The Undersea Tube
BY L. TAYLOR HANSEN
If my friend the engineer had
not told me the Tube was dangerous,
I would not have bought
a ticket on that fatal night, and
the world would never have
learned the story of the Golden
Cavern and the City of the Dead.
Having therefore, according to
universal custom, first made my
report as the sole survivor of the
much-discussed Undersea Tube
disaster to the International
Committee for the Investigation
of Disasters, I am now ready to
outline that story for the world.
Naturally I am aware of the
many wild tales and rumors that
have been circulated ever since
the accident, but I must ask my
readers to bear with me while I
attempt to briefly sketch, not
only the tremendous difficulties
to be overcome by the engineers,
but also the wind-propulsion theory
which was made use of in
this undertaking; because it is
only by understanding something
of these two phases of the Tube's
engineering problems that one
can understand the accident and
its subsequent revelations.
It will be recalled by those
who have not allowed their view
of modern history to become too
hazy, that the close of the twentieth
century saw a dream of
the engineering world at last realized—the
completion of the
long-heralded undersea railroad.
It will also be recalled that the
engineers in charge of this stupendous
undertaking were greatly
encouraged by the signal success
of the first tube under the
English Channel, joining England
and France by rail. However,
it was from the second tube
across the Channel and the tube
connecting Montreal to New
York, as well as the one connecting
New York and Chicago, that
they obtained some of their then
radical ideas concerning the use
of wind power for propulsion.
Therefore, before the Undersea
Tube had been completed, the engineers
in charge had decided to
make use of the new method in
the world's longest tunnel, and
upon that decision work was immediately
commenced upon the
blue-prints for the great air
pumps that were to rise at the
two ends—Liverpool and New
York. However, I will touch upon
the theory of wind-propulsion
later and after the manner in
which it was explained to me.
It will be recalled that after
great ceremonies, the Tube was
begun simultaneously at the two
terminating cities and proceeded
through solid rock—low enough
below the ocean floor to overcome
the terrible pressure of the body
of water over it, and yet close
enough to the sea to overcome
the intensity of subterranean
heat. Needless to say, it was an
extremely hazardous undertaking,
despite the very careful surveys
that had been made, for the
little parties of workmen could
never tell when they would strike
a crack or an unexpected crevice
that would let down upon them
with a terrible rush, the waters
of the Atlantic. But hazard is
adventure, and as the two little
groups of laborers dug toward
each other, the eyes of the press
followed them with more persistent
interest than it has ever followed
the daily toil of any man or
group of men, either before or
Once the world was startled
by the "extree-ee—" announcing
that the English group
had broken into an extinct volcano,
whose upper end had apparently
been sealed ages before, for
it contained not water but air—curiously
close and choking perhaps,
but at least it was not the
watery deluge of death. And then
came the great discovery. No one
who lived through that time will
forget the thrill that quickened
the pulse of mankind when the
American group digging through
a seam of old lava under what
scientists call the "ancient
ridge," broke into a sealed cavern
which gleamed in the probing
flashlights of the workers
like the scintillating points of a
thousand diamonds. But when
they found the jeweled casket,
through whose glass top they
peered curiously down upon the
white body of a beautiful woman,
partly draped in the ripples of
her heavy, red hair, the world
gasped and wondered. As every
school child knows, the casket
was opened by curious scientists,
who flocked into the tube from
the length of the world, but at
the first exposure to the air, the
strange liquid that had protected
the body vanished, leaving in the
casket not the white figure, but
only a crumbling mass of grey
dust. But the questions that the
finding of the cave had raised remained
Who was this woman? How
did she get into the sealed cavern?
If she had been the court
favorite of that mythical kingdom,
now sunk beneath the
waves, and had been disposed
of in court intrigue, why would
her murderers have buried her
in such a casket? How had she
been killed? An unknown poison?
Perhaps she had been a
favorite slave of the monarch.
This view gained many converts
among the archaeologists who
argued that from all the evidence
we have available, the
race carrying the Iberian or
Proto-Egyptian culture, long
thought to have been the true
refugees from sinking Atlantis,
were a slight dark-haired race.
Therefore this woman must
have been a captive. Geologists,
analyzing the lava, announced
that it had hardened in air and
not in water, while anthropologists
classed the skull of the
woman as essentially more modern
than either the Neanderthal
or Cro-Magnon types. But the
engineers, secretly fuming at the
delay, finally managed to fill up
the cave and press on with their
Then following the arguments
that still flourished in the press,
came a tiny little news article
and the first message to carry
concern to the hearts of the engineers.
The sea had begun to
trickle in through one slight
crack. Perhaps it was only because
the crevice was located on
the English side of the now famous
"ancient ridge" that the
article brought forth any notice
at all. But for the engineers it
meant the first warning of possibly
ultimate disaster. They
could not seal the crack, and
pumps were brought into play.
However, as a month wore on,
the crack did not appear to
widen to any material extent
and the danger cry of a few
pessimists was forgotten.
Finally, it will be remembered,
that sounders listening in
the rocks heard the drillers of
the other party, and then with
wild enthusiasm the work was
pushed on to completion. The
long Tube had been dug. Now it
only remained for the sides at
the junction to be enlarged and
encased with cast iron, while
the work of setting up the great
machines designed to drive the
pellet trains through, was also
pushed on to its ultimate end.
Man had essayed the greatest
feat of engineering ever undertaken
in the history of the
planet, and had won. A period of
wild celebration greeted the first
human beings to cross each direction
below the sea.
Did the volume of water increase
that was carried daily
out of the Tube and dumped
from the two stations? If it did,
the incident was ignored by the
press. Instead, the fact that
some "cranks" persisted in calling
man's latest toy unsafe, only
attracted more travel. The Undersea
Tube functioned on regular
schedule for three years, became
the usual method of ocean
This was the state of matters,
when on the fourth of March
last, our textile company ordered
me to France to straighten
out some orders with the France
house, the situation being such
that they preferred to send a
man. Why they did not use radio-vision
I do not care to state,
as this is my company's business.
Therefore, upon entering my
apartment, I was in the midst of
packing when the television
phone called me. The jovial features
of "Dutch" Higgins, my
one-time college room-mate and
now one of the much-maligned
engineers of the Undersea Tube,
smiled back at me from the disk.
"Where are you? I thought we
had a sort of dinner engagement
at my apartment, Bob."
"By gollies I forgot, Dutch.
I'll be right over—before it gets
Then immediately I turned
the knob to the Municipal Aerial-car
yards, and ordered my
motor, as I grabbed my hat and
hurried to the roof. In due time,
of course, I sprang the big surprise
of the evening, adding:
"And, of course, I'm going by
the Tube, I feel sort of a half-partnership
in it because you
were one of the designers."
A curious half-pained look
crossed his face. We had finished
our meal, and were smoking with
pushed-back chairs. He finished
filling his pipe, and scowled.
"Well? Why don't you say
something? Thought you'd be—well,
sort of pleased."
He struck his automatic lighter
and drew in a long puff of
smoke before answering.
"Wish you'd take another
"Take another route?"
"Yes. If you want it straight,
the Tube is not safe."
"You are joking."
But as I looked into his cold,
thoughtful blue eyes, I knew he
had never been more serious.
"I wish that you would go by
the Trans-Atlantic Air Liners.
They are just as fast."
"But you used to be so enthusiastic
about the Tube, Dutch!
Why I remember when it was
being drilled that you would call
me up at all kinds of wild hours
to tell me the latest bits of news."
He nodded slowly.
"Yes, that was in the days before
"Yet you expected to take care
of possible leaks, you know," I
"But this crack opened after
the tunnel had been dug past it,
and lately it has opened more."
"Are the other engineers
"No. We are easily taking care
of the extra water and again
the opening seems to remain at
a stationary width as it has for
the past three years. But we cannot
"Are you going to publish
"No. I made out a minority report.
I can do no more."
"Dutch, you are becoming
over-cautious. First sign of old
"Perhaps," with the old smile.
"But after all it is now more
than three years since we have
had a talk on the Tube. After it
began to function as well as the
Air-Express you sort of lost interest
"And the world did too."
"Certainly—but the public
ever was a fickle mistress. Who
said that before me?"
He laughed and blew out a
long puff of smoke.
"But as to the Tube, if I
cross under the sea, I would want
to be as well informed on the
road as I was three years ago.
Now in the meantime, you have
dropped interest in the long tunnel
while I have become more interested
in textiles—with the result
that I have forgotten all I
ever did know—which compared
to your grasp of the details, was
But his face showed none of
the old-time animation on
the subject. What a different
man, I mused to myself, from
that enthusiastic engineering
student that I used to come upon
dreaming over his blue-prints.
He was considered "half-cracked"
in those days when he
would enthuse over his undersea
railroad, but his animated face
was lit with inspiration. Now
the light was gone.
"Well, Dutch, how about it?
Aren't you going to make me
that brief little sketch of the
length plan and cross-section of
the Tube? I remember your
sketch of it in college, and it
tends to confuse me with the
real changes that were made
necessary when the wind-propulsion
method was adopted."
"All right, old timer. You remember
that the Tube was widened
at the sides in order that we
could make two circular tubes
side by side—one going each
"I had forgotten that they
"That is because of the pressure.
A circle presents the best
resistance," and picking an odd
envelope from his pocket, he
made the following sketch and
passed it to me.
I nodded as I recognized the
"Now the plan of the thing is
like this," he added, putting aside
his pipe and pulling a sheet of
paper from the corner of his
Rapidly, with all his old accuracy,
he sketched the main plan
and leaned over as he handed it
"You see," he explained, picking
up his pipe again, "both
pumps work at one time—in fact,
I should say all four, because
this plan is duplicated on the
English side. On both ends then,
a train is gently pushed in by an
electric locomotive. A car at a
time goes through the gate so
that there is a cushion of air
between each car. The same
thing happens at Liverpool.
Now, when the due train comes
out of the suction tube, it goes
on out the gate, but the air behind
it travels right on around
and comes in behind the train
that is leaving."
"But how are you assured that
it will not stall somewhere?"
"It won't be likely to with
pressure pumps going behind it
and suction pumps pulling from
in front. We can always put extra
power on if necessary. Thus
far the road has worked perfectly."
"How much power do you
need to send it through, under
"Our trains have been averaging
about fifty tons, and for
that weight we have found that
a pound pressure is quite sufficient.
Now, taking the tunnel's
length as four thousand miles
(of course it is not that long,
but round figures are most convenient)
and the tube width
eleven and one quarter feet each
and working this out we have
3,020,000 cubic feet of free air
per minute or 2,904,000 cubic
feet of compressed air, which
would use about 70,000 horse
power on the air compressor."
"But isn't the speed rather
"Not any more dizzy, Bob,
than those old fashioned money-carrying
machines that the department
stores used to use—that
is in comparison to size.
The average speed is about 360
feet a second. Of course, the
train is allowed to slow down
toward the end of its run, even
before it hits the braking machinery
beyond the gate."
"But how much pressure did
you say would be put on the
back of the diaphragm—I remember
that each car has a flat
disc on the back that fits fairly
tightly to the tube ..."
"The pressure on the back is
less than seven tons. However,
the disc does not fit tight. There
are several leaks. For instance,
the cars are as you know, run on
the principle of the monorail
with a guiding rail on each side.
The grooves for the rails with
their three rollers are in each
car. There is a slight leakage of
"You used the turbo type of
blower, didn't you?"
"Had to because of the noise.
We put some silencing devices
on that and yet we could not
kill all of the racket. However a
new invention has come up that
we will make use of soon now."
"But I can't understand,
Dutch, why you seemed so
put out when I announced my
intention of going to Europe via
the Tube. Why, I can remember
the day when that would have
tickled you to death."
"You followed the digging of
the Tube, didn't you?"
"Yes, of course."
"You remember the volcano
and lava seams?"
"Well, I do not believe that
the crack was a pressure crevice.
If it had been, we were far
enough below the ocean floor to
have partly relieved the situation
by the unusually solid building
of the Tube. The tremendous
shell of this new type of specially
"And the rich concrete that
was used as filling! That was
one job no one slipped up on. I
remember how you watched it—"
"Yet the crack has widened,
Bob, since the Tube was completed."
"How can you be certain?"
"By the amount of water coming
through the drain pipes."
"But you said that once more
it was stationary."
"Yes, and that is the very
thing that proves, I believe, the
nature of the crack."
"I don't follow you."
"Why it isn't a crack at all,
Bob. It is an earthquake fault."
"Good heavens, you don't
"Yes, I do. I mean that the
next time the land slips our little
tube will be twisted up like
a piece of string, or crushed like
an eggshell. That always was a
rocky bit of land. I thought in
going that far north, though,
that we had missed the main
line of activity; I mean the disturbances
that had once wiped
out a whole nation, if your scientists
"Then you mean that it is
only a matter of time?"
"Yes, and I have been informed
by one expert that the
old volcanic activity is not dead
"So that is what has stolen
away your laugh?"
"Well I am one of the engineers—and
they won't suspend the
"Fate has played an ugly trick
on you, Dutch, and through your
own dreams too. However, you
have made me decide to go by the
He took his pipe out of his
mouth and stared at me.
"Sooner or later the Tube will
be through, and I have never
been across. Nothing risked—a
dull life. Mine has been altogether
too dull. I am now most
certainly going by the Tube."
A bit of the old fire lit up his
"Same old Bob," he grunted as
I rose, and then he grasped my
hand with a grin.
"Good luck, my boy, on your
journey, and may old Vulcan be
out on a vacation when you pass
Thus we said good-by. I did
not know then that I would never
see him again—that he also took
the train that night in order to
make one last plea to the International
Committee, and so laid
down his life with the passengers
for whom he had pleaded.
It was with many conflicting
thoughts, however, that I hurried
to the great Terminus that fatal
night, where after being ticketed,
photographed and tabulated by
an efficient army of clerks, I found
myself in due time, being ushered
to my car of the train.
For the benefit of those who
have never ridden upon the
famous "Flier," I could describe
the cars no better than to say
that coming upon them by night
as I did, they looked like a gigantic,
shiny worm, of strange
shape, through whose tiny port-holes
of heavy glass in the sides,
glowed its luminous vitals.
I was pompously shown to the
front car, which very much resembled
a tremendous cartridge—as
did all of the other segments
of this great glow-worm.
Having dismissed the porter
with a tip and the suspicion that
my having the front car was the
work of my friend, who was willing
to give me my money's worth
of thrill, and that the porter was
aware of this, I stowed away my
bags and started to get ready for
bed. I had no sooner taken off
my coat than the door was opened
and an old fellow with a mass of
silver hair peered in at me.
"I beg your pardon, sir, but I
understand you have engaged
this car alone?"
"I can get no other accommodations
tonight. You have an extra
berth here and I must get to
Paris tomorrow. I will pay you
"Take it. I was beginning to
feel lonesome, anyway."
He bowed gravely and ordered
the porter to bring in his things.
I decided he was a musician.
Only artists go in for such lovely
hair. But he undressed in dignified
silence, not casting so much
as another glance in my direction,
while on my part I also forgot
his presence when, looking
through the port-hole, I realized
that the train had begun to move.
Soon the drone of the propelling
engines began to make itself
heard. Then the train began to
dip down and the steel sides of
the entrance became too high for
me to see over. My friend of the
silver hair had already turned off
the light, and now I knew by the
darkness that we had entered the
Tube. For some time I lay awake
thinking of "Dutch" and the
ultimate failure of his life's
dream, as he had outlined it to
me, and then I sank into a deep,
I was awakened by a terrible
shock that hurled me up against
the side of the compartment. A
dull, red glow poured through the
port-hole, lighting up the interior
with a weird, bloody reflection.
I crept painfully up to the
port-hole and looked out. The
strangest sight that man has
ever looked upon met my eyes.
The side of the wall had blown
out into a gigantic cavern, and
with it the rest of the cars had
rolled down the bluff a tangled,
twisted mass of steel. My car
had almost passed by, and now it
still stuck in the tube, even
though the last port-hole through
which I peered seemed to be suspended
in air. But it was not the
wrecked cars from which rose
such wails of despair and agony
that held my attention, but the
cavern itself. For it was not really
a cave, but a vast underground
city whose wide, marble streets
stretched away to an inferno of
flame and lava. By the terrible
light was lit up a great white
palace with its gold-tipped
scrolls, and closer to me, the golden
temple of the Sun, with its
tiers of lustrous yellow stairs—stairs
worn by the feet of many
Above the stairs towered the
great statue of a man on horseback.
He was dressed in a sort of
tunic, and in his uplifted arm he
carried a scroll as if for the people
to read. His face was turned
toward me, and I marveled even
in that wild moment that the
unknown sculptor could have
caught such an expression of appeal.
I can see the high intellectual
brow as if it were before me
at this moment—the level, sympathetic
eyes and the firm chin.
Then something moving
caught my eyes, and I swear I
saw a child—a living child coming
from the burning city—running
madly, breathlessly from a
wave of glowing lava that threatened
to engulf him at any moment.
In spite of all the ridicule
that has been showered upon me,
I still declare that the child did
not come from the wreckage and
that he wore a tunic similar to
the one of the statue and not the
torn bit of a nightgown or sheet.
He was some distance from
me, but I could plainly see his
expression of wild distraction as
he began to climb those gleaming
stairs. Strangely lustrous in
the weird light, was that worn
stairway of gold—gold, the ancient
metal of the Sun. With the
slowness of one about to faint he
dragged himself up, while his
breath seemed to be torn from his
throat in agonizing gasps. Behind
him, the glowing liquid
splashed against the steps and
the yellow metal of the Sun began
to drip into its fiery cauldron.
The child reached the leg of
the horse and clung there.
... Then suddenly the whole
scene began to shake as if I had
been looking at a mirage, while
just behind my car I had a flashing
glimpse in that lurid light of
an emerald-green deluge bursting
in like a dark sky of solid water,
and in that split-second before
a crushing blow upon my
back, even through that tangle of
bedclothes, knocked me into unconsciousness,
I seemed to hear
again the hopeless note in the
voice of my friend as he said:
"—an earthquake fault."
After what seemed to me aeons
of strange, buzzing noises and
peculiar lights, I at last made
out the objects around me as
those of a hospital. Men with serious
faces were watching me. I
have since been told that I babbled
incoherently about "saving
the little fellow" and other equally
From them I learned that
the train the other way was
washed out, a tangled mass of
wreckage just like my car, both
terminus stations wrecked utterly,
and no one found alive except
myself. So, although I am to be
a hopeless cripple, yet I am not
sorry that the skill and untiring
patience of the great English
surgeon, Dr. Thompson, managed
to nurse back the feeble
spark of my life through all those
weeks that I hung on the borderland;
for if he had not, the world
never would have known.
As it is, I wonder over the
events of that night as if it had
not been an experience at all—but
a wild weird dream. Even the
gentleman with the mass of silver
hair is a mystery, for he was
never identified, and yet in my
mind's recesses I can still hear
his cultured voice asking about
the extra berth, and mentioning
his pressing mission to Paris.
And somehow, he gives the last
touch of strangeness to the
events of that fatal night, and in
my mind, he becomes a part of it
no less than the child on the
stairs, the burning inferno that
lit the background, and the great
statue of that unknown hero who
held out his scroll for a moment
in that lurid light, like a symbol
from the sunken City of the
Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
This etext was first published in Amazing Stories November 1929
and was produced from Amazing Stories May 1961.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
typographical errors have been corrected without note.