Saturday, September 3, 2011

"The Menace from Andromeda" by Schachner and Zagat, part 5

This is the fifth 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 reaches Earth and comes to rest on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. Eight months later, ships begin disappearing from the Atlantic and the world's trade is paralyzed. Then Alcoreth invades the East Coast of North America, consuming everything in her path. Standish learns that Mary is in New York City, and he flies off to rescue her . . .

* * *

In New York the streets were packed with pale-faced throngs. Although every home had its receiver, the desire for the companionship of others had sent the entire population into the streets. The public loud-speakers, the newspaper bulletin boards were the nuclei of the masses. As one item after another of disaster was broadcast by the news-purveying agencies, a groan would rise from the crowds and then silence would come again. For these were silent crowds; the magnitude of the calamity had stricken the people dumb.

Forcing her way through the packed masses and into the hundred story tower which Columbia University had just occupied, was Mary Cameron. Astounded on her arrival bby the terrific news of calamity, she was anxiously intent upon completing her errand and speeding her plane back to her brother. But tremendous difficulties had delayed her. Traffic was well-nigh suspended. It had taken an enormous bribe to persuade a taxi-driver to undertake the journey from the Governor's Island landing field, through the vehicular tunnel and up Broadway to the new educational centre in what had been Central Park. Held to a snail-like pace by the masses which packed the streets from building line to building line, the trip had taken hours. But now, at dusk, she had reached her goal.

The great building was deserted. But the doors of an elevator stood open and she could operate the simple mechanism. Swiftly she rose through the hundred floors of this latest apotheosis of education to where, in the very tip of the soaring tower, Cameron's home laboratory was located. She unlocked the door, and entered the room. Quickly dropping her close-fitting cap and leather flying suit she began to assemble the bottles and jars listed on the slip which she had brought from the mountain retreat she had left the night before. But the strain of twenty-four hours of flying by sight and of the terrific scenes she had just witnessed suddenly told on even her wiry constitution, and she dropped into a chair for a moment's rest. She closed her eyes -- in a moment she was sound asleep.

Startled awake by a roar which, ascending from a thousand feet below, rattled the windows with the force given it by millions of throats, she found the room glowing with a green and spectral light. The usual murmur of the great city had changed to a terrific tumult in which she could sense a terrible agony of fear even at this alpine height. She ran to the window. Night had fallen, but it was not dark. From far below came the green light, a glowing luminescence, which reminded her of some rotting fungus which she had one night found in the woods near Cameron's laboratory. The glowing material made a gridiron there beneath, filling the streets south and west, till it merged in sheets of green flame where she knew the harbor and rivers lay. Immediately beneath her the streets were still clear, but bathed in that unearthly light she could see black streams. In the cupboard she knew her brother had a pair of binoculars. Quickly getting them, she focussed them on the black streams. She saw people, thousands, tens of thousands, rushing north, shouting in a frenzy of terror, and there, only a little south, the glowing green light pouring up the streets, towering far above the hurrying struggling mobs, moving with incredible swiftness, engulfing the stragglers. The menace had reached New York!

She swept the glasses north whence came a rolling as of thunder. Far up the Sound she could see flashes -- the forts at the upper end of the city were fighting their big guns. South again, and below, quiet now, the glowing jelly had filled the streets. New York was dead.

"Well, I'm in a fine fix now! I'm safe enough here, but how am I going to get away. Probably starve to death. Well that's better than being swallowed up by that thing down there."

A terrific crash downtown came to her startled ears; then almost before she could turn, another, and another. Down on the tip of the Island, where first Manhattan had reached toward the sky, there was a clear space where the 85-story Bank of Manhattan building had been. Woolworth too was gone, and all the mountainous structures below. As she gazed, she saw the 150-story City Hall Tower, just completed, sway, then, like some giant of the forest felled after centuries of growth by the woodman's axe, topple over, and gathering speed, crash into the lambent sea which bathed its foot. As it struck the surface of the quivering flood of light there was a tremendous splash, and through the air for hundreds of feet flew huge glowing fragments. They fell on the roofs and the serried façades of the buildings for blocks around, and then, to Mary's horror, they spread, and wherever the patches of light lay the sturdy structures of steel and granite began to melt.

"Good God! I'm not so safe after all. The ghastly stuff eats even the material of which these buildings are made. I wonder how long this place will last. I guess it's finish for me."


DaveMB said...

Didn't it say that this is happening in 1939? That's a pretty ambitious view of the changes in NYC since the story was written in 1931. Not to mention the developments in personal aircraft. I'm reminded of the "Gernsback" AH scenario in GURPS: Alternate Earths, where all of Tesla's theories worked and were then developed to market because Tesla had married J.P.Morgan's daughter...

Johnny Pez said...

Well, bear in mind that the story would have been written in 1930, and S&Z had no way of knowing that the Depression would linger for the rest of the decade. If the prosperity of the 20s had returned, maybe their picture of 1939 would have been accurate.

DaveMB said...

Having now read part 6, I still think that plane has some pretty advanced characteristics, though the illustrator has drawn a pretty typical-looking biplane. One that crossed the continent without refueling?

Good point about the buildings, though, given a short Depression.

Thanks for posting this, it's fun.