You may board now for Downtown Station.
Amanda and I share a glance, shrug, and then step into the first car. It’s nearly full with commuters.
This isn’t the El I know. It’s free. No one is standing. Everyone is strapped into chairs that look like they should be bolted to a rocket sled.
The word VACANT hovers helpfully above each empty seat.
As Amanda and I move up the aisle, the automated attendant says, Please find a seat. The train cannot depart the station until everyone is safely seated.
We slide into a couple of seats at the front of the car. As I lean back, padded restraints emerge from the chair and gently secure my shoulders and waist.
Head back against your seat, please. The train is departing in three…two…one.
The acceleration is smooth but intense. It shoves me deep into the cushioned seat for two seconds, and then we’re floating along a single rail at an inconceivable speed, no sense of friction beneath us as a cityscape blurs past on the other side of the glass, too fast for me to actually process what I’m seeing.
In the distance, that fantastical skyline inches closer. The buildings don’t even make sense. In the sharp morning light, it looks as if someone shattered a mirror and stood all the shards of glass upright in formation. They’re too beautifully random and irregular to be man-made. Perfect in their imperfection and asymmetry, like a range of mountains. Or the shape of a river.
The track drops.
My stomach lifts.
We scream through a tunnel—darkness interspersed with bursts of light that only serve to amplify the sense of disorientation and velocity.
We break out of the darkness and I grip the sides of my chair, forced forward into the restraints as the train slams to a stop.
The attendant announces, Downtown Station.
Is this your stop? appears as a hologram six inches from my face above Y? and N?
Amanda says, “Let’s get off here.”
I swipe the Y. She does the same.
Our restraints release and disappear into the seats. Rising, we exit the car with the other passengers onto the platform of a magnificent station that dwarfs New York’s Grand Central. It’s a soaring terminal topped with a ceiling that resembles beveled glass in the way the sunlight passes through and diffuses into the hall as scattered brilliance, projecting twittering chevrons of light onto the marble walls.
The space is brimming with people.
The long, croaking notes of a saxophone hang in the air.
At the opposite side of the hall, we climb a daunting waterfall of steps.
Everyone around us is talking to themselves—phone calls, I’m sure, though I don’t see any mobile devices.
At the top of the stairs, we pass through one of a dozen turnstiles.
The street is crushed with pedestrians—no cars, no traffic lights. We’re standing at the base of the tallest building I’ve ever seen. Even in proximity, it doesn’t look real. With no differentiation from floor to floor, it resembles a piece of solid ice or crystal.
Pulled along by naked curiosity, we cross the street, enter the lobby of the tower, and follow the signs to the queue for the observation deck.
The elevator is astonishingly fast.
I have to keep swallowing to clear my ears against the constant change in pressure.
After two minutes, the car comes to a stop.
The attendant informs us that we have ten minutes to enjoy the top.
As the doors part, we’re met with a chilling blast of wind. Moving out of the car, we pass a hologram that reads: You are now 7,082 feet above street level.
The elevator shaft occupies the center of the tiny observation deck, and the pinnacle of the tower is a mere fifty feet above us, the apex of the glass structure twisted into a flame-like point.
Another hologram materializes as we walk toward the edge: The Glass Tower is the tallest building in the Midwest and the third tallest in America.
It’s freezing up here, the breeze steadily coming off the lake. The air feels thinner sliding into my lungs, and I register a twinge of light-headedness, but whether from the lack of oxygen or from vertigo, I’m not sure.
We reach the anti-suicide railing.
My head swims. My stomach churns.
It’s almost too much to take in—the sparkling sprawl of the city and the profusion of neighboring towers and the vast expanse of the lake, which I can see clear across into southern Michigan.
To the west and south, beyond the suburbs, the prairie glows in the morning light, a hundred miles away.
The tower sways.
Four states—Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin—are visible on a clear day.
Standing on this work of art and imagination, I feel small in the best kind of way.
It’s enthralling to breathe the air of a world that could build something as beautiful as this.
Amanda is beside me, and we’re staring down the gorgeously feminine curve of the building. It’s serene and nearly silent up here.
The only sound is the lonely whisper of wind.
The noise of the streets below doesn’t reach us.
“Was all of this in your head?” I ask.
“Not consciously, but it all feels right somehow. Like a half-remembered dream.”
I gaze toward the northern neighborhoods, where Logan Square should be.
It doesn’t look anything like my home.
A few feet away, I see an old man standing behind his old wife, his gnarled hands on her shoulders as she peers through a telescope, which is pointed down at the most extraordinary Ferris wheel I’ve ever seen. A thousand feet tall, it looms over the lakeshore, right where Navy Pier should be.
I think of Daniela.
Of what this other Jason—Jason2—might be doing at this moment.
What he might be doing to my wife.
Anger, fear, and homesickness envelop me like an illness.
This world, for all its grandeur, isn’t my home.
It isn’t even close.
AMPOULES REMAINING: 42
Down the dark corridor through this in-between place again, our footfalls echoing into infinity.
I’m holding the lantern and considering what I should write in the notebook when Amanda stops walking.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
It becomes so quiet I can hear the escalated beating of my heart.
And then—something impossible.
Far, far down the corridor.
Amanda looks at me.
She whispers, “What the fuck?”
I stare into the darkness.