The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“Naturally. But at G2S the staff were different?”

“Mm-hm. Not in the sense of having nothing to hide, not in the sense of being superbly secure—witness Ina, for one. But in general they were enjoying the wave of change. They groused pretty often, but that was a safety valve. Once the pressure blew off, they went back to using the system instead of being used by it.”

“Which is what you find most admirable.”

“Hell, yes. Don’t you?” There was a pause, but no answer.

“Sorry, next time I’ll know better. But you exaggerate when you say they were set to offer me tenure. They were prepared to semi-perm me.”

“That would have evolved into tenure.”

“No, I couldn’t have let it. I was tempted. But it would have meant slipping into the Sandy Locke role and staying in it for the rest of my life.”

“I see. It sounds as though role-switching can become addictive.”


“Never mind. Tell me what you did to make such a good impression.”

“Oh, apart from the oliver bit I sorted out some snarls, saved them a few million a year. Routine stuff. Anybody can be an efficient systems rash if he can mouse around in the federal net.”

“You found that easy?”

“Not quite, but far from difficult. A G2S code heading the inquiry was a key to open many doors. The corp has a max-nat-advantage rating at Canaveral, you know.”

“Did you do as you promised for Ina Grierson?”

“Pecked away at it when I remembered. I lost my enthusiasm when I realized why she hadn’t turned freelie already, cut loose and left her daughter to her own devices. So long as she was in reach of her ugly duckling, her confidence was reinforced. Knowing she was far the more conventionally beautiful of the two… She must have hated her ex-husband.”

“You found out who he was, of course.”

“Only when I got tired of her pestering and finally dug deep into her file. Poor shivver. It must have been a horrible way to die.”

“Some people would call it a lesson in nemesis.”

“Not at Tarnover.”

“Maybe not. However, you were saying you enjoyed yourself at G2S.”

“Yes, I was amazingly content. But for one problem. It was spelt K-A-T-E, as if you hadn’t guessed.”

STALKED The university was closed for summer vacation, but instead of taking off for a remote corner of the world or even, like some students, going on a package tour to the Moon, Kate stayed in KC. Next after the welcomefest he met her at a coley club patronized by the more frameworked execs of G2S.

“Sandy, come and dance!” Seizing his arm, almost dragging him away. “You haven’t seen my party trick!”

“Which is — ?” But she was doing it, and he was genuinely startled. The ceiling projectors were invisible; it took fantastic kinaesthetic sensibility to dance one chorus of a simple tune without straying off key, and more still to come back and repeat it.

That though was exactly what she did, and the clamorous discord generated by the other dancers was overriden by her strongly-gestured theme, mostly in the bass as though some celestial organ had lost all its treble and alto couplers but none of its volume: the Ode to Joy in a stately majestic tempo. From the corner of his eye he noticed that four European visitors sitting at a nearby table were uneasy, wondering whether to stand in honor of their continental anthem.

“How in the — ?”

“Don’t talk! Harmonize!” Well, if the last note was from that projector and the one adjacent is now delivering that note… He had never taken much interest in coley, but Kate’s enthusiasm was infectious; her face was bright, her eyes sparkled. She looked as though some other age might have judged her beautiful.

He tried this movement, that one, another different… and suddenly there was a chord, a true fifth. Which slipped a little, and had to be corrected, and—got it! A whole phrase of the melody in two meticulously harmonizing parts.

“I’ll be damned,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. “I never met anyone before over about twenty-five and capable of proper coley. We should get together more often!” And then someone on the far side of the floor who looked no more than fifteen wiped the music of Beethoven and substituted something new, angular, acid—probably Japanese.

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