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"Your Honor!" Meyer practically screamed.
"If it was just murder, maybe you'd get off with life in prison, Joe," Holloway said. "But it's not. With a xenosentient's hate crime rider, that's the death penalty. Two counts. You're going to die, Joe, because you stomped that little creature just for the fun of it just for the fun of it."
DeLise howled and launched himself over the defense table at Holloway. Holloway took the tackle and went down without resistance. Sullivan was up over the audience railing and pulling DeLise off Holloway, but not before DeLise landed heavy blows to Holloway's face and head. Holloway didn't bother to block them. Sullivan was followed by a rush of ZaraCorp lawyers, who finally managed to pull DeLise up and off his quarry.
Holloway picked himself up and wiped some of the blood off his face with his jacket sleeve. He faced Soltan, who looked frankly appalled.
"As I was saying, Your Honor, two counts of murder," he said. He wiped off his eyebrow, from which the blood was drizzling into his eye. "And a side order of a.s.sault and battery while you're at it."
"This is bulls.h.i.+t!" DeLise said from behind a pile of lawyers. "I want to make a deal, Your Honor."
"What are you talking about, Mr. DeLise?" Soltan said.
"Shut up, Joe," Meyer said, to DeLise.
"Shut up yourself, Meyer," DeLise said. "No way I'm dying for your boys back there. And if I am am dying, they're coming with me." dying, they're coming with me."
"Mr. DeLise!" Soltan said. DeLise shut up. "I repeat: What are you talking about?"
"I was at Holloway's under orders," DeLise said. "I was there to b.o.o.by-trap Holloway's place and to kill any of those things I could find."
"Whose orders?" Soltan said.
"Oh, I think you can guess, Your Honor," DeLise said. "But I'm not saying a d.a.m.n thing else until I get a deal."
Soltan stared at DeLise, and then at Meyer. "Your client wants to make a deal, Ms. Meyer."
"I must request to withdraw as Mr. DeLise's attorney at this time," Meyer said.
"I suspected as much," Soltan said. She looked around in the courtroom until she found who she was looking for. "Mr. Sullivan," she said. "You are by all accounts currently unaffiliated."
"That would be accurate, Your Honor," Sullivan said. "I quit the employ of Zarathustra Corporation roughly forty seconds ago."
"How wonderful," Soltan said. "Will you please represent Mr. DeLise, then, at least for the short term. I can offer you standard Colonial Authority public defender rates."
"Happy to oblige," Sullivan said.
Soltan turned to Papa Fuzzy, who was still in the witness stand, watching everything unfold with a sort of quiet fascination. "Papa Fuzzy," she said. "You are someone who speaks for your people."
"Yes," Papa said.
"Soon my people will need to speak to your people," she said. "It would help if you choose a man to help your people speak to my people. A man you like who is good to you and good to your people."
"I choose Jack Holloway," Papa Fuzzy said.
"Are you sure?" Soltan asked.
"I am sure," Papa said. "I do not know all the things your people know. But I am smart. I see what Jack Holloway has done here now. Jack Holloway has helped you see bad men have hurt my people and killed my child. Jack Holloway is a good man. I choose Jack Holloway."
"Mr. Holloway," Soltan said. "You understand the job you've just been nominated for."
"Defender general of the fuzzy nation, it seems like," Holloway said.
"Do you accept the job?" Soltan said.
"I do," Holloway said.
"Then congratulations," Soltan said. "Because as of this moment, you're effectively in charge of this entire planet."
"Wait a minute," said Wheaton Aubrey VII. "You can't do that. The Zarathustra Corporation has an E and E franchise with the Colonial Authority. A judge at your level can't just decide it doesn't apply. And you certainly can't hand over responsibility to a contract surveyor."
"Not that you have any standing whatsoever in this courtroom at the moment, Mr. Aubrey, but as your statement dovetails into my next announcement, I'll address it," Soltan said. "But first, everyone needs to sit down sit down."
The courtroom slowly returned to order.
"Now, then," Soltan said. "As it happens, Mr. Aubrey, once a Suspected Sapience Report is ordered, as I have done, if any any Colonial Authority judge finds compelling evidence that the native sentient life of a planet is threatened, he or she is required to report it to the planet's ranking judge. The ranking judge then becomes or appoints someone to the role of Special Master for Xenosapience, whose tasks include making sure the new possibly sentient life remains extant long enough for its sentience to be fully a.s.sessed. The Special Master not only can but Colonial Authority judge finds compelling evidence that the native sentient life of a planet is threatened, he or she is required to report it to the planet's ranking judge. The ranking judge then becomes or appoints someone to the role of Special Master for Xenosapience, whose tasks include making sure the new possibly sentient life remains extant long enough for its sentience to be fully a.s.sessed. The Special Master not only can but must must take steps to ensure the species' survival, up to and including inst.i.tuting martial law and suspending all franchises. take steps to ensure the species' survival, up to and including inst.i.tuting martial law and suspending all franchises.
"As you have so condescendingly noted, Mr. Aubrey, I am merely a common Colonial Authority court judge," Soltan said. "But, in part because of your own corporation's desire to have the absolute minimum judicial interference on your E and E franchise worlds, I am also the only only Colonial Authority court judge here. This makes me the Special Master for Xenosapience, which means I can and Colonial Authority court judge here. This makes me the Special Master for Xenosapience, which means I can and must must act to protect the fuzzys. act to protect the fuzzys.
"After today, it is my strong strong belief that the fuzzys are in clear and present danger from the humans on the planet, and from your corporation," Soltan said. "I will not wait for the legal wheels to turn to prove a sapience I have already seen in abundance. A slaughter has already begun here. Two of these creatures are already dead, Mr. Aubrey. Whether by your instigation, or by your encouragement, or through your willful blindness, is not my concern at the moment. My concern is stopping it before there are more of them dead by human hands. belief that the fuzzys are in clear and present danger from the humans on the planet, and from your corporation," Soltan said. "I will not wait for the legal wheels to turn to prove a sapience I have already seen in abundance. A slaughter has already begun here. Two of these creatures are already dead, Mr. Aubrey. Whether by your instigation, or by your encouragement, or through your willful blindness, is not my concern at the moment. My concern is stopping it before there are more of them dead by human hands.
"Therefore, Mr. Aubrey," Soltan said. "By the power vested in me as the Special Master for Xenosapience, the Zarathustra Corporation's Exploration and Exploitation Charter for the planet known as Zara Twenty-three is immediately and provisionally revoked, pending further review. All exploration and exploitation is to cease at once. All employees and contractors are ordered off the planet within thirty days. I am declaring martial law. Colonial Marshals will be on-planet within two days to relieve ZaraCorp's Security forces, who will surrender all weapons and security authority at that time.
"Furthermore, I am appointing Jack Holloway as a.s.sistant Special Master for Xenosapience, with a portfolio to include transfer of all legal authority for the planet to the creatures known as the 'fuzzys,' pending final certification of species sapience," Soltan said. "He is running the show internally and for anything directly involving the fuzzys, while I am tending to external matters involving the Colonial Authority. So if there's something you want regarding the planet, your people are talking to him him now, because he's the one talking to the fuzzys." now, because he's the one talking to the fuzzys."
"We'll be appealing this decision," Meyer said.
"Of course you will, Ms. Meyer," Soltan said. "But until then, you talk to Mr. Holloway. Are we clear?"
"Yes, Your Honor," Meyer said.
"Good," Soltan said. "And are you still planning to call witnesses to account for Mr. DeLise's whereabouts the day of Mr. Holloway's fire?"
"No, Your Honor," Meyer said.
"Then also, and independently, I find that there is enough evidence against Mr. DeLise regarding arson and destruction of property to go to trial," Soltan said. "This opinion will be published on the court's site, along with every other thing that happened today, and I'll set the date for the trial at a later time." Soltan lifted one of the folders Meyer had earlier placed on her podium. "Look on the bright side, Ms. Meyer," she said. "You'll be getting your change of venue after all."
Soltan stood. "This preliminary hearing is now finished," she said. "Thank G.o.d." She left the courtroom.
Holloway walked over to a visibly sh.e.l.l-shocked Meyer. "Ms. Meyer," he said. He repeated it again to get her attention.
"What do you want now, Holloway?" Meyer said.
"I just wanted to tell you," Holloway said. "Now you know what I wanted out of all of this."
The next afternoon, Holloway strode into the executive conference room in the ZaraCorp building, infopanel at ready, Papa Fuzzy on one side, Carl on the other. He took a seat at the center left side of the table. On the other side of the table sat DeLise, Sullivan, representing DeLise, Meyer, representing Aubrey and Landon, and Aubrey and Landon, representing Zarathustra Corporation's board. Holloway set down his infopanel, situated Papa Fuzzy in a comfortable position on the table, and had Carl lie down, which the dog did, happily.
"Well," Holloway said, briskly. "I slept like a baby last night. How about you folks?"
"Don't be any more of an a.s.shole than you have to be, Jack," Sullivan said.
"Quite right," Holloway said. "I've spoken to Papa Fuzzy, who has spoken with its own people, and I've reviewed my own situation with Mr. DeLise, and I think we have an offer here that will work for everyone. Mr. Sullivan, I will settle with Mr. DeLise for damages relating to arson and destruction of property for the nominal sum of one credit. The fuzzys likewise will seek no damages against Mr. DeLise, Mr. Aubrey, Mr. Landon, or the Zarathustra Corporation for the deaths of Pinto or Baby. Additionally I will request to the Colonial Authority on behalf of the fuzzys that they drop all charges against DeLise, Aubrey, Landon, or ZaraCorp.
"Finally, while we will not request that Judge Soltan rescind her order rescinding ZaraCorp's E and E charter, we will request she instead amend it to allow the company an orderly drawdown of people and property over six months, and while not allowing ZaraCorp to additionally mine or extract resources from the planet, the company may complete processing of materials it has already mined or extracted as part of this extended drawdown. There are going to be fiddly bits to all of this, of course, but that's the general sweep of things."
"In exchange for what?" Aubrey said.
"That's simple," Holloway said. "In exchange for you walking away. First, the three of you specifically-you, Aubrey, you, Landon, and from my point of view especially you, Joe-leave the planet and never come back. Ever. But more generally, it means that Zarathustra Corporation doesn't appeal Judge Soltan's ruling, doesn't challenge the fuzzys' claim to sentience, and doesn't work in any way, shape, or form to stay on this planet. You all just walk away. Take what you have with you and go. That's it, that's all, it's done and over. Clean slates for everybody."
"I don't think we have any problem with that deal," Sullivan said.
"Well, of course you wouldn't," Aubrey said. "You're not being asked to walk away from decades' worth of revenues."
"I should note that this is an 'all in or none in' deal," Holloway said. "If you're not all on board, none of this is on the table."
"You can't ask this company to walk away from everything it's done here," Aubrey said.
"Sure I can," Holloway said. "I just did. And more to the point, Aubrey, while there's no doubt you could drag things out for years with filings and appeals, there are two fundamental problems. The first is that at the end of the day, the fuzzys are sentient. ZaraCorp has no claim on this planet anymore. You'll just spend millions prolonging the inevitable. The second thing is that you've been very bad men, and there's lots leading back to you."
"A whole lot," DeLise said. "Including that skimmer crash of yours, Jack. They were trying to get you out of the way early."
"d.a.m.n it, I knew knew it," Holloway said, slapping the table. "So that leads back to you too, Aubrey." it," Holloway said, slapping the table. "So that leads back to you too, Aubrey."
"It does," DeLise said. "I can guarantee that." Aubrey shot the man a look.
"So if you want to fight it, Aubrey, go ahead," Holloway said. "But I I guarantee that if you do, at the end of it, you're going to be strapped down to a table, looking at a clock, and counting down the last few seconds before every neuron in your brain gets scrambled." guarantee that if you do, at the end of it, you're going to be strapped down to a table, looking at a clock, and counting down the last few seconds before every neuron in your brain gets scrambled."
"I think you overestimate your abilities," Aubrey said, and smiled.
"That's a curious thing to say," Holloway said. "Considering that in the s.p.a.ce of a month, I've managed to take a planet from you and cut out your company's heart." Aubrey stopped smiling. "You need to ask yourself what I could do if you gave me two months. Or a year."
"We'll take the deal," Landon said.
"Brad," Aubrey began.
"Shut up, Wheaton," Landon said, sharply. "You don't get a vote in this anymore. It's done."
Aubrey shut up.
Holloway looked at Landon, surprised. "So you're not actually his personal a.s.sistant," he said finally.
"G.o.d, no," Landon said. "As bad as this got, it would have been worse if he hadn't been supervised."
"I don't know about that," Holloway said. "This got pretty bad."
"But it's not going to get any worse from here," Landon said. "The rest of the Aubrey family has recognized there's been a brand value in having a Wheaton Aubrey at the head of the company. It connotes stability that's attractive to our B-cla.s.s stockholders. But the last few generations have been going the route of the Hapsburgs."
Landon pointed a finger at Aubrey. "This one's grandfather nearly destroyed the company with Greene versus Winston, Greene versus Winston, and if we didn't keep his father, our current glorious leader, in a state of constant alcoholic stupor, he'd probably try to reverse every single ecology-friendly policy the company currently has. We thought and if we didn't keep his father, our current glorious leader, in a state of constant alcoholic stupor, he'd probably try to reverse every single ecology-friendly policy the company currently has. We thought this this one might be better. He showed at least some intelligence and actual interest in the business. So we gave him his head, permitted his schemes, and took him on a tour of the properties to see how he'd do. Now we know." one might be better. He showed at least some intelligence and actual interest in the business. So we gave him his head, permitted his schemes, and took him on a tour of the properties to see how he'd do. Now we know."
"That was an expensive lesson," Holloway said.
Landon shrugged. "Expensive now, yes," he said. "But the future is long. The family has faith that in time the fuzzys will come to realize the commercial value of their planet and might wish to exploit it in a way consistent with their needs and desires," Landon said. "When that day comes we hope they will consider us a valuable, eager, and considerate potential partner."
"That depends," Holloway said. "Will this one be in charge?"
Landon laughed. Aubrey glowered.
"Then we're done here," Holloway said. "And now, Mr. DeLise, Mr. Aubrey, Mr. Landon, if you'll go out front, you'll find a skimmer waiting to take you to the beanstalk. A transport is waiting. Your personal effects will be sent along later."
All three men looked shocked. "You want us to leave now now?" Aubrey said.
"Yes, you will leave now," someone said in a small, high voice. It was Papa Fuzzy.
The three men looked at the fuzzy as if they forgot it could speak.
"You said you would leave," Papa said. "You will leave. I do not want the men who killed my child to move in the same air or see the same sun that my child did. You are not good men. You do not deserve these good things."
Papa got up, walked across the table, and stood in front of Aubrey. "I do not know all the things you know. But I am smart," it said. It pointed to DeLise. "I know this man killed my child. Now I know that you told this man to kill my child. With this man, you killed my child. Jack Holloway told me that he would get the-" Papa looked up at Holloway.
"Son of a b.i.t.c.h," Holloway said, helpfully.
"Jack Holloway told me he would get the son of a b.i.t.c.h who killed my child and the mate of my child," Papa continued. "Jack Holloway did get that son of a b.i.t.c.h. Jack Holloway got you. You are the man who killed my child. Get off my planet, you son of a b.i.t.c.h."
Holloway set the detonation panel on the ground and looked at Papa Fuzzy.
"All right," Holloway said. "Just like we practiced."
Papa Fuzzy looked at him, and then looked back at Carl, who was going out of his little doggy mind waiting for the signal. Papa Fuzzy waited, and waited, and waited, and then just when Carl let out the little whine that said, I'm going to pee myself if you don't do something, I'm going to pee myself if you don't do something, opened its mouth. Holloway didn't hear the signal to fire, but Carl sure did. He skittered forward and dropped his paw on the panel. opened its mouth. Holloway didn't hear the signal to fire, but Carl sure did. He skittered forward and dropped his paw on the panel.
A volley of fireworks went up into the sky, arced high above the watching humans and fuzzys, stationed as they were on the top of what used to be the ZaraCorp executive building, and then exploded into multicolors. Everyone cheered in their own fas.h.i.+on, except Carl, who decided there was just a little more boom boom in that explosion than he would have preferred. Holloway fed Carl the rest of his hot dog. Carl was satisfied. in that explosion than he would have preferred. Holloway fed Carl the rest of his hot dog. Carl was satisfied.
And just like that, Zara XXIII was no longer Zara XXIII. It was now, officially, the fuzzys' planet.
To be sure, the paperwork for the final handover of the planet was performed earlier in the day, when the last of the Zarathustra Corporation people and heavy machinery were lifted up the beanstalk, and the Colonial Authority officially ceded authority of the planet to Holloway, whose official t.i.tle was now Minister Plenipotentiary for the Nation of Fuzzy Peoples. Holloway signed forms, shook hands with the Colonial officials, and stood for photographs with Papa Fuzzy and the Colonials. From the point of view of the Colonial Authority, that was when the planet became independent.
But everyone knows you need fireworks to make independence official.
Fireworks done, the party resumed its cheerful chaos and mingling. Holloway reached down, picked up the detonation panel, powered it down, waved at Albert Chen, who was in an animated conversation with a pack of fuzzys, and then walked over to Isabel, who was watching him, amused.
"Here," Holloway said, handing her the panel. "I thought you might like a memento."