Authors: John Brunner
THE SHOCKWAVE RIDER
Copyright © 1975 by Brunner Fact & Fiction Ltd.
Published by E-Reads. All rights reserved.
People like me who are concerned to portray in fictional terms aspects of that foreign country, the future, whither we are all willy-nilly being deported, do not make our guesses in a vacuum. We are frequently—and in this case I am specifically—indebted to those who are analyzing the limitless possibilities of tomorrow with some more practical aim in view … as for instance the slim yet admirable hope that our children may inherit a world more influenced by imagination and foresight than our own.
The “scenario” (to employ a fashionable cliché) of
The Shockwave Rider
derives in large part from Alvin Toffler’s stimulating study
and in consequence I’m much obliged to him.
THE BASIC STRAINING MANUAL
A THOUGHT FOR TODAY
Take ’em an inch and they’ll give you a hell.
The man in the bare steel chair was as naked as the room’s white walls. They had shaved his head and body completely; only his eyelashes remained. Tiny adhesive pads held sensors in position at a dozen places on his scalp, on his temples close to the corners of his eyes, at each side of his mouth, on his throat, over his heart and over his solar plexus and at every major ganglion down to his ankles.
From each sensor a lead, fine as gossamer, ran to the sole object—apart from the steel chair and two other chairs, both softly padded—that might be said to furnish the room. That was a data-analysis console about two meters broad by a meter and a half high, with display screens and signal lights on its slanted top, convenient to one of the padded chairs.
Additionally, on adjustable rods cantilevered out from the back of the steel chair, there were microphones and a three-vee camera.
The shaven man was not alone. Also present were three other people: a young woman in a slick white coverall engaged in checking the location of the sensors; a gaunt black man wearing a fashionable dark red jerkin suit clipped to the breast of which was a card bearing his picture and the name Paul T. Freeman; and a heavy-set white man of about fifty, dressed in dark blue, whose similar card named him as Ralph C. Hartz.
After long contemplation of the scene, Hartz spoke.
“So that’s the dodger who went further and faster for longer than any of the others.”
“Haflinger’s career,” Freeman said mildly,
somewhat impressive. You’ve picked up on his record?”
“Naturally. That’s why I’m here. It may be an atavistic impulse, but I did feel inclined to see with my own eyes the man who posted such an amazing score of new personae. One might almost better ask what he hasn’t done than what he has. Utopia designer, lifestyle counselor, Delphi gambler, computer-sabotage consultant, systems rationalizer, and God knows what else besides.”
“Priest, too,” Freeman said. “We’re progressing into that area today. But what’s remarkable is not the number of separate occupations he’s pursued. It’s the contrast between successive versions of himself.”
“Surely you’d expect him to muddle his trail as radically as possible?”
“You miss the point. The fact that he eluded us for so long implies that he’s learned to live with and to some extent control his overload reflexes, using the sort of regular commercial tranquilizer you or I would take to cushion the shock of moving to a new house, and in no great quantity, either.”
“Hmm …” Hartz pondered. “You’re right; that is amazing. Are you ready to start today’s run? I don’t have too much time to spend here at Tarnover, you know.”
Not looking up, the girl in white plastic said, “Yes, sir, he’s status go.”
She headed for the door. Taking a seat at Freeman’s gestured invitation, Hartz said doubtfully, “Don’t you have to give him a shot or something? He looks pretty thoroughly sedated.”
Settling comfortably in his own chair adjacent to the data console, Freeman said, “No, it’s not a question of drugs. It’s done with induced current in the motor centers. One of our specialties, you know. All I have to do is move this switch and he’ll recover consciousness—though not, of course, the power of ambulation. Just enough to let him answer in adequate detail. By the way, before I turn him on, I should fill in what’s happening. Yesterday I broke off when I tapped into what seemed to be an exceptionally heavily loaded image, so I’m going to regress him to the appropriate date and key in the same again, and we’ll see what develops.”
“What kind of image?”
“A girl of about ten running like hell through the dark.”
FOR PURPOSES OF IDENTIFICATION
At present I am being Arthur Edward Lazarus, profession minister, age forty-six, celibate: founder and proprietor of the Church of Infinite Insight, a converted (and what better way for a church to start than with a successful conversion?) drive-in movie theater near Toledo, Ohio, which stood derelict for years not so much because people gave up going to the movies—they still make them, there’s always an audience for wide-screen porn of the type that gets pirate three-vee satellites sanded out of orbit in next to no time—as because it’s on land disputed between the Billy-kings, a Protestant tribe, and the Grailers, Catholic. No one cares to have his property tribaled. However, normally they respect churches, and the territory of the nearest Moslem tribe, the Jihad Babies, lies ten miles to the west.
My code, of course, begins with 4GH, and has done so for the past six years.
Memo to selves:
find out whether there’s been any change in the status of a 4GH, and particularly whether something better has been introduced … a complication devoutly to be fished.
She ran, blinded by sorrow, under a sky that boasted a thousand extra stars moving more swiftly than a minute hand. The air of the June night rasped her throat with dust, every muscle ached in her legs, her belly, even her arms, but she kept right on as hard as she could pelt. It was so hot, the tears that leaked from her eyes dried as they were shed.
Sometimes she went on more or less level roadway, not repaired for years but still quite sound; sometimes she crossed rough ground, the sites perhaps of factories whose owners had transferred their operations up to orbit, or of homes which had been tribaled in some long-ago riot.
In the blackness ahead loomed lights and illuminated signs bordering a highway. Three of the signs advertised a church and offered free Delphi counseling to registered members of its congregation.
Wildly glancing around, blinking her eyes to clear perception, she saw a monstrous multi-colored dome, as though a lampshade made from a puffer-fish were to be blown up larger than a whale.
Pacing her at a discreet distance, tracking a tracer concealed in the paper frock which was all she wore except sandals, a man in an electric car fought his yawns and hoped that on this particular Sunday the pursuit would not be too long or too dull.
MINOR PROFIT IN THE BELLY OF THE GREAT FISH
As well as presiding at the church, Reverend Lazarus lived in it, his home being a trailer parked behind the cosmoramic altar—formerly the projection screen, twenty meters high. How else could a man with a minister’s vocation afford so much privacy and so much space?
Surrounded by the nonstop hum of the compressor that kept his polychrome plastic dome inflated—three hundred meters by two hundred by ninety high—he sat alone at his desk in the nose compartment of the trailer, his tiny office, comping the take from the day’s collections. He was worried. His deal with the coley group who provided music at his services was on a percentage basis, but he had to guarantee a thousand, and attendance was falling off as the church’s novelty declined. Today only about seven hundred people had come here; there had not even been a jam as they drove back on to the highway.
Moreover, for the first time in the nine months since the church was launched, today’s collections had yielded more scrip than cash. Cash didn’t circulate much any more—at least not on this continent—except in the paid-avoidance areas, where people drew a federal grant for going without some of the twenty-first century’s more expensive gadgetry, but activating a line to the federal credit computers on a Sunday, their regular down-time day, meant a heavy surcharge, beyond the means of most churches including his. So churchgoers generally remembered to bring coins or bills or one of the little booklets of scrip vouchers issued to them when they joined.
The trouble with all this scrip, though—as he knew from sad experience—was that when he presented it to his bank tomorrow at least half of it would be returned marked void: the bigger the sum pledged, the more likely. Some would have been handed in by people already so deep in pointless debt the computers had banned expenditure on nonessentials; any new church inevitably attracted a lot of shock victims. But some would have been canceled overnight as the result of a family row: “You credded
much? My God, what did I do to deserve a twitch like you? Get that scrip deeveed
Still, some people had been ignorantly generous. There was a stack of over fifty copper dollars, worth three hundred to any electronics firm, asteroid ores being poor in high-conduction metals. It was illegal to sell currency for scrap, but everybody did it, saying they’d found old saucepans in the attic of a secondhand house, or a disused cable while digging over the back yard.
Riding high on the public Delphi boards right now was a prediction that the next dollar issue would be plastic with a one- or two-year life. Well,
He tipped the coins into his smelter without counting them because only the weight of the eventual ingot mattered, and turned to the other task he was obliged to complete before he quit work for the day: analysis of the Delphi forms the congregation had filled out. There were many fewer than there had been back in April; then, he’d expected fourteen or fifteen hundred, whereas this week’s input was barely half that. Even seven hundred and some opinions, though, was a far wider spread than most individuals could hope to invoke, particularly while in the grip of acute depression or some other life-style crisis.
By definition, his congregation
had life-style crises.
The forms bore a series of bald statements each summarizing a personal problem, followed by blank spaces where any paid-up member of the church was invited to offer a solution. Today there were nine items, a sad contrast with those palmy days in the spring when he’d had to continue on the second side of the form. Now the word must be out on the mouth-to-mouth circuit: “Last time they only gave us nine things to delph, so next Sunday we’re going to …”
What’s the opposite of a snowball? A thawball?
Despite the failure of his old high hopes, though, he determined to go through the proper motions. He owed it to himself, to those who regularly attended his services, and above all to those whose heart-cries of agony had been eavesdropped on today.
Item A on the list he disregarded. He had invented it as a juicy lure. There was nothing like a scandal of the kind that might eventually make the media to grab people’s attention. The bait was the vague hope that one day soon they might notice a news report and be able to tell each other, “Say, that bit where the poker got shot for messing with his daughter—remember we comped that one at church?”
A link with yesterday, tenuous, but to be prized.
Wryly he re-read what he had dreamed up:
I am a girl, fourteen. All the time my father is drunk and wants to plug into me but he creds so much for liquor I don’t get none to pay my piece when I go out and they repossessed my …