The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

Gently he explained again, and this time she connected.

“You mean,” she forced out, “you’ll call the croakers?”

“Of course not. But they must be looking for you now in any case. And since you’ve admitted what you did over my mikes… Do you understand?” Her face crumpled. She let fall her knife with a tinkling sound that the pickups caught, faint as fairy bells. A few seconds, and she was crying anew.

“Wait there,” he said. “I’ll be with you in a moment.”

RECESS A sharp wind tasting of winter blew over the hills surrounding Tarnover and broke red and gold leaves off the trees, but the sky was clear and the sun was bright. Waiting his turn in line at the best of the establishment’s twenty restaurants, redolent of old-fashioned luxury up to and including portions of ready-heated food on open display, Hartz gazed admiringly at the view.

“Beautiful,” he said at length. “Just beautiful.”

“Hm?” Freeman had been pressing his skin on both temples toward the back of his head, as though attempting to squeeze out overpowering weariness. Now he glanced at the window and agreed, “Oh—yes, I guess it is. I don’t get too much time to notice it these days.”

“You seem tired,” Hartz said sympathetically. “And I’m not surprised. You have a tough job on your hands.”

“And a slow one. Nine hours per day, in segments of three hours each. It gets wearing.”

“But it has to be done.”

“Yes, it has to be done.”

HOW TO GROW DELPHINIUMS It works, approximately, like this.

First you corner a large—if possible, a very large—number of people who, while they’ve never formally studied the subject you’re going to ask them about and hence are unlikely to recall the correct answer, are nonetheless plugged into the culture to which the question relates.

Then you ask them, as it might be, to estimate how many people died in the great influenza epidemic which followed World War I, or how many loaves were condemned by EEC food inspectors as unfit for human consumption during June 1970.

Curiously, when you consolidate their replies they tend to cluster around the actual figure as recorded in almanacs, yearbooks and statistical returns.

It’s rather as though this paradox has proved true: that while nobody knows what’s going on around here, everybody knows what’s going on around here.

Well, if it works for the past, why can’t it work for the future? Three hundred million people with access to the integrated North American data-net is a nice big number of potential consultees.

Unfortunately most of them are running scared from the awful specter of tomorrow. How best to corner people who just do not want to know?

Greed works for some, and for others hope. And most of the remainder will never have any impact on the world to speak of.

Good enough, as they say, for folk music…

A MOMENT FOR MILLSTONES On the point of undogging his trailer’s sealed door and disconnecting the alarms, he hesitated.

Sunday. A moderately good collection, if not a record-breaker. (He sniffed. Hot air. From the smelter.) And she might be a precociously good actress…

He pictured a tribe raiding, looting, vanishing before the croakers swooped, leaving behind no one but a minor immune from police interrogation, hysterical with laughter at the success of her “practical joke.” Therefore, prior to shutting down the alarms, he activated all the church’s electronics except the coley music system and the automated collection trolleys.

When he rounded the base of the altar—ex-screen—it was as though fire raged in the whale’s-belly of the dome. Lights flashed all colors of the rainbow and a few to spare, while a three-vee remote over his head not only repeated his image monstrous on the face of the altar but also stored it, minutely detailed, in a recorder buried beneath a yard of concrete. If he were attacked, the recording would be evidence.

Moreover, he carried a gun… but he was never without it.

These precautions, slender though they were, constituted the maximum a priest was expected to take. More could easily worry the federal computers into assessing him as a potential paranoid. They’d been sensitive on such matters ever since, last summer, a rabbi in Seattle who had mined the approaches to his shul forgot to turn off the firing-circuit before a bar mitzvah.

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