The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“Well, in your sleep you moaned about Tarnover, and since everybody knows what Tarnover is like—”

He jerked as though he had been kicked. “Wait, wait! That can’t be true! Most people don’t know Tarnover exists!”

She shrugged. “Oh, you know what I mean. I’ve met several of their so-called graduates. People who could have been individuals but instead have been standardized—filed down—straitjacketed!”

“But that’s incredible!”

It was her turn to be confused and startled. “What?”

“That you’ve met all these people from Tarnover.”

“No, it’s not. UMKC is crawling with them. Turn any wet stone. Oh, I exaggerate, but there are five or six.”

The sensations he had been victim of when he arrived threatened to return. His mouth dried completely, as though it had been swabbed with cottonwool; his heart pounded; he instantly wanted to find a bathroom. But he fought back with all the resources at his command. Steadying his voice was as exhausting as climbing a mountain.

“So where are they in hiding?”

“Nowhere. Stop by the Behavioral Sciences Lab and—Say, Sandy!” She rose anxiously to her feet. “You’d better lie down again and talk about this later. Obviously it hasn’t penetrated that you’re suffering from shock, just as surely as if you’d walked away from a veetol crash.”

“I do know!” he barked. “But there was someone from Tarnover sitting in with the G2S selection board, and if they think to make a physical check of this place… They thought of calling you up, didn’t they?”

She bit her lip, eyes scanning his face in search of clues that were not to be found.

“Why are you so afraid?” she ventured. “What did they do to you?”

“It’s not so much what they did. It’s what they will do if they catch me.”

“Because of something you did to them? What?”

“Quit cold after they’d spent thirty million on trying to turn me into the sort of shivver you were just describing.” During the next few seconds he was asking himself how he could ever have been so stupid as to say that. And with surprise so terrific it was almost worse than what had gone before he then discovered he hadn’t been stupid after all.

For she turned and walked to the window to peer out at the street between the not-completely-closed curtains. She said, “Nobody in sight who looks suspicious. What’s the first thing they’ll do if they figure out who you are—deevee your code? I mean the one you’ve been using at G2S.”

“I let that out too?” he said in renewed horror.

“You let a lot out. Must have been stacking up in your head for years. Well?”

“Uh—yes, I guess so.”

She checked her watch and compared it with an old-fashioned digital clock that was among the few ornaments she had not disposed of. “There’s a flight to Los Angeles in ninety minutes. I’ve used it now and then; it’s one that you can get on without booking. By tonight we could be at—”

He put his hands to his head, giddy again. “You’re going too fast for me.”

“Fast it’s got to be. What can you do apart from being a systems rash? Everything?”

“I…” He took an enormous grip on himself. “Yes, or damn nearly.”

“Fine. So come on.”

He remained irresolute. “Kate, surely you’re not going to—”

“Forget about school next year, abandon friends and home and mother, and Bagheera?” Her tone was scathing. “Shit, no. But how are you going to make out if you don’t have a usable code to prop you up while you’re building another they don’t know about? I guess that must be how you work the trick, hm?”

“Uh—yes, more or less.”

“So move, will you? My code is in good standing, and the girls downstairs will mind Bagheera for a week as willingly as for an evening, and apart from that all I have to do is leave a note for Ina saying I’ve gone to stay with friends.” She seized the nearest phone and began to compose the code for her mother’s mail-store reel.

“But I can’t possibly ask you to—”

“You’re not asking, I’m offering. You damn well better grab the chance. Because if you don’t you’ll be as good as dead, won’t you?” She waved him silent and spoke the necessary words to mislead Ina.

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