The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

It was 2130. A thudding sound announced the issue from wall vents of a cold buffet supper. Ina returned to ask whether he wanted her to bring him a plateful. He was glad. He could use the distraction to formulate not his but Sandy Locke’s proper response.

“Ah, you don’t have to know everything. You just have to know where to find it.” Kate sighed. As she turned away an odd look came into her eyes. He only glimpsed it, but he was quite certain how best to define it.


AMONG THE MOST HIGHLY PRAISED OF ALL THREE-VEE COMMERCIALS 1: Dead silence, the black of empty space, the harsh bright points of the stars.

Slowly into field orbits the wreckage of a factory. Obviously an explosion has opened it like a tin can. Spacesuited figures are seen drifting around it like fetuses attached to the umbilical cords of their regulation life lines. Hold for a beat. Pan to a functioning factory operating at full blast, glistening in the rays of the naked sun and swarming with men and women loading unmanned freight capsules for dispatch to Earth. Voice over: “On the other hand… this factory was built by G2S.” 2: Without warning we are plunging through the outer atmosphere, at first on a steady course, then vibrating, then wobbling as the ablation cone on the capsule’s nose starts to flare. It spins wildly and tumbles end-for-end.

Explosion. Cut to half a dozen men in overalls staring furiously at a dying streak of brightness on the night sky. Cut again, this time to a similar group walking across a concrete landing pan toward a smoking capsule that targeted so close to home they don’t even need to ride to reach it. Voice over: “On the other hand… this capsule was engineered by G2S.” 3: Deep space again, this time showing a bulky irregular mass of asteroid rock drifting toward a smelting station, recognizable by its huge mirror of thin mylar. Jets blaze on the asteroid’s nearer side, men and women in suits gesticulate frantically. Sound over, faint, of confused yells for help and angry orders to “do something!” But the asteroid rock plows its solemn way clear through the mirror and leaves it in shreds that float eerily on nothing. Cut to another smelting station whose mirror is focused on an even larger chunk of ore.

Magnetic vapor-guides tidily collect the gas as it boils off, separators—each shining with a different shade of reddish white—deliver valuable pure metals into cooling chambers on the shadow side of the rock. Voice over: “On the other hand… this orbit was computed at G2S.”

THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD “How did you enjoy working at G2S?” Freeman inquired.

“More than I expected. Being a sort of export agency for frontline technology, it attracts top men and women from every field, and lively minds are always fun to have around. I was most closely in contact with Rico Posta, and in fact it was because of what I did under his instructions that G2S didn’t lay an enormous egg by going into olivers at the same time as National Panasonic. Their model would have been twice the price with half the advantages, and they wouldn’t have wanted to amortize their research over twenty-seven years, either.”

“Something to do with the structure of Japanese society,” Freeman said dryly. “Nipponside, the things must be invaluable.”

“True!” Today the atmosphere was comparatively relaxed. There was an element of conversation in the dialogue.

“How about your other colleagues? You began by disliking Vivienne Ingle.”

“Began by being prepared to dislike them all. But though in theory they were standard plug-in types, in practice they were the cream of the category, moving less often than the average exec and prepared to stay where interesting research was going on rather than move from sheer force of habit.”

“You investigated them by tapping the data-net, no doubt.”

“Of course. Remember my excuse for getting hired.”

“Of course. But it can’t have taken you long to find out what you originally intended to confirm: your 4GH was still usable. Why did you stay, even to the point of their offering you tenure?”

“That… That’s hard to explain. I guess I hadn’t encountered so many people functioning so well before. In my previous personae I chiefly contacted people who were dissatisfied. There’s this kind of low-grade paranoia you find all the time and everywhere because people know that people they don’t know can find out things about them they’d rather keep quiet. Are you with me?”

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