The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“Well—ah… Well, you could start by letting me and Kate go.”

This silence was full of struggle. Eventually, with abrupt decision, Freeman drained his glass and rose, feeling in the side pocket of his jacket. From it he produced a flat gray plastic case, the size of his palm.

“It’s not a regular portable calculator,” he said in a brittle voice. “It’s a veephone. Screen’s under the lid. Flex and jack inside. There are phone points there, there and there.” Pointing to three corners of the room. “But don’t do anything until you get a code to do it with.”

AT THE DISSOLUTION What was I saying about overcompensation?

There had been a lot of whisky, of course, and he was unused to drinking.

But am I drunk? I don’t feel I am. More, it’s that without being partly stonkered I couldn’t endure the torrent of dreadful truth that’s storming through my brain. What Hartz said to me. What Bosch almost said, only he managed to check himself. But I know damn well what he substituted with “nonspecialist.” Why should I spend the rest of my life knuckling under to liars like Bosch?

Claiming the dogs they have at Precipice can’t exist! And blockheads like Hartz are even worse. Expecting the people they lord it over to think of things they aren’t smart enough to think of themselves, then denying that the fault is theirs!

Carefully Freeman locked his apartment, setting the don’t-disturb signs: one on the door, one on each of the veephones.

Now if I can just find my way to the index of reserved codes activated when they surpled 4GH… From Tarnover if from anywhere it should be possible to pull one out and upgrade it to status U-for-unquestionable. That’s the best trick of all. If Haflinger had latched on to it he need never have been caught.

Owlishly, but with full command of his not inconsiderable faculties—more important, not obliged to make do with the limited and potentially fallible input of a pocket veephone such as the one with which doubtless Haflinger would shortly be performing his own personal brand of. miracle—he sat down to his data console. He wrote, then rewrote, then rewrote, a trial program on tape that could be tidily erased. As he worked he found himself more and more haunted by a tantalizing idea.

I could leech three codes as easily as two…

Eventually the program was status go, but before feeding it he said to the air, “Why not?” And checked how many codes were currently on reserve. The answer was of the order of a hundred thousand. Only about five depts would have dug into the store since it was ordained, so…

Why the hell not? Here I am pushing forty, and what have I done with my life? I have talents, intelligence, ambition. Going to waste! I hoped I’d be useful to society. I expected to spend my time dragging criminals and traitors into the light of day, exposing them to the contumely of honest citizens. Instead the biggest criminals of all escape scot-free and people like Kate who never harmed anybody… Oh, shit! I stopped being an investigator years ago. What I am now is an inquisitor. And I’ve lost all faith in the justice of my church.

He gave a sudden harsh laugh, made one final tiny amendment to his tape, and offered it up to the input.

THE INFLUENCE OF AFFLUENCE “For the convenience of the lazy plebeians, the monthly distributions of corn were converted into a daily allowance of bread… and when the popular clamor accused the dearness and scarcity of wine… rigid sobriety was insensibly relaxed; and although the generous design of Aurelian does not appear to have been executed in its full extent, the use of wine was allowed on very easy and liberal terms… and the meanest Roman could purchase, with a small copper coin, the daily enjoyment of a scene of pomp and luxury which might excite the envy of the kings of Asia… But the most lively and splendid amusement of the idle multitude depended on the frequent exhibition of public games and spectacles… the happiness of Rome appeared to hang on the event of a race.” Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh, Mr. Gibbon?

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