The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“Quicker than you to drain him,” Hartz said, and gave a sleepy smile. In the context of this office, his home base, he was a different person from the visitor who had called on Freeman at Tarnover. Perhaps that was why he had declined an invitation to return.

“I beg your pardon,” Freeman said stiffly. “My brief was to extract all possible data from him. That couldn’t be done quickly. Nonetheless, to within a margin of about half a percent, I’ve achieved it.”

“That may be good enough for you. It’s not enough for us.”


“I believe I made myself clear. After your long-drawn-out interrogation of this subject we still do not know what we most want to know.”

“That being… ?” Freeman’s voice grew frostier by the moment.

“The answer, I submit, is self-evident. An intolerable situation exists concerning Precipice vis-à-vis the government. A small dissident group has succeeded in establishing a posture of deterrence in principle no different from that adopted by a crazy terrorist threatening to throw the switch on a nuke. We were ready to eliminate this anomaly. Only Haflinger—Locke—Lazarus—whatever he was calling himself at the time—intervened and sent us back to square one. You have spent weeks interrogating him. In all the mounds of data you’ve accumulated, in all the kilometers of tape you’ve totaled, there is no slightest clue to what we want to know.”

“How to deevee the phage he wrote to protect Hearing Aid?”

“Ah, brilliant! You worked it out!” Hartz’s tone was laden with excess irony. “It is, as I said, intolerable that one small community should interfere with the government’s right to monitor subversion, disaffection and treason. We have to know how to discontinue that tapeworm!”

“You’re crying for the moon,” Freeman said after a pause. “Haflinger doesn’t know how to do that himself. I’d stake my reputation on it.”

“And that’s your final word?”


“I see. Hmm. Regrettable!” Hartz tipped his chair back as far as it would go, twisted it through a few degrees, gazed with concentration into the far corner of the room. “Well, what about the other contacts he had? What about Kate Lilleberg, for instance? What have you found out about her recent actions?”

“She would appear to have reverted to her former plans,” Freeman sighed. “She’s back in KC, she’s filed no application to move her pet mountain lion, and in fact I can think of only one positive decision she has made since her return.”

“That being, I gather, to alter one of her majors for the coming academic year. She now plans to take data processing, doesn’t she?”

“Ah… Yes, I believe she does.”

“A strange coincidence. A very weird coincidence indeed. Don’t you think?”

“A connection is possible—in fact it’s likely. Calling it coincidence…no.”

“Good. I’m glad that for once you and I agree on something.” Hartz returned his chair to the upright position and leaned intently toward Freeman. “Tell me, then: have you formed any opinion concerning the Lilleberg girl? I appreciate you never met her. But you’ve met people intimately involved with her, such as her mother, her lover and sundry friends.”

“Apparently a person with considerable common sense,” Freeman said after a pause for reflection. “I can’t deny that I’m impressed with what she did to help Haflinger. It’s no small achievement to elude…” His words faded as though he had suddenly begun to hear what he was saying ahead of time.

“Go on,” Hartz purred.

“I was going to add: such an intensive hunt as has been kept up over six years now. Since Haflinger absconded, I mean. She seemed to—well, to grasp the scale of it at once.”

“And didn’t disbelieve what he told her, either. Did she?”

“She didn’t behave as though she did. No.”

“Hmm… Well, I’m pleased to inform you that you’ll have adequate opportunity to confirm or deevee your opinion.” Hartz hit another switch; the wall screen in the office lit, showing a vastly enlarged face.

“Computer evaluation here at BDP suggests that your no doubt sophisticated techniques might benefit from reinforcement by—what to call it? — an alternative approach, let’s say, which may strike you as old-fashioned yet which has something to be said in its favor. Because we intend to destroy that tapeworm Haflinger gave to Hearing Aid!” With a sudden glare. “And before the end of this year, what’s more! I have the president’s personal instructions to that effect.” Freeman’s mouth worked. No sound emerged. He was gazing at the screen.

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