The mocking program by Alan Dean Foster

“So you miss him a lot,” Cardenas ventured sympathetically.

The gaze that met his was so steeled that for an instant, he thought she was intuiting him. “I didn’t say that. I said he was okay, and he was. My first concern, my only concern, was to protect Katla. To get her away from her pinche father.”

“Not to look out for yourself.” Hyaki was no longer smiling.

The steel faded from their host’s gaze and she looked away.

“Think what you want. A dead mother isn’t a very useful mother.” Another long swallow of cerveza, and when she again considered her visitors, some of her resolve had returned.

“I’m not going anywhere with you, gentlemen. You can keep your goddamned protection program. You’ve got no jurisdiction in the CAF, and less than none in the Ciudad Simiano. I know. Wayne’s research was real specific on that point. Sure-o, this isn’t the Strip, or Nueva York, or even Agua Pri, but Katla and I can manage. We’ve managed this far. If I go back, if I set foot inside Namerica, I’m cold meat.” Her speech was beginning to take on a slight slur, a consequence of the second beer. “That pinche cabron can shoot his lasers and his programming up his ass. He’s not getting Katla back.”

“All right.” Cardenas rose. “We won’t bother you anymore, Ms. Mockerkin.”

Hyaki gaped at his partner. “Hoh, Angel, are you . . . ?”

The Inspector spoke firmly to his partner. “She doesn’t want to leave, we can’t make her. She’s content to stay here, I’m happy for her.” Returning his attention to their hostess, he added, “Assuming Sorong grants permission and we can arrange a place to sleep, my partner and I will be here for another couple of days. Think about the offer, Ms. Mockerkin. Think about everything I’ve said. After a while, living on the run, even in a place as congenial as you might find the CAF tropics, starts to wear a person down. I know: I’ve seen it happen. It ages you fast and vapes you quick. There are more insidious killers than a bullet. Anticipation is slower, but can be just as deadly.” On a hunch, he nodded in the direction of the sitting area’s rear window. “One thing for certain: it’s no place to try and raise a child.”

Holding tight to the beer, she muttered a dismissal. “Wish I could say it’s been fun, Inspector. But it hasn’t.”

He started past her, keeping one eye on the shadowed hallway ahead lest they run afoul of a certain easily aggravated orangutan. “Couple of days. Think about it.”

They left her sitting on the couch, drinking but not necessarily enjoying the cold cerveza, lost in thoughts Cardenas could only hope would ferment within her mind.

Once outside, Hyaki finally felt free to give vent to his frustration. “What was that all about, Angel? I thought you had her leaning toward coming with us, and you let her slip away.”

Remembering the spider that had tried to hitch a ride on his friend, Cardenas studied the entrance to the trail that led back to the central compound with something less than unreserved enthusiasm. “She isn’t going anywhere, Fredoso. She’s too scared. She needs time to think about her future, not just about tomorrow. Time to ponder her daughter’s future.” He gestured at their verdant surroundings. A pair of scarlet macaws flew by overhead, skimming the treetops and filling the air with their raucous cries.

“This is a beautiful place—for a few months, maybe a year at most. It’s not a permanent refuge for someone used to living in the Strip. I don’t care how quiet and reserved and introverted this Katla may be, or how many walks she takes in the jungle—she’s still a twelve-year-old girl. The CAF isn’t Namerica. For a career biologist, a life in the Reserva might be tolerable. But even then, only barely.”

This time, Hyaki led the way back along the trail, forcing Cardenas to duck the branches and leaves that occasionally came snapping back in his direction. “Okay—but can we wait a year for Ms. Mockerkin to make up her mind?”

“Of course not. And I don’t think we’ll have to. She’s already said she realizes that if we were able to find her, so can The Mock’s people. It comes down to whether she thinks she’s safer here, and can stand the isolation, or whether she and her daughter would be better off turning responsibility for their safety over to the NFP.” Carefully, he stepped over an effervescent column of army ants that were crossing the trail.

