From a letter sent by Robert Snow Barksdale to his close friend, Professor Ellison Hardwicke of the University of Cambridge, August 1873:
I tell you, Hardwicke, that this misbegotten American bastard lied to my face, proposing in the most genial and sober terms that we agree to confer again in a few months, before either of us report publicly about our parallel discoveries of the astronomical object in question. Then it was barely twelve weeks before he published his findings and crowed about them in the press, not mentioning me at all. I’m sure he feels very clever about the whole thing. And without a doubt the man possesses a low, animal cunning that would be almost admirable if it were not put to such vile and vicious ends. But my opinion of his scientific intellect has fallen as low as I would like to see his body: six feet below the surface of the Earth.
Would that we lived a generation ago, when I could have called him out and shot him on the green before the very observatory where his perfidy was enacted. Sadly I must instead pursue justice in the realm of scholarly reputation and scientific vindication. But Zachariah Timothy Short is a scoundrel and a fraud, and I’ll see him destroyed, I promise you.
From “Astronomers Differ Sharply on Meaning of Approaching Body”, an article by Science Editor Paul Green, The New York Times, September 12, 1875:
Two prominent astronomers, one British and one American, present dramatically different theories on the nature of an astronomical object that they both discovered at approximately the same time.
Professor Robert Snow Barksdale, currently of The Manchester University Institute of Science and Technology, identified the object using the twenty-six-inch reflector telescope at the Hogarth Observatory of the University of Virginia two weeks before Professor Zachariah Short of Yale University independently spotted the same dot using the same telescope, but because Short published his discovery first, it initially became known, rather clumsily, as “The Short Body.”
The two scientists are completely at odds regarding the nature of the object and its trajectory. Prof. Barksdale has said in the Readings of the Royal Astronomical Society that it is “a rogue planet” with an eccentric orbit that would bring it into proximity to Earth every 471 years. He has named it “Nomad,” and calculates that it will come close to Earth in approximately fifteen years. Professor Z.T. Short, on the other hand, publishing in the journal New Astronomical Science, states that the object is “an astoundingly huge asteroidal mass,” and judges that it will impact the Earth in just over thirteen years, wreaking “indescribable devastation.”
Academic opinion has not fixed itself securely to either side of this debate. Barksdale has been mildly scolded by one senior colleague, who commented that “such a body would have produced perturbations of other planets’ motions sufficient to have awakened Newton himself from a nice, afternoon nap.” As for Professor Short’s alarming predictions, A.J. Millner of Princeton has suggested that “they reflect his youthful excitability rather than any real risk to our beloved globe.”
Other scholars continue to review and assess the findings of both Barksdale and Short, but certainly it is time that will tell which of them is in the right. Professor Millner put into succinct form the opinion of many in the scientific community: “let’s hope that Barksdale is closer to the mark, as I do not wish to be incinerated, pulverized, or otherwise exterminated.”
From a letter sent by Robert Snow Barksdale to his friend, Professor Ellison Hardwicke, August 1876:
Old friend, I assure you that I am driven not merely by lingering personal animosity, although there is abundant cause, as you know. The more important issue is this: I feel a responsibility, as a scientist and a gentleman, to suppress the harmful - yes, I say harmful - effects of the kind of pseudo-science that Short propounds. Just as an academic journal is protected from egregious error or absurdity by a process of review by scholarly peers, so the field of astronomy as a whole must be safeguarded by those of us solidly placed within it. We must prevent our entire science from being turned into nothing but fodder for mockery. And so I am resolved, within the boundaries of gentlemanly behaviour, that in service of the task of putting down this upstart - and those like him - I will use any resources that may be mine to command.
From a letter sent by Zachariah Timothy Short to his brother William Abraham Short, January 1877:
Brother, you will not fail to know who I am talking about when I say this: HE has stepped in my way again. As I told you before, I have extremely important measurements to make this year, but I have been denied sufficient observatory time here in New Haven, at the Hogarth in Virginia, and at the Wallis at Princeton. These difficulties seemed at first to be the typical pains caused by the grinding of the wheels of institutional bureaucracies, but I have discovered the demonic hand of Barksdale at work again.
By hurling around his obscenely large sacks of money he has set me back by many months. He made large monetary contributions for improvements to all three of those observatories, and to at least two others, arranging through underhanded deals to keep me out. I hope to get some time at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Foggy Bottom in May, but even that isn’t certain. I do not exaggerate when I say that I despise that man more than I have ever despised anyone or anything. He can take his “Nomad” and insert it into his body through the rear door, then waddle straight to Hell, as far as I am concerned.
From a letter from Zachariah Timothy Short to his brother William, January 1879:
If you can believe it, Bill, here is what I have just learned from a colleague: Barksdale is apparently under consideration for the most prestigious position in astronomy that Oxford has to offer. Do they not realize what an ignorant buffoon that man is? Nor perceive his low and vindictive character? It will be a tragedy for the field if they install him in such a seat.
I have half a mind to write about this to an acquaintance of mine who will certainly be on the committee making the decision. I had several good conversations with him when I was last in England: Sir James Fitzwilliam Blanding. He’s a more or less senile gent, but he shares my love of dogs, so we spent several pleasant hours talking about stars and terriers. He seems to have been a sensible scholar in his day, but now is generally muddled and easily confused. It’s possible that his confusion may lead him to support the hiring of that jackass Barksdale.
I wonder if it could go another way. It seems conceivable that old Blanding’s confusion might be channeled in a more positive direction. More positive for the field of astronomy, I mean. A crazy idea, but it might not hurt to send a letter.
From an internal memorandum of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Oxford, June 1879:
Since the charges of plagiarism leveled by Sir James Fitzwilliam Blanding have neither been proven nor disproven, it has been decided to withdraw the planned offer to Robert Snow Barksdale of the Hiss Professorship in Astronomical Sciences and the Directorship of the Radcliffe Observatory. Dr. Barksdale, of course, insists that the accusation is baseless, and claims that Sir James has been “practiced upon and confused” by Dr. Z. T. Short. Barksdale insists that it is merely part of an effort by “that slimy American charlatan” to damage his career, but these counter-allegations have not been supported by our investigation. The Committee members are agreed that it would be imprudent to invite scandal by making any offer to Dr. Barksdale at this time.
From “Passing Ship or Freight Train: Our Future Is In the Stars”, an article in New York Herald, August 3, 1880:
British astronomer R.S. Barksdale says that our soon-to-be neighbor planet Nomad is larger than Mars, but the American scientist Z.T. Short disagrees.
“The only thing in this debate that’s bigger than Mars is Barksdale’s ego,” says Short. “The asteroid is no larger than Connecticut”
Short’s calculations may make this rock smaller, but his view puts a big bullseye on planet Earth. “It will destroy vast areas on impact, and throw the planet out of its stable orbit, severely disrupting weather patterns,” he enthusiastically informed the Herald.
From a letter by Robert Snow Barksdale to Professor Ellison Hardwicke, August 14, 1880:
Old friend I am a volcanic tower of rage just at this moment. You can imagine my indignation well enough when you learn what is happening in America. That Zachariah Short, the Jack the Ripper of the scientific world, is set to publish his preposterous notions in an extremely reputable astronomical journal. Apparently the stamp of scientific legitimacy is soon to be applied to extended versions of his most specious arguments.
This after he schemed to fool old Sir James into scuttling my career at Oxford. Such unbelievable hubris is almost mythological in scope. If we were old Greeks I have no doubt that the gods would do something extremely dramatic and bloody to him. But alas, we are not men of antiquity, and there is no pantheon to judge him other than the editorial boards of the relevant journals. And they, it seems, have fallen under his spell.
It leads me to wonder whether there is a way that I can protect our science from his poisons. I ought to consider whether there is anyone on the editorial boards in question who owes me any favors. Or anyone who could be, let us say, induced to owe me a favor.
From a letter written by P.R. Stanton, member of the editorial board of The Astronomical Journal, Cambridge, Massachusetts, to his wife Dolly, November 1881:
Let me put your mind at rest, my dear, on the matter of Danny and his indiscretions. I will never be pleased with myself for what I had to do to achieve it, but I have ensured that our son’s dalliances with other young men at school will not become public knowledge or reach the ears of your parents. I was obliged to engineer the rejection of two significant astronomical papers by a certain Zachariah Short, in order to secure the silence of whatever person sent that English thug to threaten me last month. I hope that Professor Short can find alternate venues for publication of this work, as they are both solid pieces, but I fear that pressure may be brought to bear wherever he takes it. I have heard that his papers have already been rejected by the New England Scientific Record and by the French journal Connaissance des Temps.
From a letter sent by Z.T. Short to his friend and former mentor, Professor Kip Timmons of Harvard University, August 1882:
Professor, I still face a world of mysteriously slammed doors, and have been unable to publish either of my recent papers. I am poised to achieve the greatest success of my career through my careful analysis of the asteroid, and I cannot get a word of it into print. I have been able to present short notes at conferences, and to give a couple of lectures, so the word is getting out, but as they say: publish or perish. I have no intention of perishing, I promise you.
From a lecture given by Zachariah Timothy Short at the annual meeting of the New York Lyceum of Natural History, October, 1882:
By now all of you will have heard of the English dilettante Barksdale’s wild fantasies about his supposed “rogue planet.” He wrote recently, in an otherwise reputable journal, that using the 32-inch refractor telescope at the Hamburg Observatory he has seen what he called “linear, artificial features” on his “Nomad,” and that he believes them to be - and I’m speaking seriously here, gents - “architectural structures created by an intelligent race.” Let me pause while you laugh for a minute or two.
I worry that as age creeps up on Barksdale his mind may be going even softer than it was, and I can assure you that on this asteroid - not planet - there are no “artificial features.” I suspect any linear markings that Barksdale has observed to be scratches on the lenses of that German telescope, or perhaps even defects in his own eye. And I would grant that such occluded vision would be a very sad thing. Perhaps it would even partially excuse the wrong-headed ill-use to which he has for years put the world astronomical community.
From a letter by Zachariah Short to his friend Professor Kip Timmons of Harvard University, June 1883:
I am more and more baffled, as the years go on, at the attitude of secrecy that characterizes so much of the scientific world. That moron Barksdale is a prime example. He keeps his data and notes locked up somewhere, never making them available to close colleagues, let alone making them available to others through a library, observatory, or public research institute. This is especially infuriating in the light of his vicious efforts over the years to prevent me from collecting observational data of my own. Is hiding his own data not enough? Must he keep anyone else from accumulating any? I don’t want to sound like any sort of zealot, but damn it: the heavens belong to all.
Considering the roadblocks he has maliciously put in my way, in a just universe Barksdale would be compelled to give me access to his information. But he shows it to no one. And why? If his ridiculous arguments were supported by the facts, he would have no need to conceal the logs, tables, and photographic plates of his astronomical observations.
I have even, in wilder moments, thought of traveling to England, perhaps under an assumed name, to get a look at them. Maybe I could get some of his close colleagues to convince him to make them publicly accessible. Or perhaps by appealing to his personal friends or associates I could just get a peek at them. It’s worth considering, I suppose.
From a letter written by Marjorie Anne Barksdale to her sister, Regina Susan Taylor, February 1885:
My dear Regina, I must ask for a tremendous favour of you, which I know will be inconvenient for you and your family to grant. I’ll come right to it. I need to ask if I may stay with you for a few weeks, starting in the first week of March.
I know that you will be shocked by this request, and by my confirming that the reason for it is marital trouble. I am in tears as I write this. My marriage to Robert is collapsing, and it was all my doing. My shame is too intense for me to describe, Regina.
As you know, Robert’s continual travel, with such long sojourns at distant observatories and research institutions, has been a trial for me. Managing the household by myself, and doing without his company for months on end have been extremely difficult for me, as I’ve told you in the past.
Well, in an act driven as much by petty, vengeful urges as by a willful desire for attention, I have desecrated our marriage bed. Several times.
The man who became my lover arrived in town just as Robert left for his longest trip yet. He was an American writer, a bachelor leasing rooms above the Roaring Goose. We met at church, had coffee after services on several Sundays, and our friendship grew rapidly into something more profound, or so I thought.
Within a few weeks I had admitted him to our house for tea, and within another week after that I admitted him to our bed. I have no excuse, Regina, and I will suffer the consequences of my shame until the end of my days.
You see, the contemptible infidelity of which I am guilty was not the worst of it. The American - Timothy Tall, he named himself - left town after another week, having spent humid nights and long, lazy summer days in the house, even when I had to go out to the village for little pieces of household business. And while he was there at our residence, he committed crimes that truly are my own, and are unforgivable.
I wasn’t aware of what he had done until after Robert’s return last month. It turns out that the American visitor, whom Robert apparently knows in a professional capacity, stole Robert’s precious logbooks of astronomical observations - the irreplaceable product of almost twenty years’ diligent work. These books - twelve of them in all, each a hand’s breadth in thickness and the size of a divan cushion - meant almost literally everything to Robert. And I lost them. Apparently the American had them hauled from the house and shipped to who knows where.
I believe that Robert could in time forgive my carnal misdeeds, but I know that he will never be able to set aside the pain and anger in his heart over the loss of those books of raw research information.
I am undone, Regina. I hope that you will take pity on me and allow me to lodge with you for a time. If I do not take my own life first. That is how distraught I am. My entire being is steeped in the heaviest and most painful species of self-reproach. And of course I deserve these feelings and worse.
In love and shame,
From a letter by Professor Ellison Hardwicke, sent to Robert Snow Barksdale, April 1885.
Robert, I am in receipt of your letter of the sixth of March, and I hope that by dashing off this note I can persuade you to be cautious.
I understand the pain you have suffered - truly I do - but your plan to “take direct action” against Short is not sound. The American’s deeds will catch up to him, I am certain, but if you do something violent, you will end up in jail or worse. Please take time to reflect, and trust me when I say that while the world will bring justice to this bloody villain, you need not be its agent. Maintain your composure and your professional standing, and he will be found out and brought low in time.
From a letter by Zachariah Timothy Short to his brother William Abraham Short, September 1885:
Barksdale makes unjust accusations against me in every possible venue, and it is maddening to realize that this must be the reason for the continuing difficulties I face in getting my work taken seriously. The atmosphere created by such an “esteemed” figure hurling ad hominem attacks every other week is not conducive to the smooth progress of my career or my work.
Still, I am happy to report that despite the Englishman’s efforts to thwart me I have a new monograph coming into print shortly, based on some new astronomical measurement data which has come into my possession.
From an opinion piece by Robert Snow Barksdale in the Daily Telegraph, London, October 11, 1886:
Can anyone fail to see the parallel between the vile Short’s apocalyptic predictions of astronomical collision and his aggressive criminality and inborn tendency for self-destruction? It is with more pity than vitriol that I put forward the idea that the gloomy idiom within which Short conveys his scientific fraud comes directly from the darkness and corruption of his own character.
This cheap, American grifter, who can be called an astronomer only in deference to the degrees which two universities have been prevailed upon to grant him, has said that the catastrophic asteroidal impact that he fantasizes will “reduce humanity’s condition to a new Stone Age.” It is clear to me that the only “Stone Age” component to the matters at hand is Short’s own cave-man-magnitude micro-intellect. Indeed, as any who have met him can believe, his pronounced supra-orbital brow ridge, undersized brain case, and protruding, prognathic features suggest that he may literally be a kind of throwback to a pre-human biped, whose wily instincts for predation have enabled him to simulate real intelligence and civilisation thus far. It is not solely in a spirit of jest that I suggest that an enquiry into his hat size might be a fruitful endeavour for the next meeting of any scholarly society into which he may insert himself.
From a letter by Robert Snow Barksdale to his friend, Professor Ellison Hardwicke, October 14, 1886:
Old friend, I’ve said it before but I will reiterate: Zachariah Short is a criminal, and should be arrested and tried as one. His crimes are worse than the robbing of a bank or a payroll train, but he remains unpunished. He hides evidence of his crimes, and the law doesn’t recognize the seriousness of his offences in any case. He stole my life’s labours, yet if he had stolen mere money he would already have been imprisoned. Instead, he still walks free.
I wish there was a way to get the authorities to see his true character and the real nature of his actions. I may seek the advice of a rough but clever Bavarian acquaintance of mine who is, in his own way, quite familiar with the workings of the American criminal justice apparatus.
From “Astronomer Z.T. Short Sought by Police for Christmas Jewelry Theft”, article in the New York Herald, December 27, 1886:
Police Detectives are seeking the scientist Zachariah Timothy Short, formerly of Yale University, in connection with the early-morning theft of an undisclosed amount of diamonds and precious metals early Christmas morning from the jeweler William Stratton & Co. on Fifth Avenue, according to New York Police Department Chief Detective Arthur Bell.
“The store’s night watchman was seriously injured in this robbery, so we have to consider Professor Short to be armed and dangerous,” said Det. Bell. “If anyone has seen this man or has any information about his whereabouts, contact the police immediately. Don’t try to apprehend him yourself.”
A confidential police source has stated that a pocket watch engraved with Short’s own name was found at the scene.
But despite the presence of such damning evidence, Professor Short proclaims his innocence. In a letter provided directly to the Herald, he writes “It had to be that shifty German who came to my home last week.” Short continues: “I don’t care what evidence they think they have. I had nothing to do with this crime. I’m being framed.”
In the letter the scientist expresses no intention of turning himself in to the authorities.
From a letter sent by Zachariah Timothy Short to his brother William Abraham Short, January 1887:
William, this will be the last you hear from me for a while. I am on the run, living like a feral dog, and until I can exonerate myself I won’t be able to write. Please keep working with the attorneys and investigators as you have been, and if you manage to prove my innocence, publish the fact in the New York Times so that I will know.
Before I send this, let me reassure you: I will not kill Barksdale, no matter how much he deserves it. I do take some small comfort in the fact that he has not gotten anyone to publish his latest mad scribblings. His ideas’ total lack of scientific merit mean that even his wealth cannot get them into print.
From a self-published pamphlet by Robert Snow Barksdale, entitled “World-Historical Consequences of Planetary Interactions” dated February, 1887:
The means to calculate with exactitude the date of Nomad’s greatest proximity to Earth are not available, but the attached photographic print (fig. 1), showing the rogue planet’s position as it passed through the orbit of Mars, should serve as a graphic reminder to us all that our historic encounter with that roaming world is impending.
There is scientific evidence of huge, artificial structures that strongly suggest that intelligent, non-terrestrial life is present on the surface of Nomad. The precision of the constructions attests to the engineering prowess and highly-developed mental capacities of these beings, and the vast scale of the structures suggests that they command energies of a magnitude unimaginable to human science.
The question which must now weigh on the reader’s mind is this: are the Nomadites friendly? An argument can be made that any race sufficiently enlightened to create such works must be so civilized as to find conflict or conquest abhorrent. But consider the mysterious case of Mars. It is obvious to all thinking people who look at its canals that Mars was once home to a thriving and complex civilisation, but there is no indication of how that people was eradicated.
The explanation may lie in the actions of the Nomadites. In the course of Nomad’s 471-year journey around the sun, it must pass near to Mars approximately every 2,200 years. Could it be that on a previous pass, the Nomadites employed weapons that could reach through the aether from their world to its neighbor, laying waste to all life? And if this was in fact done, what is the likelihood that they will again employ their advanced arts of war to devastate the Earth, their next rival for supremacy in the Solar realm?
I pray that, much as we have advanced from a state of barbarism to the luminous reign of orderly empire, the Nomadites have advanced morally as far as they have technically, and will interact with our world only in benign ways. Let us all so pray.
From a letter by Robert Snow Barksdale to his friend, Professor Ellison Hardwicke, May, 1887:
Thank you, Hardwicke, for your enquiry about the state of my work. To be honest, more than the postponement of my next monograph, I worry each day about Short, who remains uncaptured. Rumors abound as to his whereabouts, and some even speculate that he might seek to cross the Atlantic to do me harm. Unlikely, of course, but I have taken to carrying a derringer just in case the unlikely proves, as it often does, to be fact.
From “American Science Arsonist Captured,” article in the Manchester Guardian, September 1887:
The American scientist Zachariah Timothy Short, suspect in the destruction by arson of the home, laboratory, and personal observatory of Professor Robert Snow Barksdale, formerly of The Manchester University Institute of Science and Technology, has been detained by the Greater Manchester Police, who apprehended him as he attempted to board a freight train bound for London.
Inspector Bernard Mayhew of the G.M.P. reports that Dr. Short is believed to have reached England by stowing away aboard the R.M.S. Brittania of the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. “He lived like a rat in the bilge,” explained Inspector Mayhew. “If he wasn’t already mad before, then that would have cracked him, I think.”
From a letter by Barksdale’s friend Ellison Hardwicke to his wife, Jane Hardwicke, September 1887:
My love, I look forward eagerly to your return from France. I miss your company and your countenance more than I can say. I am in an agitated state at present due to worries about Robert. You have heard, probably, about the fire at his estate. Providentially, he was in a pub in the village at the time of the disaster. But although his body was thus preserved from harm, I fear that his mind has by no means escaped injury. The losses he has suffered, whether due to ill chance or to the American he sees as his nemesis, have eroded his calm and his judgment, and he seems to have detached himself from reality to an alarming degree. He tells me daily of his coming rescue by his “Nomadite friends,” referring to the imagined denizens of the planet he discovered. I think he must be put under a doctor’s care, but I fear the effect this will have on his spirits.
From “Former Astronomer Institutionalized,” article in the Manchester Guardian, October 1887:
The acclaimed but controversial astronomer Robert Snow Barksdale, former holder of the Easton Chair in Astronomy at The Manchester University Institute of Science and Technology, has been confined to a hospital for the insane, according to Manchester municipal authorities.
“It is a sad, sorry matter,” said Mr. A.W. Lyme, deputy Mayor of Manchester, “but Professor Barksdale, having lost his family, his home, his scientific research, and much of his personal fortune, apparently could not continue in a state of healthy mental functioning.”
The eminent scientist will be under the care of hospital physicians, who reportedly intend to spare no reasonable effort toward the end of ensuring that Professor Barksdale spends his remaining days in comfort and relative peace.
Local readers will be interested to know that the American convicted of setting Barksdale’s home ablaze was held to be incompetent by the courts, and has been also remanded to the Manchester Sanitarium for the Irremediably Insane, where Professor Barksdale himself will be cared for.
From “Comet Discovered and Named,” article in the Daily Telegraph, London, March 23, 1888:
Oxford Professor Emeritus Sir James Fitzwilliam Blanding has announced his discovery of a comet which made a close pass by the Earth in December of last year. Sir James observed that previous researchers failed to identify the object as a comet “simply because its tail has been docked.” The eminent astronomer has named the comet “Helena,” after Helen, his prize-winning Corgi bitch.
By day, Daniel Coble develops Web applications for his benevolent corporate masters, and by night he commits various literary crimes, which have been recklessly abetted by publications including River Lit, Halfway Down the Stairs, and Frostfire Worlds. His eyes hold a feral gleam that betrays the fact that he has a couple of threatening novel manuscripts hidden under his coat. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.