The Air-Plant Men can be found in




ISFDB.org Magazine Entry




WE are accustomed to thinking of sentient beings in terms of human or other animal life. We cannot conceive, for example, of a plant having "a brain." Yet the functions that many plants perform are in reality no less complicated than our own actions, and if the ability to adapt oneself to circumstances is intelligence, we must admit this quality in many plants. Sir Jagadis Bose, one of the noted paleontologists of the world, comes to this conclusion in his remarkable book, "Plant Autographs and Their Revelations."

It is not for-fetched, then, to give to plants a will to have control over the earth and displace men. What prohibits them from any such action is that they are fixed in place for their entire lives. But suppose there arose a plant that was not fixed but could "feed" wherever it wished. Then, endowed with mobility, such a sentient plant, would indeed be a menace to our race, as our author shows in this thrilling story.


A FAMILIAR shadow was cast upon the frosted glass of the door-panel. A sturdy fist hammered' out a well remembered rap-a-taptap.

"Come right in, Doctor," I cried, as I pressed the button which released the electrically controlled door-catch. "This is certainly a surprise."

Doctor Destanne swung the door open and entered. It was good to see the little biologist once more. Sibyl, my fiancée, had been acting as his assistant for several months. During this time they had been cruising in the West Indies hoping to complete their extensive research into certain obscure plant forms of that region. Destanne had now returned, weeks in advance of their schedule; which meant that Sibyl must be in the offing.

But Doctor Destanne was unaccompanied, although he turned and closed the door he-hind him so swiftly that his action suggested pursuit. Yet it was not the manner of his entry that startled me; it was his attire that made me stare.

He was wearing a lightweight grey overcoat buttoned well up around his throat, a tweed cap. and a heavy pair of monstrous goggles that were so large they resembled an owlish mask. A truly amazing outfit for a midsummer day in New York City.

Without a word he hurriedly crossed the room and closed the windows that overlooked a sea of roofs. When he removed his goggles from a lace that was streaming with perspiration and sank with a gasp into the large, leather upholstered office chair I keep in readiness for clients, I saw that he was on the verge of collapsing.

"Whew!" he said at last. And I saw that his face, usually so placid with a professional calm, was haggard from sheer exhaustion. "Thought I'd never make it."

I filled a tumbler with ice-water from the cooler. Doctor Destanne took the brimming glass from my hand and swallowed the contents at a gulp. "Whew!" he said again.

Never in all my long friendship with the staid little man had I seen him anything like this. Usually, he made me think of a prosaic, busy little brown sparrow.

True, there was the time when he returned from crossing and recrossing that deadly Valley of gigantic arum lilies west of Zanzibar. That must have taken nerve. Only after his reports were completed had the public earned that the perfume of those tremendous blossoms—large as elephants' ears—had overpowered the pilot while Doctor Destanne was photographing the valley at two thousand feet. They would have plunged to their deaths, stifled by the lethal fragrance, but for Destanne's hair-trigger nerve.

"It's this accursed thing that's such an abomination," he was saying, when I returned with more ice water.

HE had unbuttoned his overcoat and now I saw what had been concealed beneath it.

Surrounding his throat was a massive metal collar which completely covered his neck. Connected to the lower edge of this strange collar, finely interlocked metal links glittered.

"Chain mesh—iron there on down to my knees," he said. "Steel," he added significantly.

"Yes, but why?" I burst out. "Surely you aren't being hunted by gunmen."

"Worse than that, Roger. Much worse. Have you anything to smoke here?"

I drew an open box of Havanas from the desk and pushed them toward him. He had calmed sufficiently to recover his clipped, precise speech, but I saw that he was still far from his usual meticulous self.

"Worse," he mused as he got the cigar burning evenly. "Worse. It's damnable." He paused, inhaling deeply, as if pondering a diagnosis. Then, tossing precision aside with a gesture, he flung his words to the wind.

"I came to you, Roger, for help, because I knew I'd get it. We haven't time to go in to all the details now. If we hurry we can taxi out in time to catch the 9.30 Seaboard Airliner smith. Talk over the problem on our way. It's devilishly complicated. As terrible a doom as ever threatened an unsuspecting world—the air-plant men. They followed me here. Nothing I can say will stir our slow-moving national defense organization 'into action in time to avert a disaster. Our country—even Sibyl's existence—is hanging by a thread, a tentacle."

He stopped suddenly and I seized him by both shoulders. "Sibyl?" I breathed.

"As if we needed concrete evidence," Destanne said, pointing to the window where evening shadows were fast gathering.

I would have stepped forward, but he intercepted me. "Back," he shouted. "As you value your life...

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