The Walking Tour

I’ve been here for a day but I can’t find anything that I want to do.

“New York is a big place Jason. You’ll have no problem finding something to keep yourself occupied with for 2 days while the rest of the family gets to the hotel.”

My aunt must be delirious. Once you get past all the flashy lights and the sidewalk vendors trying to sell you useless “I apple NY” shirts, there’s not much here besides spending money to do something. She has the money, I don’t. My hotel room has a pretty cool view of the city though. Gran-pappy died, my aunts grandfather that is, and left her a massive inheritance. Of course her first inclination was to go to New York and shack up at the Madarin Hotel. It seems I’m the only person in this family who doesn’t get plane sick or is deathly afraid of flying, I love flying actually. So I guess it’s because of family traits that I purchased my flight ticket the same day my aunt said she was going to buy the train tickets for her and the others. I just got a call from her saying that something happened to the tracks. The train had to stop in some random town in middle America until a bus could bring them the rest of the way. So now it’s just me in my awesome hotel room looking down at everyone else scurrying about, living their lives, I kind of feel bad really. It’s not that I don’t appreciate being here but she should be investing that money, at this rate she’ll be living in the outhouse back home. I also feel bad because I don’t feel like I’ve done anything to deserve this massive good amount of fortune.

I’ve been sitting in this room for the better part of 4 hours now and I’ve done nothing but listen to music from some classical station online and order food from room service. The city is really beautiful now that I think if it. They played one of my favourite songs just now though. Symphony number 7 the second movement, an Allegretto by Beethoven. My aunt called about an hour ago and said she’d beat me if I didn’t find the family something to do when they arrived. I asked her what I should look for, and her response was as expected.

“We’re tourists, find us a tour to go on silly!”

She wasn’t wrong. Back home I saw her break out all the cameras and lens’s she had collected over the years of her photography job. She was going to get real artsy with her pics and spam her instagram and tumblr with them. Her fans “demanded it” she told me. By fans I’m assuming she meant everyone in the family who were following her on those sites.

Now that I think about it, that classical station, WQXR I think is their name, said something about walking tours in Grand Central Station. My aunt’s words about us being tourists reverberated in my head like an echo in an abandoned mineshaft. Why not buy some tickets for when they get here, and since I’m bored I’ll get myself acquainted with it to help the others along. It’s not like there’s much else for me to do now anyways, I just hope I don’t get lost or lose this “Metro card” thing.

I had made it to Grand Central Station without incident so that was a plus. I walked in and this place was massive. I’m glad I had the idea to check it out first because with the patience my cousin Hellen has, we’d never be able to figure out where to go for what in this place without some time invested in wandering around. There were some long lines down on the main floor so I assumed that was where I had to go. The ceiling was so high is kind of made me nervous looking up at it, to avoid an anxiety attack I kept my view down and just at the massive crowd of people I’d soon be apart of… this would go well. I hoped to get to one of those ticket booths in one piece.

“Hi what can I help you with?”

The teller looked old as dirt but he had on a smile as wide as our Milky-Way.

“Yeah um, I wanna get um, well, I mean… is this where I can get the tickets for that umm, Grand Central tour thing?”

“Aww kid you didn’t have to come here to do that! You could’ve done it at home, or in your case more likely your hotel room.”

He looked at me sympathetically, almost as though he knew I was uneasy being around so many people without my family nearby. I was about to walk away feeling stupid for not checking online but I guess I really did want to walk around the Big Apple and take it in. Before I turned around though, the old man put his hand up, asking me to give him a moment. He bent down and I heard him rustling through some things and he popped up, that smile of his almost cheshire in appearance now.

“Well since you cam down here and you seem like a good kid, would you like to try out this guided tour? It’s something like you kids would call a beta test for a game. Every so often we hand these out to folks who want to see somethings that most tours don’t usually show tourists. No worries, since it’s in beta we won’t charge you just uh, make sure you bring it back to me when your done eh? HAHAHA!”

He was strange, not at all the kind of person I’d been told who works at these customer service kiosks. The audio gear was small, just a simple MP3 player and a pair of earbuds with the rubber tips in a plastic bag, probably for health concerns.

“Sure I’ll try it out, is there some kind of questionnaire that I have to fill out or something?”

“Eh don’t worry about that kid, when you come back I’ll have all that for you to fill out. As a matter of fact, I’ll hook you up. I’ll waive the fee for the tour I’m guessing you and your family want to go on, but we’ll take care of that when you get back too.”

The old man slipped the mp3 player and earbuds through the money slot at the bottom of the window. He yelled “next” and pressed a button turning on a light above his terminal. I smiled and walked away to an area that wasn’t so congested with people and set up my audio tour.

“Hello! And welcome to the Beta Test of the possible new Grand Central Terminal guided tour. Please press pause and go to the sign with the number 7 in a purple circle, I will now give you 5 seconds to pause the recording. 5, 4, 3, …”

I hit pause and looked around. The vagueness of the directions made this feel like some real life point and click adventure. I wasn’t sure how useful it would be for some other people though, my cousin Hellen specifically.

I had made it to the sign and saw the number seven. There were other numbers and letters next to it, all in coloured circles too with the word subway next to them. There were little shops in this part of the terminal, one of them had pastries. I’d have to remember where this was when I finished this tour thing. I made sure I was out of the way and facing the sign with the number 7 on it, then pressed play.

“2, 1…. This is the subway access tunnel. The number 7 stands for a train line that runs from right here in the city all the way to one of the other Boroughs, Queens specifically. Please continue down this way, a man will come out of a door and that will be the next stop on the tour. I will now give you five seconds to pause th recording, 5, 4…”

I hit pause again, slightly confused by the specific instruction. There wasn’t much in the way of information on this tour so far. But it was interesting. It seemed like a game sort of, or a guided treasure hunt, I could get into it. I walked down the hallway just as the recording said, a man walked out of a door. I waved to him as he passed and he said hi back. I had to admit, this level of detail and interaction was pretty cool. The door ahead was slowly closing, but I didn’t have to run to catch it, I got to the doorway, walked in and it clicked shut behind me as I pressed play.

“Man this place looks like it’s still under construction.”

“Please excuse the current state of side room 1 as the different areas of this tour are still under construction.”

I had to admit, whoever did the recording, the guy had a good idea of what to expect in terms of what people would say. It actually was a little creepy.

“Here behind the scenes is where we’ll show you the infrastructure of the terminal. The terminal is under constant upgrade and repair in order to meet the needs of the more than 750,000 people a day and 1,000,000 pe…”

“Damn 1 million people a day that’s..”

“A massive number in terms of logistics.”

“Ok that was creepy.”

The voice stopped talking for a few seconds and I stood there waiting for the next few seconds waiting for the next set of instructions.

“Oh right! Sorry I forgot I was recording… Um please continue along this pathway and make sure to take in the artwork by some of the best graffiti as well as fine artists we could commission. There will be a metal stairway that will lead you to the engine room. Another guide staff member will open the door you will walk through. I will now give you 5 seconds to pause…”

I paused and walked along the pathway. The paintings were really nice I guess. I was never one for graffiti or fine art but these looked pretty cool. I walked along and couldn’t help the feeling like I wasn’t supposed to be here. The old guy said the tour was in beta but I would’ve thought they would have done more work to the path way before letting people back here. I was almost at the stairway when I heard something fall up ahead. I guess it’s true with tours as it is with games, Beta is Beta, or in other words, things will definitely be incomplete or broken. I got to the stairway and one of the lights were flickering, I felt my anxiety climbing into my throat and at that moment I could have sworn there was someone breathing down my neck.

“They really need to fix these lights…”

I said nervously as I turned around and back again, checking my 6. I could’ve turned around but the old man said he would help me out with setting up the tour for my family so I figured it was best to continue on. Plus I was curious about how the engine room was going to look.

I got to the bottom of the stairs and saw the guide person standing at the door wearing a polo shirt with the word “staff” on it. She had on a beaming smile.

“How’s the interactive tour so far? Pretty neat huh?”

“Yeah it’s pretty cool I guess but you guys have a lot of work don’t you?”

She laughed.

“Yeah like that light at the top of the stairs, there’s something amiss with the wiring, one of the electricians said there’s a short and something about electromagnetic radiation that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.”

“So that’s what that was, felt like I was being watched.”

She laughed again, her matter of fact nature helped me calm down.

“Yeah, he said that can also make people think they’re seeing ghosts or feel some super natural presence is around them. Enjoy the rest!”

“Thanks and I will.”

She walked off, kind of hurriedly, up the stairs and I entered the engine room. That’s when it happened , I finally had an attack, when I saw how big the room was with all the pipes and massive boiler looking like things along with the other large machinery, along with the ceiling I couldn’t see because of how dark it was, it felt like the entire room was closing in on me. Ever since I was young I hated being around large things. Large art installations, those power substations, they all scared me. Even looking up at the sky could reduce me to a shivering child, day or night. Then I saw a large arc of electricity shoot off from something like 20 feet above me. It shot off from some massive connection terminal and looked like it was pulled into a glass tube further ahead. I couldn’t really see what was happening, but I was sure that this was a substation. I only knew because oddly enough I’m an electricians apprentice at one such a facility. My aunt said the only way to overcome your fears was to face them, and that’s what working at the substation back home was supposed to be for me. But this room went against all logic all this should be outside and far away from such a high volume of people! Just before I blacked out I got that feeling again, like someone was right behind me, close enough to bite my neck.

