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Fuzzy Nation Part 7

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"Brad Landon," the man said. He walked up to Holloway and held out his hand. "I'm Mr. Aubrey's personal a.s.sistant. I'm here to take you to him."

"He's too busy to greet me himself?" Holloway joked.

"Of course he is," Landon said, in a tone that told Holloway that his response, while a joke in return, was also in fact completely serious. Landon turned to DeLise. "Thank you, Mr. DeLise. I will take it from here. You may go back to your post."

"I want the skimmer waxed before I get back," Holloway said. DeLise shot him a look and stomped off.

"Do you always antagonize people when you meet them, Mr. Holloway?" Landon asked, as they set off across the base.



"I've met DeLise before," Holloway said. "Lots of times before. That's why I'm antagonizing him."

"I see," Landon said. "I thought perhaps it was one of those stereotypical hostility-to-authority things."

"I doubt Joe's an authority on much," Holloway said. "He's one of those guys who thinks the job description of 'cop' reads as 'professional thug.'"

"His service record is clean," Landon said. "I know. I saw it before I approved his being stationed here."

"I think it's interesting that you seem to be under the impression anyone's going to say anything bad about a company goon in a company town," Holloway said.

"Point taken," Landon said. "You think we should transfer him back, then."

"h.e.l.l, no," Holloway said. "Every night he's here is a night he's not beating up someone in a bar. You're doing the citizens of Aubreytown a favor."

Landon gave a slight smile at this.

The two men were approaching the area of fence Holloway had seen as he circled: Robots on one side of the fence were drilling holes, with the operators on the other side, maneuvering them from small stations bristling with levers. As they approached, Holloway was aware of an increasing sensation that felt like what happened to his ears if he climbed in alt.i.tude too quickly in his skimmer. He swallowed hard, to no use.

As Holloway got closer to the operators, he realized that one of them was Aubrey, wearing a ZaraCorp hard hat. Another man stood next to Aubrey's station; Holloway suspected it was the actual robot operator, politely and silently waiting for Aubrey to get done playing around so he could get back to work.

Landon pulled out a palm-sized infopanel and pressed it. "We're here," he said into the panel. From the robot station, Aubrey turned and motioned them over.

"Having fun?" Holloway asked, as they approached. He noticed Landon pursing his lips slightly in disapproval. Holloway had apparently forgotten that he was not supposed to speak until spoken to.

"Fun isn't the point," Aubrey said, climbing out of the station. He took off his hard hat. "One day I'll be running ZaraCorp. Dad always said that it was important for a leader to know what his people do and how they do it, and Grandpa said it to him, and so on. Every Aubrey does a tour of our businesses and tries his hand at the jobs our people do. Gives us a grounding."

"So twenty minutes with a fence-building robot makes you a better leader," Holloway said.

"It was a half hour, actually," Aubrey said, catching the sarcasm and returning it. "And maybe it does and maybe it doesn't, but even you might agree that coming out and partic.i.p.ating in our operations is better than me simply being fed grapes in a country club, waiting for the old man to kick off."

"When you put it that way," Holloway said. The ear thing was getting worse. He swallowed again.

Aubrey watched Holloway with interest. "Feels like your ears are plugged, doesn't it?" he asked.

"Yeah," Holloway said.

Aubrey pointed to a large box on the fence line. "It's a speaker," he said. "Turns out zararaptors and other predators here hear higher frequencies than we do, and they hate loud noise. We're blasting twenty-five-kilohertz frequencies at about a hundred sixty decibels. They hear it and take off running in the other direction."

"Huh," Holloway said, and swallowed again.

"Used to be, we'd just shoot the things with automated sentries," Aubrey said. "But animal rights groups didn't like that much. Bad for our public relations. We figured we would give this a try."

"Very humane of you," Holloway said.

"Cheaper, too, as it happens," Aubrey said. "But it does have the side effect you're experiencing. You can't hear it, but you can feel feel it, all right. Stay here long enough and you'll get a migraine. Then you'll get a nosebleed." it, all right. Stay here long enough and you'll get a migraine. Then you'll get a nosebleed."

"Lovely working conditions," Holloway said.

Aubrey pointed to his ears. "Noise-canceling in-ear headphones," he said. "Filters out the high end. No headaches."

"For you, maybe," Holloway said.

"All the fence workers have them," Aubrey said.

"Wonderful," Holloway said. "I don't."

"Oh, right," Aubrey said. "Well, come on, then." He started walking. Holloway and Landon followed.

"What do you think of the site?" Aubrey asked, as they walked.

"I'm amazed at how quickly you've built it up," Holloway said. "There was nothing here a week ago."

"I told you this is a priority for us," Aubrey said. "I commandeered airlifters to bring in the heavy equipment and stole the best crews from other sites. I had people here clearing land the same day you sat in on our meeting. When the site is finished it will be the largest single permanent site we'll have on Zara Twenty-three. It'll have to be in order to process that seam you found."

"I can't help but notice that you've been doing all of this without involving me," Holloway said.

"Well, it's-" Aubrey began.

"Exigent circ.u.mstances, yes, I know," Holloway said, and ignored that now both Aubrey and Landon were annoyed with him for his peremptory ways. He had stopped walking; they were far enough from the fence that his ears no longer hurt. "The problem is that exigent circ.u.mstances are by their very nature emergent and temporary. What you're doing here is systematic and permanent. If I'm not involved, then ZaraCorp has a very good case for eventually voiding my claim. I checked both ZaraCorp regulations and Colonial law on the matter. There's prior case law here: Teppo versus Miller Teppo versus Miller. Teppo lost millions of credits because Miller showed he wasn't properly involved in the exploitation of his own claim. Now, you may or may not be intending to be pus.h.i.+ng me into a Teppo Teppo-style situation, but that's what I see happening."

Aubrey looked at Holloway for a minute. "G.o.d save us from amateur lawyers," he said, eventually.

"I'm not an amateur," Holloway said.

"That's not what the Bar of the State of North Carolina says," Aubrey said.

"I wasn't disbarred for not knowing the law," Holloway said.

"Really," Aubrey said. "What were you disbarred for, then?"

"It's not actually important at the moment," Holloway said.

"You know I can find out," Aubrey said.

"Then find out," Holloway said, and nodded toward Aubrey's a.s.sistant. "Have Landon here search it out on the network. It's a public record; it's not hard to find. But in the meantime, I want to talk about our situation here, now."

Aubrey nodded, and started walking again. "Come on, Holloway," he said. "I want to show you something."

In a few moments, the three of them were looking at a ma.s.sive rockfall. It was the part of the cliff Holloway had dropped to the riverbed. Workers and machines were crawling over it. "Look familiar?" Aubrey said to Holloway.

"It's in a slightly different configuration than I'm used to seeing it in," Holloway said.

"I'll bet," Aubrey said. "It's going to cost us a couple million credits to clean this up, you know. CEPA regulations require us to return this rockfall area to a pristine state before we can exercise exploit rights. It's stupid, but that's Colonial Authority regulation for you."

"I thought you'd made an ecological exception request," Holloway said. He noted with a bit of satisfaction that both Aubrey and Landon were surprised he knew this. Good, Good, Holloway thought. Holloway thought. Let them wonder what else I know Let them wonder what else I know.

"We have," Landon said, after a second. "But they're granted rarely, if at all."

"And in the meantime, we're on the hook for this expense," Aubrey said.

Holloway nodded toward the rockpile. "After this fell, I pulled sunstones the size of chicken eggs out of the seam, almost with my bare hands. You'll probably find enough sunstones in this pile alone to pay for the cost of cleaning this up, and make a profit besides."

"No doubt we will," Aubrey said. "But you're missing the point."

"Being in the black for cleaning up an ecological mishap is not the point?" Holloway said.

"The point is that you caused this 'ecological mishap,' as you call it," Aubrey said. "Whether we make a profit off it or not, it's still a black eye for ZaraCorp that you caused to happen."

"It wasn't intentional," Holloway said.

"It doesn't matter," Aubrey said. "ZaraCorp has to appear to be attuned to ecological sensitivities, especially since we are are requesting an ecological exception for this seam. We have to convince some bureaucrat in a CEPA office a hundred eighty light-years away that we're going to be careful about the messes we're going to make, and that we're going to clean them up after we're done. What is going to make that argument less than convincing is the fact that the princ.i.p.al surveyor of the seam is someone who rather cavalierly caused an ecological disaster right at the start." requesting an ecological exception for this seam. We have to convince some bureaucrat in a CEPA office a hundred eighty light-years away that we're going to be careful about the messes we're going to make, and that we're going to clean them up after we're done. What is going to make that argument less than convincing is the fact that the princ.i.p.al surveyor of the seam is someone who rather cavalierly caused an ecological disaster right at the start."

"The environmental lobbies already know your name, Mr. Holloway," Landon said. "Their discussion forums are full of outrage that you've trained your dog to detonate explosives."

"There's no proof of that," Holloway said.

"Proof is not something that is of great concern to these people, Mr. Holloway," Landon said.

"Where are the two of you going with this?" Holloway asked. "Because if you don't mind, I'd rather we just cut to the chase."

"Fine," Aubrey said. "Here it is. I think you'll be a public relations disaster that ZaraCorp doesn't need. I think it'd be better for all of us, including you, if you just went away. So I want to buy you out."

"Really," Holloway said. "And I suppose it would be too much to a.s.sume you want to buy me out for what my percentage of this sunstone seam is actually worth."

"We don't know what it's worth," Aubrey said.

