The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

His face like a stone image, Freeman said, “Oh, I think the credit belongs to Haflinger, not me. And I’m sure he’ll be delighted with this news.”

“What the hell do you mean?”

“Among the other data you neglected to supply to me was the fact that you came here to make wild accusations. On the reasonable assumption that you only intended to witness Kate’s routine interrogation, I didn’t cancel my usual instructions to have Haflinger brought here to watch in the hope it might erode his self-control. Your suggestion, I beg to remind you.” Checking his watch, he added, “So for the past four, four and a half minutes Haflinger has been behind that stretch one-way mirror, seeing and hearing everything in this room. As I say, he must be very pleased.”

EXCERPT FROM A NEWS BULLETIN “… a blow dealt to the hopes of those who were confidently forecasting this academic year would be relatively free of student unrest. Convinced that one of their number, missing since a week ago, has been kidnaped by government agents, a mob of fifteen hundred students today tribaled more than half of the thirty-nine police fireposts on campus at UMKC. As yet no count of casualties came to hand, but…”

ATAVISM Facing Rico Posta, Ina felt her cheeks grow pale. But she maintained her voice at normal pitch and volume.

“Rico, whatever you and the rest of the board may say, Kate is my daughter. You punch for a double-check on those phony reports about her using her code at Interim.”

“Who says they’re phony?”

“Our own computers say so!”

“Uh-uh. A program written by one Sandy Locke says so, and he turned out to be a twitch and—”

“While he was saving us a couple of million a year you didn’t think he was a twitch. Otherwise you wouldn’t have been among the first to say he should be permed.”

“Well, I…”

She leaned earnestly forward.

“Rico, something muddy’s going on. You know it, though you haven’t admitted it to yourself. Did you try asking for data about Sandy recently?”

“As a matter of fact—yes.”

“And there aren’t any, are there? Not even a report of his death!”

“I guess he could have left the country.”

“Passport?” There was a silence that crackled like the harbinger of an electrical storm.

Ina said at last, “Ever read a book called 1984?”

“Sure, a college literature class.” Rico pursed his lips and gazed into nowhere. “I get what you mean. You think he’s been—uh—declared an unperson.”

“Right. And I think they’ve done the same to Kate.”

“I…” He had to swallow. “I guess I wouldn’t put it past them, knowing what one does about that gang in Washington. Say, you know something? I get nightmares now and then. About how I punch my code into a board and the signal comes back: deeveed!”

Ina said, “Me too. And I can’t believe we’re the only ones.”

STARTING TO GROW AGAIN Since they quit shaving his scalp daily it had begun to itch. So far he had resisted the temptation to scratch, but he was compelled to rub now and then. To the onlookers, whom he knew to exist though he was not aware of their identity, he imagined that he might perhaps give the impression of being puzzled by the information he was taking in. He was watching a three-vee news broadcast. He’d spent much of his time catching up with the world since he was transferred to these more comfortable quarters.

In fact he was not in the least disoriented by what he learned. There were different items to report—another realignment of alliances in Latin America, a fresh outburst of unauthorized jehad in the Yemen, a new product about which the FDA was expressing doubts, something called an A-C Group Granulyser used in upgrading vegetable protein to compete with meat…

But the habit patterns, inevitably, had survived. To the air, with a wry grin, he murmured, “How long, O Lord? How long?” In his private estimation: not long now.

And, as though on cue, the lock of the door clicked. He glanced around, expecting one of the usual armed men in white come to take him elsewhere.

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