lift walls were becoming transparent as they moved faster and faster upwards.
‘What’s happening?’ Clara asked.
Outside, Johnny could now see fields disappearing beneath wispy clouds and still they went upwards. ‘No way,’ Johnny said, more to himself than to Clara. The roof of the institute was far below them and the sky turning from blue to black before he finally understood what was going on. He’d read about these things, but they weren’t meant to exist. Incredible as it seemed, someone had built a space elevator. The lift only had one button because they were only going to one place. That place was exactly 36,000 kilometres above the tower of the Proteus Institute – the place from where Kovac had identified the signal.
‘I’m scared,’ said Clara, squeezing Johnny’s hand tightly.
‘It’s OK,’ he told her, thinking it was definitely not OK. ‘We’re going to be fine.’
‘It’s not that,’ said Clara, looking up at Johnny. He saw that her eyes, although pale blue, had the same silver flecks as his own. ‘I just really hate heights.’
Johnny started to laugh, but that turned to choking as gas began pouring into the lift from above their heads. Johnny could feel it burrowing into every corner of his lungs – his legs buckled and he had to struggle to stay standing. ‘Close your eyes, Clara,’ he said. ‘Go to sleep. We’ll wake up in a nice place.’ He tried to squeeze her hand but his body went into spasm and he found himself on the floor of the lift, looking down at the curvature of the Earth beneath him. All his life he’d wanted to witness that view, to be entering space. He closed his own eyes hoping he’d wake up to see it properly.
Image courtesy of NASA Johnson Space Center (NASA-JSC)