The Cosmic Express
: The Cosmic Express
The year 1928 was a great year of discovery for AMAZING STORIES. They
were uncovering new talent at such a great rate, (Harl Vincent, David H.
Keller, E. E. Smith, Philip Francis Nowlan, Fletcher Pratt and Miles J.
Breuer), that Jack Williamson barely managed to become one of a
distinguished group of discoveries by stealing the cover of the December
issue for his first story The Metal Man.
e of A. Merritt, he attempted to imitate in style, mood and
subject the magic of that late lamented master of fantasy. The imitation
found great favor from the readership and almost instantly Jack
Williamson became an important name on the contents page of AMAZING
STORIES. He followed his initial success with two short novels, The
Green Girl in AMAZING STORIES and The Alien Intelligence in
SCIENCE WONDER STORIES, another Gernsback publication. Both of these
stories were close copies of A. Merritt, whose style and method Jack
Williamson parlayed into popularity for eight years.
Yet the strange thing about it was that Jack Williamson was one of the
most versatile science fiction authors ever to sit down at the
typewriter. When the vogue for science-fantasy altered to super science,
he created the memorable super lock-picker Giles Habilula as the major
attraction in a rousing trio of space operas, The Legion of Space, The
Cometeers and One Against the Legion. When grim realism was the order
of the day, he produced Crucible of Power and when they wanted
extrapolated theory in present tense, he assumed the disguise of Will
Stewart and popularized the concept of contra terrene matter in science
fiction with Seetee Ship and Seetee Shock. Finally, when only
psychological studies of the future would do, he produced "With Folded
Hands ..." "... And Searching Mind."
The Cosmic Express is of special interest because it was written during
Williamson's A. Merritt "kick," when he was writing little else but, and
it gave the earliest indication of a more general capability. The
lightness of the handling is especially modern, barely avoiding the
farcical by the validity of the notion that wireless transmission of
matter is the next big transportation frontier to be conquered. It is
especially important because it stylistically forecast a later trend to
accept the background for granted, regardless of the quantity of
wonders, and proceed with the story. With only a few thousand
scanning-disk television sets in existence at the time of the writing,
the surmise that this media would be a natural for westerns was
Jack Williamson was born in 1908 in the Arizona territory when covered
wagons were the primary form of transportation and apaches still raided
the settlers. His father was a cattle man, but for young Jack, the ranch
was anything but glamorous. "My days were filled," he remembers, "with
monotonous rounds of what seemed an endless, heart-breaking war with
drought and frost and dust-storms, poison-weeds and hail, for the sake
of survival on the Llano Estacado." The discovery of AMAZING STORIES
was the escape he sought and his goal was to be a science fiction
writer. He labored to this end and the first he knew that a story of his
had been accepted was when he bought the December, 1929 issue of
AMAZING STORIES. Since then, he has written millions of words of
science fiction and has gone on record as follows: "I feel that
science-fiction is the folklore of the new world of science, and the
expression of man's reaction to a technological environment. By which I
mean that it is the most interesting and stimulating form of literature
Mr. Eric Stokes-Harding tumbled out of the rumpled bed-clothing, a
striking slender figure in purple-striped pajamas. He smiled fondly
across to the other of the twin beds, where Nada, his pretty bride, lay
quiet beneath light silk covers. With a groan, he stood up and began a
series of fantastic bending exercises. But after a few half-hearted
movements, he gave it up, and walked through an open door into a small
bright room, its walls covered with bookcases and also with scientific
appliances that would have been strange to the man of four or five
centuries before, when the Age of Aviation was beginning.
Yawning, Mr. Eric Stokes-Harding stood before the great open window,
staring out. Below him was a wide, park-like space, green with emerald
lawns, and bright with flowering plants. Two hundred yards across it
rose an immense pyramidal building--an artistic structure, gleaming with
white marble and bright metal, striped with the verdure of terraced
roof-gardens, its slender peak rising to help support the gray,
steel-ribbed glass roof above. Beyond, the park stretched away in
illimitable vistas, broken with the graceful columned buildings that
held up the great glass roof.
touched the polished surface.]
