CHAPTER TWELVE

THREE DAYS AFTER the election, Gus Brannhard landed his aircar at Hoksu-Mitto at mid-afternoon. It had been a long time — since before the Pendarvis Decisions — since Jack had seen him in anything but city clothes. Now he was the old Gus Brannhard, in floppy felt hat, stained and faded bush jacket with cartridge-loops on the breast, hunting knife, shorts and knee-hose, and ankle boots. He got out of the car, shook hands, and looked around. Then, after dragging out a canvas kit bag and two rifle-cases, he looked around again.

“God, Jack, you have this place built up,” he said. “It looks worse on the ground even than it did from the air. I hope you don’t have all the game scared out of the country.”

“For about ten, fifteen miles is all. George Lunt sends a couple of men out each day to shoot for the pot.” He picked up the kit bag Gus had set down. “Let’s get you settled and then have a look around.”

“Any damnthings?”

“A few. The Fuzzies who come in at the posts to the south mention seeing hesh-nazza. We’re not shooting any back of the house, the way I did in June. And we’re not seeing any harpies anywhere, lately.”

“Well, that’s a good job!” Gus didn’t like harpies either. Come to think of it, nobody did. “I’m going to stay a couple of days, Jack. Maybe go out and pot a zebralope, or a river-pig, tomorrow. Just take it easy. Next day I’ll go looking for damnthings.”

Back in the living room, Jack got out a bottle. “It’s an hour till cocktail time,” he apologized, “but let’s have a primer. On the election.” He poured for both of them, raised his glass, and said, “Cheers.”

“I hope we have something to cheer about.” Gus lowered his drink by about a third. “We elected a hundred and twenty-eight out of a hundred and fifty delegates. That looks wonderful on paper.” He halved what was left of his drink. “About forty of them we can rely on. Company men and independent businessmen who know where their business comes from. Another thirty or so are honest politicians; once they’re bought, they stay bought. It’s amazing,” he parenthesized, “how fast we grew a crop of politicians once we got politics on this planet. As for the rest, at least they aren’t socialists or labor-radicals or Company-haters. They’re the best we could do, and I’m hoping, though not betting, that they’ll be good enough. At least there’s nobody against us with money enough to buy them away from us.”

“When’ll the Convention be?”

“Two weeks from Monday. It’ll be at the Hotel Mallory; the Company’s picking up the tab for the whole thing. Starts with a banquet on Sunday evening. I know what it’ll be like. In the mornings they’ll all be nursing hangovers.” Gus was contemptuous; he’d probably never had a hangover in his life. “And in the evenings they’ll be throwing parties all over the hotel. We’ll get a couple of hours work out of them in the afternoons. That may be all to the good.” He looked at his empty glass, then at the bottle. Jack pushed it across the table to him. “You take any hundred and fifty men like this Horace Stannery here, or Abe Lowther at Chesterville, or Bart Hogan in the Big Bend district — I got him acquitted of a cattle-rustling charge a year and a half ago — and every one of them’ll try to show their constituents what statesmen they are by sponsoring some lame-brained amendment nobody else is witless enough to think of. That was a good constitution Leslie Coombes and I wrote. I hate to think of what it’ll be like when it’s adopted.”

He finished his second drink. Before he could start on another, Jack suggested, “Let’s go out and look around till the gang starts collecting.”

They started down the walk toward the run. There were quite a few Fuzzies playing among the buildings, since it was late enough for them to have lost interest in lessons and drifted out of the school-hut. More had crossed the bridge to watch the fascinating things the Big Ones were doing around the vehicle park.

Two, both males, approached. One said, “Heyo, Pappy Jack,” and the other asked, “Pappy Jack, who is Big One with face-fur?”

Gus laughed and squatted down to their level.

“Heyo, Fuzzies. What names you?”

They gave him blank stares. He examined the silver ID-disks at their throats. They were blank except for registration numbers. “What’s the matter, Jack? Don’t they have names?”

“Except the ones who want to stay here, we don’t name them; we let the people who adopt them do that.”

“Well, don’t they have names of their own? Fuzzy names?”

“Not very good ones. Big One and Little One and Other One and like that. In the woods, mostly they call each other You.”

Gus was scratching one on the back of the neck, which all Fuzzies appreciated. The other was trying to get his knife out of the sheath.

“Hey, quit that. Not touch; sharp. You savvy sharp?”

“Sure. Knife for me sharp, too.” He drew it from the sheath on his shoulder bag and showed it: three-inch blade, which would be equivalent to nine-inch for a human. The edge was razor keen; he’d been around here long enough to learn how to keep a knife honed. The other Fuzzy showed his too, and Gus let them look at his. It had a zarabuck-horn grip; they recognized that at once.

“Takku,” one said. “You kill with noise-thing?”

“Big Ones,” the other said reprovingly, “call takku zarabuck. Big Ones call noise-thing gun.”

