The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

LET NOT THY WRONG HEAD KNOW WHAT THY RIGHT HEAD DOETH Having completed his preparations, he disconnected the phone that had proved so invaluable, folded it, concealed it tidily in the inside pocket of his issue jacket. Then he hung that over a chair back, completed undressing normally, and went to bed at approximately his regular time.

What followed was a miniature—a microcosm—of his life, condensed into a span of no more than thirty-five minutes.

At an unidentifiable time of night one of the silent anonymous white-garbed escorts roused him and instructed him to dress quickly and come along, unperturbed by this departure from routine because for him routine might be expected to consist in unpredictability. It was, had been for centuries, a cheap and simple means of deranging persons under interrogation.

He led the way to a room with two doors, otherwise featureless apart from a bench. That was as far as his orders told him to go; with a curt command to sit down and wait, he departed.

There was a short period of silence. Finally the other door opened and a dumpy woman entered, yawning. She carried clothing in a plastic sack and a clipboard with a form on it. Grumpily she requested him to sign it; he did so, using the name she was expecting, which was not his own. Satisfied, yawning more widely than ever, she went out.

He changed into the garments she had brought: a white jersey shirt, blue-gray pants, blue jacket—well-fitting, unremarkable, unmemorable. Bundling up what he had worn in the sack, he went out the same way she had gone, and was in a corridor with several doors leading off it. After passing three of them, two to right and one to left, he arrived at a waste-reclamation chute and rid himself of his burden. Two doors farther along was an office, not locked. It was equipped with, among other things, a computer terminal. He tapped one key on its input board.

Remotely locked, a drawer slid open in an adjacent file stack. Among the contents of the drawer were temporary ID cards of the type issued to visitors on official business.

Meanwhile the printout station of the computer terminal was humming and a rapid paper tongue was emerging from it.

From the same drawer as the ID cards he extracted a neopolaroid color camera, which he set to self-portrait delay and placed on a handy table. Sitting down to face the camera, he waited the requisite few seconds, retrieved the film, placed his picture on the card and sealed it over with a device which, as the computers had promised, was also kept in the drawer. Finally, he typed in his borrowed name and the rank of major in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

By then the computer had printed out what it was required to furnish: a requisition, in duplicate, for the custody of Kate Grierson Lilleberg. Having been prepared with a light-writer, which unlike old-fashioned mechanical printers was not limited to any one type style—or indeed to any one alphabet, since every single character was inscribed with a laser beam at minimum power—only examination under a microscope could have revealed that it was not a U.S.

Army Form RQH-4479, the standard form of authority to transfer a prisoner from civil to military custody.

Suitably armed now, he replaced everything he had disturbed, tapped the computer board one more time to activate the final part of the program he had left in store, and left the room. Dutifully, the machines remote-locked the cabinet again, and the door of the office, and then undertook such other tasks as deleting their record of either having been unlocked during the night, and making a note of the “fact” that a temporary ID card had been accidentally spoiled so the stock in hand was one fewer than could be accounted for by recent visitors.

The door at the extreme end of the corridor gave into the open air, at the head of a flight of stairs leading to a dark concrete parking bay where an electric ambulance was standing. Its driver, who wore army uniform with Pfc’s badges, gave an uncertain salute, saying, “Major… ?”

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Categories: John Brunner