Above the glass, over this New York of 2432 A. D., a freezing blizzard
was sweeping. But small concern was that to the lightly clad man at the
window, who was inhaling deeply the fragrant air from the plants
below--air kept, winter and summer, exactly at 20 deg. C.
With another yawn, Mr. Eric Stokes-Harding turned back to the room,
which was bright with the rich golden light that poured in from the
suspended globes of the cold ato-light that illuminated the snow-covered
city. With a distasteful grimace, he seated himself before a broad,
paper-littered desk, sat a few minutes leaning back, with his hands
clasped behind his head. At last he straightened reluctantly, slid a
small typewriter out of its drawer, and began pecking at it impatiently.
For Mr. Eric Stokes-Harding was an author. There was a whole shelf of
his books on the wall, in bright jackets, red and blue and green, that
brought a thrill of pleasure to the young novelist's heart when he
looked up from his clattering machine.
He wrote "thrilling action romances," as his enthusiastic publishers and
television directors said, "of ages past, when men were men. Red-blooded
heroes responding vigorously to the stirring passions of primordial
* * * * *
He was impartial as to the source of his thrills--provided they were
distant enough from modern civilization. His hero was likely to be an
ape-man roaring through the jungle, with a bloody rock in one hand and a
beautiful girl in the other. Or a cowboy, "hard-riding, hard-shooting,"
the vanishing hero of the ancient ranches. Or a man marooned with a
lovely woman on a desert South Sea island. His heroes were invariably
strong, fearless, resourceful fellows, who could handle a club on equal
terms with a cave-man, or call science to aid them in defending a
beautiful mate from the terrors of a desolate wilderness.
And a hundred million read Eric's novels, and watched the dramatization
of them on the television screens. They thrilled at the simple, romantic
lives his heroes led, paid him handsome royalties, and subconsciously
shared his opinion that civilization had taken all the best from the
life of man.
Eric had settled down to the artistic satisfaction of describing the
sensuous delight of his hero in the roasted marrow-bones of a dead
mammoth, when the pretty woman in the other room stirred, and presently
came tripping into the study, gay and vivacious, and--as her husband of
a few months most justly thought--altogether beautiful in a bright silk
Recklessly, he slammed the machine back into its place, and resolved to
forget that his next "red-blooded action thriller" was due in the
publisher's office at the end of the month. He sprang up to kiss his
wife, held her embraced for a long happy moment. And then they went hand
in hand, to the side of the room and punched a series of buttons on a
panel--a simple way of ordering breakfast sent up the automatic shaft
from the kitchens below.
Nada Stokes-Harding was also an author. She wrote poems--"back to nature
stuff"--simple lyrics of the sea, of sunsets, of bird songs, of bright
flowers and warm winds, of thrilling communion with Nature, and growing
things. Men read her poems and called her a genius. Even though the
whole world had grown up into a city, the birds were extinct, there were
no wild flowers, and no one had time to bother about sunsets.
"Eric, darling," she said, "isn't it terrible to be cooped up here in
this little flat, away from the things we both love?"
"Yes, dear. Civilization has ruined the world. If we could only have
lived a thousand years ago, when life was simple and natural, when men
hunted and killed their meat, instead of drinking synthetic stuff, when
men still had the joys of conflict, instead of living under glass, like
"If we could only go somewhere--"
"There isn't anywhere to go. I write about the West, Africa, South Sea
Islands. But they were all filled up two hundred years ago. Pleasure
resorts, sanatoriums, cities, factories."
"If only we lived on Venus! I was listening to a lecture on the
television, last night. The speaker said that the Planet Venus is
younger than the Earth, that it has not cooled so much. It has a thick,
cloudy atmosphere, and low, rainy forests. There's simple, elemental
life there--like Earth had before civilization ruined it."
"Yes, Kinsley, with his new infra-red ray telescope, that penetrates the
cloud layers of the planet, proved that Venus rotates in about the same
period as Earth; and it must be much like Earth was a million years
"Eric, I wonder if we could go there! It would be so thrilling to begin
life like the characters in your stories, to get away from this hateful
civilization, and live natural lives. Maybe a rocket--"
* * * * *
The young author's eyes were glowing. He skipped across the floor,
seized Nada, kissed her ecstatically. "Splendid! Think of hunting in the
virgin forest, and bringing the game home to you! But I'm afraid there
is no way.--Wait! The Cosmic Express."
"The Cosmic Express?"
"A new invention. Just perfected a few weeks ago, I understand. By
Ludwig Von der Valls, the German physicist."
"I've quit bothering about science. It has ruined nature, filled the
world with silly, artificial people, doing silly, artificial things."
"But this is quite remarkable, dear. A new way to travel--by ether!"
"Yes. You know of course that energy and matter are interchangeable
terms; both are simply etheric vibration, of different sorts."
"Of course. That's elementary." She smiled proudly. "I can give you
examples, even of the change. The disintegration of the radium atom,
making helium and lead and energy. And Millikan's old proof that his
Cosmic Ray is generated when particles of electricity are united to form
"Fine! I thought you said you weren't a scientist." He glowed with
pride. "But the method, in the new Cosmic Express, is simply to convert
the matter to be carried into power, send it out as a radiant beam and
focus the beam to convert it back into atoms at the destination."
"But the amount of energy must be terrific--"
"It is. You know short waves carry more energy than long ones. The
Express Ray is an electromagnetic vibration of frequency far higher than
that of even the Cosmic Ray, and correspondingly more powerful and more
The girl frowned, running slim fingers through golden-brown hair. "But I
don't see how they get any recognizable object, not even how they get
the radiation turned back into matter."
"The beam is focused, just like the light that passes through a camera
lens. The photographic lens, using light rays, picks up a picture and
reproduces it again on the plate--just the same as the Express Ray picks
up an object and sets it down on the other side of the world.
"An analogy from television might help. You know that by means of the
scanning disc, the picture is transformed into mere rapid fluctuations
in the brightness of a beam of light. In a parallel manner, the focal
plane of the Express Ray moves slowly through the object, progressively,
dissolving layers of the thickness of a single atom, which are
accurately reproduced at the other focus of the instrument--which might
be in Venus!
"But the analogy of the lens is the better of the two. For no receiving
instrument is required, as in television. The object is built up of an
infinite series of plane layers, at the focus of the ray, no matter
where that may be. Such a thing would be impossible with radio apparatus
because even with the best beam transmission, all but a tiny fraction of
the power is lost, and power is required to rebuild the atoms. Do you
"Not altogether. But I should worry! Here comes breakfast. Let me butter
A bell had rung at the shaft. She ran to it, and returned with a great
silver tray, laden with dainty dishes, which she set on a little side
table. They sat down opposite each other, and ate, getting as much
satisfaction from contemplation of each other's faces as from the
excellent food. When they had finished, she carried the tray to the
shaft, slid it in a slot, and touched a button--thus disposing of the
culinary cares of the morning.
She ran back to Eric, who was once more staring distastefully at his
"Oh, darling! I'm thrilled to death about the Cosmic Express! If we
could go to Venus, to a new life on a new world, and get away from all
this hateful conventional society--"
"We can go to their office--it's only five minutes. The chap that
operates the machine for the company is a pal of mine. He's not supposed
to take passengers except between the offices they have scattered about
the world. But I know his weak point--"
Eric laughed, fumbled with a hidden spring under his desk. A small
polished object, gleaming silvery, slid down into his hand.
"Old friendship, plus this, would make him--like spinach."
* * * * *
Five minutes later Mr. Eric Stokes-Harding and his pretty wife were in
street clothes, light silk tunics of loose, flowing lines--little
clothing being required in the artificially warmed city. They entered an
elevator and dropped thirty stories to the ground floor of the great
There they entered a cylindrical car, with rows of seats down the sides.
Not greatly different from an ancient subway car, except that it was
air-tight, and was hurled by magnetic attraction and repulsion through a
tube exhausted of air, at a speed that would have made an old subway
rider gasp with amazement.
In five more minutes their car had whipped up to the base of another
building, in the business section, where there was no room for parks
between the mighty structures that held the unbroken glass roofs two
hundred stories above the concrete pavement.
An elevator brought them up a hundred and fifty stories. Eric led Nada
down a long, carpeted corridor to a wide glass door, which bore the
stenciled in gold capitals across it.
As they approached, a lean man, carrying a black bag, darted out of an
elevator shaft opposite the door, ran across the corridor, and entered.
They pushed in after him.
They were in a little room, cut in two by a high brass grill. In front
of it was a long bench against the wall, that reminded one of the
waiting room in an old railroad depot. In the grill was a little window,
with a lazy, brown-eyed youth leaning on the shelf behind it. Beyond him
was a great, glittering piece of mechanism, half hidden by the brass. A
little door gave access to the machine from the space before the grill.
The thin man in black, whom Eric now recognized as a prominent French
heart-specialist, was dancing before the window, waving his bag
frantically, raving at the sleepy boy.
"Queek! I have tell you zee truth! I have zee most urgent necessity to
go queekly. A patient I have in Paree, zat ees in zee most creetical
"Hold your horses just a minute, Mister. We got a client in the machine
now. Russian diplomat from Moscow to Rio de Janeiro.... Two hundred
seventy dollars and eighty cents, please.... Your turn next. Remember
this is just an experimental service. Regular installations all over the
world in a year.... Ready now. Come on in."
The youth took the money, pressed a button. The door sprang open in the
grill, and the frantic physician leaped through it.
"Lie down on the crystal, face up," the young man ordered. "Hands at
your sides, don't breathe. Ready!"
He manipulated his dials and switches, and pressed another button.
"Why, hello, Eric, old man!" he cried. "That's the lady you were telling
me about? Congratulations!" A bell jangled before him on the panel.
"Just a minute. I've got a call."
He punched the board again. Little bulbs lit and glowed for a second.
The youth turned toward the half-hidden machine, spoke courteously.
"All right, madam. Walk out. Hope you found the transit pleasant."
"But my Violet! My precious Violet!" a shrill female voice came from
the machine. "Sir, what have you done with my darling Violet?"
"I'm sure I don't know, madam. You lost it off your hat?"
"None of your impertinence, sir! I want my dog."
"Ah, a dog. Must have jumped off the crystal. You can have him sent on
for three hundred and--"
"Young man, if any harm comes to my Violet--I'll--I'll--I'll appeal to
the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals!"
"Very good, madam. We appreciate your patronage."
* * * * *
The door flew open again. A very fat woman, puffing angrily, face highly
colored, clothing shimmering with artificial gems, waddled pompously out
of the door through which the frantic French doctor had so recently
vanished. She rolled heavily across the room, and out into the corridor.
Shrill words floated back:
"I'm going to see my lawyer! My precious Violet--"
The sallow youth winked. "And now what can I do for you, Eric?"
"We want to go to Venus, if that ray of yours can put us there."
"To Venus? Impossible. My orders are to use the Express merely between
the sixteen designated stations, at New York, San Francisco, Tokyo,
"See here, Charley," with a cautious glance toward the door, Eric held
up the silver flask. "For old time's sake, and for this--"
The boy seemed dazed at sight of the bright flask. Then, with a single
swift motion, he snatched it out of Eric's hand, and bent to conceal it
below his instrument panel.
"Sure, old boy. I'd send you to heaven for that, if you'd give me the
micrometer readings to set the ray with. But I tell you, this is
dangerous. I've got a sort of television attachment, for focusing the
ray. I can turn that on Venus--I've been amusing myself, watching the
life there, already. Terrible place. Savage. I can pick a place on high
land to set you down. But I can't be responsible for what happens
"Simple, primitive life is what we're looking for. And now what do I owe
"Oh, that's all right. Between friends. Provided that stuff's genuine!
Walk in and lie down on the crystal block. Hands at your sides. Don't
The little door had swung open again, and Eric led Nada through. They
stepped into a little cell, completely surrounded with mirrors and vast
prisms and lenses and electron tubes. In the center was a slab of
transparent crystal, eight feet square and two inches thick, with an
intricate mass of machinery below it.
Eric helped Nada to a place on the crystal, lay down at her side.
"I think the Express Ray is focused just at the surface of the crystal,
from below," he said. "It dissolves our substance, to be transmitted by
the beam. It would look as if we were melting into the crystal."
"Ready," called the youth. "Think I've got it for you. Sort of a high
island in the jungle. Nothing bad in sight now. But, I say--how're you
coming back? I haven't got time to watch you."
"Go ahead. We aren't coming back."
"Gee! What is it? Elopement? I thought you were married already. Or is
it business difficulties? The Bears did make an awful raid last night.
But you better let me set you down in Hong Kong."
A bell jangled. "So long," the youth called.
Nada and Eric felt themselves enveloped in fire. Sheets of white flame
seemed to lap up about them from the crystal block. Suddenly there was a
sharp tingling sensation where they touched the polished surface. Then
* * * * *
The next thing they knew, the fires were gone from about them. They were
lying in something extremely soft and fluid; and warm rain was beating
in their faces. Eric sat up, found himself in a mud-puddle. Beside him
was Nada, opening her eyes and struggling up, her bright garments
stained with black mud.
All about rose a thick jungle, dark and gloomy--and very wet. Palm-like,
the gigantic trees were, or fern-like, flinging clouds of feathery green
foliage high against a somber sky of unbroken gloom.
They stood up, triumphant.
"At last!" Nada cried. "We're free! Free of that hateful old
civilization! We're back to Nature!"
"Yes, we're on our feet now, not parasites on the machines."
"It's wonderful to have a fine, strong man like you to trust in, Eric.
You're just like one of the heroes in your books!"
"You're the perfect companion, Nada.... But now we must be practical. We
must build a fire, find weapons, set up a shelter of some kind. I guess
it will be night, pretty soon. And Charley said something about savage
animals he had seen in the television.
"We'll find a nice dry cave, and have a fire in front of the door. And
skins of animals to sleep on. And pottery vessels to cook in. And you
will find seeds and grown grain."
"But first we must find a flint-bed. We need flint for tools, and to
strike sparks to make a fire with. We will probably come across a chunk
of virgin copper, too--it's found native."
Presently they set off through the jungle. The mud seemed to be very
abundant, and of a most sticky consistence. They sank into it ankle deep
at every step, and vast masses of it clung to their feet. A mile they
struggled on, without finding where a provident nature had left them
even a single fragment of quartz, to say nothing of a mass of pure
"A darned shame," Eric grumbled, "to come forty million miles, and meet
such a reception as this!"
Nada stopped. "Eric," she said, "I'm tired. And I don't believe there's
any rock here, anyway. You'll have to use wooden tools, sharpened in the
"Probably you're right. This soil seemed to be of alluvial origin.
Shouldn't be surprised if the native rock is some hundreds of feet
underground. Your idea is better."
"You can make a fire by rubbing sticks together, can't you?"
"It can be done, I'm sure. I've never tried it, myself. We need some dry
They resumed the weary march, with a good fraction of the new planet
adhering to their feet. Rain was still falling from the dark heavens in
a steady, warm downpour. Dry wood seemed scarce as the proverbial hen's
"You didn't bring any matches, dear?"
"Matches! Of course not! We're going back to Nature."
"I hope we get a fire pretty soon."
"If dry wood were gold dust, we couldn't buy a hot dog."
"Eric, that reminds me that I'm hungry."
He confessed to a few pangs of his own. They turned their attention to
looking for banana trees, and coconut palms, but they did not seem to
abound in the Venerian jungle. Even small animals that might have been
slain with a broken branch had contrary ideas about the matter.
At last, from sheer weariness, they stopped, and gathered branches to
make a sloping shelter by a vast fallen tree-trunk.
"This will keep out the rain--maybe--" Eric said hopefully. "And
tomorrow, when it has quit raining--I'm sure we'll do better."
They crept in, as gloomy night fell without. They lay in each other's
arms, the body warmth oddly comforting. Nada cried a little.
"Buck up," Eric advised her. "We're back to nature--where we've always
wanted to be."
* * * * *
With the darkness, the temperature fell somewhat, and a high wind rose,
whipping cold rain into the little shelter, and threatening to demolish
it. Swarms of mosquito-like insects, seemingly not inconvenienced in the
least by the inclement elements, swarmed about them in clouds.
Then came a sound from the dismal stormy night, a hoarse, bellowing
roar, raucous, terrifying.
Nada clung against Eric. "What is it, dear?" she chattered.
"Must be a reptile. Dinosaur, or something of the sort. This world seems
to be in about the same state as the Earth when they flourished
there.... But maybe it won't find us."
The roar was repeated, nearer. The earth trembled beneath a mighty
"Eric," a thin voice trembled. "Don't you think--it might have been
better-- You know the old life was not so bad, after all."
"I was just thinking of our rooms, nice and warm and bright, with hot
foods coming up the shaft whenever we pushed the button, and the gay
crowds in the park, and my old typewriter."
"Eric?" she called softly.
"Don't you wish--we had known better?"
"I do." If he winced at the "we" the girl did not notice.
The roaring outside was closer. And suddenly it was answered by another
raucous bellow, at considerable distance, that echoed strangely through
the forest. The fearful sounds were repeated, alternately. And always
the more distant seemed nearer, until the two sounds were together.
And then an infernal din broke out in the darkness. Bellows. Screams.
Deafening shrieks. Mighty splashes, as if struggling Titans had upset
oceans. Thunderous crashes, as if they were demolishing forests.
Eric and Nada clung to each other, in doubt whether to stay or to fly
through the storm. Gradually the sound of the conflict came nearer,
until the earth shook beneath them, and they were afraid to move.
Suddenly the great fallen tree against which they had erected the flimsy
shelter was rolled back, evidently by a chance blow from the invisible
monsters. The pitiful roof collapsed on the bedraggled humans. Nada
burst into tears.
"Oh, if only--if only--"
* * * * *
Suddenly flame lapped up about them, the same white fire they had seen
as they lay on the crystal block. Dizziness, insensibility overcame
them. A few moments later, they were lying on the transparent table in
the Cosmic Express office, with all those great mirrors and prisms and
lenses about them.
A bustling, red-faced official appeared through the door in the grill,
fairly bubbling apologies.
"So sorry--an accident--inconceivable. I can't see how he got it! We got
you back as soon as we could find a focus. I sincerely hope you haven't
"Why I happened in, found our operator drunk. I've no idea where he got
the stuff. He muttered something about Venus. I consulted the
auto-register, and found two more passengers registered here than had
been recorded at our other stations. I looked up the duplicate beam
coordinates, and found that it had been set on Venus. I got men on the
television at once, and we happened to find you.
"I can't imagine how it happened. I've had the fellow locked up, and
the 'dry-laws' are on the job. I hope you won't hold us for excessive
"No, I ask nothing except that you don't press charges against the boy.
I don't want him to suffer for it in any way. My wife and I will be
perfectly satisfied to get back to our apartment."
"I don't wonder. You look like you've been through--I don't know what.
But I'll have you there in five minutes. My private car--"
* * * * *
Mr. Eric Stokes-Harding, noted author of primitive life and love, ate a
hearty meal with his pretty spouse, after they had washed off the grime
of another planet. He spent the next twelve hours in bed.
At the end of the month he delivered his promised story to his
publishers, a thrilling tale of a man marooned on Venus, with a
beautiful girl. The hero made stone tools, erected a dwelling for
himself and his mate, hunted food for her, defended her from the mammoth
saurian monsters of the Venerian jungles.
The book was a huge success.