Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"The Menace from Andromeda" by Schachner and Zagat, part 9

This is the ninth and final 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. The two fly to Allentown, Pennsylvania, where the first phase of the plan is a success . . .

* * *

From all the endangered nations came the glad tidings of complete triumph. Everywhere the crawling life had been forced into the waters.

Wild celebrations took place among the people of the earth. The names of Cameron and Standish were broadcast to the joyful millions as the saviors of humanity.

But the menace was by no means over -- though temporarily subdued. Orders were issued that no one was to approach within ten miles of the seaboards; and the armies of the world were placed on sentry duty to see that the orders were enforced.

At a conference at Pittsburgh, the temporary capital of the United States, Douglas Cameron told of his discoveries in cancer research; his activating principle; and outlined his plan of scattering the tissues of cancer into the floating masses of protoplasm. He was listened to with the most flattering attention. When he finished, President Adams arose, and grasped his hand and then that of his co-worker.

"Gentlemen," he said, his voice quivering with emotion, "you have already placed the world under an incalculable debt of gratitude to you; if you succeed in your present undertaking, and rid the earth of this frightful scourge, your names will go ringing down the ages as long as life exists on this planet. I have placed at your service a cruiser of our air fleet, fully manned and provisioned for a cruise of ten thousand miles. Go and God bless you!"

They bowed their thanks and left the meeting. In less than an hour they were seated in the cabin of the air cruiser, with their precious cabinet at their feet -- the crew sprang smartly to their posts -- and they took to the air.

The coast was reached in slightly over an hour, and they soon were winging their way out to sea.

The captain came into the cabin for instructions. "Drop to within five hundred feet of the water, and have your crew on the look-out for any traces of the beast. Have the first one to sight it sing it out."

"It shall be done," and he retired. The great plane glided down, and whirled over the surface of the ocean. All eyes were strained in eager search.

A shout from an excited lookout.

"The Thing's directly below, sir!" All hands rushed to the side. Sure enough -- the surface of the ocean to the east was heaving, and tossing -- a weird green light flickered and flared -- the sea crawled with the shiny evil Thing.

Quickly Cameron opened his cabinet and gingerly removed one of the dishes. Carrying it to the side, with one quick scoop, he ladled out the contents and threw it overboard. Down it spattered into the jellied mass -- scourge set to fight scourge.

For two days, the plane cruised over the broad Atlantic, dropping the seeds of destruction into the bosom of the visitation. When the last dishful had been dispatched on its errand, the cruiser turned homeward. Its work was done. The rest was in the lap of fate.

The people of the earth waited in deep anxiety. Men of science -- great biologists -- broadcast learned opinions to the listening multitudes.

Daily, clouds of speedy pursuit planes were flung over the broad bosom of the Atlantic to observe and report. Daily they reported no signs of disappearance. If anything, the areas of infestations seemed to be actually increasing. Once more fear reared its hideous head -- if the cancerous growths proved ineffectual -- it was only a question of time before the horrible Thing would once more approach the shores.

But, ten days later, an observation plane reported seeing hard fibrous growths, like huge warts, covering the surface in one area. Then, in quick succession, other reports came in. The cancer had commenced its deadly work. Within a month the ocean was covered with dead, cancerous masses -- the menace was a thing of the past. Slowly they heaved on the ocean tides, and slowly they sank beneath the waves. The earth was free of its hideous nightmare. The race was saved.

* * *

On a mild October morning a little group filed into the rustic church near the laboratory. A little group -- but every broadcast receiver, every television screen was attuned to the waves which were carrying each sound and sight in that church to every corner of the globe. All the people of the earth joined in a prayer for the good fortune of the couple whose wedding rites were being celebrated there. And as Mary Cameron became Mary Standish, all the earth joined in the hymn which welled out in a mighty chorus of thanksgiving whose echoing vibrations must have been heard even in far distant Andromeda.

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