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Fuzzy Nation Part 5

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"Sorry," Holloway said. "Talking to Carl."

"What I'm saying is that even in the archives there's no evidence of a creature like this," Isabel said, continuing on. "We have data on a few mammal-like creatures, basically rodents, and one of the flying creatures here is mostly mammal-like. But nothing even comes close to this. How big was this creature, Jack?"

Holloway looked at the creature, which had made its way into the kitchen area. "It's about the size of a cat, I'd say," he said. "A big cat. Like a Maine c.o.o.n. If you stood the cat up on its hind legs."

"So it was primarily bipedal," Isabel said. "I mean, so far as you observed it."

The cat thing was climbing up one of the chairs at the kitchen nook table. "I'd say so."



"That's unusual too," Isabel said. "All the other mammal-like creatures here are quadrupeds. Except the flying one. Did you see it use its hands? Did it show any significant manual dexterity?"

The cat thing, by now on the seat of the chair, flung itself toward the kitchen counter, grabbed it at the edge, and deftly pulled itself up.

"Some," Holloway said.

"Do you know how unusual this creature is, Jack?" Isabel said.

"I'm getting the idea," Holloway said. The cat thing had by now reached its destination, which was the plastic bell Holloway kept his fruit under. Holloway maneuvered himself out of his sleeping alcove and walked toward his kitchen. "It sounds like you're pretty excited about it, at least."

"I am," Isabel said. "A new, large mammal like this in a faunasphere that's primarily reptilian in nature is a significant find. Really Really significant. It just doesn't happen that often." significant. It just doesn't happen that often."

"Looks like you finally hit your big score," Holloway said, intentionally echoing the words Isabel used with him the last time they'd seen each other. He'd reached the kitchen. The cat thing was looking at him, and then looking at the fruit bell, as if to say, Get that for me, would you Get that for me, would you.

"No," Isabel said. She hadn't noticed Holloway's choice of words. "No offense, Jack, but your security camera video could easily be faked."

"I didn't fake it," Jack said. He lifted the bell off the fruit.

"I know you didn't," Isabel said. "That's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is I can't use it as evidence or proof. Video is too easy to tamper with or change. This isn't a secure-grade recording. If I submitted this as evidence, I'd get laughed at."

The cat thing reached into the fruit plate and lifted out the bindi, using both hands. "So what are you saying?" Holloway asked.

"Jack, do you think the creature is still in the area?" Isabel asked. "Somewhere close by, I mean."

The cat thing walked the bindi over to Holloway and set it down in front of him.

"Probably," Holloway said.

"I want to come out," Isabel said.

"Excuse me?" Holloway said. This statement distracted him completely away from the cat thing. "For a second there it sounded like you actually said you wanted to come out here."

"Yes," Isabel said.

"You," Holloway said. "Out Holloway said. "Out here here. Near me me."

Isabel sighed. "Jack," she began.

"Wait, scratch that," Holloway said. "Not near near me. me. With With me. Because you'd have to stay with me. Unless you fancied camping with the raptors." me. Because you'd have to stay with me. Unless you fancied camping with the raptors."

"Are you enjoying yourself, Jack?" Isabel said.

"Maybe," Holloway said.

The cat thing reached over and poked Holloway in the side to get his attention. Holloway looked over. What? What? He mouthed silently to the creature. He mouthed silently to the creature.

The cat thing lifted the bindi again and set it down again, and then looked at Holloway with a look that betrayed impatience. Holloway suddenly remembered that the last time he'd given the thing some bindi, he'd sliced up the fruit. The animal was waiting for its slices.

"Pushy thing, aren't you," Holloway said. He reached into his drawer to retrieve a knife.

"I thought you might want to help me, Jack," Isabel said. "Considering you gave me the video in the first place."

Holloway realized Isabel thought that last comment was directed at her. "Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean that the way you took it." He set down the infopanel and reached for the bindi.

"Look, Jack," Isabel said. "I know we ended things badly, and I know you're still upset with me about it. And I admit I didn't help things at the end. But I thought we'd gotten over that enough that we can be friends. Actual friends, as opposed to the 'polite in public' sort of friends. Right? So I'm asking you as a friend if you'll help me out with this."

"As a friend," Jack said. He quartered the bindi and offered the cat thing a slice, then set the rest of the fruit on the counter and washed his hands in the sink. The cat thing watched and seemed fascinated by the faucet.

"If it's not too much to ask," Isabel said. "This could be a really important find. And somewhat less importantly, it could be good for me. I'd like to think that still means something to you."

While Isabel spoke, Holloway reached into his cupboard, pulled out a small bowl, and filled it with water from the sink. He presented it to the cat thing, which crouched down and drank from it, pursing its lips like a human, rather than lapping from it like a cat or dog.

"Well, they are definitely interesting creatures," he said.

