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UNKNOWN AUTHOR
WRITING AS
E.K. JARVIS

TICKET TO VENUS

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover


Ex Libris

First published in Amazing Stories, March 1951

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-02-16
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.


Cover Image

Amazing Stories, March 1951, with "Ticket to Venus"


Illustration


Markham was sure space travel was net yet possible. Then how
could this unknown agency dare sell tickets to other planets?




THE office had appeared as if by magic. One day the suite of rooms was empty, the next day furniture was being moved in. The third day the office was open for business.

A sign painter was busy lettering the front door as Markham passed it on his way to his own modest office.


SARTIN LINES


At noon, when Markham started out to lunch, he saw that other words had been added to the door.


GENERAL TICKET OFFICE

Tickets here for

LUNA

MARS

VENUS


Perhaps nothing that could have happened, short of death itself, would have hit him harder than these three words lettered on the door: LUNA. MARS. VENUS.

According to the information discreetly conveyed by the lettering on this door, they were selling tickets to the planets right here in this office, just as, down on the first floor, they were selling airline tickets to Europe, Asia, and the islands of the far seas.

This—in 1951!

The idea shook him. For a moment he had the dazed impression that he had stood still for a very long period while time had gone racing by. There was a story—He groped for it. Rip... Rip Van Winkle. He felt as Rip Van Winkle must have felt, awakening from the sleep of twenty years and coming face to face with marvels.

He stood there in the hall of the building, letting the noon-time rush of hungry people heading for lunch jostle past him: a tall, lean, too-brown-skinned man clad in quiet, well-fitting clothes, with the tiny button of a hearing aid barely visible in his left ear, staring at the words on the doorway of this newly opened office. He was the only person who seemed remotely interested in this door. A few others glanced curiously at the words and hurried on.

To most people lunch was more important than space flight.

It's a gag, he thought. The words are just the come-on. If you go in, they will try to sell you mining rights on the moon, or a ranch on Venus, or a uranium deposit on Mars.

Sometime in the future these things would be for sale in Earth markets. But not yet. Humans had net as yet perfected space flight.

It has to be a gag, he repeated.

If anybody on Earth had made a single space flight, even the relatively short hop to the moon, every newspaper on the planet—with the possible exceptions of Izvestiya and Pravda—would have carried headlines on this astonishing performance. It would have been on every radio program, every columnist would have commented on it, and the fliers would have been on every telecast program. Here In New York, there would have been a parade down Fifth Avenue, with the fliers in open cars, while frantic secretaries tore up every telephone book in Manhattan to provide a fitting shower of paper to welcome the heroes.

There had been no parade, no shower of paper to plague the street-cleaning department, no radio and television interviews. Acres of trees had been chopped down to provide paper to describe the flying saucers and various rocket experiments in progress in New Mexico, but there hadn't been a whisper about a successful space flight. The Army had sent up a rocket which seemingly hadn't come down—the Army, or the Air Force, or whatever, couldn't find this rocket anyhow—but otherwise there had been nothing. Markham made it his business to keep track of such projects.

Therefore this office was a gag!


BUT was it? Had space flight actually been accomplished with no resulting fanfare and was one result of such an accomplishment the opening of an office to sell tickets to the planets?

Space flight would come some day, he knew. When it did come, an office to sell tickets would be opened somewhere, and somebody would make a profit out of the sale of tickets. There would be a freight office near the space port, with thick-chested men weighing freight shipments and carting them around in electric trucks. Chrome for Venus, and magnesium, and whole space-ship loads of the wonderful plastics developed on Earth.

"All right, I'll go see," Markham said to himself. The sign on the door seemed to pull him toward it. As if it were a magnet and he an iron filing, he moved toward the door. He could not see what lay beyond the frosted glass panels. All he could see were those magic words: LUNA—MARS—VENUS.

His hand touched the doorknob and he stopped and took a quick step backward. What if this was a trap?

At the thought, his hand darted inside his coat, to the bulky body of the hearing aid amplifier snuggled in his vest pocket. The feel of this compact little device was reassuring. As long as he wore this hearing aid, he was in no danger, except from the transtron field, in which the aid would not operate.

Was a transtron field in operation here? Tendrils seemed to flow out from his mind, testing the space around him. He shook his head. There was no transtron field here. The tendrils flowed back, reporting that all was quiet. He opened the door.

There was a reception room and beyond it a door, with the word Manager on it. This door was partly open, revealing that the manager was not in at the moment. But the reception room was occupied by a girl behind a desk.

The girl behind the desk was utterly reassuring. She had long carmine-tipped finger nails, platinum hair that had obviously come out of a bottle, and false eyelashes, the long, droopy kind.

Markham liked this girl on sight. She was so common, so cheap, so gaudy, that she had to be real. A girl like this in a front office could not conceal a trap. She was too obviously stupid, for one thing, and for another, she looked so much like a come-on that she had to be real. He liked her because just the sight of her made him feel safe.

When he opened the door, she favored him with what she obviously thought was an alluring smile. "Was there something you wanted, sir?" Her smile said that whatever it was he wanted, she had it.

He ignored the smile. "Yes. How much is a ticket to Mars?"

Her face dropped a little. She consulted papers in front of her. "That depends. Anywhere between $26,000 and $64,000."

"Two prices to the same place?"

"That's what it says here." Her frown said she didn't understand it either but that was what the book said and a girl couldn't go wrong by sticking to the book. She bent forward to examine the papers. "It depends on whether or not Mars is at per—per—perihelion or at a-perihelion."

"What does that mean?" Markham said. He knew perfectly well what the words meant but he wanted to see if she knew.

"Gosh, mister, you'll have to ask Mr. Lewellyn. He's our manager here. He knows about things like that."

"When will Mr. Lewellyn be in?"

"Sometime this afternoon, I guess. But I can sell you a ticket."

"How much will the price be?"

"Well, our next trip goes on October ninth and the price then—I've got it right here—is $38,000. Gosh, that seems a lot of money, don't it?"

Markham was silent Maybe the girl didn't understand the reason for a sliding scale of ticket prices to Mars, but he did. Depending on their relative positions at any time, the distance between Mars and Earth varied from approximately 40,000,000 to about 60,000,000 miles. If the price of the ticket was computed on the actual distance between the two planets, then the price ought to vary.

Markham shivered. This little detail of a sliding scale of ticket prices was so accurate it was somehow frightening. And the whole situation here in this office was so commonplace that it made him uneasy.

In 1951, you ought not to be able to find an office selling tickets to the planets!

"If you will put down a deposit, sir—"

But fear was rising in Markham and he was heading for the door. The fear came from some hidden source within him and it rose as a compelling flood. "Later, perhaps." He flung the words back over his shoulder.


OUTSIDE, he was shaky. All during lunch, even with the rattle of dishes and the hum of conversation around him, the shakiness persisted. Was it humanly possible that space flight had been developed to the point where tickets could be sold to the planets? If it wasn't possible, then fraud was being attempted.

The city had an organization set up to deal with cases of fraud—the Better Business Bureau....

The man at the Better Business Bureau laughed heartily when Mark-ham told him the story of this new office that had opened in his building. "Ha, ha, ha, that's a new one! What won't they think of next to separate a sucker from his money? Sure, we'll look into it and we'll put them out of business too. Can't have a bunch of crooks stealing money that honest businessmen are entitled to get. No, space travel isn't here yet. What gave you an idea like that? This is obviously fraud. We'll look into it." The tone of the investigator's voice said he would have the Sartin Space Ship Lines out of business within twenty-four hours.

Markham felt a little better. He left his name and telephone number. Late that afternoon, the bureau called. "I went over and talked to those people. The manager insisted they were a legitimate concern. He even offered to show me the space ship itself."

The Business Bureau man sounded shocked, as if he had run headlong into a fact too big for him to handle.

"What!" Markham was shocked too. "Where is it?"

"He wouldn't tell me where it is. He said he didn't want a crowd of curious idiots thronging the landing field, which is quite small. He said there is some danger for spectators, and for this reason he wanted no publicity."

"When will he take you to see the ship? I assume you're going?"

"Why, any time, he said. I didn't exactly ask him but I got the impression he would be glad to take me out to the space port tomorrow afternoon. I guess I'll have to go. Do you want to go along?"

"No," Markham answered. "Yes—I don't know." Fear was rising in him again.

"Well, make up your mind," the Bureau man said, and hung up.


MARKHAM spent the entire night trying to make up his mind. By morning he had decided that the bureau representative might not be too reliable in matters such as this, that he wasn't a trained investigator, and that he might draw erroneous conclusions. But there was another agency—

When the office of the FBI opened the next morning, Markham was waiting. He was interviewed by a tall, pleasant-faced man whose name was Smith and who looked like he ought to be either an accountant or a lawyer. Smith listened patiently to Mark-ham's story, but without showing much real interest.

"Why do you report this space ship matter to us?" Smith queried.

It was a question Markham had not been anticipating and which he had difficulty in answering. "Why—it's my duty as a citizen. After all, if this is actually happening—"

"Do you think these people are really selling space ship tickets?"

"Well—"

"Do you think space flight is possible?"

Markham twisted uncomfortably in his chair. He did not like these questions, nor did he like the direction in which they were leading. He had been prepared to face laughter and scorn but he had not been prepared to have his private beliefs questioned. What if they made him take a lie detector test?

His voice took on a placatory tone. "I realize you people must hear a great many strange stories from—well, frankly, from a lot of nuts. But—well, you can go see for yourself."

"We will," Smith said. "In these times we have to investigate every rumor, no matter how wild it seems. You say there is an office in your building that is selling space ship tickets. We are not greatly interested in the sale of the tickets, but a ship capable of flight to the planets, this does interest us."

There were other questions, probing, prying, and revealing. When the interview was over, Markham was glad to get away.

When he got off the elevator in his own building, there was that door again, with its leering words:

LUNA

MARS

VENUS


Pressures inside of him took him straight toward it. The same girl was behind the desk. She had changed the color of her nails to deep maroon. There was no other change.

"Sold any tickets yet?" Markham asked her.

"You're the gentleman who was in yesterday? No, we haven't sold any yet. But maybe we will today. You wanted to go to Mars, didn't you?"

He was mildly astonished that she could remember the planet he had inquired about but he did not answer her question. "How long has this line been in operation?" he asked.

"Gee, mister, I don't know. I only came to work yesterday. Did you want a ticket?"

"Before I make up my mind, I want to see the ship."

"Oh, in that case, you'll have to talk to the manager. Just go right on in. Mr. Lewellyn will see you."

Markham didn't go in. He knocked politely on the inner door. And the manager came out. Tall and stately, with clear blue eyes and snow white hair, he looked like a banker. Just the sight of him inspired confidence. Looking at him, Markham understood why the Business Bureau man had felt this man represented a legitimate concern. Markham almost felt the same way himself.

"Come in, sir. I am Richard Lewellyn. I'll be glad to answer any questions you care to ask."


THE office was modestly furnished. The desk was plain walnut, the ash trays were without chromium trim, the fountain pens were old fashioned. Markham eased himself into the chair beside the desk and found it comfortable. "Do you actually have ships that fly to the planets?" he demanded, almost sharply.

Lewellyn seated himself behind the desk and folded his hands across his stomach. "Of course. My dear sir, are we not offering tickets for sale? Would we sell tickets on non-existent space ships?"

"But why haven't we heard of this space ship line?"

"Because Mr. Sartin does not want any unnecessary publicity. He has a quirk that amounts almost to an obsession about seeing his name in the newspapers. Of course, we realize that some publicity will be unavoidable, but Mr. Sartin wishes it held to a minimum. And since he is the man who devised the Sartin Drive and built the first space ship, naturally his wishes are to be respected. It had been his dream for years to perfect space travel, then quietly to open up freight and passenger offices and to make the announcement that flight to the planets is now possible, on a matter-of-fact basis, just like buying a train or a plane ticket. No fuss, no blaring headlines, no gushing of newspapers over his great accomplishment: these are his ideas."

"I see," Markham said. It sounded reasonable. Just as ocean lines and steamship ticket offices had followed a long time after Columbus, commercial interplanetary transportation on Earth would follow the first daring human adventurer who reached the planets and returned. He began to ask questions. Lewellyn answered without hesitation. "Can I see the ship?" Markham finally asked. To him, it was the only important question.

"Of course," Lewellyn answered. "Do you think we are trying to sell a pig in a poke? If you really want to buy a ticket, you can see the ship. If you have a commercial proposition to offer us, you can see the ship. As a matter of fact, I am planning to take a representative from the Business Bureau and a newspaper reporter out to see the ship this afternoon. If you care to go along with us, we will be most happy to have you."

"What time?"

"We plan to leave about five-thirty."

Markham made up his mind. "I'll be here. How are we going to get to the space port?"

"In the company's regular limousine," Lewellyn said.


ARRIVING at the Sartin Lines office ten minutes ahead of the appointed time, Markham discovered that the Business Bureau man was already present. With him was a tall, seedy individual in rumpled clothes whom Lewellyn introduced as a Mr. Johnson, a reporter.

"I thought you did not want any publicity," Markham said.

"As I told you, we neither welcome it nor avoid it," Lewellyn explained. "Mr. Sartin realized that a venture of this magnitude cannot be kept secret forever and he is prepared to accept a certain amount of the right kind of publicity, as a necessary evil. He trusts, however, that the newspapers will not give undue space to his small accomplishment." This last was said with a warning look at the reporter.

"He 'trusts' in a pig's eye," the reporter answered. "He's just pretending he doesn't want any publicity so he'll be hounded with it."

"You don't know Mr. Sartin," Lewellyn said stiffly.

"Just show me this ship, old playmate. That's all you've got to do. I'll do the rest." The reporter seemed to muse darkly about some secret matter.

Lewellyn shrugged but did not reply. The reporter lit a cigarette and yawned. Plainly he had no faith whatsoever in the reality of a space ship. "And here I had a date tonight," he muttered, brooding again.

Lewellyn looked at his watch.

"Let's get going," the reporter said. "I haven't got all night to spend looking at a space ship. Maybe, if we hurry, I can still catch her before she calls up somebody else Hey,

Mac, how long before we get this show on the road?"

"I'm waiting for another passenger," Lewellyn answered. The tone of his voice indicated he was in complete agreement with Mr. Sartin not only about publicity but about the men who provided it. "If your time is too valuable, I suggest—"

"Don't mind me, Mac, it's just that this dame won't wait."

Markham kept in a corner and said nothing. He was both fretful and worried. He disliked the flippant attitude of this reporter.

The door opened. The man who entered was greeted respectfully by Lewellyn and was introduced around. He was the FBI agent to whom Markham had talked in the morning. And obviously Lewellyn knew his occupation.

"Well, we're all here," the manager said. "The press, the representative of Better Business, the majesty of the law, and one potential cash-paying customer. Now if we only had a crook to round out our little group...." He laughed heartily at his own joke.

The car was a big limousine. A uniformed chauffeur was at the wheel. The side of the car bore the words in modest lettering:


SARTIN SPACE SHIP LINES


The car slid through traffic with the effortless ease of a ghost. Lewellyn sat in the front seat beside the chauffeur and kept up a running conversation with the FBI agent on the jump seat immediately behind him. Markham sat in the middle of the back seat, the Better Business agent on his left, the reporter on his right. The reporter was still brooding darkly and was urging the chauffeur to "get some speed out of this hearse."

"We will need a little more than an hour to reach the port where the ship is kept at present," Lewellyn explained.

Markham thought: space flight coming to Earth like this! A reporter muttering about a girl and an incompetent little man from a business bureau and a tall detective from the FBI, and he—all going out to see a space ship!

What strange things these humans did!

Darkness had fallen before the car had left the city behind it. They were in rolling, hilly country. The car purred smoothly up a long hill.

When it reached the crest of the hill, it kept right on going up.


AS he got the sensation of continuous rising motion, Markham knew instantly what had happened and was happening. His hand darted to the control switch on the artificial hearing aid that he wore, snapped a button there, snapped it again and again.

He knew that snapping the button was useless. The transtron field had already hit him. Sensitive tendrils inside his mind reported the field as it leaped into existence. The movement of his fingers frantically pushing the button on the hearing aid was reflex action, like a drowning man clutching at a straw. He crouched against the seat, shivering with apprehension, his face a mask of torture.

In the front seat, Lewellyn laughed gently. "The voul projection does not work in the transtron field, eh, Ulgardu? Too bad. Too, too, bad."

Like a trapped animal, Markham huddled against the seat of the car, his mind searching frantically for a means of escape that he knew did not exist.

This was it and he knew it He had only one hope.

The silence in the car was broken only by the hum of the powerful motor, which was much louder now that it was not only operating the space-warping drive that lifted the car upward but was also supplying current to energize the transtron field. But the car was not moving fast, not really fast, yet.

Markham dived for the door of the car, snatched it open. No one made a move to stop him. Air hit his face, the door of the car resisted his efforts to open it. He got it open six inches, far enough to see the distance that lay below him.

Below him winked the lights of a town in the dusk. The car, slow as it was moving, was already several hundred yards in the air.

"Go ahead and jump, if you wish," Lewellyn's voice came from the front seat. "Jumping now will save us trouble later. So if you jump you will be doing us a favor."

A sound was torn from Markham's throat. He let the pressure of the air stream slam shut the door and collapsed again on the back seat.

Lewellyn laughed, gently.

Johnson, the reporter, craning his neck to look out the window, suddenly began to scream.

"This damned automobile is frying through the air like an airplane!" The reporter sounded like a man scared to the verge of insanity. He grabbed the door handle, crouched holding it but afraid to open it. He screamed again.

Better Business was screaming too, in a high falsetto. "Let me out of here." He said it over and over again, like a phonograph record that has stukc in the same groove.

In the front seat, Lewellyn spoke. "You wanted to see the ship, didn't you?"

"What ship?" The reporter gobbled the sound. He had forgotten the purpose of this trip.

"That's where I'm taking you," Lewellyn answered. He gestured toward the sky. "It's up there on an orbit that keeps it constantly on the night side of Earth."

"But—but—but—" The reporter again made the gobbling sound. Under the dome light, his face was twisted, his eyes were those of an animal. Sweat was on his face and his throat was working as he tried to find words to say. Abruptly his face muscles went slack and he slid forward on the floor boards, falling face down.

"Probably only fainted," Lewellyn said.


THERE was one man in the back seat of the car who had not spoken and who had not moved. Only his face showed what was happening inside his mind. His face had turned gray. His hand went inside his coat and came out with a gun.

He was the FBI agent, Smith.

At the sight of the gun, Markham tried to pick up hope again.

"I don't know what you're doing or how you are doing it. I don't know where you came from or what you want." The agent spoke the words carefully, one by one, as if he was measuring their impact. "But I know you had better take us back down to Earth again." He made a stabbing movement with the gun in his hand.

Lewellyn became aware of the gun. As his eyes came to focus on it, his face seemed to freeze. Then he laughed.

"Take us down!"

Lewellyn continued to laugh.

The gun thundered.

At the distance it was held from its target, the bullet could not miss. Lewellyn's face should have exploded in a bloody pulp under the impact of the heavy slug. But nothing happened to his face. It lost none of its good humor.

Directly in front of his face a piece of metal flared into existence, the bullet striking an invisible barrier between the gun and Lewellyn. The slug splashed upward, as pieces of metal, struck the roof of the car, and fell to the floorboards.

The only sign that it had been fired was a thin stain of metal rising upward along this invisible barrier, a stain of metal and a reek of smoke.

The FBI agent's eyes came to focus on that stain. Slowly and reluctantly, he slipped the gun back into the shoulder holster from which he had taken it.

Markham watched him put the gun away. The little hope died in him. He had not really expected anything from the gun.

"You should have known better than to try to use such a weapon," Lewellyn said. "I had to be prepared to face a real weapon, in case Ulgardu sensed he was being trapped as the transtron field went into operation. A barrier that would stop the voul projection would also stop a bullet from your gun."

"Ulgardu?". the agent said.

Lewellyn nodded toward the back seat. "The man you call Markham back there. Only his name isn't Markham and he isn't a man. He is a criminal from Venus who has been hiding out on Earth. I've been looking for him for a great many years. He is wanted badly back home."

"Huh?"

"A very wary, very suspicious, and very competent criminal," Lewellyn continued. The tone of his voice became professional, he spoke now as one criminal hunter to another. "Even after we had located him, we didn't dare take a chance with him. I assure you that the weapon he carries hidden in that artificial hearing aid he pretends to wear is most devastating in its effects. Most devastating."


THE trace of a shudder crossed Lewellyn's face. "To take him at all, we had to trick him into a spot where we could clamp down on him with the transtron field, which is an electro-magnetic force flux which nullifies the operation of the voul projection. Since the transtron field itself requires a special installation, it alone was a difficult problem. Then we had to get him into a position where, once we had trapped him, we could get him away from Earth immediately. It was quite a problem. We had only one fact to go on, that he would like to return to Venus, if he could manage it in safety. The friends who had brought him here in the first place could not return for him because we were watching them. They would help him again, if he could find some way to get to Venus. So we gave him that chance." He chuckled softly, as some joke that he alone knew.

"Then that space ship ticket office—" the agent gulped.

"Bait, of course," Lewellyn answered. "We opened it where he would be sure to see it. He would be exceedingly cautious, of course, but as long as he thought he had a chance to get to Venus undetected, he would investigate that chance. And, since he knew the development of science on Earth has not yet achieved space flight, the first thing he would demand to see would be the ship, to make certain that it would actually operate. He would not be likely to trust his precious body to some clumsy rocket flier; he would want to make certain that Earth scientists had actually developed a vessel capable of space flight. We would, of course, agree to take him to see the ship, but under conditions of our own choosing, said conditions including transportation in this car, which is a stock model from an Earth manufacturer but which includes some special equipment which we installed ourselves."

His eyes twinkled at Markham, hunched down in the back seat. "The car fooled you, didn't it?"

"A lot of things fooled me," Mark-ham growled.

"But—but—" the agent's voice had developed a creak. "Why didn't you tell us what you wanted? We would have helped you."

"We like to kill our own snakes," Lewellyn answered. "And if we asked help from you, we would have to admit that we exist. Such an admission would distort your whole economic and social structure.

"It is much better to let you develop space flight yourselves. Then you will grow with it rather than have it thrust upon you from the outside. Incidentally, I am sure your scientists will develop space flight within a few years. Then we will be glad to do business with you."

"But—what about us?"

"You? Oh, you're going to Venus with us."

"To Venus?" The agent sounded shocked.

"Yes, you will like it there. It's a nice place. And in a few years, when your people develop space flight, you will be allowed to return home."

"There will be a hell of a stink raised about our disappearance," the agent protested.

"Yes, I imagine inquiries will be made," Lewellyn answered. "Well, it won't be the first such mysterious disappearance. As to the office of the Sartin Space Ship Lines, we'll just let the owners of the building close it for non-payment of rent. I imagine the authorities will give the girl I hired a difficult time but I doubt if they will learn much from her. As to the mystery of your disappearance, it will have to remain just that."

His voice went into silence.

The big car rose upward. Below them, the surface of the earth was already many miles away. Above them, keeping always in the shadow of the turning earth, the space ship was waiting.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
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