The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“What? What?” A chorus of anxious voices.

“That caller claimed to be a cousin of Miskin Breadloaf. The would-be bomber you arrested, Ted. She says Precipice is going to be attacked with nukes at 0130!”

“Ten minutes? We can’t possibly evacuate the town in ten minutes!” Suzy whispered, clenching her fists and staring at the wall clock as though willing it to show some earlier time.

“We’ll have to try!” Ted snapped, jumping to his feet and heading for the door.

“I’ll get Nat to rouse everybody and—” He checked. Nick had suddenly launched into a burst of furious activity, punching his board with fingers that flew faster than a pianist’s.

“Nick! Don’t waste time—move! We need everybody’s help!”

“Shut up!” Nick grated between clenched teeth. “Go on, wake the town, get everybody away that you can… but leave me alone!”

“Nick!” Kate said, taking an uncertain pace toward him.

“You too! Run like hell—because this may not work!”

“If you’re going to stay then I—”

“Go, damn it!” Nick hissed. “Go!”

“But what are you trying to do?”


Suddenly Kate found herself out in the chilly dark, and at her side Bagheera was trembling, the hairs on his nape raised and rough under her fingers. There was incredible noise: the dogs barking, Ted shouting through a bullhorn, everybody who could find any means of banging or rattling or clanging using it to create a racket no one could have slept through.

“Leave town! Run like hell! Don’t take anything, just run!” From nowhere a dog appeared in front of her. Kate stopped in alarm, wondering whether she could hold Bagheera back if he was frightened and confused enough to pounce.

The dog wagged its great tail. She abruptly recognized Natty Bumppo.

Head low, neck in a concave bend, in a wholly uncharacteristic puppy-like posture, he approached Bagheera, giving a few more ingratiating strokes with his tail. Bagheera’s nape hairs relaxed; he allowed Nat to snuff his muzzle, though his claws were half-unsheathed.

What was the meaning of this pantomime? Should Nat not be on duty, waking people with his barking?

And then Bagheera reached a conclusion. He stretched his neck and rubbed his cheek against Natty Bumppo’s nose. His claws disappeared.

“Kate!” someone shouted from behind her. She started. Sweetwater’s voice.

“Kate, are you all right?” The tall Indian woman came running to her side. “Why aren’t you — ? Oh, of course. You daren’t let loose Bagheera!”

Kate took a deep breath. “I thought I couldn’t. Nat just set me right.”

“What?” Sweetwater stared incomprehension.

“If human beings had half the insight of this dog… !” Kate gave a near-hysterical laugh, releasing her grip on Bagheera’s collar. Instantly Natty Bumppo turned around and went bounding into the darkness with Bagheera matching him stride for stride.

“Kate, what the hell are you talking about?” Sweetwater insisted.

“Didn’t you see? Nat just made Bagheera a freeman of Precipice!”

“Oh, for — ! Kate, come with me! We only have seven minutes left!” There was no chance to organize the flight; the Precipicians simply scattered, taking the shortest route to the edge of town and continuing into the surrounding farmland. Gasping, her feet cut by sharp grass and stones, Kate was overtaken by a bitch loping easily with a screaming child astride her back; she thought it might have been Brynhilde. Then a branch whipped across her face and she almost fell, but a strong arm caught and steadied her, hurried her another dozen paces, then hurled her to the ground in what shelter was offered by a shallow dip.

“No point in trying to go on,” Ted’s gruff voice said out of darkness. “Better to be closer behind a good solid bank of earth than further away and on your feet in the open.”

Two more people tumbled over the rim of the hollow. One she didn’t know; the other was the restaurant keeper, Eustace Fenelli.

“What is all the panic?” he demanded with a trace of petulance.

Rapidly Ted explained, and concluded after a glance at his watch, “The strike is scheduled for 0130, in about a minute and a half.”

For a moment Eustace said nothing. Then, with magnificent simplicity, making the single word into a whole encyclopedia of objurgation: “Shit!” To her astonishment Kate had to giggle.

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Categories: John Brunner