The mocking program by Alan Dean Foster

The great ape nodded slowly. “You know, federale, Ciudad Simiano is still a controversial project among many humans. They feel threatened.” Like the rest of him, Sorong’s smile was something to behold. “As if revenge were a trans-species sentiment! As if those here brooded over justice for all of our relations who have been tormented in primitive medical labs, or cooped up in tiny cages in what feebly passed for zoos, or slaughtered for bush meat, or stolen as infants for the pet trade.”

“I’m glad to hear,” Cardenas replied softly, “that you’re not vindictive.”

Huge arms spread wide in a gesture of helplessness. “What would be the point? Both the victims and their perpetrators are long dead. Meanwhile, humans kill other humans far more frequently and with greater gusto than they kill us. Here at Ciudad Simiano, we hope to move beyond that. But there are humans who are terrified of genetically enhanced grasses. I can hardly begin to describe to you how such Luddites react to the existence of my friends and I.” He leaned forward slightly. “Have you ever reviewed an ancient vit series with the cluster title Planet of the Apes?”

“No, I don’t believe I have,” Cardenas told him.

The Director sat back. “Scare tactics. Nothing but scare tactics. However, the ignorant are always with us, and are ready to swallow any sort of codswallop the many extant myopic organizations care to dish out. It therefore behooves those of us who live here to avoid trouble and unfavorable publicity. We just want to be left alone, to be ourselves, so that we can work out the ultimate ramifications of this enhanced intelligence as best we can.”

Hyaki had been quiet for some time. Now he chose to rejoin the discussion. “A local war between yourselves and antisocs from all over the northern hemisphere might not be the best way to accomplish that.”

“I see that we are of one mind in this.” Grunting profoundly, Sorong thumped himself on the chest with one closed fist. The action generated a dull booming sound. “If the financial details can be worked out—and I see no reason why they cannot—then in the interests of preserving the peace and ensuring the safety of the two females, we might agree to release them into your custody. After all, they are human. It is not as if they are bonobos.” His expression narrowed. “But we will do this only if they consent to go with you of their own free will. The Ciudad Simiano does have a reputation to maintain.”

Cardenas turned away from the imposing icon of Koko. “So does the NFP. I wouldn’t want to see either damaged.”

“I suppose you would like to meet with the two females and make certain they are indeed the pair that you seek.”

Hyaki contained his excitement. It was starting to look as if the long trip south was going to turn out to be productive after all. “That would be a good next step, yeah.”

Cardenas nodded agreement. “How long before you can locate them and bring them back here, or take us to them?”

Sorong grinned like an overgrown kid. “About five minutes.” Raising a massive gray arm, he pointed to one of the many tracks that led back into the surrounding jungle. “They’re staying in guest house number three. It is clearly marked, you cannot miss it. I would go with you, but I have much work to do. After you have introduced yourselves, we can proceed from there. Be sure to announce your arrival before entering the building.”

Thanking him, they parted ways, the two federales heading in the direction of the indicated path. Dense verdure quickly closed in around them. The proximity to exotic rainforest vegetation and the plethora of insects and arachnids it accommodated probably did not bother the primates. Used to cityscapes and open spaces, the two urbanized visitors from the north were considerably less at ease in the thick jungle. Cardenas was glad it was only a short walk to their indicated destination, and said so.

“It’s not so bad.” Bending low, Hyaki ducked beneath an overhanging branch heavy with leaves and small nesting epiphytes. “All you have to do is pretend that you’re walking through the botanical gardens in North Tucson. The smell’s the same.”

Glancing back at his partner, Cardenas’s eyes widened slightly. For once, it was left to the sergeant to do the intuiting. “Something wrong?”

“Depends.” The Inspector continued to stare. “On whether you can pretend that the spider that’s riding on your shoulder is like the ones you’re likely to find in the botanical gardens in North Tucson.”

Looking to his left, Hyaki found himself eye to eye with a typically enormous representative of the group of arachnids known as the orb weavers. With legs longer than the federale’s fingers and a black-and-yellow abdomen the size of his fist, the giant orb spider made for an imposing presence on the sergeant’s shoulder. Spurning his visitor’s sartorial elegance, Hyaki began yelling and thrashing wildly with both hands, until the huge arachnid had been knocked off into the brush. That it was not particularly poisonous mattered not an iota to the unhappy sergeant. Even had he been aware of the fact, it was doubtful he would have reacted any more calmly.

Cardenas could not blame him. In his experience, few folk liked spiders, and he was not ashamed to admit that he could count himself among them. Righting itself among the leaves and other forest detritus where it had landed, the orb weaver scuttled rapidly out of sight.

Hyaki continued to twitch nervously and brush repeatedly at himself for several minutes following the encounter. “Brrrr! I’d rather face a squat of ninlocos.” He held up thumb and forefinger. “The damn thing was this close to my face!”

“I’m told it’s not what you can see that gets to you in places like this.” Cardenas warily pushed aside a sapling that was sprouting from the center of the trail. “It’s the things you can’t. Leeches, for example. Ticks and fleas. Flies carrying leishmaniasis. Bugs that—”

His partner cut him off. “I get the point. Me, I was ready for the streets of Nogales as soon as our shuttle landed in San Jose. Give me thick walls and high pavement anyday.”

“And the coffee and beignets at Rosa’s Cafe.” Cardenas’s voice dripped with longing. “Crepes with prickly pear jam and whipped cream. Lingonberry sopapillas.”

“I told you,” Hyaki groused at his friend. “I get the point.”

“That must be it.” As they emerged from the narrow trail into a small clearing, Cardenas increased his stride, grateful to be out from beneath the undergrowth.

In front of them, backing up against the imposing foliage, was a building unlike any they had encountered in the Ciudad compound. Constructed largely of local materials, it appeared to be an architectural throwback to an earlier time. Set on pilings driven into the ground, the single-story structure was spacious enough to contain three or four good-sized rooms beneath the thatched palm roof. Twenty steps fashioned of split logs comprised the wide stairway that led up to the covered front deck, from which any inhabitants would have a fine view of the surrounding jungle. There was no sign of the usual wiring that defined modern construction.

Cardenas led the way up the stairs. No glass was in evidence; windows and doors alike featuring only mesh screening. The periodic hiss-sst of an unseen electronic insect repeller indicated that the edifice was equipped with at least one piece of modern technology. Evidently, an inclination on the part of the building’s residents to return to the wild did not necessarily include an urge to feed it.

Cardenas was a little surprised to find the screen door unlocked. Exchanging a look with his partner, he entered. It was surprisingly cool and dry within, clearly due to the silent exertions of artfully concealed air-conditioning and dehumidifying appliances. Moving slowly down the hallway and looking to his right, he found himself gazing into a comfortable sitting room. Couches and chairs fashioned of rattan and other local materials cradling cushions imported from the outside world clustered around the ubiquitous vit. Floor mats of woven coconut fiber alternated with decorative pads fashioned from palm fronds. As for the inventive paintings and bas-reliefs and color-crawls that decorated the walls and rested on small wooden tables, he found himself wondering if they had been fashioned by human hands—or by those belonging to close cousins.

“Who is it?” a strong feminine voice inquired from the far side of the hallway. “I hope you were able to find some—”

Turning, Cardenas found himself confronting a slightly stocky and undeniably attractive woman in her early thirties. Shoulder-length blonde hair was drawn back in a single ponytail, an eminently sensible do for the high tropics. Her face was devoid of makeup and cosmetics of any kind. The single wraparound pale yellow garment she wore was dominated by a bold bougainvillea print, more South Pacific than Central America. Her feet were small and bare, the nails unembellished. A sole concession to contemporary convention was the small audio-only muse player that fit neatly into her right ear.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster