The mocking program by Alan Dean Foster

“Did she say how often it happened?”

The kid looked away. “Too often. Once a week. Sometimes more. ‘Playing friendly,’ she said he called it. Said being touched like that made her sick, sometimes she’d go into her bathroom and throw up. But she never told. Never.

“So you see, man,” the kid continued, “why she ain’t real fond of her papa. That is what it was, that made her mama decide to waft, first chance she got. Even though Katla says her mama knew this Mockerkin would explode when he found out.”

“So they’ve been running.” The ghost of a gist of an explanation for at least a few previously impenetrable imponderables began to agglutinate among the eddies of the Inspector’s thoughts. “From her husband and Katla’s father, this Mockerkin character.”

Whoh nodded energetically. “Katla told me that her mama worked on their leaving for over a year. She was ready to die trying rather than live with the homber one more day.” He smiled knowingly, the better to impart still one more secret. “‘Course, they needed something to live on. So Katla says her mom rotoed some of Mr. Mockerkin’s money.”

“How much?” Cardenas prompted.

The boy shrugged. “Nonada me. I ain’t sure Katla knows, either. More than a million, less than a billion. That’s todo total she’d tell me, anyway. Just that it was a lot. Enough to make papa Mockerkin even madder than he was gonna be anyway, when he found out his woman and kid had wafted. The way I miro it, this Surtsey chica respirate his home life, his money, an’ his respectedness. Hoy, something like that happen to me all at once, I might get a little excessival myself, sabe? One more thing: they didn’ do the do alone. Katla says her mama had a friend who helped them. One of her papa’s tightest business associates—whatever that business is, man.” He shook his head. “If this chingaroon Mockerkin wasn’t mad already, bein’ horned by a partner with his own woman ought to be enough to push him over the ridge, don’ you think?”

“So Surtsey ran off with one of Mockerkin’s partners, and his daughter, and his money. Katla tell you who the partner was? I’m going to bet his name was George Anderson.”

Wild Whoh adopted a momentary but nonetheless welcome air of superiority. “Wrong ese, fedoco! Me, I never met the homber. But Katla, she mentioned him once. Said he was a good friend to her and her mama before they wired in with this Anderson homber.

Bummer—no, Brummel. Hoy, that was it. Wayne, I think. Wayne Brummel.”

Amazing, Cardenas mused, how hour upon hour of contemplation of a jumbled gram could lead to naught but brain-strain, when all that was necessary to lucidify everything was a word or two from a jumpy subgrub. Thanks to this edgy kid, the Inspector now knew for certain who Wayne Brummel was, as well as George Anderson. They were the same man, two identities, both deceased.

It explained why Surtsey Anderson-Mockerkin had been so nervous on the vor with Cardenas. It lucidified why she had never shown up at the morgue. It told him why her seemingly ordinary, unremarkable inurban home had been converted into an elaborate, robotized, highly adaptable bomb. She didn’t fear the police. She didn’t fear burglars, or wandering perverts. She feared, indeed was terrified of, the husband she had left behind.

Of course, it could be that George Anderson-Brummel had simply taken a wrong turn on a damp night, only to be vaped by a gang of roving ninlocos out in search of an easy target. His death might be coincidental, nothing more than another sorry-sad statistic on the evening’s police tally. Obviously, Surtsey did not think that was the case. Daughter in tow, she’d wafted, ambulated, made herself indisposed.

Which, if George Anderson-Brummel had been confronted by the kind of humanoids someone like this Cleator Mockerkin could put on long-term lease, was probably a most sensible thing to do. It was not Angel Cardenas’s job to find out which was the one true truth—but he had entered too far into the circumstancia now to back out with his conscience, far less his sense of professionalism, intact.

He dug deep inside one of his coat’s interior pockets. Fishing out a wafer, he passed it through his spinner, performing a single perfunctory operation. Then he handed it to the subgrub.

“Take this down to Nogales Central. Or if you, um, have reasons not to want to go there yourself, have someone else take it for you.

Get it to Contraband Operations, third level. Tell them I gave this to you—it’s ident stamped—and hand it to the officer on duty. They’ll fetch you your Seventh Node from Property.” When the staring, uncomprehending kid failed to respond, Cardenas added helpfully, “For your belt. I keep my promises.” With that, he turned to go.

“Hoy!” Looking back, the Inspector saw the still-dazed subgrub staring after him. “You sure you a fedoco, homber?”

Cardenas smiled pleasantly. “We don’t all of us look down on your kind as trash-wash, Wild. Me, I’m stuck with this conviction that there’s a salvageable human being inside every corpus.” His smile widened slightly. “No matter how many miragoos they think they have to wear to look vacan.” He resumed his stride.


OF MORE SIGNIFICANCE EVEN THAN THE information he had gleaned from the street nin was that Fredoso Hyaki was awake, alert, and had been shunted out of IC. Cardenas found him floating in a gel bath, looking for all the world like a paralyzed gerbil trapped in the middle of a giant pudding. While the medicated gel would slowly permeate his flesh and help his entire body to heal, its real job was to accelerate the regrowth of his normal epidermis beneath the filmy protective coating of artificial skin. It was cool, and soothing to the point where the injured sergeant looked almost comfortable.


An attached web of tubes still cycled food and its afterproducts, though one positioned near his head provided ice water and fruit juice he could actually take by mouth. As Cardenas entered, Hyaki murmured a command and one of the feeders entered his mouth. The Inspector waited until his friend and partner had finished sipping before moving into the sergeant s field of vision.

“Always room for Jell-O, I see.”

Prevented by subtle, flexible supports from slowly sinking to the bottom of the burn tank, Hyaki was still able to turn his head far enough to focus on the speaker. “I like it better with some fruit, though I guess if you’re swimming in it instead of eating it, you’re better off with the pure stuff.” He smiled, though not as readily as usual. “I’ll never look at the La Brea Tar Pits again with quite the same detachment.” The smile faded. “What happened?”

“The Anderson residence was jig-timed. You ended up wearing a lot of it.”

“Let me guess.” The wide body stirred ever so slightly within the gelatin bath. “You intuited what was going to happen, and that’s why you’re still walking around flashing that hangdog grin of yours while I’m stuck in this bowl of antiseptic-flavored flan with the mother of all sunburns.”

“Yeah, that’s it,” Cardenas shot back. “I like getting blown up so much I thought I’d wait until the last minute so I could get a good whiff of cordite.” His expression turned serious. “You doing all right?”

Hyaki’s expression reflected his distaste. “Two thousand three hundred and sixty-two channels, and not a damn thing worth watching. You find mother and daughter Anderson yet?”

“No, but I found out some other things.” He proceeded to enlighten the sergeant on the results of his investigating. When he had finished, the big man started to nod, winced, and lay still.

“Sounds like the motivation was something more than your standard-issue case of domestic abuse.”

“No mierde,” the Inspector agreed. “If this mama Surtsey is as experienced at hiding from her husband as it would appear, she’s not going to be easy to find. It’s not hard to lose oneself in the Strip. Especially if you’ve got enough cred—and are frightened enough.”

“She won’t put the girl back in a soche. Not for a while, anyway. After the business with the house, they’ll go even further underground than they were before.” Hyaki went quiet for a moment. “I hope you find ’em before her ex-husband does.”

Cardenas nodded gravely. He felt very strongly that if they did not, the discovery-recovery might prove even more disconcerting than it had been for a certain George Anderson-Brummel.

“I wish they’d let me out of here. I’d really like to help on this one.” Hyaki flashed the wonderful faux Buddha smile that enchanted children and reassured women. “I don’t hold anything against the mother and daughter. It was the house that did this to me—not them.”

The Inspector leaned over the tank. “You’re not going anywhere until you get your back back. I’ll keep you posted.” He turned to go.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster