The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“What kind of animals?”

“Oh, little ones at first, when I was five or six—rats, hamsters, gerbils. Later on there were squirrels and gophers, cats and raccoons. Remember I mentioned he had a license to move protected species interstate? And finally, in the last couple of years before he was taken so ill he had to retire, he was working with some real big ones: dogs like Natty Bumppo and mountain lions like Bagheera.”

“Did he do any research with aquatic mammals—dolphins, porpoises?”

“I don’t believe so. At any rate he couldn’t have brought those home for me.” A touch of her normal wry humor returned with the words. “We lived in an apt. We didn’t have a pool to keep them in. Why do you ask?”

“I was wondering whether he might have been involved with—hell, I don’t know which of several names you might recognize. They kept changing designations as they ran into one dead end after another. But it was a project based in Georgia intended to devise animals capable of defeating an invasion. Originally they thought of small creatures as disease-vectors and saboteurs, like they conditioned rats to gnaw compulsively on tire rubber and electrical insulation. Later there was all this hot air generated about surrogate armies, with animals substituted for infantry. Wars would still be fought, with lots of blood and noise, but no soldiers would be killed—not permanently.”

“I knew the project under the name of Parsimony. But Dad never worked on it. They kept asking him to join, and he kept declining because they’d never tell him all the details of what he’d have to do. It wasn’t until he’d contracted his terminal myelitis that he was able to find out how right he’d been.”

“The project was discontinued, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, and I know why. They’d been living off Dad’s back for years. He was the only man in the country, maybe the world, who was consistently successful in making superintelligent animals breed true.”

“Literally the only one?”

“Oh, even he scarcely believed it. He published his data and always swore he wasn’t holding anything back, but other researchers found they couldn’t get the same results. In the end it became a joke for him. He used to say, ‘I just have red fingers.’”

“I see. Like a gardener has green ones.”


“What were his methods?” The question was more rhetorical than literal. But she answered anyway.

“Don’t ask me, go punch a code. All the data are on open reels. Seemingly the government must hope another red-fingered genius will chance on them some day.”

Eyes fixed on nowhere, he said in a musing tone, “I got disenchanted with biology, but I do recall something about the Lilleberg Hypothesis. An ultrarefined subcategory of natural selection involving hormonal influence not only on the embryo but on the gonads of the parents, which was supposed to determine the crossover points on the chromosomes.”

“Mm-hm. He was ridiculed for proposing it. He was slandered by all his colleagues, accused of trying to show that Lysenko was right after all. Which,” she added hotly, “was a transparent lie! What he actually did was advance an explanation why in spite of being wrong the Lysenkoists could have fooled themselves. Sandy, why does an establishment always fossilize so quickly? It may be my imagination, but I have this paranoid notion that people in authority today make a policy of seizing on any really original idea and either distorting it or suppressing it. Ted Horovitz was saying something about people being discouraged from digging into the Disasterville studies, for example.”

“Do you really have to ask about government?” he countered grayly. “I’d have thought the reason was plain. It’s the social counterpart of natural selection. Those groups within society that craved power at the expense of everything else—morality, self-respect, honest friendship—they achieved dominance long ago. The mass of the public no longer has any contact with government; all they know is that if they step out of line they’ll be trodden on. And the means exist to make the statement literal… Oh, they must hate Precipice, over there in Washington! A tiny community, and its citizens can thumb their noses at any federal diktat!”

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