The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

At a party with friends, Helga and Nigel Townes demonstrated some amusing tricks one could play with a computer remote. One aborted after three digits. The rest worked perfectly.

In any case, a complete emergency backup program was available which would have done the job by itself. However, many times in the history of Hearing Aid it had been proven that certain key data were better stored externally to the net.

By about 2300 EST the worm needed only fertilization to start laying its unprecedented eggs.

PARTY LINE “I’ll be damned! Paul! Well, it’s great to see you. Come on in.” Blinking shyly, Freeman complied. Kate’s apartment was alive with guests, mostly young and in brilliant clothes, but with a mix of more soberly clad people from G2S and the UMKC faculty. A portable coley unit had been set up and a trio of dancers were cautiously sticking to the chords of a simple traditional blues prior to launching a collective sequence of variations; as yet, they were still feeling out the unit’s tone-color bias.

“How did you know we were here? And what are you doing in KC, anyway? I understood you went to Precipice.”

“In a metaphorical sense.” Freeman gave a grin that made him look oddly boyish, as though he had shed twenty years with his formal working garb. “But it’s an awfully big place when you learn to recognize it… No, in fact I figured out weeks ago that you were sure to be back sooner or later. I asked myself what the least likely place would be for me to find you, and—uh—took away the number I first thought of.”

“It’s alarming to think someone found my carefully randomized path so predictable. Ah, here comes Kate.” Freeman stiffened as though to prepare for a blow, but she greeted him cordially, asked what he wanted to drink, and departed again to bring him beer.

“Isn’t that her mother?” Freeman muttered, having scanned the visible area of the apartment. “Over there in red and green?”

“Yes. You met her, didn’t you? And the man she’s talking to.”

“Rico Posta, isn’t that his name?”


“Hmm… What precisely is going on?”

“We had kind of a big temblor for a while, because of course once the news broke that Kate was back and she actually was kidnaped by a government agent as the students have been claiming, they were set to go tribal the campus. We put that idea into freeze, after a lot of argument, by hinting at all sorts of dire recriminations. And that’s what we’re discussing at the moment. Come and join us.”

“Such as—”

“Well, we’ll start by deeveeing Tarnover.”

Freeman stopped dead in midstride, and a pretty girl banged into him and spilled half a drink and there was a period of apologies. Then: “What?”

“It’s an obvious first step. A full Congressional inquiry should follow publication in the media of the Tarnover and Crediton Hill budgets. The others are in the pipeline, with Weychopee last because it’s hardest to crack open. And as well as financial revelations, naturally, there will be pictures of Miranda and her successors, and the fatality rates among the experimental children, and so on.”

“That looks like Paul Freeman!” Ina exclaimed, rising. She sounded alarmed.

“Yes indeed. And a bit dazed. I just began to tell him what we’re up to.” Kate arrived with the promised beer, delivered it, sat down on the arm of the chair Ina was using. Rico Posta stood at her side.

“Dazed,” Freeman repeated after a pause. “Yes, I am. What’s the purpose of attacking Tarnover first?”

“To trigger a landslide of emotionalism. I guess you, coming fresh from an environment dedicated to rationality, doubt it’s a good policy. But it’s exactly what we need, and records from Tarnover are a short means to make it happen. Lots of things make people angry, but political graft and the notion of deliberately maltreating children are among the most powerful. One taps the conscious, the other the subconscious.”

“Oh, both hit the subconscious,” Ina said. “Rico has the same nightmare I do, about finding someone got to my credit records and deeveed everything I worked for all my life. And I don’t stand a prayer of finding out who’s responsible.” She turned to face her daughter squarely. “What’s more… Kate, I never dared tell you this before, but when I was pregnant with you I was so terrified you might not—uh—come out right, I—”

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