The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“I’m glad you said that. We’re going to have a lot of time to fill. I need to scramble some circuitry at Canaveral, or wherever, rather more completely than you scrambled these eggs, and I know for sure I’m going to have to make the computers do things they’re specifically forbidden to. But not to worry. When they built their defenses they weren’t reckoning on somebody like me.” He set about demolishing the omelet; it lasted for a dozen hungry bites.

“But I do worry,” Kate muttered. “Are you certain you can trust Paul Freeman?”

He laid aside his empty plate. “Remember how at Lap-of-the-Gods you upbraided me because I wouldn’t believe anyone else was on my side?”

“Touchée. But I want my answer.”

“Yes. There’s an honest man. And finally he’s figured out what constitutes evil in the modern world.”

“So what’s your definition?”

“One that I already know you agree with, because we talked about Anti-Trauma Inc. If there is such a phenomenon as absolute evil, it consists in treating another human being as a thing.”

In a dry voice she said, “I won’t argue.”

At Boulder, Colorado, Professor Joachim Yent of the School of Economics and Business Administration had house guests for a few days. During that time, it was duly recorded that he made exceptionally frequent use of his home computer terminal.

“Kate, when you take a liking to somebody, do you speed up or slow down?”

“Do I what — ? Oh, got it. Slow down, I guess. I mean to get where we can talk to each other I quit skipping for a while.”

“And vice versa?”

“Most times, no. In fact you’re the only person I ever met who could work it the other way—uh… Sandy? What is your name, damn it? I just realized I still don’t know.”

“You decide. Stick with Sandy if you like, or switch to what I started out with: Nicholas, Nickie, Nick. I don’t care. I’m myself, not a label.”

She puckered her lips to blow him a kiss. “I don’t care what you’re called, either. I only know I’m glad we slowed down to the same speed.”

At Madison, Wisconsin, Dean Prudence McCourtenay of the Faculty of Laws had house guests for a long weekend. It was similarly recorded that during their visit she made more than averagely frequent use of her domestic computer terminal.

It was becoming very cold. Winter had definitely begun.

“Yes, slowing down to the same speed is what everybody needs to do. With a lot of incidental energy to be dissipated. In fact a good many brakes are apt to melt. But the alternative is a head-on flat-out smash.”


“Because everybody isn’t like you yet.”

“Sounds like a monotonous world!”

“I mean in the sense of being equally able to cope.”

“But…” She bit her lip. “It’s a fact of existence that some can and some can’t. Punishing those who can’t is cruel, but holding back those who can for the sake of the rest is—”

He broke in. “Our present society is cruel both ways. It does punish those who can’t cope. We bought our veephones and our data-net and our asteroid ore and the rest of it by spending people who wound up dead or in mental hospitals.” His face darkened briefly. “And it holds back those who can cope. I’m an example of that.”

“I find it terribly hard to believe, seeing what you can do now you’re working at full stretch!”

“But I have been held back, damn it. I didn’t know how much I could achieve until I saw you, shaven and limp like a lab specimen due to be carved up and thrown away with no more memorial than entry in a table of statistics. The sight forced me into—I guess you’d say mental overdrive.”

“What was it like?”

“As inexplicable as orgasm.”

In Shreveport, Louisiana, Dr. Chase Richmond Dellinger, a public-health analyst under contract to the city, had house guests during whose stay he had unusually frequent recourse to his home computer terminal. In the south it was still pleasantly warm, of course, but there was a lot of rain this year.

“So I absolutely had to find a way out—not just for you, not just for me, but for everybody. In an eyeblink I had discovered a new urge within myself, and it was as fundamental as hunger, or fear, or sex. I recall one argument I had with Paul Freeman…”

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