A Sec Pair At The Ford: Episode 6

Bibi precedes Seruffin into the reception area of the Sime Center, introduces Lia to Nattin, and asks Nattin to help her with the paperwork for her trip in-T. She's glad to have a chance to recover her poise after the last scene.

Seruffin is tactful enough to allow Bibi time to compose herself, before joining her in the reception area. His showfield is ~~ congenial ~~, but without the personal intensity he showed in Bibi's office. He is a professional, after all, and he knows how quickly personal politics can interfere with a channel's responsibility. He's therefore careful to ensure that his nager reflects his (genuine) opinion that Bibi is a colleague worth respecting, while not expressing anything that goes beyond collegiality.

Bibi is glad that she and Seruffin are the only Simes present, and that there are only two others in farther than a Farris can zlin, both renSimes.

Seruffin: I see the morning rush is over. Is there a similar influx of donors after the market closes?

Bibi: Yes, there often is. I expect a few people may take a break and come in, though.

Seruffin: The pace here is very relaxing, compared to a big city Sime Center.

Bibi: Yes. A Third could handle the work, but not store the selyn.

Seruffin couldn't physically enjoy it long-term, but entran aside, he's finding it interesting.

Flip grabs the door-knocker of the Sime Center's donor entrance and raps three times, firmly.

Bibi goes to the door and opens it.

Seruffin doesn't want to alarm a donor who's used to Bibi, and so he hangs back a bit. He doesn't let that stop him from zlinning the visitor with ~~ interest ~~

Flip: Hi, Bibi. It's that time of the month again, it seems. How are you?

Bibi: I'm fine. How have you been?

Flip: Well, you probably heard I was sick last month, so I didn't come in like it says in the booklet.

Bibi ushers the Gen into the reception area.

Flip: I didn't want to bother you with a silly little cold.

Bibi: How are you feeling now?

Seruffin observes with approval that this Gen, too, seems very relaxed around Bibi. He draws a little closer, although he's careful not to crowd the Gen.

Flip: Totally tiptop, I'm glad to say, and ready to unload my tank.

Bibi: Good. Flip, I'd like you to meet Hajene Seruffin, who's visiting us.

Seruffin smiles cordially.

Seruffin: I'm glad to meet you.

Flip: Hello, Hajene. How's life in the big city?

Seruffin chuckles.

Seruffin: As frantic as harvest, but one never quite manages to get the crops in.

Flip: I hear you, I hear you.

Bibi: Flip, would you be willing to have Hajene Seruffin take your donation this time?

Seruffin: If you prefer Hajene Bibi, of course, that's fine.

Flip hesitates, then plunges in.

Flip: Sure, I have no problem with that, Hajene. What's it all about?

Seruffin: I'm just helping Bibi with the workload, a bit.

Bibi smiles encouragingly (and charmingly).

Flip: Ah, I see. Spreading the work around never hurt anybody, eh?

Seruffin: Exactly.

Flip: Well then. Shall we get to it? I must be a bit overstuffed, what with missing last month and all.

Seruffin zlins Flip.

Bibi wonders where Cristal and Gerrhonot are.

Seruffin: You're a bit higher field than I expect you are usually, but that just means you'll make a bit more.

Bibi figures this "helping out" excuse won't cut it if she goes in to back Seruffin in the Donor's role. She pulls Flip's file from the "expected donors" basket and hands it to Seruffin.

Seruffin looks through it quickly, checking for anything that might lead to trouble.

Bibi: I wonder what's keeping Cristal. Shall I get him, or Gerrhonot, Hajene?

Bibi looks down the corridor towards the kitchen and common room.

Seruffin: I believe Gerrhonot was almost finished with lunch.

Bibi: Estragen, could you please go see what's keeping Cristal?

Estragen: Yes, Hajene.

Estragen runs dutifully to her errand.

Seruffin glances at Flip's file for that hallowed old conversation piece with donors: their profession.

Seruffin: It says here you're a blacksmith?

Flip: Yes sir, Hajene. Good for the wind and keeps you feeling younger, I always say.

Seruffin: Yes, physical work will do that. Do you specialize in shoeing horses, or do you make fine ironwork, as well?

Flip: No, I'm an all-round smith. There used to be a farrier in these parts, but he went bust some years back. Moved to town with a bad back, so I hear.

Flip: So what do you specialize in, Hajene?

Seruffin: I'm a diplomat. Since there's never a shortage of misunderstandings between people, I'm in no danger of being unemployed, more's the pity.

Seruffin winks.

Cristal walks into the donation room followed closely by Estragen.

Seruffin: Ah, Cristal, there you are.

Cristal's field shows none of the anger his face reveals he is feeling, at least to Bibi.

Cristal: My apologies for lateness, Hajene Bibi. My apologies, Hajene Seruffin. It was inexcusable of me to neglect my duty in this fashion.

Seruffin: No permanent harm done, this time.

Cristal: Good day, Flip. I am pleased to see that you have returned to us.

Flip: Hey there, Sosu Cristal. Did you miss seeing me last month?

Seruffin observes Flip's response to Cristal closely.

Seruffin: Flip has kindly consented to donate to me, instead of Bibi.

Cristal: Well, of course your selyn is always required, just as is the case for the other general-class donors.

Flip thinks this is going a bit far even for someone of Cristal's known habits, but he'll let it go --this time.

Seruffin: That's true, and any Sime Center likes to keep up with any health problems its donors might have.

Seruffin wishes that Cristal had a bit more warmth in his personality.

Cristal: Very true, Hajene. But when regular donors won't come in because they feel ill, what can we do?

Flip thinks that's quite enough of that.

Seruffin thinks "welcome them back when they return" would be appropriate behavior.

Bibi watches Cristal closely. She wonders what he's mad about this time, and why he thinks he can hide it from her nagerically, when it's so plain on his face and in his voice. She isn't too pleased that he seems to be taking his disgruntlement out on the donor, either.

Flip: In any case, let's go ahead, eh? Some of us have work to do.

Flip: [hastily] I don't mean you, Hajene.

Seruffin smiles genially, and waves Flip towards the donation room.

Seruffin: Of course.

Flip walks into the donation room and flops down on the Gen side of the lounge.

Flip: Ready when you are, Hajene.

Seruffin glances once more over the file, just to make sure he didn't miss anything, then sets it on the desk and joins Flip.

Seruffin offers his hands to the donor.

Flip takes Seruffin's hands in his.

Cristal makes his well-schooled motions.

Seruffin lets his handling tentacles emerge, to grasp Flip's wrists comfortably but firmly.

Flip closes his eyes, inhales profoundly, exhales ~~ comfort peace tranquility ~~

Seruffin: That's very good.

Seruffin lets his laterals make contact.

Flip: Thanks, Hajene. ~~total relaxation~~

Seruffin makes lip contact, and starts drawing selyn from the GN-3 level. He empties it, then cautiously approaches the GN-2 barrier, testing to see if it can be breached easily. He decides that it can be done, with due caution, and starts coaxing selyn to flow from the GN-2 level.

Cristal senses the change in the nager, in that mystical Gen fashion, and increases his ~~support~~

Seruffin has, perhaps, spent way too long with very minimal workloads.

Flip lowers his GN-2 barrier as if he'd been doing it his whole life.

Seruffin is a bit ~~ surprised ~~ at the ease with which the barrier lowers, but doesn't let that stop him from neatly draining the GN-2 level.

Flip's pent-up selyn pours into Seruffin's laterals like water over the dam.

Seruffin pauses at the barrier between the GN-2 and GN-1 levels and tests the degree of resistance offered by the GN-1 barrier.

Flip's GN-1 barrier remains firmly closed.

Seruffin doesn't press the issue, but brings the donation to a close and relinquishes contact.

Flip: Smooth, Hajene. I never felt a thing.

Flip chuckles.

Seruffin: Good. I'd hate to think I was losing my touch.

Seruffin winks.

Seruffin stands and returns to the desk to scribble some notations in Flip's file.

Seruffin: I was able to get more selyn than you gave before.

Seruffin fills out a voucher form and hands it to Flip.

Flip: Really? Hey, excellent.

Seruffin: I'm sure you'll find a use for the extra money.

Flip looks at the voucher.

Flip: You betcha. New tools, always a need for new tools.

Seruffin: If you can stay that relaxed next time, Hajene Bibi should be able to get more selyn, too.

Flip mutters something about "@#$* crap outta the Mercer Museum" ...

Seruffin: The Mercer Museum? What's that?

Flip: [embarrassed] I don't know. It's something smiths say when they're talking about out-of-date tools.

Seruffin makes another notation or two in the file, then closes it.

Flip: I guess tools aren't too important to a channel, but I wouldn't get far without them. Anyhow, it was a pleasure doing business with you, Hajene.

Seruffin: Thank you. I've enjoyed working with you, even if I didn't get to use any tools except those provided by nature.

Seruffin extends his handling tentacles for inspection briefly, then sheaths them again.

Cristal: Hajene! ~~shocked~~

Cristal can't believe Hajene Seruffin, the First, is lowering himself in this fashion.

Seruffin: Is something the matter, Cristal?

Estragen looks up at the exclamation from Cristal. She doesn't notice anything untoward and returns to shuffling papers from one pile to the next.

Seruffin has far too much genuine, inborn dignity to stand upon it.

Cristal: By no means, Hajene.

Cristal thinks, "Well, a First is a First, and he can do whatever he wants. But he could give some thought to the reputation of the staff here."

Cristal has momentarily forgotten in his outrage that he is rotating home [whenever]. He believes the very idea of comparing man-made chunks of iron with a First's tentacles is totally offensive and outrageous beyond belief.

Seruffin tries to decide whether he should take up the matter later, or whether calling Cristal on his attitude would just offend him more, without changing anything.

Flip: And toodle-oo to you too, Sosu.

Seruffin grins at Flip in a very undignified fashion, but with his face turned so Cristal can't see it.

Flip sits up and looks around for the usual tea and cookies.

Seruffin gestures for Flip to proceed him out the door, back to the reception room.

Flip realizes that Seruffin didn't bring them as Bibi would have, gets up and exits the donation area.

Bibi: Hi, Flip. How'd it go? Would you like some tea and cookies?

Flip: Dee-yefinitely, Bibi. I'm ready to scarf 'em.

Bibi pours a mug of tea, hands it to Flip and offers the plate of cookies.

Seruffin wonders, as always, where Gens manage to put snacks, after the enormous amounts of food they consume during regular meals.

Flip: Donating always gives me such an appetite, I could eat ~~a horse~~

Flip stops before finishing the thought, but unfortunately it's quite visible in his nager.

Seruffin: Surely not?

Flip: Oops. Sorry, Hajene. Sorry, Bibi.

Bibi: No problem, Flip. It's just an idiom, Hajene.

Cristal: It seems that Flip has a, well, vivid imagination.

Bibi wonders how long she and Seruffin are going to continue to address each other as Hajene. It's starting to feel a bit strange and awkward.

Seruffin: Oh. My apologies, Flip. Unlike Bibi, I grew up in Sime Territory. I didn't start learning English until after my changeover.

Flip munches cookies to cover his ~~embarrassment~~

Flip: Well, aren't we the mutual apology society!

Seruffin chuckles.

Cristal still doesn't understand, but perceives that it's in his best interest to stay out of it.

Seruffin: A friend of mine once said that it's a diplomat's job to apologize early and often.

Flip: Having to say you're sorry every five minutes, eh?

Seruffin: It's much more productive, long-term, than making an incident out of each misunderstanding.

Flip: Like some.

Flip winks.

Seruffin: I expect you do something similar with difficult customers.

Bibi wonders what happened in the donation room, and how much of it was Cristal's doing.

Flip: Can't say I have really difficult customers. They get too difficult, they get to try driving around on a bent axle for a while.

Seruffin: Now, there you have a huge advantage. A diplomat is seldom seen as a necessity.

Flip: What, they prefer raids? Or wars? ~~shudders~~

Seruffin: Well, not in the hypothetical sense, no. On the other hand, the officials who rank high enough to negotiate for their governments aren't usually the type to put themselves in harm's way from either. So they feel less urgency to compromise than those who are more vulnerable.

Flip: Too right. Well, keep on working it, Hajene. And stop by the forge any time you need anything -- no charge.

Seruffin: That's very generous of you, Flip.

Seruffin isn't likely to require any iron products during the expected brief duration of his stay, but he accepts the offer in the spirit in which it is given.

Flip: De nada. (That's Spanyol, Hajene.)

Seruffin: A beautiful language.

Seruffin can't speak or understand more than a few words, but he likes the sound of it anyway.

Bibi enjoys seeing how comfortable Seruffin and Flip are talking to each other.

Seruffin turns his head as Nattin enters the room.

Seruffin: There's Nattin now, if you'd like to cash that voucher.

Flip drains his teacup and puts it down on the empty plate.

Flip: Gotcha. Tuib Nattin, if you'd do me a service?

Flip walks to join Nattin, holding out his voucher.

Nattin takes the voucher, raising an eyebrow at the sum.

Nattin: I see you had a good month. Come along, and I'll cash this.

Flip: Yup, Hajene Seruffin squeezed me extra hard there, I guess.

Bibi gestures to Cristal to join her.

Flip follows Nattin into the bowels of the Sime Center.

Seruffin waits until Flip and Nattin are out of earshot.

Seruffin: Sosu Cristal, would you mind very much explaining what that was all about?

Seruffin's tone leaves no doubt that this is not an optional request.

Cristal: I have no excuse, Hajene.

Bibi tries hard to zlin what's behind Cristal's words, with no result.

Seruffin: I'm glad that you understand that you were behaving unprofessionally. What I want to know, is why?