They tagged along, talking about everything they saw. Gus lifted them, one to each shoulder, and carried them. Taking rides on Big Ones was something all Fuzzies loved. They were still riding on Uncle Gus when they returned to the camp-house, where George Lunt and Pancho Ybarra were mixing cocktails and Ruth van Riebeek and Lynne Andrews were assembling snacks. Usually Fuzzies didn’t hang around at cocktail time; this was when Big Ones wanted to make Big One talk. These two, however, refused to leave Gus, and sat with him on the grass, sipping hokfusinated fruit juice through straws.

“You’re hooked, Gus,” George Lunt told him cheerfully. “You’re Pappy Gus from now on.”

“You mean they want to stay with me?” Gus seemed slightly alarmed. He liked Fuzzies, the way some bachelors like children, as long as they’re somebody else’s. “You mean, all the time?”

“Sure,” he said. “Little Fuzzy’s been spreading the word; all the Fuzzies will have Big Ones of their own. They’ve picked you for their Big One.”

“You be Big One for us?” one of the Fuzzies asked. They both lost interest in their fruit juice and tried to climb onto his back. “We like you.”

“Well, mightn’t be such a bad idea, at that,” Gus considered. “I’m going to get a place of my own, out of town, say ten or fifteen minutes flying-time.” With the kind of aircar he flew, and the way he flew it, that would be four or five hundred miles. “I like it where it gets dark at night, and if you want noise, you have to make it yourself.”

“I know.” He looked around Hoksu-Mitto and thought of what Holloway’s Camp had been like. “It used to be that way here.”

The next morning, Gus was still in bed when Holloway went across the run to his office. He got through his paperwork in a couple of hours and then looked in at the school and at Lynne Andrews’s clinic, dispensary and hospital. Lynne had another viable Fuzzy birth to report, and was as proud as though she had accomplished it herself. That would be one of the first wave to get down into the Piedmont and cash in on the land-prawn boom. The Fuzzy gestation period was a little over six months. It would be March or April at the earliest before the hokfusine-babies started coming in. Maybe, in time, they’d have a population explosion to worry about. Give that the Scarlett O’Hara treatment; enough other things to think about today.

He found Gus Brannhard on what passed for the lawn of the camp-house, playing with the two Fuzzies.

“I thought you were going hunting this morning.”

Gus looked up, grinning as sheepishly as his leonine features permitted.

“I thought I was, too. Then I got to playing with the kids here. Maybe I will this afternoon, but I just feel lazy.”

He just felt tired, was what. He’d been pushing himself hard; probably hadn’t had two good nights sleep in a row since People versus Kellogg and Holloway had been scheduled for trial.

“Why don’t you take the kids hunting? I think they’d like it.”

That hadn’t occurred to Gus. “Well, but they might get hurt. Or lost; mind, I’m going five, six hundred miles to hunt.”

“They won’t get lost. When you set your car down, leave the generator on, on neutral. They can hear the vibrations for five or six miles; if you get lost, they’ll lead you back. George Lunt’s boys always do that when they go out with Fuzzies.”

“Suppose I shoot something; won’t that scare them?”

“Nah, they like shooting. They’re always underfoot at the Protection Force target range. And I think you’ll all three have fun.”

“Hear that, kids? You want to go with Unka Gus, hunt takku, hunt… what the hell’s the Fuzzy for zebralope?”

“Kigga-hikso.”

“Zeb’ alope? You shoot zeb’ alope too?” the Fuzzies both asked.

Gus wasn’t back till after the crowd began assembling for cocktails at the camp-house that afternoon; when he came in he set the car down in back of the cookhouse first, then brought it across the run and grounded beside the house. The Fuzzies jumped out at once, shouting, “Kill zeb’alope! Kill zarabuck! Unka Gus kill zeb’alope, two zarabuck!”

Gus came over more slowly, unslinging his rifle, dropping out the magazine and clearing the chamber, picking up the ejected round. He was laughing as he leaned the rifle beside the bench at the kitchen door.

“Give me a drink, somebody. No, not that stuff; isn’t there any unadulterated whiskey around? Thank you, George.” He poured from the bottle Lunt gave him, took a big drink and refilled his glass. “My God, you should have seen those kids! We set down beside a little creek a couple of miles above where it empties into Snake River. First of all, that one over there yelled, ‘Zatku! Zatku!’ and took off with his chopper-digger. The other one started circling around, and in a minute or so he had one. So we hunted zatku — land-prawn; goddamnit, as soon as you learn the native names for things, the natives start talking Lingua Terra. Then, after they killed a couple of them, they were after me, ‘Pappy Gus, now we hunt zeb’alope.’ So we hunted zebralope.

“They don’t hunt by scent, like dogs, but they’re the smartest trackers I ever saw. Look, you’ve hunted on Loki; so have I. You know how good the Bush Dwanga there are. Well, these Fuzzies could make the best Dwanga tracker I ever hunted with look like a blind imbecile. As soon as they find a fresh track, they split. One went one way, and the other another. In a minute, there was a big zebralope, damn near the size of a horse, running right at me. I gave him one in the shoulder and one in the neck; that finished him. So I gutted it. I knew they like raw liver, so I sliced the liver up for them. They wanted me to eat some. I told them Big Ones didn’t like raw liver. Now they think Big Ones are all nuts. They ate the kidneys too. So then we hunted zarabuck. We got two. Your namesakes, Gerd; van Riebeek’s zarabuck, the little gray ones.”

“Did they eat the livers and kidneys from them too?” Lynne Andrews demanded. “You bring them around to the dispensary tomorrow.”

“Well, there is one thing for damn-good-an’-sure: I’m adopting two Fuzzies. They’re the best hunting companions I ever had. Beat a dog every way from middle; better hunters, and better company. You can talk to a dog, but a dog can’t talk back to you, and Fuzzies can. Unka Gus and his Fuzzies are going to have a lot of fun. Pappy Gus,” he corrected himself. “Pappy is the title of a Big One who stands in loco parentis to a Fuzzy; Unka just means amicus Fuzziae in general.”

“What are you going to call them?”

“I don’t know.” Brannhard thought for a moment. “George named his crowd after criminals. Fitz Mortlake named his for detectives and spies. I’ll have to name mine for hunters. Fiction names: Allan Quartermain and Natty Bumppo. You hear that, kids? You have names now. Allan Quartermain name for you; Natty Bumppo name for you. Now, I hope I don’t forget which is which.”

THE NEXT DAY, he teleprinted the Fuzzies’ registration numbers, fingerprints and new names to Mrs. Pendarvis at the Adoption Bureau, so Gus Brannhard was now officially Pappy Gus. With some misgivings, Pappy Gus took Allan Quartermain and Natty Bumppo damnthing hunting. He carried his big double express, and took one of George Lunt’s men, similarly armed, along. Damnthings were nothing for one man, or one man and two Fuzzies, to go after alone. The Fuzzies had excellent suggestions about how to find one, but they thought Pappy Gus and the other Big One were taking foolish chances to get out of the car and shoot it on foot.

“Thought I’d have some difficulty explaining that,” Gus said when he returned. “Sportsmanship is not usually an aboriginal virtue. Put in the form of ‘more fun,’ though, they got it. I taught them how to shoot, too. They thought that was fun.”

“Not with a 12.7 express, I hope.”

“No, with my pistol.” Gus’s pistol was an 8.5-mm Mars-Consolidated, a hunting weapon with an eight-inch barrel and a detachable shoulder-stock. “It was too clumsy for them, but the recoil didn’t bother them at all. I was surprised. I thought it’d kick hell out of them, but it didn’t. They liked it.”

Holloway was surprised too. He’d thought that even a .22 would be too much for a Fuzzy.

“I’m going to have Mart Burgess make up a couple of little rifles for them,” Gus was saying. “Eight-point-five pistol, say about four pounds. Single-shot, at least for their first ones. Too many complications about an auto-loader for a Fuzzy to remember.”

If anybody could make a Fuzzy-size rifle, Mart Burgess could. He was the same sort of gunsmith as Henry Stenson was an instrument-maker. You only found that sort of craftsmanship on low-population planets where there was no mass market to encourage mass production. Holloway didn’t quite like the idea, though.

“All the other Fuzzies’ll hear about it, and they’ll want rifles too. You give rifles to primitive peoples, you know what happens? Teach these Fuzzies about bows, and they can make their own, the way the Fuzzies are doing here. Give a Stone Age people steel spears and knives and hatchets, and one will last years. As soon as they learn blacksmithing they can make their own out of any scrap they pick up. But give them firearms, and they have to have ammunition. They can’t make that themselves; they’re past the point of no return. The next thing, they forget how to use their own weapons, and then they really are hooked.”

Gus said the same thing Pancho Ybarra had said a couple of weeks ago.

“They’re hooked now, on hokfusine, even if they don’t know it. They can’t get enough from land-prawns.

“And talk about being hooked, how about yourself? You don’t make your own ammunition; you even stopped reloading because it was too much bother. What do you use that you make yourself?”

“That’s different. I trade for what I use. It used to be sunstones; now it’s the work of running this madhouse. With you, it used to be defending criminals, and now it’s prosecuting them. But we both trade, and the Fuzzies haven’t anything to trade. What they get from us is free handouts.”

“Like Nifflheim they haven’t anything to trade. You mean to sit there and tell me you don’t get anything from Little Fuzzy and Mamma Fuzzy and Baby and the rest of your family? If you don’t, why don’t you get rid of them? You think Victor Grego doesn’t get something from that Fuzzy of his? Why, he’d kill anybody who tried to take Diamond away from him. Or my Allan and Natty, that I’ve only had since yesterday?

“You talk about anybody being hooked; we’re hooked. Hooked on Fuzzies. And they earn everything they get from us just by being around. You just let them keep on being Fuzzies, and don’t worry about anything else. They’ll be all right as long as we’re all right to them.”

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