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Earth Is Room Enough

Isaac Asimov

Chapter One

  Science Fiction Tales of Our Own Planet


  To Those Admirable and Amiable Gendlemen Who First Occasioned the Publication of These Stories: Anthony Boucher. . . Howard Browne. . . John Campbell. . . Horace Gold. . . Robert Lowndes. . . Leo Margulies. . . Ray Palmer. . . James Quinn. . . Larry Shaw. . . Russ Winterbotham

  The Dead Past

  Arnold Potterley, Ph. D. , was a Professor of Ancient History. That, in itself, was not dangerous. What changed the world beyond all dreams was the fact that he looked like a Professor of Ancient History.

  Thaddeus Araman, Department Head of the Division of Chronoscopy, might have taken proper action if Dr. Potterley had been owner. of a large, square chin, flashing eyes, aquiline nose and broad shoulders.

  As it was, Thaddeus Araman found himself staring over his desk at a mild-mannered individual, whose faded blue eyes looked at him wistfully from either side of a low-bridged button nose; whose small, neatly dressed figure seemed stamped "milk-and-water" from thinning brown hair to the neatly brushed shoes that completed a conservative middle-class costume.

  Araman said pleasantly, "And now what can I do for you, Dr. Potterley?"

  Dr. Potterley said in a soft voice that went well with the rest of him, "Mr. Araman, I came to you because you're top man in chronoscopy. "

  Araman smiled. "Not exactly. Above me is the World Commissioner of Research and above him is the Secretary-General of the United Nations. And above both of them, of course, are the sovereign peoples of Earth. "

  Dr. Potterley shook his head. "They're not interested in chronoscopy. I've come to you, sir, because for two years I have been trying to obtain permission to do some time viewing-chronoscopy, that is-in connection with my researches on ancient Carthage. I can't obtain such permission. My research grants are all proper. There is no irregularity in any of my intellectual endeavors and yet-"

  "I'm sure there is no question of irregularity," said Araman soothingly. He flipped the thin reproduction sheets in the folder to which Potterley's name had been attached. They had been produced by Multivac, whose vast analogical mind kept all the department records. When this was over, the sheets could be destroyed, then reproduced on demand in a matter of minutes.

  And while Araman turned the pages, Dr. Potterley's voice continued in a soft monotone.

  The historian was saying, "I must explain that my problem is quite an important one. Carthage was ancient commercialism brought to its zenith. Pre-Roman Carthage was the nearest ancient analogue to pre-atomic America, at least insofar as its attachment to trade, commerce and business in general was concerned. They were the most daring seamen and explorers before the Vikings; much better at it than the overrated Greeks.

  "To know Carthage would be very rewarding, yet the only knowledge we have of it is derived from the writings of its bitter enemies, the Greeks and Romans. Carthage itself never wrote in its own defense or, if it did, the books did not survive. As a result, the Carthaginians have been one of the favorite sets of villains of history and perhaps unjustly so. Time viewing may set the record straight. "

  He said much more.

  Araman said, still turning the reproduction sheets before him, "You must realize, Dr. Potterley, that chronoscopy, or time viewing, if you prefer, is a difficult process. "

  Dr. Potterley, who had been interrupted, frowned and said, "I am asking for only certain selected views at times and places I would indicate. "

  Araman sighed. "Even a few views, even one. . . It is an unbelievably delicate art. There is the question of focus, getting the proper scene in view and holding it. There is the synchronization of sound, which calls for completely independent circuits. "

  "Surely my problem is important enough to justify considerable effort. "

  "Yes, sir. Undoubtedly," said Araman at once. To deny the importance of someone's research problem would be unforgivably bad manners. "But you must understand how long-drawn-out even the simplest view is. And there is a long waiting line for the chronoscope and an even longer waiting line for the use of Multivac which guides us in our use of the controls. "

  Potterley stirred unhappily. "But can nothing be done? For two years-"

  "A matter of priority, sir. I'm sorry. . . Cigarette?"

  The historian started back at the suggestion, eyes suddenly widening as he stared at the pack thrust out toward him. Araman looked surprised, withdrew the pack, made a motion as though to take a cigarette for himself and thought better of it.

  Potterley drew a sigh of unfeigned relief as the pack was put out of sight.

  He said, "Is there any way of reviewing matters, putting me as far forward as possible. I don't know how to explain-"

  Araman smiled. Some had offered money under similar circumstances which, of course, had gotten them nowhere, either. He said, "The decisions on priority are computer-processed. I could in no way alter those decisions arbitrarily. "

  Potterley rose stiffly to his feet. He stood five and a half feet tall. "Then, good day, sir. "

  "Good day, Dr. Potterley. And my sincerest regrets. "

  He offered his hand and Potterley touched it briefly.

  The historian left, and a touch of the buzzer brought Araman's secretary into the room. He handed her the folder.

  "These," he said, "may be disposed of. "

  Alone again, he smiled bitterly. Another item in his quarter-century's service to the human race. Service through negation.

  At least this fellow had been easy to dispose of. Sometimes academic pressure had to be applied and even withdrawal of grants.

  Five minutes later, he had forgotten Dr. Potterley. Nor, thinking back on it later, could he remember feeling any premonition of danger.