“Maybe we can’t wait a year—but we do have a couple of days to spare.” A small smile creased his face. “After that, Pangborn is going to get antsy for some feedback. Not to mention that we’ll just about be out of ‘vacation’ time.”

They emerged from the forest into the open courtyard of the Ciudad compound. Across the way, a cluster of young primates was being marched back to class by a matronly and very dignified chimpanzee.

“So the plan is that we leave her alone to stew over the proposal, and don’t apply any more pressure?”

“Exactamention,” Cardenas agreed.

“She might not tell her daughter anything about this, about our visit. The girl might have an opinion of her own.”

“Probably would.” The Inspector started across the courtyard. “But the girl is not of age, not even in the CAF. The last thing we want to do is give the mother another reason to dislike us. Better to leave her alone and let her sort things out for herself.”

“Think she’ll come to the right decision?”

Cardenas paused to watch a troop of mixed macaques and smaller tamarins performing acrobatics on an enormously elaborate gymnastic sculpture that had been constructed adjacent to the jungle. When combined with their innate athleticism, the precision of their routines was dizzying to contemplate.

“I hope so. For her daughter’s sake if not for her own.” Resuming his stride, he angled toward the Administration building. “If they have facilities here for sanctioned researchers, they can probably put us up for a couple of days.”

The managers of the Ciudad Simiano could—for a fee, of course. The visitors’ quarters were a pleasant surprise: neat and clean, they were equipped with lightweight tropical linen, mosquito nets, and insect repellers. There was even a vit player—but no comm units and no box access. If they wanted to talk to the outside world, they had to use a monitored unit in the Administration building. A way of ensuring guests’ privacy? Cardenas wondered—or of screening all contact between the Ciudad and human civilization? A way of protecting visitors—or of isolating residents? No matter. Neither he nor his partner had any secrets to reveal.

The food served to guests was another surprise. Anticipating a wholly vegetarian diet, both men were delighted to see everything from fish to venison on the menu, though there was no domesticated meat. The inhabitants of the Ciudad did not raise other animals for food, though they were perfectly content to kill and consume those they could catch in the wild. Chimpanzees in particular were traditionally fond of animal protein. Over the course of the federales’ brief stay, Hyaki developed a taste for tropical locusts fried in sesame oil. Besides the inherent crunchiness, the battered bugs contained twice as much protein as beef. Demurring on the unusual dish, Cardenas found himself reveling in the local fruits, many of which he had never encountered before.

On the second day, a bored Hyaki stumbled across a tennis court set in the rainforest. There he made the acquaintance of a young orangutan named Pahek. Although physically smaller, the orang’s reach exceeded the sergeant’s own, and they engaged in several energetic matches.

Envying his partners ability to unwind, an increasingly pessimistic Cardenas extended their stay into a third day, still without any word from Surtsey Mockerkin. It was beginning to look like the only testimony they were going to be able to obtain from her concerning the death of Wayne Brummel and his likely extirpaters would have to be inferred. They could not force her to testify, either via recording or by returning to Namerica. For that matter, they still had no incontrovertible proof that could tie her felonious husband directly to the vapeing. As for any disreputable exploitation of her daughter by the girl’s father, no one had suggested that a prosecutable crime had been committed. Where a court of law was concerned, without testimony given or recorded in the presence of counsel, any information provided by Katla’s mother would remain nothing more than hearsay.

All in all, it had not been a very successful trip. They had obtained information regarding The Mock’s intention to develop a means for engaging in something called quantum theft, which might prove to be anything from a genuine threat to nothing more than a harebrained hypothesis. Surtsey Mockerkin had confirmed that her husband was searching for her, and that he had reason to be furious, perhaps lethally furious, with the man she had run off with. And that was all. There was no hard evidence of murder for hire, crunch theft, or child abuse. It was suggestive that others were willing to kill to learn what Katla Mockerkin presumably knew, but it did not implicate anyone directly in the murder of Wayne Brummel.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster