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"Where?" Sullivan asked.
"In the face," Holloway said.
"No," Sullivan said. "I mean, did you punch him while the two of you were in court?"
"Yup," Holloway said. "In front of judge, jury, cocounsel, and a couple dozen reporters."
Sullivan looked at Holloway, uncomprehending. "Can I ask why?" he asked finally.
"Well, if you ask the North Carolina Bar, it was because the case was going badly for the defense and I was trying to force a mistrial by attacking Stern, thus intolerably prejudicing the jury," Holloway said.
"Did you get a mistrial?" Sullivan asked.
"There was was a mistrial," Holloway said. "Of course. But I didn't a mistrial," Holloway said. "Of course. But I didn't get get the mistrial, because that's not why I punched him." the mistrial, because that's not why I punched him."
"Then why did you do it?" Sullivan asked.
"Because he was a smug, heartless a.s.shole," Holloway said. "We were in court listening to testimony from parents who had given their kids our product, which killed them because Stern was too busy lining his pockets to worry about what our production line was doing. These parents were in the dock bawling their eyes out, and I'm sitting next to Stern, and he's grinning and chuckling about it all, like the parents are trying out for roles in a soap opera, and he's judging whether or not they get the part. I finally couldn't take it anymore. So I tapped him on the shoulder and then I broke his nose."
"That was dumb," Sullivan said.
"It was dumb," Holloway agreed. "But it felt really good."
"Just like punching DeLise was dumb, too," Sullivan said.
"That also felt great at the time," Holloway said.
"I would suggest to you that punching people is no way to go through life, however," Sullivan said. "Since the first incident led to you being disbarred and the second led to you almost getting killed. It has a poor record of long-term success for you."
"Point taken," Holloway said. "In any event, there was a mistrial, I was fired and then disbarred, and then I was told by the North Carolina AG that I had a choice between being arraigned for jury tampering or leaving the planet. And here I am."
"Whatever happened to Stern?" Sullivan asked.
"He was shot on the steps of the courthouse during the retrial," Holloway said. "A grandfather of one of the dead kids. He got told earlier in the day by his doctor that he had Stage Four lung cancer. He went home, got his gun, shot Stern between the eyes, and then surrendered to the cops right there on the steps. Local community took up a collection for his bail, and the DA dragged her feet long enough for Grandpa to die at home."
Sullivan shook his head. "Doesn't make it right. Any more than what you did," he said.
"I suppose not," Holloway said. He turned back to the skimmer controls to make sure they hadn't wandered off course; they hadn't. "But sometimes it feels good to do the wrong thing."
"Would that include telling that inquiry that Isabel was lying when she told them about you teaching your dog to blow things up?" Sullivan asked.
"Oh, that," Holloway said. "Now you're going to bring up what happened between me and Isabel." you're going to bring up what happened between me and Isabel."
"I'm just trying to get it all clear in my head," Sullivan said.
"I don't claim any high-minded purpose for that," Holloway said. "It was something that would have gotten my surveying contract canceled, and I couldn't have that. You'll recall I'm not really allowed to go back to North Carolina. It's not like I had any place else to go. I knew when I did it that it was the end of me and Isabel. She's not the sort of person to forget something like that. But I didn't feel I had much of an alternative."
"She still likes you," Sullivan said.
"She likes me as much as she thinks I deserve," Holloway said. "She likes my dog more."
"The dog didn't lie about her during an inquiry," Sullivan said.
"They never called the dog to testify," Holloway said.
"You're an interesting person, Jack," Sullivan said. "I wish I could figure out what you were thinking when you punched Stern and when you turned on Isabel."
"Well, I think that's the thing," Holloway said. "I think it's clear that sometimes I just don't think."
"I think you do," Sullivan said. "It's just you think about you first. The 'not thinking' part comes right after that. When it's time to deal with the consequences."
Holloway glanced back again. "You know what, Mark," he said. "If it's all the same to you, I'd really like you to come up with another topic of conversation now."
