The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“Provided you were in the top group. Can you visualize yourself in the lower echelons, a person who obeys instead of issuing orders?”

“Oh, yes. That’s why I work at Tarnover. I hope that perhaps within my lifetime there will appear people so skilled in dealing with modern society that I and others like me can step out of their way with a clear conscience. In a sense I want to work myself out of a job as fast as possible.”

“Resigning control to crippled kids?”

Freeman sighed. “Oh, you’re obsessed with those laboratory-gestated children! Maybe it will relieve your mind to hear that the latest batch—six of them—are all physically whole and run and jump and feed and dress themselves! If you met them by chance you couldn’t tell them from ordinary kids.”

“So why bother to tell me about them? All that’s registered in my mind is that they may look like ordinary kids… but they never will be ordinary kids.”

“You have a positive gift for twisting things. No matter what I say to you—”

“I find a means of casting a different light on it. Let me do just that to what you’ve been saying. You, and the others you mentioned, acknowledge you’re imperfect. So you’re looking for superior successors. Very well: give me grounds for believing that they won’t just be projections on a larger scale of your admittedly imperfect vision.”

“I can’t. Only results that speak for themselves can do that.”

“What results do you have to date? You’ve sunk a lot of time and money in the scheme.”

“Oh, several. One or two may impress even a skeptic.”

“The kids that look like any other kids?”

“No, no. Healthy adults like yourself capable of doing things that have never been done before, such as writing a complete new identity into the data-net over a regular veephone. Bear in mind that before trying to invent new talents we decided to look for those that had been undervalued. The odds there were in our favor. We have records from the past—descriptions of lightning calculators, musicians capable of improvising without a wrong note for hours on end, mnemonists who commited whole books to memory by reading them through once…Oh, there are examples in every field of human endeavor from strategy to scrimshaw. With these for guidelines, we’re trying to generate conditions in which corresponding modern talents can flourish.” He shifted casually in his chair; he sounded more confident by the minute.

“Our commonest current form of mental disorder is personality shock. We have an efficient way to treat it without machinery or drugs. We allow the sufferer to do something he long ago wanted to do and lacked either the courage or the opportunity to fit into his life. Do you deny the claim?”

“Of course not. This continent is littered coast to coast with people who were compelled to study business administration when they should have been painting murals or practicing the fiddle or digging a truck garden, and finally got their chance when it was twenty years too late to lead them anywhere.”

“Except back to a sense of solid identity,” Freeman murmured.

“In the case of the lucky few. But yes, okay.”

“Then let me lay this on you. If you hadn’t met Miranda—if you hadn’t found out that our suspicions concerning the genetic component of personality were being verified by experiment—would you have deserted from Tarnover?”

“I think sooner or later I’d have quit anyhow. The attitude that can lead to using crippled children as experimental material would have disconnected me.”

“You spin like a weather vane. You’ve said, or implied, repeatedly that at Tarnover we’re conditioning people not to rebel. You can’t maintain at the same time that what we’re doing would have encouraged you to rebel.” Freeman gave his skull-like grin and rose, stretching his cramped limbs.

“Our methods are being tested in the only available lab: society at large. So far they show excellent results. Instead of condemning them out of hand you should reflect on how much worse the alternatives are. After what you underwent last summer, you of all people should appreciate what I mean. In the morning we’ll rerun the relevant memories and see if they help to straighten you.”

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