Here is one for the older readers. I read this short story in an anthology, back in the '70s or early 80s.

A spaceship is approaching planet Earth at light speed, or maybe just really really fast, so humanity sends a ship to investigate. When they board, they find no-one on board, so they start looking round to see what's happening. The investigator finds a piece of paper on a desk with a few words on it. I can't remember what it said, but when he later goes back, he sees that there are a few more letters added to the sentence.

Because the ship is going so fast, time is slower on the ship, so the person writing is doing the writing at their normal speed, and it just appears slow to the normal-paced investigator.

I can't remember anything else, but the whole anthology was excellent but I left it on the bus.

1 Answer 1


This is probably "Rogue Ship" (1950) by A.E. van Vogt.

Averill Hewitt discovers that the sun will become variable and destroy life on Earth, and in 2072 builds a ship to send colonists to Alpha Centauri to save humanity.

The story opens six years later as the ship, Hope of Man, is sighted approaching Earth when it should be nearly at Alpha Centauri. No communication is made with the ship, and its physical properties are greatly changed - the best drill in the world can't penetrate the hull, the ship itself plows several hundred kilometres through the Earth completely undamaged and unslowed, and the air pressure inside is measured at 973 bar.

Inside the ship, things are greatly distorted (though the ship appears normal from the outside). Light is strange and dimensions are compressed or expanded; all the people are strangely flattened in the direction of flight, though the factor doesn't match the expected Lorentz contraction. (All the expected crew and passengers are present, they simply appear frozen.) The captain is found at his desk in the middle of writing an entry in the ship's logbook.

It becomes clear that the ship is experiencing a time ratio of 973:1 relative to Earth, travelling at a rate of over 177,000 miles per second, while nevertheless appearing at a relatively sedate 1,000 miles/hour in the solar system.

Hewitt goes aboard Hope of Man to pass instructions to the captain and scientist in charge, to get them out of the strange situation they are in:

...without further incident he delivered one copy of the letter to Grayson and another to Tellier. He was greatly stimulated to notice that Grayson had finished writing the word "happened" during his absence. He could see no change, however, in the position of Tellier.

The story was first published in Super Science Stories, March 1950 and it can be read at the Internet Archive. If you read it in an anthology in the 1970s it was probably Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1974), ed. Damon Knight.

  • If this is confirmed (although that is unlikely), this is a duplicate of my self answer here: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/162074/…
    – Buzz
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 21:23
  • I think this is it.... thank-you so much, a 40-year-old riddle solved
    – GibboP
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 20:11
  • @Buzz Note that question asks about the novel, and none of the details in that question are present in the short story this question is about.
    – DavidW
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 20:21
  • @GibboP If you confirm this is correct you can accept this answer using the checkmark under the voting arrows.
    – DavidW
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 20:22

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