The mocking program by Alan Dean Foster

“If I do,” she told him between sobs, “I don’t know their names, or where they are. Mom never mentioned any to me. Maybe she didn’t want me to talk to them because it might get them in trouble. With The Mock.”

Rising from his couch, Cardenas moved to sit down next to her. When one strong arm went around her shoulders, she let herself lean over against him. She did not look like someone who carried within her mind the entire history and records of a worldwide criminal syndicate.

He waited until she was finished, letting her weep into his side. Then he sat back, gripped both her shoulders firmly, and looked into her eyes. “You’ll be safe, Katla. Safe and well taken care of. I’ll see to that myself. You’ll be able to start a new life, with new friends, in a different place. And eventually you’ll grow up, have a normal life, and be able to forget much of this.”

Chest heaving, she shrugged indifferently. “Maybe what you say is true. Maybe it will happen like that. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Mom’s gone, so it doesn’t matter. I—I’d like to believe you, Mr. Cardenas.”

He grinned and sat back a little farther. “I told you: call me Angel. Use the English pronunciation if it makes you feel better.”

She had to smile at that. “No matter what happens, I won’t be able to forget. See, I can’t forget anything. I’ve never been able to. I don’t know how.”

A voice came from behind them. “Hey, you two. How’s everything going in there?”

Cardenas glanced back at the concerned sergeant. “We’re managing, Fredoso. Be done here soon, I think.” The big man nodded and closed the door.

“Who’s that?” Katla was looking past the Inspector. “Friend of yours?”

“My partner. Sergeant Fredoso Hyaki. He’s a good man. When we get back to the Strip I’m going to let him take you around to meet some people who will help you to begin your new life.” He eyed her questioningly. “If that’s all right with you, that is.”

“Why can’t you do it, Mr.—Angel? You said you’d look after me yourself. I think, maybe, that I could like you.”

It was enough. A weight lifted from Cardenas’s chest. “I’ll be there, to be with you, every moment I can, Katla. But as an NFP Inspector, there are other things only I can do. I’ll visit you and take you around myself as often as I possibly can. When I can’t, Mr. Hyaki will look after you.” He smiled encouragingly. “You’ll like Fredoso. Everybody does. He’s just a big teddy bear.”

For the first time, her mood seemed to lighten ever so slightly. “He reminds me of Sorong.”

Cardenas repressed a laugh. “Now that you mention it, he does, doesn’t he? You be sure and tell him that, every chance you get. Just think of him as your protector. Anything you need, you can ask him.” He rose from the couch. “Will you come with us, Katla? Will you let us help you?”

“Why not?” Standing, she was almost as tall as he was. “Like I told you before, there’s nothing for me here. Not anymore. So I might as well go with you.” Her tone, her expression, even her posture radiated hatred and loathing. “Anything’s better than going back to Daddy and his lepero friends.”

Putting a comforting arm around her shoulders, Cardenas guided her toward the doorway. “Is there anything you’d like to bring with you? From here?”

She shook her head sharply. “I don’t want anything from here. I don’t want to remember this place at all.”

“No clothes, personal items, nothing?” he reiterated.

She looked up at him. “If the NFP has the money to give me a new beginning, then maybe it could buy me some new clothes?” She showed signs of coming back to life. “I remember some shoes I saw in Olmec. Black, with flutterheels. Of course, I don’t guess I can go back to Olmec, but…”

He patted her shoulder. “The Strip is full of stores. Even I know that a girl can’t buy shoes off a box; you have to be able to try them on.”

She nodded. Color was returning to her face. “You can do a virt fitting if you have the right kind of scanner, but that doesn’t tell you how it feels to walk in them. They don’t have a sim for that, yet.”

“You’re a tecant. Maybe you can design one.”

“It’d be fun to work with shoes. See, if you just had a little activatable sensing platform that could link to the virt, and could figure out an algorithm that would let you compensate for the differences in customer mass, you could…”

As he listened to her rambling, disjointed soliloquy about women’s shoes and pressure-sensitive coils and body fat analyzers, he grew more and more aware of what a remarkable young-woman-to-be they were about to accompany back to Nogales. Given some time to grow up, a little peace and quiet, and a suitable education, a bountiful future stretched out before her. A new identity would protect her from such as the Inzini and the Ooze. All they had to do was ensure that she did not revert to being a molly for The Mock. The best way to accomplish that would be to remove from the equation the one individual who most desperately wanted her back.

As soon as they were safely home in the Strip a determined Angel Cardenas, just as he had promised Katla Mockerkin, intended to take care of that little matter personally.


IT MEANT CALLING IN A LOT OF FAVORS. IT MEANT long hours of manipulating private as well as departmental crunch, of staring at a vit screen until his eyes seemed to be floating loose in his head. When he could make the time, he visited with Katla Mockerkin as often as possible. For reasons he could not entirely fathom, she found his presence reassuring in a way that Hyaki and the NFP Child Protection Services representatives were not. Not that he minded. Spending time with the precocious, thoughtful girl was a mutual pleasure.

As it took time even for the specialists at the NFP to construct an entirely new identity for Katla that would survive the most comprehensive search, she was placed in a secure Nogales-area residence under twenty-four-hour watch. Since she had agreed to help them against her father, the need to ensure her safety and security was greater than ever. While still keeping that in mind, every effort was made to render her surroundings as commonplace as possible. Considering her background and what she had already gone through, everyone from the federales to the psychys agreed that the more run-of-the-mill and unpressured her immediate environment, the better it would be for her health and well-being. So when she went out on her occasional approved excursions, usually to an entertainment center or mall deeper within the Strip, she was accompanied by only one case worker. While Hyaki trailed the meandering pair from nearby, two to four other incog federales shadowed them all, alert for the unexpected, the unusual, and the potentially dangerous.

There were no incidents. Katla had been delighted to oblige her concerned hosts by dyeing her hair and changing its styling, by utilizing more mature cosmetics to make her appear older and wearing special shoes to make her taller. But she adamantly refused to don the prosthetic stomach weight, even just to go out. Cardenas had smiled at that. You could change a girl’s appearance as long as she felt it would make her more attractive. Layering on artificial fat was not an option.

Like anyone else in his position, The Mock tended not to stay in any one place for very long. Owner of a number of elaborate residences both within and beyond the borders of Namerica, he moved around frequently, both to attend to his various enterprises and to prevent rivals and law enforcement from having time to focus on his activities.

Nearly three weeks had passed since the two federales had returned from the rainforest depths of the CAF with Katla Mockerkin safely in their care when the call came down to Cardenas, seated in his cubicle, that Research had finally pinpointed what they believed to be the heart of The Mock’s illicit domain. Eagerly studying the information that hovered in the box tunnel above his desk, he was only moderately surprised to see that the hub centered not on one of the Mock’s isolated outposts in the Turks and Caicos, or Cuba, or Hispaniola or Nueva York, but in the Strip itself. Once more, the old saw about hiding in plain sight held true.

While The Mock vamosed around, his operations center had been built in the center of his operations. Although no one could tell for certain whether Cleator Mockerkin himself was presently staying at his nerve center, analysis of the man’s movements indicated that, historically, he was likely to be in residence at the site for a particular two months out of the year.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57

Categories: Alan Dean Foster