This is the fourth 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. Eight months later, ships begin disappearing from the Atlantic. Soon, the world's trade is paralyzed . . .
* * *
On the thirty-first of July the first faint intimation of the nature of the menace reached the world. The United States naval station at Arlington reported that while in communication with the U.S.S. Texas it had received the following messages:
"From NXL Lat -- Long -- 10:12 A.M. July 31, 1939.
"First officer reports iridescence covering entire surface of ocean to east and extending north and south as far as horizon. We are proceeding closer."
"From NXL Lat -- Long -- 10:15 A.M. July 31, 1939 -- are now nearing iridescence. It is sweeping toward us ----"
Here communication ceased. The Texas had joined the long list of missing ships.
Hurriedly summoned into radio conference, the scientists of the world discussed this meagre report. A veritable babel of conflicting ideas, of fine-spun theories, of concepts old and new wove back and forth across the ether.
The least regarded explanation of the phenomenon, the most derided, was the exposition by the astronomer of Mt. Wilson of his theory of an invasion of protoplasm in spore form.
In the streets of the cities wild-eyed ranters appeared at every corner. To excited, pallid crowds they raved of the judgment of God upon an evil world, of the second coming of Christ (or Buddha or Mohammed), of the end of the earth. As yet only those whose intelligence was of the lowest took stock in their dire predictions, but Hysteria, with staring eyes and wind-tangled hair, strained at the chains with which civilization had bound her.
The world will long remember the morning of August 5, 1939, when the full nature of the Menace burst upon it. All that had passed before paled into insignificance at the startling news from Florida. That state of palms and oranges, that winter playground of the idle rich, no longer exists. But its name will long remain in the minds of man as the region where first the Menace came upon the land.
Baking in the glare of the August sun, terrifically hot, though still but an hour above the horizon, a small group waited on the platform of the ramshackle station of St. Nicholas, a few miles inland. Southern railway schedules were proverbially elastic and thus little thought was given to the fact that it was a full half hour past the time when the west-bound "number 9" should have made its appearance. The station-master (baggage-man, telegrapher, porter, etc.) had reported that the wires were down to the east but this was a none too rare occurrence. The talk was, of course, of the vacant Atlantic (for now even the searching warships had been withdrawn) and the horror which had cleared it of shipping.
"It's my idee," quote the village druggist, who was on his way to Jacksonville for his monthly buying trip, "It's my idee that the Germans are gonna start another war and they've got millyuns of submarines out there. If I was President -- What the heck is that up the track?"
The oracular dictum was interrupted by the appearance to the east of a hand-car on the rails, traveling at the uttermost speed of which this conveyance was capable. It was being operated by one man, and his frantic heaving at the pump handle gave evidence of more than ordinary haste. The four-wheeled platform fairly flew along the steel pathway -- "Jingo Neddy, he's clippin' it some!" "Who is it, kin you make out?" "It's Bob, the agent at Pablo Beach -- musta been a wreck!" "What's he yellin'?"
There was time for but a few startled observations when the hand car had already reached the station. Its operator, pale, disheveled, staring with panic, shaking in an ague of fear, was shouting, "Run, run, it's coming. All gone, all gone, wiped out. Oh my God. Get 'im all out. Run, run!"
That fateful morning of August 5th, the little town of Pablo Beach; one of the many which once dotted the East coast of Florida, just waking to another day of toil, had been overwhelmed by a tremendous mass of quivering jelly suddenly heaving itself out of the ocean. "It was higher than the biggest house in town, and it stretched along the shore as far as I could see. It quivered like jelly, and it rolled -- it rolled on up the beach and over the houses and the people. Everybody run toward it at first, only me, and I would have only 'number 9' was due, and I had to stick by my key. Everyone run toward it, and it just rolled on and over them. It 'peared to move slow, but it must have been coming fast 'cause, when folks started to run away from it, it just kind of sent out part of itself a bit faster, and it caught them. God, it was terrible. Just before I grabbed the hand-car and got away it caught Pop Saunders, the postmaster. I saw it catch him. It just kind of heaved, and swallowed him up. I saw him inside of it, just like a fly in calf's foot jelly, just as clear, with his mouth open, and his eyes staring, and his legs kicking and his arms working, but his kicking and squirming didn't bother the thing any. And then his face kind of run together till it was just a blotch -- and that's all I saw!"
In London, in Berlin and Paris men stopped their midday occupations to read aghast the story of the Florida station-agent. In New York, Boston and Baltimore the wheels of industry never started that day, as the office workers, the laborers, and the corporation presidents were halted on their way to their day's occupations by the dread tale. Sleeping Denver and 'Frisco waked to nightmare terror by the shouting of the extras in the streets.
In the Mt. Wilson observatory Donald Standish, keeping his sleepless vigil at the eyepiece of his beloved telescope, was startled by the ringing of the "emergency news" bell on the broadcast receiver in a corner. Hurriedly switching on the speaker, he heard the terrible tale. "Gosh! I was right."
The stars were forgotten now. Standish joined the world in anxious waiting for the next report. It came:
"U.S. News Service. Bulletin 25 -- The governor of Florida has mobilized the militia and troops are already moving rapidly toward Pablo Beach. Federal aid has been called for. The Secretary of War has ordered all available regulars with railroad artillery, flame-throwers, and gas projection apparatus to the threatened region. It is confidently expected that all danger will be over shortly."
"U.S. News Service. Bulletin 26.
"Troops have now
arrived within a mile of the infested territory. Infantry is being deployed, armed with gas bombs and flame throwers. The 16 inch railroad guns are being prepared for action."
"Artillery is now firing high explosive shells into the advancing mass. Infantry is rapidly approaching within range."
"U.S. News Service. Bulletin 27.
"Artillery fire is utterly ineffective. Its only result is to hurl great globs of jelly into the air. They fall on the advancing infantry and envelop them. The loss is appalling. Indescribable scenes of horror are being witnessed. Even before the enfolded soldiers cease their struggles against asphyxiation their forms begin to melt away. They appear to be digested by the jelly. The big guns have been ordered to cease fire. The effect of the poison gas which is being released in great clouds is now being observed.
Donald could restrain himself no longer. "Fools," he burst out. "All their big guns and their gases will never stop that stuff. Some scientific method of attack must be found."
The next bulletin proved him right.
"Poison gas has no effect. Flame-throwers wither the jelly when they reach it, but on both sides of each point of operation the mass continues its relentless march. Reports reach us now that the east coast as far north as Charleston has been invaded."
Donald burst out again. "We must find a way to stop the advance of the jelly, and then to kill it. Perhaps Doug will have a notion. He ought to, he's been working with cells long enough. I'll call him. Besides, I haven't spoken to Mary since noon yesterday."
As the astronomer made his way to the personal communications set, the call light on that device began to flash. He answered it. "Mt. Wilson Observatory, Standish speaking."
"Professor Standish, this is President Adams' office. There will be a radio conference of scientists in half an hour. You are requested to listen in."
"Now to get Doug," rapidly whirling the dials to Cameron's wave length.
Quickly the connection was completed. "Hello Doug, did you get the news? They know now that I was right. What, you haven't heard! Might have known nothing matters to you but your blasted cancer. There soon won't be anybody left for you to save from cancer. Get this --"
In quick, succinct phrases the savant outlined to the bacteriologist the tale of horror which was echoing round the earth. He did not get very far, however, for an exclamation of horror stopped him. As he listened to the broken phrases of Cameron, the tanned face of the astronomer paled with horror. His knuckles whitened with the force of his grip on the receiver.
"What's that? Mary flew to New York yesterday to get you some pigments. Man, don't you realize that it's a matter of hours till the protoplasm visits New York. Get Mary back at once.
"Damnation! You can't? The radio on her phone is out of order? How was she flying, by sight? Can't you reach her? No? Then I'm going after her. The devil with the conference. One hair on Mary's head is worth more than the rest of the world to me. You'll go with me? Get ready then, I'll make it as fast as I can."
In a trice Donald's flying suit was on, the hanger's doors were opened, and the trim little sport plane zoomed up to the 5000 foot speed level, then like an arrow flew to the east.
Meanwhile message after message of terror had been winging its way into the ether. All the east coast of Florida, Southern Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, in rapid succession had seen the creeping, iridescent terror. Resistlessly out of the sea it was heaving, twenty-five feet high, hundreds of miles long, this vast jelly-like tide of destruction. It was as if the sea had congealed and was making a final triumphant drive for mastery over its eternal enemy, the land. With the inevitableness of fate itself the thing rolled up, enveloping all that opposed it, enfolding the shrieking mobs which tried to flee before it, and most horribly of all, digesting them.
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