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The Moon Weed

By Harl Vincent

Unwittingly the traitor of the Earth, Van pits himself against the inexorably tightening web of plant-beasts he has released from the moon.

HOBART MADISON pursed his lips in a whistle of incredulous surprise as he regarded the object that lay in the palm of his hand. An ordinary pebble, it seemed to be, but a pebble in which a strange fire smouldered and showed itself here and there through the dull surface.

"Would you mind repeating what you just said. Van?" he asked.

"You heard me the first time. I say that that's a diamond and that it came from the moon." Carl Vanderventer glared at his friend in resentment of his doubting tone.

"Mean to tell me you've been there? To the moon?"

"Certainly not. I'm not a Jules Verne adventurer. But I'm telling you that stone is a diamond of the first water and that it came from the moon. Weighs over a hundred carats, too. You can have it appraised yourself if you think I'm kidding you."

Bart Madison laughed. "Don't get sore, Van," he said. "I'm not doubting your word. But Lord, man—the thing's so incredible! It takes a little time to soak in. And you say there are more?"

"Sure. This one's the largest of five I'm found so far. And there's ether stuff, too. Wait till you see. Fossils, beetles and things. I tell you, Bart, the moon was inhabited at one time, I've the evidence and I want you to be the first to see it." The eyes of the young scientist shone with excitement as he saw that his friend was roused to intense interest.

"So that's what all your experimenting has been aimed at. No wonder it cost so much."

"Yes, and you've been a brick for financing me. Never asked a question, either. But Bart, it'll all come back to you now. Know how much that stone's worth?"

Plenty, I guess. But, forget heat the financing and all that. Where's this laboratory of yours?" Madison had pushed his chair back from his desk and was reaching for his hat.

"Over in the Ramapo Mountains, not far from Tuxedo. I'll have you hear in two hours. Sure you can spare the time to go out there now? Venderventer was enthusiastically eager.

"Spare the time? You just try and keep me from going!"

Neither of them noticed the sinister figure that lurked outside the foot which led into the adjoining hue. They chattered excitedly as hey passed into the outer hall and made for the elevator.

VANDERVENTER'S laboratory was a small domed structure set in a clearing atop the mountain and well hidden from the winding road which was the only means of approach. Though Bart Madison, who had inherited his father's prosperous brokerage business, had financed his friend's research work ever since the two left college, this was his first visit' to the secluded workshop, and its wealth of equipment was revealed to him as a complete surprise. He had always thought of Van's experiments as something beyond his ken; something uncanny and mysterious. Now he was convinced.

The most prominent single piece of apparatus in the laboratory was a twelve-inch reflecting telescope which reared its latticed framework to a slit in the dome overhead. Paralleling its axis and secured to the same equatorial mounting was a shining tube of copper which bristled with handwheels and levers and was connected by heavy insulated cables to an amazing array of electrical machinery that occupied an entire side of the single room.

"Regular young observatory you've got here. Van," Bart commented when he had taken all this in In one sweeping glance of appraisal.

"Yeah, and then some. Not another like it in the world." Van was busying himself with the controls of his electrical equipment, and a powerful motor-generator started up with a click and a whirr as he closed a starting switch.

Madison watched in silence as the swift-fingered scientist fussed with the complicated adjustments of the apparatus and then turned to the massive concrete pedestal on which his telescope was mounted. At his touch of a button the instrument swung over on its polar axis to a new position. The slit in the dome was opened to the afternoon sky, revealing the lunar disc in its daytime faintness.

"You can see it just as well lit daylight?" Bart asked as his friend peered through the eyepiece of the telescope and continued his adjustments.

"Sure, the surface is just as bright as at night. Doesn't seem so to your eye, but it's different through the telescope. Here, take a look."

BART squinted through the eyepiece and saw a huge crater with a shadowed spire in its center. Like a shell hole in soft earth in appeared—a great splash that had congealed immediately it was made. The cross-hairs of the eyepiece were centered on a small circular shadow near its inner rim.

"That," Van was saying, "is a prominent crater near the Mare Nubium. The spot under the cross-hairs is that from which I have obtained the diamonds—and other things. Watch this now, Bart."

The young broker straightened up. and saw that his friend was removing the cover from a crystal bowl that was attached to the lower end of the copper tube that pointed to the heavens at the same ascension and declination as the telescope. The air of the room vibrated to a strange energy when he closed a switch that lighted a dozen vacuum tubes in the apparatus that lined the wall.

"You say you bring the stuff here with a light ray?" he asked.

"No, I said with the speed of light. This tube projects a ray of vibrations—like directional radio, you know—and this ray has a component that disintegrates the object it strikes and brings it back to us as dissociated protons and electrons which are reassembled in the original form and structure in this crystal bowl. Watch."

A misty brilliance filled the bowl's interior. Intangible shadowy forms seemed to be taking shape within a swirling maze of ethereal light that hummed and crackled with astounding vigor. Then, abruptly, the apparatus was silent and the light gone, revealing an odd object that had taken form in the bowl.

"A starfish!" Bart gasped.

"Yeah, and fossilized." Van handed it to him and he took it in his fingers gingerly as if expecting it to bum them.

THE thing was undoubtedly a starfish, and of light, spongy stone. Its color was a pale blue and the ambulacral suckers were dearly discernible on all five rays.

"Lord! You're sure this is from the moon?" Bart turned the starfish over in his hand and gazed stupidly at his friend.

"Certainly, you nut. Think I had it up my sleeve? But here, watch again, there's something else."

The crackling, misty light again filled the bowl.

"Suppose," Bart ventured, "you bring in something large—big as a house, let's say. What would it do to your machine?"

"Can't. The ray'll only pick up stuff that'll enter the bowl. Look—here's the next arrival."

The mysterious light died down and the scientist picked up the second object with trembling fingers. It was a knife of beautiful workmanship, fashioned from obsidian and obviously the work of human hands.

"There! Didn't I tell you?" Van gloated. "Guess that shows there were living beings on the moon."

He made minute changes in the adjustment of his marvelous instrument and Bart watched in dazed astonishment as object after object materialized before their eyes. There were fragments of strange minerals; more fossils, marine life, mostly; a roughly beaten silver plate; three diamonds, none of which was as large as that Van bad taken to New York, but all of considerable value.

"This'll be something for the papers, Van I" Bart Madison was visioning the fame that was to come to his friend.

"Yeah, all but the diamonds."

"ALL but the diamonds is right!"

These words were spoken by a sarcastic voice, chill as an icicle, that came from the open door, They wheeled to look into the muzzles of two automatic pistols that were trained on them by a stocky individual who faced them with a twisted, knowing grin.

"Danny Kelly!" Bart gasped, raising his bands slowly to the level of his shoulders. He knew the ex-army captain was a dead shot with the service pistol, and a desperate nan since his disgrace and forced resignation. "What's the big idea?" he demanded.

"You don't need to ask. Refused me a loan this morning, didn't you? Now I'm getting it this way." Kelly turned savagely on Van, prodding his ribs with a pistol. "Get 'em up, you!" he snapped.

Van had been slow in raising his hands, gaping in stupefied amazement at the intruder. Now he reached for the ceiling without delay.

"You'll serve time for this, Denny!" Bart shouted.

"Shut up! I know what I'm doing. And back up, too—where—no, the other door." Kelly was forcing him toward the door of the cellar at the point of one pistol as he kept Van covered with the other.

Bart clenched his fist and brought it down in a ...

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