The Mocking Programby Alan Dean Foster
The bestselling author of 'The Spellsinger' and the 'Flinx' series delivers a suspenseful high-tech police procedural set in a gritty, near-future Los Angeles.
- Grand Central Publishing
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The Mocking Program
By Alan Dean Foster
Warner AspectISBN: 0-446-61307-X
Chapter OneFirst they took his talk. Then his cards. Then somebody boosted his bosillos thorough. After that, they vacuumed his clothes. Then some buitrees did a muy rapido scope-and-scoop, canyoning him from neck to crotch. His kidneys, liver, lungs, testes, and eyes were gone missing. They'd left the heart. Not much of a demand for hearts these days. Not with good, cheap artificial models flooding the market. Titanium or pig-take your choice. After that, he'd been drac'd and boneyed for his recyclable blood and marrow. The pitiful shattered remnants of whoever the hell the poor unfortunate had been lay limp as an oily rag in the steadily drumming-down rain, denied even the dignity of staining the pavement with blood. Amid flashing lights, assembled vehicles, and grumbling federales, Angel Cardenas stood gazing down at the carcass, imaging in his mind a celestial vision of steaming hot coffee and the old-shoe comfortable booths of a certain café and wondering why the devil he didn't do as Chief Pangborn kept repeatedly suggesting and take early retirement. Fredoso Hyaki, Cardenas's assistant, rose from his crouch, having finished making a recording of the gruesome tableau. Hyaki was half Japanese, half Peruvian, and all huge. A friendly, expansive, baby-faced massif of a man in his mid-thirties, he very much resembled an Incan Buddha. Despite the cosmic arc of his abdomen, he was rock-solid as cured concrete. Grunting softly as he straightened up, he stuffed the recorder into a pocket and summed up the crime scene with a single terse observation. "Just about enough left for relatives to lay a claim, Angel. Angel?" Cardenas raised his voice so he could be heard above the Southwest monsoon shower. In the harsh nocturnal glow from the nearby commercial complex, glistening droplets trickled from the ends of his hangdog mustache. The sweet, invigorating rain was the only thing on the street that was uncontaminated. Though if the chemical analyses carried out by the more fanatical Green Verdes and their ilk were to be believed, the summer downpour failed that test also. Would he ever get used to seeing dead bodies on the street? Even after thirty years in the Department, the inventiveness demonstrated by people in slaughtering their fellow citizens never ceased to astonish him. Why, he wondered amid the lights and night, could I not have been born a dog, like Charliebo?
"I think it must have been easier to be a cop in the old days, when all they boosted from a citizen was his money." He glanced at his companion. "Why are you all wet?" Unlike the other slickered cops milling around the corpse, Hyaki was soaked from head to toe. Rain poured off his round face like sweat. His partner looked abashed. "Forgot to charge my jacket." Devoid of power, the electrostatic charge that kept water from making contact with a cop's rain slicker was nothing more than a failed promise. Hyaki stood out as the only sopping-wet federale on the dark back street. Not that the big man probably minded. The monsoon rains that faithfully drenched this part of the Namerican Southwest from July onward through late September made a welcome dent in the otherwise brutal temperature. Cardenas enjoyed feeling the rain on his face. Thanks to the patented efforts of his softly humming slicker, the rest of him stayed perfectly dry. An advert appeared from nowhere, materializing out of the nighttime to buzz around him like an insistent bee in search of pollen, all the while loudly declaiming the virtues of Newer! Fresher! Better-Tasting! Lime-and-Salsa Posteeto Chips! via a frantic directional audio. He waved irritably at it and it flew off to pester Gergovitch from Forensics. Such mobile attack ads were technically illegal, but like the omnipresent wall posters of yore, whenever they were eradicated from one part of the Strip they quickly put in an appearance somewhere else, endlessly repeating their annoying spiels, vomiting forth discount coupons, and trying to wheedle addresses out of exasperated pedestrians. Gergovitch stood up in the rain. "Sudden neural interrupt," he was muttering to no one in particular. "Trying to make it look like cardiac arrhythmia." The medoggles that were his principal tool were alive with the readouts that flitted like fireflies behind the lenses. Flickering pastel rainbows danced across his partially shadowed face. Only when he switched off the internal telltales could Cardenas see the man's eyes through the gleaming, sensormaxed transparencies. "At least it was quick." He took a half-hearted swipe at the motile ad, missed. Stretching from Sanjuana to Masmatamoros, the evolved maquiladora manufacturing facilities and assembly plants of the Montezuma Strip constituted the western hemisphere's largest concentration of industry, commerce, assemblage, cutting-edge technology, and trouble. Poor immigrants from the south collided with development money from the north and infolktech from everywhere. The result was a modest population of very rich people living alongside and lording it over very hopeful, but often very poor people. If you couldn't make it on the Strip, was the word in the soulpools of Buenos Aires and Barreras and Lima, you couldn't make it anywhere. Job security was not guaranteed. Those who failed turned despondent, then desperate, and finally feral. Under such circumstances, with so much glistening, beckoning credit floating around, it was all too easy for a despairing immigrant to slip over the linea. If you couldn't manufacture it, then you stole it and sold it. That was what had happened to this poor monger's most marketable organs. Someone always needed a real kidney, someone else an unpolluted transfusion. Black-market blood was an easily transportable commodity. So were eyes and viable testes. Cardenas knew that better than most. His own incongruously blue eyes were donations. Legal ones, biosurged into his sockets after his own optics had been bungoed by- But that was old news, ancient history, chip spume. Right now, he had a dead guy to eyedee. The presence of the federales and the Forensics team on the damp back street drew no crowd. No one was out walking in the rain in the commercial zone of the Quetzal inurb. That was fine with Cardenas and his colleagues. They disliked spectators. The silence left them to do their work unencumbered by yapping inanities. Even better, the media had yet to turn up. Vit anchors, the senior police Inspector knew, disliked the rain. It played havoc with their hair and makeup. Absent body parts notwithstanding, there was nothing notable about the corpse. It was one of many that turned up on a regular basis, week to week, month to month, as if ejected from the rollercoaster of life by some capriciously snapped safety belt. Individuals who turned up smashed and broken like the unidentified man at his feet were the rule rather than the exception. In the frantic, feverish, frenetic depths of the Strip, nothing went to waste. The street scavengers and the algae wallowers saw to that. Ellen Vatubua was crouched over the torso of the corpse. Having run a quick scan and found what she was looking for, she was patiently excavating in the vicinity of the exposed left forearm. Nestled there among the bruised muscle fibers and blued capillaries, just under the skin, was a miniscule fragment of insoluble imprinted plastic. Gently removing the head of her probe, she transferred the extraction tip to her specialty spinner and injected her tiny find. Moments later she was reading its contents aloud. Cardenas and Hyaki wandered over to listen. For a dumpy, middle-aged Forensics spec, her voice was surprisingly sensuous. Alerted to and made aware of this quality, Lazzario in Personnel kept trying to get her to transfer to Dispatch. But Ellen liked being out in the field, and analysis, and preferred working with dead folk to live ones. "George Anderson. Thirty-two, married, residence four-eight-two-two-three-six West Miñero Place, Olmec." She hesitated as the spinner worked. "He comes up bare as a baby's butt; no record. Not even a commuting violation. Blood type ..." She glanced up at the everlastingly mournful Cardenas. "You want me to pop the rest of the bubble, Inspector?" Cardenas shook his head. "I'll read it when the vetted report is posted. Anything of particular interest?" The owlish spec glanced back down at her spinner's readout. "Records identifies him as a 'promoter,' but doesn't say a promoter of what, and doesn't list a place of business. Only a home address." "So he works out of his home." Hyaki fidgeted. He was growing tired of the rain. "There's a novel conclusion." Ellen smiled up at the beatific mass of humanity that loomed over both her and Cardenas. "Like your bowels backing up during stakeout?" "Run a deep scan." Ignoring the both of them, Cardenas was staring at the body, forlorn and shriveled in the reflected light from the massive nearby structures. She gaped at him in disbelief. "Why?" She gestured with the spinner that was reading the extracted implant. "This unlucky citizen's whole life is right here, where it belongs, available for casual perusal. In a dry place," she added for emphasis. When no comment was forthcoming, she proposed, "At least let's wait until we get it back to the lab." The sideways twitch of the Inspector's head was barely perceptible. "Deep scan. Now." The Forensics spec turned to shout at her superior. "Hey, Gergo! Inspector here wants a scan. Onsite, right now, even though we got the muerto's ident pill." Gergovitch looked out from behind his medoggles. "He's the intuit, not me. Run it, Ellen." Making no secret of her displeasure, the woman slipped her spinner into a holder on her belt and removed another tool from a second holster. As she snapped it to life, she muttered, "I thought you freaks couldn't intuit a dead guy. No disrespect intended, Inspector." Cardenas's tone did not change. "We can't. I don't sense or suspect anything unusual. I just want to leave here confident in the knowledge that nothing's been overlooked." "Yeah, yeah; si, si, siryore." Taking a deep breath, she went to work. Cardenas looked away. Grabbing the body's detailed DNA scan and then running it past Records would take a few minutes. Hyaki hovered close by; part mutt, part truck, all business. But wet. "Any reason why the scan, Angel?" Why indeed? What made him worry about dead people as much as live ones? A desire to seek justice? Or was it nothing more than professional pride? Cardenas spoke without looking back, not wanting to distract the irritated spec from her work. He indicated the corpse. "Good hair-expensive transplant graft. Soft skin. Two regenerated bicuspids, maybe more. All nice work." Raising a hand, he gestured at their surroundings. "This is not a nice place. They