The mocking program by Alan Dean Foster

“Surtsey Mockerkin?” Cardenas started to reach into the inside pocket of his short-sleeved shirt to show her his ident bracelet. “I’m—”

The blood seemed to drain from her face. Her expression grew stricken. “Roger!” she screamed.

Before either man could explain himself further, a bulbous streak of muscular red-orange came tearing into the room, brushing past the frightened woman as it flew at the pair of visitors. A heavy, tree sap-stained machete gripped tightly in one hand struck first at Hyaki, descending with enough force to cleave an arm from a shoulder. Remarkably agile for such a big man, and used to dealing with assailants, the sergeant lunged to one side and struck at his attacker as he rushed past. Powerful enough to bring most men to their knees, the blow didn’t even slow the figure wielding the big bush knife.

But then, it wasn’t a man.

Whirling, the furious orangutan took a second swipe at the sergeant, who darted behind the rattan couch and picked up a chair to defend himself. With one hand the orang, kilo for kilo far stronger than any human, lifted the couch and flung it out of the way. While the reddish-orange ape stalked Hyaki, Cardenas was able to rush to the woman’s side. Since her whole posture was reflective of profound inner fear, he hastened to reassure her. Reaching into his shirt, he pulled out his ident.

“Surtsey Mockerkin? Inspector Angel Cardenas and Sergeant Fredoso Hyaki, Namerican Federal Police. I spoke to you in Nogales. We’re here to help you.” He gestured in the direction of the two grim-visaged combatants. “Call off your dog.”

Some of the tension eased out of her, but her expression remained wary. Keeping her eyes on Cardenas, she spoke without turning. “Roger! It’s all right—they’re police, not mataros.”

Holding the machete over his head with both hands, the orang slowly lowered his long, powerful arms. Only when the blade neared the floor did Hyaki begin to put down the chair he was holding defensively in front of him. The ape blinked large, deceptively childlike eyes.

“Surtsey sure?”

“For now,” she told him. “Wait outside, on the porch.” The tone in her voice carried an implied threat as she continued to address her words to the man standing next to her. “I’ll call you if I need you. And before you go, fix the couch.”

Obediently, again using only one hand, the orang flipped the casually cast-aside piece of furniture back onto its feet, repositioned it on the floor, and tossed the loose cushions back where they belonged. Favoring both Hyaki and Cardenas with a warning glare, it ambled out of the room, still clutching the ominous long blade.

“Your friend?” Cardenas gestured in the direction of the departed simian.

“My bodyguard. He was assigned to me by the Simiano association. I pay them to protect and shelter me here.” Her expression softened slightly. “They rotate bodyguards. None of them is especially fond of human company. But they know how to do their job.”

Having set the wicker-and-rattan chair back on the floor, Hyaki promptly slumped into it. In the high humidity, the brief burst of physical exertion had started cascades of perspiration from his face and upper body.

“I wouldn’t dispute that.”

She hesitated a moment longer before finally gesturing toward the furniture. “Well, you’re here. I can’t do anything about that. So you might as well sit down.”

Taking the chair next to the couch, Cardenas folded his hands and leaned forward earnestly. “You said that you pay the, um, people here to shelter you. Where’s Katla?”

Surtsey Mockerkin seemed to sink in on herself. Another time, another place, this would be an exceptionally attractive and probably vivacious woman, Cardenas thought. The tropics reduced everyone to the same low, sweaty, common denominator of appearance.

“Since you found me, you obviously know about her.” She looked out a screened window. “When she’s not sitting in front of a box teasing mollyspheres, she likes to take walks in the forest. Says she’s inspired by what she sees.” Mockerkin shook her head. “I’m glad for her. This was the safest place I could think of to run to, and I had contacts here.”

“You did,” Hyaki pressed her, “or Wayne Brummel did?”

She looked over at the big man, but not in surprise. “So you know about Wayne, too?”

Cardenas nodded sympathetically. “That’s what started us on this case. You didn’t keep your appointment to meet me at the Nogales morgue.”

Turning to her left, she passed a hand over a large mockwood sculpture of a tapir. It’s back slid aside to expose the interior. Reaching within, she removed a bottle of local beer and flipped the cap, activating the integral refrigerator. As she waited for it to chill she did not offer one to her visitors.

“Poor Wayne. He truly loved me, you know. As much as he hated Cleats, he loved me.” Reduced to watching her take a slug of the ice-cold brew, actual pain shot through Hyaki. “Wayne’s problem was a common one among men: they always think they’re smarter than they actually are. I miss him, but not as much as I thought I would.” She indicated their surroundings. “He was the one who did the scut work looking for a safe haven, in case we might need one. Too bad he’ll never get to enjoy it.” Taking a more decorous sip of the golden liquid, she eyed Cardenas appraisingly. “I’m telling you the truth.”

“I know.” The Inspector responded comfortingly, without bothering to explain how he really did.

She crossed very alluring legs, most of which were visible below the hem of her tropical shorts. “My first thought when I saw you two standing here was that it was all over, that you were mataros sent by my husband.” Her face screwed up in an expression of visible distaste. “‘Nobody mocks The Mock,’ he always used to say. Pinche cabron, that bastard!” Her tone turned pleading. “He fascinated me, at first. I was very young. Eventually, things got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I ran away half a dozen times. Each time, his people found me and brought me back.” She looked away from her visitors. “Each time I was brought back things got—worse.

“Then Katla happened. I stopped running away. To raise her, and also to get him to ease off. When I felt she was old enough, strong enough, I started looking for a way out. Having failed so many times on my own, I’d finally figured out that I’d need help. I was just flailing around, going nowhere, until I met Wayne.” She drained more of the beer. “It wasn’t so much that Wayne was a good guy. After all, he worked for Cleats. He was just less bad than most of the other men I’d met. And he loved me, and tolerated Katla.

“That was enough for me. I told him what I wanted to do, and he did it. Together, we made the break, tried to lose ourselves in the Strip.” She shook her head. “Four new identities in two years, and it still wasn’t enough. All the time, Wayne kept searching for a safe place, in case we had to leave Namerica. I don’t know how he stumbled on the idea of coming here, but he did. He reasoned that it was one place even The Mock’s mins couldn’t get in.” She offered up a wan smile. “We didn’t talk about the federales.”

“Your house almost got us,” Hyaki felt compelled to tell her.

She glanced sideways at him. “That was Wayne’s work, too. It wasn’t intended for you. It was designed as a greeting for The Mock’s hombers in case they ever showed up. How’d you get away, anyhow?”

Hyaki indicated the quietly attentive Cardenas. “My partner is real good at sensing anomalies in a situation.” He added accusingly, “Your house nearly blew off my ass.”

She shrugged. “I’d apologize, if I thought it would make a difference. Nothing matters now. Nothing matters anymore.” There was a genuine yearning for closure in her eyes as she gazed up at Cardenas. “If you could find me here, then it means that Cleats can do so also.”

“Not necessarily,” the Inspector corrected her. “Not every official channel of information is compromised, you know. The facts of your case are known only to a very few.” He indicated Hyaki. “Technically, Fredoso and I are here on leave, and not here on official business.”

She looked as if it made no difference. “Doesn’t matter. I can’t leave here. The Ciudad Simiano is my last, and best, hope. Katla’s, too.”

“The NFP has a highly successful witness protection program.”

Her laughter was sharp and brittle, though not entirely unexpected. She gaped at him in disbelief. “You must be kidding! Leave this place, where nobody gets in without permission, to go back to the Strip and give testimony against The Mock? I may not be as smart as Katla, but we do share some of the same genes. I’m staying here— even if Cleats’s mins can find me.” She threw a hand in the direction of the hallway. “Let ’em come. Let’s see how they like dealing with Roger and his kind! But go back? Not a chance, fedoco. Not if you could convince me you could sell shaved ice in Spitzbergen.”

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster