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Fuzzy Nation Part 15

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"No," Isabel said. "My research there focused on the sarcomonad Cercozoa."

"You've lost me," Meyer said.

"They're protists," Isabel said. "Very small one-celled organisms."

"What planet are these protists from?" Meyer asked.

"They're from Earth," Isabel said.



"So your training in biology, while from a very good school indeed, is grounded in terrestrial biology-creatures from Earth. Is that accurate?" Meyer asked.

"It is," Isabel said. "But I have been chief biologist here on Zara Twenty-three for close to five years now. I have a substantial amount of practical experience working with and studying extraterrestrial biology."

"Any of it relating specifically to xenosapience?" Meyer asked.

"Not until recently, no," Isabel said.

"So you're new to the field," Meyer said. "Very new."

"Yes," Isabel said. "However, the evaluation I performed on the fuzzys was done using criteria well established in the xenosapience field. The criteria are designed to be useful without regard to experience."

"Do you really believe that?" Meyer asked. "As a scientist, do you really believe that people who are not trained in a particular field are as able to make a.s.sessments as experts in that field? Especially when all they are armed with is a checklist?"

"I am however not anyone," Isabel said. "I am a trained biologist with years of practical experience in xen.o.biological study."

"So experience does matter," Meyer said. "Even so, Dr. w.a.n.gai. I don't doubt your experience and knowledge in your particular field is considerable, but I have to wonder if your a.s.sessing these creatures for xenosapience isn't like a podiatrist advising a patient on whether his liver needs to be replaced."

Holloway s.h.i.+fted in his chair suddenly; he recognized the a.n.a.logy as his own. When Chad Bourne showed up with Aubrey and the others in tow, Holloway a.s.sumed as a matter of course that his conversation with Bourne had been listened in on. Having his own words used to smack Isabel around, however, was a signal to Holloway that this inquiry had been ch.o.r.eographed top to bottom; it was the very essence of a show trial. The only person who didn't know it was Isabel.

"I don't think your a.n.a.logy is as accurate as you think it is," Isabel said.

Meyer smiled. "Perhaps not," she said. "Let's move on from that, then. Dr. w.a.n.gai, please tell us how you came to learn of the fuzzys."

"Jack Holloway told me about them and gave me a video recording he'd made of one of them," Isabel said. "The video was interesting, but it wasn't secure, so I wanted to be able to see them for myself and to get them on secure video, so there would be no concern of tampering or altering of the data."

"After Mr. Holloway gave you that first recording, how long was it until you went to see the creatures?" Meyer asked.

"Five days in total, I think," Isabel said.

"You said that when Mr. Holloway gave you the first recording, you had concerns about the data being tampered with or altered," Meyer said. "Was there a reason you were concerned about that?"

"That's not an accurate representation of my statement," Isabel said.

"We could have the court reporter play back your statement if you like," Meyer said.

"That's not necessary," Isabel said, the tiniest bit of frustration creeping into her voice. Holloway wondered if anyone but he would notice it there. Sullivan might, he decided. He glanced over to the other man, but his expression was unreadable. "What I meant was that Jack's video was not recorded on a secure device," Isabel continued. "Even if it was genuine-which I did not doubt it was-it would not be something I could use as evidence in, for example, an inquiry like this."

"You called Mr. Holloway 'Jack' just now," Meyer said. "Are you familiar with him?"

"We're friends, yes," Isabel said.

"Have you ever been more than friends?" Meyer asked.

Isabel paused. "I'm not entirely sure that's relevant," she said.

"I'm not entirely sure it is, either," said Soltan.

"I a.s.sure you, Your Honor, I'm going somewhere with this," Meyer said.

Soltan pursed her lips for a second, considering. "Fine," she said. "But get where you're going quickly, Ms. Meyer."

Meyer turned back to Isabel. "Dr. w.a.n.gai," she prompted.

Isabel looked at Meyer coolly. "We were in a relations.h.i.+p," she said. Her words had become decidedly more clipped, as they did when she was exceptionally p.i.s.sed off.

"But no longer," Meyer said.

"No," Isabel said. "We broke it off some time ago."

"Any particular reason?" Meyer asked.

"We had different memories of a certain event," Isabel said.

"Would this be a reference to a previous Zarathustra Corporation inquiry, in which you claimed Mr. Holloway had taught his dog to set off explosives, among other things, and Mr. Holloway claimed that you were lying about the account?" Meyer asked.

"Yes," Isabel said.

"Who was lying during that inquiry, Dr. w.a.n.gai?" Meyer asked.

"The inquiry's ruling regarding the allegations was 'not proven,'" Isabel said.

"That's not what I'm asking," Meyer said. "I know what the ruling was. I'm asking for your opinion here, and for the record, your answer here will in no way have an effect on your current or future employment with ZaraCorp. So, Dr. w.a.n.gai, who was lying in that inquiry?"

"It wasn't me," Isabel said, looking directly at Holloway.

"So, Mr. Holloway lied," Meyer said.

Isabel looked back over at Meyer. "I believe my answer was sufficiently clear," she said.

"Yes," Meyer said. "Yes it was. And it's also true that as a result of this ruling, you received a note in your employment record, correct?"

"You said you were going somewhere with this," Soltan said, interrupting Meyer.

"I'm there," Meyer said. "Dr. w.a.n.gai is an excellent scientist who has made a major discovery with these fuzzys, as she calls them. There is no doubt either in her competence in her particular field or in the valuable service she's done for the science of biology in recording and describing these creatures.

"But it's also true she is not trained in xenosapience," Meyer continued. She pointed at Holloway. "It's true that the person from whom she learned about the creatures, Jack Holloway, is a former romantic partner with whom she had a bad breakup. It's true that she believes that Mr. Holloway has lied about her before, in a situation where there was actual professional damage to her career. And finally it's true that we know Mr. Holloway is at least alleged to be able to teach animals how to do relatively complex tricks.

"So: Mr. Holloway discovers these very clever little animals and decides to share the discovery with his former girlfriend. When she gets excited about them, Mr. Holloway decides to have a little fun and teaches them a few tricks which to the untrained observer to the untrained observer look like evidence of sapience. It takes Dr. w.a.n.gai several days to get to Mr. Holloway's home; he has time to train these creatures. She arrives and she gets gulled. Simple as that." look like evidence of sapience. It takes Dr. w.a.n.gai several days to get to Mr. Holloway's home; he has time to train these creatures. She arrives and she gets gulled. Simple as that."

Soltan frowned at this. "You're suggesting this entire thing is nothing more than Mr. Holloway's malicious attempt to damage an ex-girlfriend's professional reputation, Ms. Meyer."

"I don't think you have to ascribe actual maliciousness to Mr. Holloway," Meyer said. "Dr. w.a.n.gai calls him a friend now. It's possible that Mr. Holloway was simply trying to have a little bit of fun with someone he knew would already be excited by the discovery of a major new species."

Soltan gazed over at Holloway; this made him uncomfortable. "It doesn't strike me as a particularly amusing joke," the judge said.

"Perhaps not," Meyer said. "But it's a better theory than professional sabotage. Or at least a nicer one."

Soltan turned to Isabel. "Dr. w.a.n.gai," she said. "Is it possible that Mr. Holloway tricked you?"

"No," Isabel said.

"Why is that?" Soltan asked. "Because you're too competent to be fooled or because Mr. Holloway wouldn't do such a thing?"

"Both," Isabel said.

"It's been established that your training isn't in xenosapience," Soltan said. "It's also been established that you believe that not only has Mr. Holloway lied to you, he's lied about about you during an official inquiry." you during an official inquiry."

Isabel said nothing to this, and stared again at Holloway.

"If I may," Meyer said, after it became clear Isabel wasn't going to answer. "The note added to Dr. w.a.n.gai's file is of some relevance."

"Go on," Soltan said, to Meyer.

"Dr. w.a.n.gai," Meyer said, gently. "Do you remember what the note that was added to your employment record states?"

"Yes," Isabel said. Her voice had a note of resignation Holloway hadn't ever heard in it before.

"What does it say, Dr. w.a.n.gai?" Meyer asked.

"It says that my judgment might be impaired due to close or romantic relations.h.i.+ps," Isabel said.

Meyer nodded and looked over to Soltan. "I have no other questions for this expert," she said. Soltan nodded and told Isabel that she could step down.

Holloway found it hard to look at Isabel as she walked back to the table. Meyer's line of questioning was nothing at all about the fuzzys and everything about her: her competence, her professional ability, her personal judgment, and her relations.h.i.+ps with others. She had been made to look like a fool in all of them.

Isabel sat in her chair and looked straight ahead, pointedly not looking at Holloway. Sullivan reached over and put his hand on her shoulder, to comfort her. Isabel took it and held it, but didn't look back at him. She kept staring forward, with a look on her face. Holloway knew what the look meant. It meant that Isabel, finally, understood what all the other players knew: that this inquiry didn't really matter. The decision about the fuzzys had already been made, and these were just the motions they had to go through to get there.

Isabel knew that she had been demolished up there on the stand. Holloway knew that his role in the play was to deliver the coup de grace.

Chapter Seventeen.

When Judge Soltan called his name, Holloway got up from the defense table and installed himself at the witness stand. The judge reminded him that he would have to speak the truth. Holloway looked into the courtroom at Brad Landon, and said he would. Landon gave him an almost imperceptible nod.

Isabel followed Holloway's gaze and saw Landon. She turned back to Holloway, her expression unreadable.

"Mr. Holloway, please state your full name and occupation," Janice Meyer said to Holloway.

"I'm Jack Holloway, and I've been a contract surveyor and prospector here on Zara Twenty-three for over eight years," he said.

"How long have you known Dr. w.a.n.gai?" Meyer asked.

"I met her briefly when she arrived on Zara Twenty-three," Holloway said. "I made better acquaintance of her a year later, when she and I were guests at Chad Bourne's annual holiday party for the surveyors he represents. We started a relations.h.i.+p several months after that, which lasted for about two years, at which point we broke up for reasons already noted today."

"What is your current relations.h.i.+p with Dr. w.a.n.gai?" Meyer asked.

Holloway looked at Isabel, whose expression now was blank. "We're friends, but I have things to apologize for," he said.

Meyer nodded. "Now, you discovered these creatures that you and Dr. w.a.n.gai call 'fuzzys' recently, is that correct?"

"About a month ago now, yes," Holloway said. "One of them got into my cabin."

"And Dr. w.a.n.gai has spent how much time with them during this period?" Meyer asked.

"She spent about a week studying them at my compound," Holloway said.

"It doesn't seem like a very large amount of time," Meyer observed. "Especially to make a determination that these creatures are sapient."

"Isabel's a scientist and believes she knows what to look for," Holloway said. "I suspect she believes she observed enough to know, otherwise she wouldn't make the claim."

"Do you support her claim?" Meyer asked.

"Isabel is aware that she and I have had differing opinions on the matter," Holloway said, "and the last time we spoke about it, I repeated that I did not believe the fuzzys were sentient."

"Why do you think you two have such a difference of opinion?" Meyer asked.

"You mean, aside from the fact that I discovered a sunstone seam that will be worth billions of credits to me so long as the fuzzys are determined not to be sentient," Holloway said.

Meyer blinked at this. "I think we're all aware you're a ZaraCorp contractor," she said.

"Well, besides that, I had observed the fuzzys longer than Isabel had," Holloway said. "And while I am not a scientist and can speak only as a self-interested layman, the fuzzys initially struck me as nothing more than clever animals, like monkeys or perhaps the universe's smartest cats."

"Are they smart enough to be trained?" Meyer asked.

"I don't think there's any doubt about that," Holloway said. "I've trained my dog to do all sorts of tricks, and each of the fuzzys is smarter than my dog."

"Smart enough to learn enough tricks that could fool a biologist?" Meyer asked.

"If the biologist in this case was not an expert on xenosapience, and if her own excitement about the discovery kept her from observing certain obvious things, sure," Holloway said.

"You're suggesting Dr. w.a.n.gai was not observant," Meyer prompted.

"She was observant, but I know there were some lapses," Holloway said.

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