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Fuzzy Nation Part 12

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"What?" Isabel said, disbelieving.

"I think you heard me, Isabel," Sullivan said, not unkindly. "It seems thin to me."

"You have a strange definition of thin, thin, then," Isabel said. then," Isabel said.

"Actually, my definition of thin thin is very precise in this case," Sullivan said. "The reason I think it's thin is because these things don't speak. If they're not speaking to each other-and to us-then you've got a hard sell to make." is very precise in this case," Sullivan said. "The reason I think it's thin is because these things don't speak. If they're not speaking to each other-and to us-then you've got a hard sell to make."

"Jesus, you sound like Jack," Isabel said. Holloway smiled wryly at this. "Speech is only one criterion for sentience. Cheng versus BlueSky Cheng versus BlueSky listed several others as well." listed several others as well."



"I know that," Sullivan said. "But while I'm a general counsel and not an expert on xenosapient law, I do know this: In the mind of the layman-which will include any judge this case would go in front of-the ability to speak is a prohibitive indicator of sentience. It's not only prohibitive, it's very nearly prejudicial."

Isabel looked at Sullivan sourly. "You're telling me that if the fuzzys meet every single other criterion for sentience under Cheng, Cheng, that it won't matter simply because they don't speak." that it won't matter simply because they don't speak."

"What I'm saying," Sullivan said, "is that to date, we have not discovered a confirmed sentient species that doesn't speak. There are things humans do that Urai don't. There are things Urai do that Negad don't. Things Negad do humans don't. And so on. What we all all do, Isabel, is speak." do, Isabel, is speak."

"It doesn't mean it's not possible," Isabel said.

"No," Sullivan said. "It's possible. But your problem here, Isabel, and no offense, is that you're thinking like a biologist, and not a lawyer."

Isabel smirked. "I don't really see it as a problem."

"Normally it's not," Sullivan said. "But this is going to be decided in court, not in a lab. And you have to remember this: If your friends here are sentient, then ZaraCorp loses its charter here. That's trillions of credits in mineral losses, including the sunstone seam Jack just found. ZaraCorp's revenues, profits, and stock price will take a huge hit. None of this matters to you, but it matters to ZaraCorp. So if you go and file a Suspected Sapience Report without having evidence that these little guys can speak, the one thing all other sentient species do, I guarantee you that ZaraCorp's lawyers will zero in on the fact and ride it all the way home."

"I would," Holloway said.

"And so would I," Sullivan said.

"But you won't," Isabel said.

"Wouldn't I?" Sullivan said. "I represent ZaraCorp, Isabel. Not you or these fuzzys here. If Janice Meyer tells me to argue the case, I'm required to do it."

"Lovely," Isabel said, turning away from her boyfriend.

"Not that it would happen," Sullivan said. "Because, come on, Isabel. A sentience case is the sort of thing lawyers live to argue, on either side. I know Janice sure as h.e.l.l doesn't want to be general counsel on Zara Twenty-three forever. She'd hit me with a skimmer if I were in her way to try this one. But the reason you asked me out here was to get my perspective on this, right? This is my perspective: If you file an SSR now, you're going to get crushed."

"So you think I should just keep quiet about the fuzzys," Isabel said. "Like Jack."

"I never said keep quiet," Holloway said. "I said be absolutely sure."

"I am am absolutely sure," Isabel shot back. "But what I'm hearing is that being absolutely sure isn't good enough. And by the time I have enough evidence to convince anyone else, ZaraCorp will have this planet entirely mined out. So I might as well just shut up." absolutely sure," Isabel shot back. "But what I'm hearing is that being absolutely sure isn't good enough. And by the time I have enough evidence to convince anyone else, ZaraCorp will have this planet entirely mined out. So I might as well just shut up."

"Actually, you can't do that now," Sullivan said.

"What?" Holloway got that out before Isabel did.

"Colonial Authority law requires that any evidence of sentience must be reported by its chartered E and E corporations as soon as it's discovered," Sullivan said. "And now that you've spoken to me, a duly recognized legal representative of ZaraCorp, I'm obliged by law and by company regulation to report it to my superiors."

"You never said anything about that before," Isabel said.

"You didn't tell me what you wanted me to come out here for," Sullivan pointed out. "And besides that, think a minute, Isabel. You asked me to come out in my capacity as a lawyer. I haven't stopped being ZaraCorp's lawyer, any more than you've stopped being ZaraCorp's biologist."

"But you just said that if I file an SSR, I'm going to lose," Isabel said. "The fuzzys will lose."

"Not to mention every bit of work here will shut right down," Holloway said.

Sullivan smiled and held up his hand. "Everyone take a deep breath," he said. "Isabel, there's still a way for the fuzzys' sentience to get a hearing without them or you getting squashed. And Jack, there's a way to make it happen without initially putting your royalties at risk."

Isabel and Holloway looked at each other. "Well?" Holloway said, to Sullivan. "Are you going to tell us?"

"I was actually enjoying the dramatic pause," Sullivan said.

"Don't be a jacka.s.s, Mark," Isabel said.

"Fine," Sullivan said. He put down his hand. "You'll note I said that the E and E corporation is obliged to report any evidence of sentience. That means that the report comes from ZaraCorp, not from you or me."

"Okay," Isabel said. "So what?"

"So what it means is that this allows ZaraCorp to have a process for making the report," Sullivan said. "You could file an SSR directly, but as Jack so eagerly points out, it's hugely disruptive. So what we do instead is ask for an inquiry on evidence of sapience instead. The inquiry is essentially the company asking for a ruling to decide if the evidence it has supports filing an SSR. The ruling can decide for filing, against filing, or for further study."

"What does that last one mean?" Holloway asked.

"It means that the judge orders the evidence examined by Colonial Authority experts on xenosapience, and while they study the issue, the E and E corporation is allowed to do business as usual," Sullivan said. "It's the 'everybody wins' scenario."

"Everybody does not not win," Isabel said. "Anything the company takes out of the planet isn't there for the fuzzys to use later." win," Isabel said. "Anything the company takes out of the planet isn't there for the fuzzys to use later."

"The Colonial Authority requires the company to put a certain amount of the revenue of the planet in escrow pending resolution of the study," Sullivan said. "Just in case."

"How much?" Isabel asked.

"Ten percent," Sullivan said.

"Ten percent!" Isabel exclaimed. "That's ridiculous."

"It's better than nothing, which is what they'll get if you go straight for an SSR right now," Sullivan said.

"Not that I really want to raise objections to this, but ZaraCorp running an inquiry on whether or not ZaraCorp should stop exploiting a planet seems chock-full of conflict of interest," Holloway said.

"The inquiry is presided over by a Colonial Authority judge for that very reason," Sullivan said. "Which means the ruling has the force of law. So if the judge decides ZaraCorp has to file an SSR, the company has two weeks to file, and two weeks after that to bring all exploitation to a halt pending a ruling."

"So what we're aiming for here is a 'needs more study' ruling," Holloway said.

"We're not aiming for anything," Sullivan said. "That's up to the judge. But like I said, I think a 'needs more study' ruling is the one where everyone here wins. Isabel, you win because not having evidence of the fuzzys speaking isn't as problematic as it would be with a full SSR court case. At least xenosapient experts would come to make a determination one way or another. Jack, you win because one way or another, you'll get paid. Maybe you won't get billions out of the sunstone seam, but you'll get millions, and I think you can live with that." not aiming for anything," Sullivan said. "That's up to the judge. But like I said, I think a 'needs more study' ruling is the one where everyone here wins. Isabel, you win because not having evidence of the fuzzys speaking isn't as problematic as it would be with a full SSR court case. At least xenosapient experts would come to make a determination one way or another. Jack, you win because one way or another, you'll get paid. Maybe you won't get billions out of the sunstone seam, but you'll get millions, and I think you can live with that."

"Probably," Holloway said.

"ZaraCorp wins because it does everything by the book, so no one anywhere can object," Sullivan said. "Even if it does have to abandon Zara Twenty-three, the company has time to build the news into its stock price. No huge fluctuations, no major panics, and no surprises, which corporations hate most of all. And as for the fuzzys-"

All three humans looked over at the fuzzys. Four of them were napping on the floor. The fifth, Pinto, had climbed up on the work desk and was leaning over the edge. Suddenly the fuzzy squeaked and flung itself off the desk, landing directly on Grandpa Fuzzy's head. Grandpa Fuzzy (who Holloway realized was not actually a grandpa at all, but it really was too late to change names now) let out a surprised grunt and then went after Pinto, smacking the younger fuzzy in the head as they ran about. Carl, thrilled that something was going on, gave chase as well. Three seconds later all the fuzzys were running about like idiots, slapping each other like it was a scene out of a fur-bearing slapstick.

"-at least they'll get a chance to prove they're people," Sullivan finished. He waved in the direction of the Fuzzys. "Although I've got to tell you, Isabel, this is not exactly convincing me you've got a bunch of geniuses here."

"Well," Isabel said, mildly, "I think you're underestimating the crack comedy timing involved."

"I don't think so," Sullivan said.

"I have to agree with Isabel," Holloway said. "This is better than the Three Stooges."

"Fair point," Sullivan said.

"The three who?" Isabel asked.

The men looked at her with a mixture of horror and pity.

On the floor of the cabin, the Fuzzys and Carl collapsed in exhaustion.

Chapter Fourteen.

Isabel and Sullivan returned to Aubreytown later that evening, Sullivan jammed uncomfortably into the skimmer's small pa.s.senger seat, which he shared with Isabel's samples, notes, and remaining supplies. Holloway saw them off and noticed the Fuzzy Family did not seem horribly put out at their leaving. Either the creatures were not terribly sentimental or they simply were of the "out of sight, out of mind" variety. Carl seemed depressed Isabel was gone, however, and moped about. Not even Pinto tugging on his ears or Baby snuggling up to him cheered him up.

