The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

And came many hours later to the place which had vomited over Precipice the Blackass tribe. It was sweaty dust from all-day walking which made his shoes loathsome to his feet, but it seemed to him like the detritus of human cruelty: the materialized version of bloodlust, its ectoplasm.

“I don’t know who I am,” he said to an incurious passerby as he entered Quemadura.

“I don’t know who the hell you are either,” the stranger snapped, pushing past.

He pondered that.

IGNORANTIA NIHIL EXCUSAT Ted Horovitz made necessary adjustments to the form-letter program, tapped the print key, and read the result as it emerged from the machine. This, thank goodness, was the last of the thirty-seven.

“Dear Mrs. Young, your son Jabez was arrested here last night while in possession of four deadly weapons of which one, a pistol, had been used within the previous few minutes. The hearing has been set for 10:10 tomorrow. You may wish to employ counsel, in which case the enclosed summary of evidence should be furnished to him or her; otherwise you may rest assured that Jabez will be represented by a competent lawyer appointed by the court. He has declared himself unaware of the fact that under our judicial code conviction for this crime entails a mandatory sentence of not less than one year’s supervised rehabilitation during which period the convict is forbidden to leave the town limits. (There is no maximum length for such a sentence.) Please note that one of the oldest of all legal principles states: ‘Ignorance of the law excuses nothing.’ In other words neither a defense nor an appeal may be founded on the plea, ‘I didn’t know.’ Yours, &c.” Turning hopefully to Brad Compton, who among his various other roles acted as their chief legal counselor, he said, “So that’s all until the court assembles, right?”

“Far as I’m concerned,” Brad grunted. “But don’t relax too soon. I was talking to Sweetwater this morning, and it seems she’s found something you have to—”

“Ted!” A shrill cry from outside.

“I could half believe that woman’s telepathic,” Ted sighed, tapping out his pipe prior to refilling it. “Yes, Sweetwater, come right in!”

She entered, carrying a folded stack of computer printouts, which she dumped on a table at Ted’s side. Dropping into a chair, she slapped the pile of paper with her open palm.

“I knew it. I knew what Sandy told us the other night at Josh and Lorna’s rang a bell in my memory. A long way back—over eleven years—but it was the kind of call you get once in a lifetime. Once I started digging, I got correlation after correlation. Take a look.” Ted, frowning, complied; Brad came around behind his chair to read over his shoulder.

There was a long silence, but for the rustle of the concertinaed sheets.

At last Ted said, not looking up, “Any news of him?”

Sweetwater shook her head. “Nor Kate either.”

“Kate left town,” Brad said. “Took the railcar about seven thirty. But nobody knows what’s become of Sandy.”

“All of us, though,” Ted muttered, “know what’s apt to become of him… don’t we?” They both nodded.

“Better call Suzy,” Ted said, leaning back with a sigh. “I got a councilman’s motion to submit.”

“Making Sandy a freeman of Precipice?” Sweetwater suggested. “Making our defenses his defenses?”


“Well, naturally you have my vote. But…”

“But what?”

“Have you forgotten? We don’t know who he is. He told us what. He didn’t think to tell us who.”

Ted’s jaw dropped. “His code?” he said after a pause.

“I checked immediately. No such. It’s been deleted. And doubtless his protective phage went with it.”

“That makes the job more difficult,” Brad said. “I still think it ought to be done. And when she reads this information you’ve uncovered, I’m certain Suzy will agree.”

COLLAPSE OF STOUT PARTY “Interesting. Very interesting. This might save a lot of trouble. Say, Perce!”


“Know that hole-in-corner place Precipice CA? Looks like their sheriff went a step too far.”

“Oh, Gerry. Oh, Gerry. If you weren’t new around here I guess you’d realize nothing at Precipice can go too far. The pokers from Claes who wrote the deal they have with the government were the smartest con men that ever pulled wool over the eyes of a Washington sheep. But for once I’ll bite. It would be great to undermine them. What you got?”

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