The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

The Shockwave Rider

John Brunner

The Shockwave Rider

John Brunner






A THOUGHT FOR TODAY Take ‘em an inch and they’ll give you a hell.

DATA-RETRIVIAL MODE The man in the bare steel chair was as naked as the room’s white walls. They had shaved his head and body completely; only his eyelashes remained. Tiny adhesive pads held sensors in position at a dozen places on his scalp, on his temples close to the corners of his eyes, at each side of his mouth, on his throat, over his heart and over his solar plexus and at every major ganglion down to his ankles.

From each sensor a lead, fine as gossamer, ran to the sole object—apart from the steel chair and two other chairs, both softly padded—that might be said to furnish the room. That was a data-analysis console about two meters broad by a meter and a half high, with display screens and signal lights on its slanted top, convenient to one of the padded chairs.

Additionally, on adjustable rods cantilevered out from the back of the steel chair, there were microphones and a three-vee camera.

The shaven man was not alone. Also present were three other people: a young woman in a slick white coverall engaged in checking the location of the sensors; a gaunt black man wearing a fashionable dark red jerkin suit clipped to the breast of which was a card bearing his picture and the name Paul T. Freeman; and a heavy-set white man of about fifty, dressed in dark blue, whose similar card named him as Ralph C. Hartz.

After long contemplation of the scene, Hartz spoke.

“So that’s the dodger who went further and faster for longer than any of the others.”

“Haflinger’s career,” Freeman said mildly, “is somewhat impressive. You’ve picked up on his record?”

“Naturally. That’s why I’m here. It may be an atavistic impulse, but I did feel inclined to see with my own eyes the man who posted such an amazing score of new personae. One might almost better ask what he hasn’t done than what he has. Utopia designer, lifestyle counselor, Delphi gambler, computer-sabotage consultant, systems rationalizer, and God knows what else besides.”

“Priest, too,” Freeman said. “We’re progressing into that area today. But what’s remarkable is not the number of separate occupations he’s pursued. It’s the contrast between successive versions of himself.”

“Surely you’d expect him to muddle his trail as radically as possible?”

“You miss the point. The fact that he eluded us for so long implies that he’s learned to live with and to some extent control his overload reflexes, using the sort of regular commercial tranquilizer you or I would take to cushion the shock of moving to a new house, and in no great quantity, either.”

“Hmm…” Hartz pondered. “You’re right; that is amazing. Are you ready to start today’s run? I don’t have too much time to spend here at Tarnover, you know.”

Not looking up, the girl in white plastic said, “Yes, sir, he’s status go.” She headed for the door.

Taking a seat at Freeman’s gestured invitation, Hartz said doubtfully, “Don’t you have to give him a shot or something? He looks pretty thoroughly sedated.”

Settling comfortably in his own chair adjacent to the data console, Freeman said, “No, it’s not a question of drugs. It’s done with induced current in the motor centers. One of our specialties, you know. All I have to do is move this switch and he’ll recover consciousness—though not, of course, the power of ambulation. Just enough to let him answer in adequate detail. By the way, before I turn him on, I should fill in what’s happening. Yesterday I broke off when I tapped into what seemed to be an exceptionally heavily loaded image, so I’m going to regress him to the appropriate date and key in the same again, and we’ll see what develops.”

“What kind of image?”

“A girl of about ten running like hell through the dark.”

FOR PURPOSES OF IDENTIFICATION At present I am being Arthur Edward Lazarus, profession minister, age forty-six, celibate: founder and proprietor of the Church of Infinite Insight, a converted (and what better way for a church to start than with a successful conversion?) drive-in movie theater near Toledo, Ohio, which stood derelict for years not so much because people gave up going to the movies—they still make them, there’s always an audience for wide-screen porn of the type that gets pirate three-vee satellites sanded out of orbit in next to no time—as because it’s on land disputed between the Billy-kings, a Protestant tribe, and the Grailers, Catholic. No one cares to have his property tribaled. However, normally they respect churches, and the territory of the nearest Moslem tribe, the Jihad Babies, lies ten miles to the west.

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