The Complete Stories (Page 3)
He remembered Potterley well enough. Potterley had approached him at that tea (which had been a grizzly affair). The fellow had spoken two sentences to him stiffly, somehow glassy-eyed, had then come to himself with a visible start and hurried off.
It had amused Foster at the time, but now . . .
Potterley might have been deliberately trying to make his acquaintance, or, rather, to impress his own personality on Foster as that of a queer sort of duck, eccentric but harmless. He might now be probing Foster’s views, searching for unsettling opinions. Surely, they ought to have done so before granting him his appointment. Still . . .
Potterley might be serious, might honestly not realize what he was doing.
Or he might realize quite well what he was doing; he might be nothing more or less than a dangerous rascal.
Foster mumbled, "Well, now-" to gain time, and fished out a package of cigarettes, intending to offer one to Potterley and to light it and one for himself very slowly.
But Potterley said at once, "Please, Dr. Foster. No cigarettes."
Foster looked startled. "I’m sorry, sir." ;,
"No. The regrets are mine. I cannot stand the odor. An idiosyncrasy. I’m sorry."
He was positively pale. Foster put away the cigarettes.
Foster, feeling the absence of the cigarette, took the easy way out. "I’m flattered that you ask my advice and all that, Dr. Potterley, but I’m not a neutrinics man. I can’t very well do anything professional in that direction. Even stating an opinion would be out of line, and, frankly, I’d prefer that you didn’t go into any particulars."
The historian’s prim face set hard. "What do you mean, you’re not a neutrinics man? You’re not anything yet. You haven’t received any grant, have you?"
"This is only my first semester."
"I know that. I imagine you haven’t even applied for any grant yet."
Foster half-smiled. In three months at the university, he had not succeeded in putting his initial requests for research grants into good enough shape to pass on to a professional science writer, let alone to the Research Commission.
(His Department Head, fortunately, took it quite well. "Take your time now, Foster," he said, "and get your thoughts well organized. Make sure you know your path and where it will lead, for, once you receive a grant, your specialization will be formally recognized and, for better or for worse, it will be yours for the rest of your career." The advice was trite enough, but triteness has often the merit of truth, and Foster recognized that.)
Foster said, "By education and inclination, Dr. Potterley, I’m a hyperop-tics man with a gravities minor. It’s how I described myself in applying for this position. It may not be my official specialization yet, but it’s going to be. It can’t be anything else. As for neutrinics, I never even studied the subject."
"Why not?" demanded Potterley at once.
Foster stared. It was the kind of rude curiosity about another man’s professional status that was always irritating. He said, with the edge of his own politeness just a trifle blunted, "A course in neutrinics wasn’t given at my university."
"Good Lord, where did you go?"
"M.I.T.," said Foster quietly.
"And they don’t teach neutrinics?"
"No, they don’t." Foster felt himself flush and was moved to a defense.
"It’s a highly specialized subject with no great value. Chronoscopy, perhaps, has some value, but it is the only practical application and that’s a dead end."
The historian stared at him earnestly. "Tell me this. Do you know where I can find a neutrinics man?"
"No, I don’t," said Foster bluntly.
"Well, then, do you know a school which teaches neutrinics?"
"No, I don’t."
Potterley smiled tightly and without humor.
Foster resented that smile, found he detected insult in it and grew sufficiently annoyed to say, "I would like to point out, sir, that you’re stepping out of line."
"I’m saying that, as a historian, your interest in any sort of physics, your professional interest, is-" He paused, unable to bring himself quite to say the word.
"That’s the word, Dr. Potterley."
"My researches have driven me to it," said Potterley in an intense whisper.
"The Research Commission is the place to go. If they permit-"
"I have gone to them and have received no satisfaction."
"Then obviously you must abandon this." Foster knew he was sounding stuffily virtuous, but he wasn’t going to let this man lure him into an expression of intellectual anarchy. It was too early in his career to take stupid risks.
Apparently, though, the remark had its effect on Potterley. Without any warning, the man exploded into a rapid-fire verbal storm of irresponsibility.
Scholars, he said, could be free only if they could freely follow their own free-swinging curiosity. Research, he said, forced into a predesigned pattern by the powers that held the purse strings became slavish and had to stagnate. No man, he said, had the right to dictate the intellectual interests of another.
Foster listened to all of it with disbelief. None of it was strange to him. He had heard college boys talk so in order to shock their professors and he had once or twice amused himself in that fashion, too. Anyone who studied the history of science knew that many men had once thought so.
Yet it seemed strange to Foster, almost against nature, that a modern man of science could advance such nonsense. No one would advocate running a factory by allowing each individual worker to do whatever pleased him at the moment, or of running a ship according to the casual and conflicting notions of each individual crewman. It would be taken for granted that some sort of centralized supervisory agency must exist in each case. Why should direction and order benefit a factory and a ship but not scientific research?