Read an Excerpt
Time and Again
By Clifford D. Simak
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1951 Clifford D. Simak
All rights reserved.
The man came out of the twilight when the greenish yellow of the sun's last light still lingered in the west. He paused at the edge of the patio and called.
"Mr. Adams, is that you?"
The chair creaked as Christopher Adams shifted his weight, startled by the voice. Then he remembered. A new neighbor had moved in across the meadow a day or two ago. Jonathon had told him ... and Jonathon knew all the gossip within a hundred miles. Human gossip as well as android and robot gossip.
"Come on in," said Adams. "Glad you dropped around."
And he hoped his voice sounded as hearty and neighborly as he had tried to make it.
For he wasn't glad. He was a little nettled, upset by this sudden shadow that came out of the twilight and walked across the patio.
He passed a mental hand across his brow. This is my hour, he thought. The one hour I give myself. The hour that I forget ... forget the thousand problems that have to do with other stars. Forget them and turn back to the green-blackness and the hush and the subtle sunset shadow-show that belong to my own planet.
For here, on this patio, there are no mentophone reports, no robot files, no galactic co-ordination conferences ... no psychologic intrigue, no alien reaction charts. Nothing complicated or mysterious ... although I may be wrong, for there is mystery here, but a soft, sure mystery that is understood and only remains a mystery because I want it so. The mystery of the nighthawk against a darkening sky, the puzzle of the firefly along the lilac hedge.
With half his mind he knew the stranger had come across the patio and was reaching out a hand for a chair to sit in, and with the other half once again he wondered about the blackened bodies lying on the river-bank on far-off Aldebaran XII and the twisted machine that was wrapped around the tree.
Three humans had died there ... three humans and two androids, and androids were almost human. And humans must not die by violence unless it be by the violence of another human. Even then it was on the field of honor with all the formality and technicality of the code duello or in the less polished affairs of revenge or execution.
For human life was sacrosanct ... it had to be or there'd be no human life. Man was so pitifully outnumbered.
Violence or accident?
And accident was ridiculous.
There were few accidents, almost none at all. The near-perfection of mechanical performance, the almost human intelligence and reactions of machines to any known danger, long ago had cut the incidence of accident to an almost non-existent figure.
No machine would be crude enough to slam into a tree. A more subtle, less apparent danger, maybe. But never a tree.
So it must be violence.
And it could not be human violence, for human violence would have advertised the fact. Human violence had nothing to fear ... there was no recourse to law, scarcely a moral code to which a human killer would be answerable.
Three humans dead.
Three humans dead fifty light-years distant and it became a thing of great importance to a man sitting on his patio on Earth. A thing of prime importance, for no human must die by other hands than human without a terrible vengeance. Human life must not be taken without a monstrous price anywhere in the galaxy or the human race would end forever and the great galactic brotherhood of intelligence would plummet down into the darkness and the distance that had scattered it before.
Adams slumped lower in his chair, forcing himself to relax, furious at himself for thinking ... for it was his rule that in this time of twilight he thought of nothing ... or as close to nothing as his mind could come.
The stranger's voice seemed to come from far away and yet Adams knew he was sitting at his side.
"Nice evening," the stranger said.
Adams chuckled. "The evenings are always nice. The Weather boys don't let it rain until later on, when everyone's asleep."
In a thicket down the hill a thrush struck up its evensong and the liquid notes ran like a quieting hand across a drowsing world. Along the creek a frog or two were trying out their throats. Far away, in some dim other-world a whippoorwill began his chugging question. Across the meadow and up the climbing hills, the lights came on in houses here and there.
"This is the best part of the day," said Adams.
He dropped his hand into his pocket, brought out tobacco pouch and pipe.
"Smoke?" he asked.
The stranger shook his head.
"As a matter of fact, I am here on business."
Adam's voice turned crisp. "See me in the morning, then. I don't do business after hours."
The stranger said softly, "It's about Asher Sutton."
Adam's body tensed and his fingers shook so that he fumbled as he filled his pipe. He was glad that it was dark so the stranger could not see.
"Sutton will be coming back," the stranger said.
Adams shook his head. "I doubt it. He went out twenty years ago."
"You haven't crossed him out?"
"No," said Adams, slowly. "He still is on the payroll, if that is what you mean."
"Why?" asked the man. "Why do you keep him on?"
Adams tamped the tobacco in the bowl, considering. "Sentiment, I guess," he said. "Sentiment and faith. Faith in Asher Sutton. Although the faith is running out."
"Just five days from now," the stranger said, "Sutton will come back."
He paused a moment, then added, "Early in the morning."
