The mocking program by Alan Dean Foster

the mocking program


FIRST THEY TOOK HIS TALK. THEN HIS CARDS. THEN somebody boosted his bosillos thorough. After that, they vacuumed his clothes. Then some buitrees did a muy rapido scope-and-scoop, canyoning him from neck to crotch. His kidneys, liver, lungs, testes, and eyes were gone missing. They’d left the heart. Not much of a demand for hearts these days. Not with good, cheap artificial models flooding the market. Titanium or pig—take your choice. After that, he’d been drac’d and boneyed for his recyclable blood and marrow. The pitiful shattered remnants of whoever the hell the poor unfortunate had been lay limp as an oily rag in the steadily drumming-down rain, denied even the dignity of staining the pavement with blood.

Amid flashing lights, assembled vehicles, and grumbling federales, Angel Cardenas stood gazing down at the carcass, imaging in his mind a celestial vision of steaming hot coffee and the old-shoe comfortable booths of a certain cafe and wondering why the devil he didn’t do as Chief Pangborn kept repeatedly suggesting and take early retirement. Fredoso Hyaki, Cardenas’s assistant, rose from his crouch, having finished making a recording of the gruesome tableau. Hyaki was half Japanese, half Peruvian, and all huge. A friendly, expansive, baby-faced massif of a man in his mid-thirties, he very much resembled an Incan Buddha. Despite the cosmic arc of his abdomen, he was rock-solid as cured concrete. Grunting softly as he straightened up, he stuffed the recorder into a pocket and summed up the crime scene with a single terse observation.

“Just about enough left for relatives to lay a claim, Angel. Angel?”

Cardenas raised his voice so he could be heard above the Southwest monsoon shower. In the harsh nocturnal glow from the nearby commercial complex, glistening droplets trickled from the ends of his hangdog mustache. The sweet, invigorating rain was the only thing on the street that was uncontaminated. Though if the chemical analyses carried out by the more fanatical Green Verdes and their ilk were to be believed, the summer downpour failed that test also.

Would he ever get used to seeing dead bodies on the street? Even after thirty years in the Department, the inventiveness demonstrated by people in slaughtering their fellow citizens never ceased to astonish him.

Why, he wondered amid the lights and night, could I not have been born a dog, like Charliebo?

“I think it must have been easier to be a cop in the old days, when all they boosted from a citizen was his money.” He glanced at his companion. “Why are you all wet?” Unlike the other slickered cops milling around the corpse, Hyaki was soaked from head to toe. Rain poured off his round face like sweat.

His partner looked abashed. “Forgot to charge my jacket.” Devoid of power, the electrostatic charge that kept water from making contact with a cop’s rain slicker was nothing more than a failed promise. Hyaki stood out as the only sopping-wet federale on the dark back street.

Not that the big man probably minded. The monsoon rains that faithfully drenched this part of the Namerican Southwest from July onward through late September made a welcome dent in the otherwise brutal temperature. Cardenas enjoyed feeling the rain on his face. Thanks to the patented efforts of his softly humming slicker, the rest of him stayed perfectly dry.

An advert appeared from nowhere, materializing out of the nighttime to buzz around him like an insistent bee in search of pollen, all the while loudly declaiming the virtues of Newer! Fresher! Better-Tasting! Lime-and-Salsa Posteeto Chips! via a frantic directional audio. He waved irritably at it and it flew off to pester Gergovitch from Forensics. Such mobile attack ads were technically illegal, but like the omnipresent wall posters of yore, whenever they were eradicated from one part of the Strip they quickly put in an appearance somewhere else, endlessly repeating their annoying spiels, vomiting forth discount coupons, and trying to wheedle addresses out of exasperated pedestrians.

Gergovitch stood up in the rain. “Sudden neural interrupt,” he was muttering to no one in particular. “Trying to make it look like cardiac arrhythmia.” The medoggles that were his principal tool were alive with the readouts that flitted like fireflies behind the lenses. Flickering pastel rainbows danced across his partially shadowed face. Only when he switched off the internal telltales could Cardenas see the man’s eyes through the gleaming, sensormaxed transparencies. “At least it was quick.” He took a half-hearted swipe at the motile ad, missed.

Stretching from Sanjuana to Masmatamoros, the evolved maquiladora manufacturing facilities and assembly plants of the Montezuma Strip constituted the western hemisphere’s largest concentration of industry, commerce, assemblage, cutting-edge technology, and trouble. Poor immigrants from the south collided with development money from the north and infolktech from everywhere. The result was a modest population of very rich people living alongside and lording it over very hopeful, but often very poor people. If you couldn’t make it on the Strip, was the word in the soulpools of Buenos Aires and Barreras and Lima, you couldn’t make it anywhere. Job security was not guaranteed. Those who failed turned despondent, then desperate, and finally feral. Under such circumstances, with so much glistening, beckoning credit floating around, it was all too easy for a despairing immigrant to slip over the linea. If you couldn’t manufacture it, then you stole it and sold it.

That was what had happened to this poor monger’s most marketable organs. Someone always needed a real kidney, someone else an unpolluted transfusion. Black-market blood was an easily transportable commodity. So were eyes and viable testes. Cardenas knew that better than most. His own incongruously blue eyes were donations. Legal ones, biosurged into his sockets after his own optics had been bungoed by— But that was old news, ancient history, chip spume. Right now, he had a dead guy to eyedee.

The presence of the federales and the Forensics team on the damp back street drew no crowd. No one was out walking in the rain in the commercial zone of the Quetzal inurb. That was fine with Cardenas and his colleagues. They disliked spectators. The silence left them to do their work unencumbered by yapping inanities. Even better, the media had yet to turn up. Vit anchors, the senior police Inspector knew, disliked the rain. It played havoc with their hair and makeup.

Absent body parts notwithstanding, there was nothing notable about the corpse. It was one of many that turned up on a regular basis, week to week, month to month, as if ejected from the roller-coaster of life by some capriciously snapped safety belt. Individuals who turned up smashed and broken like the unidentified man at his feet were the rule rather than the exception. In the frantic, feverish, frenetic depths of the Strip, nothing went to waste. The street scavengers and the algae wallowers saw to that.

Ellen Vatubua was crouched over the torso of the corpse. Having run a quick scan and found what she was looking for, she was patiently excavating in the vicinity of the exposed left forearm. Nestled there among the bruised muscle fibers and blued capillaries, just under the skin, was a miniscule fragment of insoluble imprinted plastic. Gently removing the head of her probe, she transferred the extraction tip to her specialty spinner and injected her tiny find.

Moments later she was reading its contents aloud. Cardenas and Hyaki wandered over to listen.

For a dumpy, middle-aged Forensics spec, her voice was surprisingly sensuous. Alerted to and made aware of this quality, Lazzario in Personnel kept trying to get her to transfer to Dispatch. But Ellen liked being out in the field, and analysis, and preferred working with dead folk to live ones.

“George Anderson. Thirty-two, married, residence four-eight-two-two-three-six West Minero Place, Olmec.” She hesitated as the spinner worked. “He comes up bare as a baby’s butt; no record. Not even a commuting violation. Blood type . . .” She glanced up at the everlastingly mournful Cardenas. “You want me to pop the rest of the bubble, Inspector?”

Cardenas shook his head. “I’ll read it when the vetted report is posted. Anything of particular interest?”

The owlish spec glanced back down at her spinner’s readout. “Records identifies him as a ‘promoter,’ but doesn’t say a promoter of what, and doesn’t list a place of business. Only a home address.”

“So he works out of his home.” Hyaki fidgeted. He was growing tired of the rain. “There’s a novel conclusion.”

Ellen smiled up at the beatific mass of humanity that loomed over both her and Cardenas. “Like your bowels backing up during stakeout?”

“Run a deep scan.” Ignoring the both of them, Cardenas was staring at the body, forlorn and shriveled in the reflected light from the massive nearby structures.

She gaped at him in disbelief. “Why?” She gestured with the spinner that was reading the extracted implant. “This unlucky citizen’s whole life is right here, where it belongs, available for casual perusal. In a dry place,” she added for emphasis. When no comment was forthcoming, she proposed, “At least let’s wait until we get it back to the lab.”

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster