Saturday, August 27, 2011

"The Menace from Andromeda" by Schachner and Zagat, part 2

This is the second 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.

* * *

Alcoreth heaved herself in long undulations that caused a plashing of luminous vibration in the surrounding ether. For Alcoreth was hungry. Eons of slow starvation stretched everlastingly ahead. Already huge vacuoles were dotting her interior, as the plasmic matter shrank and shriveled away. The food supply was disappearing -- no more did rocky crags of green and purple hue rise above Alcoreth's bosom. Only the inner core of minerals remained -- and that was wearing dangerously thin over vast alcorethean fires.

Never to be forgotten was that frightful time when, questing for food to still the retching hunger, she had greedily absorbed too large a section of life reaching bottom rock, and torn through the thin layer.

In an instant, the devastating flames had leaped and seared through the protoplasmic tissue. The very thought of it caused vast shudders to course through Alcoreth. For ages, the hellish fire spewed and roared -- devouring, incinerating -- bringing the tortures of the damned to her viscid frame. In agony, she heaved and twisted, but to no avail. Her sister spheres gazed on in helpless pity, but could render no aid. That final period -- when annihiliation seemed imminent -- and almost welcome -- a slipping of the rocky substratum had miraculously closed the gap, and once again imprisoned the ravaging fires. Slowly, painfully, and with difficulty, Alcoreth recreated sufficient plasma to cover the wounded surfaces; but her marvelous powers of reproduction were lessened. Since that fateful time, she only nibbled gingerly at the food rocks, and the pangs of hunger grew and grew.

Message after message for assistance was sent on ethereal vibration to her sister spheres in that vast universe, and ever and anon some being kindlier than the rest would disrupt a fragment of the precious mineral, and cast it meteor-like through space towards the starving world. But these were mere sops. Alcoreth foresaw the inevitable. Already had protoplasmic worlds come to the end of their food supply, and either broken through to the central fires, and flamed through space like blazing torches to imponderable dust; or, cannibal-like, devoured their own substance -- until the last pitiful bit of plasmic intelligence curled up on itself and died.

Alcoreth was determined to avoid either of these fates. But how? For an eon her highly developed intelligence, diffused throughout her structure, brooded over the problem. Speculatively she vibrated in unison with the etheric waves from the galaxy of the Milky Way, of which Earth was so minute a member. A quiver ran through her -- causing a strange luminescence to run riot over the surface of her body. The solution was found -- desperate, fantastic -- failure meant annihiliation -- but then, so eventually did the present state. So Alcoreth set to work to do what was needful for the great adventure.

In this strange universe, electrons and protons had whirled just as naturally into the rhythmic forms of life -- protoplasm -- primitive plasm, as in our universe they had danced into the common rocks and minerals. Here, the first bits of plasma were causal in their beginnings; taking sustenance out of the abundant mineral elements; slowly and laboriously evolving and growing more and more complex through differentiation of structure and function; and culminating in highly complex man. There the cooling mist of electrons patterened overwhelmingly into diffused plasm, with enough of other elements to create a normal food supply. Each world was a living entity; there was no necessity for differentiation of parts; intelligence was inherent and diffused throughout the entire mass, just as is found in the primitive unicellular animals and plants on earth.

The early forms of terrestrial life were able to absorb and digest mineral matter directly. In the universe of Andromeda, evolution had advanced further in that direction. Solid rock was ingested and digested rapidly and easily. Through eons of time, the vast inchoate consciousness of the mass developed into a highly energized intelligence, that could grasp intuitively problems far beyond our highest flights -- and could communicate with other life-worlds by etheric vibrations. Mental states were marked by tremendous luminosity over the surface of the plasma, which in turn set the ether into rapid vibration.

Alcoreth was busily at work. All over her body, she was rolling up into globules of protoplasm. The surfaces of these hardened into cell walls or cysts. Alcoreth was now dissociated into countless trillions of spores -- as we call them. Each spore was in itself a unit of life, in a state of suspended animation; capable of resisting the frigid cold of space; capable of existing thus through countless ages; and expanding into life anew under favorable conditions.

Clerk-Maxwell, the great English physicist, toward the latter part of the nineteenth century, proved that light had a definite propulsive force, and that particles of matter, if minute enough, could be propelled through the ether with tremendous velocities by the electromagnetic rays of light. Svante August Arrhenius, the eminent Swedish biologist, used this discovery as a basis for bold speculation. Was it not possible -- he argued -- for minute spores of life to pass through interstellar space from world to world, and germinate anew on barren, uninhabited worlds?

All this Alcoreth knew as elemental truths. If only some of her spores could land on some far-off world, unaccountably and strangely formed of mineral matter solely -- there to burgeon and grow with lightning-like rapidity in the midst of such plenty -- what a marvelous rebirth! For inherent in each spore was the intelligence of the mass, and Alcoreth would exist anew in the alien universe.

Finally all was in readiness. The time for the perilous emprise had come! The teeming aggregate of spores concentrated their mighty intelligence. They heaved and swelled. Weird radiances played over their surfaces. Huge luminous masses propelled themselves into space. Cloud after cloud of spore forms tore themselves loose, and shot forward. The tremendous journey was begun! Never in all the history of the universe was there a stranger migration!

Criss-crossing the illimitable void were innumerable light vibrations. Instantly the spores were scattered in all directions, caught up by onrushing waves, carried along with the speed of light, scurrying towards the uttermost confines of space-time.

On -- on -- through the illimitable void! Ages -- eons -- thousands and hundreds of thousands of light years -- never ceasing -- never slackening in their headlong flight! Past mighty suns -- past strange planets -- past pale nebulosities -- past pallid shapes of interspacial denizens -- past rushing comets with hair afire -- past meteors, debris of uncounted worlds -- on -- on! Whole universes waxed great and waned to pin pricks in the darkling void! On! On!

The Milky Way -- a bend of light waves past the Sun -- the earth planet loomed vast -- a gravitational pull was exerted -- and a cloud of spores had reached the end of their tremendous flight. Slowly through the warm air they settled and floated and dropped to the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.


DaveMB said...

So I guess Our Hero observed the event of Alcoreth disassociating not long before the spores arrive, because the spores travel at nearly the speed of light? It's not clear the authors understand relativity, though I guess not many did in that era.

Johnny Pez said...

I don't read the stories I post ahead of time (it helps me to maintain interest), so I don't know if that's the case. It may be that some years pass between Standish's observations and the arrival of the spores.

S & Z are pretty good at getting the details of astronomical observation right, though, so I figure they do understand relativity. It wasn't uncommon, though (and still isn't) for a writer to ignore any inconvenient science that gets in the way of telling the story. And they may have missed taking time dilation into account when they describe the spores' journey from Andromeda to the Milky Way.

In any case, it's a good way of illustrating the panspermia theory, and I'm impressed that S & Z managed to anticipate Lem's Solaris by thirty years.