The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

Worse and worse. Eventually, with much effort she put on her favorite red-and-gold evening gear and went to the open-air dining terrace where soft music mingled with the hush of waves. She felt a little better after two drinks.

To put the regular sparkle back in her world, what about champagne?

And a minute later she was shouting at the waiter (this being an expensive and exclusive establishment instead of the cast-from-a-mold type where you dealt always with machines that kept going wrong… not that human beings were immune from that): “What the hell do you mean, there isn’t any?” Her shrill voice caused heads to turn.

“That gentleman over there”—pointing—”just ordered the last bottle we have in stock.”

“Call the manager!” Who came, and explained with regret that was probably unfeigned (who likes to find his pride and joy deeveed by a mere bunch of circuitry?) why there was nothing he could do. The computer in charge of resources utilization at the HQ of the chain controlling this and a hundred other hotels had decided to allot what champagne was available to resorts where it could be sold at twice the price the traffic in the Sea Islands could bear. The decision was today’s.

Tomorrow the wine list would have been reprinted.

Meanwhile the waiter had faded in response to a signal from another table, and when he returned Ina was struggling not to scream with fury.

He laid a slip of paper in front of her. It bore a message in firm clear handwriting, unusual now that most literate kids were taught to type at seven.

She read it at a glance:

The lucky shivver with the champagne has an idea. Share the bottle? — Sandy Locke

She raised her eyes and found grinning at her a man in a fashionable pirate shirt open to the waist, a gaudy headband, gilt wristers, one long lean finger poised at arm’s length on the cork.

She felt her anger fade like mist at sunrise.

He was a strange one, this Sandy. He dismissed her complaint about how ridiculous it was never to have any more champagne at this hotel and steered the conversation into other channels. That made her ill-tempered all over again, and she went to bed alone. But when the breakfast-trolley rolled automatically to her bedside at 0900, there was a bottle of champagne on it tied with a ribbon and accompanied by a posy. When she met Sandy by the pool at eleven, he asked whether she had enjoyed it.

“So it was you who fixed it! Do you work for this hotel chain?”

“This slumpy linkage? I’m insulted. Third-rank operations aren’t my framework. Shall we swim?”

The next question died on her lips. She had been going to ask what pull he had, whether it was government or a hypercorp. But another explanation fitted, and if that were the right one, the implications were so enticing she dared not broach the matter without a buildup. She said, “Sure, let’s.” And peeled off her clothes.

The wine list was not reprinted after all, and the manager wore a very puzzled expression. That convinced Ina her guess might be correct. Next morning while they were breakfasting in bed she put it squarely to Sandy.

“Poker, I think you must be a CSC.”

“Only if this bed isn’t bugged.”

“Is it?”

“No. I made sure. There are some things I simply don’t care to let computers know.”

“How right you are.” She shivered. “Some of my colleagues at G2S, you know, live at Trianon, where they test new life-styles. And they boast about how their actions are monitored night and day, compare the advantages of various ultramodern bugs… I don’t know how they can stand it.”

“Stand?” he echoed sardonically. “Not a matter of standing, except social standing, I guess. More, it kind of props them up. A few years and they’ll forget they have feet of their own.”

All day Ina was near to shaking with excitement. To think that by pure chance she had bumped into a genuine three-vee tactile-true member of that prestigious elite, the tiny secretive tribe of computer-sabotage consultants… ! It was a perfectly legal discipline, provided its practitioners didn’t tamper with data reserved to a government dept under the McBann-Krutch “greatest-good-of-the-greatest-number” act, but its experts didn’t advertise themselves any more than industrial spies, and it would have been politer to ask whether he was into DDR, “difficult data retrieval.” Luckily he’d taken no offense.

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