The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“Well, they arrested these here tribers, and—”


“Hell, look at the sentences they handed down!”

“Not to leave town for one year minimum, to accept escort by a dog apiece…So?”

“Goddammit, escort by a dog?”

“They got kind of weird dogs out there. You didn’t check, did you?”

“Well, I guess I—”

“Save it, save it. You didn’t check. So, not having checked, what did you expect to get out of this?”

“I though maybe—uh—an injunction? Grounds of cruel-and-unusual? Or even kidnaping. I mean one of the tribers is only thirteen.”

“There are four states where they routinely agree applications to be declared competent if the applicant is past his or her thirteenth birthday. California’s one. It might be educational for you to find out what the others are. As to cruel-and-unusual, you should also know there’s one city where you can still legally be burned alive provided they don’t pick a Sunday. They didn’t do it much lately, but it’s on the books, not repealed. Ask any computer. Oh, get back to work, will you? While you’ve been gabbing they probably sneaked a brand-new tapeworm past you.”



“What is it this time?”

“Remember what you said about a tapeworm?”

“Oh my God. That was a joke. You mean they spat in our eye again?”

“See for yourself, It’s kind of—uh—fierce, isn’t it?”

“Fierce is only half of it. Well, I guess it better claim its first victim. You found it. You go tell Mr. Hartz to abandon the attack on Hearing Aid.”


“You heard me. Carry the good news from Y to X! Tamper with this thing, and—and my God! The data-net would be in chaos in one minute flat or maybe sooner! Hurry!”

BIG TOP Belly sour with hunger, throat dry with dust, he wandered the darkening streets of Quemadura, scarcely aware that he was part of a trend. There were people and vehicles converging. He went with the crowd. Drained, passive, he ignored reality until suddenly he was spoken to.

“Damn it, shivver, you deaf and dumb or something?” What?

He emerged from his chrysalis of overload, blinking, and discovered where he was. He’d seen this place before. But only on three-vee, never in reality. Above all he had never smelt it. The air was foul with the stench of frightened animals and eager people.

Many signs, hurtfully bright, flashed on and off to confirm his discovery. Some said CIRCUS BOCCONI; others stated more discreetly that a Roman-style show would start in 11 minutes. The 11 changed to 10 as he watched.

“What kinda seat you want?” rapped the same grumpy voice. “Ten, twenty, thirty?”

“Uh…” He fumbled in his pocket, finding some bills. As part of the ambience, tickets for this show were issued by a live human being, a scar-faced man missing fingers from his right hand. On seeing cash he scowled; however, the machine at the side of his booth decided it was genuine and parted with a ten-dollar ticket.

Wondering what he was doing here, he followed signs saying $10, $10, $10.

Shortly he was in a hall: maybe a converted aircraft hangar. There were bleachers and boxes surrounding an arena and a pit. Machines were hanging up phony-looking decor, banners with misspelled Latin slogans, plastic fasces bundled around dull plastic axes.

Making his way with mechanical politeness to a vacant seat in a high row with a poor view, he shamelessly listened to what the earlier arrivals, the keen ‘fishes, were saying.

“Wasting those ‘gators on kids, hell! I mean I hate my kids as much as anybody, but if you can get real live ‘gators—well, hell!”

“Hope they got some whites on the menu. Sickan-tired of these here blacks, allatime wanna make like grandpa, fight a lion singlehanded and clutched but clutched on the heaviest dope!”

“Course it’s all faked, like they got radio implants in the animals’ brains so they don’t get to really hurt anybody ‘cause of the insurance being so stiff and—”

A hugely amplified voice rang out. “Five minutes! In just five short minutes the great spectacle begins! Absolutely and positively no one will be admitted after the start of the show! Remember only Circus Bocconi goes out live live live in real time up and down the whole West Coast! And we record as well, retransmit to the unlucky portions of the continent!”

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Categories: John Brunner