The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

The stinking stupid twitches! Well, hell, what do I owe them anyway? Let ‘em find out what fools they are. If they won’t take help when it’s offered…

But the tribes must be nearly there by now. Burning and wrecking and looting and killing. And I remember my brother Archie with his eyeball hanging loose on his cheek and him only nineteen.

One last try. Then let ‘em go to hell if they prefer.

“Now you listen this time! I’m calling you to warn you! My son Jemmy is riding with the Blackass tribe out of Quemadura and they got this match with the Mariachis out of San Feliciano and it’s about how many houses they can fire in Precipice and the warlord has a mortar, hear me, a real army mortar and a case of shells!” And concluding in a tone close to sobs: “When he finds out Jemmy’s just naturally going to beat me to death. But I couldn’t let it happen without I warned you!”

SLACK SHIFT INTO HIGH GEAR “Call the sheriff!” At his yell everyone else on this undemanding shift in the headquarters of Hearing Aid—including Kate, who like himself was being trained under supervision before being permitted to take calls at home—looked daggers.

Someone said, “Ssh, I’m listening.”

“Two tribes closing on Precipice for a match, and one of them has an army mortar!” That worked, galvanizing people into action. But a little too late. Kate said, breaking rules and removing her headphones, “A while back I had to kill a call that said something about a tribal match. I wonder if—” He had begun to turn and look at her when the first explosion smashed the evening quiet.

While the others were still jumping with alarm he completed the turn and said, “You killed a call that tried to warn us?” To which her answer was drowned out by a sound such as had not been heard before in the history of Precipice, which none who heard it wished to hear again: as though instantly they were trapped inside the largest organ in the world, and its player were striking a full diapason just that teeth-gritting fraction off true pitch. Between a bay and a howl, it was the cry of a hundred and fifty giant dogs answering their leader’s call.

Arrgh-OOO… !

Only the pups were left on guard, and the bitches nursing young litters. The rest of Natty Bumppo’s forces tore into the night, following the scent of fear, for that first howl alone had been enough to throw the attackers in confusion.

There were shots, and one more mortar shell was fired, but it fell wide.

Thirty minutes, and the dogs drove in the tribers, weeping, bleeding and disarmed, to have their bites bound up before being dumped in the town’s various lockable sheds and cellars for want of an actual jail. Two dogs were shot, one fatally, and another was stabbed but survived, while thirty-seven tribers—not prepared to encounter an enemy of this stamp—were placed under arrest. The oldest of them proved to be eighteen.

All this, however, was too late to save the house at Great Circle Course and Drunkard’s Walk.

GRIEVANCE There were tears glistening on the cheeks of the subject, and the instruments advised returning him to present-time mode. Following their guidance, Freeman waited patiently until the man regained total consciousness.

He said at last, “It’s remarkable that you were so affected by the destruction of a house to which you barely had a chance to grow attached. Moreover, even if the first warning call had been heeded, there would still not have been enough time to forestall the attack, and it was the very first shell which struck your home.”

“You’re soulless. As well as heartless!” Freeman remained silent.

“Oh-h-h… ! Sure, sure, I know. Kate was obeying the regulations; she’d got a grasp of them faster than I had. It is standard practice at Hearing Aid never to accept a call that orders the listener to do something, because services exist for that purpose. And even if the woman who called had managed to get the point across about a warning in the first couple of seconds, the reaction would still have been the same. They tell you to try and deevee any call that begins with a hysterical warning, because nine times out of ten it’s some religious nut threatening to visit the wrath of God on us. I mean Precipice. And I guess I was aware of that at the time. I know equally well it was pointless to scream and rant at her and I went ahead and did it anyhow, standing there by the burnt-out wreck of the house with the smoke stinging in my eyes and the stench in my nose and a dozen people trying to reason with me. Didn’t work. I lost my temper on the grand scale. I think what I did was let go all the potential for rage I’d been bottling up since babyhood. In the end…” He had to swallow and resume.

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