Time for the Stars
By Robert A. Heinlein
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 1983 Robert A. Heinlein
All rights reserved.
The Long Range Foundation
According to their biographies, Destiny's favored children usually had their lives planned out from scratch. Napoleon was figuring on how to rule France when he was a barefoot boy in Corsica, Alexander the Great much the same, and Einstein was muttering equations in his cradle.
Maybe so. Me, I just muddled along.
In an old book that belonged to my great grandfather Lucas I once saw a cartoon of a man in evening clothes, going over a ski jump. With an expression of shocked unbelief he is saying: "How did I get up here?"
I know how he felt. How did I get 'way up here?
I was not even planned on. The untaxed quota for our family was three children, then my brother Pat and I came along in one giant economy package. We were a surprise to everyone, especially to my parents, my three sisters, and the tax adjusters. I don't recall being surprised myself but my earliest recollection is a vague feeling of not being quite welcome, even though Dad and Mum, and Faith, Hope, and Charity treated us okay.
Maybe Dad did not handle the emergency right. Many families get an extra child quota on an exchange basis with another family, or something, especially when the tax-free limit has already been filled with all boys or all girls. But Dad was stubborn, maintaining that the law was unconstitutional, unjust, discriminatory, against public morals, and contrary to the will of God. He could reel off a list of important people who were youngest children of large families, from Benjamin Franklin to the first governor of Pluto, then he would demand to know where the human race would have been without them? — after which Mother would speak soothingly.
Dad was probably accurate as he was a student of almost everything, even his trade, which was micromechanics — but especially of history. He wanted to name us for his two heroes in American history, whereas Mother wanted to name us for her favorite artists. This is how I ended up as Thomas Paine Leonardo da Vinci Bartlett and my twin became Patrick Henry Michelangelo Bartlett. Dad called us Tom and Pat and Mother called us Leo and Michel and our sisters called us Useless and Double-Useless. Dad won by being stubborn.
Dad was stubborn. He could have paid the annual head tax on us supernumeraries, applied for a seven-person flat, and relaxed to the inevitable. Then he could have asked for reclassification. Instead he claimed exemption for us twins each year, always ended by paying our head tax with his check stamped "Paid under Protest!" and we seven lived in a five-person flat. When Pat and I were little we slept in homemade cribs in the bathroom which could not have been convenient for anybody, then when we were bigger we slept on the living-room couch, which was inconvenient for everybody, especially our sisters, who found it cramping to their social life.
Dad could have solved all this by putting in for family emigration to Mars or Venus, or the Jovian moons, and he used to bring up the subject. But this was the one thing that would make Mum more stubborn than he was. I don't know which part of making the High Jump scared her, because she would just settle her mouth and not answer. Dad would point out that big families got preferred treatment for emigration and that the head tax was earmarked to subsidize colonies off Earth and why shouldn't we benefit by the money we were being robbed of? To say nothing of letting our children grow up with freedom and elbow room, out where there wasn't a bureaucrat standing behind every productive worker dreaming up more rules and restrictions? Answer me that?
Mother never answered and we never emigrated.
We were always short of money. Two extra mouths, extra taxes, and no family assistance for the two extras make the stabilized family income law as poor a fit as the clothes Mum cut down for us from Dad's old ones. It was darn' seldom that we could afford to dial for dinner like other people and Dad even used to bring home any of his lunch that he didn't eat. Mum went back to work as soon as we twins were in kindergarten, but the only household robot we had was an obsolete model "Morris Garage" Mother's Helper which was always burning out valves and took almost as long to program as the job would have taken. Pat and I got acquainted with dish water and detergents — at least I did; Pat usually insisted on doing the sterilizing or had a sore thumb or something.
Dad used to talk about the intangible benefits of being poor-learning to stand on your own feet, building character, and all that By the time I was old enough to understand I was old enough to wish they weren't so intangible, but, thinking back, maybe he had a point. We did have fun. Pat and I raised hamsters in the service unit and Mum never objected. When we turned the bath into a chem lab the girls did make unfriendly comments but when Dad put his foot down, they sweet-talked him into picking it up again and after that they hung their laundry somewhere else, and later Mum stood between us and the house manager when we poured acid down the drain and did the plumbing no good.
The only time I can remember when Mum put her foot down was when her brother, Uncle Steve, came back from Mars and gave us some canal worms which we planned to raise and sell at a profit. But when Dad stepped on one in the shower (we had not discussed our plans with him) she made us give them to the zoo, except the one Dad had stepped on, which was useless. Shortly after that we ran away from home to join the High Marines — Uncle Steve was a ballistics sergeant — and when lying about our age did not work and they fetched us back, Mum not only did not scold us but had fed our snakes and our silkworms while we were gone.
Oh, I guess we were happy. It is hard to tell at the time. Pat and I were very close and did everything together but I want to get one thing straight: being a twin is not the Damon-and-Pythias dream that throb writers would have you think. It makes you close to another person to be born with him, share a room with him, eat with him, play with him, work with him, and hardly ever do anything without him as far back as you can remember, and farther according to witnesses. It makes you close; it makes you almost indispensable to each other — but it does not necessarily make you love him.
I want to get this straight because there has been a lot of nonsense talked about it since twins got to be suddenly important. I'm me; I'm not my brother Pat. I could always tell us apart, even if other people couldn't. He is the right-handed one; I'm the left-handed one. And from my point of view I'm the one who almost always got the small piece of cake.
I can remember times when he got both pieces through a fast shuffle. I'm not speaking in general; I'm thinking of a certain white cake with chocolate icing and how he confused things so that he got my piece, too, Mum and Dad thinking he was both of us, despite my protests. Dessert can be the high point of the day when you are eight, which was what we were then.
I am not complaining about these things ... even though I feel a dull lump of anger even now, after all the years and miles, at the recollection of being punished because Dad and Mum thought I was the one who was trying to wangle two desserts. But I'm just trying to tell the truth. Doctor Devereaux said to write it all down and where I have to start is how it feels to be a twin. You aren't a twin, are you? Maybe you are but the chances are forty-four to one that you aren't — not even a fraternal, whereas Pat and I are identicals which is four times as unlikely.
They say that one twin is always retarded — I don't think so. Pat and I were always as near alike as two shoes of a pair. The few times we showed any difference I was a quarter inch taller or a pound heavier, then we would even out. We got equally good marks in school; we cut our teeth together. What he did have was more grab than I had, something the psychologists call "pecking order." But it was so subtle you could not define it and other people could not see it. So far as I know, it started from nothing and grew into a pattern that neither of us could break even if we wanted to.
Maybe if the nurse had picked me up first when we were born I would have been the one who got the bigger piece of cake. Or maybe she did — I don't know how it started.
But don't think that being a twin is all bad even if you are on the short end; it is mostly good. You go into a crowd of strangers and you are scared and shy — and there is your twin a couple of feet away and you aren't alone any more. Or somebody punches you in the mouth and while you are groggy your twin has punched him and the fight goes your way. You flunk a quiz and your twin has flunked just as badly and you aren't alone.
But do not think that being twins is like having a very close and loyal friend. It isn't like that at all and it is a great deal closer.
Pat and I had our first contact with the Long Range Foundation when this Mr. Geeking showed up at our home. I did not warm to him. Dad didn't like him either and wanted to hustle him out, but he was already seated with coffee at his elbow for Mother's notions of hospitality were firm.
So this Geeking item was allowed to state his business. He was, he said, a field representative of "Genetics Investigations."
"What's that?" Dad said sharply.
"'Genetics Investigations' is a scientific agency, Mr. Bartlett. This present project is one of gathering data concerning twins. It is in the public interest and we hope that you will cooperate."
Dad took a deep breath and hauled out the imaginary soapbox he always had ready. "More government meddling! I'm a decent citizen; I pay my bills and support my family. My boys are just like other boys and I'm sick and tired of the government's attitude about them. I'm not going to have them poked and prodded and investigated to satisfy some bureaucrat. All we ask is to be left alone — and that the government admit the obvious fact that my boys have as much right to breathe air and occupy space as anyone else!"
Dad wasn't stupid; it was just that he had a reaction pattern where Pat and I were concerned as automatic as the snarl of a dog who has been kicked too often. Mr. Geeking tried to soothe him but Dad can't be interrupted when he has started that tape. "You tell the Department of Population Control that I'm not having their 'genetics investigations.' What do they want to find out? How to keep people from having twins, probably. What's wrong with twins? Where would Rome have been without Romulus and Remus? — answer me that! Mister, do you know how many —"
"Please, Mr. Bartlett, I'm not from the government."
"Eh? Well, why didn't you say so? Who are you from?"
"Genetics Investigations is an agency of the Long Range Foundation." I felt Pat's sudden interest. Everybody has heard of the Long Range Foundation, but it happened that Pat and I had just done a term paper on non-profit corporations and had used the Long Range Foundation as a type example.
