Highway of Eternity

Highway of Eternity

by Clifford D. Simak

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Overview

Two present-day investigators race across time to escape malevolent aliens from the future and their terrible “gift” of immortality in this novel by a Nebula Award–winning author.

What is the price of eternal life? Secret agent Jay Corcoran is about to learn the answer when his investigation into an inexplicable disappearance carries him and journalist friend Tom Boone hundreds of years into the past. Corcoran and Boone’s powerful extrasensory abilities lead them to an advanced transportation system through time, and back to the bucolic eighteenth-century English countryside.

There, they discover a family from the distant future hiding from the Immortals—an alien race that, many centuries on, is seducing human subjects with the promise of eternal life. But at the cost of the corporeal self, there is no place in the aliens’ future for anyone unwilling to exist as mind alone. Now that the Evans family’s sanctuary has been breached, escape is the only answer—for Boone and Corcoran as well—and the only way out is forward . . . far forward. But racing through space and time can be a hazardous occupation, especially with monstrous beasts, killer robots, and Immortal body-destroyers waiting at every juncture.

The last novel from acclaimed science fiction Grand Master Clifford D. Simak, winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and numerous other awards, Highway of Eternity combines breathtaking action with provocative ideas and unparalleled ingenuity, the hallmarks of Simak’s exceptional art. It is a fitting finale for the man who stands alongside Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke as one of the true giants of speculative fiction’s Golden Age.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504051101
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 08/28/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 300
Sales rank: 1,228,996
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

During his fifty-five-year career, Clifford D. Simak produced some of the most iconic science fiction stories ever written. Born in 1904 on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin, Simak got a job at a small-town newspaper in 1929 and eventually became news editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune,  writing fiction in his spare time.

Simak was best known for the book  City , a reaction to the horrors of World War II, and for his novel  Way Station.  In 1953  City  was awarded the International Fantasy Award, and in following years, Simak won three Hugo Awards and a Nebula Award. In 1977 he became the third Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and before his death in 1988, he was named one of three inaugural winners of the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Read an Excerpt

Highway of Eternity


By Clifford D. Simak

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1986 Clifford D. Simak
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-2411-2


CHAPTER 1

New York


The cable reached Boone in Singapore: NEED A MAN WHO CAN STEP AROUND A CORNER. CORCORAN. He caught the next plane out.

Corcoran's driver was waiting for him as he came through Customs at Kennedy. The man took Boone's bag and led the way to the limousine.

It had been raining, but the rain had stopped. Boone settled back comfortably on the well-upholstered seat, watching the scene unwind through the windows. How long had it been, he asked himself, since he had been in Manhattan? Ten years, perhaps more than ten.

By the time they reached Corcoran's apartment building, it had begun raining again. The driver gathered Boone's bags, held an umbrella for him, and ushered him to a private elevator to the penthouse. Corcoran was waiting in the library. He rose from a chair in the corner and came across the heavy carpeting with hand outstretched and a look of relief on his face.

"Thanks for coming, Tom. Had a good flight?"

"Good enough," Boone told him. "I slept on the last leg."

Corcoran nodded. "I remember you could always sleep on planes. What are you drinking these days?"

"Scotch with a splash of soda." Boone sank into the indicated chair and waited until the drink was handed him. He took a long pull of it, glancing about at the appointments of the room. "You seem to be doing well these days, Jay."

"Quite well. I have wealthy clients who pay for what they get. And operatives all over the world. If a diplomat sneezes in Bogota, I hear of it within hours. What's doing in Singapore?"

"Nothing. Just a layover between jobs. I can afford to be selective about the stories I take to cover these days. Not like it was when we used to see each other."

"How long ago was it?" asked Corcoran. "When we first met, I mean."

"It must be fifteen years or more. That unpleasantness in the East. You came in with the tanks."

"That's it. We got there too late. It was a massacre. Bodies all piled up and no sign of anyone alive." Corcoran grimaced at the memory. "Then suddenly, there you were, unruffled, standing among the dead. You wore that jacket with all the pockets for your notebooks, recorder, tapes, camera, and films. You carried so much stuff you seemed to bulge. And you told me you'd just stepped around a corner."

Boone nodded. "Death was half a second away. So I stepped around a corner. When I stepped back, there you were. But don't ask me to explain. I couldn't tell you then and I can't tell you now. The only answer is one I don't like — that I'm some kind of a freak."

"Let's say a mutant. Have you tried it since?"

"I've never tried it. But it's happened twice more — once in China and again in South Africa. When I did it, it seemed natural — the kind of thing any man might do. And now, what about you?"

"You heard what happened to me?"

"Some," Boone answered. "You were a spy — CIA and all that. You were trapped, but you got word back, and a fighter snatched you up. A daredevil landing out of a grade-B movie. The plane was shot to hell and gone, yet it made it back ..."

"That's right," said Corcoran. "Then it crashed. The whole back of my head was smashed in, and I was so close to dead it didn't matter. But I had information that was vital, so they performed miracles saving my life ... Anyhow, they had to do some strange things in fixing my head. Apparently some of the wiring in my brain got crossed or something. I see things differently now sometimes — things others don't or can't. And I think in quirky ways. I tie little items of information together in a sort of sneaky deduction that defies straight-line thinking. I know things with no reasonable way to know them. I've made it pay, too."

"Fine. And does that have anything to do with your calling me here from Singapore?" Boone asked.

Corcoran leaned back and took a sip of the drink he'd mixed for himself, considering. Finally he nodded. "It has to do with one of my clients. He came to me about six years ago. Said his name was Andrew Martin. Maybe it was."

Martin had come in, aloof and cold, and wouldn't shake hands. He refused absolutely to answer any questions. Then, when Corcoran moved to show him out politely, Martin reached into his breast pocket, took out an envelope, and pushed it across the desk. Inside were one hundred thousand-dollar bills.

"That's just a retainer," he stated. "For any work you do, I'll pay double your usual rates."

What he wanted were rumors from all over the world. Not the usual political things, but unusual or outrageous rumors — the sort that seemed to make no sense at all. He wouldn't say how he could be reached. He'd phone in daily and tell Corcoran where to find him — always at a different place.

There weren't too many of the kind of rumors he wanted, but for those he paid well, usually more than double rate, and always in thousand-dollar bills. It went on that way for years.

Corcoran checked on him, of course. But there wasn't much to be learned. Martin seemed to have no past and no discoverable occupation. He had a respectable office with a part-time receptionist, but she had no idea what he did. He seemed to have no business dealings at all.

He also had a corner suite at the Everest, but he didn't live there. At least, when Corcoran's operative got into the suite, there were no clothes in the closets nor any other sign of occupancy.

On occasion, Martin was seen around town with a woman named Stella, as mysterious in her way as he was in his.

Then, a few months ago, Martin and Stella vanished into thin air.

Boone sat up abruptly. "What?"

"That's right — or they seemed to. After the last time I reported to him, he left me and was seen making a phone call. A short time later, my operative at the Everest saw Stella leaving and followed her. She and Martin went into an old warehouse near the docks. They never came out. And they haven't been seen since."

Boone took a pull on his drink and waited. Finally he prompted Corcoran. "That last rumor ..."

"It came from London. Had to do with someone searching frantically for a place called Hopkins Acre."

"That seems innocent enough."

Corcoran nodded. "Except for one thing. In all of Britain, there is now no place called Hopkins Acre. But there was, four, five hundred years ago. Located in Shropshire. I checked. In 1615 it disappeared while the family that owned it was off on an European tour. It was there one day, gone the next. No sign left to show it had ever existed. The whole estate — the land, even the landscape — all of it gone, along with the people who farmed it or worked as servants in the house. Even the house. Not even a hole in the ground was left."

"That's impossible," said Boone. "A fairy tale."

"But a true one," said Corcoran. "We established beyond question that it had once been there and had disappeared."

