The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

He disregarded that comment. “What did I—uh—let slip?” he demanded. And trembled a little as he awaited the answer.

She hesitated. “First off… Well, I kind of got the impression you never overloaded before. Can that be true?”

He had been asked often by other people and had always declared, “No, I. guess I’m one of the lucky ones.” And had believed his claim to be truthful. He had seen victims of overload; they hid away, they gibbered when you tried to talk to them, they screamed and struck out and smashed the furniture. These occasional bouts of shaking and cramp and cold, aborted in minutes with one tranquilizer, couldn’t be what you’d call overload, not really!

But now he had sensed such violence in his own body, he was aware that from outside his behavior must have paralleled that of a member of his Toledo congregation, and his former chief at the Utopia consultancy, and two of his colleagues at the three-vee college, and… Others. Countless others. Trapped in fight-or-flight mode when there was no way to attain either solution.

He sighed, setting aside his cup, and drove himself to utter an honest answer.

“Before, drugs have always straightened me in no time. Today—well, somehow I didn’t want to think of taking anything… if you see what I mean.”

“You never sweated it out before? Not even once? Small wonder this is such a bad attack.”

Nettled, he snapped back. “It happens to you all the time, hm? That’s why you’re so knowledgeable?”

She shook her head, expression neutral. “No, it never did happen to me. But I’ve never taken tranquilizers, either. If I feel like crying myself to sleep, I do. Or if I feel like cutting classes because it’s such a beautiful day, I do that too. Ina overloaded when I was about five. That was when she and Dad split up. After that she started riding constant herd on my mental state as well as her own. But I got this association fixed in my mind between the pills she took and the way she acted when she broke down—which wasn’t pleasant—so I always used to pretend I’d swallowed what she gave me, then spit it out when I was alone. I got very good at hiding tablets and capsules under my tongue. And I guess it was the sensible thing to do. Most of my friends have folded up at least once, some of them two or three times beginning in grade school. And they all seem to be the ones who had—uh—special care taken of them by their folks. Care they’ll never recover from.”

Somehow a solitary fly had escaped the defenses of the kitchen. Sated, heavy on its wings, it came buzzing in search of a place to rest and digest. As though a saw blade’s teeth were adding an underscore to the words, he felt his next question stressed by the sound.

“Do you mean the sort of thing Anti-Trauma does?”

“The sort of thing parents hire Anti-Trauma to do to their helpless kids!” There was venom in her tone, the first strong feeling he had detected in her. “But they were far from the first. They’re the largest and best-advertised, but they weren’t the pioneers. Ina and I were having a fight last year, and she said she wished she’d given me that type of treatment. Once upon a time I quite liked my mother. Now I’m not so sure.”

He said with weariness born of his recent tormented self-reappraisal, “I guess they think they’re doing the right and proper thing. They want their kids to be able to cope, and it’s claimed to be a way of adjusting people to the modern world.”

“That,” Kate said, “is Sandy Locke talking. Whoever you are, I now know for sure that you’re not him. He’s a role you’ve put on. In your heart you know what Anti-Trauma does is monstrous… don’t you?”

He hesitated only fractionally before nodding. “Yes. Beyond any hope of argument, it’s evil.”

“Thank you for leveling with me at last. I was sure nobody who’s been through what you have could feel otherwise.”

“What am I supposed to have been through?”

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