We got interested in the purposes of the Long Range Foundation. Its coat of arms reads: "Bread Cast Upon the Waters," and its charter is headed: "Dedicated to the Welfare of Our Descendants." The charter goes on with a lot of lawyers' fog but the way the directors have interpreted it has been to spend money only on things that no government and no other corporation would touch. It wasn't enough for a proposed project to be interesting to science or socially desirable; it also had to be so horribly expensive that no one else would touch it and the prospective results had to lie so far in the future that it could not be justified to taxpayers or shareholders. To make the LRF directors light up with enthusiasm you had to suggest something that cost a billion or more and probably wouldn't show results for ten generations, if ever ... something like how to control the weather (they're working on that) or where does your lap go when you stand up.
The funny thing is that bread cast upon waters does come back seven hundred fold; the most preposterous projects made the LRF embarrassing amounts of money — "embarrassing" to a non-profit corporation that is. Take space travel: it seemed tailor-made, back a couple of hundred years ago, for LRF, since it was fantastically expensive and offered no probable results comparable with the investment. There was a time when governments did some work on it for military reasons, but the Concord of Bayreuth in 1980 put a stop even to that.
So the Long Range Foundation stepped in and happily began wasting money. It came at a time when the corporation unfortunately had made a few billions on the Thompson mass-converter when they had expected to spend at least a century on pure research; since they could not declare a dividend (no stockholders), they had to get rid of the money somehow and space travel looked like a rat hole to pour it down.
Even the kids know what happened to that: Ortega's torch made space travel inside the solar system cheap, fast, and easy, and the one-way energy screen made colonization practical and profitable; the LRF could not unload fast enough to keep from making lots more money.
I did not think all this that evening; LRF was just something that Pat and I happened to know more about than most high school seniors ... more than Dad knew, apparently, for he snorted and answered, "The Long Range Foundation, eh? I'd almost rather you were from the government. If boondoggles like that were properly taxed, the government wouldn't be squeezing head taxes out of its citizens."
This was not a fair statement, not a "flat-curve relationship" as they call it in Beginning Mathematical Empiricism. Mr. McKeefe had told us to estimate the influence, if any, of LRF on the technology "yeast-form" growth curve; either I should have flunked the course or LRF had kept the curve from leveling off early in the 21st century — I mean to say, the "cultural inheritance," the accumulation of knowledge and wealth that keeps us from being savages, had increased greatly as a result of the tax-free status of such non-profit research corporations. I didn't dream up that opinion; there are figures to prove it. What would have happened if the tribal elders had forced Ugh to hunt with the rest of the tribe instead of staying home and whittling out the first wheel while the idea was bright in his mind?
Mr. Geeking answered, "I can't debate the merits of such matters, Mr. Bartlett. I'm merely an employee."
"And I'm paying your salary. Indirectly and unwillingly, but paying it nevertheless."
I wanted to get into the argument but I could feel Pat holding back. It did not matter; Mr. Geeking shrugged and said, "If so, I thank you. But all I came here for was to ask your twin boys to take a few tests and answer some questions. The tests are harmless and the results will be kept confidential."
"What are you trying to find out?"
I think Mr. Geeking was telling the truth when he answered, "I don't know. I'm merely a field agent; I'm not in charge of the project."
Pat cut in. "I don't see why not, Dad. Do you have the tests in your brief case, Mr. Geeking?"
"Now, Patrick —"
"It's all right, Dad. Let's see the tests, Mr. Geeking."
"Uh, that's not what we had in mind. The Project has set up local offices in the TransLunar Building. The tests take about half a day."
"All the way downtown, huh, and a half day's time ... what do you pay?"
"Eh? The subjects are asked to contribute their time in the interests of science."
Pat shook his head. "Sorry, Mr. Geeking. This is exam week ... and my brother and I have part-time school jobs, too."
I kept quiet. Our exams were over, except Analysis of History, which is a snap course involving no math but statistics and pseudospatial calculus, and the school chem lab we worked in was closed for examinations. I was sure Dad did not know these things, or he would have butted in; Dad can shift from prejudice to being a Roman judge at the drop of a hint.
Pat stood up, so I stood up. Mr. Geeking sat tight. "Arrangements can be made," he said evenly.
Pat stuck him as much as we made for a month of washing bottles in the lab, just for one afternoon's work — then upped the ante when it was made clear that we would be obliged to take the tests together (as if we would have done it any other way!). Mr. Geeking paid without a quiver, in cash, in advance.
The Natural Logarithm of Two
I never in my life saw so many twins as were waiting on the fortieth floor of the TransLunar Building the following Wednesday afternoon. I don't like to be around twins, they make me think I'm seeing double. Don't tell me I'm inconsistent; I never saw the twins I am part of — I just saw Pat.
Pat felt the same way; we had never been chummy with other twins. He looked around and whistled. "Tom, did you ever see such a mess of spare parts?" (Continues...)
Excerpted from Time for the Stars by Robert A. Heinlein. Copyright © 1983 Robert A. Heinlein. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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