Little Fuzzy – Day 34 of 77

“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 Khooghra’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.”

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