Once he had solved a problem, Kayreuth could never bear to consider it further. He could be goaded into conversation by colleagues who had learned that he would only divulge his own work to refute the wrong-headed assertions of other workers in the field. Among the inhabitants of his private satrapy of laboratories and offices within the university, his reticence, and the paths through it, were so well-known that his graduate students vied with each other in inventing stupidities for his edification and their own enlightenment. What to them was a maze was to the unenlightened an impenetrable barrier. All of which explains quite easily why Matt Nuzikoff was only amused when two generals showed up one morning, trumpeting far and wide their intention of interrogating Kayreuth about an instantaneous sensory poison, rumor of which had had somehow reached even into the wilds of Wyoming where generals are normally content to remain.
Matt had never liked generals. Kayreath, he thought, didn’t believe they existed. After all, what kind of a world would it be if generals were allowed to exist? Especially with names like Black and White. “How good are you at metaphysics?” he asked the one who had introduced himself as Black. “You can’t talk to Prof. Kayreuth without metaphysics. He’ll twist you into a pretzel.”
General Black stiffened his posture. He was obviously not used to being threatened with Yoga. He looked around at the disarray of what was supposed to be a scientific laboratory. There was a $5000 oscilloscope balancing precariously on a pile of old journals, a shopping cart filled with misshapen odds and ends of metal framing, boxes dangling wires and alligator clips, a picture of the late J. Edgar Hoover with several darts stuck prominently onto his nose, a cupboard bursting with labeled jars, an old FBI wanted poster, an enormous library of detective books, on and on.
Garbage, he thought. They would never get away with this in a military lab. If the rumors turned out to be of any substance they would have to get the work transferred to a more orderly environment. And this hippie of a graduate student was obviously enjoying himself. He probably thinks I don’t know what metaphysics is made of. “Young man”, he said, “ where is Dr. Kayreuth? He said he would meet us here at 10 AM.”
Nuzikoff shrugged. No one ever knew where Kayreuth was. General White turned from the window. “This place reminds me of the lab I worked in at UCSD. I suppose you get a lot done here.” He sounded wistful. As he walked over to the books and began browsing through Guizot’s History of France, Kayreuth rushed into the room.
“Am I late?” he asked. “It’s damn inconsiderate of you people from the Pentagon to interrupt my day like this. I’d finally gotten around to working on my notes to Erigena. All the way back in the era sociologists like to misname the Dark Ages, he understood that awareness cannot be given physically. The holy spark must enter the mind directly. You know, God impregnating Mary through the ear.”
Black frowned. What was this gibberish? “Dr. Kayreuth”, he began, “we have heard that you’ve developed a potentially useful chemical agent. We wish to discuss it with you, privately.”
“Matt, have you been writing crank letters again?” Kayreuth was smiling as Nuzikoff shrugged his shoulders again. “What do you mean, you’ve ‘heard’? Besides, I never have private discussions. I hate listening to myself. I’m much too boring. It was too hard a night to discuss neuropharmacology the morning after. Matt, take these gentlemen over to see my secretary and have them make an appointment with me, preferably in the late afternoon, some time from now.”
General White shook his head. Black had certainly taken the wrong track. Kayreuth was enjoying himself too much. “Dr. Kayreuth, this is a serious matter. Your last NIH report contained some vague hints about empirical incapacitation that fascinated an entire building of toxicologists. We are not leaving until you tell us something more than we already know, and I suggest you talk to us. There are many scientists in the country whose federal funding is much smaller than your own.”
Nuzikoff smirked happily. Threats; they thought they were going to get away with threats. This was much better than the experiments he had planned for the morning. If he was lucky, Kayreuth might even do an impression of a fascinated building of toxicologists; his version of Kilmer’s Trees waving their arms all day was famous all over campus.
Kayreuth turned on White. “Nothing could be that serious. I hope you enjoy wasting your time gentlemen. If you know anything about Erigena, we can sit and have some coffee. How is my old friend Garulick? He’s somewhere in your building of toxicologists I presume.”
Black turned to White. Was Kayreuth a subversive? The security check they had run on him didn’t indicate any political tendency beyond an ancient and long forgotten attachment to academic Trotskyism. Was it going to turn out to be not so vestigial after all? He was probably negotiating with the Albanians right at this very moment. “Dr. Kayreuth, we have not come all this way to have coffee or to hear the latest about theology. If your student – I presume he is your student – already knows about the poison we can talk in his presence. What we have heard is that you have a means for non-lethally incapacitating large numbers of people for an indefinite period of time. If this is so, you are bound by the conditions of your grant to assist us in conducting a test of your discovery and to turn it over to us should we deem it useful. Need I remind you that if such information were to fall into the wrong hands you could become responsible for a dreadful danger to your own country and to the safety of the Free World.?”
Nuzikoff’s mouth was wide open. They really talked like that. It was hard to believe. All his life he had wondered whether comic book dialogue ever really happened and here it was. He looked at Kayreuth fondly. The professor was right. Generals could not possibly exist.
White decided to try a more conciliatory line.
[Here the fragment breaks off. Note that dollar values are in circa 1970 prices.]