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Fuzzy Nation Part 4

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"Wonderful," Irvine said. He turned and motioned to one person in particular. "Here's someone you don't don't know, though. Mr. Holloway, this is Wheaton Aubrey the Seventh. He's doing a tour of the ZaraCorp divisions and properties and happened to be here when you called in this claim. You may recognize the name." know, though. Mr. Holloway, this is Wheaton Aubrey the Seventh. He's doing a tour of the ZaraCorp divisions and properties and happened to be here when you called in this claim. You may recognize the name."

"Sure. One very much like it is on all my checks," Holloway said. He could sense Bourne stiffening up behind him. This was very close to not behaving. Fortunately a small ripple of laughter went around the table at the comment.

"So it is," Irvine said. "And likely not too far in the future, it'll be his his signature there." signature there."

"Hopefully later rather than sooner," Aubrey said in a tone that to Holloway did not suggest that the former was in fact all that much more preferable than the latter. Aubrey turned in his seat to face Holloway. "I see from your file you went to Duke."

"Law school, yes," Holloway said.



"I was there for undergrad," Aubrey said. "Cla.s.s of '18."

"We missed by three years," Holloway said.

"It's not every Duke JD that ends up in the wilds of a Cla.s.s Three planet," Aubrey said.

"It's a long story," Holloway said.

"I would think so, considering it apparently involves disbarment," Aubrey said. "That's never a quick thing to explain, is it?"

Holloway looked at Aubrey, with his pleasant, sun-tousled features, notwithstanding the famously beakish Aubrey nose, which Holloway guessed had never once been punched in for its owner being a smug d.i.c.k. "No, it's not," he said. "But inasmuch as this particular long story ends up with me getting rich and you and your family getting even richer, I don't suppose either of us can complain about it too much." He smiled at Aubrey.

After a moment, Aubrey smiled back. "Indeed not," he said. He turned toward Irvine, who had watched the exchange between Aubrey and Holloway with some consternation. "And it's one story that we can skip to the end of, since I believe we were about to discuss just how much much richer we are all going to be." richer we are all going to be."

"Right," Irvine said, and tapped the infopanel on the table in front of him. The wall directly behind him woke up and displayed a presentation slide. "Johan, I think you're going to walk us through what we're seeing."

"Yes," said Johan Gruber, Director of Exploitation for Zara XXIII. He turned to the wall. "After Mr. Holloway established the claim and forwarded the data from the initial survey, it became clear that the sunstone seam was likely larger than we had originally estimated. We sent an additional survey team to the area-"

"Excuse me?" Holloway said. All surveys of a contracted surveyor's land had to be performed or supervised by the surveyor. To do otherwise was to risk loss of a claim or subsequent profits from finds stemming from the original claim. "I wasn't made aware of that."

"Exigent circ.u.mstances," said Janice Meyer, ZaraCorp's General Counsel on Zara XXIII. "If you look in your contract, you'll see that ZaraCorp may, in certain pressing circ.u.mstances, operate in a contractor's territory to expedite the collection of information or materials."

"What's the pressing circ.u.mstance?" Holloway said.

"I am," said Aubrey. "This is a significant find, and I wanted to be able to report on it to the chairman and the rest of the board. I was scheduled to leave Zara Twenty-three tomorrow, so I authorized the exigent circ.u.mstances clause."

"You needn't worry, Mr. Holloway," Meyer said. "In the event of the exigent circ.u.mstances clause being triggered, all additional finds are automatically appended to the original find and the surveyor additionally compensated."

"How so?" Holloway said.

Meyer looked over to Irvine, who nodded. "We feel an additional tenth of a percent is appropriate," he said.

"That sounds fine," Holloway said.

"Congratulations on your point-three-five percent," said Aubrey, with the sort of casual condescension that comes from knowing that one's own share of the pie is immeasurably greater. He motioned at Gruber to continue.

Holloway debated saying anything but then realized that if he didn't, he'd be forced to take a cut. "Half a percent, actually," he said.

"I beg your pardon?" Aubrey said, annoyed to be interrupted.

Holloway glanced over to Bourne, who looked appalled to be noticed. "Tell him," he said.

"Uh," Bourne said, and then caught himself. "Mr. Holloway recently renegotiated his contract for point-four percent of the gross," he said. "So this bonus does take him to half a percent."

"I see," Aubrey said. "And was there a reason for this sudden renegotiation of a standard ZaraCorp contract?"

"Exigent circ.u.mstances," Holloway said.

Aubrey did not appear to find the joke amusing. "Fine," he said. "But your bonus doesn't apply until after after we factor in the cleanup cost of your cliff collapse. CEPA is already processing the fine for that. You share in the profits, you share in the cost." we factor in the cleanup cost of your cliff collapse. CEPA is already processing the fine for that. You share in the profits, you share in the cost."

What a penny-ante little p.r.i.c.k, Holloway thought, and glanced again to Bourne. Bourne glared back at him with a Holloway thought, and glanced again to Bourne. Bourne glared back at him with a stop picking on me stop picking on me expression on his face. Holloway ignored the look. "Chad?" he said. expression on his face. Holloway ignored the look. "Chad?" he said.

"What?" Aubrey snapped, s.h.i.+fting his attention to Bourne. "Does his contract get him out of that, that, too?" too?"

Bourne tried to get the "trapped animal" look out of his eyes. He sighed. "Yes, it does," he said.

"Who are you?" Aubrey asked.

"Chad Bourne," Bourne said. "Contractor representative."

"You must be a very popular rep, Mr. Bourne," Aubrey said, "considering how lavishly you treat your contractors. Are there any other other special favors we need to know about in Mr. Holloway's contract? Additional hidden points on the backend? Free nights at the brothel? Are you required to hand-wash his skimmer whenever he comes into town?" special favors we need to know about in Mr. Holloway's contract? Additional hidden points on the backend? Free nights at the brothel? Are you required to hand-wash his skimmer whenever he comes into town?"

"No," Bourne said. "That's all there is."

"You'd better hope so," Aubrey said. "Who is your director here?"

"I am," said Vincent D'Abo, Director of Staffing, raising his hand.

"After this meeting, you and I are going to have a talk," Aubrey said.

"Yes, sir," D'Abo said, and shot a poisonous look at both Bourne and Holloway.

"Now that we've wasted several minutes on contracts, let's get back to the actual point point of this meeting, if that's not too much trouble," Aubrey said. Gruber, caught by surprise, cleared his throat and started over. of this meeting, if that's not too much trouble," Aubrey said. Gruber, caught by surprise, cleared his throat and started over.

Holloway glanced back at Bourne, who looked pale. Sorry, Sorry, Holloway said, mouthing the word silently. Bourne was resolute in ignoring him. Holloway said, mouthing the word silently. Bourne was resolute in ignoring him.

Holloway turned his attention back to the slides on the wall, and to the drone of Gruber's voice, describing the methodology of the additional surveys as well as the difficulty of doing the additional surveys on the jungle floor, that is, in places where the surveyors, if unwary, might be consumed by large predators. "In short, our survey teams are still sounding the extent of the seam," Gruber said. "But the data we do have are compelling. The next slide should make this clear."

The image flicked over to the next slide, which showed topographical maps from the side and from above. The seam was featured in green on both images.

"Holy c.r.a.p, c.r.a.p," Holloway said. The ma.s.sive seam he'd found in the cliff was in fact just a tendril; it curled out of the cliff and branched like an alluvial flow into what looked like a wide river of rock that extended for kilometers north of the cliff, petering out only a klick south of Mount Isabel. Holloway looked at the width and breadth of the seam and tried to figure out how much it might be worth. His brain wasn't keeping up with the numbers.

Apparently he wasn't the only one. "What's this going to be worth to us?" asked Aubrey.

"It depends on how dense the seam is with sunstones," Gruber said. "The portion Mr. Holloway here excavated seems unusually dense, but for our models, I think it would be wise to employ standard sunstone density, based on the data from previous excavations."

"Fine," Aubrey said curtly. "Give me a number."

"Somewhere between eight hundred billion and one-point-two trillion credits," Gruber said.

It took a moment for the magnitude of the number to sink in. Someone at the table let out a low whistle. Holloway was pretty sure it wasn't him.

"A trillion-credit seam," Aubrey said, finally.

"Yes," Gruber said. "That is, provided we can extract the entire seam."

Aubrey snorted. "Christ, man," he said. "This thing is worth more than this company's last sixty years of revenue. Do you really think we're not not going to extract the whole thing?" going to extract the whole thing?"

"No, sir," Gruber said. "But there are practical and environmental issues-"

"Which we will solve one way or another," Aubrey said, interrupting Gruber.

"Yes, sir," Gruber said, pressing on. "Even so, it will present challenges, particularly in accessing the main seam in the lowland jungle areas. Challenges that will at present take us right to the line of CEPA regulations regarding mining and deforestation."

"CEPA regulations aren't written in stone," Aubrey said.

"No, sir," Gruber agreed. "But per your father's orders, they still have to be followed."

"Yes, of course," Aubrey said, with the same tone of voice he'd earlier used to opine about the desirability of his father's continued health. Holloway looked around the table to see if anyone evidenced any concern about this. The faces of the ZaraCorp executives were very carefully blank. Holloway smirked in spite of himself.

Aubrey looked around the table. "Gentlemen, I want to be clear about this," he said. "This seam of sunstones could be of enormous benefit to the Zarathustra Corporation. I don't need to remind you that our company's preeminence in the Exploration and Exploitation segment of the economy has been under attack, both from increased regulatory interference by the Colonial Authority, and by other E and Es, primarily BlueSky, whose revenues exceeded ours last year for the first time in history. This sunstone seam, fully exploited, could put ZaraCorp in an una.s.sailable profit position for decades. Decades Decades. So we will will exploit it fully. exploit it fully.

"Therefore, gentlemen: The excavation of this seam is now the top priority of your planetary organization," Aubrey said. "You need to go through your organization and find what resources you can commit on an immediate basis, and which resources you can s.h.i.+ft to it thereafter. I have decided to stay on planet to personally supervise the start-up of this effort. If we're not exploiting this seam in a month-and I mean exploiting it in a serious, focused way-then you all are going to be looking for new jobs. Which I will make it my personal business to ensure you never find. Are we clear?"

No one said anything. Wheaton Aubrey VII held no official executive t.i.tle at Zarathustra Corporation, but then neither had Wheaton Aubrey VI before he became Chairman and CEO, nor his father before him. No one was under any illusion Aubrey VII was not next in line to the throne. No one was under any illusion Aubrey VII couldn't bury them and their careers under six miles of s.h.i.+t.

"Good," Aubrey said. "Then let's get to it." He grinned and thumped the table. "d.a.m.n! This is good news." He looked down the table again at Holloway. "Now I really am am glad you were disbarred, Holloway." glad you were disbarred, Holloway."

"Thanks," Holloway said, dryly.

Chapter Seven.

Holloway woke up to his nose being poked.

He swatted his hand in front of his face without opening his eyes. "Quit it, Carl," he said. He immediately dropped back into sleep.

Poke.

Holloway grunted and turned in his cot, away from his offending and offensive poking dog.

Poke.

This time the poke was on the back of his head. Holloway grunted and attempted a swat but ended up mostly just waving his arm around.

Poke.

This poke to the head occurred roughly at the same time a thought penetrated the fuzzy cotton batting in Holloway's brain: Since when does Carl, face-licker extraordinaire, poke? Since when does Carl, face-licker extraordinaire, poke? It took another moment or two for the implications of that thought to settle in. It took another moment or two for the implications of that thought to settle in.

At which point, Holloway hollered and levitated himself as far off his cot as possible, coming down badly into the s.p.a.ce between the cot and the cabin wall. The half of his body still on the cot leveraged the thing down, toppling it and swinging the cot forward into his face. Only his flying pillow kept him from a gash on his forehead.

The cat thing, standing to the side of where the cot used to be, watched all of this with interest. When the carnage was done, it looked over at Holloway and blinked.

"Jesus!" Holloway said, to the creature. "How did you you get in?" get in?"

How did did it get in? Holloway glanced up at the window above where his cot should be; it was firmly closed, as were all the other windows in the cabin. The door was likewise closed. There was no way that fuzzy little b.a.s.t.a.r.d could get in, unless... it get in? Holloway glanced up at the window above where his cot should be; it was firmly closed, as were all the other windows in the cabin. The door was likewise closed. There was no way that fuzzy little b.a.s.t.a.r.d could get in, unless...

"Carl!" Holloway called, and looked out into the cabin from the sleeping alcove.

Carl peeked his head around the work desk, his best oh c.r.a.p I better not make eye contact oh c.r.a.p I better not make eye contact look on display. look on display.

"You let this thing in, didn't you?" Holloway said. "You went to your dog door and let him walk right through. Admit it."

Carl offered an apologetic tail thump and hid.

"Unbelievable," Holloway said. He glanced down at the cat thing again, which appeared serenely unconcerned about the entire domestic drama unfolding around it. Holloway said. He glanced down at the cat thing again, which appeared serenely unconcerned about the entire domestic drama unfolding around it.

There was a ping ping. Holloway looked around the chaos of his sleeping alcove and found his infopanel on the floor next to his small nightstand. He'd been reading survey reports on it before he went to sleep. Now someone was calling him on it. Holloway picked up the infopanel and slapped it to life, audio only.

"What?" he said.

"Jack?" Isabel said. "Sorry. Did I wake you?"

"I was up," Holloway said, looking at the cat thing.

"Jack, that video you gave me," Isabel said. "Is it real?"

"What?" Holloway said.

"I mean, this is video you took, right? It's not something you found on the network somewhere," Isabel said.

"It's mine," Holloway said. "You should recognize the cabin, Isabel."

"I know, sorry," Isabel said. "It's just... well. Jack. Whatever this thing is on the video, no one's seen it before."

"You don't say," Holloway said. By this time the cat thing, bored with watching him, had started walking around the cabin like it owned the place.

"There's nothing like it in the archives, even," Isabel said. "Which is admittedly not saying much; it's not as if ZaraCorp ever does anything more than the absolute minimum required by an E and E charter, and they're focused on sapience detection anyway."

"Uh-huh," Holloway said. The cat thing had wandered over to Carl and put a hand on Carl's muzzle, stroking it. Carl thumped his tail and then glanced over guiltily to Holloway.

"That's right, you traitor, traitor," Holloway said.

"What?" Isabel said.

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