"Your Director of Exploitation estimated eight hundred billion to one-point-two trillion credits," Holloway said. "I remember those sums quite clearly. I'm sure you do, too."

"Be that as it may, there are any number of variables," Landon said. "Sunstone density. Environmental challenges to exploiting the seam. Market forces."

"ZaraCorp has spent decades building up sunstones as the rarest gem in the universe," Holloway said. "I think we can a.s.sume it's done its job, marketwise."

"The sheer size of this find could create a glut," Aubrey said.

Holloway looked over at Aubrey. "Let's you and I pretend that we both know what the phrase monopoly on distribution monopoly on distribution means in this context," he said. "So. What are you offering?" means in this context," he said. "So. What are you offering?"

Aubrey looked over at Landon. "Three hundred fifty million credits," Landon said.

"All at once?" Holloway said.

"Over ten years," Landon said.

"You've got to be joking," Holloway said. "You want me to sell out for less than ten percent of what my claim is worth, and you won't even give it to me all at once?"

"Thirty-five million a year is not an insignificant amount of money," Landon observed. "Especially for someone like you, who has grossed twenty-one thousand credits in the last year."

"I agree," Holloway said. "But a hundred million a year or so is an even less less insignificant amount of money, isn't it." insignificant amount of money, isn't it."

"We'd also offer you warrants on ZaraCorp stock," Landon said.

"Voting stock?" Holloway asked.

"Of course not," Landon said, annoyed. Only Aubrey family members received voting stock. "Cla.s.s B."

"With my hundred million a year, I could buy as much Cla.s.s B ZaraCorp stock as I want," Holloway said. "And maybe some BlueSky stock, too. To diversify my E and E sector portfolio."

"Christ," Aubrey said. The mention of BlueSky appeared to have pinked him a bit. "Let's get this over with. Five hundred million credits, Holloway, in your account, right now. Take it, jump the next s.h.i.+p off Zara Twenty-three with your dog, and be the single richest contractor in the history of ZaraCorp."

"What's the catch?" Holloway said.

"No catch," Aubrey said. "Landon here can call up the amount and we can do it right here on this rockpile. But you have to give up all rights and claims. And then you have to leave."

"How much time do I have to think about this?" Holloway asked.

"Until I get bored with you and walk away," Aubrey said.

"Well, in that case, I'll give you my answer now," Holloway said. "Which is that you can take your offer and jam it sideways. I don't like being pressured into making deals, and I don't give a d.a.m.n whether you're going to run the company one day or not. I have legal rights to this claim. I'm going to exercise them, and profit from them, and I'm not going to be bought off for less than what I'm rightfully owed, simply because it'll be convenient for you." He jerked his thumb at Landon. "And though it clearly pains Landon here when someone speaks to you in less than a groveling tone, I'll tell you this right now, and this is is a promise: Try to cut me out or shut me down one more time, and you'll see just how big a public relations nightmare I can be. Fact is, right now you need my cooperation more than I need your money. You need to remember that." a promise: Try to cut me out or shut me down one more time, and you'll see just how big a public relations nightmare I can be. Fact is, right now you need my cooperation more than I need your money. You need to remember that."

Aubrey looked over at Landon. "Told you," he said.

"Yes, quite," Landon said, looking at Holloway. Then he pulled out his infopanel and pressed it. "And since we were in fact prepared for the quite dramatic p.i.s.sing all over our offer, Mr. Holloway, I've just sent you our surveying requests, which you'll find waiting for you when you get back to your skimmer. There seems to be a large tributary branch running off the main sunstone seam. We could have had some of our other surveyors map it, of course, but we were aware you might have concerns vis-a-vis Teppo, Teppo, and we wouldn't want you to think you were intentionally being left with nothing to do. As a warning, it requires jungle floor mapping, so do watch out for predators." and we wouldn't want you to think you were intentionally being left with nothing to do. As a warning, it requires jungle floor mapping, so do watch out for predators."

"And try to avoid any other major ecological disasters, if you can manage that," Aubrey said.

"I think I can manage," Holloway said.

"We'll see," Aubrey said. Holloway turned to go.

"One other thing, Holloway," Aubrey said.

Holloway turned. "Yes?"

"You have rights to this seam and you can be sure you'll get every last thing that's coming to you, while you're here and after you're gone," Aubrey said. "But your contract runs out in five months. When that happens, your time really is up. You're getting a ride home and after that, no amount of money will ever get you another contract with this company. h.e.l.l, once you get home, you won't even be able to book pa.s.sage on another ZaraCorp s.h.i.+p. Every subsidiary we own will automatically bounce you back. That's my my promise to you. Just so you know." promise to you. Just so you know."

"Seems a bit drastic," Holloway said.

"It probably is," Aubrey said.

"Do you do this with everyone who annoys you?" Holloway asked.

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