The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

She drew drapes against the sun by touching a button, then came in twilight to sit by him and hold his hand. Her fingers sought his pulse as expertly as a trained nurse.

“I knew you were straining too hard,” she said. “I still can’t figure out why—but get the worst of it over and then you can tell me about it. If you like.”

Time passed. The slam of his heart lessened. The sweat streaming from his pores turned from hot to cool, made his smart clothing clammy. He began to shiver and then, with no warning, found he was sobbing. Not weeping—his eyes were dry—but sobbing in huge gusting gasps, as though he were being cruelly and repeatedly punched in the belly by a fist that wasn’t there.

At some stage she brought a thick woolen blanket, winterweight, and laid it on him. It had been years since he felt the rough bulk of such a fabric—now, one slept on a pressure bed, insulated by a directed layer of air. It evoked thousands of inchoate childhood memories. His hands clamped like talons to draw it over his head and his knees doubled into the fetal posture and he rolled on his side and miraculously was asleep.

When he awoke he felt curiously relaxed. He felt purged. In the… How long?

He checked his watch. In the at-most hour since he dozed off, something more than calm had occupied his mind.

He formed a word silently and liked its taste.


But — !

He sat up with a jerk. There was no peace—must be none—could be none! It was the wrong world for peace. At the G2S HQ someone from Tarnover must now be adding—correction, must already have added—two plus two. This person Sandy Locke “overlooked as kind of a national resource” might have been identified as the lost Nickie Haflinger!

He threw aside the blanket and stood up, belatedly realizing that Kate was nowhere to be seen and perhaps Bagheera had been left on guard and…

But his complicated thought dissolved under a wave of dizziness. Before he had taken as much as one pace away from the couch, he’d had to lean an outstretched hand against the wall.

Upon which came Kate’s voice from the kitchen. “Good timing, Sandy. Or whatever your real name is. I just fixed some broth for you. Here.”

It approached him in a steaming cup, which he accepted carefully by the less-hot handle. But he didn’t look at it. He looked at her. She had changed into a blue and yellow summer shirt and knee-long cultoons also of yellow with the blue repeated in big Chinese ideograms across the seat. And he heard himself say, “What was that about my name?” Thinking at the same time: I was right. There is no room for peace in this modern world. It’s illusory. One minute passes, and it’s shattered.

“You were babbling in your sleep,” she said, sitting down on a patched old chair which he had expected her to throw out yet perversely had been retained. “Oh, please stop twitching your eyes like that! If you’re wondering what’s become of Bagheera, I took him downstairs; the girls said they’d look after him for a while. And if you’re trying to spot a way of escape, it’s too soon. Sit down and drink that broth.”

Of the alternatives open, the idea of obeying seemed the most constructive. The instant he raised the cup he realized he was ravenous. His blood-sugar level must be terribly debased. Also he was still cold. The warmth of the savory liquid was grateful to him.

At long last he was able to frame a one-word question.

“Babbling… ?”

“I exaggerate. A lot of it made sense. That was why I told G2S you weren’t here.”

“What?” He almost let go of the cup.

“Don’t tell me I did the wrong thing. Because I didn’t. Ina got them to call me when you didn’t show for your interview. I said no, of course I haven’t seen him. He doesn’t even like me, I told them. Ina would believe that. She’s never realized that men can like me, because I’m all the things she didn’t want her daughter to be, such as studious and intelligent and mainly plain. She never dug deeper into any man’s personality than the level she dealt with you on: looks good, sounds good, feels good and I can use him.” She gave a harsh laugh, not quite over the brink of bitterness.

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