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Title: An Express of the Future
Author: Jules Verne
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0606611.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

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An Express of the Future
Jules Verne



"TAKE care!" cried my conductor, "there's a step!"

Safely descending the step thus indicated to me, I entered a vast
room, illuminated by blinding electric reflectors, the sound of our
feet alone breaking the solitude and silence of the place. Where was
I? What had I come there to do? Who was my mysterious guide? Questions
unanswered. A long walk in the night, iron doors opened and reclosed
with a clang, stairs descending, it seemed to me, deep into the
earth--that is all I could remember. I had, however, no time for
thinking.

"No doubt you are asking yourself who I am?" said my guide: "Colonel
Pierce, at your service. Where are you? In America, at Boston--in a
station."

"A station?"

"Yes, the starting-point of the `Boston to Liverpool Pneumatic Tubes
Company.'"

And, with an explanatory gesture, the Colonel pointed out to me two
long iron cylinders, about a metre and a half in diameter, lying upon
the ground a few paces off.

I looked at these two cylinders, ending on the right in a mass of
masonry, and closed on the left with heavy metallic caps, from which a
cluster of tubes were carried up to the roof; and suddenly I
comprehended the purpose of all this.

Had I not, a short time before, read, in an American newspaper, an
article describing this extraordinary project for linking Europe with
the New World by means of two gigantic submarines tubes? An inventor
had claimed to have accomplished the task; and that inventor, Colonel
Pierce, I had before me.

In thought I realized the newspaper article.

Complaisantly the journalist entered into the details of the
enterprise. He stated that more than 3,000 miles of iron tubes,
weighing over 13,000,000 tons, were required, with the number of ships
necessary, for the transport of this material--200 ships of 2,000
tons, each making thirty-three voyages. He described this Armada of
science bearing the steel to two special vessels, on board of which
the ends of the tubes were joined to each other, and incased in a
triple netting of iron, the whole covered with a resinous preparation
to preserve it from the action of the seawater.

Coming at once to the question of working, he filled the tubes--
transformed into a sort of pea-shooter of interminable length--with a
series of carriages, to be carried with their travellers by powerful
currents of air, in the same way that despatches are conveyed
pneumatically round Paris.

A parallel with the railways closed the article, and the author
enumerated with enthusiasm the advantages of the new and audacious
system. According to him, there would be, in passing through these
tubes, a suppression of all nervous trepidation, thanks to the
interior surface being of finely polished steel; equality of
temperature secured by means of currents of air, by which the heat
could be modified according to the seasons; incredibly low fares,
owing to the cheapness of construction and working expenses--
forgetting, or waving aside, all considerations of the question of
gravitation and of wear and tear.

All that now came back to my mind.

So, then, this "Utopia" had become a reality, and these two cylinders
of iron at my feet passed thence under the Atlantic and reached to the
coast of England!

In spite of the evidence, I could not bring myself to believe in the
thing having been done. That the tubes had been laid I could not
doubt; but that men could travel by this route--never!

"Was it not impossible even to obtain a current of air of that
length?"--I expressed that opinion aloud.

"Quite easy, on the contrary!" protested Colonel Pierce; "to obtain
it, all that is required is a great number of steam fans similar to
those used in blast furnaces. The air is driven by them with a force
which is practically unlimited, propelling it at the speed of 1,800
kilometres an hour--almost that of a cannon-ball!--so that our
carriages with their travellers, in the space of two hours and forty
minutes, accomplish the journey between Boston and Liverpool."

"Eighteen hundred kilometres an hour!" I exclaimed.

"Not one less. And what extraordinary consequences arise from such a
rate of speed! The time at Liverpool being four hours and forty
minutes in advance of ours, a traveller starting from Boston at nine
o'clock in the morning, arrives in England at 3.53 in the afternoon.
Isn't that a journey quickly made? In another sense, on the contrary,
our trains, in this latitude, gain over the sun more than 900
kilometres an hour, beating that planet hand over hand: quitting
Liverpool at noon, for example, the traveller will reach the station
where we now are at thirty-four minutes past nine in the morning--that
is to say, earlier than he started! Ha! Ha! I don't think one can
travel quicker than that!"

I did not know what to think. Was I talking with a madman?--or must I
credit these fabulous theories, in spite of the objections which rose
in my mind?

"Very well, so be it!" I said. "I will admit that travellers may take
this madbrained route, and that you can obtain this incredible speed.
But, when you have got this speed, how do you check it? When you come
to a stop, everything must be shattered to pieces!"

"Not at all," replied the Colonel, shrugging his shoulders. "Between
our tubes--one for the out, the other for the home journey--
consequently worked by currents going in opposite directions--a
communication exists at every joint. When a train is approaching, an
electric spark advertises us of the fact; left to itself, the train
would continue its course by reason of the speed it had acquired; but,
simply by the turning of a handle, we are able to let in the opposing
current of compressed air from the parallel tube, and, little by
little, reduce to nothing the final shock or stopping. But what is the
use of all these explanations? Would not a trial be a hundred
timesbetter?"

And, without waiting for an answer to his questions, the Colonel
pulled sharply a bright brass knob projecting from the side of one of
the tubes: a panel slid smoothly in its grooves, and in the opening
left by its removal I perceived a row of seats, on each of which two
persons might sit comfortably side by side.

"The carriage!" exclaimed the Colonel. "Come in."

I followed him without offering any objection, and the panel
immediately slid back into its place.

By the light of an electric lamp in the roof I carefully examined the
carriage I was in.

Nothing could be more simple: a long cylinder, comfortably
upholstered, along which some fifty arm-chairs, in pairs, were ranged
in twenty-five parallel ranks. At either end a valve regulated the
atmospheric pressure, that at the farther end allowing breathable air
to enter the carriage, that in front allowing for the discharge of any
excess beyond a normal pressure.

After spending a few moments on this examination, I became impatient.

"Well," I said, "are we not going to start?"

"Going to start?" cried the Colonel. "We have started!"

Started--like that--without the least jerk, was it possible? I
listened attentively, trying to detect a sound of some kind that might
have guided me.

If we had really started--if the Colonel had not deceived me in
talking of a speed of eighteen hundred kilometres an hour--we must
already be far from any land, under the sea; above our heads the huge,
foam-crested waves; even at that moment, perhaps taking it for a
monstrous sea-serpent of an unknown kind--whales were battering with
their powerful tails our long, iron prison!

But I heard nothing but a dull rumble, produced, no doubt, by the
passage of our carriage, and, plunged in boundless astonishment,
unable to believe in the reality of all that had happened to me, I sat
silently, allowing the time to pass.

At the end of about an hour, a sense of freshness upon my forehead
suddenly aroused me from the torpor into which I had sunk by degrees.

I raised my hand to my brow: it was moist.

Moist! Why was that? Had the tube burst under pressure of the waters--
a pressure which could not but be formidable, since it increases at
the rate of "an atmosphere" every ten metres of depth? Had the ocean
broken in upon us?

Fear seized upon me. Terrified, I tried to call out--and--and I found
myself in my garden, generously sprinkled by a driving rain, the big
drops of which had awakened me. I had simply fallen asleep while
reading the article devoted by an American journalist to the fantastic
projects of Colonel Pierce--who, also, I much fear, has only dreamed.



THE END



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