One Way Trip
TIMIDLY, THE SCIENTICS APPROACHED the leadroids and said, "The prototype ship is ready. We can leave for the stars as soon as a person is selected to fly it."
The leadroids sat back in their collective chairs and smiled. Things had not gone well over the past century. Food was short, as were tempers, and crime was high, as were taxes.
The promise of unlimited visas would mollify the pipples. New worlds, new land, trade, foodstuffs. They looked down at the scientics and said, "Get us a hero to fly this ship. Make him strong and brave and handsome and young. You know what demographics we want to hook."
And so Tom Bold (original name Sydney Krevich) was chosen. Tom had a square jaw and a flat stomach, with clear eyes filled with the vision of the future, and his voice rang with the morality of his convictions. And smart? Tom was so smart he never let the leadroids know how smart he really was, so they didn't fear him.
The great day came, and to the cheers of the hopeful and anguished multitudes, Tom lifted off in the shuttle to the great ship that circled the earth.
At the portal to the Star Discovery (which is what the leadroids named the ship, even though the star it was going to had been discovered thousands of years ago), Tom paused for one last interview.
"The ship is so huge!" the commentator gushed. And so it was. Five miles long and two wide and one deep, it was the greatest human project ever made, a giant fuel tank with five big engines, and 180 cubic feet in a pimple on the top for Tom to live. "Won't it be difficult for just one man to fly?"
"The ship nearly flies itself," Tom answered, with his square chin thrust out in a friendly manner. "To go down to the planet itself, I ride in a little ship that is attached to the control cabin."
"Well, gee," the commentator said. "You think they would at least put some side view mirrors on it or something." Tom smiled at the commentator, young and strong eyes filled with visions of the future, and stomach carefully flat. Then it was time to leave.
In a fanfare of jubilant, patriotic colors, a holy man blessed the ship, even though the ship was not particularly religious, and Tom was off to conquer brave new worlds.
The scientics had explained and explained how, even though it would take 25 years for Tom to get to the star and come back, he would only be six weeks older. "Relativity," they said, and the leadroids smiled and nodded their heads wisely and said, "Ah, yes. Relativity." And so the pipples smiled and nodded their heads wisely and said, "Relativity. Of course!" But nobody really got it.
Two weeks later, his time, Tom pulled up alongside the planet. (He actually just dropped in to orbit around the planet, but he thought the phrase looked better in his personal diary, which would net him millions upon his return). The planet lay below (actually above) him, fresh and verdant and unspoiled (or at least, not visibly poisonous from 250 miles up).
Tom landed, and found that all the dreams of humanity had come true. The air was perfect, the gravity just right, the animals edible. Fresh water gushed and gurgled copiously past vivid and lush plants, and past Tom's square chin to his flat stomach, tasting sweet and pure. Tom grinned at the majestic mountains and sylvan plains, and knew it would take at least 150 years for the pipples and scientics and leadroids to totally fuck this place up. By which time, Tom would have been rich, and then dead, hopefully in that order.
After two weeks of testing and sampling, and drinking pure fresh water, and eating friendly, fuzzy creatures that bounded right up to him trustingly, Tom climbed aboard his shuttle and returned to the Star Discovery.
Tom fired up the mighty engines of Star Discovery, and prepared for two weeks of frantic writing in his diary and contract signing that had to be done before he landed on earth. He had just gotten to a very promising passage in his diary about making love to a beautiful native girl (he thought it might be female... beggars couldn't be choosers, and whatever it was, it didn't complain) under the moonlight, and then frowned, trying to remember if the planet had a moon or not. He glanced out the port, feeling a bit foolish as he did so. Because he was five days out, he was too far to possibly see the planet. But the planet was still there, and yes, Tom could see it had a moon.
Something was wrong. Tom should be near the speed of light, and many light-hours away by now.
He tapped at various meters, even though they were electronic and tapping them did no good, and asked the ship's computer many pointed questions, to which he received blunt answers.
Tom's chin felt flat, and his stomach felt square. He might as well rip up his diary and write a real one. He wasn't going home . . .
THE LEADROIDS, ALWAYS FEARFUL, nearly blew the ship out of the sky before they realized what it was.
"But!" they protested to the scientics, "the Star Discovery wasn't due back for another 12 years!"
"Something's wrong," the scientics guessed.
"What?" demanded the leadroids.
And so the scientics found out. They opened up Tom's cabin to an appalling smell, and after they scooped out the remains of Tom and gave him a hero's burial, they went over all the records and charts, and Tom's diary.
"Relativity," they explained to the leadroids.
"Ah, relativity!" replied the leadroids. "Now what the hell does that mean?"
And the scientics tried to explain. Time compression worked the way they thought it would. It took Tom twelve years to reach the planet, but for Tom only two weeks seemed to pass. However, you can't have two different sets of time in the same place, so whatever happened going away from earth, the opposite would happen coming back. It only took Tom two weeks to come back -- but for Tom, it was twelve years. Tom only had supplies for two months. He must have found it terribly confusing.
"Well, fix it!" grumbled the leadroids, and went back to irritably shaking the pipples for more taxes.
The scientics went back to their labs, and asked many pointed questions, and got some blunt answers. Their faces turned gray.
"We can't fix it," they told the leadroids.
"Why not?" demanded the leadroids, shaking irritably.
"Ah. Relativity." The leadroids mused over this. "Now what the hell does that mean?"
And so the scientics explained again about how you couldn't have two sets of time in the same place, and when the two objects returned together, they had to match.
"Well, so what? The pipples know it's going to be a one-way trip. It means we get the ships back sooner, too!"
The scientics, by now trembling as well as gray, explained that it didn't work that way. "Sometimes time moves slower on the ship, sometimes on the earth. Because you can say that either one is accelerating away from the other, there's even odds of it going one way or the other."
"What," purred the leadroids menacingly, "does that mean?"
"It means half the trips out will take two weeks. . . "
"Half the trips out will take twelve years!"
"Well, fix it!"
"Then we'll fix you!"
So the leadroids had all the scientics put to death, and six months later, the society collapsed. It would be another six hundred years before anyone said 'relativity' again.
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Images by Dee Dreslough.