The mocking program by Alan Dean Foster

Hyaki rubbed one cheek, gently massaging new epidermis. His skin did not crawl, but it did itch. The hospital had provided a spray to minimize the effect. “Amistad, Amistad—seems to me I’ve run across the name before.”

His partner flipped on the cruiser’s scanner and ordered it to tune to a soft classics station broadcasting out of London’s East End. The soaring melodies of an early symphony by Braga-Santos backgrounded the interior of the vehicle.

“It’s the biggest piece of virgin upland rainforest left in the CAF. And of course, Reserva Amistad just means Friendship Reserve. I can’t believe I missed on that.”

The sergeant smiled. “Too many new words to learn. When you live in a place like Nogales, where the dictionary gets updated daily, it’s easy for your cerebro to lose track of the obvious.” For emphasis, he tapped the side of his head. The absence of hair, blown off in the explosion that had destroyed the Anderson residence, made him look more than ever like an Asian version of the Enlightened One.

“If they’re hiding in the middle of the CAF,” he commented, “that takes us out of it.”

Cardenas’s fingers stroked the steering wheel. “Not necessarily.”

His partner looked over in surprise. “You intuiting that, Angel?”

A hint of a smile crossed the Inspector’s face, raising slightly the points of his drooping mustache. “You’ve got some sick leave coming. I have vacation time accumulated. I’ve discussed it with Pangborn. Seems there are official duties and unofficial duties. And then there’s semi-official duties.” He looked across at his friend. “You and me, we’re going to take a little semi-official trip. I’ve already stocked up on mosquito antipherms.”

Hyaki crossed his arms over his chest and slumped lower in his seat. It left him with his knees blocking his view out the forward glass. “So much for a little post-op rest and relaxation,” he griped.

Cardenas ignored the complaint. “You’ll like Costa Rica. I understand the beaches are beautiful.”

The sergeant looked back at him. His partner was concentrating on dealing with the traffic.

“You said the absent Ms. Mockerkin and her kid were heading for high rainforest. No beaches in the high rainforest.”

“I said the beaches are beautiful,” Cardenas replied dryly. “I didn’t say we were going there.”

San Jose’s Intel International Airport nestled nervously between green-clad hillsides and active volcanoes, surrounded by industrial fabrication and assembly plants that in many aspects not only mimicked those of the Strip, but supplied components for it. As early as the late twentieth century, the energetic Ticos of Costa Rica had recognized that the future lay not in banana or copra farming, but in hitech and ecotourism, and had structured their country accordingly. Now Costa Rica was the richest member of the CAF, the envy of its neighbors, and a model for successful burgeoning economies in Panama and Belize.

They were passed formally but politely through Customs and Immigration before being asked to step inside an office with heavily opaqued windows. Initial uncertainty gave way to reassurance when they were greeted by Lieutenant Corazon of the CAF police. A short, stocky, hard-bodied blonde in her early forties, she sat them down in front of her desk, proffered cold drinks from an office cooler, and spoke while studying a heads-up whose contents were not visible to her visitors.

“Semi-official visit, is it?” she commented in perfect English, meeting Cardenas’s gaze with an unwavering, unblinking stare. Her small stature notwithstanding, he knew he would not want to cross this woman in a fight. “We don’t get many of those. I see here that you are trying to find a Namerican woman and her daughter.”

Cardenas nodded. “They’re running from her husband, as well as from other interested antisoc parties. A lot of money is involved, plus some confidential information that may be in the daughter’s possession. We’d very much like to find them and take them home so they can be placed in a secure protection program. Right now we believe that they are panicoed.”

“And you’re convinced they’ve panicked their way here?”

“To La Amistad.” Cardenas crossed his legs. The interview might be routine, but Lieutenant Corazon definitely was not.

“For a mother and child believed to be panicking, they seem to have done rather well.” She smiled challengingly. “They’ve managed to elude your people, for example.”

Cardenas would not be baited. “We didn’t know where they were going until long after they had left.”

The lieutenant nodded, studied the screen afresh. Then she exhaled softly and instructed it to shut down. Her attention darted between the two visiting federales. “You know what is in La Amistad rainforest? Besides quetzals and sloths and jaguars and ormegas soldados?”

