Young academic Mark Studdock has accepted an appointment in sociology at Bracton College in the University of Edgestow, just when it is engaged in selling off a portion of its land, Bragdon Wood, to a new scientific Institute the NICE (National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments) whose personnel already includes staff of the college. The sale is agreed to but the college Warden wants to back out of the deal. The sub-warden, Curry, Mark Studdock and some NICE insiders have a dinner together to decide how to keep the deal alive. Curry is proud of having brought the NICE to Edgestow believing it to mark the beginning of the "really scientific era". There is discussion of Mark being employed as a sociologist at the NICE, initiated by Lord Feverstone.