The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

Generally the Fedcomps approved of people with strong religious convictions.

They were less likely than some to kick up a fuss. But there were limits, not to mention mavericks.

A few years ago his defenses would have been adequate. Now their flimsiness made him tremble as he walked down the wall-less aisle defined by the black rubber streaks car tires had left over decades. Sure, the fence at the base of the dome was electrified except where access had to be left for the confessional, and the booth itself was explosive-resistant and had its own air supply against a gas attack, but even so… !

Memo to selves: next time, a role where I can take more care of life and limb.

Privacy is fine, and I needed it when I arrived here. But this place was never meant to be operated by a single individual. I can’t scan every shifting shadow, make sure no nimble shivver is using it for cover!

Thinking of which as I stare around: my vision is unaided. At forty-six??? Out of three hundred million there are bound to be some people that age who have never bought corrective lenses, most because they can’t afford them. But suppose the Bureau of Health or some pharmo-medical combine decided there were few enough middlers without glasses to organize an exhaustive study of them? Suppose the people at Tarnover decided there must be a genetic effect involved? Ow.

Memo to selves, in red italics: stay closer to chronological age!

At that point in his musing he entered the confessional—and found that through its shatterproof three-centimeter window he was not looking at a little girl in a dress spattered with blood.

Instead, the exterior section of the booth was occupied by a burly blond man with a streak of blue in his tightly curled hair, wearing a fashionable rose-and-carmine shirt and an apologetic smile.

“So sorry you’ve been disturbed, Father,” he said. “Though it’s a stroke of luck that little Gaila found her way here… My name’s Shad Fluckner, by the way.” This poker looked too young to be the girl’s father: no more than twenty-five, twenty-six. On the other hand, his congregation included women married for the third or fourth time and now to men as much as twenty years younger. Stepfather?

In that case, why the smile? Because he’d used this kid he didn’t give a plastic penny for to rid himself of a rich but dragsome older wife? Fouler things had been admitted in this booth.

Foggily he said, “Are you kin to—ah—Gaila, then?”

“Not in law, but you could say that after what we’ve been through together I’m closer to her than her legal kinfolk. I work for Anti-Trauma Inc., you see. Very sensibly, the moment Gaila’s parents detected signs of deviant behavior in her, they signed her up for a full course of treatment. Last year we cured her sibling rivalry—classic penis-envy directed against her younger brother—and right now she’s working into her Electra complex. With luck we’ll progress her to Poppaea level this coming fall… Oh, incidentally: she babbled something about you calling in the croakers. You don’t need to worry. She’s on file with the police computers as a non-act case.”

“She told me”—slowly and with effort—”she’d stabbed her mother. Killed her.”

“Oh, far as she’s concerned, sure she did! Just like she’s unconsciously wanted to ever since her mother betrayed her by letting her be born. But it was all a setup, naturally. We dosed her with scotophobin and shut her in a dark room, to negate the womb-retreat impulse, gave her a phallic weapon to degrade residual sexual envy, and turned an anonymous companion loose in there with her. When she struck out, we turned up the lights to show her mother’s body lying all bloody on the floor, and then we gave her the chance to run like hell. With me trailing her, of course. Wouldn’t have wanted her to come to any harm.” His slightly bored tone indicated that for him this was just another routine chore. But when he had concluded his exposition, he brightened as though a sudden idea had occurred to him. He produced a recorder from his pocket.

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