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CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

THE TWO LAWYERS had risen hastily when Chief Justice Pendarvis entered; he responded to their greetings and seated himself at his desk, reaching for the silver cigar box and taking out a panatella. Gustavus Adolphus Brannhard picked up the cigar he had laid aside and began puffing on it; Leslie Coombes took a cigarette from his case. They both looked at him, waiting like two drawn weapons—a battle axe and a rapier.

“Well, gentlemen, as you know, we have a couple of homicide cases and nobody to prosecute them,” he began.

“Why bother, your Honor?” Coombes asked. “Both charges are completely frivolous. One man killed a wild animal, and the other killed a man who was trying to kill him.”

“Well, your Honor, I don’t believe my client is guilty of anything, legally or morally,” Brannhard said. “I want that established by an acquittal.” He looked at Coombes. “I should think Mr. Coombes would be just as anxious to have his client cleared of any stigma of murder, too.”

“I am quite agreed. People who have been charged with crimes ought to have public vindication if they are innocent. Now, in the first place, I planned to hold the Kellogg trial first, and then the Holloway trial. Are you both satisfied with that arrangement?”

“Absolutely not, your Honor,” Brannhard said promptly. “The whole basis of the Holloway defense is that this man Borch was killed in commission of a felony. We’re prepared to prove that, but we don’t want our case prejudiced by an earlier trial.”

Coombes laughed. “Mr. Brannhard wants to clear his client by preconvicting mine. We can’t agree to anything like that.”

“Yes, and he is making the same objection to trying your client first. Well, I’m going to remove both objections. I’m going to order the two cases combined, and both defendants tried together.”

A momentary glow of unholy glee on Gus Brannhard’s face; Coombes didn’t like the idea at all.

“Your Honor, I trust that that suggestion was only made facetiously,” he said.

“It wasn’t, Mr. Coombes.”

“Then if your Honor will not hold me in contempt for saying so, it is the most shockingly irregular—I won’t go so far as to say improper—trial procedure I’ve ever heard of. This is not a case of accomplices charged with the same crime; this is a case of two men charged with different criminal acts, and the conviction of either would mean the almost automatic acquittal of the other. I don’t know who’s going to be named to take Mohammed Ali O’Brien’s place, but I pity him from the bottom of my heart. Why, Mr. Brannhard and I could go off somewhere and play poker while the prosecutor would smash the case to pieces.”

“Well, we won’t have just one prosecutor, Mr. Coombes, we will have two. I’ll swear you and Mr. Brannhard in as special prosecutors, and you can prosecute Mr. Brannhard’s client, and he yours. I think that would remove any further objections.”

It was all he could do to keep his face judicially grave and unmirthful. Brannhard was almost purring, like a big tiger that had just gotten the better of a young goat; Leslie Coombes’s suavity was beginning to crumble slightly at the edges.



“Your Honor, that is a most excellent suggestion,” Brannhard declared. “I will prosecute Mr. Coombes’s client with the greatest pleasure in the universe.”

“Well, all I can say, your Honor, is that if the first proposal was the most irregular I had ever heard, the record didn’t last long!”

“Why, Mr. Coombes, I went over the law and the rules of jurisprudence very carefully, and I couldn’t find a word that could be construed as disallowing such a procedure.”

“I’ll bet you didn’t find any precedent for it either!”

Leslie Coombes should have known better than that; in colonial law, you can find a precedent for almost anything.

“How much do you bet, Leslie?” Brannhard asked, a larcenous gleam in his eye.

“Don’t let him take your money away from you. I found, inside an hour, sixteen precedents, from twelve different planetary jurisdictions.”

“All right, your Honor,” Coombes capitulated. “But I hope you know what you’re doing. You’re turning a couple of cases of the People of the Colony into a common civil lawsuit.”

Gus Brannhard laughed. “What else is it?” he demanded. “Friends of Little Fuzzy versus The Chartered Zarathustra Company; I’m bringing action as friend of incompetent aborigines for recognition of sapience, and Mr. Coombes, on behalf of the Zarathustra Company, is contesting to preserve the Company’s charter, and that’s all there is or ever was to this case.”

That was impolite of Gus. Leslie Coombes had wanted to go on to the end pretending that the Company charter had absolutely nothing to do with it.

 

THERE WAS AN unending stream of reports of Fuzzies seen here and there, often simultaneously in impossibly distant parts of the city. Some were from publicity seekers and pathological liars and crackpots; some were the result of honest mistakes or over imaginativeness. There was some reason to suspect that not a few had originated with the Company, to confuse the search. One thing did come to light which heartened Jack Holloway. An intensive if concealed search was being made by the Company police, and by the Mallorysport police department, which the company controlled.

Max Fane was giving every available moment to the hunt. This wasn’t because of ill will for the Company, though that was present, nor because the Chief Justice was riding him. The Colonial Marshal was pro-Fuzzy. So were the Colonial Constabulary, over whom Nick Emmert’s administration seemed to have little if any authority. Colonel Ian Ferguson, the commandant, had his appointment direct from the Colonial Office on Terra. He had called by screen to offer his help, and George Lunt, over on Beta, screened daily to learn what progress was being made.

Living at the Hotel Mallory was expensive, and Jack had to sell some sunstones. The Company gem buyers were barely civil to him; he didn’t try to be civil at all. There was also a noticeable coolness toward him at the bank. On the other hand, on several occasions, Space Navy officers and ratings down from Xerxes Base went out of their way to accost him, introduce themselves, shake hands with him and give him their best wishes.

Once, in one of the weather-domed business centers, an elderly man with white hair showing under his black beret greeted him.

“Mr. Holloway, I want to tell you how grieved I am to learn about the disappearance of those little people of yours,” he said. “I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do to help you, but I hope they turn up safely.”

“Why, thank you, Mr. Stenson.” He shook hands with the old master instrument maker. “If you could make me a pocket veridicator, to use on some of these people who claim they saw them, it would be a big help.”

“Well, I do make rather small portable veridicators for the constabulary, but I think what you need is an instrument for detection of psychopaths, and that’s slightly beyond science at present. But if you’re still prospecting for sunstones, I have an improved microray scanner I just developed, and... ”

He walked with Stenson to his shop, had a cup of tea and looked at the scanner. From Stenson’s screen, he called Max Fane. Six more people had claimed to have seen the Fuzzies.

Within a week, the films taken at the camp had been shown so frequently on telecast as to wear out their interest value. Baby, however, was still available for new pictures, and in a few days a girl had to be hired to take care of his fan mail. Once, entering a bar, Jack thought he saw Baby sitting on a woman’s head. A second look showed that it was only a life-sized doll, held on with an elastic band. Within a week, he was seeing Baby Fuzzy hats all over town, and shop windows were full of life-sized Fuzzy dolls.

In the late afternoon, two weeks after the Fuzzies had vanished, Marshal Fane dropped him at the hotel. They sat in the car for a moment, and Fane said:

“I think this is the end of it. We’re all out of cranks and exhibitionists now.”

He nodded. “That woman we were talking to. She’s crazy as a bedbug.”

“Yeah. In the past ten years she’s confessed to every unsolved crime on the planet. It shows you how hard up we are that I waste your time and mine listening to her.”

“Max, nobody’s seen them. You think they just aren’t, any more, don’t you?”

The fat man looked troubled. “Well, Jack, it isn’t so much that nobody’s seen them. Nobody’s seen any trace of them. There are land-prawns all around, but nobody’s found a cracked shell. And six active, playful, inquisitive Fuzzies ought to be getting into things. They ought to be raiding food markets, and fruit stands, getting into places and ransacking. But there hasn’t been a thing. The Company police have stopped looking for them now.”

“Well, I won’t. They must be around somewhere.” He shook Fane’s hand, and got out of the car. “You’ve been awfully helpful, Max. I want you to know how much I thank you.”

He watched the car lift away, and then looked out over the city—a vista of treetop green, with roofs and the domes of shopping centers and business centers and amusement centers showing through, and the angular buttes of tall buildings rising above. The streetless contragravity city of a new planet that had never known ground traffic. The Fuzzies could be hiding anywhere among those trees—or they could all be dead in some man-made trap. He thought of all the deadly places into which they could have wandered. Machinery, dormant and quiet, until somebody threw a switch. Conduits, which could be flooded without warning, or filled with scalding steam or choking gas. Poor little Fuzzies, they’d think a city was as safe as the woods of home, where there was nothing worse than harpies and damnthings.

Gus Brannhard was out when he went down to the suite; Ben Rainsford was at a reading screen, studying a psychology text, and Gerd was working at a desk that had been brought in. Baby was playing on the floor with the bright new toys they had gotten for him. When Pappy Jack came in, he dropped them and ran to be picked up and held.

“George called,” Gerd said. “They have a family of Fuzzies at the post now.”

“Well, that’s great.” He tried to make it sound enthusiastic. “How many?”

“Five, three males and two females. They call them Dr. Crippen, Dillinger, Ned Kelly, Lizzie Borden, and Calamity Jane.”

Wouldn’t it be just like a bunch of cops to hang names like that on innocent Fuzzies?

“Why don’t you call the post and say hello to them?” Ben asked. “Baby likes them; he’d think it was fun to talk to them again.”

He let himself be urged into it, and punched out the combination. They were nice Fuzzies; almost, but of course not quite, as nice as his own.

“If your family doesn’t turn up in time for the trial, have Gus subpoena ours,” Lunt told him. “You ought to have some to produce in court. Two weeks from now, this mob of ours will be doing all kinds of things. You ought to see them now, and we only got them yesterday afternoon.”

He said he hoped he’d have his own by then; he realized that he was saying it without much conviction.

They had a drink when Gus came in. He was delighted with the offer from Lunt. Another one who didn’t expect to see Pappy Jack’s Fuzzies alive again.

“I’m not doing a damn thing here,” Rainsford said. “I’m going back to Beta till the trial. Maybe I can pick up some ideas from George Lunt’s Fuzzies. I’m damned if I’m getting any from this crap!” He gestured at the reading screen. “All I have is a vocabulary, and I don’t know what half the words mean.” He snapped it off. “I’m beginning to wonder if maybe Jimenez mightn’t have been right and Ruth Ortheris is wrong. Maybe you can be just a little bit sapient.”

“Maybe it’s possible to be sapient and not know it,” Gus said. “Like the character in the old French play who didn’t know he was talking prose.”

“What do you mean, Gus?” Gerd asked.

“I’m not sure I know. It’s just an idea that occurred to me today. Kick it around and see if you can get anything out of it.”

 

“I BELIEVE THE difference lies in the area of consciousness,” Ernst Mallin was saying. “You all know, of course, the axiom that only one-tenth, never more than one-eighth, of our mental activity occurs above the level of consciousness. Now let us imagine a hypothetical race whose entire mentation is conscious.”

“I hope they stay hypothetical,” Victor Grego, in his office across the city, said out of the screen. “They wouldn’t recognize us as sapient at all.”

“We wouldn’t be sapient, as they’d define the term,” Leslie Coombes, in the same screen with Grego, said. “They’d have some equivalent of the talk-and-build-a-fire rule, based on abilities of which we can’t even conceive.”

Maybe, Ruth thought, they might recognize us as one-tenth to as much as one-eighth sapient. No, then we’d have to recognize, say, a chimpanzee as being one-hundredth sapient, and a flatworm as being sapient to the order of one-billionth.

“Wait a minute,” she said. “If I understand, you mean that nonsapient beings think, but only subconsciously?”

“That’s correct, Ruth. When confronted by some entirely novel situation, a nonsapient animal will think, but never consciously. Of course, familiar situations are dealt with by pure habit and memory-response.”

“You know, I’ve just thought of something,” Grego said. “I think we can explain that funeral that’s been bothering all of us in nonsapient terms.” He lit a cigarette, while they all looked at him expectantly. “Fuzzies,” he continued, “bury their ordure: they do this to avoid an unpleasant sense-stimulus, a bad smell. Dead bodies quickly putrefy and smell badly; they are thus equated, subconsciously, with ordure and must be buried. All Fuzzies carry weapons. A Fuzzy’s weapon is—still subconsciously—regarded as a part of the Fuzzy, hence it must also be buried.”

Mallin frowned portentously. The idea seemed to appeal to him, but of course he simply couldn’t agree too promptly with a mere layman, even the boss.

“Well, so far you’re on fairly safe ground, Mr. Grego,” he admitted. “Association of otherwise dissimilar things because of some apparent similarity is a recognized element of nonsapient animal behavior.” He frowned again. “That could be an explanation. I’ll have to think of it.”

About this time tomorrow, it would be his own idea, with grudging recognition of a suggestion by Victor Grego. In time, that would be forgotten; it would be the Mallin Theory. Grego was apparently agreeable, as long as the job got done.

“Well, if you can make anything out of it, pass it on to Mr. Coombes as soon as possible, to be worked up for use in court,” he said.


Date: 2015-02-28; view: 249


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