The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

(NB: part 2 of the foregoing message is a cybernetic datum published in direct contravention of DoD Regulation #229RR3X3, as being conducive to the physical, psychological and/or social well-being of the population.)

EXTREMELY CROSS SECTION “Wipe that grin off your face! You knew the company was going broke and I can prove it!”

“Precipice? Where’s that?”

“My sister went blind, near me? Blind! And she never used any eye makeup except your brand!”

“Bomb an American city? Oh, it must be a mistake.”

“It was my money, and I sweated blood to earn it, and it went to feather your stinking nest!”

“Precipice? Seems to me I heard that name before.”

“Christ, what you did to the poor little slittie! She hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in months, she always wakes up screaming and howling, and I was fool enough to bring her back for more. I could never look her in the face again if I didn’t ruin yours.”

“What was that about Precipice?”

“Damn right I voted for him. But if I’d known then what I know now I wouldn’t have cast a vote. I’d have cast a brick.”

“A strike? With nukes? My God, I know Hearing Aid isn’t exactly popular, but — !”

“Jim, I don’t believe you know my lawyer Charles Sweyn. He has something to give you. Charlie? Fine. You’ll notice the summons mentions damages of fifty million.”

“I thought we were talking about some town called Precipice.”

“I read what it said on that tax form and I swear to God I’ll pay you in buckshot if you show your filthy nose around my place!”

“Really? I always wondered where their base was.”


“Hearing Aid?”


“My God! Do you think they know about this? Where’s a phone? Quick!”

TOUCH AND GO Past one A.M. at the headquarters of Hearing Aid. Ordinarily a dead time of night because most of the continent had orbited into sleep and only a handful of the most lonely, the most dismal, the most despairing were still anxious to talk to an anonymous listener.

Tonight was different. The room was crackling with restrained tension. The goal to which since its foundation Precipice had been dedicated was upon them, and they had never expected it to be so soon.

Solemn expressions were on the faces of the dozen people present. Only half of them were engaged in listening duty; other calls were being relayed to private homes. The remainder were monitoring the progress of their super-tapeworm.

To them generally Nick said, turning away from his board, “News from Paul Freeman. He got that body-and-soul program on the move, the one he hoped to adapt from the existing federal resources-allocation program. He said it was tough.”

“That was the postwar one?” Sweetwater inquired.

“Right.” Nick stretched his long arms. “Consequently it was drafted to ensure that only people the government approved of would be allotted food, medicine, clothing and power.”

“You mean,” Kate supplied, “it was built to make certain that the people fool enough to drag us into a major war would wind up on top again afterwards.”

“So they could screw us up the next time, right. But Paul managed to peel away that factor by substituting a half-like basis for entitlement to credit, and left the rest intact to run the net with even more authority than it had when it was an arm for Weychopee. He was there when it was written. Spotted its weaknesses right away.”

“So what does it do now?” Brad Compton demanded.

“Not a few good things. If people vote for Proposition #1, no greedy shivver will get his wall-to-wall three-vee so long as anybody’s homeless. He won’t get his round-the-planet airship cruise so long as people are dying from any disease we know how to cure.”

“Smooth enough for starters,” Sweetwater said. “But has there been any progress on your side, Nick rationalizing the tax structure? That’s what I want to know about. When I think how angry I got paying off the croakers in Oakland because of their local ordinance against mediums… !”

“Oh, yes. Proposition #2 is cooking as nicely as #1,” Nick said, and tapped a quick code into his board. “It went back to have a couple of loopholes deleted, and if there’s no further snag… Ah, good. Coming up in about two minutes.”

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