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Fuzzy Nation Part 3

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"Hmmm," Isabel said, considering the stone again. She closed her hand around it and faced Holloway. "So you finally hit your big score."

"Looks like," Holloway said. "The acoustic image has the sunstone seam a hundred meters wide, and the seam kept going past the image. And it's more than four meters thick in places. It could be the mother lode of sunstone finds."

"Well, congratulations, then, Jack," Isabel said. "It's what you've always wanted." She moved to return the stone, which was now glowing faintly in her hand.

"It's yours," Holloway said. "A gift. By way of an apology."

Isabel arched an eyebrow, slightly. "An apology. Really. And for what are we apologizing today?" she asked.



"You know," Jack said, uncomfortably. "All of it."

"Right," Isabel said.

"I'm admitting I screwed up," Holloway said.

"You just can't say how, how," Isabel said. "That's actually an important part of any apology, Jack."

Jack pointed at the sunstone. "Big rock," he said.

Isabel gave a small laugh at that and handed it back to him. Holloway took it reluctantly.

"It's worth a lot," Holloway said. "If nothing else, you could sell it."

"And go crazy at the company store?" Isabel said.

"Or the other part of that edifice," Holloway said.

"I think not," Isabel said. "In either part. Anyway, if I were that motivated by money, I wouldn't be a biologist. I'd do what you do."

"Ouch," Holloway said.

"Sorry," Isabel said. "It's a lovely sunstone. And I do appreciate the apology attempt. But I don't think it suits me."

"The apology or the rock?" Holloway said.

"Either," Isabel said. "I'd like a better apology, when you can manage to say it. And you know how I feel about sunstones in general."

"The jellyfish are long past caring," Holloway said.

"Maybe," Isabel said. "On the other hand, watching ZaraCorp take that hill you named after me and strip every single living thing off it because there might be some of these these in it"-she pointed at the stone that was now in Holloway's hand-"sort of killed the attraction for me." in it"-she pointed at the stone that was now in Holloway's hand-"sort of killed the attraction for me."

"They didn't do it just because of the sunstones," Holloway said. "They wanted the rockwood, too."

Isabel stared at Holloway.

"That was a joke," Holloway said.

"Really," Isabel said, with that flatness in her voice Holloway had learned to dread, and ultimately, to hide from. "You've told better ones."

"I suppose I could get you another gift to make up for it," Holloway said.

"What, another rock? Thanks, no," Isabel said. "I liked that you named a living hill for me, once upon a time. That That was a thoughtful gift. A shame what happened to it." She turned, bent to give Carl a kiss on the head, and headed off down the street. was a thoughtful gift. A shame what happened to it." She turned, bent to give Carl a kiss on the head, and headed off down the street.

"There's something else," Holloway said.

Isabel stopped and took a second before turning back to face Holloway. "Yes?" she said. Her tone indicated he'd already used up all his time with her for the day.

Holloway fished out a data card from his pocket. "I got a visitor to the cabin a few days ago," he said. "Some sort of creature. Something I hadn't seen before. I don't think anyone's seen it before. I thought you might be interested."

She was, despite herself. "What kind of animal?" she asked.

"I think you probably should just see the video for yourself," Holloway said.

"If it's another lizard, ZaraCorp won't care," Isabel said. "Not unless it's poisonous to humans or urinates pure petroleum."

"It's not a lizard," Holloway promised. "Is the company telling you what to research?"

"Of course it is," Isabel said. "More accurately, it's telling me what not not to research. Unfortunately, if I'm not cataloging lizards on this planet, I'm not doing much of anything else. I'm going to end up like Chen." Chen was the xenolinguist. to research. Unfortunately, if I'm not cataloging lizards on this planet, I'm not doing much of anything else. I'm going to end up like Chen." Chen was the xenolinguist.

Holloway moved his head, motioning to the data card. "This will keep you busy," he said. "I guarantee it."

Isabel looked at the card doubtfully but walked forward and extended her hand. "I'll take a look at it," she said, taking the card. "You'd better not be wasting my time, Jack."

"I'm not," he said. "I've learned not to do that, at least."

"Good," Isabel said. "It's nice that you got something out of the relations.h.i.+p."

"It's not currently much use to me on a day-to-day basis," Holloway said. "Seeing that you're in town all the time now."

"Well, life is like that sometimes," Isabel said. "We learn things too late, and then we don't get to use them." She looked at Holloway.

"I am am sorry," Holloway said. sorry," Holloway said.

"I know," Isabel said. "Thank you, Jack." She gave him another peck on the cheek, friendly again, but no more than that. "And now I really do have to go. You've made me late for my lunch appointment." She patted Carl again and walked off, hurrying.

Holloway watched her go for a few minutes and then reached down and clicked the leash back on Carl's collar. "I think that went well," he said to Carl. "All things considered."

Carl looked up at Holloway with what he judged was a fair amount of dubiousness.

"Oh, shut up," Holloway said. "It wasn't all all my fault." my fault."

Carl and Holloway turned their eyes back down the street just in time to watch Isabel turn the corner and disappear.

Chapter Six.

"You're late," Bourne said on the steps of ZaraCorp's administrative building. Holloway came alone; he'd taken Carl back to the skimmer, gave him a zararaptor bone, and turned on the air circulator.

"I was catching up with someone," Holloway said.

"Saw Isabel, did you," Bourne said. "You two still antagonizing each other?"

"Funny, she asked me the same question about you," Holloway said.

"I bet," Bourne said. "You know, Jack, I'm not one for reading too much into things, but even I can see that when you name a hill for your girlfriend, and then you have that hill strip-mined down to rubble, it's not a good sign for the relations.h.i.+p."

"There's a reason I don't come to you for advice about my love life," Holloway said.

"Fair enough," Bourne said. "I hear she's seeing someone new."

"I wouldn't know about that," Holloway said.

"Yeah, one of the new administrative group that transferred planetside a few months ago," Bourne said. "A lawyer. a.s.sistant general counsel. If you and I had gone to court, he'd probably have been the one that would have gutted your claim like a fish."

"Sounds like a nice guy," Holloway said.

"Well, you know," Bourne said. "The general consensus is that Isabel traded up."

"I thought we were late," Holloway said, changing the subject.

"You're late," Bourne said. "But I figured you'd be late, because that's just the sort of antagonistic p.r.i.c.k you are. So I told you to come twenty minutes earlier than I needed you here. late," Bourne said. "But I figured you'd be late, because that's just the sort of antagonistic p.r.i.c.k you are. So I told you to come twenty minutes earlier than I needed you here. We're We're right on time. Now come on." He walked up the steps. right on time. Now come on." He walked up the steps.

"This place is as lovely as ever," Holloway said, once they were inside the building. On Earth, the Zarathustra Corporation's headquarters in Dayton, Ohio, were considered to be one of the major architectural achievements of the last century. On Zara XXIII, light-years from the need for public relations and corporate gamesmans.h.i.+p, the local headquarters were a nondescript block of cheap and durable building components designed to house staff efficiently and without undue expense.

"I love what you've done with the cubicles," Holloway said. "I didn't know you could still get fluorescent lights."

Bourne ignored this and kept walking, forcing Holloway to follow. "Listen, Jack," he said, glancing back at his guest. "I know you and I have our problems, but if you can, I want you to behave yourself at this meeting."

"Why this particular meeting?" Jack said.

"That seam you found," Bourne said. "It's big."

"I know that, Chad," Holloway said. "I found it, remember?"

"No," Bourne said. They had arrived at the door of a meeting room. "You think you know. But it's bigger than even you you think it is. It's attracted a lot of attention here and back home already. It's become a think it is. It's attracted a lot of attention here and back home already. It's become a priority priority."

"What does that mean?" Holloway said.

"Promise me, Jack," Bourne said. "As the contractor who found the seam, you have a vested interest, and we're required by the E and E charter to keep you in the loop with everything. And I will. But you have to promise me that you're going to behave yourself."

"Or what?" Holloway said, genuinely curious.

"There's no 'or what,' Jack," Bourne said. "This isn't just you and me sticking each other with pins to see who screams first anymore. I'm not threatening you. I'm not making demands. I'm asking asking. Please. Behave."

Holloway was quiet for a minute. "You say this find is big," he said, to Bourne.

"Yeah," Bourne said.

"How big?" Holloway asked.

"So big that if I didn't happen to be your ZaraCorp handler, the only way I'd even get to be near near this meeting is if I was told to bring in some sandwiches," Bourne said. this meeting is if I was told to bring in some sandwiches," Bourne said.

"This is different from your daily life how?" Holloway asked.

"Jesus, Jack," Bourne said. "Are you even listening to me?"

"It was a joke," Holloway said.

"You've told better ones," Bourne said, and then noticed the sudden smile on Holloway's face. "What?"

"That's the second time I've heard that that today, too," he said. today, too," he said.

"Jack," Bourne said.

"Relax, Chad," Holloway said. "I hear you. I'll behave. I promise."

"Thank you," Bourne said.

"But after all that, this meeting better live up to the billing," Holloway said.

"Well, you tell me," Bourne said. He opened the door to the meeting room. Inside was the entire upper echelon of the local ZaraCorp management.

"Okay, that is is impressive," Holloway muttered to Bourne. Bourne didn't respond. impressive," Holloway muttered to Bourne. Bourne didn't respond.

"And here is the man who just made Zarathustra Corporation's annual report that much brighter this year," said Alan Irvine, ZaraCorp VP and Planetary Director for Zara XXIII. He smiled and got up from his chair to shake Holloway's hand, and gave him a too-hearty slap on the back. "Mr. Holloway. You are most welcome here."

"Thanks," Holloway said.

"Please, sit," Irvine motioned to an empty chair at the table. There was only one; Bourne, apparently, would spend the meeting standing, along with a series of other underlings who un.o.btrusively lined the walls. "I a.s.sume you're familiar with the rest of the crew here."

"Yes," Holloway said, and nodded generally down the table. "I've been to the ZaraCorp holiday parties."

"Of course you have," Irvine said. "I seem to recall you on the arm of that biologist of ours. Warner?"

"w.a.n.gai," Holloway said.

"That Indian?" Irvine asked.

"Kenyan," Holloway said. "By way of Oxford."

"Right," Irvine said. "Still seeing her?"

"Saw her earlier today," Holloway said.

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