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CHAPTER SEVEN

 

TUESDAY DAWNED HOT and windless, a scarlet sun coming up in a hard, brassy sky. The Fuzzies, who were in to wake Pappy Jack with their whistles, didn’t like it; they were edgy and restless. Maybe it would rain today after all. They had breakfast outside on the picnic table, and then Ben decided he’d go back to his camp and pick up a few things he hadn’t brought and now decided he needed.

“My hunting rifle’s one,” he said, “and I think I’ll circle down to the edge of the brush country and see if I can pick off a zebralope. We ought to have some more fresh meat.”

So, after eating, Rainsford got into his jeep and lifted away. Across the run, Kellogg and Mallin were walking back and forth in front of the camp, talking earnestly. When Ruth Ortheris and Gerd van Riebeek came out, they stopped, broke off their conversation and spoke briefly with them. Then Gerd and Ruth crossed the footbridge and came up the path together.

The Fuzzies had scattered, by this time, to hunt prawns. Little Fuzzy and Ko-Ko and Goldilocks ran to meet them; Ruth picked Goldilocks up and carried her, and Ko-Ko and Little Fuzzy ran on ahead. They greeted Jack, declining coffee; Ruth sat down in a chair with Goldilocks, Little Fuzzy jumped up on the table and began looking for goodies, and when Gerd stretched out on his back on the grass Ko-Ko sat down on his chest.

“Goldilocks is my favorite Fuzzy,” Ruth was saying. “She is the sweetest thing. Of course, they’re all pretty nice. I can’t get over how affectionate and trusting they are; the ones we saw out in the woods were so timid.”

“Well, the ones out in the woods don’t have any Pappy Jack to look after them,” Gerd said. “I’d imagine they’re very affectionate among themselves, but they have so many things to be afraid of. You know, there’s another prerequisite for sapience. It develops in some small, relatively defenseless, animal surrounded by large and dangerous enemies he can’t outrun or outfight. So, to survive, he has to learn to outthink them. Like our own remote ancestors, or like Little Fuzzy; he had his choice of getting sapient or getting exterminated.”

Ruth seemed troubled. “Gerd, Dr. Mallin has found absolutely nothing about them that indicates true sapience.”

“Oh, Mallin be bloodied; he doesn’t know what sapience is any more than I do. And a good deal less than you do, I’d say. I think he’s trying to prove that the Fuzzies aren’t sapient.”

Ruth looked startled. “What makes you say that?”

“It’s been sticking out all over him ever since he came here. You’re a psychologist; don’t tell me you haven’t seen it. Maybe if the Fuzzies were proven sapient it would invalidate some theory he’s gotten out of a book, and he’d have to do some thinking for himself. He wouldn’t like that. But you have to admit he’s been fighting the idea, intellectually and emotionally, right from the start. Why, they could sit down with pencils and slide rules and start working differential calculus and it wouldn’t convince him.”



“Dr. Mallin’s trying to—” she began angrily. Then she broke it off. “Jack, excuse us. We didn’t really come over here to have a fight. We came to meet some Fuzzies. Didn’t we, Goldilocks?”

Goldilocks was playing with the silver charm on the chain around her neck, holding it to her ear and shaking it to make it tinkle, making small delighted sounds. Finally she held it up and said, “Yeek?”

“Yes, sweetie-pie, you can have it.” Ruth took the chain from around her neck and put it over Goldilocks’ head; she had to loop it three times before it would fit. “There now; that’s your very own.”

“Oh, you mustn’t give her things like that.”

“Why not. It’s just cheap trade-junk. You’ve been on Loki, Jack, you know what it is.” He did; he’d traded stuff like that to the natives himself. “Some of the girls at the hospital there gave it to me for a joke. I only wear it because I have it. Goldilocks likes it a lot better than I do.”

An airjeep rose from the other side and floated across. Juan Jimenez was piloting it; Ernst Mallin stuck his head out the window on the right, asked her if she were ready and told Gerd that Kellogg would pick him up in a few minutes. After she had gotten into the jeep and it had lifted out, Gerd put Ko-Ko off his chest and sat up, getting cigarettes from his shirt pocket.

“I don’t know what the devil’s gotten into her,” he said, watching the jeep vanish. “Oh, yes, I do. She’s gotten the Word from On High. Kellogg hath spoken. Fuzzies are just silly little animals,” he said bitterly.

“You work for Kellogg, too, don’t you?”

“Yes. He doesn’t dictate my professional opinion, though. You know, I thought, in the evil hour when I took this job—” He rose to his feet, hitching his belt to balance the weight of the pistol on the right against the camera, binoculars on the left, and changed the subject abruptly. “Jack, has Ben Rainsford sent a report on the Fuzzies to the Institute yet?” he asked.

“Why?”

“If he hasn’t, tell him to hurry up and get one in.”

There wasn’t time to go into that further. Kellogg’s jeep was rising from the camp across the run and approaching.

He decided to let the breakfast dishes go till after lunch. Kurt Borch had stayed behind at the Kellogg camp, so he kept an eye on the Fuzzies and brought them back when they started to stray toward the footbridge. Ben Rainsford hadn’t returned by lunchtime, but zebralope hunting took a little time, even from the air. While he was eating, outside, one of the rented airjeeps returned from the northeast in a hurry, disgorging Ernst Mallin, Juan Jimenez and Ruth Ortheris. Kurt Borch came hurrying out; they talked for a few minutes, and then they all went inside. A little later, the second jeep came in, even faster, and landed; Kellogg and van Riebeek hastened into the living hut. There wasn’t anything more to see. He carried the dishes into the kitchen and washed them, and the Fuzzies went into the bedroom for their nap.

He was sitting at the table in the living room when Gerd van Riebeek knocked on the open door.

“Jack, can I talk to you for a minute?” he asked.

“Sure. Come in.”

Van Riebeek entered, unbuckling his gun belt. He shifted a chair so that he could see the door from it, and laid the belt on the floor at his feet when he sat down. Then he began to curse Leonard Kellogg in four or five languages.

“Well, I agree, in principle; why in particular, though?”

“You know what that son of a Kooghra’s doing?” Gerd asked. “He and that—” He used a couple of Sheshan words, viler than anything in Lingua Terra. “—that quack headshrinker, Mallin, are preparing a report, accusing you and Ben Rainsford of perpetrating a deliberate scientific hoax. You taught the Fuzzies some tricks; you and Rainsford, between you, made those artifacts yourselves and the two of you are conspiring to foist the Fuzzies off as sapient beings. Jack, if it weren’t so goddamn stinking contemptible, it would be the biggest joke of the century!”

“I take it they wanted you to sign this report, too?”

“Yes, and I told Kellogg he could—” What Kellogg could do, it seemed, was both appalling and physiologically impossible. He cursed again, and then lit a cigarette and got hold of himself. “Here’s what happened. Kellogg and I went up that stream, about twenty miles down Cold Creek, the one you’ve been working on, and up onto the high flat to a spring and a stream that flows down in the opposite direction. Know where I mean? Well, we found where some Fuzzies had been camping, among a lot of fallen timber. And we found a little grave, where the Fuzzies had buried one of their people.”

He should have expected something like that, and yet it startled him. “You mean, they bury their dead? What was the grave like?”

“A little stone cairn, about a foot and a half by three, a foot high. Kellogg said it was just a big toilet pit, but I was sure of what it was. I opened it. Stones under the cairn, and then filled-in earth, and then a dead Fuzzy wrapped in grass. A female; she’d been mangled by something, maybe a bush-goblin. And get this Jack; they’d buried her prawn-stick with her.”

“They bury their dead! What was Kellogg doing, while you were opening the grave?”

“Dithering around having ants. I’d been taking snaps of the grave, and I was burbling away like an ass about how important this was and how it was positive proof of sapience, and he was insisting that we get back to camp at once. He called the other jeep and told Mallin to get to camp immediately, and Mallin and Ruth and Juan were there when we got in. As soon as Kellogg told them what we’d found, Mallin turned fish-belly white and wanted to know how we were going to suppress it. I asked him if he was nuts, and then Kellogg came out with it. They don’t dare let the Fuzzies be proven sapient.”

“Because the Company wants to sell Fuzzy furs?”

Van Riebeek looked at him in surprise. “I never thought of that. I doubt if they did, either. No. Because if the Fuzzies are sapient beings, the Company’s charter is automatically void.”

This time Jack cursed, not Kellogg but himself.

“I am a senile old dotard! Good Lord, I know colonial law; I’ve been skating on the edge of it on more planets than you’re years old. And I never thought of that; why, of course it would. Where are you now, with the Company, by the way?”

“Out, but I couldn’t care less. I have enough in the bank for the trip back to Terra, not counting what I can raise on my boat and some other things. Xeno-naturalists don’t need to worry about finding jobs. There’s Ben’s outfit, for instance. And, brother, when I get back to Terra, what I’ll spill about this deal!”

“If you get back. If you don’t have an accident before you get on the ship.” He thought for a moment. “Know anything about geology?”

“Why, some; I have to work with fossils. I’m as much a paleontologist as a zoologist. Why?”

“How’d you like to stay here with me and hunt fossil jellyfish for a while? We won’t make twice as much, together, as I’m making now, but you can look one way while I’m looking the other, and we may both stay alive longer that way.”

“You mean that, Jack?”

“I said it, didn’t I?”

Van Riebeek rose and held out his hand; Jack came around the table and shook it. Then he reached back and picked up his belt, putting it on.

“Better put yours on, too, partner. Borch is probably the only one we’ll need a gun for, but—”

Van Riebeek buckled on his belt, then drew his pistol and worked the slide to load the chamber. “What are we going to do?” he asked.

“Well, we’re going to try to handle it legally. Fact is, I’m even going to call the cops.”

He punched out a combination on the communication screen. It lighted and opened a window into the constabulary post. The sergeant who looked out of it recognized him and grinned.

“Hi, Jack. How’s the family?” he asked. “I’m coming up, one of these evenings, to see them.”

“You can see some now.” Ko-Ko and Goldilocks and Cinderella were coming out of the hall from the bedroom; he gathered them up and put them on the table. The sergeant was fascinated. Then he must have noticed that both Jack and Gerd were wearing their guns in the house. His eyes narrowed slightly.

“You got problems, Jack?” he asked.

“Little ones; they may grow, though. I have some guests here who have outstayed their welcome. For the record, better make it that I have squatters I want evicted. If there were a couple of blue uniforms around, maybe it might save me the price of a few cartridges.”

“I read you. George was mentioning that you might regret inviting that gang to camp on you.” He picked up a handphone. “Calderon to Car Three,” he said. “Do you read me, Three? Well, Jack Holloway’s got a little squatter trouble. Yeah; that’s it. He’s ordering them off his grant, and he thinks they might try to give him an argument. Yeah, sure, Peace Lovin’ Jack Holloway, that’s him. Well, go chase his squatters for him, and if they give you anything about being Company big wheels, we don’t care what kind of wheels they are, just so’s they start rolling.” He replaced the phone. “Look for them in about an hour, Jack.”

“Why, thanks, Phil. Drop in some evening when you can hang up your gun and stay awhile.”

He blanked the screen and began punching again. This time he got a girl, and then the Company construction boss at Red Hill.

“Oh, hello, Jack; is Dr. Kellogg comfortable?”

“Not very. He’s moving out this afternoon. I wish you’d have your gang come up with those scows and get that stuff out of my backyard.”

“Well, he told us he was staying for a couple of weeks.”

“He got his mind changed for him. He’s to be off my land by sunset.”

The Company man looked troubled. “Jack, you haven’t been having trouble with Dr. Kellogg, have you?” he asked. “He’s a big man with the Company.”

“That’s what he tells me. You’ll still have to come and get that stuff, though.”

He blanked the screen. “You know,” he said, “I think it would be no more than fair to let Kellogg in on this. What’s his screen combination?”

Gerd supplied it, and he punched it out. One of those tricky special Company combinations. Kurt Borch appeared in the screen immediately.

“I want to talk to Kellogg.”

“Doctor Kellogg is very busy, at present.”

“He’s going to be a damned sight busier; this is moving day. The whole gang of you have till eighteen hundred to get off my grant.”

Borch was shoved aside, and Kellogg appeared. “What’s this nonsense?” he demanded angrily.

“You’re ordered to move. You want to know why? I can let Gerd van Riebeek talk to you; I think there are a few things he’s forgotten to call you.”

“You can’t order us out like this. Why, you gave us permission—”

“Permission cancelled. I’ve called Mike Hennen in Red Hill; he’s sending his scows back for the stuff he brought here. Lieutenant Lunt will have a couple of troopers here, too. I’ll expect you to have your personal things aboard your airboat when they arrive.”

He blanked the screen while Kellogg was trying to tell him that it was all a misunderstanding.

“I think that’s everything. It’s quite a while till sundown,” he added, “but I move for suspension of rules while we pour a small libation to sprinkle our new partnership. Then we can go outside and observe the enemy.”

There was no observable enemy action when they went out and sat down on the bench by the kitchen door. Kellogg would be screening Mike Hennen and the constabulary post for verification, and there would be a lot of gathering up and packing to do. Finally, Kurt Borch emerged with a contragravity lifter piled with boxes and luggage, and Jimenez walking beside to steady the load. Jimenez climbed up onto the airboat and Borch floated the load up to him and then went back into the huts. This was repeated several times. In the meantime, Kellogg and Mallin seemed to be having some sort of exchange of recriminations in front. Ruth Ortheris came out, carrying a briefcase, and sat down on the edge of a table under the awning.

Neither of them had been watching the Fuzzies, until they saw one of them start down the path toward the footbridge, a glint of silver at the throat identifying Goldilocks.

“Look at that fool kid; you stay put, Gerd, and I’ll bring her back.”

He started down the path; by the time he had reached the bridge, Goldilocks was across and had vanished behind one of the airjeeps parked in front of the Kellogg camp. When he was across and within twenty feet of the vehicle, he heard a sound he had never heard before—a shrill, thin shriek, like a file on saw teeth. At the same time, Ruth’s voice screamed.

“Don’t! Leonard, stop that!”

As he ran around the jeep, the shrieking broke off suddenly. Goldilocks was on the ground, her fur reddened. Kellogg stood over her, one foot raised. He was wearing white shoes, and they were both spotted with blood. He stamped the foot down on the little bleeding body, and then Jack was within reach of him, and something crunched under the fist he drove into Kellogg’s face. Kellogg staggered and tried to raise his hands; he made a strangled noise, and for an instant the idiotic thought crossed Jack’s mind that he was trying to say, “Now, please don’t misunderstand me.” He caught Kellogg’s shirt front in his left hand, and punched him again in the face, and again, and again. He didn’t know how many times he punched Kellogg before he heard Ruth Ortheris’ voice:

“Jack! Watch out! Behind you!”

He let go of Kellogg’s shirt and jumped aside, turning and reaching for his gun. Kurt Borch, twenty feet away, had a pistol drawn and pointed at him.

His first shot went off as soon as the pistol was clear of the holster. He fired the second while it was still recoiling; there was a spot of red on Borch’s shirt that gave him an aiming point for the third. Borch dropped the pistol he hadn’t been able to fire, and started folding at the knees and then at the waist. He went down in a heap on his face.

Behind him, Gerd van Riebeek’s voice was saying, “Hold it, all of you; get your hands up. You, too, Kellogg.”

Kellogg, who had fallen, pushed himself erect. Blood was gushing from his nose, and he tried to stanch it on the sleeve of his jacket. As he stumbled toward his companions, he blundered into Ruth Ortheris, who pushed him angrily away from her. Then she went to the little crushed body, dropping to her knees beside it and touching it. The silver charm bell on the neck chain jingled faintly. Ruth began to cry.

Juan Jimenez had climbed down from the airboat; he was looking at the body of Kurt Borch in horror.

“You killed him!” he accused. A moment later, he changed that to “murdered.” Then he started to run toward the living hut.

Gerd van Riebeek fired a bullet into the ground ahead of him, bringing him up short.

“You’ll stop the next one, Juan,” he said. “Go help Dr. Kellogg; he got himself hurt.”

“Call the constabulary,” Mallin was saying. “Ruth, you go; they won’t shoot at you.”

“Don’t bother. I called them. Remember?”

Jimenez had gotten a wad of handkerchief tissue out of his pocket and was trying to stop his superior’s nosebleed. Through it, Kellogg was trying to tell Mallin that he hadn’t been able to help it.

“The little beast attacked me; it cut me with that spear it was carrying.”

Ruth Ortheris looked up. The other Fuzzies were with her by the body of Goldilocks; they must have come as soon as they had heard the screaming.

“She came up to him and pulled at his trouser leg, the way they all do when they want to attract your attention,” she said. “She wanted him to look at her new jingle.” Her voice broke, and it was a moment before she could recover it. “And he kicked her, and then stamped her to death.”

“Ruth, keep your mouth shut!” Mallin ordered. “The thing attacked Leonard; it might have given him a serious wound.”

“It did!” Still holding the wad of tissue to his nose with one hand, Kellogg pulled up his trouser leg with the other and showed a scar on his shin. It looked like a briar scratch. “You saw it yourself.”

“Yes, I saw it. I saw you kick her and jump on her. And all she wanted was to show you her new jingle.”

Jack was beginning to regret that he hadn’t shot Kellogg as soon as he saw what was going on. The other Fuzzies had been trying to get Goldilocks onto her feet. When they realized that it was no use, they let the body down again and crouched in a circle around it, making soft, lamenting sounds.

“Well, when the constabulary get here, you keep quiet,” Mallin was saying. “Let me do the talking.”

“Intimidating witnesses, Mallin?” Gerd inquired. “Don’t you know everybody’ll have to testify at the constabulary post under veridication? And you’re drawing pay for being a psychologist, too.” Then he saw some of the Fuzzies raise their heads and look toward the southeastern horizon. “Here come the cops, now.”

However, it was Ben Rainsford’s airjeep, with a zebralope carcass lashed along one side. It circled the Kellogg camp and then let down quickly; Rainsford jumped out as soon as it was grounded, his pistol drawn.

“What happened, Jack?” he asked, then glanced around, from Goldilocks to Kellogg to Borch to the pistol beside Borch’s body. “I get it. Last time anybody pulled a gun on you, they called it suicide.”

“That’s what this was, more or less. You have a movie camera in your jeep? Well, get some shots of Borch, and some of Goldilocks. Then stand by, and if the Fuzzies start doing anything different, get it all. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.”

Rainsford looked puzzled, but he holstered his pistol and went back to his jeep, returning with a camera. Mallin began insisting that, as a licensed M.D., he had a right to treat Kellogg’s injuries. Gerd van Riebeek followed him into the living but for a first-aid kit. They were just emerging, van Riebeek’s automatic in the small of Mallin’s back, when a constabulary car grounded beside Rainsford’s airjeep. It wasn’t Car Three. George Lunt jumped out, unsnapping the flap of his holster, while Ahmed Khadra was talking into the radio.

“What’s happened, Jack? Why didn’t you wait till we got here?”

“This maniac assaulted me and murdered that man over there!” Kellogg began vociferating.

“Is your name Jack, too?” Lunt demanded.

“My name’s Leonard Kellogg, and I’m a chief of division with the Company—”

“Then keep quiet till I ask you something. Ahmed, call the post; get Knabber and Yorimitsu, with investigative equipment, and find out what’s tying up Car Three.”