"And that's the end of the story?" Boone asked. He shook his head. "But I still don't see why you sent for me. I'm no good at tracing missing persons or locating houses that disappeared almost four hundred years ago."

"I'm coming to that. I had other business, and Martin was gone, so I tried to forget him. But a couple of weeks ago, I read that the Everest was to be dynamited."

Corcoran raised his eyebrows questioningly. Boone nodded. He was familiar with the way they placed shaped charges around a building that was to be demolished. When the process was done right, the structure simply came apart and fell as rubble for the shovels and bulldozers to clear away.

Corcoran sighed. "That brought Martin back to my mind. I went down to have a final look at the building. I'd left it to my operatives before, which was a mistake. Remember I said I saw things differently now?"

"You saw something?" Boone asked. "Something your men didn't see?"

"Something they couldn't possibly see. Only I can see it, and I have to catch it just right. I — well, I can't step around a corner, but sometimes I seem to see around a corner. Maybe on a wider spectrum, maybe a little way into time. Do you think it's possible for a man to step or see a little way into time, Tom?"

"I don't know. Never thought about it."

"No. Well, anyhow, there it was — a sort of enclosed balcony like those you see plastered to the sides of apartment houses, just outside the suite Martin had occupied. Sort of out of sync with normal perception, half in and half out of our world. And since Martin never lived in the suite, I'm sure he must have lived in that balcony or box."

Boone picked up his glass and drained it. He put it back carefully on the table. "You expect me to step around a corner to get into that box?"

Corcoran nodded.

"I'm not sure I can," Boone told him. "I've never used the trick consciously. It always happened when I was in extreme danger — sort of a survival mechanism. I don't know whether I can do it on demand. I can try, of course, but ..."

"That's all I ask," said Corcoran. "I've exhausted every other possibility. The hotel is empty now and guarded, but I've arranged to get in. I've spent a lot of time there, probing, tapping, prodding, and drilling, trying to find a way into the contraption. Nothing. I can look out of the window against which it's stuck, and there's no sign of anything between window and street. But when I go outside and look up, there it is."

"Jay, what's your big concern? What do you expect to find in that so-called balcony?" Boone demanded.

Corcoran shook his head. "I don't know. Maybe nothing. Martin became sort of an obsession with me. I probably spent a lot more trying to find out about him than his business paid. This is worse. Tom, I've got to get into that box!"

He paused, studying his empty glass. Then he sighed and looked up again. "The trouble is, we haven't much time. This is Friday night, and they're planning to blow it Sunday morning, around dawn, when everyone is off the streets."

Boone whistled softly. "You cut it fine."

"I couldn't help it. You were hard to locate. When I learned you were heading for Singapore, I cabled every hotel where you might stay. Now, if we're going to do anything, we have to move fast."

"Tomorrow — Saturday," Boone agreed.

"Make it tomorrow evening. They're holding some kind of media thing on the last day of the old hotel during the day. Television and press will be all over the place. We'll go in when it quiets down."

He stood up and collected the glasses, going back to the well-stocked bar. "You're staying with me, of course," he said.

"I figured on it," Boone answered.

"Good. Then we'll have one more drink and maybe do a bit of reminiscing on old times. After that, I'll show you to your room. We'll forget the box until tomorrow evening."

CHAPTER 2

Hopkins Acre: 1745


David had roamed the fields since early afternoon, accompanied by his favorite setter, enjoying the quiet satisfaction of being alone in a beautiful and ordered world.

Out of the stubble at his feet a grouse came storming up. Automatically, the gun came to his shoulder and his cheek was against the stock. The sights lined on the bird, and he jumped the barrel sharply to the left. "Bang!" he said and knew that if a shell had been in the chamber and he'd pulled the trigger, the bird would be tumbling to the ground.

The setter came galumphing back from chasing the bird and set himself on the ground in front of David, looking up and laughing in his way, as if to say, "Aren't we having fun!"

It had taken a long time for the setters of Hopkins Acre to adapt. They had been bred to flush the birds and bring the dead ones back. They had not understood this new procedure. But it was different now, after many generations of setters. They no longer expected the crack of the gun or to find dead birds.

So, he asked himself for the thousandth time, why did he carry the gun? Was it fondness for the feel of its weight and the way it fitted to his shoulder? Or was it to reaffirm to himself that he was a truly civilized creature, though of a line with a long history of cruelty and brutality? But that would be an unjust pose. He would not kill the sheep, but he ate the mutton. He was still a carnivore, and a carnivore was a killer still.

It had been a good day, even without the birds, he reminded himself. He had stood upon the hill and gazed down on the straw-thatched houses of the village where the tillers of soil and husbandmen of the sheep and cattle lived. In the pastures he had seen the animals, sometimes quite alone and sometimes with a boy and dog keeping watch. He had encountered the grunting hordes of swine in the heavy woods, wild as deer and rooting for fallen acorns. But he had not ventured close. Even now, he could find no fellowship with the happy clods who worked the land. He had seen the colors of the woods changing in autumn and had breathed the chill air. He had come down to the brooks that flowed through the woods and had drunk from them, watching the darting shadows of trout.

Earlier, he had caught sight of Spike playing some ridiculous game, hopping carefully in erratic patterns. David had watched him, wondering once again what manner of creature Spike might be.

Tiring of his game, Spike had taken off, moving toward a patch of woods, but bounding in a random pattern which had more grace and spontaneity than the restricted hopping of the game. The sun of the autumn afternoon had glinted off his globular body, with the sharp points of his spikes spearing the sunbeams and scattering them in sparkles. David had called out to Spike, who apparently had not heard him and had finally disappeared into the woods.

The day had been full, David told himself; now the shadows lengthened and the chill deepened. It was time to be turning home.

There would be a saddle of mutton on the board tonight. Emma, his older sister who was married to Horace, had told him so and had warned him to get home on time.

"Do not be late," she told him. "Once done, mutton cannot wait. It must be eaten warm. And be careful of that gun. I don't know why you take it. You never bring home anything. Why don't you bring back a brace or two of grouse? They would be tasty eating."

"Because I do not kill," he told her. "None of us ever kill. It's been bred out of us."

Which was not true, of course.

"Horace would kill," she told him, tartly. "If there were need of food, Horace would kill. And once he had brought it home, I would dress and cook it."

She had been right, he thought. Horace, that dour and practical man, would kill if there were need of it, though not for simple fun; Horace never did anything for the fun of it. He must have a reason to assign to everything he did.

David had laughed at Emma's worries. "The gun can't do me harm," he told her. "It's not even loaded."

"You'll load it when you put it back on the rack," she said. "Timothy will insist you load it. If you ask me, our brother Timothy is a little gone."

They all were a little gone. He and Timothy and perhaps, in a different way, Horace and Emma. But not his little sister, Enid. She, of all of them, was the free spirit and the thinker. She thought longer thoughts, he was sure, than any of the rest of them.

So, remembering the mutton that could not wait and must be eaten warm, he headed for home with the dog, done now with fun and laughter, trailing sedately behind him.

Topping a knoll, he saw the house from a distance, set in a green rectangle of lawn among the tawny fields. Heavy growths of trees, many of them resplendent in their autumn foliage, ran all around the perimeter of the park, in the center of which stood the house. A dusty road which was now no more than a double cart track ran in front of the park, a road that ran from nowhere to nowhere. From the road, the access entrance ran up to the house, flanked by rows of towering poplars that through the years had become the worse for wear and which, in a little time, would die away and fall.

Trailed by the faithful dog, David went down the knoll and across the brownness of the autumn fields, finally coming up to the entrance road. Ahead of him lay the house, a sprawling two-storey fieldstone structure, with its mullioned windows turned to subdued fire by the setting sun.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Highway of Eternity by Clifford D. Simak. Copyright © 1986 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.

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