The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

He sighed. To think that some people were (had to be?) content with mechanical gratification… But maybe it was best in certain special cases: for instance, for those who had to establish deep emotional attachments or none at all, who suffered agonies when a change of employment or a posting to another city shattered their connections, who were safest when keeping their chance colleagues at a distance.

Not for the first time he reflected on the good fortune—heavily disguised—which had stunted his own capacity for intense emotional involvement to the point where he was content with mere liking. It was so much superior to the transitory possessiveness he had been exposed to in childhood, the strict impersonality maintained during his teener years at Tarnover.

Best not to think about Tarnover. Showering down, he relished his new situation.

Much would depend on the personalities of the people he was about to meet at the welcome party, but they were bound to be good stable plug-in types, and certainly the nature of the job was ideal for his talents. Most commercial systems were sub-logical and significantly redundant, so he’d have no trouble tidying up a few tangles, saving G2S a couple of million a year, by way of proving he really was a systems rash. They’d regard him within weeks as an invaluable recruit.

Meantime, taking advantage of the corporation’s status, he could gain access to data-nets that were ordinarily secure. That was the whole point of coming to KC.

He wanted—more, he needed—data that as a priest he’d never have dared to probe for. Six years was about as far ahead as he’d been able to plan when he escaped from Tarnover, so…

He was stepping out of the shower compartment, dried by blasts of warm air, when he heard the sound of his circulation enormous in his ears: thud, thud, thud-thud-thud-thud, faster with each passing second. Giddy, furious, he clutched at the rim of the hand-basin to steady himself and caught a glimpse of Sandy Locke’s face in the mirror above it—haggard, aged by decades on the instant—before he realized he wasn’t going to make it to the tranquilizers he’d left in the main room. He was going to have to stay right here and fight back with yoga-style deep breathing.

His mouth was dry, his belly was drum-taut, his teeth wanted to chatter but couldn’t because his jaw muscles were so tense, his vision wavered and there was a line of cramp as brutal as a knife-cut all the way up his right calf. And he was cold.

But luckily it wasn’t a bad attack. In less than ten minutes he was able to reach his inhalers, and he was only three minutes late joining the party.

BETWEEN 500 AND 2000 TIMES A DAY Somewhere out there, a house or an apartment or a hotel or motel room: beautiful, comfortable, a living hell.

Stonkered or clutched or quite simply going insane, someone reaches for the phone and punches the most famous number on the continent: the ten nines that key you into Hearing Aid.

And talks to a blank though lighted screen. It’s a service. Imposing no penances, it’s kinder than the confessional. Demanding no fees, it’s affordable where psychotherapy is not. Offering no advice, it’s better than arguing with that son (or daughter) of a bitch who thinks he/she knows all the answers and goes on and on and on until you want to SCREAM.

In a way it’s like using the I Ching. It’s a means of concentrating attention on reality. Above all, it provides an outlet for all the frustration you’ve struggled to digest for fear that, learning of it, your friends would brand you failure.

It must help some of the unhappy ones. The suicide rate is holding steady.

FLESHBACK SEQUENCE Today, said the impersonal instruments, it would be advisable to waken the subject fully; too long spent in the trance-like state of recall that he had endured for the past forty-two days might endanger his conscious personality.

The recommendation was not unwelcome to Paul Freeman. He was growing more and more intrigued by this man whose past had been mapped along so improbable a course.

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