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Fuzzy Nation Part 6

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"Idiot," Holloway said, and then dropped his head back down on the pillow.

Later Holloway was trying to work out the kinks in his muscles with a hot shower in the cabin's tiny lavatory when Baby Fuzzy pulled aside the curtain and got her first glimpse of naked, soap-covered man.

"Do you mind, mind," Holloway said, mildly. He was not an exhibitionist, but being watched by a fuzzy while he showered didn't trigger any modesty concerns. It was like your cat watching you while you got dressed.

Baby turned her head and squeaked. Five seconds later, four other heads peeked into the shower, watching the funny hairless thing doing its incomprehensible water ritual. Now Now Holloway felt vaguely uncomfortable. Holloway felt vaguely uncomfortable.

"Are you taking notes?" Holloway said, to his audience. "You could all use one of these, you know. You don't smell as adorable as you look. Especially you, you," he said, motioning to Grandpa. "I woke up smelling your furry a.s.s. You need an intervention, intervention, my friend." my friend."



Carl poked his head into the shower, as if to see what he was missing. Holloway turned the nozzle on the lot of them and smirked as they scattered.

Breakfast was likewise an experience. The Fuzzys, sitting on the kitchen table, appeared to be bored with their bindi and were far more interested in the ma.s.sive sandwich Holloway was making for himself.

"Don't even think think it," Holloway said to them, as he spread the mayo and mustard on his bread slices. He held up a slice to show them. "You see this? In a week it'll be gone. Then I get no more bread until I go back into town a month from now. Therefore: My bread. Not yours." it," Holloway said to them, as he spread the mayo and mustard on his bread slices. He held up a slice to show them. "You see this? In a week it'll be gone. Then I get no more bread until I go back into town a month from now. Therefore: My bread. Not yours."

They all stared at the bread, entranced, including Carl.

"Besides, this is an all-Earth sandwich," Holloway continued, not caring that they couldn't understand him any more than Carl could when he spoke to him. "Wheat bread. Mayonnaise. Mustard. Smoked turkey." He placed said turkey on the bread, and then reached for the cheese. "Swiss cheese. It would probably kill you or rupture your intestines or something else absolutely horrible. Trust me, I'm doing you a favor eating it myself. That's the sort of selfless person I am." He closed the sandwich on itself and turned to put the ingredients back into the storage cooler.

When he turned back, Pinto was standing in front of him, eyes imploring.

"Nice try," Holloway said. "But you're not the cute one." He picked up the sandwich.

Baby got up, walked over next to Pinto, and employed that same look.

"Oh, come on, on," Holloway said. "That's completely completely not fair." not fair."

Baby walked over to Holloway and lightly touched his arm, eyes wide and pleading.

"Stop that," Holloway said. "Your evil mystic cuteness has no effect on me."

Baby wrapped her tiny fuzzy arms around Holloway's arm and sighed, piteously and hungrily.

Two minutes later the sandwich had been sliced into six equal pieces, and each of the Fuzzys was enjoying its first smoked turkey and Swiss on wheat, chittering in delight with each bite. Holloway glumly looked down at his drastically reduced sandwich segment.

"Well, this sucks," he said after a minute.

Sensing weakness, Carl walked up to his master, eyes full of hope.

"Jesus," Holloway said. "Fine. Here." He handed over the miniature meal, which went down Carl's gullet in a single gulp. "I hope you choke on it. You're all fur-bearing pains in my a.s.s, you know that."

Carl looked up, wagged his tail, and licked his lips happily.

Three days later a small, familiar skimmer landed next to Holloway's larger one, and an equally familiar person stepped out of it, bearing a netted bag full of fruit.

"h.e.l.lo," Isabel said, to Holloway.

"h.e.l.lo," Holloway said. "Is that a huge bag of bindi, or are you just happy to see me?"

"Quite obviously, it's a huge bag of bindi," Isabel said, unslinging the bag. "You said to bring a lot."

"I did at that," Holloway said, taking the bag.

"I also brought a week's worth of personal supplies and a tent," Isabel said. "To make good on the promise that you won't know I'm here."

"You are allowed to sleep in the cabin, you know," Holloway said. "The rainy season is about to start around here."

"Modern tents are often waterproof," Isabel said.

"I've heard," Holloway said. "The offer stands if you change your mind."

Isabel looked at him levelly. "You know I'm seeing someone," she said.

"I heard," Holloway said. "A lawyer or some such."

"Yes," Isabel said. "Just so we're clear about that."

"I said you could sleep in the cabin, not that you could sleep in the cot," Holloway said. "Anyway, we can set Carl up as a watchdog. You'd be perfectly safe."

Isabel looked around. "Where is is Carl?" she asked. Carl?" she asked.

"He's in the cabin," Holloway said.

"Are you keeping him in there so he doesn't scare away those creatures?" Isabel asked.

Holloway smiled. "Not exactly," he said. "Come on."

He walked her over to the cabin window. "Look inside," he said. "But move slowly and as quietly as possible."

Isabel looked at him quizzically and peered through the window to see the Fuzzy Family on the floor, looking at an infopanel propped up by the books on the bottom shelf of the bookcase. Carl was lying next to Baby, dozing.

She drew back quickly, putting her hand to her mouth to m.u.f.fle a gasp. Then she turned to Holloway. "Oh my G.o.d," she said. "There's an entire family of them."

"Yeah," Holloway said.

"Well, it might might be a family," Isabel said. "It could be some other sort of social structure.... What are you smirking about?" be a family," Isabel said. "It could be some other sort of social structure.... What are you smirking about?"

"Nothing," Holloway said.

Isabel carefully peered into the cabin again and frowned. "What are they doing?" she asked.

"I put on a movie to keep them occupied," Holloway said.

"Do I want to know which one?" Isabel asked.

"An old science fiction movie called Return of the Jedi, Return of the Jedi," Holloway said, and shrugged. "It's got some little furry creatures in it. Ewoks. I figured, what the heck."

"Uh-huh," Isabel said.

A small flurry of noises came from the cabin. The Fuzzys were hopping about excitedly.

"What's that about?" Isabel asked.

"They like the scene where the Ewoks drop rocks on the bad guys," Holloway said.

"You're not at all concerned about teaching them bad habits, are you?" Isabel asked.

"They're animals, Isabel," Holloway said. "Really smart animals, but animals. I don't think they're going to make the leap from watching movement on an infopanel to dropping rocks on me from above."

"It's probably not a great idea for you to be domesticating them like this, either," Isabel said. "You're not going to be here forever, Jack. When you go, it's not like you're going to be taking them with you."

"You say that as if you think I had a choice," Holloway said. "I'd like for them to be a little less less domesticated, actually. Then I might get a good night's sleep." domesticated, actually. Then I might get a good night's sleep."

"They're sleeping on the cot?" Isabel asked.

"Now you know why I'm not inviting you to it," Holloway said. "It's crowded enough. Last night I actually got up and slept in the skimmer. Anyway, they might be domesticating themselves, but at least this way you won't have to wait to make their acquaintance."

"How do you suggest we do that, incidentally?" Isabel said. "Have me meet them, I mean. I don't want to frighten them or scare them off."

"I wouldn't worry about that," Holloway said. "They're awfully friendly."

"That's not necessarily a good thing either," Isabel said. "Animals that have no fear of humans have a very sad tendency to go extinct. Ask the dodo about that."

"I understand that," Holloway said. "But it's not like I made them that way."

"But what you're doing isn't helping them either, Jack," Isabel said. "That's all I'm saying."

"Tell them that," Holloway said, and pointed to the window. Baby was there, looking out.

"G.o.d, that's cute," Isabel said.

Baby turned her head and opened her mouth. A few seconds later the entire Fuzzy Family was peeking out the cabin window.

"It's like they were evolutionarily designed for adorability, isn't it?" Holloway said.

"It really is," Isabel said.

The dog door opened and Carl walked halfway through. Isabel called to him, but he stayed put.

"Is he stuck?" Isabel asked, puzzled.

"Wait for it," Holloway said.

The Fuzzy Family piled through the door. When the last of them were out, Carl walked the rest of the way through and started toward Isabel, tail wagging furiously.

Isabel turned and looked at Holloway curiously. He shrugged. "I didn't teach him that," he said. Then Carl and the Fuzzy Family reached Isabel, and she was distracted by cute.

Holloway smiled and took the opportunity to head to the cabin for a beer. As he went in, he noticed the infopanel was still showing the movie. The Fuzzys might be smart, but apparently they hadn't figured out how to turn the thing off. Holloway picked up the panel, paused the movie, and then cleared it off the screen, returning the infopanel to the default screen. It noted a voice message from Chad Bourne. Holloway opened it.

"Hi, Jack," the message said. "Before I say anything else, I want to say this was not my idea. We have our problems, but I think you know I wouldn't try to hold up what's yours. All right?"

What the h.e.l.l? Holloway thought. Holloway thought.

"That said, I've been ordered to suspend payments to your contractor account," the message continued. "The order came from Wheaton Aubrey the Seventh himself. I told him that suspending your payments was a violation of our contract with you, but he said before you received any initial payment on the sunstone seam, he wanted to talk to you. He said he's got a business proposition for you. He says he needs to discuss it with you personally."

Chapter Nine.

Wheaton Aubrey VII was unavailable to meet Holloway immediately. He was on the planet's southwestern continent, touring some of the mining projects there, or so Holloway was told. He was also told that, while legally he had the right and obligation to do further surveying of the sunstone seam, he was to hold off on that as well until Aubrey could schedule him in. A nominal sum would be credited to his contractor account to compensate him for these further "exigent circ.u.mstances."

Of course, as Aubrey had ordered payments held pending further discussion, Holloway couldn't access the sum. He swore and remarked to Isabel that it was a good thing she'd brought the bindi, or else he'd starve. Isabel, occupied with the Fuzzys, barely looked up for the comment.

Two days later Holloway aimed his skimmer toward Carl's Cliff and his sunstone discovery. Aubrey would be there, surveying the initial site buildout. Holloway saw evidence of the activity long before he came close to it: a streamy cloud of particles marking a smeared line in the sky, evidence of industrial-grade machinery. A few minutes later, he was circling the site, looking for a place to land.

Holy G.o.d, they got busy fast, Holloway thought. At the foot of the cliff was a small but growing site, its perimeter marked by a high modular predator fence. On the inside of the fence, machines clear-cut the area, shaving the ground down to the dirt to serve as a foundation for permanent structures. Outside the area, robots were drilling holes to expand the fence line, their operators on the safe side of the barrier. When the holes were drilled, another set of robots would place the additional modular fencing and link it to the existing fence, pus.h.i.+ng out the perimeter in steps until there was enough room for whatever structures ZaraCorp needed. Holloway looked around at the nature on display around him; it wouldn't be there for much longer. Holloway thought. At the foot of the cliff was a small but growing site, its perimeter marked by a high modular predator fence. On the inside of the fence, machines clear-cut the area, shaving the ground down to the dirt to serve as a foundation for permanent structures. Outside the area, robots were drilling holes to expand the fence line, their operators on the safe side of the barrier. When the holes were drilled, another set of robots would place the additional modular fencing and link it to the existing fence, pus.h.i.+ng out the perimeter in steps until there was enough room for whatever structures ZaraCorp needed. Holloway looked around at the nature on display around him; it wouldn't be there for much longer.

"Skimmer, identify," came a message through Holloway's infopanel.

Holloway arched his eyebrows at this. "The h.e.l.l you say," he replied. "Identify yourself first, pal."

"Skimmer, identify yourself now or you will be shot down," the voice said.

"Shoot at me and I'll land this thing on your skull," Holloway said. "And I'd get away with it, too, because you you are on are on my my claim. Now, you identify yourself or we'll see each other in court, and you'll be wearing a body cast." claim. Now, you identify yourself or we'll see each other in court, and you'll be wearing a body cast."

There was silence for a minute, then "Skimmer, you are cleared to land at the beacon." An image materialized on the info panel, showing a beacon and a landing circle a small distance from one of the larger structures. "Mr. Aubrey is expecting you."

d.a.m.n right he is, Holloway thought. Holloway set the auto-approach to the beacon. He was on the ground a minute later, and as he climbed out of his skimmer, he noted two men approaching. He recognized one as Joe DeLise, part of the ZaraCorp security detail from Aubreytown. He was one of the security guys Holloway rather emphatically didn't drink with. Holloway thought. Holloway set the auto-approach to the beacon. He was on the ground a minute later, and as he climbed out of his skimmer, he noted two men approaching. He recognized one as Joe DeLise, part of the ZaraCorp security detail from Aubreytown. He was one of the security guys Holloway rather emphatically didn't drink with.

"Oh, it's you, you," Holloway said. "Figures. You never bothered to identify yourself, Joe. That's a violation of ZaraCorp regulations. I could have you written up."

"The next time you don't identify yourself, Holloway, I will will have your skimmer shot down," DeLise said. "I've got my orders." have your skimmer shot down," DeLise said. "I've got my orders."

"And I have my stake contract," Holloway said.

"It's not your stake anymore," DeLise said.

Holloway cracked a smiled at that. "I don't think 'exigent circ.u.mstances' will go quite that far in a court of law, Joe. Not that I wouldn't mind hauling your fat a.s.s in front of a judge to find out."

"Gentlemen, please," said the other man, who had watched the exchange of pleasantries between Holloway and DeLise with a bemused look on his face. "Mr. Holloway, Mr. DeLise does indeed have orders to ground any approaching skimmer that will not identify itself, by force if necessary. Mr. DeLise, Mr. Holloway's claim to this find is still very much in effect. So you're both right, and now you both may stick your d.i.c.ks back into your pants."

DeLise audibly ground his teeth at this but said nothing. Holloway crooked his head at the second man, amused. "And you are?" he said.

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