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Fuzzy Nation Part 14

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Holloway tracked back the video to watch this part again, a huge grin on his face.

Moving forward again, Pinto looked up, as if calling to someone or something. Sure enough, a minute later another fuzzy showed up on the hood of the skimmer: Grandpa. The two of them stood on the hood as if they were holding a conference on something, and then Pinto rubbed its b.u.t.t on the winds.h.i.+eld again, prompting another kick against the gla.s.s from DeLise.

Grandpa Fuzzy, clearly not impressed, whacked Pinto across the head and pulled the smaller fuzzy off the gla.s.s, then pushed it off the hood. Pinto took off for the nearest spikewood. Grandpa then turned and looked back at DeLise, walking up to the gla.s.s to do so. DeLise spat and fumed.

After several moments of this the fuzzy appeared to reach a decision, squatted, and rubbed its own a.s.s against the gla.s.s. Then it slowly walked off the hood of the skimmer as if it were taking a Sunday stroll. Holloway laughed out loud, alarming Carl.

Holloway fast-forwarded past several minutes of DeLise doing nothing, then stopped again when the security guard's three fellow travelers returned to the skimmer. At the sight of them, DeLise opened the front pa.s.senger door and risked taking a step out of the skimmer to stand up and start yelling at them as they approached. This was followed by a minute or two of DeLise gesticulating and pointing toward the spikewood Pinto and then Grandpa had climbed up when they departed. Aubrey and Landon briefly walked over to glance up at the spikewood, as if to look for the creatures. Then they returned to the skimmer and the vehicle lifted off, going out of frame several meters above Holloway's platform.



Note to self: Give Pinto and Grandpa a beer the next time you see them, Holloway thought. He wouldn't actually give them a beer; he tried giving a little to Papa and Mama Fuzzy once, just to see how they liked it, and they had both spit it out. Fuzzys liked water, preferably from the running faucet, which still fascinated them, and fruit juice. Every other liquid they gave a pa.s.s. But in this case, it would be the thought that counted. Anyone who didn't like DeLise was all right by Holloway at this point, regardless of species.

Anyone, said a voice in his head that sounded suspiciously like Isabel. said a voice in his head that sounded suspiciously like Isabel.

Holloway shook it off. Yes, anyone, anyone, but that didn't mean the fuzzys were sentient. Carl was someone, too, but that didn't make him the equivalent of a human. It was entirely possible to think of an animal as a someone-as a person-without attributing to them the sort of brainpower that accompanies actual sentience. but that didn't mean the fuzzys were sentient. Carl was someone, too, but that didn't make him the equivalent of a human. It was entirely possible to think of an animal as a someone-as a person-without attributing to them the sort of brainpower that accompanies actual sentience.

Holloway glanced down at his dog, splayed out on the floor. "Hey, Carl," he said. Carl's eyebrows perked up; well, one of them did, anyway, giving the animal a rather unintentionally sardonic look.

"Carl, speak!" Holloway said. Carl did nothing but look at Holloway. Holloway never taught him the "speak" trick. The idea of having a dog intentionally bark its head off for no particular reason never appealed to him.

"Good dog, Carl," he said. "Way to not speak." Carl snuffled noncommittally and then closed his eyes to get back to sleep.

Carl was a good dog and good company and not a sentient creature in any standard that would matter to the Colonial Authority. Neither were chimpanzees or dolphins or squids or floaters or blue dawgs or wetsels or punchfish or any other number of creatures who were clearly more clever than the average animal species and yet still not quite there. In over two hundred worlds explored, only two creatures matched up to human sentience: the Urai and Negad, both of whom shared enough common examples of big-brained activities that it would have been impossible not to ascribe them the sentience humans had.

Well, no, not impossible, some pedantic part of his brain reminded him. In both cases, there was a substantial minority of the exploration and exploitation industry community who argued against their sentience. Both Uraill and Nega (formerly Zara III and BlueSky VI) were rich enough in resources that it was worth their time to take a stab at it, particularly in the case of the Negad, whose civilization at time of contact was roughly equivalent to the hunter-gatherer tribes of the North American continent around 10,000 some pedantic part of his brain reminded him. In both cases, there was a substantial minority of the exploration and exploitation industry community who argued against their sentience. Both Uraill and Nega (formerly Zara III and BlueSky VI) were rich enough in resources that it was worth their time to take a stab at it, particularly in the case of the Negad, whose civilization at time of contact was roughly equivalent to the hunter-gatherer tribes of the North American continent around 10,000 B.C B.C. Pointing out to E & E lawyers that by their standards they would deny sentience to some of their direct ancestors didn't seem to bother them any. Lawyers are trained to disregard such irrelevancies. The Negad didn't read, didn't have cities, and only arguably had agriculture. Three strikes and they were out, as far as the E & Es and their lawyers were concerned.

Holloway picked up his infopanel again and backed up the video feed once more to watch Pinto and Grandpa. If the E & Es would argue against the Negad, they would have a field day with the fuzzys. No cities, literacy, or agriculture here, either, as well as no language, no tools, no clothing, and apparently no social structure beyond the family unit-or something close enough to it given their weird unis.e.xual biology that it was a distinction without difference.

It would be better for them not to be sentient, Holloway thought. Just because they were sentient wouldn't be a guarantee they'd be recognized as such. Not when so many people had such a vested interest in them not being so. Better to be a monkey and not be able to understand what's been taken from you, than to be a man and be able to understand all too well-and be helpless to stop it.

Carl scrambled up from the floor and headed to the cabin door, tail wagging. He poked his snout at the dog door, swinging it out slightly. It was caught by something, which held it open, and Carl backed away.

A second later the Fuzzy Family made its way through, back from whatever small, furry adventure they had been having with their day. Each of them greeted Carl with a pat or a rub, with the exception of Baby, who wrapped itself around Carl's neck for a hug. Carl tolerated this well, and gave Baby a lick when it disentangled itself from him.

Papa Fuzzy walked over to Holloway and stared up at him in that way Holloway knew was the fuzzy telling him it required his a.s.sistance. Holloway, thus reminded of his role as fuzzy butler, grinned and followed the creature into the kitchen area, where Papa stopped at the cooler. Holloway, who knew the fuzzy was capable of opening the cooler if it chose, appreciated that it was asking permission. He opened the cooler.

"Well, go on," Holloway said, motioning. The fuzzy dived in and a few seconds later hauled out the very last of the smoked turkey.

"I don't think you want that," Holloway said. "It's on the verge of going bad." He took the turkey from the fuzzy, fished out the last two remaining turkey pieces, and held them up for Carl, who was pa.s.sionately interested. "Sit," he said to Carl, who sat with an altogether enthusiastic thump. Holloway tossed the turkey to Carl, who snapped it out of the air and swallowed it in about a third of a second.

Papa watched this and then turned to Holloway and squeaked. Holloway a.s.sumed the squeak to mean I'm sorry, but I must kill you now I'm sorry, but I must kill you now.

Holloway held up his hand. "Wait," he said, and went into the cooler, pulling out a second package. "My friend," he said, holding out the package to the fuzzy, "I think it's time to introduce you to a little something we humans call 'bacon.'"

Papa looked at the package doubtfully.

"Trust me," Holloway said. He closed the cooler and went looking for a frying pan.

Five minutes later, the smell of bacon had attracted all the Fuzzys and Carl, who stared up at the cabin's tiny stove with rapt attention. At one point Pinto attempted to climb up to s.n.a.t.c.h some semi-cooked bacon out of the pan; it was pulled down by Mama and handed over to Grandpa, who smacked the younger fuzzy across the head. Head-smacking was apparently Grandpa's major mode of communication with Pinto.

Soon enough, six strips of bacon were cooked and sufficiently cooled for consumption. Holloway handed each excited fuzzy a bacon strip and kept the last one for himself. Carl, sensing the abject injustice of a situation in which everyone had bacon but him, whined piteously.

"Next batch, buddy," Holloway promised. He peeled off the next batch of strips and turned to place them into the pan. He turned around again to see how the Fuzzys were enjoying their cured, nitrated treat, and saw Papa Fuzzy holding out a piece of its bacon to a very attentive Carl. Papa squeaked. Carl sat. Holloway smiled at the fact that Papa Fuzzy was trying to copy what he'd done with the turkey.

Papa opened its mouth again. Carl instantly lay down. Papa opened its mouth a third time and Carl rolled onto his back, tongue lolling out. Papa tossed the bacon piece to Carl, who gobbled it up greedily. Then it continued to enjoy the rest of its treat.

A spatter of bacon grease on Holloway's arm brought his attention back to the fact that he was still actually cooking food. He finished up the second round of bacon, distributing it equally among the Fuzzys and Carl, each of whom was delighted at the second serving; bacon had now clearly replaced smoked turkey as the king of all meats, at least for the Fuzzys. Holloway put the rest of the uncooked bacon into the cooler, cleaned and stowed the pan, and then walked back over to his desk and picked up his infopanel.

When Isabel departed, she had left Holloway a set of her videos and notes concerning the fuzzys, partly as a courtesy and partly for archival purposes. If anything happened to her set of data, his set would probably still be fine. Holloway accessed the data now, calling up video files in particular. He fiddled with them, changing some of the presentation parameters.

He did this for the next several hours.

Chapter Sixteen.

"This is how the inquiry works," Sullivan said to Holloway. The two of them were standing outside Aubreytown's single, and cramped, courtroom. "The judge enters and makes a few prefatory statements. Then there's a presentation of the materials. Isabel is handling that. It's mostly pro forma because the judge already has all of Isabel's records and recordings, but if she wants to ask Isabel questions about any of it, this is when she'll do it. Then a representative from ZaraCorp will question the experts, which in this case are Isabel and you. The judge can also ask questions during this period. At the end of it, the judge will issue a ruling."

Holloway frowned. "So ZaraCorp gets to question me and Isabel. Who's representing us?"

"No one's representing you. It's an inquiry, not a trial," Sullivan said.

"There's an official legal ruling issued at the end of it," Holloway said. "Sounds like a trial to me."

"But you're not accused of a crime, Jack," Sullivan said. "You and Isabel are like witnesses, not defendants."

"Right," Holloway said. "It's the fuzzys who are the defendants."

"In a manner of speaking," Sullivan said.

"So who's representing them them?" Holloway asked.

Sullivan sighed. "Just promise me you won't antagonize the judge," he said.

"I swear to you that I am not here to antagonize the judge," Holloway said.

"Good," Sullivan said.

"So what is your role in this inquiry?" Holloway asked.

"I have no role," Sullivan said. "I recused myself because it involves Isabel, and my boss was fine with that. I told you she was hot for this inquiry. She thinks it's her ticket off this rock. And look, here she comes now." Sullivan nodded down the hallway of the Aubreytown administrative building, where Janice Meyer was striding toward the two of them and the courtroom. Behind her, a young a.s.sistant was carrying her case files.

"What's she like?" Holloway asked.

"What do you mean?" Sullivan said.

"As a human being," Holloway said.

"I haven't the slightest idea," Sullivan said, murmuring now that his boss had gotten close up.

She stopped in front of the two men. "Mark," she said, by way of greeting, and then looked at Holloway. "And Mr. Holloway. Good to see you again." She held out her hand; Holloway took it and shook.

"Interesting new species you've found," Meyer said.

"They are full of surprises," Holloway said.

"Has Mark here explained to you how today's inquiry is going to work?" Meyer asked.

"He has," Holloway said.

"It's not a trial," Meyer said. "So remember that there's no need to feel hesitant about answering the questions I'm going to ask you."

"I promise to tell the whole truth," Holloway said. Meyer smiled at this, which made Holloway wonder if she knew anything about Aubrey's secret trip out to his compound. She turned to Sullivan, nodded, and entered the courtroom, a.s.sistant trailing behind.

"As a boss, she's ambitious," Sullivan concluded.

"It's not bad for you," Holloway said. "Ambitious bosses leave vacant jobs behind them."

"True enough," Sullivan said, and then smiled broadly as he saw another person down the hall: Isabel. She smiled in return and when she came up to Sullivan, gave him a warm but publicly decorous kiss on the cheek. She turned to Holloway.

He held out his hand. "Jack Holloway," he said. "I'm your fellow expert witness."

"Very cute, Jack," Isabel said, and gave him a peck on the cheek. "Are you nervous about this?"

"No," Holloway said. "Are you?"

"I'm terrified," Isabel said. "What I tell the judge here could mean the fuzzys are recognized as people. I don't want to screw it up. I don't think I've been this nervous since my doctoral defense."

"Well, that turned out all right, didn't it?" Holloway said. "So you have a track record."

"When did you get in?" Isabel asked.

"Carl and I landed about an hour ago," Holloway said.

"Where's Carl?" Isabel asked.

"He's in the skimmer," Holloway said. "Relax," he added, catching Isabel's expression. "The skimmer has autonomous climate control. He's cool as a cuc.u.mber. You can see him after the inquiry just to be sure."

"Speaking of which," Sullivan said, "it's time for the two of you to get in there. This thing starts in a few minutes, and Judge Soltan isn't the sort to be kept waiting."

Judge Nedra Soltan came in and took her seat without preamble; there was no bailiff to announce her arrival or to tell everyone to stand. By the time everyone had stood up, Soltan had already sat down.

"Let's get through this as quickly as possible," Soltan said, and then looked at her inquiry timetable. "Dr. w.a.n.gai?"

"Yes, Your Honor?" Isabel stood. Holloway sat next to her, at the table generally reserved for the defense. Janice Meyer and her a.s.sistant sat at the table usually reserved for the prosecution. Not a trial my a.s.s, Holloway thought. The audience portion of the courtroom was empty save for Brad Landon, in the back row, whose expression was one of polite boredom, and Sullivan, who sat directly behind Isabel. Holloway thought. The audience portion of the courtroom was empty save for Brad Landon, in the back row, whose expression was one of polite boredom, and Sullivan, who sat directly behind Isabel.

"Our schedule calls for you to give an overview of the research materials," Soltan said.

"Yes, Your Honor," Isabel said.

"Is there anything new that you're going to add to the materials that wasn't in the package you sent to me?" Soltan asked. "Because if there's not, I'd just as soon skip it."

Isabel blinked at this. "Skip it?" she said. She glanced over at the large monitor that had been brought in for her presentation.

"Yes," Soltan said. "Your report was comprehensive to the point of exhausting, Dr. w.a.n.gai. If all we're going to do here is get a recap, I'd rather not."

"The point of the presentation was to give you time to ask any questions you might have on the material," Isabel said. "I'm sure you have questions."

"Not really, no," Soltan said, blandly. "So, shall we move forward?"

Isabel glanced over at Holloway, who arched his eyebrows an infinitesimally small amount, and then back at Sullivan, who was utterly blank. "I suppose," she said finally, turning back to Soltan.

"Good," Soltan said. She looked over at Meyer. "That's fine with you as well, Ms. Meyer?"

"Not a problem, Your Honor," Meyer said.

"Excellent," Soltan said. "Two hours off the schedule already. We may be out of here before lunch. You may sit, Dr. w.a.n.gai."

Isabel sat, looking a little numb.

"Now-" Soltan picked up her schedule again. "-Ms. Meyer, I believe it's time for you to question the experts. Which would you like to question first?"

"I believe Dr. w.a.n.gai is the first on the schedule," Meyer said.

"Very well," Soltan said. "Dr. w.a.n.gai, go ahead and sit in the witness stand." Isabel got up from the table, walked over to the witness stand, and sat down. "Normally I'd place you under oath, but this is an inquiry and thus more informal," Soltan said. "You are however still required to tell the truth and to answer questions as fully as possible. Do you understand?"

"I do," Isabel said.

"You're on," Soltan said to Meyer.

Meyer stood. "Dr. w.a.n.gai, please state your full name and occupation."

"I am Dr. Isabel Njeru w.a.n.gai, and I am the Zarathustra Corporation's chief biologist for Zara Twenty-three," Isabel said.

"And where did you receive your doctorate, Dr. w.a.n.gai?" Meyer asked.

"The University of Oxford," Isabel said.

"I hear that's a good school," Meyer said.

Isabel smiled. "It's all right," she said.

"And so you studied xenosapience there," Meyer said.

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About Fuzzy Nation Part 14 novel

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