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To Sail Beyond the Sunset

Robert A. Heinlein



  In this latest addition to one of the most prestigious bodies of literature in the field of science fiction, bestselling author and Grand Master Robert A. Heinlein has written a novel that is the culmination of his life’s work, tying together themes and characters from previous stories as no book has done before.

  On page one of To Sail Beyond the Sunset Maureen Johnson wakes up in bed with a man and a cat. The cat is Pixel, well-known to readers of the New York Times bestseller The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. The man is a stranger to her, and besides that he is dead. This, Maureen says to herself, is not a good way to start the day.

  But it is a wonderful way to start To Sail Beyond the Sunset, the autobiography of Maureen Johnson, the mother of that most infamous Heinlein character, Lazarus Long. As we would expect in a Heinlein novel, straightforward plot description barely scratches the surface. Maureen Johnson is not only Lazarus Long’s mother but also eventually his wife, and perhaps his daughter as well; the twists of time and universes are full of paradox. As we bound along through the wonderfully intricate multiverses, we are reassured that both Pixel and other favorite characters are alive and well and apt to turn up in surprising new guises.

  As a wonderful side-order to this feast, Robert Heinlein adds more about his own life than has ever been told before. Maureen Johnson is born in southern Missouri in 1882. Robert Heinlein was born in the same state in 1907. He has always woven generous amounts of himself into his characters, but here as never before we feel the warmth and strength of his own long life radiating through the irresistible red-haired Maureen. No reader of Heinlein—and of course there are millions of them—can fail to be fascinated and genuinely moved by the experience of To Sail Beyond the Sunset, as the creator gathers his characters and all their universes together in a novel that is both adventurous and life-affirming.

  ROBERT A. HEINLEIN is the author of dozens of novels, including the bestselling The Cat Who Walks Through Walls and Friday. He lives in California.


  Assignment in Eternity

  The Best of Robert A. Heinlein

  Between Planets

  The Cat Who Walks Through Walls

  Citizen of the Galaxy

  Destination Moon

  The Door into Summer

  Double Star

  Expanded Universe: More Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein

  Farmer in the Sky

  Farnham’s Freehold


  Glory Road

  The Green Hills of Earth

  Have Space Suit—Will Travel

  I Will Fear No Evil

  Job: A Comedy of Justice

  The Man Who Sold the Moon

  The Menace from Earth

  Methuselah’s Children

  The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

  The Notebooks of Lazarus Long

  The Number of the Beast

  Orphans of the Sky

  The Past Through Tomorrow: “Future History” Stories

  Podkayne of Mars

  The Puppet Masters

  Red Planet

  Revolt in 2100

  Rocket Ship Galileo

  The Rolling Stones

  Sixth Column

  Space Cadet

  The Star Beast

  Starman Jones

  Starship Troopers

  Stranger in a Strange Land

  Three by Heinlein

  Time Enough for Love

  Time for the Stars

  Tomorrow the Stars (Ed.)

  To Sail Beyond the Sunset

  Tunnel in the Sky

  The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag

  Waldo & Magic, Inc.

  The Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein


  Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

  Publishers Since 1838

  200 Madison Avenue

  New York, NY 10016

  Copyright © 1987 by Robert A.

  and Virginia Heinlein, trustees U.D.T., 6/20/83

  All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof,

  may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

  Published simultaneously in Canada by

  General Publishing Co. Limited, Toronto

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Heinlein, Robert A. (Robert Anson), date

  To sail beyond the sunset.

  I. Title.

  PS3515.E288T6 1987 813'.54 86-25449

  ISBN 0-399-13267-8

  Printed in the United States of America

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

  To little girls and butterflies and kittens.

  To Susan and Eleanor and Chris and (always) to Ginny.

  With my love,



  ONE The Committee for Aesthetic Deletions

  TWO The Garden of Eden

  THREE The Serpent in the Garden

  FOUR The Worm in the Apple

  FIVE Exit from Eden

  SIX “When Johnny Comes Marching Home—”

  SEVEN Ringing the Cash Register

  EIGHT Seacoast Bohemia

  NINE Dollars and Sense

  TEN Random Numbers

  ELEVEN A Dude in a Derby

  TWELVE “Hang the Kaiser!”

  THIRTEEN Over There!

  FOURTEEN Black Tuesday

  FIFTEEN Torrid Twenties, Threadbare Thirties

  SIXTEEN The Frantic Forties

  SEVENTEEN Starting Over

  EIGHTEEN Bachelorhood

  NINETEEN Cats and Children

  TWENTY Soothsayer

  TWENTY-ONE Serpent’s Tooth

  TWENTY-TWO The Better-Dead List

  TWENTY-THREE The Adventures of Prudence Penny

  TWENTY-FOUR Decline and Fall

  TWENTY-FIVE Rebirth in Boondock

  TWENTY-SIX Pixel to the Rescue

  TWENTY-SEVEN At the Coventry Cusp

  TWENTY-EIGHT Eternal Now

  APPENDIX People in This Memoir

  Come, my friends,

  ’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

  Push off, and sitting well in order smite

  The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

  To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

  Of all the western stars, until I die.

