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Fuzzy Nation Part 22

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Holloway stopped the playback when the camera failed.

"Ms. Meyer," Soltan said, after a minute. "Any reb.u.t.tal?"

Meyer blinked and then coughed to hide the fact she was trying to get her focus back. "The video shows that a man accidentally set fire to Mr. Holloway's cabin, but it doesn't show that it was Mr. DeLise," she said.

"The man set fire to the cabin after trying to break into it, which means it was an action a.s.sociated with a crime," Holloway said. "By Colonial law, that's third-degree arson."

"The man in question could have been there for another reason," Meyer said.



"In a ski mask, ski mask," Holloway said. "In a jungle. On a sweltering day. Besides that, look. The first thing this guy does on encountering someone else-human or not-is to stomp and shoot them to death. If the fuzzys were people, that would be murder. He's not there for a social call, Your Honor. And now you can see why I think my murder was one of the goals of the visit."

"Attempted murder's not coming back in on the basis of this video," Soltan said. "But I agree that there's reasonable claim for an arson charge, as well as destruction of property."

"Nothing on the video proves that the man in it is my client, however," Meyer said. "And in point of fact, there's something in it that points against it. Mr. Holloway?" Meyer held out her hand, requesting the infopanel. Holloway gave it. Meyer ran the video back to the beginning, to the skimmer landing. "There," she said. "The skimmer."

"What about it?" Soltan said.

Meyer pointed. "Look at the serial numbers on the side," she said. "That's a Zarathustra corporate number. This isn't a security skimmer, which is the sort my client usually has access to. It's a model given to ZaraCorp's contractor representatives so they can visit their contractors out in the field."

"So run the number through the ZaraCorp database, and tell me whose skimmer it is," Soltan said.

"We don't have to," Meyer said. "We already know. He's outside the courtroom right now, waiting to be a reb.u.t.tal witness."

"You understand you are under oath," Soltan said.

"I do," said Chad Bourne.

"Your name and occupation, please," Soltan said.

"Chad Bourne, Contractor Representative for Zarathustra Corporation," he said.

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

"Mr. Bourne, are you Mr. Holloway's contractor representative?" Meyer asked.

"Yes, I am," Bourne said.

"And you have been so for how long?" Meyer asked.

"I've been his rep for as long as I've been here on Zara Twenty-three," Bourne said. "That'd be about seven years now."

"What's your general opinion of Mr. Holloway?" Meyer asked.

"Am I allowed to use profanity?" Bourne asked.

"No," Soltan said.

"Then it's best to say that our relations.h.i.+p has been a tense one," Bourne said.

"Any particular reason?" Meyer asked.

"How much time do you have?" Bourne said.

"Just hit the highlights," Meyer said.

"He's lax with CEPA and ZaraCorp regulations, he's argumentative, he tries to lawyer everything, he ignores me when I tell him he can't do things, and he's just all-around a jerk," Bourne said, looking at Holloway.

"Any positive qualities?" Meyer asked, slightly bemused.

"I like his dog," Bourne said.

"Have you ever said that you hate Mr. Holloway?" Meyer asked.

"On a regular basis," Bourne said.

"Mr. Bourne, are you aware that your skimmer may have been used in the furtherance of a crime?" Meyer asked.

"I guessed that when my skimmer was impounded the other day," Bourne said.

"Yes," Meyer said. "We found fire suppressant residue on the skimmer. The same brand that Mr. Holloway used to keep his compound from burning down."

"Okay," Bourne said.

"We've also now seen a video where your skimmer's number is visible," Meyer said.

"All right," Bourne said.

"Mr. Bourne, can you account for your whereabouts the day Mr. Holloway's cabin burned down?" Meyer asked.

"I was at home sick most of the day," Bourne said.

"So you didn't see any one, and no one saw you," Meyer said.

"No," Bourne said.

Meyer turned to Soltan and prepared to introduce an alternate theory of the crime.

"Oh, wait, that's not quite right," Bourne said. "I did see someone."

Meyer swallowed her intended speech. "How is that again?" she said.

"I did see someone," Bourne said.

"Who?" Meyer asked.

"Him," Bourne said, pointing at Holloway. "I needed to tell him I had made a small error regarding that sunstone find of his. Turns out ZaraCorp doesn't own it. He does."

"What?" Meyer said.

"What?" Soltan said.

"Yep," Bourne said. "Just before he discovered it, I terminated his contract. For cause, I might add. But when he told me about his find, I guess in all the excitement, I forgot to reactivate his contract, which would have ceded the find back to ZaraCorp. While I was at home, I was reviewing contracts and I noticed his was missing. So I did a little digging. Turns out that by both b.u.t.ters versus Wayland b.u.t.ters versus Wayland and and Buchheit versus Zarathustra Corporation, Buchheit versus Zarathustra Corporation, he's the actual owner of the seam. I thought maybe ZaraCorp could try to take it from him, but then we'd be running up against he's the actual owner of the seam. I thought maybe ZaraCorp could try to take it from him, but then we'd be running up against Greene versus Winston, Greene versus Winston, and given what happened the last time ZaraCorp went up against that, I didn't want to risk it. So I felt obliged to inform him. I knew he was in Aubreytown that day, so I went and told him about it. I figured he might want to know he's worth one-point-two trillion credits. I would. Who wouldn't?" and given what happened the last time ZaraCorp went up against that, I didn't want to risk it. So I felt obliged to inform him. I knew he was in Aubreytown that day, so I went and told him about it. I figured he might want to know he's worth one-point-two trillion credits. I would. Who wouldn't?"

There was dead silence in the courtroom.

"Oh, come on!" Meyer said, eventually. "You can't seriously believe Holloway owns that seam."

"He does," Bourne said. "Oversight on my part. Sorry."

"Sorry?" Meyer said. "The only witness to your whereabouts is the plaintiff, who you just happen to be giving a trillion credits of ZaraCorp's money to? Meyer said. "The only witness to your whereabouts is the plaintiff, who you just happen to be giving a trillion credits of ZaraCorp's money to? Sorry Sorry is the word I would use for that, indeed." is the word I would use for that, indeed."

"Am I allowed to make objections here?" Holloway asked, raising his hand.

"What is it, Mr. Holloway," Soltan said.

"Is it just me, or did the defense go from implying it was the witness who set fire to my cabin to suggesting he and I are teaming up to rob ZaraCorp, all in a single sentence?" Holloway asked.

Soltan looked over to Meyer. "He has a point, Ms. Meyer," Soltan said.

"Your Honor, regardless of the content of the statement, it's highly suspect," Meyer said. "Mr. Holloway is accusing my client of arson, and he's the only person here who can give Mr. Bourne an alibi."

"Well, Mark Sullivan was there, too," Holloway said.

"Excuse me?" Meyer said.

"I was at Sullivan's when Chad tracked me down about this," Holloway said. "He should be a credible witness. He was Ms. Meyer's underling, after all."

"Fine," Soltan said. "I'll have a clerk go get him."

"That's not possible," Meyer said.

"Why not?" Soltan said.

"He got promoted over her," Holloway said. "He's the new ZaraCorp General Counsel on Zara Eleven. He's leaving today."

"Leaving, or left?" Soltan said, looking back and forth between Meyer and Holloway.

"Left," Meyer said.

"Leaving," Holloway said. "His transport ticket is for three hours from now. He's probably loitering at the beanstalk pa.s.senger waiting area."

Soltan looked at Meyer narrowly. "For future reference, Ms. Meyer, if someone is in fact still on-planet, they have not left it."

"Yes, Your Honor," Meyer said.

"I'll have one of my clerks stop Mr. Sullivan's ticket and rebook him on the next transport," Soltan said. "I'm having the other retrieve him and bring him here. That should take a half hour or so. We're in recess until then." She stood and looked at Bourne. "You're excused, but don't go anywhere." she said. Bourne got up.

"May I approach the bench, Your Honor?" Meyer asked.

Soltan blinked. "What part of 'we are in recess' are you having a problem with, Ms. Meyer?" she asked.

"Please, Your Honor," Meyer said. Soltan sat, grumpily, and motioned Meyer and Holloway forward.

"We need to talk about the disposition of the sunstone seam," Meyer said.

"No, we don't," Soltan said. "Aside from establis.h.i.+ng an alibi for Mr. Bourne, it's not relevant to this case."

"It's relevant for every single other thing on the planet," Meyer said. "Mr. Bourne testified in open court that ZaraCorp has no claim on that seam. That puts us on dangerous ground. We need to get a preliminary ruling."

"After this hearing," Soltan said.

"The longer they wait, the worse their legal ground is going to get," Holloway said. "Speaking as an interested party, I'm up for a preliminary ruling as well. The sooner the better."

Soltan narrowed her eyes again. "Fine," she said. "Both of you, in my chambers. Ten minutes. Make whatever case you want, but make it quick, because the minute Mr. Sullivan steps into this courtroom, this this preliminary hearing is back on." preliminary hearing is back on."

Soltan's chambers, cramped when it was just her in them, were positively claustrophobic with six people. Soltan, Meyer, and Holloway were there, along with Chad Bourne, Brad Landon, and Wheaton Aubrey VII, whom Meyer had frantically summoned.

"This is cozy," Holloway said, jammed up against a wall.

Soltan, sitting behind her desk, gave him a look, then turned to Meyer. "Go," she said. "Fast."

"Mr. Bourne doesn't have the authority to grant Holloway control of that seam," Meyer said. "He's a contractor rep, he's not the board of directors."

"A point that's completely irrelevant," Holloway said. "Bourne never said he had the authority. He pointed out that he voided my contract. The second he did that, b.u.t.ters b.u.t.ters applied. It's my seam." applied. It's my seam."

"If your contract is void, then you've been on-planet illegally since then," Meyer said, to Holloway.

"I'm aware you're loyal to your company and all, Ms. Meyer," Holloway said. "But in point of fact ZaraCorp regulations are not the same as Colonial law. It's against regulations for noncontracted surveyors to be on Zara Twenty-three, yes. But it's not against the law. And in any case, it's up to ZaraCorp to enforce its own regulations. I can't be blamed if the company never bothered to escort me to the door."

"We'll be fixing that," Aubrey said. Landon winced at this almost imperceptibly.

The reason why became evident immediately when Soltan straightened her spine. "Do that in front of me again, Mr. Aubrey, and you're going to be spending time in your own company's holding cell," she said.

"It's fine, Your Honor," Holloway said. "Although I should note that I'm not going to allow any exploitation of my seam unless I'm around to supervise it. Good help is hard to find."

"Quiet, Mr. Holloway," Soltan said. She turned to Bourne. "Mr. Bourne, are you certain you voided Mr. Holloway's contract prior to his discovery of the seam?"

"Yes, Your Honor," Bourne said. He handed her his infopanel. "Here's the order for the termination of the contract. You'll note several moments later both Mr. Holloway and I signed off on a rider to the original contract, having negotiated some new terms for his find. However, since the contract the rider was meant to be attached to was never reactivated, the rider itself is null and void."

Soltan looked at the infopanel for a few minutes, then looked up at Meyer. "No one thought to double-check this?" she said.

"All contracts are standard and handled through the reps," she said, tightly. "Legal looks at them only if they're flagged by the rep."

Soltan looked back at Bourne. "And you didn't flag the contract," she said.

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