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´╗┐Title: Of Stegner's Folly
Author: Shaver, Richard S., 1907-1975
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                          Of Stegner's Folly

                         By Richard S. Shaver

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from If Worlds of Science
Fiction March 1952. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


[Sidenote: _When a twenty-foot goddess walked out of the jungle, they
knew Stegner wasn't kidding._]


Old Prof Stegner never foresaw the complications his selective
anti-gravitational field would cause. Knowing the grand old man as I
did, I can say that he never intended his "blessing" should become the
curse to mankind that it did. And the catastrophe it brought about was
certainly beyond range of all prophecy.

Of course, anyone who lived in 1972 and tried to get inside Stegner's
weird life-circle must agree that you can get too much of a good thing.
Even a pumpkin can get too big--and that's what happened when the Prof
turned on his field--things got big; and too darned healthy!

I was there the day Stegner announced the results of ten year's research
on his selector. Nearly everyone present had read the sensational
articles concerning his work in the feature sections of the big town
newspapers. Like the rest, I had a vague idea of what it was about. It
seemed the Prof had developed a device that repelled various particles
of matter without effecting others. In short, if he turned on his
gadget, gravity reversed itself for certain elements, and they went away
in a hurry. Like this: he could take oxide of iron, turn on his
selective repellor, and the rust rather magically turned to pure iron
without the oxygen. Or, he could take a pile of mixed chemicals, turn
his control knobs to the elements known to be present in the mixture,
and presto! Only certain ones, of his choosing remained. The atoms of
the other elements conveniently left the vicinity.

All of which was interesting and extremely useful. The Prof promptly got
rich selling patent rights to the device, tuned to certain frequencies
which refined heretofore unrefinable ores. His device made an
improvement over most known methods of refining, costing far less in
operation than the standard and often complicated methods previously in
use.

Money gave the old man his opportunity. He fitted out a big research lab
in California, not too far from civilization, but secluded enough for
secrecy. Then he set about to try his selective repellor on living
tissues. His suspicion, that wonderful things could be discovered if he
tuned his anti-gravitational field to the undesirable elements in the
body, was confirmed. Like lead poisoning--something no doctor can cure
if it is severe. He found that he could cure a case of lead poisoning
merely by making the lead go away from there via the field. More
wonderful things began to come out of the Stegner laboratory, and he
made a lot more money.

Which was all very well indeed, only the Prof couldn't leave well enough
alone--he had to delve and pry. He had his own theories about disease
and its cause, old age, and so on--all nuttier than a fruit cake. He was
something of a crank on various health foods and diets that left out
foods raised with chemical fertilizers. He had an organic garden, a
garden where no chemical fertilizer or poison spray was ever used. And
after all, who knew better than the Prof--who could isolate them in a
trice--how many poisons could be found accumulating in the average human
body, consumed along with perfectly harmless foods during a lifetime?

Anyway, when the Prof called in the press, myself among them, he was
really excited. "Gentlemen," he said, "I have solved the greatest
medical puzzle of all time. Before me, no medical man knew the cause of
old age. I have proved what the deterioration factor is, and I have
provided a remedy--a sure and immediate remedy! The golden age of
mankind is here! Our life span can be greatly extended!"

I looked at Jake Heinz, my cameraman. Jake winked at me, but I didn't
respond. I liked the Prof. Such a fine old gentleman, to go whacky from
so much success....

Jake took a few shots of the Prof's rabbits and guinea pigs, of the Prof
himself, and of the apparatus he had constructed which he claimed drove
out the causative poison of age; a poison he called a radioactive
isotope of Potassium. The other reporters, not having the soft hearts
Jake and I toted around, wrote him up as a joke; said right out they
thought the old boy was blowing his top. Immortality! Hah! They
presented the whole thing as a farce.

No reporters were ever more wrong than those smart buckos.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some months after the Prof's little news conference was over and
forgotten, an item of vast importance turned up. It seemed that around
Stegner's secluded retreat there was a line where things started. What
kind of things? Well, up to that line, things were normal; but beyond
it, grass got enormous, the ground was higher and softer. Trees forgot
to shed their leaves. Animals flocked there to eat the lush grass, so
the Prof erected a ten-foot electrified fence around his land to keep
out the hordes of rabbits, deer, mice and what have you that came to
feast off the new supply of better forage.

That was only the beginning. Some months later there came items about
houseflies the size of walnuts hatching out around the Prof's retreat.
Now a swarm of houseflies the size of walnuts is news, and Jake and I
got up there on the jump.

It was terrific! The flies were there all right, but so were a good many
other oversized creatures. Roosting in the trees were robins, bluebirds,
and doves as large as turkeys. King-sized ducks waddled about
importantly, displaying pouter-pigeon crops from overeating. It was as
if some god had drawn a line and said: "This is the new Eden, where all
living things will prosper terrifically."

You never saw a sight like it! Or did you? Were you one of the horde who
started camping around the Prof's magic circle trying to get permission
to enter?

It was then we got proof that it pays to be kind. Of all the
news-grabbers who surrounded the Prof's big wire gate, Jake and I were
the only ones who got in. The old man had not forgotten who had taken
him seriously and who had made fun of him.

Jake snapped a series of startling pics of the oversized animals and
birds. I interviewed the Prof again, even got his maid, Tilda's
opinions, and wrote it up as unsensationally as possible, playing down
the tremendous potential for trouble, playing up the really effective
method the old scientist had discovered for "eliminating the
deterioration factor" in life. I could see where the world was in for
some changes, and the going was going to be rough enough for the old man
without making it worse. But my efforts came to naught when the pics
Jake had taken reached the editor's desk. He hit the ceiling, called me
on the carpet, wanted to know where my news sense had gotten lost. Then
he sent out three other smart boys to do a _good_ job on it.

The paper got out a special edition--and the troubles I had foreseen
began. First, the government stepped in, trying to hush-hush the whole
thing; but too late. The rush had started. For miles around the poor
Prof's fenced-in hideaway, cars and trailers parked in a mad senseless
jumble. People crowded against the fences and the electricity had to be
shut off. Some smart aleck produced wire cutters and made an opening.
The invasion of the new Eden had begun.

Stegner took flight, taking his secret apparatus and files with him. He
declined police escort, and vanished from his mad Eden. Where he went
was impossible to learn, but I supposed the government knew.

The area he had revitalized with his selective field was a nine days
wonder, and after just about that long it was a tramped over, paper
strewn, garbage littered wreck. The oversized animals and birds drifted
away, the huge houseflies perished or were eaten by the birds.
Apparently that was the end of the thing. Humanity had triumphed over
its savior with its usual stupid interference.

A few of us remembered, could not put out of our minds the significance
of what the old man had done. He had pointed the way to a lush
immortality, and he had been shoved aside and pawed over and written
about like some freak. If he had been a notorious criminal, he would
have gotten far better journalistic treatment.

But the years went by--four, five of them. And nothing more was heard of
Stegner and his work. Until, one day coming home from a night shift on
the paper, I found a letter in my box. It was a rather plain looking
envelope, but much larger than the ordinary. The handwritten address was
quite legible, but very big, as if a giant hand had cramped itself to
produce ordinary script:

     _Dear old friend:_

     _You may have forgotten me, but I do not forget you. If you
     would like to join me for a time, insert a notice to Harry F in
     the personal column to that effect. I am trusting you to keep
     my secret._

     _Stegner_

Needless to say, I inserted the notice.

       *       *       *       *       *

A limousine, driven by a noncommittal chauffeur, picked me up off a
street corner, whisked me to the airfield. I boarded a plane piloted by
a man I used to know as a fading stunt pilot--Harry Fredericks. The
plane lifted and took a southerly course which presently changed to an
easterly bearing. I looked below and saw we were over water.

We came down somewhere in South America and I got out of the plane as
mystified as I'd entered it. Secrecy? Fredericks wouldn't even discuss
the weather!

I had expected another Eden, hidden away from the world. But the land of
brobdignags I found staggered me. Grasses, trying to be trees, and
trees....

There were no words for the bigness, the health and vitality of Stegner
and the government bigwigs who had welcomed him here in South America.
But Stegner hustled me aside before I had time to do more than goggle at
the mammoth layout of this new Eden under government supervision. He
took me to his house, a huge thing built with huge hands, big enough to
accommodate a man ten feet tall! Yes, Stegner was a giant! _Everybody_
in that fantastic hideaway was a giant.

The second floor of the house overlooked a great, wide valley. Stegner
pointed one great finger to the horizon and I looked. There was an
endless fence out there. The same as in California, only more so. The
natives of the valley, the Indios, the rancheros, the more intelligent
animals, were trying to get in to the wonders they saw beyond that
fence. And some of them were dying against the killing electric charges
in its wires. Through a pair of glasses the Prof handed me, I saw that
some of the dead were human.

"That's murder!" I gasped.

Stegner's voice held the sadness of a great and sorrowful god. "I am in
a trap, my friend. I have pretended to acquiesce, but my cohorts are not
fully deluded as to my loyalty to the thing they plan. These government
men had gone mad with power. And the problem that now faces me seems
insurmountable. The peoples of this world are too small, morally, for so
big a life. I fear chaos. I thought that perhaps you, with your native
shrewdness, might help me unlock this prison I am in, reconcile this
Eden and its growth to the world that it must eventually overrun. It
_will_ overrun the planet, but I would prefer it not to be by violence
as these mad men plan it. They have selfishly taken my gift to mankind
to themselves, for their own aggrandizement."

I gulped. He thought I had the savvy to answer that one! "Hell, Prof. I
thought you saw that from the first. I've often wondered when the
blow-off would come. I'm a newspaperman; I know what goes on in the
world. It isn't ready for such a life as you can give it--too much
selfishness. This thing has so many angles, so many ways it can give
private groups power."

"Then what can I do?"

"As long as this is going to be a fight, let's make it an even one, so
that the chips aren't all on one side of the table. Then maybe there'll
be a balance of power, a stalemate--such as existed between Russia and
the U. S. A. for so long."

"You mean...?"

"I mean let me get the hell out of here in a hurry, with the details of
your processes, and let me spread them all over the world. Publicity can
lick this thing. Your mistake was in building fences. Put up a fence,
and somebody'll bust it."

"You are a wise man, my friend," he said.

"Then I'm making a run for it right now. They won't expect me to be
dashing off before I've even taken off my hat. Give me your formulae,
and show me the back door."

"You can only leave by plane...."

"Okay, I can fly one. I had my own crate for several years until the
finance company took it away from me. The airfield's right next to the
house...."

He gave me the papers.

"What's in 'em?" I asked.

"The formulae for the creation of the repellent anti-gravitational field
which eliminates the age-factor element. I have been working on a growth
inhibitor, but in secret. So I have had little time to develop it.
Briefly, it is a method of making the field even more selective, leaving
in the body those elements which have caused life to stop growing at
adulthood, although it is not natural to stop growing. I am sure that
any good scientist can finish my work. With this development, man can
have his cake and eat it too. He won't grow to giantism as we are doing,
yet his life and health will be prolonged."

"Why not just explain it to these men?"

He laughed bitterly. "They wish to use their gigantic size to conquer
the world. They can do it, too. Their minds have increased in power.
Growth is that way. But moral values are something different--they are
acquired by experience. Find some moral men who might use this
information to circumvent what is about to happen."

I took the papers and shook his gigantic hand. I left via the back door,
and sneaked through a clump of giant ferns to the edge of the airfield.
A little prowling revealed a parked plane, long unused because those who
had flown it here had grown too big to use it. I waited, hidden in the
lush greenery until the setting sun would hide my movements. It would
only be a few minutes now....

The hangar in which the plane was parked contained several gasoline
drums, the kind with pumps on them that worked with a crank. I got into
the hangar, finally, and before it got too dark to see, checked the
plane's gas gauge. It was about a quarter full. I connected the gas hose
and started pumping. In twenty minutes I had her full, then I climbed
into the plane....

When the motor caught, after I was sure it never would, the thunder of
the prop brought giants running toward me from the far end of the field,
their twenty-foot strides eating up the distance. But I taxied straight
toward them, giving the plane's motors all they would take. The plane
roared down the field, and they fell flat as the prop came at them. The
plane lifted, spun over them, was off. Now slugs from oversize rifles
came buzzing about me, crashing through the fuselage. But it was dark
and I was away. No serious damage had been done.

In Texas it took me four hours to get the brass to listen to me. Finally
they did. They didn't ask me to keep my mouth shut. They just turned me
loose. I went to my editor and told him the truth. He didn't believe me.
When he checked with the army, they said I was obviously trying to
perpetrate a hoax. I nearly got fired.

       *       *       *       *       *

Months went by, and I waited. I knew I'd have to wait until my chance
came. There'd have to be hellfire before anybody'd believe my story.
Then the storm broke, in sensational headlines. "Gigantic beasts wipe
out town in South America."

My editor sent for me. He showed me the headline. "Maybe I made a
mistake not believing your story about Stegner," he said. "I make a lot
of mistakes."