Mallin had opened the first-aid kit by now; Gerd, on seeing the constabulary, had holstered his pistol. Kellogg, still holding the sodden tissues to his nose, was wanting to know what there was to investigate.

“There’s the murderer; you have him red-handed. Why don’t you arrest him?”

“Jack, let’s get over where we can watch these people without having to listen to them,” Lunt said. He glanced toward the body of Goldilocks. “That happen first?”

“Watch out, Lieutenant! He still has his pistol!” Mallin shouted warningly.

They went over and sat down on the contragravity-field generator housing one of the rented airjeeps. Jack started with Gerd van Riebeek’s visit immediately after noon.

“Yes, I thought of that angle myself,” Lunt said disgustedly. “I didn’t think of it till this morning, though, and I didn’t think things would blow up as fast as this. Hell, I just didn’t think! Well, go on.”

He interrupted a little later to ask: “Kellogg was stamping on the Fuzzy when you hit him. You were trying to stop him?”

“That’s right. You can veridicate me on that if you want to.”

“I will; I’ll veridicate this whole damn gang. And this guy Borch had his heater out when you turned around? Nothing to it, Jack. We’ll have to have some kind of a hearing, but it’s just plain self-defense. Think any of this gang will tell the truth here, without taking them in and putting them under veridication?”

“Ruth Ortheris will, I think.”

“Send her over here, will you.”

She was still with the Fuzzies, and Ben Rainsford was standing beside her, his camera ready. The Fuzzies were still swaying and yeeking plaintively. She nodded and rose without speaking, going over to where Lunt waited.

“Just what did happen, Jack?” Rainsford wanted to know. “And whose side is he on?” He nodded toward van Riebeek, standing guard over Kellogg and Mallin, his thumbs in his pistol belt.

“Ours. He’s quit the Company.”

Just as he was finishing, Car Three put in an appearance; he had to tell the same story over again. The area in front of the Kellogg camp was getting congested; he hoped Mike Hennen’s labor gang would stay away for a while. Lunt talked to van Riebeek when he had finished with Ruth, and then with Jimenez and Mallin and Kellogg. Then he and one of the men from Car Three came over to where Jack and Rainsford were standing. Gerd van Riebeek joined them just as Lunt was saying:

“Jack, Kellogg’s made a murder complaint against you. I told him it was self-defense, but he wouldn’t listen. So, according to the book, I have to arrest you.”

“All right.” He unbuckled his gun and handed it over. “Now, George, I herewith make complaint and accusation against Leonard Kellogg, charging him with the unlawful and unjustified killing of a sapient being, to wit, an aboriginal native of the planet of Zarathustra commonly known as Goldilocks.”

Lunt looked at the small battered body and the six mourners around it.

“But, Jack, they aren’t legally sapient beings.”

“There is no such thing. A sapient being is a being on the mental level of sapience, not a being that has been declared sapient.”

“Fuzzies are sapient beings,” Rainsford said. “That’s the opinion of a qualified xenonaturalist.”

“Two of them,” Gerd van Riebeek said. “That is the body of a sapient being. There’s the man who killed her. Go ahead, Lieutenant, make your pinch.”

“Hey! Wait a minute!”

The Fuzzies were rising, sliding their chopper-diggers under the body of Goldilocks and lifting it on the steel shafts. Ben Rainsford was aiming his camera as Cinderella picked up her sister’s weapon and followed, carrying it; the others carried the body toward the far corner of the clearing, away from the camp. Rainsford kept just behind them, pausing to photograph and then hurrying to keep up with them.

They set the body down. Mike and Mitzi and Cinderella began digging; the others scattered to hunt for stones. Coming up behind them, George Lunt took off his beret and stood holding it in both hands; he bowed his head as the grass-wrapped body was placed in the little grave and covered.

Then, when the cairn was finished, he replaced it, drew his pistol and checked the chamber.

“That does it, Jack,” he said. “I am now going to arrest Leonard Kellogg for the murder of a sapient being.”


Date: 2015-02-28; view: 154


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