  TENNYSON, “Ulysses”



  The Committee for

  Aesthetic Deletions

  I woke up in bed with a man and a cat. The man was a stranger; the cat was not.

  I closed my eyes and tried to pull myself together—hook “now” to my memory of last night.

  No good. There wasn’t any “last night.” My last clear memory was of being a passenger in a Burroughs irrelevant bus, bound for New Liverpool, when there was a loud bang, my head hit the seat in front of me, then a lady handed me a baby and we started filing out the starboard emergency exit, me with a cat in one arm and a baby in the other, and I saw a man with his right arm off—

  I gulped and opened my eyes. A stranger in my bed was better than a man bleeding to death from a stump where his right forearm ought to be. Had it been a nightmare? I fervently hoped so.

  If it was not, then what had I done with that baby? And whose baby was it? Maureen, this won’t do. Mislaying a baby is inexcusable. “Pixel, have you seen a baby?” The cat stood mute and a plea of not guilty was directed by the court.

  My father once told me that I was the only one of his daughters capable of sitting down in church and finding that I had sat on a hot lemon meringue pie…anyone else would have looked. (I had looked. But my cousi
n Nelson—Oh, never mind.)

  Regardless of lemon pies, bloody stumps, or missing babies, there was still this stranger in my bed, his bony back toward me—husbandly rather than loverly. (But I did not recall marrying him.)

  I’ve shared beds with men before, and with women, and wet babies, and cats who demand most of the bed, and (once) with a barbershop quartet. But I do like to know with whom I am sleeping (just an old-fashioned girl, that’s me). So I said to the cat, “Pixel, who is he? Do we know him?”


  “Well, let’s check.” I put a hand on the man’s shoulder, intending to shake him awake and then ask where we had met—or had we?

  His shoulder was cold.

  He was quite dead.

  This is not a good way to start the day.

  I grabbed Pixel and got out of bed by instantaneous translation; Pixel protested. I said sharply, “Shut up, you! Mama has problems.” I forced a thalamic pause of at least a microsecond, maybe longer, and decided not to flee headlong outdoors, or out into the hallway, as the case might be…but to slow down and attempt to assess the situation, before screaming for help. Perhaps just as well, as I found that I was barefooted all the way up. I am not jumpy about skin but it did seem prudent to dress before reporting a corpse. Police were certain to want to question me and I have known cops who would exploit any advantage in order to throw one off balance.

  But first a look at the corpse—

  Still clutching Pixel I went around and bent over the other side of the bed. (Gulp.) No one I knew. No one I would choose to bed with, even were he in perfect health. Which he was not; that side of the bed was soggy with blood. (Two gulps and a frisson.) He had bled from his mouth—or his throat had been cut; I was not sure which and was unwilling to investigate.

  So I backed away and looked around for my clothes. I knew in my bones that this bedroom was part of a hostelry; rooms for hire do not taste like private homes. It was a luxury suite; it took me a longish time to poke through all the closets and cubbyholes and drawers and cupboards et cetera…and then to do it all over again when the first search failed to locate my clothes. The second search, even more thorough, found not a rag—neither his size nor my size, neither women’s clothes nor men’s.

  I decided willy-nilly to telephone the manager, tell him the problem, and let him call the cops—and ask him for a courtesy bathing robe or kimono or some such.

  So I looked for a telephone.

  Alexander Graham Bell had lived in vain.

  I stopped in frustration. “Name of a dog! Where have they hidden that frimping phone?”

  A bodyless voice said, “Madam, may we offer you breakfast? We are proud of our Harvest Brunch: a lavish bowl of assorted fresh fruits; a tray of cheeses; a basket of freshly baked hot breads, crisp breads, and soft breads with jams and jellies and syrups and Belgian butter. Basted baby barlops en brochette; drawn eggs Octavian; smoked savannah slinker; farkels in sweet-sour; Bavarian strudel; your choice of still and sparkling wines, skull-buster Strine beer, Mocha, Kona, Turkish, and Proxima coffees, blended or straight; all served with—”

  I repressed a gagging reflex. “I don’t want breakfast!”

  “Perhaps Madam would enjoy our Holiday Eyeopener: your choice of fruit juice, a roll hot from our oven, your choice of gourmet jams or jellies, your choice in a filling but nonfattening hot cup. Served with the latest news, or background music, or restful silence.”

  “I don’t want to eat!”

  The voice answered thoughtfully, “Madam, I am a machine programmed for our food and beverage services. May I switch you to another program? Housekeeping? Head porter? Engineering?”

  “Get me the manager!”

  There was a short delay. “Guest services! Hospitality with a smile! How may I help you?”

  “Get me the manager!”

  “Do you have a problem?”

  “You’re the problem! Are you a man, or a machine?”

  “Is that relevant? Please tell me how I can help you.”

  “If you are not the manager, you can’t. Do you run on testicles? Or electrons?”

  “Madam, I am a machine but a very flexible one. My memories include all curricula of Procrustes Institute of Hotelier Science, including all case studies updated to midnight yesterday. If you will be so good as to state your problem, I will match it at once with a precedent case and show how it was solved to the satisfaction of the guest. Please?”

