Time Is the Simplest Thing

Time Is the Simplest Thing

by Clifford D. Simak


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A telepath acquires a powerful alien consciousness—and must run to escape corporate assassins and angry mobs—in this novel by the author of Way Station.

Space travel has been abandoned in the twenty-second century. It is deemed too dangerous, expensive, and inconvenient—and now the all-powerful Fishhook company holds the monopoly on interstellar exploration for commercial gain. Their secret is the use of “parries,” human beings with the remarkable telepathic ability to expand their minds throughout the universe. On what should have been a routine assignment, however, loyal Fishhook employee Shepherd Blaine is inadvertently implanted with a copy of an alien consciousness, becoming something more than human. Now he’s a company pariah, forced to flee the safe confines of the Fishhook complex. But the world he escapes into is not a safe sanctuary; Its people have been taught to hate and fear his parapsychological gift—and there is nowhere on Earth, or elsewhere, for Shepherd Blaine to hide.
A Hugo Award nominee, Time Is the Simplest Thing showcases the enormous talents of one of the true greats of twentieth-century science fiction. This richly imagined tale of prejudice, corporate greed, oppression, and, ultimately, transcendence stands tall among Simak’s most enduring works.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504045728
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 07/04/2017
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 250
Sales rank: 1,224,152
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.80(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

Time Is the Simplest Thing

By Clifford D. Simak


Copyright © 1961 Clifford D. Simak
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-1325-3


Finally there came a time when Man was ready to admit that he was barred from space. He had first suspected it in that day when Van Allen found the radiation belts that encircled Earth, and the men at Minnesota used balloons to trap the solar protons. But Man had dreamed so long that even in the face of this he could not forsake the dream without giving it a try.

So he went ahead and tried — and he kept on trying even after astronauts had died to prove he couldn't do it. Man was too frail for space. He died too easily. He died either of the primary radiations hurled out by the sun or of the secondaries to which the metal of his ship gave birth.

At length Man knew the dream had failed and there was a bitterness and a disillusion in looking at the stars, for the stars were farther now than they had ever been.

After many years, after great thundering in the sky, after a hundred million heartbreaks, Man finally gave up.

It was just as well he did.

There was a better way.


Shepherd Blaine sensed that he was in some sort of house, or, if not a house exactly, in something's dwelling place. For there was an orderliness and a sense of proportion and of form which did not occur in nature, even in an alien nature on the planet of an unknown star far removed from Earth.

His treads left no tracks upon the floor as they had left tracks upon the sand dunes before he had come upon this dwelling place, if that was what it was. The wind was a whisper only as compared with the howling of the desert storm through which he'd forged for hours.

The floor was hard and smooth and of a bright blue color and very easy for him to roll along. There were forms scattered here and there that might have been furniture or equipment or artifacts of some aesthetic value and they all were blue as well and the shape of them was not the wild, haphazard shape of a surface carved by wind or sun or weather, but the clean-cut lines, straight or curved as they might be, of functional apparatus.

And yet the stars still shone and the distant sun was there, dim as it might be, and so this place he had stumbled on was certainly no enclosure.

Blaine moved forward slowly with all his sensors out, turned up to full capacity, and the sense of house persisted and, a little after that, the sense of life as well.

He felt a thin thread of excitement mount inside himself. For it was not often that one found life at all. It was a memorable occasion when one found intelligence. And here, from the smoothness of the bright blue floor, from these artifacts, was intelligence.

His pace slowed to a crawl, his treads whispering on the floor, his sensors out and working, and the whirring of the tape that sucked up sight and sound and shape and smell and form, recording temperature and time and magnetics and all the other phenomena which existed on this planet.

Far off he saw the life — the thing that sprawled limply on the floor, as a lazy man might sprawl, not doing anything, not expecting to do anything, but just lying there.

Blaine moved toward it, still keeping his slow pace, and the sensors gathered in the knowledge of this sprawling life and the recorders sucked it up.

It was pink; an exciting pink, not a disgusting pink as pink so often can be, not a washed-out pink, nor an anatomical pink, but a very pretty pink, the kind of pink the little girl next door might wear at her seventh birthday party.

It was looking at him — maybe not with eyes — but it was looking at him. It was aware of him. And it was not afraid.

Finally he reached it. He came up to within six feet of it and there he stopped and waited.

It was a fairly massive thing, twelve feet high or so in the middle of it, and it sprawled across an area twenty feet or more in diameter. It towered above the smallness of the machine that happened to be Blaine, but there was no menace in it. Nor a friendliness. There was nothing yet. It was just a lump.

And this was the tough part of it, Blaine reminded himself. This was the moment when you could make or break. The move that he made now might set the pattern for all his future relationship with this thing he faced.

So he stayed perfectly still and did not a single thing. The sensors pulled back in and barely kept alive, the tape scarcely moved at all.

And it was tough to wait, for he was running out of time. There was very little left.

Then he sensed the flutter, picked up by the sophisticated electronic innards of the machine which for the moment was his body; the flutter of the being that sprawled pinkly on the floor — the flutter of a thought half-formed, the beginning of communication, the breaking of the ice.

Blaine tensed, fighting down the elation that surged inside of him. For it was foolish to become elated yet — there was no certain indication of telepathic power. Although the flutter had the feeling of it, a certain connotation ...

Hang on, he told himself, hang on!

Hold onto that time!

Just thirty seconds left!

The flutter stirred again, louder and sharper now, as if the creature squatting there before him had cleared its mental throat before attempting speech.

It was seldom that one contacted a telepathic creature. Other abilities and traits and idiosyncrasies that made telepathy seem a pallid thing were not at all uncommon, but only rarely did they prove as useful as the plain, old-fashioned telepathic art.

And the creature spoke.

Hi, pal, it said. I trade with you my mind.

Blaine's mind screamed soundlessly in outraged surprise that came very close to panic. For, suddenly, without warning, he was a double thing — himself and this other creature. For one chaotic instant he saw as the creature saw, felt as the creature felt, knew what the creature knew. And in that same instant he was likewise Shepherd Blaine, Fishhook explorer, a mind from out of Earth and very far from home.

And in that same instant, as well, his time clicked to an end.

There was a sense of rushing, as if space itself might be thundering past at a fantastic rate of speed. Shepherd Blaine, protesting, was jerked across five thousand light years into one specific spot in northern Mexico.


He crawled upward from the well of darkness into which he had been plunged, groping his way with a blind persistence that was almost driven instinct. And he knew where he was — he was sure he knew — but he could not grasp the knowledge. He had been in this well before, many times before, and it was familiar to him, but there was a strangeness now that had never been before.

It was himself, he knew, in which the strangeness lay — almost as if he were another, as if he were only half himself, and the other half of him were tenanted by an unknown being that was backed against a wall and spat in overriding fear and mewled in loneliness.

He clawed his way upward from the well, and his mind fought in frantic urgency against the mewling strangeness in him even as he sensed that it was no use to fight, that the strangeness was a thing that had come to live with him and be a part of him so long as he existed.

He rested for a moment from the climbing and tried to sort out himself, but he was too many things and in too many places and it was utterly confusing. He was a human being (whatever that might be) and he was a scurrying machine and he was an alien Pinkness sprawling on a bright blue floor and he was a mindlessness that fell through aeons of screaming time which finally figured out, when one nailed down the mathematics of it, to the fraction of a second.

He crawled out of the well, and the blackness went away and there was soft light. He was lying flat upon his back and he finally was home and he felt the old, old thankfulness that he'd made it once again.

And finally he knew.

He was Shepherd Blaine and he was an explorer for Fishhook, and he went far out in space to nose out stranger stars. He went out many light years and at times he found certain things of some significance and other times he didn't. But this time he had found a thing, and a part of it had come back home with him.

He sought for it and found it in the corner of his mind, rolled tight against its fear, and he tried to comfort it even as he feared it. For it was a terrible thing, he told himself, to be caught inside an alien mind. And, on the other hand, it was a lousy deal to have a thing like this trapped inside his mind.

It's tough on both of us, he said, talking to himself and to this other thing which was a part of him.

He lay there quietly — wherever he was lying — and tried to put himself in order. He had gone out some thirty hours before — not he, himself, of course, for his body had stayed here — but his mind had gone out, and with it the little scurrying machine, to this unguessed planet that spun an unknown sun.

The planet had been no different than a lot of other planets, just a howling wilderness, and that was what a lot of them turned out to be when you came stumbling down upon them. This time a howling wilderness of sand, although it could just as well have been a jungle or a desert of ice or a bare and naked place of nothing but primeval rock.

For almost thirty hours he had roamed the sand and there had been nothing there. Then suddenly he had come upon the great blue room with the Pinkness sprawling in it, and when he had come home the Pinkness, or a shadow of the Pinkness, had come back with him.

It crawled out from where it had been hiding, and he felt the touch of it again, the knowing and the feeling and the knowledge. His blood crawled like icy slush gurgling in his veins, and he went rigid with the musty smell and the slimy feel of alienness, and he could have shouted in pure terror, but he did not shout. He lay there, quite unstirring, and the Pinkness scurried back to its nook once more and lay there tightly curled.

Blaine opened his eyes and saw that the lid of the place in which he lay had been tilted back, and the glare of brightness that was a hooded light bulb was stabbing down at him.

He took inventory of his body and it was all right. There was no reason for it not to be all right, for it had lain here and rested for all of thirty hours.

He stirred and raised himself so that he sat up, and there were faces, staring at him, faces swimming in the light.

"A tough one?" asked one face.

"They all are tough," said Blaine.

He climbed from the coffinlike machine and shivered, for he suddenly was cold.

"Here's your jacket, sir," one of the faces said, a face that surmounted a white smock.

She held it for him, and he shrugged into it.

She handed him a glass, and he took a sip of it and knew that it was milk. He should have known it would be. As soon as anyone got back they gave him a glass of milk. With something in it, maybe? He had never thought to ask. It was just one of the many little things that spelled out Fishhook to him and to all the others like him. Fishhook, in its century or more, had managed to accumulate an entire host of moldy traditions, all of them fuddy-duddy in varying degrees.

It was coming back — familiar now as he stood there sipping at his glass of milk — the great operations room with its rows of glistening star machines, some of which were closed while the rest stood open. And in the closed ones lay others like himself, their bodies left behind and their minds far out in space.

"What time is it?" he asked.

"Nine P.M.," said a man who held a clipboard in his hand.

The alienness was creeping in his mind again, and the words were there once more: Hi, pal. I trade with you my mind!

And now, in the light of human reason, it was crazier than hell. A form of greeting more than likely. A sort of shaking hands. A shaking of the minds. And when one thought of it, a lot more sensible than the shaking of the hands.

The girl reached out and touched him on the arm. "Finish up your milk," she said.

If it were a mind-shake, it was a lasting one, for the mind was staying on. He could feel it now, an alien dirtiness, lurking just below the level of his consciousness.

"The machine got back O.K.?" he asked.

The man with the clipboard nodded. "Not a bit of trouble. We sent down the tapes."

Half an hour, Blaine thought calmly, and was surprised that he could be so calm. Half an hour was all he had, for that was the length of time required to process the tapes. They always, he knew, ran through the exploratory tapes as soon as they came in.

It would all be there; all the data would be down, telling all the story. There would be no question of it, no doubt of what had happened. And before they read it, he must be out of reach.

He looked around the room and once again he felt the satisfaction and the thrill and pride that he had felt, years ago, when he'd first been brought into this room. For here was the heartthrob of Fishhook itself; here was the reaching out, here the dipping into distant places.

It would be hard to leave, he knew; hard to turn his back upon, for much of him was here.

But there was no question of it — he simply had to go.

He finished up the milk and handed the waiting girl the glass. He turned toward the door.

"Just a minute," said the man, holding out the clipboard. "You forgot to sign out, sir."

Grumbling, Blaine pulled the pencil from beneath the clip and signed. It was a lot of foolishness, but you went through the motions. You signed in and you signed out and you kept your mouth tight shut, and all of Fishhook acted as if the place would fall into a heap of dust if you missed a single lick.

He handed back the board.

"Excuse me, Mr. Blaine, but you failed to note when you would return for evaluation."

"Make it nine tomorrow morning," Blaine told him curtly.

They could put down anything they wished, for he wasn't coming back. He had thirty minutes left — less than thirty minutes now — and he needed all of it.

For the memory of that night of three years ago was becoming sharper with every passing second. He could remember, not the words alone, but the very tone of them. When Godfrey Stone had phoned that night there had been a sound of sobbing in his breath, as if he had been running, and there had been a sense of panic.

"Good night, everyone," said Blaine.

He went out into the corridor and closed the door behind him, and the place was empty. The flanking doors were closed, although lights burned in some of them. The corridor was deserted and everything was quiet. But even in the quietness and the emptiness there was still a sense of massive vitality, as if all of Fishhook might have stood on watch. As if all the mighty complex never slept at all — all the laboratories and experimental stations, all the factories and the universities, all the planning boards and the vast libraries and repositories and all the rest of it never closed an eye.

He stood for a moment, considering. And it all was simple. He could walk out of here and there was not a thing to stop him. He could get his car out of the parking lot just five blocks away and head northward for the border. But it was, he told himself, too simple and direct. It was too obvious. It was just the thing that Fishhook would figure him to do.

And there was something else — the nagging thought, the clinging, monstrous doubt: Did he really need to run?

Five men in the three years since Godfrey Stone — and was that evidence?

He went striding down the corridor, and his mind was busy sorting out the doubts, but even as he sorted he knew there was no room for doubts. Whatever doubt might rise, he knew that he was right. But the rightness was an intellectual rightness and the doubt emotional.

He admitted to himself that it all boiled down to a single factor: He did not want to flee from Fishhook. He liked being here; he liked the work he did; he didn't want to leave.

But he had fought that out with himself many months ago. He'd reached decision then. When the time came, he would go. No matter how much he might want to stay, he'd drop everything and run.

For Godfrey Stone had known and in his desperate fleeing he had taken out the time to make one desperate call — not a call for help, but a cry of warning.


Excerpted from Time Is the Simplest Thing by Clifford D. Simak. Copyright © 1961 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.
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