Monday, July 31, 2017

"If I Don't Get Shot in the Back Before I'm Half Way Across the Cave, How Do I Know When to Stop?"

"One-Way Ticket to Nowhere."
By Leroy Yerxa (1915-46).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, December 1942.
Reprinted in Amazing Stories Quarterly, Summer 1943.
Novelette (23 pages as a PDF).
Online at Project Gutenberg (HERE).

"Listen Blake, when I sent for you, I figured you'd fit in here. I didn't know you'd fall for all this kid brother heroic stuff."
   Hijacking a train is never an easy proposition, so stealing one capable of five hundred miles an hour might stymie your average train thief. Nevertheless, a gang of hijackers colloquially known as the Silver Masks has been successfully doing that for the past six months, and it's about to bankrupt Walter Ferrell's "Hope to Horn" high-tech railroad. A helpful footnote tells us that "Hope to Horn" is . . .

   ". . . the nickname lovingly applied by its loyal employees to the mono railroad developed and owned by Walter Ferrell. These mono, or single-tracked trains were brought into service in 2100. The Hope to Horn line itself consisted of a north- and south-bound rail of heavy plastic extending from Hope, Alaska to Cape Horn, South America. They were powered by standard sixteen engine diesels, capable of five hundred miles per hour. Built almost in the shape of long graceful fish, the trains were of highly colored plastic. They ran on a single rail of plastic-steel. In a few short hours men and women tired of business could follow the entire Pacific coast line from one end to the other, the entire trip consuming twenty-two running hours between Hope and Cape Horn."

. . . most of it a big blur, no doubt, but the public seems to like it—or did, until the Silver Mask raids started.
   Just back from ten years in space and heading to see his twin brother, Jeff Blake walks right into one when Mono 6 gets hijacked on its way to Tierra del Fuego with his old pal Holly O'Toole, Walter Ferrell himself, and Ferrell's stunning (of course) daughter Dauna. Blake will have to get heroically proactive if he hopes to save the situation—as well as the stunning (of course) Dauna—but a couple of things could deep-six the rescue if they become known: Two supposedly trustworthy people on Mono 6 aren't who everyone thinks they are—and one of them calls himself Jeff Blake . . .
Comment: In view of what happens in the story, the editorial headnote makes no sense at all.

- Leroy Yerxa wavered between crime fiction and SFF in his pulp output, sometimes combining the two, as in this story. Several Interblab sources have the essential data
on our author (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE); our last meeting with Yerxa (HERE)
showed him with his mystery fiction hat on.
- Because our story involves trains, we're adding it to our gradually growing list of

railway-related mysteries.
- If you have the time, "Next World: Future Trains," a video from 2008 (43 minutes

25 seconds), is presently online (HERE), but it could use a few subtitles.

The bottom line: "How did I get to Hollywood? By train."
John Ford

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