Senator Tsibola has just finished a suitably calorific dinner furnished by his brother-in-law's expert cook, and has now retired to his host's study for a more private conversation.
Fennik replaces the crystal brandy decanter on the silver tray on the antique sideboard after pouring for himself and his brother-in-law into two delicate balloon glass snifters.
SenTsibola accepts a snifter, then retires to one of the comfortable leather-upholstered chairs near the fireplace. He looks into the flames as he swirls the brandy and takes a reverent sip.
Fennik stands near the fire, gazing into his own glass.
SenTsibola: This must be almost as old as those moldering books you like so much, Jon.
Fennik: It was a gift to us, when Fridda was born.
SenTsibola: It was to be a coming-of-age gift?
Fennik: I thought perhaps a wedding present.
SenTsibola sighs as well.
Fennik: Fridda wasn't ready to appreciate good brandy, I think.
SenTsibola: No, she wasn't. And I don't have any idea if....if Simes drink brandy.
SenTsibola never had any reason to wonder, before this.
Fennik: Ruthven... what is she like, now?
Fennik's voice is coming from a tightened throat.
SenTsibola: I didn't actually see her. We were on opposite sides of a fairly thick hedge. But she sounded like herself. Tired, in pain--they told me there was something wrong with her tentacles--but Fridda.
Fennik shivers a little, to think of tentacles disfiguring his poor daughter's arms.
SenTsibola smiles wryly.
SenTsibola: She's already planning what she wants to do with the rest of her life, as well as she can.
Fennik: I didn't believe her, when she told me she was turning Sime. I thought she was safe. She had to get that ignorant handyman to help her.
Fennik isn't ready to give up his guilt yet.
SenTsibola: You couldn't have done anything more for her than he did, Jon.
Fennik: Ruthven, had it happened here in the city, I would have taken her to the Sime Center. You know that, don't you?
SenTsibola looks at his brandy.
SenTsibola: Yes, I've suspected as much for years.
SenTsibola very carefully avoided bringing up the subject, so he wouldn't have been obligated to enforce the family position with regards to Sime Centers.
SenTsibola: And frankly...I've been glad that it wouldn't have been my choice.
Fennik: I'm glad she's alive. I hope she'll do well over there.
Fennik finds himself trembling.
SenTsibola: Fridda? They won't know what hit them.
Fennik is gradually realizing that he isn't going to have to get into an argument with his brother-in-law over this after all. He'd been bracing for a tirade on how he'd failed in his duty.
Fennik sits in the other chair and relaxes a good deal.
SenTsibola: Of course, with the best of intentions, she left a mess behind. That child. The farm girl.
Fennik: What happened?
SenTsibola: The channel who was looking after her was short of selyn, so he recruited a twelve year old to donate.
SenTsibola: Her parents were not amused.
Fennik: Are they going to cause trouble?
SenTsibola: I hope not. I took the precaution of paying a call on them, to smooth the waters.
Fennik tries to imagine the Senator visiting a marginal farm up in those hills and dealing with that kind of ignorant farmers.
SenTsibola: It's not much of a place. A filthy farm, in a town that doesn't even have a proper market. Or proper paving on the streets. The parents proved an ignorant lot, suspicious of outsiders.
Fennik: They tend not to think much of the educated classes, out there.
Fennik has had a few run-ins with his neighbors, out at the summer place.
SenTsibola: I know. And much as they want our money, they want to pretend they don't need it even more.
Fennik: Were you able to smooth it all out?
SenTsibola: I hope so. I didn't think an outright offer of cash would do the trick. They'd think it was an insult, or something.
Fennik: Yes, they can be like that. Dirt poor, but very proud.
SenTsibola: So, I told them our family was obligated, and felt it appropriate to do something for their children, since they had helped Fridda. Their older boy is living in Hannard's Ford, because the Simes told them he was going to be a channel. The younger girl is the one who donated. A rather wild child, as I'm sure you've guessed.
Fennik: I wondered how the channel managed to find her. Why would he even approach a child like that?
SenTsibola smiles ~~sourly ~~
SenTsibola: I gather the little brat snuck over to the jail to look at the show, and practically threw herself into the channel's arms.
Fennik shakes his head, glad that his own daughter was so much better behaved than that farm brat.
SenTsibola: I told the parents that if their daughter took it into her head to run off to the city, our family would find her a job, and make sure she doesn't run into too much trouble. The same with the son, if he turns out to be Gen after all.
Fennik is surprised. That's a much bigger commitment than just paying them off.
Fennik: That's very generous. How did the family take it?
SenTsibola: They didn't reject it out of hand. Beyond that, I don't know. I hope they'll at least try to contact us before they make a fuss. Although frankly, they're more likely to attack the Tecton.
Fennik: But they trust the Tecton with their son?
Fennik shakes his head again. You can't expect uneducated people to act rationally.
SenTsibola: They think he'll be Sime, and the nearest Sime Center is a long way away.
Fennik: Well, if he does turn Sime, I guess they'll feel obligated to the Simes, and won't be in any position to cause them trouble.
SenTsibola: Yes. Let's hope they don't take it out on us.
SenTsibola: I...took the precaution of just introducing myself as Fridda's Uncle Ruthven.
Fennik: That was probably wise.
SenTsibola: If they knew I was a Senator, or of the General Metals connection, they'd probably get greedy. And the girl has already been paid for her selyn once. You know how much they pay. That's a lot of money for a farm girl.
Fennik: Yes. Some of our students depend on donation money.
SenTsibola: Or they just want to give their parents the screaming willies.
Fennik: I suppose I would have felt that way about Fridda. Now... I don't know.
SenTsibola: Do you think she would've gone that far, to assert her new independence?
Fennik: I think she might have tried it, but not to defy me. She probably wouldn't have told me if she thought I'd get upset.
Fennik sips his brandy.
Fennik: She and I got along well, you know.
SenTsibola: Yes, I do. I hadn't thought she'd be the type to throw herself into a Sime's tentacles. Well, before.
Fennik: She was -- is adventurous. I'm sure that comes from your side of the family.
Fennik steels himself.
Fennik: Ruthven... I'm not going to tell people she's dead.
Fennik: I won't lie about it. What did you tell the guests when you cancelled the party?
SenTsibola: I told them that circumstances beyond our control required us to change our plans.
Fennik: I see. Well, when people have asked about Fridda, I've told them she turned Sime. No one has asked any further questions. Yet.
SenTsibola: I should hope not. Of course, when there isn't a funeral, they may.
Fennik: I'm getting a lot more sympathy than I deserve. When people have asked about a funeral, I've told them there won't be one.
SenTsibola: I hope you will at least refuse to see any reporters who might want to question you on the subject?
Fennik gives him a disgusted look.
Fennik fails to see why a reporter would want to talk to him, or why he'd want to talk to a reporter, except about his research.
Fennik: I'm not advertising it, but I'm not going to lie, either. And I suspect that if you lie, it will turn out worse in the end.
SenTsibola: Look, Jon, I know you don't spend a lot of time keeping up with General Metals, but with the current situation, it's critical that our family not be seen to be Simelovers.
SenTsibola: I can live down Fridda being alive and Sime, since she took matters into her own hands. And I don't think anyone saw me talking to her. But it could be rather difficult if it was known that our family made use of a Sime Center to save one of our own. And not just politically, either. There's been a lot of unrest among the miners and smelter workers.
Fennik: What has that got to do with Simes?
SenTsibola: They're starting to talk union, and strikes. And more: they're talking Simes.
SenTsibola's fists tighten on his snifter. He realizes what he's doing, and sets the snifter aside before he breaks it.
SenTsibola: You know how we've been able to keep the workers' rowdier instincts curbed, at the General Metals mine and smelter?
Fennik: What? The company cops?
SenTsibola: Yes, and of course they know that we can outlast them, if it comes to a strike.
SenTsibola's expression turns ~~ cold ~~
Fennik: And you're afraid they're going to throw themselves into the Simes' tentacles and live off donation payments?
SenTsibola: It appears they may be planning to do just that.
Fennik: A few loudmouths may be threatening it, but the rest of them? They probably still believe the Simes in Nivet kill a Pen Gen every month.
SenTsibola: I discovered recently, quite by accident, that those interfering, trouble-making labor organizers have been in contact with the Tecton.
Fennik: And what's the Tecton's position?
SenTsibola: They're Simes. Can you really expect them to turn down a chance to get their slimy tentacles on a whole new town full of Gens?
Fennik figures that there are plenty of towns but few with Sime Centers.
SenTsibola: Oh, they won't put a Sime Center in. I can still block that. But they--and the agitators--have found a way around me.
SenTsibola: It's quite clever, actually. Much more clever than I'd have given them credit for. Worthy of a professional diplomat.
Fennik figures there's no shortage of intelligent Simes. Fridda, for example.
SenTsibola: You know that the primary responsibility of the Company's private security force is to hunt down any Simes who might infest the Ancient ruins, and endanger the mining efforts?
Fennik: I suppose so. There aren't many of them, are there?
Fennik figures the company cops mostly spend their time breaking up brawls and preventing or investigating sabotage.
SenTsibola: No, but it only takes one or two to make the miners too afraid to work properly. Anyway, the agitators managed to throw together a petition asking for the Tecton to send a team in to clean out the ruins.
SenTsibola: It's not funny, Jon!
Fennik: That is clever. But is the Tecton going to do it? Are there any berserkers in there?
SenTsibola: There could be a few, for all I know. We've lost several of the security guards in the past few months. Of course, they could have been ambushed by others. Unfortunately, I'm not on the committee that oversees cooperative liaison with the Tecton.
Fennik: Well, the ruins are company property. So's the town for that matter. You can keep anybody you want out of there.
SenTsibola: And just who's going to enforce such an edict?
Fennik: Your fearless Sime hunters, the company cops, right?
SenTsibola: Wrong. Do you know what sort of team the Tecton sends in to take care of chores like that?
Fennik: A law abiding one, I should hope.
SenTsibola: Yes. And the law they are abiding by is technically a treaty. Which trumps such small matters as individual property rights. I looked it up.
SenTsibola's tone is bitter.
Fennik: Hmm. I guess the Unity Treaty does include helping us deal with our Simes, but I thought it was by invitation only.
SenTsibola: Yes. Specifically, the invitation of the Committee for Interterritorial Liaison. And you know they're a bunch of do-good radical liberals. Pollovic is hardly likely to refuse the chance to smear pie on my face.
Fennik: Well, chasing wild Simes is one thing. Paying for hundreds of donations is another. Assuming there are hundreds of your workers who'd let a Sime touch them.
SenTsibola: They set the price for selyn. Do you think they don't allow for a nice profit margin? And don't underestimate how stubborn laborers can get, if someone convinces them they're being wronged.
Fennik: Well, Ruthven, they're your workers. I can't see them going in there en masse, getting enough from donations to support a strike. They've got some pride too, and most of them are ignorant and superstitious, and believe what their church tells them.
Fennik is glad he's got a nice tenured university position, and doesn't have to deal with such situations.
SenTsibola: Let's hope that'll be enough. One thing's sure: the security force can't stop them.
Fennik: I'm sure you haven't exhausted all alternatives yet. There's their ambassador, for one. You could point out that you can't guarantee the safety of any Simes the Tecton sends in. Your workers are all armed.
SenTsibola: I talked it over with Brillig...
SenTsibola: He's the head of the GM security detachment that guards the New Washington interests. He had some interesting comments on the sort of team the Tecton sends in for jobs like this.