“Lots of rain?” Hyaki speculated offhandedly.

She favored him with a look of disapproval. “La Ciudad Simiano is there. It contains the only authorized habitations. Everything else has been left wild, as decreed by the government, the WWF, the OTS, and all the other vested scientific organizations that have responsibility for preserving the health and biodiversity of the park. If your two ladies are in La Amistad, they are there with the permission of the Simiano administrators.” Her tone hardened. “They may not look favorably on a visit from a pair of Namerican federales.”

“We’ll have a talk with them.” Hyaki indicated his friend. “My partner can be very persuasive. He has a way with people.”

The engaging smile Corazon bestowed on an unequivocally intrigued Cardenas was belied by her tone. “I can tell that he does,” she murmured enticingly. “Unfortunately, once you enter Ciudad Simiano, you will no longer be dealing with people.”

Cardenas smiled. “I know.”

Hyaki looked confused. “Well, I don’t. I’ve been laid up, and we flew down here in kind of a rush. I’m not a research guru like Angel here. What’s this ‘Ciudad Simiano,’ and why do I have the feeling you think it might present problems for us?”

“It all depends on how the residents perceive you. All I can do is inform the Reserva Director’s office that you are on your way. If you are lucky, you will be accorded admittance with no trouble. If not”— she sat back and shrugged—”then even I or my superiors cannot get you in.” She proceeded to explain.

The short commuter jump to Ciudad Neily, the nearest town with an airport to the greater Amistad Reserva, was accomplished in quick time and with only a few bumps through the tropical air. Beyond securing the best available vehicle for entering the mountains— a quad fuel cell-powered 4X4 with sleeping and cooking facilities for two—the amiable if dubious Lieutenant Corazon was unable to help them. They were, after all, traveling semi-officially. This meant that while the local police would not interfere with their activities, neither could they step in to render official assistance. This did not bother the two federales. They had come in search of acquiescence rather than help.

The road out of Neily was excellent, but beyond the mountain town of San Vito it changed character rapidly. Past Sabalito it quickly degenerated into a mountain track. At over a million hectares, the expanded Reserva de Biosfera La Amistad was the largest intact expanse of undisturbed rainforest north of South America. Clearly, those responsible for its integrity intended to keep it that way.

Banging eastward, steadily gaining altitude, they found themselves surrounded by green-clad mountains on all sides. To the north, Fabrega, at 3336 meters, overtopped the entire region. Though they could not see it, they did not feel cheated. The terrain that closed in around them did not lack for unsettlingly steep slopes or dramatic cloud-piercing peaks.

They topped off the heavy-duty 4X4’s cells at Progresso, the last town before entering the wilderness of the Las Tablas Zone. The Reserva continued over into nearby Panama, but the border was not marked. Despite the altitude, both men were sweating liters. They were used to the dry heat of the Strip, not the sweltering humidity of the jungle.

“Going to see the Simianos?” the attendant at the one-stop inquired in his halting English.

“If we want to enter the Las Tablas Zone, we don’t have any choice.” Hyaki had marked well the words of the helpful Lieutenant Corazon.

The old man nodded as he shut off the hygen filler and resealed the vehicle’s tank. “Loco folk, those Simianos. Keep to themselves. Don’t see them much outside the Reserva. Things are better that way, si?”

Cardenas smiled tolerantly. The old man was not afraid of the Simianos; his indifference glowed like a dim bulb. “What do we owe V your “Namericanos!” The attendant muttered to himself as he processed the Inspector’s card. “Always testing limits. Always pushing their luck.”

He wished them good fortune anyway. After all, they were tourists, and as such, their presence in his small community was to be appreciated. The Ticos had learned the lessons of the late twentieth century well.

Outside Progresso, the road soon degenerated into a damp, gooey mush in which gravel occasionally put in an appearance like candy chips in a pudding. Repeated tropical downpours had sawn gullies in the track like parallel slices in a cake. Behind the wheel of the rented vehicle, Hyaki suffered more than his companion from the continual jolts and bumps, since his fuzz-covered skull barely cleared the roof. As if the way was not difficult enough, it began to rain.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster