The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner


Almost everybody is high like troops on the way to battle. Shaking! You hear tension sing in the air you breathe. The only way you want awareness shifted is back to normal.

Trust in authority?

But it’s your right as a free and equal individual to be as authoritative as anybody else.

Model yourself on a celebrity?

But you were celebrated last week, you had a record-breaking Delphi ticket or your kid was on three-vee defying ‘gators or you notched up one full year in the same house and the reporter called in from the local station. For ten whole minutes you’ve been famous too.

Collapse into overload?

That’s already happened, nearly as often as you’ve been to bed with a head cold.

And patiently, from every single one of these possible pathways, they’ve turned you back to where you were with a smile of encouragement and a pat on the shoulder and a bright illuminated certificate that reads NO EXIT.

Therefore the world keeps turning, the ads keep changing, there are always programs to watch when you switch on the three-vee, there’s always food in the supermarket and power at the socket and water at the sink. Well, not quite always. But near as dammit.

And there’s nearly always a friend to answer the phone.

And there’s nearly always credit behind your code.

And there’s nearly always some other place you can go.

And when the night sky happens to be clear, there are invariably more stars in it, moving faster, than were put there at the Creation. So that’s okay.

Pretty well.

More or less.


For these and sundry other reasons, at their next battery stop he gave the driver the slip and Kate her dress and shoes and wig and melted into the mass of people boarding a shuttle bus bound for the nearest veetol port. For the driver, who was sure to be puzzled, he left a note saying: Thanks, soldier. You were very helpful. If you want to know how helpful, punch this code into the nearest phone.

The code, naturally, being his own new acquisition.

PRECEPT DINNED INTO TRAFFIC PATROL OFFICERS DURING TRAINING Someone is apt to swoop on you from a great height if you ticket a vehicle with a heavy federal code behind the wheel.

MOUSING AROUND UNDER THE FEET OF ELEPHANTS “Where are we going?” Kate whispered.

“I finally located my place to stand.”

“Precipice?” she suggested, half hopefully, half anxiously. “Surely that’s where they’ll head for straight away.”

“Mm-hm. Sorry, I don’t mean place. I mean places. I should have figured this out long ago. No one place could ever be big enough. I have to be in a hundred of them, all at the same time, and a thousand if I can manage it. It’s bound to take a while to put my insight into practice, but—oh, maybe in a couple of months we shall be able to sit back and enjoy the fireworks.”

“I always did like fireworks,” she said with the ghost of a smile, and took his hand.

FOUR-WAY INTERSECTION WITH STOP SIGNS These days it was easy to lose track of what features belonged with what names.

Therefore there were captions under each of the faces on the four-station secure link, names and offices. Hartz gazed at the split-screen array before him, reading from left to right.

From Tarnover, its chancellor: Admiral Bertrand Snyder, ascetic, gray-haired, short-spoken, who had been famous under the sobriquet of “Singleminded Snyder” during the Hawaiian Insurrection of 2002… but that was before he entered the Civil Service and a cloud of secrecy.

From the Southern White House, the president’s special adviser on security, plump and bespectacled Dr. Guglielmo Dorsi, no longer known even to his intimates (though it had not proved possible to eradicate the nickname entirely from his dossiers) as Billy the Shiv.

And from another floor of this same building, his own superior, the Full Director of the Bureau, Mr. Aylwin Sullivan, tall, beak-nosed, shock-haired, and deliberately shabby. It had been the style for those working with computers when he launched out on his rocket-like career. Nonetheless it was odd to look at his open-neck shirt, pocketful of old pens, five-o’week shadow, black-rimmed nails.

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