Fennik expresses interest.
SenTsibola: They're apparently from some Householding of fanatics that learn how to fight practically before they can walk. They're so good that the Army hires them to train the really elite units in hand to hand combat.
Fennik: The Army hires Simes?
SenTsibola: And Gens. They have both. And their Gens can take on most Simes barehanded. And win. Brillig saw one or two of them work out once. He said flat out that our security forces were outclassed.
Fennik: Well, that kind of skill won't do them any good against a rifle bullet, and you've got plenty of well armed church going fanatics of your own there, whose behavior you can't vouch for. Tell the Tecton that.
Fennik has the fleeting thought that it's too bad Fridda isn't here for the discussion, then remembers that she'll never be here again, and suffers a pang of sadness.
SenTsibola: Do you think I didn't try?
Fennik: What did they say?
SenTsibola: The ambassador was very polite. He kept a straight face as he pointed out that two of the town's three clergymen had signed the petition asking for the Simes to come.
Fennik: Well, Ruthven, I'm a college professor. All this is out of my area of expertise.
Fennik gets up and refills the brandy snifters.
SenTsibola: We can't afford labor trouble just now, Jon. Not when we've committed to expanding the factories in New Washington and Cago.
Fennik thinks it sounds like GM has labor trouble whether it can afford it or not. He makes a gesture indicating his lack of further suggestions.
SenTsibola spreads his own hands to indicate that he, too, is stumped.
Fennik slumps in his seat.
Fennik: God, Ruthven, I wish Fridda were here. I miss her so much.
SenTsibola: I do, too.
Fennik: Do you think she'll be all right? Are they treating her well?
SenTsibola: She didn't complain about how she was being treated. And the Donor who said her tentacle damage would heal was a high-ranking one. Those are supposed to be the best physicians.
Fennik shakes his head.
Fennik: I just can't get used to it. She was almost sixteen. I'd stopped worrying about it happening.
SenTsibola: I know. Who could have guessed, at her age, that she wasn't a Gen?
Fennik: She hadn't developed much, but I thought she'd just be slender, like her mother.
SenTsibola: Well, she will be. Sime slender. I guess those kids who used to tease her were right, after all.
Fennik swirls his brandy and takes a sip.
SenTsibola tops off his brother-in-law's glass: it looks like he could use it.
Fennik: Such a beautiful girl, so intelligent. I had such hopes for her. She had such strength, such character, even when she was young.
SenTsibola: Yes. It's a crying shame. One of those quirks of fate designed to question our faith.
Fennik learned long ago not to discuss religion with his brother-in-law.
Fennik: I still have her mother's jewelry here. I was going to give it to her on her birthday.
Fennik has another sip of very old, very expensive brandy.
SenTsibola: You...still could, I suppose. At least, when she's settled. What else is there to do with it, after all? It shouldn't just be sold to a stranger.
Fennik: I suppose I could send it to her. I wish I could visit her. Sime or Gen, she's still my daughter.
SenTsibola: The Tecton lets family visit. Of course, they demand certain concessions first.
Fennik: I know. You have to donate before they'll let you in.
Fennik is slightly nauseated by the idea.
SenTsibola is glad that his brother-in-law hasn't lost all perspective.
Fennik: I've got an appointment with Arbuthnot junior next week, to arrange to transfer Fridda's assets to her.
Fennik: Sixteen may be adult, but she's really too young to be all alone in a foreign country.
SenTsibola: You won't lose touch with her completely. Not for a while, anyway, although lots of Sime children stop writing.
Fennik sips more brandy.
Fennik: Well, if I do visit her, I'll make it as low key as I can. Or else I'll hide it under an invitation to speak at one of their universities.
SenTsibola: They have the gall to send you invitations, when there are that kind of conditions attached?
Fennik: Well, they haven't invited me yet, but I suppose I could do a bit of fishing for invitations.
SenTsibola shakes his head in ~~ disbelief ~~
SenTsibola: I can't see you trotting off to a Sime Center, somehow.
Fennik: It is a rather revolting idea, isn't it?
SenTsibola: Very. I mean, I suppose it's all right for the poor and the desperate. Or even students out for a wild adventure.
Fennik snuggles deeper into his chair and has another sip of brandy. Between the wine with dinner and this lovely stuff he's feeling a lot more mellow than he has in some time.
SenTsibola: But, you?
Fennik: I've heard they make exceptions. You have to have a sort of nanny with you at all times, but they do let some people in briefly without donating. Maybe a visiting professor could get that kind of exemption, eh?
SenTsibola: It's worth a try. If you want someone to lean on the ambassador, let me know.
Fennik: Thanks, I appreciate it.
Fennik considers how to express this.
Fennik: Ruthven, why did they make you talk to Fridda through a hedge?
SenTsibola takes a sip of brandy.
SenTsibola: They didn't. I've sworn never to enter a Sime Center, and I keep my word. The back hedge was less conspicuous than talking at the front gate.
Fennik: I see.
Fennik thinks that Ruthven must have looked pretty silly to anyone watching, and hopes that Fridda wasn't upset about it.
SenTsibola: I admit, though. I was just as glad that I couldn't see...
SenTsibola chokes, and swallows a rather larger portion of brandy than strictly allowed in current etiquette.
SenTsibola: She sounded pretty much like herself, at least. Well, tired and hurting, but Fridda. I could imagine, at least a little, that it never happened.
Fennik wonders what it would be like to have injured tentacles, and feels strange.
Fennik: Ah, Ruthven, you were like a second father to her... especially after her mother died. She always looked up to you.
SenTsibola: She was the daughter I never had. And one any father would be proud of.
SenTsibola raises his snifter in salute.
SenTsibola: To Fridda!
Fennik also raises his.
Fennik: Our daughter, Sime or Gen!
SenTsibola hesitates a long moment, then drinks.
Fennik: Ruthven, I've been doing a lot of thinking since this happened. Some strange ideas, maybe.
Fennik: You know, I've always tried to understand what it would have been like for the Ancients. They weren't Gens, no matter what some of the churches say. They really didn't have larity. It's hard to imagine.
SenTsibola: Yes. They never had to worry about losing their children, just on the brink of adulthood. A privilege not granted us, their descendents.
Fennik: But when you think about it, isn't that what they have in-T now? For parents and for children? The children don't have to worry, and neither do the parents. Whatever happens, they can stay together. The children don't have to die. Nobody gets killed.
SenTsibola: It all sounds very romantic, but I doubt they're as indifferent as that to how their children turn out. Even if they don't kill them anymore, their Gen children are their food supply. How can they possibly forget that?
Fennik: But they don't have to murder their Sime children, nor fear that those children will kill them or someone else.
SenTsibola: Well, not as long as there are enough Gens to provide what they need.
Fennik: It's not the same as the Ancients, but it's not like us, either.
Fennik has thought about the need for Gens to donate so his daughter can live, but is sure there are plenty of them to do so.
SenTsibola: No, it isn't. It's a delicate balancing act, that's pretty as long as nothing upsets it. Our society is more stable, at heart, even if it isn't as pretty.
Fennik: It's certainly more successful. A few million of them in-T and vastly more of us out here.
SenTsibola: I figure that means we're doing something right.
Fennik: I suppose so.
Fennik thinks that if he hadn't had to worry about changeover he might have had more children. And then he wouldn't be alone now.
Fennik: Still, I'm glad Fridda's alive, and didn't kill.
SenTsibola: Me, too. Sime or not, she didn't deserve to become a murderer.
Fennik shivers, remembering the nightmares he had over the years of Fridda as a berserker.
Fennik: Yes. Yes, indeed.