"There's no way," said Adams, crisply, "you could know a thing like that."
"But I do. It's recorded fact."
Adams snorted. "It hasn't happened yet."
"In my time it has."
Adams jerked upright in his chair. "In your time!"
"Yes," said the stranger, quietly. "You see, Mr. Adams, I am your successor."
"Look here, young man ..."
"Not young man," said the stranger. "I am half again your age. I am getting old."
"I have no successor," said Adams, coldly. "There's been no talk of one. I'm good for another hundred years. Maybe more than that."
"Yes," the stranger said, "for more than a hundred years. For much more than that."
Adams leaned back quietly in his chair. He put his pipe in his mouth and lit it with a hand that was steady as a rock.
"Let's take this easy," he said. "You say you are my successor ... that you took over my job after I quit or died. That means you came out of the future. Not that I believe you for a moment, of course. But just for argument ..."
"There was a news item the other day," the stranger said. "About a man named Michaelson who claimed he went into the future."
Adams snorted. "I read that. One second! How could a man know he went one second into time? How could he measure it and know? What difference would it make?"
"None, the stranger agreed. "Not the first time, of course. But the next time he will go into the future five seconds. Five seconds, Mr. Adams. Five tickings of the clock. The space of one short breath. There must be a starting point for all things."
The stranger nodded.
"I don't believe it," Adams said.
"I was afraid you wouldn't."
"In the last five thousand years," said Adams, "we have conquered the galaxy ..."
"'Conquer' is not the right word, Mr. Adams."
"Well, taken over, then. Moved in. However you may wish it. And we have found strange things. Stranger things than we ever dreamed. But never time travel."
He waved his hand at the stars.
"In all that space out there," he said, "no one had time travel. No one."
"You have it now," the stranger said. "Since two weeks ago. Michaelson went into time, one second into time. A start. That is all that's needed."
"All right, then," said Adams. "Let us say you are the man who in a hundred years or so will take my place. Let's pretend you traveled back in time. What about it?"
"To tell you that Sutton will return."
"I would know it when he came," said Adams. "Why must I know now?"
"When he returns," the stranger said, "Sutton must be killed."CHAPTER 2
The tiny, battered ship sank lower, slowly, like a floating feather, drifting down toward the field in the slant of morning sun.
The bearded, ragged man in the pilot's chair sat tensed, straining every nerve.
Tricky, said his brain. Hard and tricky to handle so much weight, to judge the distance and the speed ... hard to make the tons of metal float down against the savage pull of gravity. Harder even than the lifting of it when there had been no consideration but that it should rise and move out into space.
For a moment the ship wavered and he fought it, fought it with every shred of will and mind ... and then it floated once again, hovering just a few feet above the surface of the field.
He let it down, gently, so that it scarcely clicked when it touched the ground.
He sat rigid in the seat, slowly going limp, relaxing by inches, first one muscle, then another. Tired, he told himself. The toughest job I've ever done. Another few miles and I would have let her crash.
Far down the field was a clump of buildings and a ground car had swung away from them and was racing down the strip toward him.
A breeze curled in through the shattered vision port and touched his face, reminding him ...
Breathe, he told himself. You must be breathing when they come. You must be breathing and you must walk out and you must smile at them. There must be nothing they will notice. Right away, at least. The beard and clothes will help some. They'll be so busy gaping at them that they will miss a little thing. But not breathing. They might notice if you weren't breathing.
Carefully, he pulled in a breath of air, felt the sting of it run along his nostrils and gush inside his throat, felt the fire of it when it reached his lungs.
Another breath and another one and the air had scent and life and a strange exhilaration. The blood throbbed in his throat and beat against his temples and he held his fingers to one wrist and felt it pulsing there.
Sickness came, a brief, stomach-retching sickness that he fought against, holding his body rigid, remembering all the things that he must do.
The power of will, he told himself, the power of mind ... the power that no man uses to its full capacity. The will to tell a body the things that it must do, the power to start an engine turning after years of doing nothing.
One breath and then another. And the heart is beating now, steadier, steadier, throbbing like a pump.
Be quiet, stomach.
Get going, liver.
Keep on pumping, heart.
It isn't as if you were old and rusted, for you never were. The other system took care that you were kept in shape, that you were ready at an instant's notice on a stand-by basis.
But the switch-over was a shock. He had known that it would be. He had dreaded its coming, for he had known what it would mean. The agony of a new kind of life and metabolism.
In his mind he held a blueprint of his body and all its working parts ... a shifting, wobbly picture that shivered and blurred and ran color into color.
But it steadied under the hardening of his mind, the driving of his will, and finally the blueprint was still and sharp and bright and he knew that the worst was over.
He clung to the ship's controls with hands clenched so fiercely they almost dented metal and perspiration poured down his body and he was limp and weak.
Nerves grew quiet and the blood pumped on and he knew that he was breathing without even thinking of it.
For a moment longer he sat quietly in the seat, relaxing. The breeze came in the shattered port and brushed against his cheek. The ground car was coming very close.
"Johnny," he whispered, "we are home. We made it. This is my home, Johnny. The place I talked about."
But there was no answer, just a stir of comfort deep inside his brain, a strange, nestling comfort such as one may know when one is eight years old and snuggles into bed.
"Johnny!" he cried.
And he felt the stir again ... a self-assuring stir like the feel of a dog's muzzle against a held-down palm.
Someone was beating at the ship's door, beating with his fists and crying out.
"All right," said Asher Sutton, "I'm coming. I'll be right along."
He reached down and lifted the attaché case from beside the seat, tucked it underneath his arm. He went to the lock and twirled it open and stepped out on the ground.
There was only one man.
"Hello," said Asher Sutton.
"Welcome to Earth, sir," said the man, and the "sir" struck a chord of memory. His eyes went to the man's forehead and he saw the faint tattooing of the serial number.
He had forgotten about androids. Perhaps a lot of other things as well. Little habit patterns that had sloughed away with the span of twenty years.
He saw the android staring at him, at the naked knee showing through the worn cloth, at the lack of shoes.
"Where I've been," said Sutton, sharply, "you couldn't buy a new suit every day."
"No, sir," said the android.
"And the beard," said Sutton, "is because I couldn't shave."
"I've seen beards before," the android told him.
Sutton stood quietly and stared at the world before him ... at the upthrust of towers shining in the morning sun, at the green of park and meadow, at the darker green of trees and the blue and scarlet splashes of flower gardens on sloping terraces.
He took a deep breath and felt the air flooding in his lungs, seeking out all the distant sacs that had been starved so long. And it was coming back to him, coming back again ... the remembrance of life on Earth, of early morning sun and flaming sunsets, of deep blue sky and dew upon the grass, the swift blur of human talk and the lilt of human music, the friendliness of the birds and squirrels, and the peace and comfort.
"The car is waiting, sir," the android said. "I will take you to a human."
"I'd rather walk," said Sutton.
The android shook his head. "The human is waiting and he is most impatient."
"Oh, all right," said Sutton.
The seat was soft and he sank into it gradually, cradling the attaché case carefully in his lap.
The car was moving and he stared out of the window, fascinated by the green of Earth. "The green fields of Earth," he said. Or was it "the green vales"? No matter now. It was a song written long ago. In the time when there had been fields on Earth, fields instead of parks, when Man had turned the soil for more important things than flower beds. In the day, thousands of years before, when Man had just begun to feel the stir of space within his soul. Long years before Earth had become the capital and the center of galactic empire.
A great star ship was taking off at the far end of the field, sliding down the ice-smooth plastic skidway with the red-hot flare of booster jets frothing in its tubes. Its nose slammed into the upward curve of the take-off ramp and it was away, a rumbling streak of silver that shot into the blue. For a moment it flickered a golden red in the morning sunlight and then was swallowed in the azure mist of sky.
Sutton brought his gaze back to Earth again, sat soaking in the sight of it as a man soaks in the first strong sun of spring after months of winter.
Far to the north towered the twin spires of the Justice Bureau, Alien Branch. And to the east the pile of gleaming plastics and glass that was the University of North America. And other buildings that he had forgotten ... buildings for which he found he had no name. But buildings that were miles apart, with parks and homesites in between. The homes were masked by trees and shrubbery — none sat in barren loneliness — and through the green of the curving hills, Sutton caught the glints of color that betrayed where people lived.
The car slid to a stop before the administration building and the android opened the door.
"This way, sir," he said.
Only a few chairs in the lobby were occupied and most of those by humans. Humans or androids, thought Sutton. You can't tell the difference until you see their foreheads.
The sign upon the forehead, the brand of manufacture. The telltale mark that said, "This man is not a human, although he looks like one."
These are the ones who will listen to me. These are the ones who will pay attention. These are the ones who will save me against any future enmity that Man may raise against me.
For they are worse than the disinherited. They are not the has-beens, they are the never-weres.
They were not born of woman out of the laboratory. Their mother is a bin of chemicals and their father the ingenuity and technology of the normal race.
Excerpted from Time and Again by Clifford D. Simak. Copyright © 1951 Clifford D. Simak. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.