The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“Well, there are the simulation cities, not to mention the paid-avoidance zones.”

“Sure, and there are the places like Trianon where you get a foretaste of tomorrow. But don’t bleat me. Trianon couldn’t exist if G2S didn’t subsidize it with a billion dollars a year. Simulation cities are only for the children of the rich—it costs nearly as much to send the kids back to the past for a year as it does to keep them at Amherst or Bennington. And the paid-avoidance areas were created as a way of economizing on public expenditure after the Great Bay Quake. It was cheaper to pay the refugees to go without up-to-the-minute equipment. Which they couldn’t have afforded anyhow.”

“Maybe mankind is more adaptable than they used to believe. Maybe we’re coping well enough without such props.”

“In a day and age when they’ve quit covering individual murders on three-vee, where they just say bluntly, ‘Today there were so many hundred killings,’ and change the subject? That’s not what I call coping!”

“You don’t seem to have coped too well yourself. Each of your personae led to failure, or at any rate it didn’t lead to fulfillment of your ambition.”

“Partly true, but only partly. In the enclosed environment of Tarnover I didn’t realize how apathetic most people have become, how cut off they feel from the central process of decision-making, how utterly helpless and resigned. But remember: I was doing in my middle twenties what some people have to wait another decade, even two decades, to achieve. You people were hunting for me with all the resources at your command. You still didn’t spot me, not even when I changed roles, which was my most vulnerable moment.”

“So you’re blaming others for your failure and seeking consolation in your few and shallow successes.”

“I think you’re human after all. At any rate that sounded as though you’re trying to needle me. But save your breath. I admit my worst mistake.”

“Which was — ?”

“To assume that things couldn’t possibly be as bad as they were painted. To imagine that I could undertake constructive action on my own. I’ll give you an example. A dozen times at least I’d heard the story of how a computer purchased by one of the hyper-corps exclusively—on their own admission—to find means whereby they could make tax-immune payments to government officials for favors received, had been held an allowable business expense. I was convinced it must be folklore. And then I found there really was such a case on record.” A sour chuckle. “Faced with things like that, I came to accept that I couldn’t get anywhere without supporters, sympathizers, colleagues.”

“Which you were hoping to obtain via your church?”

“Two more personae intervened before I hit on that idea. But, broadly speaking, yes.”

“Wasn’t it galling to have to rethink yourself so often because of outside circumstances?”

There was another pause, this time a long one.

“Well, to be candid, I sometimes regarded myself as having escaped into the biggest prison on the planet.”

DEAN INGE HE SAY “There are two kinds of fool. One says, ‘This is old, and therefore good.’ And one says, ‘This is new, and therefore better.’”

RECEPTION TODAY IS OF AVERAGE QUALITY “This is Seymour Schultz, who’s one of our orbital troubleshooters.” A lean dark man wearing blue, smiling and proffering, according to custom, a card bearing his name and code. Projected image: man of action, no-nonsense type.

“Ah, I saw one of your colleagues taking off just now.”

“Yes, that would have been Harry Leaver.”

“And this is Vivienne Ingle, head-of-dept for mental welf.” Fat in gray and green, never pretty. Projecting: got here on merit, I know more than you do about yourself.

“And Pedro Lopez, and Charlie Verrano, and…” Plug-in people as predicted, which meant he could switch off half his attention and still be sure he’d do and say the right conformist things.

“… Rico Posta, veep i/c long-term planning—” Snap back. Vice-presidents count, often stay put instead of bouncing around. So for this tall bearded man in black and yellow a specially warm handshake and: “Great to meet you, Rico. Guess you and I will be in circuit quite a lot over this diversification you have in mind.”

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