The mocking program by Alan Dean Foster

“Take it easy. I need some information. Nothing compromising, I promise you. And I’ve paid for two hours, so your commission is secure no matter what you do—or don’t do. Look on it as time off.”

“Fuck you. Or I guess not. I’m not telling you a thing, fedoco.”

Cardenas sighed and took another drag of his self-chilling beer. It was starting to fill him up. Sometimes, being nice, being polite, could be counterproductive. That would do neither him nor the sylph any good.

“We can do this here or at the station. You know it’ll go better for you here. If you end up coming with me—or I guess not—your employers won’t be happy no matter what story you feed them.”

She slumped, her breasts bouncing, and took a seat on the sand in front of him. She made a point of staying out of arm’s reach. “Two hours. I hope to hell you haven’t got two whole hours’ worth of stupid questions.”

“So do I.” He shifted his own position on the sand and, after a moment’s thought, helped himself to another cerveza from the cooler. The automatonic pelican was studiously ignoring him. “I’m interested in anything you can tell me about one of your regulars. Might have called himself George Anderson, but more likely went by the name of Wayne Brummel.”

Her head jerked up and around. “If you know he’s one of my regulars, then you probably know more about him than I do. I don’t have anything to say. You want to skip me to the station, I’ll dig out some stable clothes and we’ll go, and to hell with Administration. If you want to know about Wayne, why come to me? Why not habla him yourself?”

As ever, Cardenas’s tone remained unchanged. “Because a few days ago, somebody had him extirpated.”

As her eyes widened and her lower jaw took a notable drop, her entire nude body straight away turned a blindingly pure ivory-white. Here, Cardenas realized as he looked away, was a witness he would not have to intuit. She could no more conceal her emotions from him than she could fly to the moon.

Although, he saw compassionately, she could no doubt imitate the flight.


IN CARDENAS’S EXPERIENCE IT WAS A GENERAL rule that whores did not cry. But there was no mistaking the anguish in Coy Joy’s eyes: more than one would have expected a sylph to shed for a dead client, even one who might have been gentle, straight, and tipped lavishly.

“This Brummel was more to you than just a steady mark?”

She nodded, her face contorted as if she was trying to weep but had forgotten how. Continuing to reflect the emotions boiling within her, the blinding pallor of her skin had given way to a light brown flecked with intermittent blobs of uncontrolled blueness that expanded and contracted in time to her sobs. Through the ambiguous miracle of gengineering, Coy Joy had moved far, far beyond wearing her emotions on her sleeve. She wore them everywhere. Though it was all but impossible to avoid looking at her attractive, naked, color-saturated body, Cardenas struggled hard to maintain a professional detachment. If he did not, he sensed he would get nothing out of her, no matter what threats he might propound.

“I understand your concern, and I’m sorry for your loss. Your reaction answers my question, but I promise that you’ll feel better by tomorrow morning.”

Her face streaked with tears and softly pulsating indigo splotches, she looked up at him over her cupped hands. “How—how do you know?” she sniffed.

Without elaborating, he simply smiled and told her, “I can tell. Brummel was good to you?”

She nodded despairingly. “He never hurt me, always overpaid, even waited for me those times when I thought he was done with me. Never asked for anything spazzed.”

Contemplating the bright blue whorls that spattered her lower body and turned both supple legs into kaleidoscopic echoes of ancient barber poles, only in color, Cardenas wondered what someone like Coy Joy would consider abnormal.

“He was— He said that as soon as this big project he was working on gealed, he would leave the woman he was living with and we would get married. He talked a lot about us moving, about getting away from the Strip.”

What a charming homber the dead Brummel had been, the Inspector mused. Surtsey Mockerkin had chosen to run off with a man who had promptly begun their new life by cheating on her. Suggestions of domestic abuse from the subgrub Wild Whoh notwithstanding, it was looking more and more like Ms. Mockerkin and the late Brummel-Anderson probably deserved one another. Cardenas did not need to draw his spinner to record the conversation. Anything relevant he committed to his own, as opposed to an artificial, memory.

“Move where?”

“I don’t know—some place he called Friendship.”

Cardenas shook his head. “Never heard of it.”

“Neither had I. And he wouldn’t ever tell me any more than the name.” As she struggled to smile, her upper body, from shoulders to forehead, pulsed a pale rose hue. “Wanted it to be a surprise, he said.”

The tears and tints began to flow again. Cardenas let them come, admiring the startling play of colors within her skin, before putting an end to the weepery with another question.

“What about this business of his, his big project? Did he ever talk about it, ever mention the names of partners or existing concerns?”

Reaching down, she picked up a beach towel and used it to wipe her eyes and nose. Behind her, the simulated sea washed the synthetic shore, suffusing the apartmento with the artificial scent of marooned kelp and crystallizing sea salt.

“Wayne never said anything about partners. I guess maybe he didn’t need any, because he had access to the money of this other woman, the woman he was living with. Apparently she had plenty. I didn’t worry about him, about us, taking it for our own use, because he told me she had stolen it from her husband.”

Cardenas was watching her closely. “Did Wayne ever mention the husband?”

Coy shook her head. “No, never. Just a daughter, the girl he and the woman were living with. Wayne talked about her a lot. I guess he thought she was kind of special, even though she wasn’t his.”

“He didn’t talk about the woman?” Cardenas was puzzled.

“No, not the woman. He never talked about her, unless it had to do with the money he was going to take. Just about the girl. Katey— no, Katla, that was her name. The special project? He was never real clear on that. Said something, once, about wanting to keep me under a shield of ignorance. It all centered around the girl.” She shook her head. “Don’t ask me why.”

Cardenas was now as intrigued as he was confused. “Brummel’s big business deal revolved around Katla? Katla, the twelve-year-old, and not Surtsey?” He saw neither need nor reason for now to bring up the name Mockerkin.

She shrugged. “That’s what Wayne told me. Hey, I didn’t press him for details. It was enough that he said we were going to get married and go to this place of friendship. Or Friendship place. He’d get real dreamy-eyed talking about it. Said it was warm, and beautiful, and private. Just wouldn’t tell me where it was.”

“What kind of unusual business could someone like Wayne be working with a twelve-year-old girl?”

Rising, Coy Joy apathetically began to slip into a new dress. Her body was a symphony of sinuous movement and subdued, internally generated color. Cardenas’s blood pressure had finally diminished to something approaching normal.

“I dunno.” She raised one leg engagingly, using both hands to smooth the diaphanous material against her skin. The mood music that had been playing continuously in the background had, mercifully, finally stopped. “He said she was a tecant, but he didn’t go into details. Said she had done a lot of work for her father.”

So shy little Katla Mockerkin was a technology savant, Cardenas mused. One who had been working with her father, The Mock. While the nature of that labor remained a mystery, Cardenas began to understand why Cleator Mockerkin might be anxious to regain custody of his hijacked offspring. Irregardless of the nature of that work, it was manifestly one that had caught the interest of Wayne Brummel. The abilities of a natural tecant could be extremely valuable to someone involved in complex business dealings. With tecants, as for example with intuits, age was not necessarily a limiting factor where natural ability was concerned.

“He didn’t discuss the character of the business at all?”

“I told you.” Reflecting her annoyance as she fastened the dress, angry red stars appeared as blotches on the still-exposed portions of her body. “He didn’t go into detail with me about anything except the two of us, our relationship, and this Friendship place. He never talked business beyond what I’ve already told you.” She rested her face in her hands. “I didn’t want him to talk about anything except us.” Taking a deep breath, she composed herself as best she was able. Except for occasional flare-ups of blue and gold, her skin color had returned to normal.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster