The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

Shuddering when he recalled what life under a non-wise system had done to him, Nickie was ripe to be persuaded.

He didn’t even mind the twice-yearly sampling of his cerebellar tissue which he and all the students had to undergo. (Only later did he start putting quote marks around “student” and thinking of himself and the others more as “inmates.”) It was done with a microprobe and the loss was a negligible fifty cells.

And he was impressed to the point of awe by the single-mindedness of the biologists who worked in the anonymous-looking group of buildings on the east side of the campus. Their detachment was incredible and a little alarming, but their purpose seemed admirable. Organ grafts were routine to them—heart, kidney, lung, they made the transplant as impersonally as a mechanic would fit a spare part. Now they were after more ambitious goals: limb replacement complete with sensor and motor functions, restoration of vision to the blind, external gestation of the embryo… Now and then, without realizing what the slogans implied, Nickie had read advertisements in bold type headed BUY BABY BUNTING and IF YOU ABORT THEN WE’LL SUPPORT! But not until he arrived at Tarnover did he actually see one of the government fetus-trucks making its delivery of unwanted incomplete babies.

That troubled him a little, but it wasn’t hard for him to decide that it was better for the not-yet-children to come here and be useful in research than for them to burn in a hospital incinerator.

After that, however, he wasn’t quite as interested in genetics as he had begun to be. It could well have been coincidence, of course; most of the time he was hungrily rounding out his incomplete picture of the modern world, concentrating on history, sociology, political geography, comparative religion, linguistics and fiction in every possible form. His instructors were pleased and his fellow students were envious: here was one of the lucky ones, who was certain to go a long, long way.

There were graduates from Tarnover out in the larger world now. Not many. To build the student body up to its present total of seven hundred plus had taken nine years, and a good deal of the early work done here had gone to waste on the error side of the trial-and-error methods inevitable with any system as radically new as this. That was over. Sometimes a graduate returned for a short visit and expressed pleasure at the smoothness with which the establishment now ran, and told half-sad, half-funny stories about mistakes made when he or she was still a student. Most centered on the original assumption that an element of rivalry was indispensable if the people here were to function at maximum efficiency. On the contrary; one of the basic characteristics of a wise person is the ability to see how competition wastes time and effort. Some ludicrous contradictions had arisen before that problem was straightened out.

Existence at Tarnover was isolated. Vacations were naturally permitted—many of the students had living families, unlike Nickie. Pretty often one of his friends would take him home over Christmas or Thanksgiving or Labor Day. But he was well aware of the danger inherent in talking freely. No formal oath was administered, no security clearance issued, but all the kids were conscious, indeed proud, that their country’s survival might depend on what they were doing. Besides, being a guest in another person’s home reminded him uncomfortably of the old days. So he never accepted an invitation lasting more than a week, and always returned thankfully to what he now regarded as his ideal environment: the place where the air was constantly crackling with new ideas, yet the day-today pattern of life was wholly stable.

Naturally there were changes. Sometimes a student, less often an instructor, went away without warning. There was a phrase for that; it was said they had “bowed out”—bowed in the sense of an overstressed girder, or a tree before a gale. One instructor resigned because he was not allowed to attend a conference in Singapore. No one sympathized. People from Tarnover did not attend foreign congresses. They rarely went to those in North America. There were reasons not to be questioned.

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