The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“Mm-hm. Giving a one-meter fix on the roof of the target.”

“But—hell, a whole house?”

“Instant firestorm. Hotter than the surface of the sun.” The passenger gave a wry chuckle. “Still want to be closer when she blows?” The driver shook his head emphatically.

“Nor me. Okay, there she goes. Swing around, head south, don’t hurry.” Later there was a bright reflection on the low gray cloud sealing in the city.

WELL DOCUMENTED Dutifully, at each state border control post, Dr. Jake Treves presented a succession of documents to the inspectors: his own ID, his certificate of professional status, his permit as a research biologist to transport protected species interstate, and his manifest for this particular journey.

Upon which the dialogue developed in predictable patterns.

“You really got a mountain lion in this truck?”

“Mm-hm. Safely sedated, of course.”

“Say! I never saw a live mountain lion. Can I… ?”

“Sure.” Invited to slide back the door over a peephole, the inspectors saw an elderly though still sleek male specimen of Felis concolor, drowsy but alert enough to curl his lip in annoyance.

Also they smelt a strong feline stench. From an aerosol can. Very useful to induce big cats to breed in captivity.

“Faugh! Sure hope for your sake you got air conditioning in your cab!” And for getting up the nose of nosyparkers.

COUNCIL OF PERFECTION For a while Bagheera had padded around Ted Horovitz’s moss-green office, searching for Natty Bumppo, whose trace-scent was everywhere, but all the adult dogs were still on perimeter patrol. Now he way lying contentedly at Kate’s side while she gently scratched him behind the ears. Occasionally he emitted a purr of satisfaction at having been reunited with her.

The problem of what to do when he discovered he was among more than a hundred dogs built to his own scale would have to wait.

Looking around the company of local people—Josh and Lorna Treves, Suzy Dellinger, Sweetwater, Brad Compton—Ted said briskly, “Now I know Nick and Kate got a lot of questions for us. Before we get into that area, any of you got questions for them? Keep ‘em short, please. Yes, Sweetwater?”

“Nick, how long before they see through your doubletalk about a parthenogenetic worm?”

Nick spread his hands. “I’ve no idea. People like Aylwin Sullivan and his top aides probably suspect the truth already. What I’m banking on, though, is…Well, there are two factors. First, I really did write one worm that’s too tough for them to tackle. Second, from their point of view, whatever this new gimmick may be it’s doing precisely what a parthenogenetic worm would do if such a thing could be written. Now there’s a recherché theorem in n-value mean-path analysis which suggests that at some stage in the evolution of a data-net it must become possible to extract from that net functional programs that were never fed into it.”

“Hey, hey!” Brad Compton clapped his plump hands. “Neat, oh very neat! That’s what they call the virgin-birth theorem, isn’t it? And you’ve given them a nice subtle signpost to it!” He chuckled and clapped again.

“That’s the essence. Not original. I stole the idea. The western powers, back in World War II, pioneered the trick. They set their scientists to building devices which looked as though they absolutely must do something, put them in battered metal cases, took them out on a firing range and shot them up with captured enemy ammunition. Then they arranged for the things to be found by the Nazis. One such bit of nonsense could tie up a dozen top research personnel for weeks before they dared decide it wasn’t a brand-new secret weapon.” A ripple of amusement ran around the group.

“In any case,” Nick added, “it won’t make much odds how soon they decide they’ve been misled. They’d still have to shut down the net to stop what’s happening, wouldn’t they?”

“No doubt of that,” Mayor Dellinger said crisply. “At latest count we have ninety-four sets of those Treasury files they changed the lock on, and over sixty of the FBI files, and—well, nothing that I know of has been copied to fewer than forty separate locations. And while the Fedcomps are tracing them we can be sure that people we don’t know about will be making copies in their turn.”

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