The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“Not entirely.” Nick went on tapping his calculator as he spoke. “One case that comes to mind. During and after World War II they cut food rations in Britain to what most of us would think of as starvation level. Two ounces of margarine a week, an egg a month if you were lucky, things like that. But back then they had more sense than they do now. They hired top-rank dietitians to plot their priorities. They raised the tallest, handsomest, healthiest generation in their history. When rickets reappeared again after rationing ended, it made national headlines. We think of abundance and good health as going hand in hand. It doesn’t follow. That way lies heart failure, too.” The phone sounded. Kate gave a start. But Nick had come to a point where he could break off and ponder what he had written. Reaching out absently, he turned the camera so he could be seen by the caller.

And exclaimed, “Ted Horovitz!” The others tensed, everything else forgotten.

The sheriff of Precipice exhaled gustily and wiped his face.

“Lord, after fighting my way past your filtration service I was afraid I might be too late! Listen carefully. This is a breach of Hearing Aid rules but I think it’s justified. Ever hear of a shivver named Hartz? Claims to be the former Deputy Director of BDP.”

Freeman leaned into camera field. “I didn’t know about the ‘former’ bit,” he said. “But the rest is solid.”

“Then get the hell away from where you are. Clear the house—the surrounding streets too, for preference. He says a hit job has been authorized against you. Category V, he called it.”

Freeman whistled. “That means ‘execute regardless of casualties’—and they generally use a bomb for those!”

“It figures. We got a tip about someone smuggling a bomb into Precipice, too. Sent Natty Bumppo and the rest of the dogs on perimeter patrol—Oh, I’ll tell you when you get here.”

“You’re able to transport three?” Nick rapped.

Freeman cut him short. “Not me. I stay close to G2S. I need their facilities. Don’t argue!” He smiled; he was more relaxed now, able to do so without looking like a death’s head. “I’ve done some bad things with my life. If I finish this job I can make up for them all at one go.”

Horovitz glanced at his watch. “Right. I’ve arranged for you to be met in about ten minutes. Jake Treves was intending to stop by your place, of course, but I contacted him and warned him there’d be a change of rendezvous. Make a suggestion and I’ll pass the word for him to be there.”

NIGHT ERRAND “You look kind of down,” the driver said.

“Hell, with the continent crumbling around us… !” The passenger in the rear seat of the quiet electric car fumbled with the lock of the briefcase across his knees. “Everything’s gone into a spin. First I get the order to do the job, then they say hold it, we may send in the National Guard instead, then they say back to plan one after all. Jesus, the damage that’s been done while they were dithering! Okay, this will be close enough.”

The driver said in astonishment, “But we’re still five blocks away!”

“They got all them students on guard. Could be armed.”

“Yeah, but… Look, I drove this kind of mission before. If you’re planning to hit them from here you—”

“Save it. I got what you wouldn’t believe.” The passenger clicked open his case and began to assemble something slim and tapered and matt-black. “Pull over. I got to launch it from a dead stop.” Obeying, the driver glanced in his mirror. His eyes widened.

“That little-bitty thing brings down a house?”

“Told you you wouldn’t believe it,” the passenger answered curtly. He lowered his window and leaned out.

“So what in the — ?”

“None of your business!” Then, relenting with a sigh: “Ah, what difference does it make? Classified—top secret—doesn’t matter since that bugger turned his worm loose. Tomorrow anybody can get at plans for this gadget. It’s called a kappa-bird. Ever hear the name?”

The driver frowned. “Believe I did. You got two other cars around the area, right?”

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