  “If you don’t put me through to the manager in nothing flat, I guarantee that the manager will take an axe to your rusty gizzard and install a Burroughs-Libby analog brain in your place. Who shaved the barber? What do your case studies say about that? Moron.”

  This time I got a female voice. “Manager’s office. How may I help you?”

  “You can take this dead man out of my bed!”

  Short pause—“Housekeeping, Hester speaking. How may we help you?”

  “There’s a dead man in my bed. I don’t like it. Untidy.”

  Another pause—“Caesar Augustus Escort Service, serving all tastes. Do I understand that one of our gentleman companions died in your bed?”

  “I don’t know who he is; I just know that he’s dead. Who takes care of such things? Room service? Garbage removal? House physician? And I want the sheets changed, too.”

  This time they gave me background music while I waited…and waited—through the first two operas of the Ring Cycle and well into the third—

  “Accounting and bookkeeping, our Mister Munster speaking. That room was not rented for double occupancy. There will be an additional—”

  “Look, buster, it’s a corpse. I don’t think a corpse counts toward ‘double occupancy.’ Blood is dripping off the bed and onto your rug. If you don’t get somebody up here right away, that rug will be ruined.”

  “There will be a charge for damage to the rug. That is more than normal wear and tear.”


  “I beg pardon?”

  “I am about to set fire to the drapes.”

  “You’re wasting your time; those drapes are fireproof. But your threat has been recorded. Under the Rooming House Act, section seven dee—”

  “Get this dead man out of here!”

  “Please hold. I’ll connect you with the head porter.”

  “You do and I’ll shoot him as he comes through the door. I bite. I scratch. I’m foaming at the mouth. I haven’t had my shots.”

  “Madam, please contain yourself. We pride ourselves on—”

  “And then I’ll come down to your office and find you, Mister monster Munster, and pull you out of your chair and sit down in it myself and turn you over my knee and take your pants down and—Did I mention that I am from Hercules Gamma? Two and a half gravities surface acceleration; we eat your sort for lunch. So stay where you are; don’t make me have to hunt for you.”

  “Madam, I regret that I must tell you that you cannot sit in my chair.”

  “Want to bet?”

  “I do not have a chair; I am securely bolted to the floor. And now I must bid you good day and turn you over to our security force. You will find the additional charges on your statement of account. Enjoy your stay with us.”

  They showed up too quickly; I was still eyeing those fireproof drapes, wondering if I could do as well with them as Scarlet O’Hara had with the drapes at Tara, or if I could arrange a simple toga, like Eunice in The Last Days of Pompeii (Or was she in Quo Vadis?), when they arrived: a house doc, a house dick, and a house ape, the last with a cart. Several more oddments crowded in after them, until we had enough to choose up sides.

  I need not have worried about being naked; no one seemed to notice…which irked me. Gentlemen should at least leer. And a wolf whistle or other applause would not be out of place. Anything less makes a woman feel unsure of herself.

  (Perhaps I am too sensitive. But since my sesquicentennial I have been disposed to check the mirror each morning, wondering.)

  There was
only one woman in this mob of intruders. She looked at me and sniffed, which made me feel better.

  Then I recalled something. When I was twelve, my father told me that I was going to have lots of trouble with men. I said, “Father, you are out of your veering mind. I’m not pretty. The boys don’t even throw snowballs at me.”

  “A little respect, please. No, you aren’t pretty. It’s the way you smell, my darling daughter. You are going to have to bathe oftener…or some warm night you will wind up raped and murdered.”

  “Why, I bathe every week! You know I do.”

  “In your case, that’s not enough. Mark my words.”

  I did mark his words and learned that Father knew what he was talking about. My body odor when I’m well and happy is much like that of a cat in heat. But today I was not happy. First that dead man scared me and then those bleeping machines made me angry…which adds up to a different sort of stink. A tabby cat not in heat can walk right through a caucus of toms and they will ignore her. As I was being ignored.

  They stripped the top sheet off my erstwhile bedmate. The house physician looked over the cadaver without touching it, then looked more closely at that horrid red puddle—leaned down, sniffed it, then made my skin crawl by dipping a finger into the slop and tasting it. “Try it, Adolf. See what you think.”

  His colleague (I assumed that he was another physician) also tasted the bloody mess. “Heinz.”

  “No. Skinner’s.”

  “With all due respect, Dr. Ridpath, you have ruined your palate with that cheap gin you guzzle. Heinz. Skinner’s catsup has more salt. Which kills the delicate tomato flavor. Which you can’t taste, because of your evil habits.”

  “Ten thousand, Dr. Weisskopf? Even money.”

  “You’re on. What do you place as the cause of death, sir?”

  “Don’t try to trap me, Doctor. ‘Cause of death’ is your job.”

  “His heart stopped.”

  “Brilliant, Doctor, brilliant! But why did it stop?”

  “In the case of Judge Hardacres for some years the question has been: What keeps him alive? Before I express an opinion I want to place him on a slab and slice him up. I may have been hasty; he may turn out not to have had a heart.”

  “Are you going to cut him up to learn something, or to make certain he stays dead?”