Cristal: [after long pause] It's hard for me to see you lowering yourself to that donor's level. Hajene.

Seruffin: Lowering? Aren't you making an unjustified assumption, there?

Cristal: Hajene, you are a First! You are one in ten thousand, or a hundred thousand, or whatever it is!

Cristal didn't do too well in math.

Cristal: Flip is no doubt a very worthy human being, but he is only a general-class donor.

Seruffin: My nervous system happens to be peculiar in a fashion that the Tecton finds particularly valuable, that's true. But without general-class donors like Flip, it wouldn't do anyone any good. In fact, it would be a distinct liability to society.

Seruffin: Gens like Flip, on the other hand, are the forward-thinking people on whose shoulders the future of the Tecton rests. One could make a convincing argument that he was the one lowering himself to my level.

Cristal: Hajene.

Cristal is never going to get a clue.

Seruffin is not being humble; if anything, he's being more dignified than usual. He zlins that Cristal doesn't get it, and sighs. He decides to take a less philosophical approach.

Seruffin: Sosu, how do you feel when someone addresses you with obvious contempt? As if you were a crude country bumpkin, or a tiresome bore?

Seruffin suspects that Cristal can answer at least that second possibility from personal experience.

Cristal: Naturally I resent it. I am after all a Second Order Donor in the Tecton; it reflects on the Tecton if I am treated without respect. And, if you will permit me to say so, Hajene ...

Seruffin makes a permissive gesture with three handling tentacles.

Cristal: It also reflects on the Tecton when you allow yourself to be treated with, well, insufficient respect. ~~ righteous indignation ~~

Bibi's heart sinks. Cristal's attitude and views are worse than she realized. She'd been trying to give him the benefit of the doubt all along.

Seruffin: It reflects far worse on the Tecton if its representatives treat those upon whom the Tecton depends with disrespect. I think, though, that perhaps what you object to is less lack of respect, than lack of formality?

Cristal: Perhaps so. But in my experience respect is best maintained when all parties clearly understand their proper roles. Do you think it would be easy for a judge to maintain order in her courtroom if she didn't wear the white cloak? Hajene.

Seruffin: Formality, and the ceremony that often accompanies it, have their place, I agree. But they are only significant to the extent that they confirm something that already exists.

Cristal uses his hand to mimic the Sime gesture meaning "Granted".

Seruffin: And they often get in the way of true understanding. Or weren't you aware that almost all of the progress in a diplomatic negotiation takes place away from the formal sessions?

Cristal: I can't say that I knew that, no.

Seruffin: Informality tends to build trust, just as formality reinforces respect.

Cristal: What possible reason would Flip have not to trust you, Hajene? He can't tell you are a First just by looking at you, true, but he knows from months, or is it years, of experience that he can trust Hajene Bibi, and her say-so certainly should be good enough for him.

Seruffin: It was good enough that he was willing to try working with me. I saw no reason to make things more difficult for him by insisting on the outward form of a respect he was already willingly offering me.

Seruffin doesn't try to claim that Flip was offering respect to Cristal; Simes don't generally lie very well.

Cristal: I can't say I agree with your choice, Hajene, but I do ~~ understand ~~ the reasons that led you to make it.

Bibi doubts that Cristal understands much of it at all.

Cristal: As a First, your judgment in these matters is inherently superior to mine.

Seruffin gathers from this that Cristal is clueless.

Seruffin: Then accept my judgment that treating a person--any person, no matter what their background or abilities--in the manner you would treat a true equal, is the fastest way to win their respect and cooperation.

Cristal: Hajene.

Seruffin: On the other hand, insisting on outward displays of deference are a sure way to alienate just about anybody.

Cristal: Hajene.

Cristal thinks "It certainly doesn't alienate me."

Seruffin: Try it, Cristal.

Seruffin deliberately leaves off the title.

Cristal: Hajene?

Cristal is truly bewildered now.

Seruffin: Try addressing the donors as if they were TN-2's like you. In worth, if not in technical knowhow. If you do, I believe you will be freely given more real respect than any dozen "Sosus" could provide.

Cristal: I think I understand now. You mean that I have been lacking in noblesse oblige.

Cristal: [That doesn't come across as a foreign term to Seruffin.]

Seruffin: If it helps you to think of it that way, then yes. Although it would be wise to consider that neither channels nor Donors have any particular status in Gen Territory. Except perhaps that of "peculiar foreigner with incomprehensible habits".

Cristal actually smiles, and his face doesn't crack, either.

Cristal: But... Perhaps you are right at that. Allow me to rephrase that?

Seruffin makes a gracious gesture.

Cristal: Perhaps you are right at that, Seruffin.

Seruffin smiles in return.

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