Professor Gray sat at his oak desk and fiddled with a pencil. Ideas were swirling in his head, but he could not connect the dots. He was held in high regard by the college and had a full professorship. He taught three classes filled with students who he felt rarely understood his theories, but the pay was grand.
He was proud of his wall behind him with all the awards and letters of acknowledgement of his theories and research. He was the man who came up with the propulsion concept now being integrated into the Mars Project. He tried to explain this to his students but most barely grasped the fundamentals and were totally lost in space when he delved deeper.
He felt his heart flutter. It did that on occasion. Seven months after the triple bypass and he could still feel the scar against his shirt. The Gray Theory gave him prominence and quite a few negatives. The time and effort caused him great mental pressure and resulted him in gaining to much weight, too much tension and the result a TIA stroke. That put him in the hospital and before he knew what was happening doctors were gutting him like a fish and fixing his heart problem.
His wife of forty years nursed him through this troubling time. But she then contracted cancer and now he was alone. Alone he came back to the campus and assumed light duties. Three classes and quite often he let his subordinates handle the load. But he still had the Gray Theory to his credit and he had paid the dues.
Since the attack and the loss of his wife he had become bitter. Add that to his stubborn nature, and arrogance shot to the forefront.
He was on the top of the charts in recognition and possibility in line for a Nobel Price. But he felt empty inside. There was a lack of wanting to go further into the theories of physics and he felt himself slipping into a type of depression that he could not name.
He went to class and gave his lecture. The bright eyes of his students had a gaze to them of adulteration and a lack of understanding of what he was saying.
Then he went back to his office. There on his desk was an envelope. No return address, just an envelope with his name on it. It was typed. He opened it and found inside three pages of physics. He looked it over. His head clouded because there in front of him was a repudiation of his theory and in its place a new theory of propulsion. And that theory was right and disproved his theory.
A Nobel prize was the furthest thing from his mind. Who wrote this? Should he tell the world and discredit himself? He churned in his mind the possible person or persons who could have put this envelope on his desk.
He slowly concluded that it must have been a student. How outrageous. What should he do about it?
The next day in front of the class he demanded to know who wrote the material he found in the envelope. He disavowed himself from his theory and threw himself on the sword acknowledging that the information in the envelope was correct and he was wrong. He stated to his students that he would be in his office from four to eight that afternoon to evening and he asked the person responsible to come forward.
He sat at his desk waiting. Hours passed and the only person who came into his office was the janitor who emptied his waste paper baskets. Old Joe had been at the college for many years. A quiet man who bothered no one.
“Another few days to New Years,” Old Joe said as he swept the floor.
“Another year going into the past,” Professor Gray said and realized that was the longest conversation he ever had with this man. He always kept to himself, but he realized he treated Old Joe like an inferior lab rat. Just around to do the cleaning and not born with intellect.
“I heard you were going to retire soon.”
“Maybe this next year, maybe to Maine. We will see.”
“I figured you would go to Houston and work on the Mars Probe.”
Professor Gray wondered how a janitor would think of that. “I will watch the Mars explorer from afar.”
“But it is going up on your propulsion plans”
“No, something came up which is better. Some unknown came up with a different idea. I asked that person to come up here and talk with me, but I guess that for whatever reason they decline to show up. You would think that they would want the recognition and honors that would be bestowed on them.”
And with that the janitor, now finished, took his leave.
The Professor waited in his office and did not notice the janitor as he went to his car. The janitor passed a large dumpster and stopped. He took out an envelope and tore it into many pieces. Recognition he thought. He remembered the Professor. The theories that he worked on had caused his heart problems and resulted in a lonely man. He already was a lonely man and there was nothing to be gained by the contents of the envelope. There laying in the container was a note stating he was the one who developed the new theory but there was no one who would read it. No recognition and no pressure and that was okay with him.