By Jules Verne
"I'm sorry to say I've never read it," said Morgan, when he had absorbed this information. "It might have saved me a lot of trouble. But I'd like to know how he managed without any rails…''
“We shouldn't give Jules too much credit – or blame. This picture was never meant to be taken seriously – it was a joke of the artist.”
“Well – give Design my compliments; it's one of their better ideas.”
Turning away from the dreams of the past, Morgan and Kingsley walked towards the reality of the future. Through the wide observation window a back-projection system gave a stunning view of Earth – and not just any view, Morgan was pleased to note, but the correct one. Taprobane itself was hidden, of course, being directly below; but there was the whole subcontinent of Hindustan, right out to the dazzling snows of the Himalayas.
“You know,” Morgan said suddenly, “it will be exactly like the Bridge, all over again. People will take the trip just for the view. Midway Station could be the biggest tourist attraction ever.” He glanced up at the azure-blue ceiling. “Anything worth looking at on the last floor?”
“Not really – the upper air-lock is finalised, but we haven't decided where to put the life-support backup gear and the electronics for the track-centring controls.”
“Any problems there?”
“Not with the new magnets. Powered or coasting, we can guarantee safe clearance up to eight thousand kilometres an hour – fifty percent above maximum design speed.”
Morgan permitted himself a mental sigh of relief. This was one area in which he was quite unable to make any judgements, and had to rely completely on the advice of others. From the beginning, it had been obvious that only some form of magnetic propulsion could operate at such speeds; the slightest physical contact – at more than a kilometre a second! – would result in disaster. And yet the four pairs of guidance slots running up the faces of the tower had only centimetres of clearance around the magnets; they had to be designed so that enormous restoring forces came instantly into play, correcting any movement of the capsule away from the centre line.
As Morgan followed Kingsley down the spiral stairway which extended the full height of the mockup, he was suddenly struck by a sombre thought. I'm getting old, he said to himself. Oh, I could have climbed to the sixth level without any trouble; but I'm glad we decided not to.
Yet I'm only fifty-nine – and it will be at least five years, even if all goes very well, before the first passenger car rides up to Midway Station. Then another three years of tests, calibration, system tune-ups. Make it ten years, to be on the safe side…
Though it was warm, he felt a sudden chill. For the first time, it occurred to Vannevar Morgan that the triumph upon which he had set his soul might come too late for him. And quite unconsciously he pressed his hand against the slim metal disc concealed inside his shirt.