The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“What developments?” Freeman stiffened almost imperceptibly, and the tone of his voice hinted at harshness, but only hinted.

“You don’t know, hm?” was Hartz’s scathing retort. “But you met her mother, so you should! At least you must realize how much weight she swings thanks to her post with G2S!”

“Her mother,” Freeman returned with strained politeness, “has been extensively profiled. There’s no untoward emotional involvement between the pair of them.”

“Her profile,” Hartz repeated heavily. “I see. What can you tell me about her from her profile?”

“That Ina Grierson is not unhappy at her daughter’s departure from KC. This releases her to accept the kind of post she has been looking for elsewhere.”

“My God. Haven’t you gone beyond this profile thing? Didn’t you check out the real world lately?”

“I’ve done precisely as I was instructed!” Freeman flared. “And what is more, instructed by you!”

“I expect people to use their wits when I give them orders, not leave a continental mess for others to clear away!”

For a long moment the men locked eyes. At last Freeman said placatingly, “What appears to be the trouble?”

“Appears? Oh, not appears. This is only too real.” Hartz mopped his face again. “This girl has been here a week now—”

“Five days.”

“It’s a full week since her arrest. Don’t interrupt.” Hartz thrust his handkerchief back in his pocket. “If we didn’t have a strong ex-Tarnover faction to vote our way on the UMKC board of administration, we’d—Oh, hell, I shouldn’t have to tell you this. You should know it already.”

“If there was something you wanted me to know, you could perhaps have taken steps to pipe the data to me,” Freeman said in a tight voice. “Since you didn’t, tell me now.”

Hartz’s face reddened, but he bit back the angry reply which clearly had been trembling on his lips. Achieving calm with an effort, he said, “Outside the P-A zones, hardly anybody goes twenty-four hours without using his or her code for credit purposes. Consequently the location of anybody on the continent can be determined near as dammit at any time. Kate Lilleberg is an adult, sure, but she’s also in statu pupillari and has never filed a don’t-talk order in respect of her mother, her only near relative. So ever since she was whipped out of KC there have been fifty or sixty people with an interest in tracing her, most of whom are on the faculty at UMKC but one of whom, the most troublesome, is a head-of-dept at G2S. How much more do I have to spell out before you realize what a hornets’ nest you’ve wished on me?”

“I’ve done what?” Freeman said slowly.

“Didn’t it cross your mind that if a week passed without her using her code, that would arouse suspicions?”

“What didn’t cross my mind,” Freeman retorted, “was that you’d expect me to make myself responsible for all the fiddling details! Since you insist, I’ll take time out and construct some convincing fiction: have her code reported in, for example, from a town in the P-A zones where it can easily take a week for a credit entry to reach the net. The rest, however, I’m afraid I must leave to—”

“Forget it. We already tried that. The moment we realized you hadn’t seen to it. Have you forgotten the pose Haflinger adopted at G2S?”

Freeman looked blank. “How is that relevant?”

“Heaven send me patience. He took a job as a systems rash, didn’t he? That position gave him damned near as much access to the net as I can get, cheating on G2S’s max-nat-ad rating. In fact he moused around so much it started to interfere with his regular work, so he wrote a program into the G2S computers to take care of the routine stuff by itself. You didn’t stress that in your interrogation report, did you?” Freeman’s mouth worked. No sound emerged.

“And the program is still functional,” Hartz blasted, “and Ina Grierson has got to it! And worst of all, it’s so simple she knows damned well the entries we filed behind her daughter’s code are faked!”

“What? How?”

“How the hell do you think? What did Haflinger want to find out, using stolen G2S codes? Whether his own 4GH was still valid, right? And how could he have done that without being able to strip away an ex-post-facto cover label from a federal-authorized implant? Data concerning 4GH codes are not meant to be accessible to the public. They’re routinely disguised, aren’t they? Well, what Haflinger did was to peel them naked automatically, and in a way our top experts never thought of!” Clenching his fists, he concluded, “Now maybe you see what a fix you dumped me in!”

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Categories: John Brunner