  During the first year of his frustration, Arnold Potterley had experienced only that-frustration. During the second year, though, his frustration gave birth to an idea that first frightened and then fascinated him. Two things stopped him from trying to translate the idea into action, and neither barrier was the undoubted fact that his notion was a grossly unethical one.

  The first was merely the continuing hope that the government would finally give its permission and make it unnecessary for him to do anything more. That hope had perished finally in the interview with Araman just completed.

  The second barrier had been not a hope at all but a dreary realization of his own incapacity. He was not a physicist and he knew no physicists from whom he might obtain help. The Department of Physics at the university consisted of men well stocked with grants and well immersed in specialty. At best, they would not listen to him. At worst, they would report him for intellectual anarchy and even his basic Carthaginian grant might easily be withdrawn.

  That he could not risk. And yet chronoscopy was the only way to carry on his work. Without it, he would be no worse off if his grant were lost.

  The first hint that the second barrier might be overcome had come a week earlier than his interview with Araman, and it had gone unrecognized at the time. It had been at one of the faculty teas. Potterley attended these sessions unfailingly because he conceived attendance to be a duty, and he took his duties seriously. Once there, however, he conceived it to be no responsibility of his to make light conversation or new friends. He sipped abstemiously at a drink or two, exchanged a polite word with the dean or such department heads as happened to be present, bestowed a narrow smile on others and finally left early.

  Ordinarily, he would have paid no attention, at that most recent tea, to a young man standing quietly, even diffidently, in one corner. He would never have dreamed of speaking to him. Yet a tangle of circumstance persuaded him this once to behave in a way contrary to his natur

  That morning at breakfast, Mrs. Potterley had announced somberly that once again she had dreamed of Laurel; but this time a Laurel grown up, yet retaining the three-year-old face that stamped her as their child. Potterley had let her talk. There had been a time when he fought her too frequent preoccupation with the past and death. Laurel would not come back to them, either through dreams or through talk. Yet if it appeased Caroline Potterley-let her dream and talk.

  But when Potterley went to school that morning, he found himself for once affected by Caroline's inanities. Laurel grown up! She had died nearly twenty years ago; their only child, then and ever. In all that time, when he thought of her, it was as a three-year-old.

  Now he thought: But if she were alive now, she wouldn't be three, she'd be nearly twenty-three.

  Helplessly, he found himself trying to think of Laurel as growing progressively older; as finally becoming twenty-three. He did not quite succeed.

  Yet he tried. Laurel using make-up. Laurel going out with boys. Laurel- getting married!

  So it was that when he saw the young man hovering at the outskirts of the coldly circulating group of faculty men, it occurred to him quixotically that, for all he knew, a youngster just such as this might have married Laurel. That youngster himself, perhaps. . .

  Laurel might have met him, here at the university, or some evening when he might be invited to dinner at the Potterleys'. They might grow interested in one another. Laurel would surely have been pretty and this youngster looked well. He was dark in coloring, with a lean intent face and an easy carriage.

  The tenuous daydream snapped, yet Potterley found himself staring foolishly at the young man, not as a strange face but as a possible son-in-law in the might-have-been. He found himself threading his way toward the man. It was almost a form of autohypnotism.

  He put out his hand. "I am Arnold Potterley of the History Department. You're new here, I think?"

  The youngster looked faintly astonished and fumbled with his drink, shifting it to his left hand in order to shake with his right. "Jonas Foster is my name, sir. I'm a new instructor in physics. I'm just starting this semester. "

  Potterley nodded. "I wish you a happy stay here and great success. "

  That was the end of it, then. Potterley had come uneasily to his senses, found himself embarrassed and moved off. He stared back over his shoulder once, but the illusion of relationship had gone. Reality was quite real once more and he was angry with himself for having fallen prey to his wife's foolish talk about Laurel.

  But a week later, even while Araman was talking, the thought of that young man had come back to him. An instructor in physics. A new instructor. Had he been deaf at the time? Was there a short circuit between ear and brain? Or was it an automatic self-censorship because of the impending interview with the Head of Chronoscopy?

  But the interview failed, and it was the thought of the young man with whom he had exchanged two sentences that prevented Potterley from elaborating his pleas for consideration. He was almost anxious to get away.

  And in the autogiro express back to the university, he could almost wish he were superstitious. He could then console himself with the thought that the casual meaningless meeting had really been directed by a knowing and purposeful Fate.

  Jonas Foster was not new to academic life. The long and rickety struggle for the doctorate would make anyone a veteran. Additional work as a postdoctorate teaching fellow acted as a booster shot.

  But now he was Instructor Jonas Foster. Professorial dignity lay ahead. And he now found himself in a new sort of relationship toward other professors.

  For one thing, they would be voting on future promotions. For another, he was in no position to tell so early in the game which particular member of the faculty might or might not have the ear of the dean or even of the university president. He did not fancy himself as a campus politician and was sure he would make a poor one, yet there was no point in kicking his own rear into blisters just to prove that to himself.

  So Foster listened to this mild-mannered historian who, in some vague way, seemed nevertheless to radiate tension, and did not shut him up abruptly and toss him out. Certainly that was his first impulse.

  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 hyperoptics 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. "
r />   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. "