The Complete Stories (Page 6)

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"But you don’t know this young man. What if he is an agent for the Commission of Research."

"Not likely and I’ll take that chance." He made a fist of his right hand and rubbed it gently against the palm of his left. "He’s on my side now. I’m sure of it. He can’t help but be. I can recognize intellectual curiosity when I see it in a man’s eyes and face and attitude, and it’s a fatal disease for a tame scientist. Even today it takes time to beat it out of a man and the young ones are vulnerable. . . . Oh, why stop at anything? Why not build our own chronoscope and tefl the government to go to-"

He stopped abruptly, shook his head and turned away.

"I hope everything will be all right," said Mrs. Potterley, feeling helplessly certain that everything would not be, and frightened, in advance, for her husband’s professorial status and the security of their old age.

It was she alone, of them all, who had a violent presentiment of trouble. Quite the wrong trouble, of course.

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Jonas Foster was nearly half an hour late in arriving at the Potterleys’ off-campus house. Up to that very evening, he had not quite decided he would go. Then, at the last moment, he found he could not bring himself to commit the social enormity of breaking a dinner appointment an hour before the appointed time. That, and the nagging of curiosity.

The dinner itself passed interminably. Foster ate without appetite. Mrs. Potterley sat in distant absent-mindedness, emerging out of it only once to ask if he were married and to make a deprecating sound at the news that he

was not. Dr. Potterley himself asked neutrally after his professional history and nodded his head primly.

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It was as staid, stodgy-boring, actually-as anything could be.

Foster thought: He seems so harmless.

Foster had spent the last two days reading up on Dr. Potterley. Very casually, of course, almost sneakily. He wasn’t particularly anxious to be seen in the Social Science Library. To be sure, history was one of those borderline affairs and historical works were frequently read for amusement or edification by the general public.

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Still, a physicist wasn’t quite the "general public." Let Foster take to reading histories and he would be considered queer, sure as relativity, and after a while the Head of the Department would wonder if his new instructor were really "the man for the job."

So he had been cautious. He sat in the more secluded alcoves and kept his head bent when he slipped in and out at odd hours.

Dr. Potterley, it turned out, had written three books and some dozen articles on the ancient Mediterranean worlds, and the later articles (all in "Historical Reviews") had all dealt with pre-Roman Carthage from a sympathetic viewpoint.

That, at least, checked with Potterley’s story and had soothed Foster’s suspicions somewhat. . . . And yet Foster felt that it would have been much wiser, much safer, to have scotched the matter at the beginning.

A scientist shouldn’t be too curious, he thought in bitter dissatisfaction with himself. It’s a dangerous trait.

After dinner, he was ushered into Potterley’s study and he was brought up 1 sharply at the threshold. The walls were simply lined with books.

Not merely films. There were films, of course, but these were far outnumbered by the books-print on paper. He wouldn’t have thought so many books would exist in usable condition.

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That bothered Foster. Why should anyone want to keep so many books at home? Surely all were available in the university library, or, at the very worst, at the Library of Congress, if one wished to take the minor trouble of checking out a microfilm.

There was an element of secrecy involved in a home library. It breathed of intellectual anarchy. That last thought, oddly, calmed Foster. He would rather Potterley be an authentic anarchist than a play-acting agent provocateur.

And now the hours began to pass quickly and astonishingly.

"You see," Potterley said, in a clear, unflurried voice, "it was a matter of finding, if possible, anyone who had ever used chronoscopy in his work. Naturally, 1 couldn’t ask baldly, since that would be unauthorized research."

"Yes," said Foster dryly. He was a little surprised such a small consideration would stop the man.

"I used indirect methods-"

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He had. Foster was amazed at the volume of correspondence dealing with small disputed points of ancient Mediterranean culture which somehow managed to elicit the casual remark over and over again: "Of course, having never made use of chronoscopy-" or, "Pending approval of my request for chronoscopic data, which appear unlikely at the moment-"

"Now these aren’t blind questionings," said Potterley. "There’s a monthly booklet put out by the Institute for Chronoscopy in which items concerning the past as determined by time viewing are printed. Just one or two items.

"What impressed me first was the triviality of most of the items, their insipidity. Why should such researches get priority over my work? So I wrote to people who would be most likely to do research in the directions described in the booklet. Uniformly, as I have shown you, they did not make use of the chronoscope. Now let’s go over it point by point."

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At last Foster, his head swimming with Potterley’s meticulously gathered details, asked, "But why?"

"I don’t know why," said Potterley, "but I have a theory. The original invention of the chronoscope was by Sterbinski-you see, I know that much -and it was well publicized. But then the government took over the instrument and decided to suppress further research in the matter or any use of the machine. But then, people might be curious as to why it wasn’t being used. Curiosity is such a vice, Dr. Foster."

Yes, agreed the physicist to himself.

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