The mocking program by Alan Dean Foster

“When I find them, I’ll ask them,” Cardenas replied. The Wise was coming around. The Inspector could tell.

Aurilac sighed. “Bound or unbound, they’re all the same, and they don’t even realize it.” Setting the pipe aside, he picked up a vorec in his thick fingers. “What are their names?” By way of reply, Cardenas fingered his spinner and passed the cleric a wafer containing much of what had been learned about Surtsey and Katla Mockerkin.

Speaking directly into the vorec, Aurilac communicated with his flock. Immediately, new screens winked to life and freshly charged heads-ups glowed to one side and overhead. Less than a minute passed before the Wise rubbed the tiny receiver clipped to his right ear. His expression was not encouraging.

“No record of their current whereabouts. They are not bound to the community. You’re sure of the names and likenesses?”

Cardenas’s lips tightened. “Positive. I thought your people had access to closed boxes.”

Aurilac shrugged slightly, and the soft flesh overlying his shoulder blades rippled. “Ay, it doesn’t matter what you search if there’s nothing inside. If the two you seek are within Namerica, there is no record of their presence. They must be well and truly hidden. Perhaps even by surgery.”

An impatient and disappointed Cardenas shook his head. “They’ve had time enough to run or undergo alteration, but not both.”

Aurilac was apologetic. “I’m sorry. If they were extant, we would know.” Again he took in his flickering, luminous surroundings. “People can hide, but not numbers. You know that ‘numerology’ used to mean something entirely different?”

Cardenas had no more time for philosophical chit-chat. “Can you look for them one more time? In a place called Friendship?”

Aurilac passed the information along. Word came back almost instantly that no woman and girl of the indicated description had recently been reported in Pennsylvania, Iowa, or Manitoba.

Cardenas refused to admit defeat. Surtsey and Katla Mockerkin had to be somewhere. Confident of the some, he needed only to pinpoint the where. “Try linguistic analogs,” he finally suggested.

“Which ones?” asked his host.

“All of them. The nearest physically and linguistically together.”

So much crunch was employed for the search that the room dimmed noticeably. Somewhere, Cardenas knew, crunch and power were being drawn down from legitimate enterprises, no doubt illegally.

While the search was in progress, Aurilac the Wise had gone mute, chin slumped on his chest, eyes shut. Now he lifted his head, and a relieved Cardenas knew the gist of what the other man was going to say before he opened his mouth.

“Got ’em.” For a cleric, Cardenas thought, Aurilac the Wise was not given to interminable pontificating. A heads-up materialized between host and visitor. It displayed a flickering recording of a line of travelers passing through an unpretentious customs queue. As two walked through, Cardenas recognized mother and daughter. They had changed their hair color and styles and wore clothing designed to disguise their physical features, but based on soche records, he was unquestionably looking at Surtsey and Katla Mockerkin.

“When and where?” he asked briskly. Everything he was seeing and hearing was being taken down by his open spinner.

In response to a command from Aurilac, the heads-up moved in, and around, to focus on the form the customs officer was perusing. In the course of the recording, the view lasted only a second. Freezing it locked the information in place. All but stepping into the red-tinged heads-up, Cardenas read.

“Costa Rica,” he murmured. “No wonder they didn’t turn up in the NFP search. They’ve gone outside our jurisdiction.”

“Your jurisdiction,” the female attendant pointed out with undisguised relish.

“La Amistad.” Cardenas worked his spinner. “In English, Friendship National Park, spanning the border with Panama. Biggest untouched tract of rainforest left in Central America.” Glancing up from the spinner, he met Aurilac’s gaze. “Yes, that would be a good place to hide from determined pursuers.” He slipped the spinner back into its jacket repository. “My name is Inspector Angel Cardenas, and I am in your debt.”

Aurilac waved aloofly. “Seekers after truths are bound together by greater ties than debt, my friend. Next time you’re deep in a box, spare a thought for those of us who have dedicated our lives to searching it out. Leave us in peace to continue our questing.”

“I’ll do that.” Cardenas turned to depart. “Just try,” he asked with a parting smile, “not to steal too much crunch in the process.”

“What, us?” Aurilac the Wise indicated the busy chamber. “Everything you see around you, we pay for.”

“Verdad,” the Inspector replied, “but in what kind of currency?”

“Binding currency, of course,” his host assured him by way of parting. More solemnly, he added, “I hope you find this half-family before those others you spoke of do so. Gratuitous killing disturbs me.”

“As opposed to explicit killing?”

“We are a peaceful order.” Aurilac raised one hand. It was both a blessing and a dismissal. Cardenas chose not to point out the nature of the lethal apparatus concealed beneath the charming Camille’s decorous and well-lit gown. It would not have been polite.


OF SUCH HUNCHES WERE INVESTIGATIVE CAREERS made. Cardenas had made many such in his long years with the Department. It was not, after all, unreasonable to assume that the garrulous Wayne Brummel had discussed his potential refuge with the woman he was living with as well as with the one he had been cogering on the side. What left the Inspector shaking his head was the ironic realization that having grown up speaking English and Spang, he had managed to overlook the possibility that an anglo like Brummel might make use of the language of Cardenas’s grandparents.

According to the records, The Mock had been brought up on charges more times than Cardenas cared to count. Most times he had been let go, sometimes on a technicality, usually for lack of hard evidence. According to the law, a wife could not be made to testify against her husband in court. The relevant statutes were less clear where a child was concerned.

Besides which, given their apparent current state of mind, Cardenas was convinced neither Surtsey nor Katla Mockerkin would have to be compelled to give testimony.

Finally learning the whereabouts of the Mockerkin women was no guarantee he would be able to extradite them safely, or even get to see them. As Aurilac the Wise’s surly attendant had so succinctly pointed out, Costa Rica was well outside the NFP s jurisdiction. While the USN had dozens of treaties with the Central American Federation, they did not extend to formally allowing law officers of either territory to operate openly within the borders of their neighbor.

Informal incursions, he reflected as he stepped out of the induction tube station beside the hospital, were (as was so often the case when matters of law enforcement were involved) something else entirely.

Hyaki was waiting for him, squeezed uncomfortably into a wheelchair next to the discharge desk, looking less like a contented Buddha and more like a dyspeptic gorilla who had been confined in a small packing case for far too long. He gazed mournfully at the Inspector as the older man approached.

“They won’t release me officially until somebody from the Department signs for me,” he grumbled. “Times like this I wish I wasn’t a bachelor. I feel like a damn registered package sitting off all by its, lonesome at the post office, waiting for someone to come and claim me.”

“Does that mean I can have you stamped ‘Refused, Return to Sender’?” Cardenas quipped. Hyaki’s response was an uncharacteristic vulgarity. The sergeant continued to mumble with annoyance as Cardenas signed off on the necessary forms.

He did kick the wheelchair when he was finally, formally, allowed to vacate it in the drivethrough facing Reception. It was a mild kick, or the chair would not have survived.

“How’s the back?” Cardenas inquired sympathetically. He did not have to ask, of course. He knew. But after long, boring days spent in rehab, his friend would need to talk.

Not that Hyaki was an especially voluble individual. The sergeant discoursed only briefly on the numbing delights of hospital downtime before taking up again his interest in the case that had resulted in his enforced vacation. As he yakked, and listened to Cardenas’s replies, he frequently shrugged his shoulders or twisted his torso, as if his newly regrown skin was a too-small suit that did not quite fit properly.

“Costa Rica,” the big man muttered as the Inspector pulled the cruiser away from the curb. “La Amistad. A funny place for someone with money to run to. You’d think maybe Prague or Petersburg. Not the jungle.”

Cardenas swung into mild traffic, leaving quiescent the flashing warning beamers that striped the top of the official vehicle. They were in no hurry. “Evidently, hiding is more important to them than comfort. If you get vaped, it doesn’t matter whether it happens while you’re lying in a five-star hotel or a parking lot.”

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster