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Fuzzy Nation Part 25

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"I feel with my hands," Papa said.

"You might want to try more direct questions," Holloway said.

"All right," Soltan said. "Papa, how do you speak our language?"

"With my mouth," Papa said, and gave Soltan a look, as if wondering how she didn't know either this, or how to feel.

"No," Soltan said. "Who taught taught you to speak our language? Did Jack Holloway teach you to speak?" you to speak our language? Did Jack Holloway teach you to speak?"



"I knew your language before I met Jack Holloway," the fuzzy said. "No man taught me to speak your language. Andy Alpaca taught us to speak your language. Andy Alpaca taught us from inside the flat talking rock."

"That makes no sense," Meyer said. "That makes no sense at all."

"What is a flat talking rock?" Soltan said.

Papa turned and pointed to Holloway's infopanel. "This is a flat talking rock," it said. "You use other words for it."

"That's an infopanel," Soltan said.

"Yes," Papa said. "The man and the monkey fell out of the sky and the man was killed by the" pause, as Papa used a fuzzy word. "We went into the skimmer to see what we could see and found the flat talking rock. It taught us your language."

Soltan looked at Holloway. "Translate," she said.

"There was a surveyor named Sam Hamilton," Holloway said. "He had a pet monkey. His skimmer went down. He was killed by zararaptors. The fuzzys checked out the skimmer wreckage and found his infopanel. Sam was nearly illiterate, so he was using kids' reading software to learn how to read. The software was adaptive, so it took into consideration the user's comprehension level and scaled from there."

"You're seriously suggesting these things learned to read and speak a human language from an advanced piece of technology," Meyer said.

"Yes, just like human toddlers," Holloway said. "Amazing, that."

"Unlike these things, toddlers are surrounded by other humans talking to them all the time," Meyer said.

"And unlike toddlers, the fuzzys who found this were adults, and smart enough to figure out what the infopanel was displaying to them," Holloway said. "You're still working under the impression these things are animals. They're not. They're as smart as you or I."

"Why didn't you mention any of this before?" Soltan asked. "You were in here last week arguing these fuzzys had language. If you had one come in and speak English, it would have made your case a lot better."

Holloway nodded toward the fuzzy. "That's a question for Papa," he said.

Soltan looked at the fuzzy. "You knew our language before you met Jack Holloway," she said.

"Yes," said Papa.

"You did not speak to Jack Holloway in our language when you met him," Soltan said.

"No," said Papa.

"Why?" asked Soltan.

"I did not want Jack Holloway to know," Papa said. "We did not know if Jack Holloway was a good man or a bad man. You have many bad men. Bad men take our homes and food from us and make us move away from other" pause. "We did not know if there are any good men. All the men we saw were bad. When we moved, we found where Jack Holloway lived. I wanted to see and went to see it. Jack Holloway and Carl came and I was scared. But Jack Holloway was good and gave me food. I went back to my people and said I had found a good man."

There was a snort from Janice Meyer at this.

"I wanted to go back but my people were scared," Papa said. "I told them about Carl and how Carl was like the monkey who follows us. An animal who was not smart but who men liked. I said I would go and be quiet, to learn more about Jack Holloway and men. I would not speak your language. I would not let Jack Holloway know I could speak your language. I would see how Jack Holloway was with me quiet before I would see how Jack Holloway was with me smart. If Jack Holloway was a good man, then we could show who we are and that we are smart. If Jack Holloway was a bad man, we would hide and move, as we did before."

Holloway listened to Papa explain to Soltan and was amazed again by the creature. Papa's words were simple-even at its highest setting the particular software Sam had on his infopanel was not meant for complex adult concepts or reading levels, and Papa's language would be hampered by that-but the fuzzy spoke them confidently and fluently. It didn't know much of the English language, but the little part it knew, it knew pretty well. Well enough for this.

Papa turned to Holloway. "My throat hurts," the fuzzy said.

"Of course it does," Holloway said. "You've been orating in a very low voice."

Soltan looked at Holloway. "He's saying he was a spy," Soltan said. "Acting like a pet."

"Yes," Holloway said. "Although not entirely like a pet. It was clear Papa was smart, it just wasn't clear he was smart on the level of a sentient creature. Also, he's not really a he, he's an it."

Soltan frowned. "You call him 'Papa,'" she said.

"Biology mistake," Holloway said. "Patriarchal a.s.sumptions. What are you going to do."

"Well, whatever," Soltan said, and turned her attention back to Papa. "Do all of your people speak our language?" she asked.

"No," Papa said. "I do. Some others do. Not many. It is hard to learn. Only I did from those who came to be with Jack Holloway."

"Why did you want to learn our language?" Soltan asked.

"We want to know why you do what you do," Papa said. "When we found the flat talking rock we knew that it could help us learn to talk with men. We learn and we look for a man to talk to. We did not find good men. We found bad men."

"Who are the bad men?" Soltan said. "You said we had many of them."

"Yes," Papa said. "They have machines and tear the ground and trees and make the air stink. The trees are where we live and where our food is. When they come we do not stay. They do not see us because we see how they kill animals who come close. We go and we hide."

Soltan glanced up at Holloway at this. "I presume you haven't told your friend here what you do for a living, Mr. Holloway."

Holloway looked embarra.s.sed at this. "It hasn't come up, no," he said.

"There are levels of irony to that," Soltan said.

"Granted," Holloway said. "But given who they are and how they live, it's easy to see why they see the surveyors and workers they come across as bad men. It also explains how they came to find me. Sam Hamilton's old territory was next to mine. Not too long ago, the new surveyor there found copper along the border of our territories, and ZaraCorp came in and tore up a good chunk of it. Papa's tribe of fuzzys must have gotten displaced. They've been moving through the trees ever since, looking for a new home. And if you want to hear something both funny and sad, ask Papa why it thought living with me might be a good idea."

Soltan looked at Papa. "Why did you want to live with Jack Holloway?" she asked.

"I do not think men will tear the ground and trees where they live," Papa said.

"Think about that, Your Honor," Holloway said. "Aside from the irony inherent in the statement, that's a fair feat of cognitive modeling. This fuzzy took what it knew about humans and guessed at what our behavior would be toward each other, and how it could work that to its own advantage and to the advantage of its own people."

"If that's true, then the thing's been using you all this time, Mr. Holloway," Soltan said.

"Another argument for their sentience, Your Honor," Holloway said.

"It doesn't bother you," Soltan said.

"Not really, Your Honor," Holloway said.

"Mr. Holloway, that doesn't surprise me in the least," Soltan said.

"Yes, Your Honor," Holloway said. "And now may I remind you that as enlightening as this has been for all of us, I brought Papa here for a specific reason, which is to testify for this preliminary hearing. If Your Honor is sufficiently convinced that Papa is neither a trick nor a parrot, I would like to put it on the stand."

"Your Honor, I have to strenuously object," Meyer said. "This creature has not yet been proven sentient. Any testimony it gives would be inadmissible in any court in the Colonial Authority or on Earth. If you allow the testimony, you're giving in to the sideshow you said you were hoping to avoid."

Soltan blinked at Meyer. "Ms. Meyer, have you been in the same courtroom I have been in for the last several minutes?" she asked. "I've just had a longer and more cogent discussion with this creature than I suspect you have ever had with your client. The question to me no longer is whether these creatures are sentient or not. That particular question was answered to my satisfaction several minutes ago. The only question now is whether or not this creature in particular is a credible witness. So I'm going to hear its testimony, Ms. Meyer, and make my decision after I hear what it has to say."

"Then I'd like to request a thirty-minute recess to prepare," Meyer said.

"Another recess," Soltan said. "Why not." She headed for her chambers.

Meyer was up like a shot and out the door of the courtroom. DeLise watched her go, openmouthed. He caught Holloway looking at him and glared.

"Looks like you're not your lawyer's main concern anymore, Joe," Holloway said. "I'd be worried if I were you."

DeLise crossed his arms, stared forward, and ignored Holloway.

Chapter Twenty-five.

Zara Twenty-three's entire flotilla of ZaraCorp lawyers, along with Brad Landon and Wheaton Aubrey VII, was waiting for Judge Soltan when she emerged from her chambers.

"Well, I can't say this is a total surprise," Soltan said, as she took her seat.

Meyer approached the bench without asking and placed a folder in front of Soltan. "A request for the suspension of this preliminary hearing," she said. She dropped a second folder on the desk. "Request for change of venue for the preliminary hearing." A third folder. "Request for suspension and review of your previous determination for more study concerning the so-called 'fuzzys.'" A fourth folder. "A request to have you removed for legal malfeasance."

Soltan looked at the folders and then up at Meyer. "Someone's had a productive half hour," she said.

"Your Honor, it's become abundantly clear that your legal standards are dangerously and prejudicially lax," Meyer began.

"You're too late, Ms. Meyer," Soltan said, interrupting her.

"Excuse me, Your Honor?" Meyer said.

"I said, you're too late," Soltan said. "Because I am not actually stupid, Counselor, while you were off drafting this raft of legal chaff, I was in my chamber amending my determination for more study of the fuzzys. It's been amended to require ZaraCorp to file a Suspected Sapience Report, and not just in two weeks, Ms. Meyer, but immediately. You can pick one of your people here to write it up while we're listening to testimony, and file it with one of my clerks by the close of business today. So this"-Soltan lifted up the third folder-"is now outdated and irrelevant.

"As for the rest of these," Soltan said, motioning to the rest of the folders, "your request for the suspension of the preliminary hearing is denied, your request for change of venue is denied, and as for your request to have me removed, by all means file it with my clerk, who will send it along with every other request at end of the business day. Which means until then we continue on as planned."

"I'm afraid I can't do that," Meyer said.

"I beg your pardon, Ms. Meyer," Soltan said.

"I cannot in good conscience as a lawyer continue with these proceedings," Meyer said. "I feel it's impossible for my client to get a fair hearing from you."

"And which client would that be, Ms. Meyer?" Soltan asked. "Mr. DeLise over here, or ZaraCorp?"

"Either," Meyer said. "Both. I refuse to continue with this preliminary hearing, and I will not direct my staff to file the SSR. I believe you are not competent to continue with the first, or to require the second."

"I admire your willingness to throw a wrench into the wheels of jurisprudence on behalf of your employer, Ms. Meyer, but I've given you my decisions," Soltan said.

"You have given them," Meyer said. "I suppose now you'll have to enforce them."

"A pretty sentiment, Ms. Meyer," Soltan said. "Unfortunately for you, this isn't the United States Supreme Court or the 1830s, and you are definitely not Andrew Jackson. And as for enforcing my orders, I ask you to note the security cameras on the wall above my head."

"What about them?" Meyer said.

"Those security cameras don't just feed into the security office here on planet," Soltan said. "They also have a secure, encrypted wireless feed that goes directly to the Colonial Authority communication satellite and then into the databanks of the nearest Colonial Authority Circuit Court, in this case the Seventh CACC. The feed is mostly there to watch the judges, because judges on Explore and Exploitchartered planets are historically p.r.o.ne to corruption and bribery. It's a nice reminder to us to stay poor, impartial, and on our toes.

"However, they also have another purpose," Soltan continued. "If and when a judge feels that an E and E corporation is trying to bigfoot its way around the courtroom, or if, say, a local general counsel gets it into her head to illegally override the orders of the court, or something even worse occurs, the judge can press a b.u.t.ton, and the feed is ported, live, to the chambers of one of the sitting circuit court judges. It's just our little way of making sure that corporate executives on backwater worlds remember they are not actually above the law. I pressed that little b.u.t.ton just before I came back into this courtroom.

"So, Ms. Meyer, you have a choice. You can continue with this preliminary hearing on behalf of your client Mr. DeLise, or I can have the Circuit Court order down some Colonial Marshals to haul you away for contempt of court and obstructing a judicial proceeding. You'll very likely be disbarred, serve jail time, and as you are an officer of the Zarathustra Corporation, a very heavy fine will be levied against the company.

"Likewise, if an SSR filing is not handed over to my clerk by the end of the business day, the Seventh Circuit will order the impounding of Zarathustra Corporation a.s.sets equivalent to the last ten years of gross revenues from this planet. As you are making this little power play of yours in front of the future Chairman and CEO of the company, who could stop you if he chose, there's little doubt you are carrying out a company order, so ZaraCorp will be on the hook for all sorts of penalties, up to and including jail time for you, for Mr. Aubrey over there, and for every single ZaraCorp lawyer in this chamber with the exception of Mr. Sullivan, who, as his good fortune would have it, no longer works for your department.

"So, Ms. Meyer. Smile for the camera, and tell me what it will be."

"She is excellent, excellent," Holloway whispered to Papa Fuzzy. Papa Fuzzy watched everything with curiosity. It might not understand the details, but Holloway suspected it got the emotional gist of what was going on.

"I'll comply for now," Meyer said, tightly, after a moment. "Your clerk will still be getting my request for your removal."

"At this point I'd be disappointed otherwise," Soltan said. "In the meantime, Ms. Meyer, back off my podium and get back to work."

Meyer backed off, glancing at the cameras while she did so.

"Now that today's insurrection has been quashed," Soltan said, briskly, "I believe we have a witness to hear from. Mr. Holloway?"

"Your name, please," Soltan asked Papa Fuzzy.

"You know my name," Papa said. He was at the witness stand, standing rather than sitting.

"Please say it again," Soltan said.

"I am" pause "who Jack Holloway and other men call Papa," Papa said.

"Your witness," Soltan said, to Holloway.

"Papa, you know the day Baby and Pinto were killed," Holloway said.

"Yes," Papa said.

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