don't match up." He looked back at his assistant. "Why vape the guy from the inside out, instead of the outside in?" Hyaki considered. "One kidney's worth more than a truckload of clothes." "I don't mean that." Cardenas squinted into the rain-swept darkness. "I mean, what's a citizen from a nice, genteel neighborhood like Olmec, an apparent cleanie, doing down in a muck urb like Quetzal on a nasty night like this? Why isn't he home with his wife, watching the rain come down, or the game between Arsenal and Chicago?" Five minutes later, sensing movement behind him, he turned just in time to confront Ellen. No one commented on the perfect timing of his reaction, least of all the Forensics spec. If anyone could get used to the sometimes unsettling actions of intuits, it was other cops. Her earlier resentment had given way to a grudging respect, tempered by just a hint of awe. "How did you know?" she murmured. Cardenas took no joy in the small vindication. He had only been doing his job. "Know what?" he responded encouragingly, even though he already knew perfectly well what. "That there was something not right about the muerto's ident." Intelligent and perceptive, she was peering hard into the lined face that was half masked by darkness and rain. "I didn't know. Like I said, I just wanted to be thorough." "Yeah, verdad." Her attention dropped to the very expensive and very wet apparatus she was holding. "His embedded citizen's ident insists he's George Anderson of Olmec inurb. When I coupled that info with the results of the DNA scan and ran it through Archives, the readout suddenly looked like it had caught the measles. Angry little red pinpricks started popping up all over my nice, clean screen."
"So who is he?" Hyaki asked, vouchsafing new interest. She held the screen up to them as she read. "Depends which you believe: local eyedee or national. Archives says he's really somebody named Wayne Brummel, of Greater Harlingen, Texas. And guess what? It also lists no place of business, only a home address. In Harlingen."
Cardenas blinked at the small screen. "Physical description is a match. At least, it matches what the wallowers left." He glanced past the handheld, at the uninformative and now somehow ominous body. "Same question applies: what's a cleanie like this doing here in Quetzal? And with two identities." He passed her his spinner.
She mated it to her own, waited the necessary couple of seconds for the two police devices to swap the requisite information, and then placed hers neatly back in its holster. "How should I know? You're the intuit." She glanced upward, shading her eyes from the rain. "Weather's starting to clear. Going to be very hot tomorrow." It being late summer in the Sonoran Desert, her comment was worse than superfluous. "What do you want to do, Angel?" Cardenas considered. He ought to let Homicide handle it, he knew. Except-National didn't make mistakes. It insisted the body belonged to Wayne Brummel of Greater Harlingen. Subcutaneous idents were difficult to forge. The man's insisted he was George Anderson, of Olmec. Taken together they added up to a real mierde magnet.
He ought to leave it alone, he knew. Follow-up on something like this was not his responsibility. He and Hyaki just happened to have been in the neighborhood when the flash came in. He could leave that particular neighborhood at will. Instead, he opened his spinner and mumbled the phone number imprinted on the dead man's ident into the built-in vorec. Observing this, Hyaki was not surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised. He'd seen it all before. The Inspector latched onto contradictions like a remora onto a shark. The older man would be unable to sleep until this one was resolved. Dragged along by his superior's persistence, the same would be true of Hyaki. Still, he tried. "It's late, Angel.
Excerpted from The Mocking Program by Alan Dean Foster Excerpted by permission.
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For Police Inspector Angel Cardenas another murdered body along the Montezuma Strip is the norm as an area as industrialized as what was once the Mexican-American border always has crime. However, this time the corpse contains a few problems that are abnormal as the remains contains few organs beyond the worthless heart and the victim¿s DNA matches the identifications of a local executive and a Texas businessman. Angel visits the reported home of the victim only to barely escape a bomb blast. The two female occupants, an alleged wife and daughter, are missing. Other more unsavory types also seek the adult female and the preadolescent child as they turn out to be the ex-wife and twelve-year-old daughter of a crime lord. Using classic police techniques aided by telepathic intuit abilities, Angel investigates the homicide while searching for the two vanished individuals that he believes may be the next victims. Alan Dean Foster is the modern day Renaissance writer, as his abilities seem to have no genre boundaries. His latest tale is a tremendous futuristic police procedural science fiction novel that grips the audience from the beginning when Angel looks at the corpse until the very final twist. The story line is loaded with action, contains interwoven elements that insure the audience knows the plot occurs in a future decade, but never loses sight of the who-done-it investigation. Angel is a great protagonist, who hopefully will star in a sequel, as THE MOCKING PROGRAM is a triumph that speculative fiction and mystery fans will fully appreciate. Harriet Klausner