Time for the Stars
by Robert A. Heinlein
You’d think if you were among the few surviving heroes whose efforts led to almost-unimaginable benefits for humanity that you might get a little respect once you made it back home. Maybe that’s not what young Tom Bartlett expected when he signed up for a galaxy-wide survey of habitable planets, knowing that even if he returned, everyone he knew on Earth would probably be long dead. Maybe he didn’t think that far ahead. He was, after all, still a teenager. But even in his wildest dreams, he couldn’t have expected what he found when he returned from the near light-speed expedition chronicled in Robert Heinlein’s 1956 Time for the Stars.
Tom and his identical twin brother, Pat, were among the mindreading pairs chosen by the nonprofit, nongovernmental Long Range Foundation for one of its very longest research projects. One expected to last, as Tom and Pat told their mother at the beginning, more than a century. Their mother understandably fainted at the news.
Not that she expected to lose both of her boys. One twin (Pat as it turned out), would stay on Earth. The other twin, Tom, would take flight on the nuclear-powered “torchship” Lewis and Clark, whose speed would approach that of light. According to the theory of relativity, as the speed of the ship increased, those on board would experience a slowed down version of time relative to observers back on Earth.
Except that those observers would include several telepathically-linked partners. What the foundation hopes to find is that the telepath pairs will be able to remain in simultaneous communication with each other despite the increasing distance between them and despite the difference in their experience of time.
What could that mean for Tom and Pat (as well as the other telepaths)? A proof that telepathic communication may be the only thing in the universe that can travel faster than the speed of light.
“Telepathy,” the project’s head psychologist informs them, “is faster than the speed of light. . .”
And she knows this “. . . because we measured it. . . we sent this one twin out to Ganymede – such an awfully long way. Then we used simultaneous radio-telephone and telepathy messages, with the twin on Ganymede talking by radio while he was talking directly – telepathically, I mean – to his twin back in Buenos Aires. The telepathic message always beat the radio message. . .”
Even to the young Bartlett twins, this sounds like hocus-pocus. But adventure beckons! And the money is great – with Tom’s salary being banked by his Earth-bound family.
Although the Lewis and Clark has two clocks, one showing ship time, the other Earth time, it isn’t until the clocks show a week’s lag between the twins’ birthday on Earth (as reported telepathically by Pat) and the day Tom’s shipmates present him with a birthday cake that the time difference begins to feel real. Then a year on the ship translates into 12 years on Earth and time stretches ever further. On Earth, Pat marries, has children, and forms “Bartlett Brothers, Inc.,” to receive Tom’s accruing salary. An aging Pat passes the telepathic link to his daughter (Tom’s niece), then to a granddaughter, then a great-granddaughter, until more than 60 years have passed on Earth, but only four aboard the Lewis and Clark, now suddenly recalled to Earth, its mission – irrelevant.
“Don’t you see, Tommie?” says the ship’s mathematician. “You (telepaths) proved that ‘simultaneity’ was an admissible concept. . . and the inevitable logical consequence was that time and space do not exist.”
Tom’s head begins to ache. “Then what is that we seem to be having breakfast in?” he asks. “Just a mathematical abstraction, dear," she answers. "Nothing more.”
And the torchship and its crew pass into irrelevance, virtually ignored as they return to an Earth that has changed beyond their imaginings.
“We were going to be a short paragraph in history and a footnote in science books,” Tom muses. “I decided that even a footnote averaged well and forgot it.”
Tom can afford to forget fame. Physically barely in his 20’s, he finds himself fabulously wealthy from his accrued salary, and more than a match psychologically for the extremely aged twin who had bullied him all his life. And confronted by his current telepathic partner, Pat’s beautiful young great-great-granddaughter who doesn’t find Tom at all uncle-like. Life and love, Tom decides, are the best revenge.
(Next week, Adventure classics concludes a July of science fiction adventures with Gregory Benson’s Heinlein-influenced Tides of Light.)