The mocking program by Alan Dean Foster

“Good-bye—Daddy,” he heard Katla Mockerkin say. Limpid eyes looked over at him as he rose to his feet. “I’m tired, Mr. Cardenas.”

“I know you are, Katla,” he replied sympathetically. “I know.” He indicated the now-subdued tunnel and, by inference, everything that had just wailed within. “It’s done?”

She nodded and brushed hair away from her face. “Gone. All gone. I wiped the whole system, from South Texas to Sanjuana, right across the Strip. From Maine to Madagascar. It’s all gone. Everything my father made. I cut all the strings.”

“Good girl,” was all Cardenas could think of to say.

Looming up beside him, Hyaki was not shy about venturing his own opinion. “Local branches will have backup.”

“For local concerns. Any extended box, legit or illicit, is like a dragon. Cut off its head and the parts can still cause you trouble. But only if they can cooperate with each other. The main thing was to ensure Katla’s safety. The gram that concerned itself with her was highly centralized. With the core wiped, that’s no longer a concern. Something like that, something that intensely personal, wouldn’t be backed up at the local level. Even a lepero like Mockerkin wouldn’t have allowed it.” He met Fourhorses’s concerned gaze. “Now that the danger has been wiped, we can safely go after the surviving isolated segments of The Mock’s nasty businesses. Katla will tell us how and where to find them.”

Hyaki nodded meaningfully. “What about the others who’ve been after her? The non-Mock elements?” He gestured outside, beyond the window. “Elimination of the command to recapture or kill the girl won’t affect them.”

“No,” Cardenas admitted, “but they’ve wanted to get their hands on her so she could supply them with the inner workings of their competitor’s business. When that business starts to fall apart, either from attrition, lack of direction from the center, or the fact that NFP will be busily arresting people, they’re going to lose interest fast. Katla’s detailed knowledge of a collapsing enterprise will quickly lose any value. As for imaginary quantum means of stealing fiscal and other kinds of valuable crunch, word will get around pretty fast that it was nothing more than a harebrained pipe dream.” His head tilted back as he turned his gaze upward. A much deeper mechanical drone than that emitted by chopters invaded the room.

“Evac vertiprop coming,” he remarked. “Took them long enough.” Holstering his pistol, he looked back over at the girl. Fourhorses was standing next to her, murmuring maternal reassurances. Katla was nodding in response. The Inspector nudged his partner. Hyaki caught his friend’s drift, and the two federales wordlessly exited the room, leaving the social worker to continue comforting the emotionally wrung-out twelve-year-old. As concerned as he was for the girl, Cardenas had been around long enough to know that there were times, personal involvement notwithstanding, when it was better to let someone other than himself do their job.

Besides, he was thirsty, and hungry, and irregardless of the status of the current situation outside, had to take a piss really, really bad.

He had just emerged from the shower when the pleasant feminine voice of his codo synapse informed him that he had visitors. Rubbing the back of his head with the bath towel he carried, he walked over to the alwayson tunnel that clung to one corner of the den and solicitared identification. Amplified for full-room pickup, the vorec fed his request directly to his concealed molly.

An image materialized within the depths of the tunnel. Standing in the visitor’s alcove on the ground floor awaiting admittance to the elevator was Minerva Fourhorses. In contrast to the last time he had seen her, she looked striking in casual weftfiber suit, matching purse, the latest slide shoes, and wide-brimmed thermotropic hat. As opposed to the last several times he had met with her, the appearance of the social worker’s companion was even more arresting.

Clad in a flex dress of light blue and green blinker that swirled up her budding figure like a clinging python, Katla Mockerkin looked not only several years older than her actual age, but downright sophisticated. Matching lightweight rainbow headgear shielded the top of her head from the Sonoran morning and swept down the back of her neck to entwine itself in her hair. It twinkled and shimmered when she moved, even in the codo complex’s confined entry alcove. A pair of muse lenses peeked out of the fortified safety purse that hung from her shoulder. The heels of her semi-dress shoes were powered down for walking, the integrated internal hydraulics quiescent.

“Minerva, Katla! What a pleasant surprise. Come on up,” he told them via the tunnel, following the invitation with a spoken clearance code that would allow the two women to access the codo tower’s elevator.

Rubbing the last of the moisture from his hair, he moved quickly to put on some clothes. Several weeks had gone by since he had seen either The Mock’s daughter or her case worker. The press of work at the Department had caused him to sink naturally back into the ebb and flow of life in the Strip. He had not forgotten about the girl, but he had been forced to push that particular concern to the back of his thoughts. One of the first things a rookie learned at Academy was that a preoccupied cop was a cop solicitaring an early death.

The change in Katla Mockerkin was pronounced, and went far deeper than her stylish attire. Her eyes looked out at the rest of the world instead of inward, and she stood straight instead of hunching over like a child expecting always to be hit. Even her stride was different, longer and more confident, as if she was seeking out the next place to go instead of fearfully avoiding it. The attractive, confident individual standing before him was now much more young woman than frightened child.

But the wariness was still there, in the way her gaze sought the far corners of the room and glanced quickly to the window that led to the outside. With time and tranquility the fear and mistrust should fade, though Cardenas suspected it would never leave her entirely.

He started to give her a hug, but held himself back. Whatever relationship had developed between them was entirely artificial, a consequence of the tragic circumstances that had caused them to be thrown together. It would not stand the test of time. Attempts at reinforcement, however innocent or well-meaning on his part, would do nothing to augment the girl’s growing independence. He settled for a cordial, thoroughly professional handshake and smile.

“It’s good to see you both again.” He turned his attention to the social worker. “To what do I owe the honor of this visit?”

“We have some news.” When no one was shooting at her, Fourhorses glowed. “Good news. Don’t we, Katla?”

The girl nodded, focusing half her attention on Cardenas while reserving the rest for the interior of his codo. Even in the home of a federale, it was plain she still did not feel entirely safe.

“I’m going away. Leaving the Strip. I’ll miss some of my friends, but everyone says I can’t go back to my soche. I understand why.” Her smile was still shy, her manner withdrawn. “It’ll be okay. I’m used to moving around.”

Escorting them inside, Cardenas gestured for them to have a seat on his couch. Minerva gratefully accepted a cold guarana, while the girl opted for a rola. Cardenas, as usual, brewed himself an iced coffee.

“You should be safe now, Katla,” he told her. “Using the information you gave us, we’ve brought in nearly all of your father’s most important associates along with a great many of the minor ones, and shut down their scattered operations. The other bad people who were after you have taken note of that. As best as we have been able to determine, it has caused them to rapidly lose interest in you. But the Department of Social Resources people and my friends at the NFP are right: just to make certain, you’d be safer and more comfortable living under a different name, in a different place.”

“That’s what we came to tell you.” Fourhorses was clearly excited for the girl. “Genealogy managed to track down an aunt and uncle she didn’t even know she had. In New England. Small town, nice environment. Everything’s been checked out and rated secure. The couple has two children of their own; a boy, fifteen, and a girl, fourteen. They’ve agreed to welcome Katla into their family. After a year, formal adoption procedures will be initiated. I anticipate no problems. Katla will become Harmony Jean Francis.”

The girl ducked her head shyly. “I always liked singing harmony, but I never had much. Now I get to be Harmony. It’s pretty vacan.”

“I think so, too,” he agreed. Color suffused Katla’s cheeks—or maybe it was hope.

He pondered a moment. “How would you like to meet an old friend of mine? Someone you can talk with safely even in your new home in New England.” At Fourhorses’s look of alarm, he hastened to reassure the social worker. “Don’t worry. This will not compromise her new identity in any way.”

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster