The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“A couple of final points before someone asks me. First, is this an unforgivable invasion of privacy? Invasion of privacy it is; unforgivable… Well, do you believe that justice shall not only be done but shall be seen to be done? The privacy my worm is designed to invade is that privacy under whose cover justice is not done and injustice is not seen. It doesn’t care whether the poker who leeched his tax-free payoff spent it on seducing little girls; it cares only that he was rewarded for committing a crime and wasn’t brought to book. It doesn’t care if the shivver who bought that congressman was straight or gay; it cares only that a public servant took a bribe. It doesn’t care if the judge who misdirected the jury was concerned to keep her lover’s identity secret; it cares only that a person was jailed who should have been released.

“And—no, it can’t be killed. It’s indefinitely self-perpetuating so long as the net exists. Even if one segment of it is inactivated, a counterpart of the missing portion will remain in store at some other station and the worm will automatically subdivide and send a duplicate head to collect the spare groups and restore them to their proper place. Incidentally, though, it won’t expand to indefinite size and clog the net for other use. It has built-in limits.” He gave a faint smile.

“Though I say so myself, it’s a neat bit of work.” All of a sudden a man no older than his thirties, but pot-bellied, who had been in a seat near the back of the hall, came yelling down the aisle.

“Traitor!” he howled. “Goddamned stinking traitor!” With his right hand he was tugging at something under his jacket; it appeared to have caught. It came free. It was a pistol. He tried to aim it.

But a quick-witted student in a seat on the aisle stuck out his leg. The fat man went sprawling with a yell, and next moment a booted foot tramped on his right wrist and he was disarmed.

From the platform Nick said, “Ah. That’s the first. It won’t be the last.”


[Q] This place Tarnover you keep talking about. I never heard of it.

[A] It’s a government establishment, one of several. All are under the direction of the spiritual successors of the people who deployed nuclear weapons in overkill quantity. Or maybe I should cite the people who thought nothing of taking a fee to condition little boys out of playing with themselves.

[Q] What?

[A] You don’t believe there were such people? Punch for data concerning the income of the Behavioral Science Department of the Lawrence campus of the University of Kansas back around 1969, 1970. I swear it’s true.

[Q] Same again, but this time Weychopee.

[A] Ah, yes. Working for G2S I moused deep into their banks. That’s Electric Skillet, the continental defense center. By defense they mean they override the controls on all incoming chunks of asteroid ore and send them crashing down on the eastern hemisphere like a rain of thousand-ton hailstones. I haven’t yet checked out how many of the people who bought asteroid drivers from G2S realized that facility was built in.

[Q] But that’s insane!

[A] Sure it is. The blast wave from the impact would level every structure on this continent taller than fifteen meters. They don’t care. They want to turn Ragnarök into rain-of-rocks. Excuse me. Yes?

[Q] The bottom dropped out of stock in Anti-Trauma. Your doing?

[A] Mostly theirs. Their failure rate has never fallen below sixty-five percent, but they’ve kept it such a close secret that last year they doubled their clientele. Never again, I hope.

[Q] Some weird things happened to Delphi odds lately.

[A] I’m glad you brought that up. Data from Crediton Hill are in the net by now. Check them out. A lot of you probably have deeveed tickets you can claim against. The legislation authorizing Delphi betting obliged the organizers to make refunds if it could be shown that the pool was manipulated, and there’s no reference to the organizers themselves being exempt.

[Q] But I thought the whole point of Delphi was to tell the government what changes the public was ready for. You mean it’s been turned around?

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