Holloway introduced Sullivan to Carl and the Fuzzy Family when they landed; he had briefed the lawyer as they flew in so he wouldn't be too surprised. Sullivan acquitted himself well with the introduction to the creatures and then turned to Isabel. Holloway politely looked the other way as Sullivan and Isabel kissed their welcomes but noticed that the Fuzzy Family did not. They gawked openly at this previously unknown form of human interaction.
Sullivan noticed as well. "I haven't had that big an audience for a kiss since I was king of the prom," he said. He bent down to get a better look at the creatures. They crowded around him, equally curious. Carl, who had seen rather more humans than the Fuzzys, went to greet his master.
Isabel looked over at Holloway. "You survived," she said.
"Thanks to Mark here," Holloway said, petting his dog. "Thank you for pa.s.sing along the message."
"You didn't think I wouldn't," Isabel said.
"No," Holloway said. "It's been long enough since we broke up."
Isabel laughed at that.
By this time Baby Fuzzy had managed to cuddle up to Sullivan. "They are awfully cute, aren't they?" he said, petting Baby. "This one in particular. She reminds me of a cat I had."
"Actually she's not a 'she,'" Isabel said.
"Really?" Sullivan said.
"Really?" Holloway said.
"Yes, really," Isabel said. "That's what you get for a.s.suming patriarchy."
"You were calling Baby 'she' the last time I checked," Holloway said.
"That's what I get for a.s.suming you you checked these things, Jack," Isabel said. "But I should have known better." checked these things, Jack," Isabel said. "But I should have known better."
"Thanks," Holloway said.
"You're welcome, but I didn't mean it like that," Isabel said. "Other advanced animal life on this planet reproduces s.e.xually, but there's only one s.e.x. The creatures produce haploid s.e.x cells that can fertilize other cells but also have cloacal cavities where young can grow, either as eggs or live young, depending on the species."
"So they're hermaphrodites," Sullivan said.
"No," Isabel said, and then caught Sullivan's confused look. "If this were Earth, you would say that, because there are two s.e.xes there. But animals on this planet never developed malefemale differentiation. There has always been only one s.e.x. Life here is unis.e.xual." She turned her gaze back to Holloway. "And I knew knew that, which is why I say I should have known better, Jack." that, which is why I say I should have known better, Jack."
"So you're sure our fuzzy friends are all 'its,' then," Jack said.
"Pretty sure," Isabel said. "Their s.e.xual organs are similar to those of other large creatures."
"How do you know?" Holloway said.
"Quite obviously because I checked," Isabel said.
"Oh, ick, ick," Holloway said.
"You would have made a s.h.i.+t biologist, Jack," Isabel said.
"I have to side with Jack here," Sullivan said. "That is is pretty disturbing." pretty disturbing."
"Thank you, Mark," Holloway said.
Isabel looked at the two of them sourly. "Are you two done?" she said.
"So are these all clones, then?" Sullivan asked, setting Baby down and looking at the rest of the Fuzzys. "Because they don't look alike."
"They're not clones," Isabel said. "If they're like other creatures here, their haploid cells have a protein coat that is different for each individual. The haploid cells won't fuse with other cells that feature the same protein coat. The only way you get clones is in situations of environmental stress, when the body chemistry changes to create haploid cells without the protein coat. But that's very rare."
"Now you're just showing off," Holloway said.
Isabel stuck her tongue out. "I wrote a paper on it," she said. "If I recall, Jack, you once said you read it."
"I probably did," Holloway said. "It doesn't mean I understood understood it." it."
Isabel snorted and then motioned to the Fuzzys, who by this time had gotten bored and had walked off to do their own things. "It does settle one thing: The fuzzys are definitely of this planet. They have the same gross morphology as other vertebrate animals here, and they seem well adapted to their environment. I wasn't really doubting whether they were native, but it's good to have some biological evidence. I have genetic samples, which I'll need to check back in the lab to confirm. Once I have that, I'm ready to move forward."
"Oh, boy," Holloway said. "Here we go again."
"Move forward on what?" Sullivan said, looking at Isabel and then at Holloway.
"Your girlfriend has it in her head that our little fuzzy friends are people," Holloway said.
"People?" Sullivan said. He turned back to Isabel.
"Yes," Isabel said.
"As in people people people, not just 'I think of my pets as people' people," Sullivan said. people, not just 'I think of my pets as people' people," Sullivan said.
"Is it that hard to believe?" Isabel asked.
"A bit," Sullivan said. "They're cute and friendly and seem pretty smart, and I already want to get one for my niece back in Arizona. But that doesn't make them people."
"Thank you again, Mark," Holloway said.
"Clearly this is a bone of contention between you two," Sullivan said, looking at Isabel but nodding in the direction of Holloway.
"It is," Isabel said, to Sullivan. "But unlike Jack here, I have something more to go on than the desire not to have the fuzzys get in the way of his payday. While he's been off doing whatever he's been doing-"
"Almost getting eaten by zararaptors," Holloway interrupted.
"-I have been spending time with the fuzzys and watching how they live their lives, recording them and taking notes," Isabel said. "I've been here a week now. It's not a huge amount of time, but it's long enough to know there is no way these creatures are not sentient." She turned to Holloway. "You almost got eaten by zararaptors?"
"Yeah," Holloway said.
"Why didn't you say something?" Isabel said.
"By the time I called you, I was no longer in danger of being consumed," Holloway said. "And I needed you to be worried about what I was going to do instead of what I had done."
"You still should have told me," Isabel said.
"You're not my girlfriend anymore," Holloway said.
"As a friend friend," Isabel said.
"Is this going to go somewhere?" Sullivan said. "Because as fascinating as the interpersonal relations.h.i.+p between the two of you is, I'd like to get back to this thing about these creatures maybe being people. I mean, that is is why you had me come out here, Isabel, right?" why you had me come out here, Isabel, right?"
"Sorry," Isabel said. "Jack brings that out in me."
"I've noticed he brings that out in a lot of people," Sullivan said. "Noted. Let's table it for now."
"All right, fine," Isabel said, and shot one more glance at Holloway.
In spite of himself, Holloway had to admire how Sullivan was able to get Isabel back on track. It was one thing Holloway had never been able to do. Whenever he inevitably p.i.s.sed her off, he ended up making it worse by trying to make it better. The two of them had been at loggerheads enough at the end that there was a constant state of irritation between them. Holloway should have been smart enough to navigate the arguments-he'd been a trial lawyer, and a d.a.m.n fine one, until he popped Stern in the snout-but there was something about Isabel that just made him want to argue. It was not a great way to have a relations.h.i.+p.
"Wait," Holloway said. Isabel and Sullivan glanced back over to him. "Isabel, you're right," he said. "I should have told you. As a friend. I'm sorry."
Holloway could see the various sarcastic responses of amazement that he had actually apologized for something and meant meant it bubble up behind Isabel's eyes-and then stop there. it bubble up behind Isabel's eyes-and then stop there.
"Thank you, Jack," is what she actually said. He nodded.
"The fuzzys?" Sullivan asked, prompting.
"Why don't we go into the cabin," Isabel said. "We'll all sit down and have a beer and I'll run you some of my recordings and notes, and you can both decide for yourself whether what I have to show you is convincing enough."
"Drinks and a show," Holloway said. "I'm all for that. h.e.l.l, I'll even buy."
Isabel spent two hours showing Holloway and Sullivan excerpts of her recordings, showing them the various activities that, she was convinced, showed sentient intelligence, above and beyond mere animal intelligence. From time to time, while they were watching, one fuzzy or another would climb up and watch the recordings as well, only to leave a few minutes later. The creatures had gotten jaded about seeing themselves on the infopanel.
The video portion of the presentation done, Isabel called up her notes, cross-referencing the behavior of the fuzzys with behavior of human, Urai, and Negad sentients. Isabel was a good and careful scientist, and her work was checked, double-checked, footnoted, and referenced. By the end of the presentation, and despite himself, Holloway was almost convinced his little fuzzys were people, too.
"It seems thin," Sullivan said, after Isabel was done.