I am a postdoc, and some time ago a professor in my department introduced me to her research assistant to work together on something related to their project I was not part of. I was interested because it had high chances to result in a paper and I wanted to work a bit on something different.
The researcher is not pursuing a degree and doesn't really need to write papers, but he was interested in writing one, mostly to build up his publication list in case he decides to apply for graduate positions in future. So we wrote a paper in which he was the lead author (he did most of the work and the writing), and we submitted it to a journal, together with his professor. The collaboration was pleasant, and there were no issues at all. After we submitted the paper I went back to my project and we didn't communicate.
Only when I contacted him after a few months to ask about the status of the paper he said that the reports arrived some time ago. Not only he did not inform me about it, he was also reluctant to forward them to me, and did so after a few reminders. The outcome was major revision, and the reviews were not bad at all. But because he was inexperienced with academia he probably misinterpreted them as terrible and seemed embarrassed (I think this may also be a cultural issue as he is from Asia and might be concerned about saving face). After I explained that this is a positive outcome, a great start for his first paper submission, and that I had worse reviews on papers that ended up being accepted after one or two undemanding revisions, he seemed fine with working on the revision.
In the meantime, the researcher moved to another department at the same university, working with another professor and on a different project.
After a few months I sent an email to him to ask about the progress and offered help. I haven't received a response.
Then I bumped into him in the campus and he said that the deadline to revise the paper has passed so he gave up from it. Now... I totally understand that his job is not writing papers, I am aware that he is not paid anymore to work on that project and I respect that he maybe lost interest in the paper. To avoid having our work unpublished, I told him that I will work on the revision, and alternatively if it does not go well take care of submitting it to another journal. I made it clear that he will still be the lead author and that his further work will be minimum if any, but I only received an indifferent reaction.
I went to talk to his former professor who agreed that we should try to get that paper published and that it would be silly to just give up from it, but that's all. She is tenured and doesn't seem to care about publishing papers, and also doesn't seem to have contact and authority over him anymore (which is expected given the end of the contract and his transfer to another professor).
Seeing that the only solution to get that paper published is that I work on the revision or submit it elsewhere, I sent another email to the research assistant making it again clear that no work is required from him, I just need him to send me the manuscript files so I can work on them, and that he will still be the lead author and he will get to check the paper before submission. I was again ignored.
This puts me in a difficult situation: I invested time in this paper that has pretty good chances to get published after minimum additional work, and I feel bad for just leaving it. I am not the lead author so I cannot make decisions about it. I am also the only co-author who seems to care, and I feel I have some rights about my work. I understand that some collaborations don't end up with anything and that sometimes we should just let it go and accept the lost time, but this is far from it: the collaboration resulted in a solid manuscript that will almost surely get accepted in a good journal after a slight revision.
Is there any way to salvage this situation?
It's not possible to take my part out and submit it somewhere as a separate paper. While all my communication has been polite and reasonable, it was futile.
I cannot think of a reason why the researcher would just give up now that there is no work required from him. In absence of a better explanation, I am also starting to think that in the meantime the paper was submitted elsewhere without my name on it.