The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“Say, Father! My publicity department would welcome any favorable comment about our methods you may care to make. Coming from a man of the cloth, it would carry extra weight. Suppose you said something to the effect that enabling kids to act out their most violent impulses in a controlled situation is preferable to letting them commit such crimes in real life, thereby endangering their immortal—”

“Yes, I do have a comment you can record! If there is anything more disgusting than war, it’s what your company is doing. At least in warfare there is passion. What you do is calculated, and more likely by machines than men!”

Fluckner withdrew his head a fraction, as though afraid he might be punched through the intervening glass. He said defensively, “But what we’ve done is to enlist science in the service of morality. Surely you see—”

“What I see is the first person I ever felt justified in cursing. You have offended against our little ones, therefore a millstone shall be tied around your neck and you shall be cast into the depths of the sea. Depart from me into eternal darkness!” Fluckner’s face grew mottled-red on the instant, and harsh anger invaded his voice.

“You’ll regret saying that, I promise you! You’ve insulted not just me but thousands of good citizens who rely on my company to save their children from hellfire. You’ll pay for that!” He spun on his heel and marched away.

LIGHT AND POWER CORRUPT “Yes, of course Gaila’s doing fine! What happier discovery could a kid make—what more welcome reinforcement can you offer her—than to find the mother she consciously loves, yet unconsciously hates, has been killed and in spite of that is still alive? We’ve been over that before!” He had to wipe his forehead, hoping his mask of perspiration would be ascribed to the summer heat.

“And now may I use your phone? Alone, if you don’t mind. It’s best for the parents not to know too many details of our methods.” In a bright room with an underfloor pool reflecting sparkling random lights across an ecumenical array of a crucifix, a Buddha and a six-handed Kali draped with roses, Shad Fluckner composed the code of Continental Power and Light’s anonymous-denunciation department.

When he heard the proper tone, he followed it with the code for the Church of Infinite Insight, then a group equating to “fraudulent misapplication of charitable donations,” then another for “assets sequestered pending legal judgment,” which would automatically deevee the minister’s credit rating, and lastly one for “notify all credit-appraisal computers.” That should do the trick. He dusted his hands in satisfaction and left the room.

There was effectively no chance of the call being traced to him. It had been two years since he worked for Power and Light, and their personnel was turning over at sixty-five percent annually, so any of half a million people might have fed in the false data.

By the time Reverend Lazarus fought his way through the maze of interlinked credit-appraisal computers and nailed the tapeworm that had just been hatched, he could well be ragged and starving.

Serve him right.

ON LINE BUT NOT REAL TIME During a lull in the proceedings, while a nurse was spraying the subject’s throat to restore his voice, Hartz glanced at his watch.

“Even if this is a slow job,” he muttered, “you can’t run at this rate very often, obviously—less than a day per day.”

Freeman gave his habitual skull-like smile. “If so, I’d still be questioning him about his experience as a life-style counselor. But remember: once we knew where to look, we were able to put all data concerning his earlier personae into store. We know what he did; now we need to find out how he felt. In some cases the connection between a key memory and his unusually strong reaction is fairly plain, and you’ve been lucky today in that we’ve hit on such a link.”

“His identifying with the girl who was running in panic? A parallel with his own hunted life?”

“More than that. Much more, I’m afraid. Consider the curse he pronounced on this man Fluckner, and the trigger that provoked it. That was consistent with the attitudes of Reverend Lazarus, certainly. What we have to find out is how deeply it reflected his real self. Nurse, if you’ve finished, I’d like to carry on.”

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