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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE ONSLAUGHT FROM RIGEL *** Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
The Onslaught from Rigel By FLETCHER PRATT

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Wonder Stories Quarterly Winter 1932. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

A jagged beam of flame, intenser than the hottest furnace leaped through the air, struck the green globe and reached the earth in a thousand tiny rivulets of light. THE ONSLAUGHT FROM RIGEL By the author of "The Reign of the Ray," "The War of the Giants," etc.
FLETCHER PRATT

Mr. Pratt is well known for his "Reign of the Ray," and "The War of the Giants" where in both stories he showed his excellent knowledge of warfare, and what a future war might be like.

In this story he combines that knowledge with a vivid and fertile scientific imagination to construct an interplanetary story that marks a new triumph for Wonder Stories Quarterly.

We know that many scientists believe that life may originally have come to earth in the form of spores, from other solar systems and other universes. We therefore might really have had our home dim ages ago, on worlds distantly removed from our earth.

The ability to travel the interstellar spaces, however, might also be possessed by other creatures—creatures driven by fear, necessity and by the will to conquer. And if they come, in mighty waves, with scientific powers far beyond us, to dominate the earth, a terrible time will face the puny human race.

And in this story they do come, and provoke some of the strangest and most exciting adventures that have yet been recorded.

THE ONSLAUGHT FROM RIGEL

Murray Lee woke abruptly, with the memory of the sound that had roused him drumming at the back of his head, though his conscious mind had been beyond its ambit. His first sensation was an overpowering stiffness in every muscle—a feeling as though he had been pounded all over, though his memory supplied no clue to the reason for such a sensation.

Painfully, he turned over in bed and felt the left elbow where the ache seemed to center. He received the most tremendous shock of his life. The motion was attended by a creaking clang and the elbow felt exceedingly like a complex wheel.

He sat up to make sure he was awake, tossing the offending arm free of the covers. The motion produced another clang and the arm revealed itself to his astonished gaze as a system of metal bands, bound at the elbow by the mechanism he had felt before, and crowned, where the fingers should be, by steely talons terminating in rubber-like finger-tips. Yet there seemed to be no lack of feeling in the member. For a few seconds he stared, open-mouthed, then lifted the other arm. It was the right-hand counterpart of the device he had been gazing at. He essayed to move one, then the other—the shining fingers obeyed his thought as though they were flesh and blood.

A sense of expectant fear gripped him as he lifted one of the hands to unbutton his pajamas. He was not deceived in the half-formed expectation; where the ribs clothed in a respectable amount of muscle should have been, a row of glistening metal plates appeared. Thoughts of body-snatching and bizarre surgery flitted through his mind to be instantly dismissed. Dreaming? Drunk? A dreadful idea that he might be insane struck him and he leaped from the bed to confront a mirror. His feet struck the floor with a portentous bang and each step produced a squeak and clank—and he faced the mirror, the familiar mirror before which he had shaved for years. With utter stupefaction he saw an iron countenance, above which a stiff brush of wire hair projected ludicrously.

One does not go mad at such moments. The shock takes time to sink in. "At all events I may as well get dressed," he remarked to himself practically. "I don't suppose water will do this hardware any good, so I'll omit the bath; but if I'm crazy I might as well go out and have a good time about it."

Dressing was a process prolonged by an examination of himself and the discovery that he was a most efficient metal machine. He rather admired the smoothness of the hip joints and the way the sliding parts of his arms fitted together, and was agreeably surprised to find that in the metallizing process his toes had become prehensile. Just for the fun of it, he pulled one shoe on with the opposite foot.

It was not until he was nearly dressed that he realized that the wonted noise of New York, which reached one as a throaty undertone at the forty-eighth story of a modern apartment building, was somehow absent. Surely, at this hour—he glanced at the clock. It had stopped at a quarter to two. No help there. His watch was inexplicably missing. Probably Ben had borrowed it.... Ah!

That was the idea. Ben Ruby, with whom he occupied the duplex apartment in the penthouse of the Arbuckle Building, was a scientist of sorts (mainly engaged in the analysis of "booze" samples for millionaires distrustful of their bootleggers, these days)—he would be able to explain everything.

He stepped across to the door and dropped the brass knocker, a little timorous at the sound of his own thudding steps. The door was snatched open with unexpected suddenness by a caricature of Ben in metal—as complete a machine as himself, but without most of the clothes.

"Come in! Come in!" his friend bellowed in a voice with an oddly phonographic quality to it. "You look great. Iron Man MacGinnity! What did you put on clothes for? As useful as pants on a rock-drill. I have breakfast."

"What is it? Am I crazy, are you, or are we both?"

"Of course not. Greatest thing that ever happened. The big comet. They said she was radioactive, but most of 'em wouldn't believe it. Now look what it did." (Murray Lee remembered vaguely some newspaper palaver about a giant comet that was going to strike the earth—argument and counter-argument as to whether it would have a serious effect.) "Everybody's turned to metal; nize machinery, ate oop all de axle-grease. You need oil. Stick around."

He disappeared into the bowels of the apartment, the sound of his footsteps ringing enormous in the vast silence. In an instant he was back with a radio battery in one hand and an oil-can in the other.

"Sorry, no grease on tap," he remarked briskly. "Typewriter oil." He went to work busily, squirting drops of oil into Lee's new metallic joints. "Connect this thing up yourself. It fills you with what it takes." He indicated the battery with an extended toe. "One arm and the opposite leg. There seems to be a resistance chamber in us somewhere that collects the juice."

Without in the least understanding what it was all about, Murray Lee made shift to follow his instruction. It was the most singular meal he had ever partaken of, but he found it curiously invigorating.

"How about another? No? Have you seen anybody else? It finished most of them."

"Will you sit down and tell me consecutively what it's all about before I bash you?" asked Murray, petulantly. "Being turned into a machine is not the easiest thing in the world on one's temper; it upsets the disposition."

"Some sort of a special extra radioactive gas storm connected with the comet, I think, though I can't be sure. It's made machines of all of us, now and forever more. We'll live on electric current after this and won't have to bother about little things like doctors if we can find a good mechanic. But it killed a lot of people. Come along, I'll show you."

His hand rang on Murray's arm as he grasped it to lead the way. The hall was portentously dark, and Ben pulled him straight across it to the door marked "Fire Exit."

"Elevator?" queried Murray.

"No go. No power."

"Oh, Lord, forty-eight stories to walk."

"You'll get used to it." They were clanking to the landing of the floor below and Ben, without the slightest compunction, pushed boldly into the door of the apartment there. The lock showed signs of being forced. "Oh, I broke it in," Ben answered Murray's unspoken query. "Thought I might be able to help, but it was no use. That fat woman lives here—you know, the one that used to sniff at us in the elevator when we went on a bender."

Any qualms Murray felt about looking on the naked face of death were perfunctorily laid to rest as the scientist led him into the room occupied by the late lady of the elevator. She lay solidly in her bed amidst the meretricious gorgeousness she had affected in life, the weight of her body sagging the bed grotesquely toward its center. Instead of the clean-running mechanical devices which marked the appearance of the two friends, she was nothing but lumps and bumps, a bulging, ugly cast-iron statue, distending the cheap "silk" nightdress.

"See?" said Ben, calmly. "The transmutation wasn't complete. Prob'ly didn't get it as strong as we did. Look, the window's closed. This will be a warning to people who are afraid to sleep in a draft. Come along."

Murray lingered. "Isn't there anything ... we can do?" He felt uncomfortably responsible.

"Not a thing," said Ben, cheerfully. "All she's good for is to stand in the park and look at. Come along. We've got a lot of stairs to go down ... we're too noisy; need a good bath in non-rusting oil."

They reached the street level after an �on of stairs, Ben leading the way to the corner drug store. All about them was a complete silence; fleecy white clouds sailed across the little ribbon of blue visible at the top of the canyon of the New York city street.

"Lucky it's a nice day," said Ben, boldly stepping into the drug store, the door of which stood open. "We'll have to figure out this rainy weather thing. It's going to present a problem."

Within, the drug store presented the same phenomena of arrested development as the apartment of the fat lady at the forty-seventh story. A cast-iron statue of a soda-clerk leaned on the fountain in an attitude of studied negligence, its lips parted as though addressing some words to the equally metallic figure of a girl which faced him across the counter. On her steely features was a film of power, and the caked and curling remains of her lip stick showed she had been there for some time.

"By the way," Murray asked, "have you any idea what day it is, and how long we were—under the influence? It couldn't have happened overnight."

"Why not?" came Ben's voice from the rear of the store. "Say, old dear, rummage around some of those drawers for rubber gloves, will you? I'd hate to run into high voltage with this outfit."

"Ah, here they are," came from Ben finally. "Well, let's go."

"What's the next step?" They were outside.

"Rubber shoes, I fancy," said Ben, as his feet skidded on the pavement. "Let's take a taxi there and go find a shoe store."

Together they managed to slide the cast-iron taxi driver from his seat (Murray was surprised at how easily he was able to lift a weight he could not have budged in his flesh and blood days), deposited him on the curb and climbed in. The key was fortunately in the switch.

As they swung around the corner into Madison Avenue, Lee gave an exclamation. A scene of ruin and desolation met their eyes. Two or three street cars had telescoped and an auto or so had piled into the wreckage. All about were the iron forms of the passengers in these conveyances, frozen in the various attitudes they had assumed at the moment of the change, and from one or two of them thin streamers of metal showed where blood had flowed forth before it had been irretrievably crystallized to metal.

Murray Lee suddenly realized that an enormous amount of machinery had gone to smash everywhere when the guiding hands had been removed and the guiding brains frozen to useless metal. He gave a little shudder.

They swung round before a shoe store with grating brakes. The door was locked, but Ben, lifting his foot, calmly kicked a hole in the show window. Murray extended a restraining hand, but his friend shook it off.

"No use asking permission. If the proprietor of this place is still alive anywhere, it will be easy enough to settle up for the damage; if he isn't, we have as good a right to it as anybody."

The new toes, which appeared to be longer

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