Astounding Stories of Super-Science February 1930 online

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[Transcriber's Note: Initial ads moved below main text.
The Beetle Horde concludes a story begun in the Jan, 1930 edition.
Minor spelling and typographical errors corrected.
Variable Spelling and Hyphenations standardized.
Full list of changes at end of text.
Passages in italics indicated by underscore _italics_.
Passages in bold indicated by equals =bold=.]


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_Painted in Water-colors from a Scene in "Spawn of the Stars."_

_Tom's Extraordinary Machine Glowed - and the Years Were Banished
from Old Crompton's Body. But There Still Remained, Deep-seated in
His Century-old Mind, the Memory of His Crime._

_The Earth Lay Powerless Beneath Those Loathsome, Yellowish
Monsters That, Sheathed in Cometlike Globes, Sprang from the Skies
to Annihilate Man and Reduce His Cities to Ashes._

_In the Gloomy Depths of the Old Warehouse Dale Saw a Thing That
Drew a Scream of Horror to His Dry Lips. It Was a Corpse - the Mold
of Decay on Its Long-dead Features - and Yet It Was Alive!_

_He Had Striven to Perfect the Faultless Man of the Future, and
Had Succeeded - Too Well. For in the Pitilessly Cold Eyes of Adam,
His Super-human Creation, Dr. Mundson Saw Only Contempt - and
Annihilation - for the Human Race._

_What Was the Extraordinary Connection Between Dr. Livermore's
Sudden Disappearance and the Coming of a New Satellite to the

_Bullets, Shrapnel, Shell - Nothing Can Stop the Trillions of
Famished, Man-sized Beetles Which, Led by a Madman, Sweep Down
Over the Human Race._

_The Sixty Stories of the Perfectly Constructed Colossus Building
Had Mysteriously Crashed! What Was the Connection Between This
Catastrophe and the Weird Strains of the Mad Musician's Violin?_

_The Teller Turned to the Stacked Pile of Bills. They Were Gone!
And No One Had Been Near!_

* * * * *

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* * * * *

Old Crompton's Secret

_By Harl Vincent_

Tom's extraordinary machine glowed - and the years were banished
from Old Crompton's body. But there still remained, deep-seated
in his century-old mind, the memory of his crime.

[Illustration: _Tom tripped on a wire and fell, with his ferocious
adversary on top._]

Two miles west of the village of Laketon there lived an aged recluse who
was known only as Old Crompton. As far back as the villagers could
remember he had visited the town regularly twice a month, each time
tottering his lonely way homeward with a load of provisions. He appeared
to be well supplied with funds, but purchased sparingly as became a
miserly hermit. And so vicious was his tongue that few cared to converse
with him, even the young hoodlums of the town hesitating to harass him
with the banter usually accorded the other bizarre characters of the

The oldest inhabitants knew nothing of his past history, and they had
long since lost their curiosity in the matter. He was a fixture, as was
the old town hall with its surrounding park. His lonely cabin was
shunned by all who chanced to pass along the old dirt road that led
through the woods to nowhere and was rarely used.

His only extravagance was in the matter of books, and the village book
store profited considerably by his purchases. But, at the instigation of
Cass Harmon, the bookseller, it was whispered about that Old Crompton
was a believer in the black art - that he had made a pact with the devil
himself and was leagued with him and his imps. For the books he bought
were strange ones; ancient volumes that Cass must needs order from New
York or Chicago and that cost as much as ten and even fifteen dollars a
copy; translations of the writings of the alchemists and astrologers and
philosophers of the dark ages.

It was no wonder Old Crompton was looked at askance by the simple-living
and deeply religious natives of the small Pennsylvania town.

But there came a day when the hermit was to have a neighbor, and the
town buzzed with excited speculation as to what would happen.

* * * * *

The property across the road from Old Crompton's hut belonged to Alton
Forsythe, Laketon's wealthiest resident - hundreds of acres of scrubby
woodland that he considered well nigh worthless. But Tom Forsythe, the
only son, had returned from college and his ambitions were of a nature
strange to his townspeople and utterly incomprehensible to his father.
Something vague about biology and chemical experiments and the like is
what he spoke of, and, when his parents objected on the grounds of
possible explosions and other weird accidents, he prevailed upon his
father to have a secluded laboratory built for him in the woods.

When the workmen started the small frame structure not a quarter of a
mile from his own hut, Old Crompton was furious. He raged and stormed,
but to no avail. Tom Forsythe had his heart set on the project and he
was somewhat of a successful debater himself. The fire that flashed from
his cold gray eyes matched that from the pale blue ones of the elderly
anchorite. And the law was on his side.

So the building was completed and Tom Forsythe moved in, bag and

For more than a year the hermit studiously avoided his neighbor, though,
truth to tell, this required very little effort. For Tom Forsythe became
almost as much of a recluse as his predecessor, remaining indoors for
days at a time and visiting the home of his people scarcely oftener than
Old Crompton visited the village. He too became the target of village
gossip and his name was ere long linked with that of the old man in
similar animadversion. But he cared naught for the opinions of his
townspeople nor for the dark looks of suspicion that greeted him on his
rare appearances in the public places. His chosen work engrossed him so
deeply that all else counted for nothing. His parents remonstrated with
him in vain. Tom laughed away their recriminations and fears, continuing
with his labors more strenuously than ever. He never troubled his mind
over the nearness of Old Crompton's hut, the existence of which he
hardly noticed or considered.

* * * * *

It so happened one day that the old man's curiosity got the better of
him and Tom caught him prowling about on his property, peering
wonderingly at the many rabbit hutches, chicken coops, dove cotes and
the like which cluttered the space to the rear of the laboratory.

Seeing that he was discovered, the old man wrinkled his face into a
toothless grin of conciliation.

"Just looking over your place, Forsythe," he said. "Sorry about the fuss
I made when you built the house. But I'm an old man, you know, and
changes are unwelcome. Now I have forgotten my objections and would like
to be friends. Can we?"

Tom peered searchingly into the flinty eyes that were set so deeply in
the wrinkled, leathery countenance. He suspected an ulterior motive, but
could not find it within him to turn the old fellow down.

"Why - I guess so, Crompton," he hesitated: "I have nothing against you,
but I came here for seclusion and I'll not have anyone bothering me in
my work."

"I'll not bother you, young man. But I'm fond of pets and I see you have
many of them here; guinea pigs, chickens, pigeons, and rabbits. Would
you mind if I make friends with some of them?"

"They're not pets," answered Tom dryly, "they are material for use in my
experiments. But you may amuse yourself with them if you wish."

"You mean that you cut them up - kill them, perhaps?"

"Not that. But I sometimes change them in physical form, sometimes cause
them to become of huge size, sometimes produce pigmy offspring of normal

"Don't they suffer?"

"Very seldom, though occasionally a subject dies. But the benefit that
will accrue to mankind is well worth the slight inconvenience to the
dumb creatures and the infrequent loss of their lives."

* * * * *

Old Crompton regarded him dubiously. "You are trying to find?" he

"The secret of life!" Tom Forsythe's eyes took on the stare of
fanaticism. "Before I have finished I shall know the nature of the vital
force - how to produce it. I shall prolong human life indefinitely;
create artificial life. And the solution is more closely approached with
each passing day."

The hermit blinked in pretended mystification. But he understood
perfectly, and he bitterly envied the younger man's knowledge and
ability that enabled him to delve into the mysteries of nature which had
always been so attractive to his own mind. And somehow, he acquired a
sudden deep hatred of the coolly confident young man who spoke so
positively of accomplishing the impossible.

During the winter months that followed, the strange acquaintance
progressed but little. Tom did not invite his neighbor to visit him,
nor did Old Crompton go out of his way to impose his presence on the
younger man, though each spoke pleasantly enough to the other on the few
occasions when they happened to meet.

With the coming of spring they encountered one another more frequently,
and Tom found considerable of interest in the quaint, borrowed
philosophy of the gloomy old man. Old Crompton, of course, was
desperately interested in the things that were hidden in Tom's
laboratory, but he never requested permission to see them. He hid his
real feelings extremely well and was apparently content to spend as much
time as possible with the feathered and furred subjects for experiment,
being very careful not to incur Tom's displeasure by displaying too
great interest in the laboratory itself.

* * * * *

Then there came a day in early summer when an accident served to draw
the two men closer together, and Old Crompton's long-sought opportunity

He was starting for the village when, from down the road, there came a
series of tremendous squawkings, then a bellow of dismay in the voice of
his young neighbor. He turned quickly and was astonished at the sight of
a monstrous rooster which had escaped and was headed straight for him
with head down and wings fluttering wildly. Tom followed close behind,
but was unable to catch the darting monster. And monster it was, for
this rooster stood no less than three feet in height and appeared more
ferocious than a large turkey. Old Crompton had his shopping bag, a
large one of burlap which he always carried to town, and he summoned
enough courage to throw it over the head of the screeching, over-sized
fowl. So tangled did the panic-stricken bird become that it was a
comparatively simple matter to effect his capture, and the old man rose
to his feet triumphant with the bag securely closed over the struggling

"Thanks," panted Tom, when he drew alongside. "I should never have
caught him, and his appearance at large might have caused me a great
deal of trouble - now of all times."

"It's all right, Forsythe," smirked the old man. "Glad I was able to do

Secretly he gloated, for he knew this occurrence would be an open sesame
to that laboratory of Tom's. And it proved to be just that.

* * * * *

A few nights later he was awakened by a vigorous thumping at his door,
something that had never before occurred during his nearly sixty years
occupancy of the tumbledown hut. The moon was high and he cautiously
peeped from the window and saw that his late visitor was none other than
young Forsythe.

"With you in a minute!" he shouted, hastily thrusting his rheumatic old
limbs into his shabby trousers. "Now to see the inside of that
laboratory," he chuckled to himself.

It required but a moment to attire himself in the scanty raiment he wore
during the warm months, but he could hear Tom muttering and impatiently
pacing the flagstones before his door.

"What is it?" he asked, as he drew the bolt and emerged into the
brilliant light of the moon.

"Success!" breathed Tom excitedly. "I have produced growing, living
matter synthetically. More than this, I have learned the secret of the
vital force - the spark of life. Immortality is within easy reach. Come
and see for yourself."

They quickly traversed the short distance to the two-story building
which comprised Tom's workshop and living quarters. The entire ground
floor was taken up by the laboratory, and Old Crompton stared aghast at
the wealth of equipment it contained. Furnaces there were, and retorts
that reminded him of those pictured in the wood cuts in some of his
musty books. Then there were complicated machines with many levers and
dials mounted on their faces, and with huge glass bulbs of peculiar
shape with coils of wire connecting to knoblike protuberances of their
transparent walls. In the exact center of the great single room there
was what appeared to be a dissecting table, with a brilliant light
overhead and with two of the odd glass bulbs at either end. It was to
this table that Tom led the excited old man.

"This is my perfected apparatus," said Tom proudly, "and by its use I
intend to create a new race of supermen, men and women who will always
retain the vigor and strength of their youth and who can not die
excepting by actual destruction of their bodies. Under the influence of
the rays all bodily ailments vanish as if by magic, and organic defects
are quickly corrected. Watch this now."

* * * * *

He stepped to one of the many cages at the side of the room and returned
with a wriggling cottontail in his hands. Old Compton watched anxiously
as he picked a nickeled instrument from a tray of surgical appliances
and requested his visitor to hold the protesting animal while he covered
its head with a handkerchief.

"Ethyl chloride," explained Tom, noting with amusement the look of
distaste on the old man's face. "We'll just put him to sleep for a
minute while I amputate a leg."

The struggles of the rabbit quickly ceased when the spray soaked the
handkerchief and the anaesthetic took effect. With a shining scalpel and
a surgical saw, Tom speedily removed one of the forelegs of the animal
and then he placed the limp body in the center of the table, removing
the handkerchief from its head as he did so. At the end of the table
there was a panel with its glittering array of switches and electrical
instruments, and Old Crompton observed very closely the manipulations of
the controls as Tom started the mechanism. With the ensuing hum of a
motor-generator from a corner of the room, the four bulbs adjacent to
the table sprang into life, each glowing with a different color and each
emitting a different vibratory note as it responded to the energy

"Keep an eye on Mr. Rabbit now," admonished Tom.

From the body of the small animal there emanated an intangible though
hazily visible aura as the combined effects of the rays grew in
intensity. Old Crompton bent over the table and peered amazedly at the
stump of the foreleg, from which blood no longer dripped. The stump was
healing over! Yes - it seemed to elongate as one watched. A new limb was
growing on to replace the old! Then the animal struggled once more, this
time to regain consciousness. In a moment it was fully awake and, with a
frightened hop, was off the table and hobbling about in search of a
hiding place.

* * * * *

Tom Forsythe laughed. "Never knew what happened," he exulted, "and
excepting for the temporary limp is not inconvenienced at all. Even that
will be gone in a couple of hours, for the new limb will be completely
grown by that time."

"But - but, Tom," stammered the old man, "this is wonderful. How do you
accomplish it?"

"Ha! Don't think I'll reveal my secret. But this much I will tell you:
the life force generated by my apparatus stimulates a certain gland
that's normally inactive in warm blooded animals. This gland, when
active, possesses the function of growing new members to the body to
replace lost ones in much the same manner as this is done in case of the
lobster and certain other crustaceans. Of course, the process is
extremely rapid when the gland is stimulated by the vital rays from my
tubes. But this is only one of the many wonders of the process. Here is
something far more remarkable."

He took from a large glass jar the body of a guinea pig, a body that was
rigid in death.

"This guinea pig," he explained, "was suffocated twenty-four hours ago
and is stone dead."


"Yes. But quite painlessly, I assure you. I merely removed the air from
the jar with a vacuum pump and the little creature passed out of the
picture very quickly. Now we'll revive it."

Old Crompton stretched forth a skinny hand to touch the dead animal, but
withdrew it hastily when he felt the clammy rigidity of the body. There
was no doubt as to the lifelessness of this specimen.

* * * * *

Tom placed the dead guinea pig on the spot where the rabbit had been
subjected to the action of the rays. Again his visitor watched carefully
as he manipulated the controls of the apparatus.

With the glow of the tubes and the ensuing haze of eery light that
surrounded the little body, a marked change was apparent. The inanimate
form relaxed suddenly and it seemed that the muscles pulsated with an
accession of energy. Then one leg was stretched forth spasmodically.
There was a convulsive heave as the lungs drew in a first long breath,
and, with that, an astonished and very much alive rodent scrambled to
its feet, blinking wondering eyes in the dazzling light.

"See? See?" shouted Tom, grasping Old Crompton by the arm in a viselike
grip. "It is the secret of life and death! Aristocrats, plutocrats and
beggars will beat a path to my door. But, never fear, I shall choose my
subjects well. The name of Thomas Forsythe will yet be emblazoned in the
Hall of Fame. I shall be master of the world!"

Old Crompton began to fear the glitter in the eyes of the gaunt young
man who seemed suddenly to have become demented. And his envy and hatred
of his talented host blazed anew as Forsythe gloried in the success of
his efforts. Then he was struck with an idea and he affected his most
ingratiating manner.

"It is a marvelous thing, Tom," he said, "and is entirely beyond my poor
comprehension. But I can see that it is all you say and more. Tell
me - can you restore the youth of an aged person by these means?"

"Positively!" Tom did not catch the eager note in the old man's voice.
Rather he took the question as an inquiry into the further marvels of
his process. "Here," he continued, enthusiastically, "I'll prove that to
you also. My dog Spot is around the place somewhere. And he is a
decrepit old hound, blind, lame and toothless. You've probably seen him
with me."

* * * * *

He rushed to the stairs and whistled. There was an answering yelp from
above and the pad of uncertain paws on the bare wooden steps. A dejected
old beagle blundered into the room, dragging a crippled hind leg as he
fawned upon his master, who stretched forth a hand to pat the unsteady

"Guess Spot is old enough for the test," laughed Tom, "and I have been
meaning to restore him to his youthful vigor, anyway. No time like the

He led his trembling pet to the table of the remarkable tubes and lifted
him to its surface. The poor old beast lay trustingly where he was
placed, quiet, save for his husky asthmatic breathing.

"Hold him, Crompton," directed Tom as he pulled the starting lever of
his apparatus.

And Old Crompton watched in fascinated anticipation as the ethereal
luminosity bathed the dog's body in response to the action of the four
rays. Somewhat vaguely it came to him that the baggy flesh of his own
wrinkled hands took on a new firmness and color where they reposed on
the animal's back. Young Forsythe grinned triumphantly as Spot's
breathing became more regular and the rasp gradually left it. Then the
dog whined in pleasure and wagged his tail with increasing vigor.
Suddenly he raised his head, perked his ears in astonishment and looked
his master straight in the face with eyes that saw once more. The low
throat cry rose to a full and joyous bark. He sprang to his feet from
under the restraining hands and jumped to the floor in a lithe-muscled
leap that carried him half way across the room. He capered about with
the abandon of a puppy, making extremely active use of four sound limbs.

"Why - why, Forsythe," stammered the hermit, "it's absolutely incredible.
Tell me - tell me - what is this remarkable force?"

* * * * *

His host laughed gleefully. "You probably wouldn't understand it anyway,
but I'll tell you. It is as simple as the nose on your face. The spark
of life, the vital force, is merely an extremely complicated electrical
manifestation which I have been able to duplicate artificially. This
spark or force is all that distinguishes living from inanimate matter,
and in living beings the force gradually decreases in power as the years
pass, causing loss of health and strength. The chemical composition of
bones and tissue alters, joints become stiff, muscles atrophied, and
bones brittle. By recharging, as it were, with the vital force, the
gland action is intensified, youth and strength is renewed. By repeating
the process every ten or fifteen years the same degree of vigor can be
maintained indefinitely. Mankind will become immortal. That is why I say
I am to be master of the world."

For the moment Old Crompton forgot his jealous hatred in the enthusiasm
with which he was imbued. "Tom - Tom," he pleaded in his excitement, "use
me as a subject. Renew my youth. My life has been a sad one and a lonely
one, but I would that I might live it over. I should make of it a far
different one - something worth while. See, I am ready."

He sat on the edge of the gleaming table and made as if to lie down on
its gleaming surface. But his young host only stared at him in open

"What? You?" he sneered, unfeelingly. "Why, you old fossil! I told you I
would choose my subjects carefully. They are to be people of standing
and wealth, who can contribute to the fame and fortune of one Thomas

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Online LibraryVariousAstounding Stories of Super-Science February 1930 → online text (page 1 of 22)