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"It's not murder if he's a trespa.s.ser on private property and he refuses to leave when told to," Holloway said.
"He's a ZaraCorp security officer, on a planet administrated by the company," Aubrey said.
"Then he can show me his search warrant," Holloway said. "If he doesn't have one, he's trespa.s.sing. And so are you and Landon, now I think about it. The only one with an actual invitation to be here is Chad."
"So you're going to shoot all of us, then," Aubrey said.
"Tempting, but no," Holloway said. "Just him. If you don't think I won't, by all means have him get out of the skimmer."
Aubrey looked over to Bourne, who had stepped out of the front driver's side of the skimmer. "I have no idea what this is about," Bourne said.
DeLise did nothing but glare through all of this.
"Leave him your key fob," Aubrey said, finally, to Bourne. "That way he can run the air conditioner." Aubrey turned to Holloway. "All right? Or do you have any other unreasonable demands?"
"Is there a reason you're here, Aubrey?" Holloway asked. He pointed at Bourne. "I know why he's here; he wants a day at the petting zoo. What do you want?"
"Perhaps I'm curious about the creatures myself," Aubrey said. "I might lose a fortune to them. I think I should at least get a chance to see them."
"Sorry," Holloway said. "They're not here right now."
"You didn't keep them here?" Bourne said. "You knew we were coming."
"I knew you you were coming," Holloway said. "I wasn't expecting an entourage. And no, I didn't keep them here, Chad. They're not my pets, they're wild animals. They come and go when they please. After the first couple of days they started going back out into the trees. I imagine they're doing whatever it is they did before I met them. Just like I come and go when I please, doing what I did before were coming," Holloway said. "I wasn't expecting an entourage. And no, I didn't keep them here, Chad. They're not my pets, they're wild animals. They come and go when they please. After the first couple of days they started going back out into the trees. I imagine they're doing whatever it is they did before I met them. Just like I come and go when I please, doing what I did before I I met them." met them."
"When will they be back?" Bourne asked.
"Let me reiterate the part about them being wild animals," Holloway said. "It's not like they leave me their day planner when they go."
"Then maybe we can talk about something else," Aubrey said.
"What else is there to talk about?" Holloway asked.
"Do you mind if we go inside to discuss it?" Aubrey said. "Because at this point I find it ironic that the only person sitting in air-conditioning is the guy you apparently want to kill."
Holloway glanced at DeLise, who was still glowering. "Fine," he said. "Come on."
Inside the cabin, Carl greeted Bourne, whom he knew and liked, while Holloway discreetly repositioned his desktop security camera so it had a better angle on the outside world and Bourne's skimmer, and tilted the hat so the camera could see outside.
"So this is the famous explosives-detonating dog," Aubrey said, petting Carl.
"Alleged," Holloway said. "Not proven." He turned back to his guests and sat down at his desk.
"Of course," Aubrey said.
"What do you want to talk about," Holloway said.
Aubrey glanced over to Landon. "We have concerns about this upcoming inquiry into the sapience of these animals you've found," Landon said.
"I would imagine," Holloway said.
"We understand you've been called to testify at the inquiry," Landon said.
"That's right," Holloway said.
"We're wondering what you're planning to say," Landon said.
"I have no idea," Holloway said. "I don't know what the judge is going to ask me."
"I would imagine that the judge would ask you to corroborate the report that Miss w.a.n.gai has submitted," Landon said.
"That's possible," Holloway said.
"And will you?" Landon asked.
Holloway looked at the three men in his cabin. "I think we can skip the preliminaries here," he said. "If they ask if I saw the things Isabel saw, then I'm going to say yes. Because I did. It doesn't mean I agree with her that the fuzzys are people. If you're thinking of trying to convince me not to agree with Isabel's conclusions, you don't have to worry about that. I don't. What's more, Isabel knows I don't. So you don't have to bribe me to say it."
"That's not good enough," Aubrey said.
"It's pretty d.a.m.n good," Holloway said.
"Not really," Aubrey said. "She's a biologist. You're a surveyor. Her opinion counts for more than yours."
"So what?" Holloway said. "I live with the d.a.m.n things. Her opinion might be worth more than mine, but mine will be good enough to keep the judge from ordering ZaraCorp to submit an SSR right off. The worst-case scenario here is that the judge orders more study. If you play that right, that gets you two or three years right there before there's any final decision on the fuzzys' sapience. More than enough time to exploit that sunstone seam."
"I understand you're focused on the sunstone seam, Holloway," Aubrey said. "But there's more at stake than your half a percent. This planet is unusually heavy with metals and minerals, even beyond sunstones. It's why there are sunstones in the first place. It's the richest planet in ZaraCorp's E and E territories. If we lose this planet, it puts ZaraCorp in a vulnerable position."
"Why are you telling me this?" Holloway said. "There's no reason I need to know any of that. It's not my my problem, outside the very limited issue of the sunstone seam." problem, outside the very limited issue of the sunstone seam."
"I'm telling you so you understand, understand, Holloway," Aubrey said. "Because it could Holloway," Aubrey said. "Because it could become become your problem, if you want." your problem, if you want."
Holloway looked over to Landon. "I'm guessing that's your cue to speak."
Landon smiled. He opened the folder he was carrying and walked the few steps to Holloway to hand him a paper doc.u.ment from inside it. Holloway examined the doc.u.ment. "It's a map," he said.
"Do you know what it's a map of?" Landon asked.
"Yes," Holloway said. "It's a map of the northeast continent."
"It's a map of the one continent on Zara Twenty-three that ZaraCorp has not begun exploiting," Landon said. "We only this last month received the go-ahead from the Colonial Authority to work the continent."
"Okay," Holloway said. "So?"
"So it's yours," Aubrey said.
"Excuse me?" Holloway said.
"Zarathustra Corporation is initiating a pilot program in which a single surveyor will be responsible for the exploration and exploitation of a continent," Landon said. "This surveyor can handle the job however he wants, probably by operating exactly how ZaraCorp currently does in dealing with its surveyors. The difference is that the head surveyor will receive five percent of the exploitation revenues for his administration of the continent."
"Minus operating costs and whatever percentage he allows his own contractors, of course," Aubrey said.
"Yes," Landon said. "So call it four-point-seven-five percent."
Holloway grinned. "I suppose this means you're not kicking me off the planet at the end of my contract," he said.
"It would appear not," Landon allowed. "If you agree."
"And you're keeping this from looking like a completely transparent bribe to me how?" Holloway asked.
"Because it reduces the amount of staffing ZaraCorp has to have on planet, which saves us money," Landon said. "And also because the five percent contracting fee is tax-deductible."
"ZaraCorp already pays almost nothing in taxes," Holloway said.
"Call it insurance," Aubrey said.
Holloway hooked a thumb at Bourne. "So I become a multibillionaire by doing his his job," he said. job," he said.
"On a somewhat larger scale," Landon said. "But, yes. Best of all, you can staff out the whole job. You don't even need to be on planet. You can be back home on Earth, watching the revenues by the pool."
"What do I have to do for all of this?" Holloway asked.
"Destroy Miss w.a.n.gai's credibility," Aubrey said.
"That's not going to be easy," Holloway said, after a minute. "Not to mention it will look really bad for you to give me a continent after this."
"Give us credit for subtlety, Mr. Holloway," Landon said. "We will wait an appropriate amount of time before we make the announcement. And Miss w.a.n.gai will not be punished in the slightest for asking for the inquiry, which by law she was required to ask for. Indeed, she will be promoted to head up one of our labs back on Earth."
"Which is to say, kicked upstairs, far away from here and the fuzzys," Holloway said.
"You'll do something good for her career for once," Aubrey said. "She'll get kicked upstairs, you'll get kicked upstairs, even Bourne here will get kicked upstairs."
Holloway looked at Bourne. "Really," he said.
"Well, sort of," Aubrey said. "We told him he could work for you. Figured you'd be motivated to take care of him."
"I suppose I would be," Holloway said. Bourne, for his part, looked thoroughly miserable, as he had through the entire conversation. He knew he was being used as cover for Aubrey's trip out to Holloway's compound, and knew what happened to little people caught in the middle of big people's plans. Holloway almost pitied him. "So that takes cares of the humans," he said. "What about the fuzzys?"
Aubrey shrugged. "If they're important to you, take them with you to the continent," he said. "Give them their own reservation. Whatever. ZaraCorp will even chip in for a 'save the fuzzys' fund. Make us look good to the folks back home. Just as long as no one gets the idea these things are people."
"Isabel has video of the fuzzys," Holloway said. "Secure and unmodifiable video, showing them doing things she believes indicate sentience."
"You taught your dog to blow up things, Mr. Holloway," Landon said.
"It's not the same thing," Holloway said, seeing where Landon was going and echoing Isabel's arguments to him. "And if you're suggesting I say Isabel taught the fuzzys tricks to perpetrate a hoax, I'm curious how you think you're then going to be able to turn around and promote her."
"She didn't train the fuzzys, you did," Landon said. "Admit to the judge that you trained the animals to do these things before Miss w.a.n.gai arrived. We're not disputing the animals are smart. You could easily have taught them how to do these things. Say that you perpetrated an innocent hoax. As a prank. She was taken in and filed a request for an inquiry before you could come clean. That way she's completely blameless, and you just look like you were playing a mean but innocent joke."
"It'll make me look like an a.s.shole," Holloway said.
"Everyone thinks you're an a.s.shole anyway, Holloway," Aubrey said. "No offense."
"None taken," Holloway said.
"Besides, for the amount of money we're talking about, you can afford to be an a.s.shole," Aubrey said.
"Well, when you put it that way," Holloway said.
"Mr. Holloway, this is a very serious offer," Landon said. "There's too much at stake here. This inquiry has to end with the judge ruling against our filing an SSR. Every other option is failure. You have the power to get the right ruling here for everyone."
"Sure," Holloway said. "And all I have to do is make Isabel look like a fool."
"Not to put too fine a point on it, Holloway, but you've done that before, haven't you?" Landon said, nodding at Bourne. "Mr. Bourne here tells us that you sold her out before during an inquiry. She said you taught your dog to blow things up. You called her a liar. You didn't have a problem with it then, when the only thing at stake was your surveyor contract. Now that you have the potential to become one of the richest men in the universe, you might have some extra motivation."
"I suppose I might," Holloway said.
"Good," Aubrey said. "Then we have a deal."
"I have to emphasize, Mr. Holloway, that we were never here," Landon said.
"Of course not," Holloway said. "Only your cover man Bourne was here, and he just came out to see the animals."
"We understand each other fully," Landon said.
"Oh, we do," Holloway said. "We really do."
When his guests had left, Holloway reached over for his infopanel and punched up the feed from the security camera. If any of the three men who had been in the house had seen the camera, they didn't note it, which was just as well since Holloway planned it that way. There was a reason he kept the hat on the camera stand.
For the first several minutes the video showed nothing but the skimmer with Joe DeLise in it, fiddling with the dash b.u.t.tons and the key fob and generally looking bored. Holloway fast-forwarded through this and then slowed down the feed when something popped up on the hood of the skimmer. Holloway zoomed in; it was Pinto, the rambunctious fuzzy.
Pinto walked over to the winds.h.i.+eld of the skimmer, clearly curious about the human inside. The human inside appeared to view the fuzzy sourly. Pinto pressed its little face against the gla.s.s to get a better look at DeLise. DeLise smacked the inside of the gla.s.s with his hand.
Pinto drew back, startled, but then seemed to realize that the human smacking the gla.s.s was not any sort of trouble for it. Pinto smooshed its face up to the gla.s.s again. DeLise smacked the gla.s.s again. This time Pinto didn't move. DeLise smacked the gla.s.s a third time, and again. Holloway zoomed in on DeLise's face; he was yelling. The skimmer was too far away to pick up the words, and the microphone had been muted in any event.
Holloway frowned at this. He'd had the security camera on DeLise, but having an audio record of what was said in the cabin would have been useful insurance. He must have accidentally hit the microphone's mute b.u.t.ton when he moved it to get a better angle on the outside. Nothing for it now.
Holloway zoomed out again to see Pinto, back away from the gla.s.s now, watching the yelling DeLise with interest, perhaps wondering why the human didn't get out of the skimmer and try to catch it or hurt it. After a few minutes, after DeLise calmed down, the fuzzy moved up to the gla.s.s again. DeLise was resolutely ignoring the little creature.
Pinto turned around, squatted, and very deliberately rubbed its a.s.s on the gla.s.s, right in front of DeLise's face.
DeLise exploded into rage, leaning back into his seat to kick up at the winds.h.i.+eld. Apparently only DeLise's absolute certainty that Holloway would blow his head off with a shotgun kept him in the skimmer. Otherwise Pinto would have been dead meat at this point.