The mocking program by Alan Dean Foster

One of the negs reached out to grab a rough handful of the girl’s backside as she tried to hurry past. Hyaki started to get up. Cardenas motioned him back down. The neg held on to the terrified student for a few seconds before letting her go. The Inspector knew that he would. The antisoc had strutted a series of raw movements even a novice could have intuited.

When their food arrived, the two officers ate in silence. Like everyone else in the cafe, they ignored the loud and boorish antics of the ganglet. Collective rudeness was not yet a federal crime. But the ninloco cacophony did nothing to soothe Cardenas’s already troubled thoughts, or improve his digestion.

Why wouldn’t the woman give them a name she must know they could, and would, soon learn for themselves? Why wouldn’t she admit to at least a live-in relationship with George Anderson? Or Wayne Brummel, the Inspector reminded himself.

“Yolaolla! Si—you—you with the nasty ‘stash. You sitting front-eyes with el gordo, there.”

Ignoring the intrusion, Hyaki continued to nibble on the last of his fried fish. The yakk was directed at Cardenas anyway.

The Inspector looked up from his bison and eggs. Perpetually mournful eyes regarded the neg. The would-be chingaroon was not quite two decades, all sass and flash. How many kids had he dealt with like this one, busy burning their souls like matches? It was late, he was tired and hungry, and not in the mood to baby-sit. He could have let Hyaki deal with it, but there was always hope. Hope that a small lesson might spark a hint of maturity. Where feasible, words were always more efficacious than an arrest. In jail, kids tended not to talk to other kids about being kids.

“Don’t do it.” As always, his tone was quiet but firm. A little firmer now, perhaps, than when he had been delivering his supper order to the attentive menu.

It was not a response the ninloco had expected. It showed in the fleeting glance he gave his expectant colleagues. “Cay-yeh, homber— you don’ ask me no questions. I’m the one hackin’ the yakk here.”

Picking up his knife and fork, Cardenas resumed eating. “Just don’t do it.”

Brows furrowing, the neg leaned toward him. “Didn’ you hear me, homber? Just for the yell of it, what ‘it’ is it you don’ want me to do?” He favored his companions with a knowing smirk, and they smiled appreciatively at their topboy’s wit.

Sitting back, Cardenas dragged a cloth napkin across his lips, the slight charge in the fabric instantly disinfecting them. “Well, crazy-boy, since you ask, first thing you need to turn off the knife in your calf scabbard. Don’t you know that leaving something like that on is dangerous? The safety could slip, and you’d lose a leg.” He looked up, past the leader of the ganglet. “The big kid behind you needs to forget about frogging my partner. Even with the slywire he’s holding, Fredoso would break his arm. You young ladies,” he continued, addressing the now wide-eyed and uncertain pair of poses, “want to leave your ordnance holstered. You don’t want to see where mine is, because I don’t flash it unless I intend to use it, and you don’t want me digging yours out from where you have them supposedly perfectly concealed.”

In full verbal if not physical retreat, the chieflado was glaring at the imperturbable Inspector. “Yola, homber, you spazzing, man! We don’ got none of what you bubble. We just wanted to toss a little flak-chat, sabe? We only—”

One of the girls interrupted him. “Mesmo, Taypa—the homber’s an intuit! He’s comping your moves!” She and her companion were already backing away from the table.

Smiling while still chewing his fish, Hyaki raised his left arm. The sleeve slid back to reveal a blue bracelet alive with blinking LEDs. One vitalized a symbol morph that halted a few centimeters in front of topboy’s face. The ninloco’s eyes widened as he focused on it.

“We didn’ mean nothing.” Looking suddenly less imposing, the bigger boy had turned in the blink of an eye from predator to pound cake. He was backpedaling so fast he threatened to run over the two rapidly withdrawing poses. Eyeing the two soft-voiced men in the booth, the waitress gratefully resumed her rounds.

Full of fish, his bulging cheeks giving him the appearance of a gargantuan chipmunk, Hyaki shook his head sadly. “Kids! Things sure were better in the last century, when there was hardly any juvenile crime.”

Cardenas nodded agreement as he shoved his cred into the table’s receptacle. Tracking the cred’s instructions, it would forward the cost to the departmental billing center in Nogales. He was careful, as always, to leave the tip in cash. That way the restaurant owner couldn’t scam any cred off the top. Besides, a cash tip carried with it a certain cachet in the form of nostalgia value.

By the time the two men exited the cafe, with the door thanking them courteously for their patronage as it closed behind them, the only sign of the ganglet of fearless ninlocos was the faint and rapidly fading fragrance of the poses’ perfume lingering on the still-damp night air.


THE SKY WAS UTTERLY DEVOID OF CLOUDS THE following morning. A sure sign, Cardenas knew as he exited the induction shuttle and entered Nogales arcoplex’s NFP division headquarters, that it was likely to pour sometime late this afternoon. Such was the predictable annual pattern of the Southwest summer monsoon that he had grown accustomed to since childhood. The July-August rains came earlier and lasted longer these days, it was said, because of global warming. That might be bad for Eskimos, but it was fine with the residents of the Strip. Flash floods notwithstanding, there was no such thing as too much rain in the desert.

Working a late shift the previous night had allowed him to sleep in this morning. It was funny, but the more he aged, the harder he worked and the less sleep he seemed to need.

By the time I’m dead, I’ll be ready to retire, he mused as he arrived at the morgue. Somehow, knowing that his accumulating pension would pay for a great funeral did little to cheer him. It was a wonderful topic to be pondering as he wended his way to the cold room where the unscavenged remains of George-Wayne Anderson-Brummel were housed in a cylinder of industrial formagas designed to preserve soft body parts while preventing decomposition.

Eleven o’clock came and went. Then twelve, after which the afternoon count began. No one named Anderson, or Surtsey, or Brummel appeared at the Nogales morgue to identify, inspect, caress, condemn, or otherwise make the acquaintance of the body of Anderson-Brummel. Running gag aside, the morgue was not a favorite place to kill time. Angel Cardenas grew impatient, then annoyed, and finally hungry.

At two-thirty he popped his spinner and hayoed the ident for Anderson-Brummel’s self-proclaimed un-spouse. There was no response. That could be good, because it might mean she was in transit to the morgue. It could also be bad, because the house ought to automatically relay the call to whatever communications device she carried on her person. In the confusion and angst of the moment, it was possible she had taken off sans tech, he knew. Possible, but unlikely. Citizens simply no longer traveled without a means for continuously staying in touch with the rest of civilization.

However, all things were possible, he reminded himself. Especially in the Strip, where a cop’s life was many things, but never boring. So he waited another half hour before intuition and stomach drove him out of the morgue and via peoplemover to Administration.

Entering NFP’s Nogales command center entailed passing through somewhat stricter security than visiting the morgue—or, for that matter, the Glacial cafe. Elaborate precautions were necessitated by the uncomfortably large number of individuals and organizations who held grudges against the police. These good folk sporadically tried to give vent to their feelings by blowing up everything from parking meters to individual officers to entire city blocks. Miniaturization having in the past hundred years affected the field of explosives as significantly as nearly every other component of modern civilization, it was incumbent upon those likely to be the target of such grievances to minimize the individual access of the congenitally disaffected.

So Cardenas was compelled to pass through a corridor that contained no fewer than five security stations, the first and last of which were administered by live humans, and the intervening three by machines. His ident bracelet was checked, his height and weight and body density were measured, his retinas were scanned, his cerebral cortex measured (and not found wanting), and in due course he was passed through to the inner sanctum of the Namerican Federal Police, Nogales Division.

Except for the chatter of officers and attendant civilian personnel moving from department to department, the spacious room was as quiet as Saguaro Park on a Tuesday morning. Each open office had its own husher. During working hours, every one of them was turned on. Within different cubicles, there might resound the chaos of a confrontation between quarreling police, the shouted curses of a suspect being interviewed, or the rants and ravings of barely manageable drunks and deviants. None of it escaped through the invisible walls of canceling sound that were far more effective than the thin plastiboard dividers that physically divided the duty room floor like so many cookie cut-outs.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster