Stanford was pulled away from his journal by a knock at his office door. He put down his pen and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. Who on Earth could that be? He looked down at the digital display on his desktop, double checking the time. He hadn’t expected anybody else to be at the university at this hour. It was why he had chosen now to record his accomplishment, so that he could do so in peace, without the threat of interruption. So much for that.
Stanford closed his leather-bound book and placed his pen carefully across the front cover, strategically angling it at a pleasing forty-five degrees. Of course each word he wrote was being copied straight from the pen to his digital tablet, but the nature of his profession had gotten him in the habit of recording everything by hand. So many times in the field the environment made all the technology in the world moot, and so using old-fashioned pen and paper was the only reliable way of getting things done. Besides, he like the quaintness of it. It made him appear scholarly. And he had to keep up appearances. He pushed his chair away from his over-sized oak writing desk – the one the department had discouraged him from getting because of how difficult it was to install a digital desktop into the relic, but he liked the ornate design so got it anyway – creating a heaving scraping sound against the linoleum floor as he did so. His desk wasn’t the only thing that was unnecessarily extravagant in the office. In fact, some might even argue that the construction of the office itself was slightly overdoing it for someone working in the soft sciences. It was a corner office, large enough to roll out the cot Stanford kept folded up in the corner for use on those extremely late nights when a short nap was an absolute requirement. An entire wall — the one facing the interior of the building, not the one sporting the six foot window — was covered by a bookshelf that had been collecting research, anthologies, and artifacts for as long as Stanford had been inhabiting the space, which was almost seven years now. It was to the point that he was out of room on the shelves and things had started conspicuously piling up on the floor around the base of the bookshelf. The dean had tried to argue with him once that such a pile in the middle of the floor was a fire hazard and that he needed to get it cleaned up, but Stanford had considered the dean’s words mearly a warning and would get around to it once the official notice showed up in his university mailbox, which, admittedly, he never checked.
Stanford lazily got up and reached his arms to the ceiling, stretching his long slender limbs, as a second round of knocking rang out at his door. He ran his fingers through his dark hair as he looked at the time display on his desktop once more. He had been sitting for a while. No wonder he felt so cramped. He shook out his muscles after his stretch, and then finally walked over to the door and turned the handle. He should have known who he would find glaring at him on the other side, his hand already raised to knock again. Dean Leitner, head of the college of social sciences.
“Stanford,” Leitner said as a curt greeting with a short nod in Stanford’s direction.
“Leitner,” Stanford said in response, just as curtly. He already knew that the dean’s presence could only mean bad news. The only time Leitner ever ventured down the hall to Stanford’s office was when it was something important or bad. For a moment he hoped the man had just stopped by to say hello and congratulate him on his accomplishments and would then turn around and go away. But after a few seconds’ hesitation in which nothing of the sort happened, he reluctantly stepped aside to let the dean in to deliver his news.
Leitner silently crossed over the threshold into Stanford’s office. His eyes were immediately drawn to the pile of books and off-world artifacts surrounding Stanford’s bookshelf. It seemed to have grown since the last time he had been here. That wasn’t too surprising since Stanford was always finding new junk to collect and it had been a while since Leitner had last paid him a visit. He tried to avoid stepping foot in this office whenever possible. But today’s meeting had been unavoidable. He waited for Stanford to shut the door behind him before he spoke.
“I want to congratulate you on your achievement with the NASA Starlight Outreach grant. I got word the paperwork was finalized just this morning,” Leitner said. He was a big man, over six feet tall, his build nearly twice as wide as Stanford’s own slight frame even though they were roughly the same height. His blonde hair and light eyes were clear markers of his Old German-European ancestry. To most, Leitner’s physical presence would be intimidating enough, even without his professional title to back it up. To Stanford, Leitner was no more than an annoyance he was forced to deal with. University politics.
Stanford knew Leitner well enough to know that he hadn’t trekked all the way down to his corner of the anthropology wing just to congratulate him. He stood still, waiting for what would come next.
“Honestly, you have brought a great honor to our college,” Leitner continued.
Well, that couldn’t be argued. But Stanford didn’t need the dean to tell him that. “What do you want?” he finally asked. It was curt and unfriendly. He wasn’t quite sure he had meant for it to come out that way, but once it was out there, he decided he would stand by it. It was fitting. A clear expression of his suspicions and expectation of a straightforward answer.
Leitner sighed. It would be best to just say it. Neither of them were men for dancing around the point. “The college board just had a meeting in regard to your research grant,” he said.
“No you didn’t,” Stanford protested, a bit of panic already forming in his gut. “Not an official one. Couldn’t have. According to university policy, you cannot have an official meeting about my government-acquired assets without me being present.” He wasn’t about to let the college make decisions regarding his grant money without him being there to have a say in it. He had made sure to do all the necessary research on the university grant policies before applying.
“Also according to university policy, the meeting is allowed to proceed, on official status, if the grant recipient is informed of the meeting but does not respond to the notice within forty-eight hours of when it was sent,” the dean informed him.
“I was never notified,” Stanford insisted. He wasn’t liking where this was headed. He felt like he was being backed into a corner.
“You were. Fifty hours ago. The notice most likely ended up in your spam folder. Dr. Reynolds in comp-sci assured us he could make it happen. That was the plan at least. We needed to make sure you weren’t present at this meeting or else we never would have gotten anything accomplished.”
Stanford felt an irritation, mixed with a very uneasy fear, rising in his stomach. They had duped him. “That’s not fair.”
“Perhaps not,” Leitner said. “But it stands.”
“So what was decided at this meeting?” Stanford braced himself for the worst.
“First, I just want to state that we’re all very proud, if not a bit shocked, at what you’ve managed to accomplish here.”
“Yes, yes, you’ve said that. But what else? What’s the bad news I know you brought with you?”
Leitner took a deep breath and let it out slowly before speaking. “The college felt it would be in our and the university’s best interest to require you to take on a student research assistant for the duration of your grant period. Someone to help you out, do the grunt work.”
“And if I refuse?” Stanford asked. He could feel his head growing hazy. An assistant? Preposterous. He worked alone. It was better that way.
“We have agreed to withhold your funding until you have found someone to help you.”
And there it was. Stanford’s fears laid out in front of him. He had worked so hard, become a name known by all in his field. Centuries from now it would be his studies future anthropologists would learn about. Nobody else in the department – the college even – would ever accomplish the things he had. All they could do was follow behind after him, hoping to one day catch him, knowing they never would. And now the college was going to force him to allow someone else, some undeserving student, the opportunity to know what it was like to be the renowned Stacey Stanford.
Stanford barely reached his chair before he collapsed, the color quickly draining from his face as his breathing grew heavy. Leitner merely rolled his eyes at the display.
“Stop being so dramatic,” he said impatiently. “You’re acting like we’ve just robbed you of your childhood dream.”
“You have no idea,” Stanford said in a small voice as he sat staring off into the middle distance.
“Listen,” Leitner said, trying to reason with this man who obviously had his priorities way out of perspective. “We’re going to try to make this as easy as we can for you. But we are putting our foot down. It has to be done. This is a great opportunity for the college of social sciences and for the students who have dedicated themselves to our programs. On top of that, it will be great publicity for attracting future students.”
“Publicity?” Stanford said, his eyes — filling with rage — finally focusing on Leitner. “You are desecrating my funding and the purity of my research for publicity?”
“What is wrong with you!” Leitner snapped, inadvertently raising his voice in the process. It was like trying to reason with a child. He took a moment and a few deep breaths to calm himself and tried again. “Though you don’t seem to want to believe it, it’s vital to the survival of your job that we keep students interested in our programs. So yes, we plan to advertise to perspectives fancy assistantships like this one. Understood? Look, if you want, we will pick the student for you so you don’t have to deal with it.”
“No!” Stanford said almost before Leitner could finish his statement. This time he was putting his foot down. It was bad enough they were forcing this upon him. The least he could do was make sure they didn’t find some incompetent buffoon to completely ruin this experience he’d been preparing for his entire life. Though he knew the chances of avoiding that situation were next to none. If he’d learned anything in his time with the university it was that students, as a whole, were completely useless in every way. “I’ll choose the student,” he told Leitner. “You just find some applicants.”
“Fair enough,” Leitner said. He started toward the door. “And thank you for agreeing to this.”
Stanford couldn’t stop from snorting his contempt through his nostrils. As if he’d had a choice. “Just do me one thing,” he said as the thought came to him. “Don’t advertise this too publicly. I don’t want to be stuck in here going through applications for weeks.”
Leitner allowed a slight smile across his face. Stanford could tell it was forced. “I’ll see what I can do,” he promised before letting himself out of the office.
After the dean left, Stanford leaned forward in his chair, placing his elbows on his desk in front of him and covering his face in his hands. He let out a hoarse and frustrated groan. He had the sudden urge to stick his tongue out in the direction Leitner had gone, but refrained from doing so, deciding that would be too childish even for him.
How could this be happening to him? All the excitement that had filled him only moments before that irritating knock, knock on his door had now deflated, leaving him feeling miserable. He felt like all of his hard work, everything he had sacrificed along the way to make a name for himself, to be the best, had suddenly become all for naught. Now he had to take some sniveling student who didn’t know the first thing about sacrifice and hard work along with him.
Still, Stanford reasoned, there was nothing that said he had to give the brat any credit when it came time to publish. There was no rule about that. Credit had to be earned, and Stanford was ready to enforce that one, no matter what the university tried to do in response.
Stanford looked down and saw his journal still sitting on his desk. Tentatively, he picked up his pen and flipped open the leather cover. He slowly thumbed through the pages until he came to the entry he had been writing on earlier, before he had been so rudely interrupted. He checked his pen to make sure it was connected to his digital tablet. The rage of being told what he could and couldn’t do, the limitations and restrictions he felt under the weight of university politics were all threatening to come out as he slowly pressed his pen against the page and began to write.
Note to self: Remember to return the solar powered rotation counter from the Moon Colony that I got Dean Leitner for his upcoming birthday.