Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"The Menace from Andromeda" by Schachner and Zagat, part 8

This is the eighth 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. Mary becomes trapped at the top of Columbia University's new 100-story skyscraper campus building, with Alcoreth eating away at its foundations. In a daring exhibition of stunt-flying and wing-walking, Standish rescues Mary, and they all fly west to Doug's laboratory in the Colorado Rockies. Once there, Doug comes up with a plan to drive Alcoreth back into the sea with ultraviolet lamps, then finish her off using cancer cells . . .

* * *

When they awoke, it was dusk. Mary was still asleep -- a peaceful smile flitting over her lips. Donald looked at her tenderly. "Let's not disturb her. Poor girl -- she has been through hell." He brushed her forehead lightly with his lips, and the smile grew into ecstacy, but still she did not awaken.

"Now to work!"

They hurried into the laboratory. Cameron opened the door of a huge glass-lined oven, thermostatically controlled at blood heat. In the interior were twenty or more glass dishes, each containing a mass of tissue floating in culture media.

"These are my cancer growths," he explained. "They will live indefinitely in the cultures. Now to activate them so that when we cast them into the protoplasmic horror, they will grow and proliferate with extreme rapidity."

He turned to a row of glass stoppered bottles on his laboratory shelf, and took one down. It was filled with a pale green liquid. Carefully, with a pipette, he dropped five drops into each dish. A slight bubbling ensued -- and then ceased.

"Bring that cabinet in the corner over here," he ordered, "and all the cotton wool you find in the end cupboards."

The cabinet was opened -- a layer of cotton placed on the bottom -- the cancer dishes placed carefully between layers of the soft material, and then the whole affair hermetically sealed.

"Now we're ready to go."

The two men quickly and silently donned their flying suits, and in short order the plane was trundled out of the hanger; the cabinet was carefully lifted into the cockpit, and they took their seats. The motor roared; and the plane took off on its flight across the continent.

Next morning, as the first rays of dawn appeared over the serried tops of the Alleghany Mts., the haggard, wearied travelers descended stiffly from their plane after landing on the air field outside Allentown.

For a moment they gazed about them in dazed astonishment. The place was seething with activity. Hundreds of planes were landing on all sides; tractors were lumbering and roaring over the field, soldiers and vast crowds of workmen swarmed in organized disorder.

"Where is the commander?" asked Donald of a big burly sergeant actively engaged in expending a stream of profanity at a company of men unpacking a huge searchlight.

"Over there!" He jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward the hanger at one end of the field, without deigning to turn around; and with hardly a pause in his flow of lurid objurgations.

"Come on, Doug, let's report at once, and see what we can do."

At the door, they gave their names to the guard, and were ushered in immediately.

Seated at a rough pine board table, hastily built to function as a desk, was General Black, grizzled veteran of the World War, now commander-in-chief of all the American Armies! Officers dashed in -- came to stiff salute -- reported in staccato accents -- received their orders even more crisply -- and dashed out again. A field radio receiving set whined. The general put the phone to his ear. "What's that -- only thirty miles away! All right -- report every fifteen minutes on its progress."

Turning around, he saw the two scientists. "Yes, what is it? Make it snappy!"

They introduced themselves, and the general's attitude became more cordial.

"I hope your ideas are correct -- if not, we're all doomed." He sighed. "Frankly, I'm not used to this sort of thing -- out of my line. Artillery -- machine guns -- gas -- yes! But not this new-fangled stuff.

"However, we'll soon find out," he continued grimly, "my air scouts report it as only thirty miles away. At the rate it is traveling, it will be here in forty-eight hours. We'll be ready for it in about thirty-six hours -- and then --" he shrugged fatalistically. "In the meantime, I'll get some quarters for you, and you can make yourselves comfortable until we're ready to start." He turned to an orderly, and soon the scientists were installed in a barrack-like room -- their plane with its precious freight wheeled into the hanger, and placed under guard.

The next thirty-six hours were filled with feverish activity. All through the day and night, tractors kept coming in -- apparatus and the requisite machines were deposited from planes -- railroads -- automobiles -- every conceivable method of transportation.

In the meantime the radio reports were becoming more and more alarming. Inexorably the living tide was moving forward -- swallowing everything in its path. Twenty miles away -- fifteen miles -- activity becoming frantic -- ten miles -- five miles -- the last feverish touches -- and all was in readiness for the supreme effort.

As far as the eye could see, stretched serried ranks of tractors. Along the whole Appalachian range, thousands of tractors were ready to go at the signal of command. On each was perched a powerful searchlight or violet ray machine capable of casting directional beams over a ten-mile radius. The final orders were given -- everyone not directly concerned in the management of the apparatus was sent to the rear.

It was the zero hour!

Already in the distance, the horizon was glowing with the dreaded greenish light -- the vast menace was flowing -- flowing forward.

A hush fell on the embattled array. Could they stop it -- was it victory or disaster? The bravest among them felt clammy hands clutching their hearts.

The radio command roared its voice along the far-flung line. The motors roared -- the current snapped on -- and a blaze of light -- intense -- penetrating -- flared out up and down the line. Another command -- and the tractors moved forward -- slowly -- steadily. A ten-mile zone of intense illumination -- blinding in its glare -- moved ahead. It approached the green luminescence. Still the monstrous life flowed forward.

Nerves tensed to the snapping points -- blood pounded in thousands of hearts -- God! -- would it have no effect -- the life of the planet hung on the next few moments.

The wall of light reached the oncoming wall of alien life -- touched it -- overlapped it -- swung over the top and over its viscous waves. Only three miles separated the opposing forces!

Was it a delusion? Did they see aright? A rustling murmur grew on the scene -- a confused Babel of voices -- and then -- a mighty shout blasted the air -- a pean of deliverance -- the world was saved!

The oncoming mass had definitely ceased moving -- the front reared high into the air -- writhing and twisting as though in agony -- and then -- recession -- slow at first -- then faster and faster -- the monster was in full retreat -- vainly seeking to escape the deadly rays.

Immediately the jubilant army moved forward -- ever concentrating the dazzling light on the discomfited foe. Who thought of food -- or sleep or stopping -- back into the sea with the monster! For two days and a night, the front of war advanced -- steadily the enemy was driven back -- remorselessly as ever it had advanced -- agonized, writhing before the avenging glare. Once more the face of the earth appeared -- but strange, alien in aspect -- more like some desolate moon aridly moving through space, than this fair, smiling world of ours. No trees -- no houses -- no verdure was left; the very surface of the earth was eroded away -- pitted and scarred with deep holes and gullies, through which the tractors floundered and pitched.

Back -- back through the ruin of what had once been New York -- into the sea it was driven -- and the world was temporarily saved from overwhelming disaster.

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