"You want me to cover this?" I said.

"That's it. And if you can come up with proof of what you told me when
you got back from that crazy trip, I'll print every damned word."

       *       *       *       *       *

When I got on the scene, I knew they were at last taking it seriously.
The locals had called out the army to fight the strange monsters that
were coming out of the jungle. They were such things as army ants six
feet long; anteaters looking like ambling locomotives with hairy hides
and noses; lumbering sloths vast as a houses on legs, sleepy and comic
as ever, but terrifyingly destructive; jaguars like trucks and trailers;
centipedes with stingers over their backs that would reach a man in a
third-story window; wasps and bees like buzzards. The army was lashing
at these things with machine guns, flame throwers, tanks and rockets.
Jeeps careened across the landscape with loads of ammo. It was a
madhouse on a vast scale, and being fought to the death. They waited for
the beasts to come out of the jungle, then they jumped them--or were
jumped. Nobody was allowed to fly into the hinterland to see where they
were coming from. And when I tried to get officials to consider it, they
absolutely refused. Up there, it was hinted, were secret government
projects--besides they were too far away--and radio said there was no
sign of anything unusual there. It was worth even a general's job to
poke his nose in near those projects. And how could I tell these people
traitorous men of their own government were the culprits? It just wasn't
possible--and because I had to stay on the scene, I never even hinted
it. I merely waited my chance to produce proof. I knew I'd get it,
sooner or later. Something would come out of that jungle I'd be able to
use to convey the real menace to the knowledge of a puzzled world.

[Illustration: _Only the fire-power of cannon could stop the monster._]

I wrote carefully, reporting the weird war with the animal world--and I
kept inserting paragraphs hinting about Stegner and his growth field,
adding "rumors" that maybe his work had been taken over by a power-mad
clique and it was they who were loosing this horror.

My boss liked the stuff I was putting in, because it sold papers, and I
was careful to keep my facts separate, and label my theories. Nobody--at
least so it seemed--believed the theories, but they made good reading. I
got a raise in salary.

Other reporters were knocking out stories as good as mine, but without
the insight into the facts that I had. So their stories went too far
afield. Mine became popular, and were in demand as reprints all over the
world. But officially, nobody paid any attention to me, so the important
papers nestled in the bottom of my trunk. I didn't want them confiscated
until the time came when I could publish them with proof. My boss would
back me up when that proof came. I was sure of that.

I got my chance the day the giantess came crashing out of the smoke and
dust of the circle of horror across which the beasts were constantly
lunging. She was near naked, and half mad with pain from the giant
insects plaguing her. No one fired on her as she stood with uplifted
arms, waiting for the soldiers to kill her as she expected. Beautiful as
a goddess out of an ancient myth she came forward toward the soldiers,
her face lighting with hope, her hair streaming golden in the sun. She
spoke to us then, and the silence that came over the field of carnage
was complete.

"Look at me! Look at me and believe! There are others like me, back in
the jungle; mad giants who plan to conquer your world. They are ready to
do it. I have escaped to warn you. They are mad, these giants my master
has created. They are monsters...."

I recognized her now. My senses leaped and my blood pounded in my veins.
Here was my opportunity to convince the world. This was Tilda, Stegner's
maid! I snapped several pictures of her as she went on talking.

"These men, who were once your own leaders are plotting to destroy you
and take the world for themselves. You do not know what they are
preparing for you, but I come to tell you. Make ready, for they are on
their way to destroy you. They bring huge guns, monster tanks that they
have built, machines never before seen on earth."

What more she might have told we were never to know, for she fell then,
at the end of her strength. Whatever she had dared, whatever she had
gone through to break out of that monstrous circle and come to us, had
been too much even for her giant's strength. She fell, like a tower
crashing down, and lay there, a great lax pile of pink and red flesh,
torn by thorns, the claws of animals, the stingers of terrible giant
insects.

Then the monsters came again, and we could not go to her. She lay there
as darkness came, and in the morning only her skeleton remained,
stripped of flesh in the night by the myriad devouring giant ants and
beetles.

       *       *       *       *       *

My story went in, with photos of Tilda. My editor printed the whole
story, printed my formulae, printed every word of the history of Stegner
and his creations, and the secret menace he had unwittingly loosed on
the world from his second hidden Eden in the jungle. I was called home.

They came to me then, those moral ones Stegner had said existed. Men
high in government and army circles who had the peace and welfare of the
world at heart. Selfless ones whose records were above reproach. And
they proved to be high in the powers of the world, able to command.

