This is the third installment of "The Menace from Andromeda", the third published story by Nat Schachner and Arthur Leo Zagat. It originally appeared in the April 1931 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, and has never been republished.
As we join our story, the brilliant young astronomer Donald Standish has discovered that a planet in the Andromeda nebula he named Alcoreth is actually composed of living matter. However, since Alcoreth has disappeared, he is unable to prove it to the scientific community. He decides instead to discuss the matter with his fiancée Mary Cameron and her brother Douglas, a cancer researcher in Colorado.
Meanwhile, in the Andromeda nebula, Alcoreth is a self-aware mass of undifferentiated protoplasm occupying the entire surface of a planet. Facing starvation, she decides to convert her mass into countless spores and launch them into space to seed other planets. After millions of years, a cloud of spores from Alcoreth reach Earth and come to rest on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean . . .
* * *
"Missing fishing vessel safe in port!
"Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, Sept. 27th AP. The fishing smack Ellen Morse, two weeks past due, docked here this morning with a record catch. The vessel was blown off its course during the storm reported three weeks ago by the remainder of the fleet, and, on the abatement of the gale, ran into an unusually large school of haddock 100 miles of the Banks. She remained to take advantage of the unexpected good fortune. All on board are well.
"The crew report that during the catch a peculiar shower composed of small brown globules fell on and about the vessel. As this occurred at the height of the catch, no specimens of the 'dust' were preserved."
The early editions of one or two newspapers that September morning of 1938 carried this small squib. A commuter or two, traveling long distances, having exhausted the headlines, the sport pages, the stock reports, read it. Then it passed into the oblivion which awaits all such space filling items. No sixth sense, no intuitional alarm bell, warned any reader of the horror which this dust cloud, so casually observed, had brought to earth.
Only in the Mt. Wilson Observatory did one man start on reading the report. Standish, alone in all the world, saw here more than a mere unusual occurrence. And even he could place no great stress on it. A careful clipping of the two inch account, a reference to data jotted down a few weeks before, then the clipping and the notes in than neat scientific script were filed away.
It was a fair world that the dust cloud had entered. All the nations were at peace and had been for twenty years. The great strides in mechanical and scientific progress of the first two decades of the 20th century had somewhat slowed down. Not yet had the commerce of the world taken to the air. While swift passenger and mail services across the continents and the seas had become commonplace, as yet aerial navigation had not been cheapened sufficiently to remove from the surface the carrying of freight. The life-blood of the nations, the foodstuffs, the textiles, the myriad varied components of commerce, still coursed in the old arteries along the surface of the seas. Still were the harbors of the world crowded with shipping, still across the seven seas plodded in the old slow way the gleaming freight-liners and the tramps. Still across the continents streamed the long freight-trains, mile-long caravans bearing ore, coal, grain, food, and raiment that the race might be fed, and be clothed, that man might be housed, kept warm, might live and work.
The year 1938 was ushered out in the age-old flare of horns and carousal, the age-old watch-night prayers, and the fateful twelve-month of 1939 began. Again a newspaper item noted by but few signalled the approach of horror.
"New York -- April 3rd -- The Hardin Line officers here report that yesterday afternoon, while their private radio station was receiving the routine daily report from the Hardin freighter, Ulysses, communication suddenly ceased and could not be reestablished. At the time the Ulysses was 50 miles due east of Cape Hatteras. Vessels in the vicinity have been requested to investigate."
Thus it began. The Ulysses was never heard of again. Other ships cruising over the position from which it was last reported could find no trace of the freighter, nor any of the usual evidences of marine disaster. Ten thousand tons of steel and wood, thousands of tons of freight, one hundred men, had disappeared without trace.
A month later, another great ship broke suddenly off in the midst of a wireless dialogue and vanished as completely as though it had never been. In quick succession a third, a fourth, a fifth abrupt vanishment caught the attention of the world within a week. No longer was the news relegated to the inside pages of the daily papers, but glaring front page headlines broadcasted the tidings of disaster. Marine insurance rose to exorbitant rates; the navies of the earth were scouring the Atlantic; only the most essential traffic was proceeding. At last the world was aware that something brooded out there in the ocean which threatened the very life-blood of the earth.
One peculiar feature of the disappearances was early noted. The tragedies had occurred in no localized region of the ocean. Plotted on the maps which now appeared on the front page of every paper, it was seen that a broad belt of waters, extending from Nova Scotia on the north to the Caribbean on the south was dotted with the black crosses of disaster. It was as if some tremendous power was erecting a fearful barrier across North and South Atlantic, a barrier which would end the commerce of the centuries between the Eastern and the Western Hemispheres, saying to the trade of the world: "Thou shalt not pass!"
And now indeed the barrier was complete. So rapid had been the multiplication of casualties that by the end of June over a thousand vessels had unaccountably vanished. On July 1, a general order was issued by the Admiralties of every nation forbidding all commercial traffic across the Atlantic. Supplies of food and other necessities were routed across the Pacific, across Asia and Europe to England and the seacoast countries of the Old World. Now, on the broad expanse of the Atlantic, unwonted quiet reigned, broken only by the gray war-craft searching, searching, for what they knew not.
A pall of horror overspread the world. The sole topic of conversation on the street, in business places and in houses was the mysterious barricade across the ocean and speculation as to its cause. In the capitals of the world the heads of government conferred about nothing else. In the universities, in the headquarters of the scientific organizations, theory and counter-theory were spun as to the nature of this thing which had paralyzed commerce. The attention of all the earth was centered on the great radio towers and the word that came through them from the gray war vessels out on the tossing waters, searching, searching, ever searching for the thing which so swiftly, so relentlessly swallowed up the great vessels and small which ploughed the waves.
Ever there was the same news. Each day the tale was -- "Battleship So and So, while reporting all well at such and such time ceased communication. Other vessels in the vicinity have been ordered to investigate." And then, one by one, the other vessels, too, would drop out of sight, never to be heard of again.
On teh newspaper maps it wasa noted that the belt of black crosses widened and lengthened, extending ever closer to the shores of the Atlantic. And the horror deepened -- blacker was the dread of the people.