Three days later Holloway received a secure, confirmation-required notice that he was expected to appear at an inquiry in Aubreytown in eight days, to give testimony concerning the "fuzzys." Holloway smiled. Isabel had indeed wasted no time getting the ball rolling.

A few minutes after he had received his summons, Chad Bourne was on the line. "You're trying to get me fired, aren't you," he said, without preamble, when Holloway slapped open the voice-only circuit.

"h.e.l.lo to you, too," Holloway said. He was having his morning coffee. Papa Fuzzy, who Holloway knew was not in fact a papa, was sniffing curiously at the stuff in his cup.

"Cut the c.r.a.p, Holloway," Bourne said. "Why didn't you tell me about these things?"

"You're referring to the fuzzys," Holloway said.

"Yes," Bourne said.

"Why would I tell you about them?" Holloway said. "Do you want detailed reports on every animal I encounter? I live in a jungle, you know."

"I don't want reports on every single animal, no," Bourne said. "However, a report on animals that might get all of us kicked off the planet because they're this world's equivalent of cavemen might be nice."

"They're not cavemen," Holloway said. "They live in trees. Or did, until they colonized my house." Holloway pushed the cup toward Papa, to let the fuzzy try the beverage.

"Jack Holloway, master of the absolutely irrelevant objection," Bourne said.

"And anyway, they're not people, which is why I didn't bother telling you about them," Holloway said. "They're just very clever little animals."

"Our staff biologist thinks otherwise," Bourne said. "And no offense, Jack, but it's possible she knows more about the subject than you."

"Your staff biologist is very excited about a major discovery," Holloway said, watching Papa sniff the coffee in greater detail. "And while she's a biologist, she's not actually an expert in xenosapience. Her having an opinion about whether the fuzzys are people is like a podiatrist having an opinion on whether you need your liver replaced."

"Wheaton Aubrey doesn't seem to have the same opinion," Bourne said. "And you didn't just have the future chairman of ZaraCorp stalking into your cubicle and screaming at you for ten minutes because one of your surveyors didn't bother to tell you about discovering sentient life. I was already on his s.h.i.+t list for giving you point-four percent. Now I think I'm on his list of people to have a.s.sa.s.sinated."

"Trust me, Chad," Holloway said. "They're not sentient." Papa ducked its head and took a hesitant sip of the coffee.

"Are you sure about that?" Bourne asked.

Papa spit out the coffee and fixed Holloway with a look that said, There's something wrong with you There's something wrong with you.

"Yeah," Holloway said. "I'm pretty sure about that." He picked up his coffee and took another sip.

"I want to come out and see these things for myself," Bourne said.

"What?" Holloway said. "No way."

"Why not?" Bourne asked.

"Well, for one thing, Chad, unless you've been holding out on me, you're not an expert in either biology or xenosapience," Holloway said. "Which means you're just coming out to stare at the things. I'm not running a zoo here. For another thing, I don't really want to spend that much time with you."

"I can certainly appreciate that, Jack, but you don't have much choice in the matter," Bourne said. "Per your contract, as your ZaraCorp contractor rep I am allowed and in some circ.u.mstances even required required to perform an on-site inspection to make sure your equipment and practices conform to ZaraCorp regulations. So, guess what, I'm coming out. I'll be there in about six hours." to perform an on-site inspection to make sure your equipment and practices conform to ZaraCorp regulations. So, guess what, I'm coming out. I'll be there in about six hours."

"Lovely," Holloway said.

"I'm as excited as you are," Bourne said. "Trust me." He broke the connection.

Holloway gazed down at Papa Fuzzy. "If I knew you were going to be this much trouble, I would have let Carl eat you that day."

Papa Fuzzy stared back up at Holloway, unimpressed.

Bourne didn't come alone.

"If he steps out of that skimmer I'm throwing him over the side," Holloway said, pointing at Joe DeLise, who sat in the front pa.s.senger seat of the four-seat skimmer that had just landed at Holloway's compound.

Wheaton Aubrey VII, stepping out of the back pa.s.senger compartment with Brad Landon, was taken aback. "Is there a problem?" he asked.

"Yes," Holloway said. "I hate his guts."

"I don't think you like anyone in this skimmer, Holloway," Aubrey said. "It's not in itself a good enough reason to keep Mr. DeLise in his seat. I brought him because by company regulation I'm supposed to have a security detail when I leave Aubreytown. The board is touchy about me going into the wilds alone."

"I don't give a s.h.i.+t," Holloway said.

"It's very hot to be sitting inside a closed skimmer," Landon said.

"So crack a window and give him a bowl of water," Holloway said. "If he puts a foot on my property, I'm parting his hair with a shotgun."

"You're adding murder to your resume, Mr. Holloway?" Landon asked.

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