       *       *       *       *       *

I went back to South America, to my reporting. I wanted to be on hand
when the attack of which Tilda had warned became reality.

I was some twelve miles from the deadly circle when the giant tanks
appeared. They were larger than any moving thing ever seen on Earth
before. Tracklayers, caterpillars--and swinging above them slender
towers which bore ominous gleaming nozzles. On they came.

Then they struck at us. From the nozzles a cold brilliance leaped out,
unnamable, that swept forward like a slow lightning, a kind of crackling
sheet of cold fire that spread from tower to tower, in an arc that began
to bend toward our lines.

The fire came in mile-wide swaths. There was no outcry, no terror--just
the sweating lines of men in foxholes, the crews about the guns, heaving
ammo into their maws; the rumbling trucks and the careening jeeps. The
fire swept over all like liquid, radiance, like a pouring out of
moonlight, soft but brilliant, mild yet deadly. Then it was gone. And
when it had gone, nothing but silence remained. Dead men stretched out
where they had lain waiting, fallen where they labored; jeeps careened
on to crash into stumps or bigger trucks--and stop forever. Only silence
and death and nothingness was left.

When the silence swept across the whole front I dropped my glasses and
lit out for my own car, and headed for the coast. I wanted to file this
story in person, and I knew, too, that army would not be there in the
morning. I meant to stay alive. I knew that the hope for mankind lay in
what honest men were doing with Stegner's formulae. I had to know. So I
fled.

Next day they were dropping atom bombs on every moving thing in
Stegner's ghastly Eden. High flying bombers flew in swarms--and many of
them were being shot down by the weird fire. I saw those atom bombs
falling, on television, and the white radiance reaching up toward them.
I saw it catch them in its embrace, saw them explode harmlessly in the
air, midway in their plunge. Whatever the fire was, it was a defense
against the atom bomb, for it exploded them before they could reach
their targets.

It didn't catch them all, and it didn't intercept all the high-flying
bombers loosing their guided rocket missiles. It got enough though, to
show us we were on the losing end. What we needed was a miracle. And the
miracle did occur....

At first, even with my fingers on every tag end of information that came
out of the terrible area, it was an unnoticeable change. Then I got it.
The men doing our fighting changed in caliber and ability. I never
learned, due to the official habit of hushing everything up, just whose
technology accomplished the miracle, but it must have been started from
the first, with those army officers who had listened to me with such
lack of interest when I spoke before their inquisition at the Texas army
air field.

All I learned was that there was a new kind of man busy at the front, a
man of keener intellect, swifter of action, infinitely more able than
the former ordinary soldier.

It was Jake who first confirmed my suspicions. He brought in photographs
of men lifting trucks out of mudholes, men tearing steel cables apart
with their bare hands, men jumping over twenty-foot barriers with full
pack. "Whatta I do with that kind of pic? The people are so fed up with
the impossible news they are getting that they don't believe anything
any more! But you and I know a news camera doesn't lie ... it doesn't
have time!"

They had put the Prof's formulae to work against the giants. This time
it was the right formulae. They had growth without increase in size, a
growth of ability, of strength, of mentality, without any increase in
ponderous structure. These new soldiers were the policemen of the United
Nations made into supermen!

I began to believe in the human race again. "Great!" I said. "This is
what I've been waiting for!"

Jake tossed me his pictures and went away. I turned to the typewriter
and began batting out my story: "Mankind solves the problem of giantism!
The new weapon against the giants is--the new man!"

Those little giants waded into that circle through all the deadly fire
and the giant scorpions and vast beasts like Jack-the-Giant-Killer's
multitudinous sons--and it wasn't a month later that I typed the last
story of my life and gave up reporting for good. It was the tale of the
death of the last giant--and Jake's picture of him, armed in the end
with only his fists, huge as a tree, mad with hunger and thirst and
terrible fear of the little men who were just as mighty, a lot quicker,
and every bit as smart as any giant. They routed him out with tear gas
and shot him down with plain old GI rifle fire.

Yes, I gave up newspaper work. Why? They offered me a job making a
movie out of the "War of the Giants". The job gave me quick money,
which is what I needed. The wife and I are starting a new colony
on Malino Island. It's in the Carolinas. We're going to try this
growth-without-size business out properly.

Yes, that's my son. Eight months. He doesn't ordinarily go around
dragging a piano--it just got in his way.





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