The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

He dressed in the wrong clothes and collected what he felt he need not leave behind, a single bagful of oddments like transferable Delphi tickets and his new copper ingot. He also pocketed two inhalers of tranquilizer, which he knew he would require before the day was out.

Finally he set a bomb under his desk and wired it to the phone so that he could trigger it whenever he chose.

The destruction of the church might figure in the media’s daily crime list—murders so many, robberies so many, rapes so many—but quite often they didn’t get down as far as arson because there wasn’t time. That, so long as nobody filed a claim for insurance money, would be that. With ready-made suspects at hand in the shape of the Grailers and the Billykings, the harried local police would be content to treat the case as open and shut.

He gave one final glance around as he prepared to quit the plastic dome for the last time. Traffic hummed on the highway, but there was nobody in sight who might have paid special attention to him. In some ways, he reflected, this was a much less complex century to live in than the twentieth must have been.

If only it were as simple as it looked.

THE NUMBER YOU HAVE REACHED Back when it was still TV and not three-vee, a famous, crusty, cynical historian named Angus Porter, who had survived long enough to become a Grand Old Man and whose lifelong leftist views were in consequence now tolerated as forgivable eccentricity, had put the matter in a nutshell.

Or, as some would-be wit promptly said, in a nut case.

Invited to comment on the world nuclear disarmament treaty of 1989, he said, “This is the third stage of human social evolution. First we had the legs race. Then we had the arms race. Now we’re going to have the brain race.

“And, if we’re lucky, the final stage will be the human race.”

THE PERSONIFICATION OF A TALENT “So that’s how he managed it!” Hartz said, marveling. He stared at the shaven body in the steel chair as though he had never seen this man before. “I’d never have believed it possible to punch a whole new identity into the net from a domestic phone—certainly not without the help of a computer larger than he owned.”

“It’s a talent,” Freeman said, surveying the screens and lights on his console.

“Compare it to the ability of a pianist, if you like. Back before tape, there were soloists who could carry twenty concerti in their heads, note-perfect, and could improvise for an hour on a four-note theme. That’s disappeared, much as poets no longer recite by the thousand lines the way they apparently could in Homer’s day. But it’s not especially remarkable.”

Hartz said after a moment, “Know something? I’ve seen a good few disturbing things, here at Tarnover, and been told about a great many more. But I don’t think anything has…” He had to force himself to utter the next words, but with a valiant effort he made the confession. “So frightened me as hearing you say that.”

“I’m not sure I follow you.”

“Why, calling this amazing talent ‘not especially remarkable’!”

“But it isn’t.” Freeman leaned back in his padded chair. “Not by our standards, at any rate.”

“That’s just it,” Hartz muttered. “Your standards. Sometimes they don’t seem altogether…”


Hartz nodded.

“Oh, but I assure you they are. We’re a very gifted species. Most of what we’re doing here is concerned with the recovery of talents we’ve neglected. We’ve been content to remain shockingly ignorant about some of our most precious mental resources. Until we’ve plugged those gaps in our knowledge, we can’t plan our path toward the future.” He glanced at his watch. “I think we’ve had enough for today. I’ll call the nurse and have him taken away for feeding and cleansing.”

“That worries me, too. Hearing you speak about him in—in such depersonalized terms. While I admire your thoroughness, your dedication, I have reservations about your methods.”

Freeman rose, stretching slightly as he did so to relieve his cramped limbs.

“We use those methods which we’ve found to work, Mr. Hartz. Moreover, please recall we’re dealing with a criminal, a deserter who, if he’d had the chance, would willingly have evolved into a traitor. There are other people engaged in projects similar to ours, and some of them are not just single-minded but downright brutal. I’m sure you wouldn’t wish people of that stamp to outstrip us.”

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