The mocking program by Alan Dean Foster

Men and monkeys regarded one another silently. Then the smallest uakari scampered up into the tree nearest the road, pulled a small communicator from his backpack, and began fingering the front of the device.

“They’re from the Reserva.” Hyaki kept his voice to a whisper.

It was hardly necessary to point that out, Cardenas knew. The Ciudad Simiano located within the Reserva La Amistad had been created back in the ’50s to provide a home for those simians who had been the subject or the offspring of now-banned research in genetic manipulation designed to enhance their intelligence. The focus of more than forty years of fighting between scientific and wildlife organizations, such experiments had also been carried out on dolphins. But while intelligence-enhanced dolphins had oceans in which to roam, no such preserves were available, in a world ever more overrun by humanity, for the altered apes and their relatives. Hence the creation within La Amistad of Ciudad Simiano—the City of Simians.

Knowing this, however, had not really prepared Hyaki and Cardenas for a face-to-face encounter with the inhabitants.

“I read that they moved about freely,” the Inspector murmured to his friend, “but I didn’t know they were allowed outside the boundaries of the Reserva.”

“Did you know they were allowed to carry weapons?” Hyaki was paying attention to the knives. They were made of metal and composite, not hewn from wood or bone. Sensibly, he kept his hands out where they could be seen, and away from his service pistol.

“No, I did not.” Cardenas was concentrating on the two uakaris still on the ground, trying to read their eyes and their movements. In the course of his long career he had seen and experienced a great deal, but this was the first time he had ever tried to intuit a monkey.

With a muted crash of branches and leaves, the energetic broadcaster descended from the treetops to rejoin his taciturn, pallid companions. Cardenas smiled and crouched, bringing his line of sight more in line with theirs.

“Look here, hombers. My friend and I are with the Namerican Federal Police. You know—policia? Federales? We are expected.”

Two of the uakaris exchanged a glance and palavered softly among themselves. What was their intelligence level? the Inspector found himself wondering. Were they capable of understanding human speech? Or did they communicate only via their traditional chatter? Chimps in the wild had been observed using simple tools like rocks and sticks as long ago as the mid-twentieth century. From carrying a stick to wielding a knife did not require much in the way of a cerebral jump. As for the compact communicator, it might have been preprogrammed to send out one of several compacted signals, a procedure that could easily be taught, and reinforced, with rewards of food.

“Maybe,” Hyaki ventured thoughtfully as he listened to the uakaris converse, “the Reserva’s rangers have come out to meet us.”

“Or maybe it’s sheer coincidence.” Movement in the trees off to one side drew his attention away from the muttering, energetic monkeys.

Half a dozen veldt baboons came ambling out of the brush. Larger than the uakaris, they carried bigger knives. In the forefront was a single slim, remarkably human-looking chimp. Leather straps crisscrossed his chest, while the ubiquitous pack rode on his back. Unlike his simian companions, he approached on two legs and carried no weapons.

“That’s a bonobo,” a fascinated Cardenas murmured to his colleague. “They’re considered to be the most intelligent and humanlike of all the apes.”

“How do you know all this stuff?” Hyaki’s attention kept shifting from the bonobo to the far more suspicious baboons.

“I told you.” Cardenas waited as the confident chimp drew near. “You need to watch more vit.”

Standing, the bonobo was nearly as tall as Cardenas. Its expression was impossible to read. Slowly, it extended one powerful hand toward the Inspector’s face. Cardenas tensed but held his ground. Dexterous fingers grasped one side of the human’s drooping mustache and tugged gently. Letting go, the bonobo stepped back, scratched pointedly at his own whiskery visage—and grinned hugely. At this, the baboons and uakaris set up a howl of delight.

“Don’t,” Cardenas whispered tersely to his companion, “say anything.”

“Who, me?” Hyaki studiously avoided his friend’s stern gaze.

When the general laughter had died down, the bonobo slapped his chest and grunted. “Joe!”

Cardenas and Hyaki duplicated the gesture, following which Cardenas removed his ident bracelet from an inside pocket of his still-damp Willis and Geiger. With the loss of their spinners in the burned-out 4X4, it was all the official identification that remained to him. As a visitor to the CAF, he could carry but not wear it. Would the ape recognize it, and what it stood for?

The bonobo’s response was as insightful as it was unexpected. Reaching around into his backpack, he removed a bracelet that was nearly identical to the Inspector’s own. The colors and patterns were different, but there was no mistaking the significance.

“I’ll be damned,” a dumbfounded Hyaki muttered. “A fellow cop!”

“Si—yes,” declared the bonobo proudly. Turning, he made an unmistakable gesture for the two men to follow. They did so without hesitation, pleased to see that their intimidating bodyguard of baboons had sheathed their weapons. Having swung effortlessly up into the trees, the uakaris were watching everything from above.

After walking for less than ten minutes, they came upon a small convertible truck. The top was down, exposing both the forward seats and the open bed. An elegant circular emblem on the passenger-side door featured rainforest trees, a floating sun, and an upreaching and distinctively hairy arm and hand. Hyaki kept thoughts of crossed bananas with coconuts rampant to himself. Pointing to the vehicle, the bonobo smiled again and indicated they should climb in.

“Sobres—all right!” Unable to fit in the front, Hyaki piled in back. “No more hiking in this humidity!” He plucked dejectedly at the front of his sodden shirt. “Not that we could get much wetter than we already are.”

Cardenas slipped into the passenger seat up front. “Wonder where the driver is?”

His question was answered when Joe hopped into the seat behind the wheel. Activated by the broadcast unit that ringed his left middle finger, the engine hummed to life immediately. The truck bounced down the track, and soon picked up surprising speed. In the back, Hyaki found himself surrounded by half a dozen curious baboons whose front canines were longer than knives the sergeant had taken off street-skimming subgrubs. He smiled wanly while hanging on to keep from being jounced out of the vehicle.

Concentrating on his driving, Joe spoke without looking at his guest. “Angel police—Joe police!”

“Yes,” Cardenas assented. “So is my companion. You are a policeman in the Reserva?”

“Ranger in Reserva,” the bonobo replied proudly. “Policeperson in Ciudad Simiano. Protect and serve.” Now he glanced over. “You and big friend have visitor permit?”

“In my pocket,” Cardenas assured the driver, greatly relieved to have in his possession actual hardcopy documents. Had the permission to enter the Reserva they had obtained in San Jose been forwarded in purely electronic form, it would have been lost along with everything else on his spinner. Only by good fortune had he absently kept the relevant credentials in the back pocket of his pants.

The bonobo nodded vigorously. “Good! Not many human visit La Amistad. Only scientist, mostly. Even less come to visit Ciudad. We like it that way.”

“We’ll try to be good guests,” Cardenas assured him, “and to leave as soon as possible.”

His host shrugged. “You stay is okay with Joe. I like humans.” He gestured back toward the bed of the rattling, bouncing truck. “Harder for lower types to make friend. You know history of experiments? Only few of the great apes smart enough to make real use of brain boost. Chimpanzees, mostly. Also orangutans and few more. These guys”—he indicated the baboons and then the uakaris who were following along in the trees—”not real bright, you savvy? Tamarins, squirrel monkeys, colobus—they all pretty simple folk.” Changing tack, he asked animatedly, “You like Hundel?”

“You mean Handel? There are a few pieces that—”

Joe interrupted before Cardenas could finish. “Great human composer. Good stuff. We got small choir in Ciudad. Maybe you get to hear howler monkeys do ‘Hallelujah, Amen, Amen’ from Judas Maccabeus.” He chuckled appreciatively. “Pretty special.”

The road continued its gentle climb up into old-growth, primary rainforest, Cardenas listening to the spirited patter of their hirsute driver, Hyaki smiling uncomfortably at the sharp-toothed simian sextet with whom he was compelled to share the bed of the truck. Along the way they passed a number of signs. Cardenas remarked on one illuminated floater that dominated a fork leading off to the left.

“Storage facilities.” Joe deftly avoided a pothole the size of a small fishpond. “Reserva headquarters ahead. We go to Ciudad.” He looked over tentatively. “Unless you no want go now.”

“No.” Ride this out and see where it took them, Cardenas had long since decided. “The Ciudad is fine.”

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster