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Fuzzy Nation Part 17

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"Farce?" Holloway said, mock shocked. "This is a sober application of judicial wisdom."

Sullivan cracked a smile at this. "I don't mind admitting to you that this is going differently than I expected," he said.

"I don't think you're the only one thinking that at the moment," Holloway said.

Dr. Chen was ushered into the courtroom by one of Soltan's clerks. The xenolinguist looked confused, and depending on one's observational inclinations, either freshly awoken from a nap or slightly drunk.

"Dr. Arnold Chen?" Judge Soltan asked.



"Yes?" Chen said.

"We are calling you to give testimony on a video that concerns a subject you are knowledgeable about," Soltan said.

"This is about the other night, isn't it?" Chen said. "I admit I drank too much, but I didn't have anything to do with the rest of what went on."

"Dr. Chen, what are you talking about?" Judge Soltan said, after a minute.

"Oh, nothing," Chen said, hastily.

Soltan peered at Chen. "Have you been drinking today, Dr. Chen?"

"No," Chen said. He looked embarra.s.sed. "I was, um."

Soltan looked over at her clerk. "He was asleep at his desk when I found him," said the clerk.

"Late night, Dr. Chen?" Soltan said.

"A bit, yes," Chen admitted.

"But you are able to think think right now?" Soltan asked. "Your brain processes are not currently compromised by alcohol or any other drug, recreational or pharmaceutical?" right now?" Soltan asked. "Your brain processes are not currently compromised by alcohol or any other drug, recreational or pharmaceutical?"

"No, ma'am," Chen said. "Your Honor. Um."

"Have a seat at the witness stand, Dr. Chen," Soltan said. Chen took a seat. Soltan glanced over at Holloway. "You're up, Mr. Holloway," she said.

Holloway stood and borrowed Isabel's infopanel once more, and opened a pipe between it and the monitor. "Dr. Chen, I'm going to show you a video," Holloway said. "Don't worry, the events of the other night aren't on it."

Chen looked at Holloway blankly.

"Just watch the video and give us your impressions of it as it goes along," Holloway said. He queued up the video of Papa, Mama, and Grandpa Fuzzy eating the bindi.

"What are those?" Chen asked, looking at the still image. "Are those monkeys? Cats?"

"You'll see," Holloway said, and started the video.

Chen watched for a minute, thoroughly confused. Then it was like a 50,000-watt light went on in his head.

Chen looked up at Holloway. "Can I?" he asked, motioning to the infopanel. Holloway glanced at Soltan, who nodded. He handed the infopanel to Chen. The xenolinguist grabbed it and reversed the video and played the first parts again. He turned up the volume to hear better. He moved the video back and forth for several minutes.

Finally he looked up at Holloway. "You know what they're doing," Chen said.

"You tell me, Dr. Chen," Holloway said.

"They're talking!" Chen said. "My G.o.d. They're really talking." He looked back at the monitor. "What are these things? Where did you find them?"

"Are you sure they're talking?" Meyer asked from her table.

"Well, no, I'm not one hundred percent one hundred percent sure," Chen said. "I'm just going from what you're showing me here. I'd need to see much more to be certain. But, look-" He paused the video and backed it up slightly, and ran it again. "Listen to what they're doing here. It's phonologically varied but it's not random." sure," Chen said. "I'm just going from what you're showing me here. I'd need to see much more to be certain. But, look-" He paused the video and backed it up slightly, and ran it again. "Listen to what they're doing here. It's phonologically varied but it's not random."

"What does that mean?" Holloway asked.

"Well, look," Chen said. Whatever sleepiness he'd had in him was well and truly shaken off now. "Take birdsongs. They repeat with very little variation. Phonologically they're very consistent. They're not what we typically consider language. Language uses a limited number of phonological forms-phonemes-but then it uses them in an almost infinite number of combinations, according to the morphology of the language. So, varied but not random."

Chen pointed to the conversing fuzzys. "What these little guys are doing is like that. If you listen, you can hear certain forms used over and again. Here-" Chen moved the video to another portion, where Papa Fuzzy was speaking. "-that tche- tche- sound. It comes up a lot, but it's joined to other sounds as well. Just like we use particular phonemes over and again, particularly ones that represent vowel forms in our language." sound. It comes up a lot, but it's joined to other sounds as well. Just like we use particular phonemes over and again, particularly ones that represent vowel forms in our language."

"So this is a vowel?" Holloway asked.

"Maybe," Chen said. "Or maybe a prefix, since just listening here it always seems to precede other sounds. I couldn't tell you what it means or represents."

"So it could just be noises they make," Meyer said. "Like a cat's meow. Or a birdsong."

"Well, neither cats nor birds vocalize just to vocalize," Chen said, sounding slightly snotty. Holloway grinned. After years of having not a G.o.dd.a.m.n thing to do, Dr. Chen's brain was back with a vengeance. "And no, I don't think so. Your cat has a different sound for 'I'm hungry' and 'I want out of the house' but its vocabulary is not what you would call complex nor does the sound in itself convey complex meaning. Same with birdsongs. What these creatures are doing-the variation but apparently within a system-suggests that the sounds are words in themselves." Chen looked up. "Is there more video?"

"Lots more," Holloway said.

Chen looked like a kid getting a puppy for Christmas. "Excellent," he said.

"Dr. Chen," Soltan said. "Is this language? Is this speech?"

"Are you asking for a determination?" Chen said. "Because I don't have enough data."

"Guess, then," Soltan said.

"If I had to guess, then, yes, sure," Chen said. "And not just because of phonology and apparently morphology. Look at how the creatures react and respond to each other in this video. They're clearly listening attentively and responding, not with rote or instinctual sounds, but with new patterns of sound. If it's not language-if it's not speech-then it's something very close to it."

"Does it warrant further study, in your opinion?" Soltan asked.

Chen looked up at the judge like she was stupid. "Are you kidding?" he asked.

"You're in my courtroom, Dr. Chen," Soltan growled.

"I apologize," Chen said. "It's just that this is tremendously exciting. This is the sort of thing that you pray for as a xenolinguist. What are these things? Where are they from?"

"They're from here," Holloway said.

"Really?" Chen said. Then it hit him. "Oh," he said, looking around the room. "Oh. Wow."

"Yes," Holloway said. "Oh, wow."

Soltan looked over to Meyer. "Any other questions for Dr. Chen?"

Meyer shook her head. She could see where this was going. Soltan excused Chen; Holloway just about had to tear the infopanel from his grip.

"Based on the information provided today, I've decided there is not sufficient cause to order the Zarathustra Corporation to file a Suspected Sapience Report," Soltan said, after Holloway and Chen had sat down. "However, these creatures are from all evidence clearly something more than just animals. Whether they rise to the level of true sapient beings is a determination that no one here, with all due respect to Drs. w.a.n.gai and Chen, is able to state definitively. If there was ever a case in need of additional study, this would be it.

"I will be filing a request with the Colonial Environmental Protection Agency, under whose auspices sentience determination is administered, to dispatch the appropriate experts here for additional study and to make a decision regarding the sentience of the 'fuzzys.' Until that time, the Zarathustra Corporation will continue its normal operations, with the understanding that it will now conform to CEPA guidelines regarding exploitation of disputed worlds. I'll be posting the inquiry ruling later today. Any objections, Ms. Meyer?"

"None, Your Honor," Meyer said.

"Then this inquiry is adjourned," Soltan said. She rose and disappeared into her chambers.

Chapter Nineteen.

Holloway was walking Carl, finding a good place for the dog to take care of his business, when Wheaton Aubrey VII appeared in front of him as if by magic.

Holloway peered around Aubrey. "Where's your shadow?" he asked. "I wasn't aware you were allowed to go anywhere but the bathroom without your body man."

Aubrey ignored this. "I want to know why you pulled that stunt in the courtroom," he said.

"I'm wondering what part of it const.i.tutes the stunt for you," Holloway said. "The 'telling the truth' part, or the 'not telling you I was going to tell the truth' part."

"Cut the s.h.i.+t, Holloway," Aubrey said. "We had a deal."

"No, we didn't," Holloway said. "You said we had a deal. I don't recall agreeing that we did. You a.s.sumed we did and I didn't bother to correct your misapprehension." said we had a deal. I don't recall agreeing that we did. You a.s.sumed we did and I didn't bother to correct your misapprehension."

"Jesus," Aubrey said. "You can't be serious."

"Jesus I am," Holloway said. "And if you want to take it to court, you'll find there's quite a lot of case law that supports my point of view. Oral contracts are shaky enough as it is, but oral contracts in which one of the parties does not audibly and explicitly give consent to the agreement are not worth the sound waves they are spoken through. Not that you'll be wanting to take this to court, of course. Encouraging perjury is not looked upon very kindly by any court I can think of. And while I don't know if encouraging someone to perjure themselves at one of these quasi-legal inquiries const.i.tutes a prison worthy offense, at the very least I would guess that it's a slam-dunk that the supposed deal wouldn't have legal standing in the first place."

"Let's a.s.sume for a moment that you and I both know that none of anything you just driveled on about matters one bit," Aubrey said. "And let's also pretend that both of us know what's actually true here, which is that the last time you and I spoke, you had every intention of doing exactly what we had planned. All right?"

"If you say so," Holloway said.

"Well, then," Aubrey said. "I repeat: I want to know why you pulled that stunt in the courtroom."

"Because they're people, people, Aubrey," Holloway said. Aubrey," Holloway said.

"Oh, bulls.h.i.+t, Holloway," Aubrey spat. "We both know you don't give a d.a.m.n about whether they're people people or not, especially when you're looking at billions of credits. You're not built that way." or not, especially when you're looking at billions of credits. You're not built that way."

"You haven't the slightest idea how I'm built," Holloway said.

"Apparently not," Aubrey agreed, "because I a.s.sumed that despite all evidence to the contrary, you were capable of logical thought, and of working for your own advantage when necessary. Doing this doesn't help you at all. The only thing it does is let you make nice with that biologist. I hope the pity s.e.x you get out of that is worth the billions you just p.i.s.sed away, Holloway."

Holloway counted to five before replying. "Aubrey, you talk like someone who's never gotten the s.h.i.+t beat out of him for being an a.s.shole," he said.

Aubrey opened his arms, wide. "Take your shot, Holloway," he said. "I'd really like to see you try."

"I already took my shot at you, Aubrey," Holloway said. "You might recall. It's why we're having this little conversation right now."

Aubrey put his arms back down. "This wasn't about me," he said.

"No," Holloway agreed. "That was just one of the side benefits."

"You know those fuzzy creatures of yours are never going to be found sentient," Aubrey said.

"I'm well aware you're going to throw a lot of resources into making the case against them," Holloway said. "Which is not the same thing."

"We're going to make that case," Aubrey said.

"Then you're out the relatively minimal cost of the legal proceedings and your paid experts and what have you," Holloway said. "For ZaraCorp, that's next to nothing. You, Aubrey, probably make more in interest off your share of the company each day. So what. But if you don't don't make the case, then the fuzzys have the right to their own planet, in which case all of this is immaterial, and you should consider what you have stripped off the planet a gift, rather than your right. You really can't complain." make the case, then the fuzzys have the right to their own planet, in which case all of this is immaterial, and you should consider what you have stripped off the planet a gift, rather than your right. You really can't complain."

"I still don't understand why you did it," Aubrey said.

"I already told you why," Holloway said.

"I don't believe you," Aubrey said.

"As if I care care about that," Holloway said. "Look, Aubrey. It could take the experts years to make a determination. If you have your way with your own lawyers and experts, that will certainly be true. In which case you still have years to exploit the planet. More than enough time to prepare your company and your stockholders." about that," Holloway said. "Look, Aubrey. It could take the experts years to make a determination. If you have your way with your own lawyers and experts, that will certainly be true. In which case you still have years to exploit the planet. More than enough time to prepare your company and your stockholders."

"Or they might make a determination within months," Aubrey said. "In which case the company is screwed."

Holloway nodded. "Then I suggest you prioritize your efforts," he said. "You've said yourself that sunstone seam I found is worth decades of revenues for ZaraCorp. If I were you, I'd be putting just about everything I could into it."

"It's already our top priority," Aubrey said.

"Now it'll be your top priority with a special sense of urgency, won't it," Holloway said.

Aubrey suddenly grinned, grimly. "Now I understand why you did it, Holloway," he said. "Having us exploit the sunstone seam in our usual way wouldn't get you rich enough fast enough. You wanted as much as you could get as quickly as you could get it. So you show Judge Soltan just enough of your little talking monkeys to force her to rule for more study-but not enough so that she requires us to file an SSR. Zarathustra Corporation is put into the position of having to focus on the single most profitable project on the planet, which you just I understand why you did it, Holloway," he said. "Having us exploit the sunstone seam in our usual way wouldn't get you rich enough fast enough. You wanted as much as you could get as quickly as you could get it. So you show Judge Soltan just enough of your little talking monkeys to force her to rule for more study-but not enough so that she requires us to file an SSR. Zarathustra Corporation is put into the position of having to focus on the single most profitable project on the planet, which you just happen happen to have discovered." to have discovered."

Holloway said nothing to this.

"This proves you don't actually give a s.h.i.+t about those little fuzzys of yours," Aubrey said. "You'll still get your percentage of the sunstone seam whether the experts decide the fuzzys are sentient or not. You've played your biologist friend, and you played ZaraCorp at the same time. Very nicely done. I can almost admire it. Almost."

"It's not as if ZaraCorp won't see the benefit of it," Holloway said. "If you exploit that seam quickly, you're creating an endowment for your company. You hold the monopoly on sunstones. You can store those sunstones and dribble them out over decades, whenever you need an extra boost to the bottom line. That I get my bit up front is neither here nor there."

"We have a monopoly only if the fuzzys are found not to be sentient," Aubrey said.

"You have a monopoly either way," Holloway said. "As I mentioned to someone else recently, the fuzzys only recently discovered sandwiches. Sentient or not, there's no way they're going to be ready to handle the world of interplanetary business. It's unlikely the Colonial Authority will allow them to for decades. It was only a decade ago the CA decided the Negad were competent enough to enter into resource deals on their own planet. The fuzzys are far behind where the Negad were when they were declared sentient. ZaraCorp's monopoly isn't going anywhere anytime soon."

"It will still cost us hundreds of millions of credits to refocus all our planetary resources on that seam," Aubrey said.

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