Lab Notes

Professor Tyler's Journal - Vol 1: The Duel

Perhaps I ought to tell you about the duel.

It's actually rather a sad tale. Mostly because of how petty the whole thing was. You see, Prof. Roumain from Salsana Tech was visiting the campus, and I was eager to discuss some aspects of his recent publication on nontransitive energetic states. It seemed terribly important at the time, but in retrospect it was really rather pointless.

My academic past is something of an open book. Quite literally in many ways. "Publish or Perish" is a mainstay of any University, and any competent researcher can find out a great deal about what I was thinking about simply by checking the monographs and papers I was producing at the time. But of course there are other things besides the written results of research. There are the debates and the reviews, the academic politics and the stresses that develop in the race for funding and recognition.

Some of the most brilliant minds of my time were stymied by lack of funding, while comparative morons managed to parlay their contacts into contracts. I was, fortunately, quite good at both parts of the game. Professor Roumian, as it turns out, was not.

We met at a faculty dinner. I was introduced to him during cocktails before the dinner began and it didn't take terribly long before I determined that there was something wrong. Professor Roumain's knowledge of his own subject was miniscule. His talent was memorization. He could quote his publication in part or in whole, with perfect recall, but when I tried to turn the conversation to the actual theory behind his research he began giving responses that were vague generalities.

I mulled it over during the meal and realized the truth of the matter. Roumain was simply stealing the research of others. Very likely, he was taking ideas and work done by his students, removing their names and publishing for himself. They would likely go along with this for a while, hoping that they would be credited and trusting that their association with him would give them some future benefit.

And if it were any other researcher, that might have been the case. There were a number of my own students who had gotten their start working in my laboratory. I was listed as co-author on a number of their papers. And that was the problem with Roumain. He was always listed as the principal author, and on this monograph no co-author was given.

There's a particular type of parasite that afflicts some ocean creatures. It latches on to their hide and drains their blood, abandoning a host when it becomes too weak or ill to sustain it. The only creature it will not feed from is another member of its own species. Roumain lacked even that basic courtesy.

After the dinner, there were cigars and brandy. In that rather relaxed atmosphere, I broached the possibility that there may have been a printers error or some omission that had removed his co-authors' names from this publication. He proudly declared that there was no such error, and that the research was entirely his own.

"I'm very sorry to hear you say that sir."

"Indeed? Why is that?"

"Because it is a lie."

This caused a certain amount of uproar. I quickly explained my reasoning, and offered Roumain the opportunity to refute it. If he could offer a concise explanation of the theory or thinking behind his works, I would gladly offer my sincere apologies. If he would credit his co-authors, I would accept their omission as an error, and we could part company with no hard feelings.

He chose to do neither. Instead, he called me an insolent whelp and challenged me to a duel.

This was a very serious matter, and I accepted. We were housed that evening at the home of our dinner host, and in the morning we went to the lake at the outskirts of the University. As the challenged, I chose to fight with swords. We took positions and began.

I was prepared to try to draw things out, to gauge his abilities before engaging him. Roumain had different plans. He did a fast beat attack, trying to knock my blade aside, in conjunction with a lunge. If I'd been any less of a fencer it would have been a killing attack. As it was, I managed to deflect his blade with my hilt and fell back a pace.

This seemed to surprise Roumain. I discovered later that he had killed several people in duels. That particular attack was well practiced and had obviously served him well before. His next attempt was a more direct thrust, which I parried. He was quite good, but I knew that I was much better. I held back my riposte, giving him a shallow cut across the outside of his bicep and then stepping back a bit.

"Sir, you are wounded. Put up your sword and admit your fault."

I could see a cascade of thoughts in his eyes. First the realization that if he continued the fight, he'd die. Then the knowledge that if he chose to live, he would be admitting that his reputation was built on a tissue of lies. I held his gaze, waiting for his decision, hoping he would accept his past errors.

Instead he tried a sudden high lunge, nearly leaping into the air in an attempt to get above my guard. I parried with the back of my blade, then flicked it back to guard, the tip drawing an almost invisible line across Roumain's throat.

He tried to recover from his lunge, but then he staggered as the pain bloomed in his neck. He dropped his sword and clutched at his now bloody throat, then collapsed in the grass next to that lake. Within seconds he was dead.

There was an inquiry, of course. It was determined that all the rules of dueling had been observed, and I was absolved of fault. A subsequent investigation of Roumain's laboratory revealed that, indeed, his work was being plagerized from his students. Many of them found work elsewhere. And I still think it was a dreadful waste.

Roumain may not have been a researcher, but he was a more than adequate administrator. His failing was his overwhelming pride. He couldn't accept that his area of brilliance was in finding people with great ideas and providing them with funding. Instead, he built this false life, claiming the ideas as his own. And when that facade collapsed, he chose to die rather than rebuild it as something more honest.