"So," Isabel said.

Holloway directed his attention back to the infopanel. "Of course you can come out, Isabel," he said. "I'll be happy to see you. I don't know where I'll put put you, but I'll be happy to see you." you, but I'll be happy to see you."

"Thank you, Jack," Isabel said. "Don't worry. You won't even notice I'm there."

Holloway cracked a smile. I doubt that, I doubt that, he thought to himself. he thought to himself.

He glanced back over to the cat thing, which had finished its drink. Holloway had expected the creature to be eating its fruit, but what it was doing was taking a second slice of bindi and hefting it and the first slice under an arm. Then it sat, used its legs and feet to drag its fuzzy b.u.t.t over to the edge of the kitchen counter, and jumped off. One of the bindi slices fell out of its grip when it landed; the cat thing collected it and then set off for the door.

"When do you want me?" Isabel asked.

"What?" Holloway said. He had been distracted by the cat thing.

"When do you want me to show up?" Isabel said. "I don't want to get in the way of your schedule."

"When do you want want to show up?" Holloway asked. By now the cat thing had completed its journey to the door, and stood by it, as if waiting for someone to open it. It coughed. Holloway picked up the infopanel and started to move to the door, but then Carl got up from where he was sitting by the work desk. to show up?" Holloway asked. By now the cat thing had completed its journey to the door, and stood by it, as if waiting for someone to open it. It coughed. Holloway picked up the infopanel and started to move to the door, but then Carl got up from where he was sitting by the work desk.

"I'd like to be there this afternoon, to be honest," Isabel said. "But I have things I need to do here first."

"I thought you said you didn't have any work these days," Holloway said. Carl had walked to the dog door and stepped through. As he went through, the cat thing slipped under Carl and out the door, the dog's hindquarters following.

"I didn't didn't have any work," Isabel said. "And then someone apparently found a huge sunstone deposit, and I've been told to prepare a biological impact report, double time." have any work," Isabel said. "And then someone apparently found a huge sunstone deposit, and I've been told to prepare a biological impact report, double time."

"Sorry," Holloway said. He walked over to door.

"You should be," Isabel said. "Because the biological and ecological impact is going to be huge. The exploitation office here has filed an ecological exception request with CEPA. They want to tear out that seam as fast as they can get to it. It's going to make a huge mess of things, and they want me to sign off on it."

"Are you going to?" Holloway asked.

"I don't think I have much choice," Isabel said. "The jungle flora and fauna in the area they want to exploit aren't significant or unique. The biome scans and the robotic sampling I've done in the area don't show any unusual species. ZaraCorp can argue that it's not tearing up anything that can't be replanted or couldn't move back in from other parts of the jungle when they're done. That it will still wreak havoc with the area regardless is sort of an aside."

Holloway stepped through the door of his cabin and walked outside. Carl was sitting near the door, lazily thumping his tail. Holloway walked over to him and patted his head. The cat thing had walked over to the spikewood Holloway had seen it leave by on its last visit.

"Anyway, an eco exception request means extra work," Isabel continued. "I'm getting through it as fast as I can, but I don't see me being able to get out there for three more days at least, and more likely four."

"Four days works for me," Holloway said.

"All right," Isabel said. "I'll see you then, then. Don't make any more major biological discoveries until then, okay?"

The cat thing looked up into the spikewood and opened its mouth. It gave another little coughing sound, as it had at the door. The leaves of the spikewood moved slightly, and out of the foliage four forms emerged, small, furry, catlike. They looked down at the cat thing and then slowly descended.

"I promise nothing," Holloway said.

"You always were difficult," Isabel said.

"I thought you liked that about me," Holloway said.

"Not really," Isabel said.

"You could have told me that earlier," Holloway said.

"I'm pretty sure I did," Isabel said.

"Oh," Holloway said. "Sorry."

By this time the first of the new cat things had made its way over to the creature Holloway knew. The two animals appeared to b.u.mp foreheads gently, and then Holloway's cat thing took one of the bindi slices, broke it, and offered half of it to the new creature. It did the same to each of the creatures when they came up to it. Soon all the new creatures were munching quite contentedly on the fruit.

"I'll forgive you this time because you're being so nice to me," Isabel said.

"Thanks," Holloway said.

"I'll give you a call when I'm ready to head your way," Isabel said.

"Sounds good," Holloway said.

"I know you bought supplies when you came to town, but is there anything you need from here?" Isabel said. "Something you forgot?"

By now the creatures had finished their food and were looking at Holloway and Carl curiously. Carl was waving his tail furiously at the new arrivals. Traitor, Traitor, Holloway thought again. Carl's mind-reading powers seemed to be suppressed for the moment. Holloway thought again. Carl's mind-reading powers seemed to be suppressed for the moment.

"I could use some more bindi," Holloway said.

"All right," Isabel said. "How many do you want?"

"Oh, I don't know," Holloway said, staring at his new guests. "You might as well bring a lot."

Chapter Eight.

They were fuzzy, and it seemed like they were family, so for lack of a better description, Holloway called his five visitors "the Fuzzy Family." And over the next couple of days he got to know them very well, because the Fuzzys decided they were moving in. There were five of them in total, and Holloway gave them names based on what they did and how they reacted to one another.

His original visitor was Papa Fuzzy, because it was obvious he was the leader of the little clan, the one who did the initial foraging and exploring and who had given the rest of the family the "all clear" to come down out of the trees and meet the human and the dog.

Holloway knew that if Isabel were already there, she would gently upbraid him about his patriarchal a.s.sumptions, starting with the a.s.sumption that Papa Fuzzy was in fact male. Holloway admitted to himself that Papa Fuzzy could very well be female, or something else entirely. Not every life system or life-form tracked precisely with the s.e.xual divisions humans were used to. h.e.l.l, they didn't even on Earth; Holloway recalled Isabel lecturing him about sea horses, and how the males had a "brood pouch" which female sea horses deposited eggs into, which the male then fertilized and carried around until birth.

It was informative in its way, but fundamentally Holloway hadn't cared much about sea horses and brood pouches and whatever. He feigned interest because it had been early on in his relations.h.i.+p with Isabel, and he was hoping that after the lecture, there might be study hall. Eventually Isabel would figure out his I'm not actually listening I'm not actually listening look. That was one of their earlier problems, which never did get resolved satisfactorily. Which was, Holloway supposed, why he was now alone. look. That was one of their earlier problems, which never did get resolved satisfactorily. Which was, Holloway supposed, why he was now alone.

Well, alone with a dog and five little creatures he was now w.i.l.l.y-nilly a.s.signing gender and social roles. Holloway figured there was a way to check to see who was male and who was female, but he didn't figure that was actually his his job. A biologist would be on-site in a few days. He could wait. And if he had guessed wrong, he could change his mind. Just ask Carl about that. He'd originally been named Carla, after Holloway's aunt, until someone pointed out his new puppy's plumbing in greater detail. Carl had been Holloway's first dog. This was the excuse he gave when people pointed and laughed. job. A biologist would be on-site in a few days. He could wait. And if he had guessed wrong, he could change his mind. Just ask Carl about that. He'd originally been named Carla, after Holloway's aunt, until someone pointed out his new puppy's plumbing in greater detail. Carl had been Holloway's first dog. This was the excuse he gave when people pointed and laughed.

So: Papa (for now) Fuzzy, leader and patriarch. Holloway watched him interact with the other fuzzys and wondered again at the thing's intelligence. He was d.a.m.n smart, as far as animals went. Definitely smarter than Carl, whom he had apparently entirely coopted, given that the dog had now taken to following Papa around the treetop compound, tail wagging. It takes a certain kind of dog to willingly demote himself from alpha dog, and that dog was Carl. Holloway would have to speak to him about it, for what little good it would do, Carl being a dog and all.

Holloway rummaged through his brain to find an equivalently smart animal. If he had to guess, he'd say that Papa Fuzzy was about as smart as a capuchin monkey, a comparison Holloway was qualified to make because he had an acquaintance with one when he'd first landed on Zara XXIII. A "cap" had been the pet of Sam Hamilton, another surveyor, who worked the territory directly next to Holloway's. The rumor was the monkey might have been smarter than Hamilton, who was rumored to have children's reading primers on his infopanel so as to catch up for a lifetime of functional illiteracy.

Whether that was true or not, the monkey was clever as h.e.l.l and also a little thief; Sam was repeatedly and apologetically handing back people's keys and wallets, although the latter were often missing the printed ZaraCorp credit scrip that surveyors used to buy supplies and to gamble with. Credit cards were also occasionally found to have balances lightened. No one believed the monkey was responsible for that. Holloway had had to have a talk with Sam about it at one point.

Now Sam and the monkey were gone: Sam hadn't taken care of his skimmer very well and had made an unscheduled hard landing on the jungle floor after one of his rotors flamed out. Sam had never bothered to get himself an emergency perimeter fence; by the time a neighboring surveyor had gotten to his location, the only thing left of Sam and his monkey had been a trail of blood leading into the jungle. Sales of emergency perimeter fences doubled in the next week.

The more Holloway thought about it, the more he figured that Papa Fuzzy might actually be smarter than that monkey. For one thing, he and his family were still alive in the same jungle that ate that monkey whole. He was also smart enough to realize that hanging out with Holloway might be an easier life than avoiding the predators in the trees and down on the jungle floor.

Next in the Fuzzy Family hierarchy had been the fuzzy who had first come down out of the trees to greet Papa. This fuzzy was slightly smaller than Papa, and lighter-golden-haired where Papa Fuzzy was more of a deep tortoisesh.e.l.l coloring, but with a darker face. She (another a.s.sumption, Holloway realized) reminded Holloway of a Siamese or Himalayan breed of cat. This fuzzy was clearly Papa Fuzzy's companion; the two of them were often close together and seemed openly affectionate, petting and nuzzling each other frequently. Holloway was mildly concerned that it might go further than that and then he would be an unwilling witness to fuzzy s.e.x, or something. But the two kept it in their metaphorical pants, at least when he was around.

In any event, this fuzzy seemed friendly and trusting of Holloway and Carl, mostly, Holloway a.s.sumed, because Papa Fuzzy was friendly and trusting with them. Holloway, in a burst of no creativity whatsoever, called this one Mama Fuzzy.

Next up in the fuzzy hierarchy was the gray fuzzy who was as large as Papa Fuzzy, but was a bit more stout and perhaps a step or two slower, both in speed and, it seemed to Holloway, in the brains department. This fuzzy was affectionate toward Mama Fuzzy but in a different way from Papa Fuzzy. If Holloway had to guess, he'd say that this fuzzy was Mama Fuzzy's own father, given how they acted and responded to each other. Again, a complete supposition on Holloway's part; it might be that he used to be Mama Fuzzy's mate before Papa Fuzzy came around, and now he was accepting some sort of secondary role. The ways of fuzzy society were a blank to Holloway, truth be told. Regardless, he found himself tagging this third animal as Grandpa Fuzzy.

Part of the reason Holloway found himself referring to Grandpa Fuzzy that way revolved around what appeared to be Grandpa's primary job, which was herding the final two fuzzys and keeping them in line. These two fuzzys were smaller and acted younger-more impulsive and heedless, as exemplified by the tendency of one of them to go up to Carl and jump on his back, attempting to ride the dog like a n.o.ble steed. Carl did not appreciate this and at one point nipped the fuzzy. The fuzzy batted the dog on the nose and then ran squealing, thrilled, as Carl tried to eat him. Holloway figured this one had to be the fuzzy equivalent of a teenage boy. His fur was blotchy patches of gray and black on white. Holloway called him Pinto.

The final fuzzy, golden and color-pointed like Mama Fuzzy, was as high spirited as Pinto but less obnoxious about it. Rather than trying to ride Carl, she would pet him and groom him and try to hug him whenever possible. Carl was a good sport about this but found it only slightly less trying than being ridden; it appeared that even this most gregarious of dogs eventually needed his own s.p.a.ce. When that happened, Carl would gently shake off this last fuzzy and retreat to the cabin; his dog door was still keyed to his radio transmitter, so the fuzzys couldn't get through without his permission. He'd slip through the door and hide for an hour or two.

This littlest fuzzy did not seem offended or upset by the abandonment. She would simply turn her attentions to Holloway and whatever it was he was doing at the moment. She was not as affectionate to Holloway as she was to Carl but would stand close to him and pick up the objects he was working on or with. Holloway made a note to himself never to try to do a jigsaw puzzle with this particular creature around. For all that, he found her pleasant company and, frankly, adorable. He started to call her Baby Fuzzy.

Papa, Mama, Grandpa, Pinto, and Baby-they made a cozy little family unit. Holloway couldn't decide whether he had adopted them or whether it was the other way around. Actually he suspected that the family had adopted Carl, Carl, and that he was just sort of a bonus: the best darn butler a little fuzzy ever had. Holloway found this idea unaccountably amusing, which was perhaps one of the reasons he had accepted the invasion of his home and life by the little creatures in the first place. and that he was just sort of a bonus: the best darn butler a little fuzzy ever had. Holloway found this idea unaccountably amusing, which was perhaps one of the reasons he had accepted the invasion of his home and life by the little creatures in the first place.

Which was not to say there were not adjustments.

Holloway experienced the first of these the morning after the Fuzzys had climbed down out of the trees. Holloway had woken up with a monumental backache; after a few seconds he realized it was because he was twisted like a pretzel in his cot.

The cause for this was four of the five fuzzys unequally distributed across his blanket, including one Grandpa, much to his consternation, hogging his pillow and snoring lightly in his face. While he was asleep, Carl had let the Fuzzys into the house and they had climbed into bed with him, and Holloway s.h.i.+fted in his sleep to give them room, resulting in his current contortionist position.

Holloway raised his head off the pillow and saw Carl lying on the floor next to the cot. Baby Fuzzy had nuzzled into his side and was sighing contentedly in her sleep. Carl didn't look terribly comfortable, either. He noticed Holloway looking at him and gave him a look with his eyebrows that said, Sorry, man. I didn't know Sorry, man. I didn't know.

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