The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

In a tight, thin voice she said, “Give me the details. There must be a lot more to it than that.” He complied. When he had recited the full story, she shook her head with an incredulous expression.

“But they must be insane. We need a rest from ultrarapid change, not an extra dose of it. Half the population has given up trying to cope, and the other is punch-drunk without knowing it.”

“Sweedack,” he said dully. “But of course their defense is that whether or not it’s done here, it’s bound to be done somewhere by somebody, so…” An empty shrug.

“That’s okay. Maybe the people who come along second will profit from our example; maybe they won’t repeat all our mistakes. But… Don’t the people at Tarnover realize they could reduce our society to hysterics?”

“Apparently not. It’s a prime example of Porter’s Law, isn’t it? They’ve carried over the attitudes of the arms race into the age of the brain race. They’re trying to multiply incommensurables. You must have heard that applying minimax strategy to the question of rearmament invariably results in the conclusion that you must rearm. And their spiritual ancestors kept right on doing so even after H-bombs had written a factor of infinity into the equation of military power. They sought security by piling up more and more irrelevant weapons. At Tarnover today they’re making the analogous error. They claim to be hunting for the genetic element of wisdom, and I’m sure most of them believe that’s what they’re really doing. They aren’t, of course. What they’re on the track of is the 200-plus IQ. And intelligence and wisdom aren’t the same.” He clenched his fists. “The prospect terrifies me! They must be stopped. Somehow and at any cost. But I’ve been struggling for six years to think of a way, hoping that the thirty million they lavished on me won’t go completely to waste, and I haven’t achieved one goddamned thing!”

“Are you held back by fear of being—well, punished?”

He started. “You’re sharp, aren’t you? I guess I am!”

“Just for opting out?”

“Oh, I’ve committed a slew of federal crimes. Used false identities, obtained a notary’s seal by fraud, entered forged data in the continental net… Just take it for granted they could find plenty of reasons for me to go to jail.”

“I’m surprised they let you get away in the first place.”

“But they don’t compel where they can persuade. They’re not stupid. They’re aware that one volunteer working his guts out on their behalf is worth a score of reluctant conscripts.”

Gazing past him into nowhere, she said, “I see. Thinking you were trustworthy, they gave you too much rope. So when you did escape, what did you do?” He summarized his careers.

“Hm! If nothing else, you took in a broad cross-section of society. What made you settle for a post at G2S after all that?”

“I needed to gain access to some restricted areas of the net. In particular I had to find out whether my code was still valid. Which it was. But now that they’re closing on my identity at KC it’s high time I made one last use of it and rewrote myself again. It costs, of course, but I have some won Delphi tickets to collect on, and I’m sure I can adopt a well-paid profession for the time being. Don’t they go big for mystical things out here? I can run computerized horoscopes, and I can offer gene counseling—I think you can do that in California without a state license—and… Oh, anything that involves use of a computer terminal.” She gave him a level look.

“But you’re in a paid-avoidance area,” she said.

“Hell, so I am!” Suddenly he felt very much alone, unspeakably vulnerable. “Does the avoidance go deep? I mean even if you can’t use any public phone to tap the net, do they forcibly exclude computers?”

“No, but you have to make special application to get time. And there’s more cash in circulation than anywhere else on the continent, and veephone service is restricted: you can’t dial out to the rest of the country, you have to cable and ask to be called back. Things like that.”

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