“Hey! HEY KID!”

When I finally came to, the entire room was lit up and I heard someone calling to me… from the MP3 player…

“Who’s there!”

“It’s me the voice that’s been guiding you this far, I’m also, (clears throat) the old man.”

“What is this place, your mad scientist kill room or something? How is this underneath New York City! Why is there a substation down here!”

“Oh so you know what this is! Excellent that will save us some time!”

“No not excellent! I can’t be here it’s too big!”

“That’s a strange form of claustropho…”

“I’m not claustrophobic! It’s like megalophobia and casadastrophobia put together. Now let me out of here!”

“I can’t do that Dave.”

“This isn’t the TIME FOR SPACE ODYSSEY REFERENCES!”

“Yeah, sorry kid, I couldn’t resist. But it’s still the truth, I can’t unlock that door until the next shift change. Upper Management won’t permit it, but you’ll be safe they won’t black bag you for seeing this room. Actually the don’t even know you’re here, we kinda slipped you in under the radar.”

“But I haven’t seen the room! I only saw that one arc shoot into the glass tube!”

“Right, you can’t look up… What’re you doing right now?”

“I’m about to piss myself scared while crawled up into a ball on the floor in front of the door!”

“Aren’t you interested in why I said we slipped you in?”

“Not at all…”

“Well either you can talk with me and try to mitigate this casadamegaphobia of yours or I can just stop talking to you and leave you all alone in the secret under ground power-plant.”

I didn’t answer him immediately, I was too busy trying to find my happy place. But what he said broke me out of my fear a little. My mind started wandering to questions of the glass tube and the fact that this substation was underground and yet it hummed beautifully, even with the odd arc shooting off every now and then… Actually they were shooting off at specific intervals… but why would that be apart of a substation design.

“Why indeed? I see you’ve got that brain of your workin! That’s a good thing! Guys we really lucked out by luring an electrician down there.”

“How’d you know what I was thinking!”

“You were thinking out loud kid… by the way how old are you?”
“I’m 20”

“Well mister 20 you are the first Ignorant to be inside The Power-plant. Congratulations!”

At this point I heard cheering in the background, not fake cheering from some soundboard, but genuine cheering as if the entire staff were applauding my current situation, which had a strange calming affect on me. My body relaxed and I listened to their happy voices and applause. You would’ve thought I just cured cancer or something, there as actual crying coming from some people. I sat up and my left earbud fell out. I accidentally looked at the facility and for the first time in my life, I wasn’t scared of a massive structure in front of me that wasn’t a building. I looked down the makeshift corridor that had massive switchgears on either side as well . They had to have been at least 15 feet high, with various other, what can only be described as highly modified flyback transformers on top, with arcs of electricity jumping back and fort between them as if they were… playing. I hadn’t noticed before but I must’ve descended more than a few stories down that staircase earlier. My hair standing on end must’ve made me blank out some of the descent.

I looked further down this “hallway” and saw where the soft humming was coming from. There was an impossibly huge rotating flywheel… drum thing, and the glass tube I saw earlier was aimed directly at it. The arcs of electricity started jumping back and forth faster and faster, keeping in rhythm with the rest of the sounds this facility was producing. Then the arcs raced down the transformer tops and launched down the large glass tube which must’ve bee at least 50 feet away from me, and slammed into the flywheel drum. The question finally left my mouth, my brain coming to terms with what I had to ask.

“How long ago was it started?”

“This facility has been running under it’s own power singing away like this for the better part of 60 odd years.”

“Who’s work is it based on?”

“Micheal Faraday purported the idea for the transmission arcs, but when Tesla died and his work confiscated, this facility was commissioned 4 years later based on his and Faraday’s designs… As well as others. Philo Farnsworth helped in the final redesign. He and a few others were told it was just an exercise in design but he like the others had a feeling that they were designing something to be added to an already existing system.”

“So… so is this the generator room instead of a substation?”

“No it is indeed the substation. The generator actually is in high contrast to this room, where this room is akin to the size of a large cathedral, the actual generator could fit in a large delivery van.”

“Who designed that?”

“Tesla… sort of…”

At this point I finally managed to stand, my legs were slightly wobbly but I managed to make them carry me towards the flywheel drum. It looked like a similar design to what NASA is using out on the space station for power collection/storage. It was spinning almost silently, you couldn’t her any mechanical evidence of bearings or physical linkages. It looked like it was floating in the middle of the facility. Plasma would arc onto it from the assorted glass tubes around it and then arc off onto metal balls in position position by the top of it, the arcing didn’t sound harsh and violent like lightning, it wooshed and crackled lightly, it sounded more like small static discharges snapping in rhythm.

“Where’s it going, the electricity. How much is this? Mega… Gigawatts?”

“A few levels higher than that actually, more in the Yottawatt range, 3 a year to be precise.”

Inside, my mind was dropped in a bath of chaos. 3Yottawatts a YEAR! That’s far more than the entire world uses! I didn’t want to believe it but considering I was currently in this impossible facility underground, I decided things would go by faster if I just accepted everything at face value. Then my mind quickly jumped back to what he said just before and I didn’t know how to think again. How could the generator be smaller than this massive place?! It went against all logic and knowledge I have about electrical systems.

“Where is the generator… room?”

“Well where are you standing right now kid? Security cameras aren’t allowed in there, but I’ve got the place mapped out in my head.”

“Well… I walked forward from the door and I’m now standing in front of the big spinning thing.”

“Right, the flywheel… from there, standing straight in front of it, turn 90 degrees right and you should be able to walk down “E Path”. From there there’s going to be a circular bulk-head-like door and you should be able to lift the latch on the left of it and and walk in, after that walk down the little flight of stairs and you should be able to see the generator…. How’s the tour?”

“Not funny.”

“Sorry…”

I had to give it to the guy, he knew about such a big secret and was still acting like it was nothing. At this point though I still didn’t know what to think, my mind was a complete blank. You could’ve asked me my name at that moment and I probably would have said I don’t know. I walked down E Path with nothing but the rhythmic humming of the substation separating me from total silence. It looked just like the other Path I walked down after the door. This bulk head didn’t seem like it was meant to keep anything out or in, but it seemed to serve some kind of purpose, what exactly I couldn’t tell. It was a large circle and I couldn’t see where the hinges were. The entire face was smooth and there were no hand-holds on it save for the latch that just seemed to be resting on it. I lifted it up and I heard a quiet beep, the door slid straight up without so much as a smooth metal on metal sound.

“Static magnetic field, change the magnetic circuit and you change the nature of the field, in this case causing the door to open.”

I nodded my head but said nothing as I stepped through and made my way down the stairs. When I got to the bottom I saw what just then became the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. The temperature of the room seemed to drop and there was a fog hovering close to the ground. The walls were devoid of anything but strange metallic plates that stretched out in all directions. Each leading to, or rather, coming from a large glass sphere in the center of the room. It was hovering there perfectly still and motionless with something sitting on the inside of it on the bottom. There were two cylinders counter rotating, each inside of a bundle of strangely wound coils that were wrapped in a cage of what I assumed was iron that seemed ornate and intricately designed. I wasn’t and still am not sure how any mechanical process could have made the cage. It was wrapped around and through the assembly in a way that looked like it was grown instead of forged. What I assumed were the copper coils never extended outside of the outer most part of the cage, even though there were “roots” or “branches” that snaked around and through nearly every thing else save for the rotating cylinders.

“What is it?”

“We don’t know.”

“Where did it come from?”
“We don’t know”

“How long does it run for.”

“As far as we know… perpetually.”

“What is it powering?”

“We aren’t allowed to know.”

“Why are you showing me this.”

“We physically cannot tell anyone, Whoever found the cage first figured out how to make people swear an unbreakable promise. A perfect swearing of secrecy. No one can tell anyone who hasn’t seen it anything about it…. no one who’s made the promise that is.”

I heard the smile in the mans voice and before I could ask him something the battery on the communicator died. I stood there and laughed for what must’ve been a few minutes. Here I was staring perpetual motion in the face and the electronic device I was using to talk about it ran out of power. He said I had a few hours until the door could be opened. I looked at my phone which luckily still had power and saw that it was almost 6 o’clock. I took pictures of the generator as well as video and wrote down notes about what part I thought connected electrically or magnetically to another. Every piece was important but I felt that the cage was the most important. Then I sat there, looking at and listening to this thing hum it’s rhythmic tone for the next few hours.

When the girl came and got me she lead me back to the main atrium of the terminal. I looked up at the ceiling and felt no form of anxiousness or fear, just wonderment. I walked back to my hotel room and the guy who played the old man was waiting at my door.

“What am I supposed to do?”

“What do you think you should do?”

“Tell someone.”

“Aren’t you afraid something might happen to you?”

“To be honest something already has…”

He patted me on the shoulder, walked down the hall, pushed open the door to the exit stairs and that was the last I saw of him. When my family arrived 2 days later they did nothing but enjoy the spa here and have big dinners. We all piled into one room and watched movies with the shade open at night so the lights of the city could pour in. I didn’t tell them while we were still in the city. I figured one of two things would happen. Either the Grand Central Staff had actually kept my visit a secret from “Upper Management” or they missed something. When the day came 3 weeks later that our vacation in New York was over and I hadn’t been visited by the men in black, I knew I was scott-free. I now had in my possession the most dangerous information that had ever existed, what did I plan to do with it now?

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