Strangers in Strange Lands: Episode 5

Senator Tsibola has once more spent a civilized evening at his brother-in-law's house, eating an excellent sauerbraten with potatoes, red cabbage, and other traditional side dishes.

Tsibola has long since grown tired of rubber banquet chicken and leather roast mystery beast. He's frankly surprised that his supporters are willing to actually pay good money to attend his campaign fund-raising dinners. He does wonder, from time to time, whether he could raise more funds by promising not to feed his guests, however.

Tsibola finds this a welcome distraction from the bad news that came with the morning mail. He's been trying hard all evening not to spoil his brother-in-law's dinner by discussing it prematurely.

Fennik offers his brother-in-law the most comfortable leather chair in his book-lined study and goes to the ornately-carved antique sideboard to pour port from a crystal decanter into two matching crystal goblets.

Tsibola sinks into the chair with ~~ gratitude ~~

Fennik: Here you go, Ruthven.

Fennik gives the Senator the goblet and sits in another comfortable leather armchair.

Tsibola: Thank you, Jon.

Tsibola sips delicately.

Tsibola: A fine wine.

Fennik: Nothing like a good rich port after a meal like that.

Tsibola can tell it's not as fine as the brandy he and Fennik consumed at Fridda's "wake", but few things would be.

Tsibola: Yes.

Fennik: I guess you've heard from Fridda, too. She said she'd written to you.

Tsibola: It wasn't a very informative letter. Was yours more detailed?

Fennik sighs.

Fennik: No, just that she's doing well, I shouldn't worry about her and she still loves me and misses me.

Fennik worries that Fridda was protesting too much in her assurances.

Tsibola frowns.

Tsibola: I hope that means that she just hasn't settled in, yet. If she's still being uninformative in another month or so, I'll be tempted to investigate and see what she's not telling us.

Fennik: A good thought.

Fennik wonders how Ruthven would implement it.

Tsibola figures that sort of thing is what he pays his lawyers to figure out.

Tsibola: If the problem is that her injuries aren't healing as well as they should, the proper pressure might get her better medical care.

Fennik: She sounded fairly optimistic, though, so maybe she's just busy, or what she's doing is too... difficult to describe.

Tsibola: I suppose it can't be an easy adjustment, living as a Sime.

Fennik: It must be very strange, having an extra sense, and having other people's emotions affect you directly.

Tsibola: Yes. And to depend on other people like that... I'm told that a Sime's whole personality can change, when they're hungry for selyn.

Fennik: Well, I don't think they let any of them get too hungry or their Gens wouldn't be safe.

Tsibola: You're probably right.

Fennik still feels strange at the thought of Fridda being Sime, changing in incomprehensible ways. He's been reading about Simes and Simeland cultures, somewhat surreptitiously, in the university library.

Tsibola: They can't afford to scare off the Gens they already have in their clutches. At least, one assumes they can't, or they wouldn't be trying to recruit new donors in our Territory.

Tsibola frowns at the thought, and what it says for the near future of the Cordvain Valley.

Fennik: From what I understand, most Gens are fairly content to stay in Simeland if they grow up there.

Tsibola: Well, they don't know better. It's always easier to stay put in a marginal situation, than to strike out and risk complete disaster in hopes of bettering yourself.

Tsibola says this with the easy near-contempt of a man who's never been in a marginal situation in his life.

Fennik's reading has made him a bit more open-minded, but he doesn't want to get into any arguments right now.

Fennik: I suppose so. They have a guaranteed livelihood, even without working, so most of them probably have even less ambition than the common herd here.

Tsibola: And that's little enough, goodness knows.

Fennik nods in agreement.

Tsibola: If they don't view Simes as dangerous -- and the Tecton certainly puts out enough propaganda to that effect -- what is there to bring them to our side of the border?

Fennik: True. They'd have to learn a new language, new customs and all, too. Much more comfortable to stay home and live off their selyn payments.

Tsibola: Yes. Of course, that attitude doesn't seem to be limited to their side of the border, any more. More's the pity.

Tsibola scowls, as the matter that's been preoccupying him all day comes back to ruin his enjoyment of the port. He sets his glass aside. He knows better than to hold a delicate glass when he's angry; he's always been a fist-clencher.

Fennik waits for Ruthven to come out with it.

Tsibola: There's trouble in Cordvain Valley, Jon. Real trouble. And I don't know what to do about it. Or if anything can be done, at all.

Tsibola does not like to admit his cluelessness, and it shows.

Fennik: The Tecton sent their Wild Sime catchers in?

Tsibola: Yes. I offered Pollovic a compromise on his farm subsidy, but he still voted to send the snakes onto my territory. I suppose it was just too good an opportunity to pass by. Even leaning on the Sime ambassador didn't help.

Fennik: Have they been causing trouble?

Tsibola: Well, not technically. But the trouble seems to be finding them, anyway. I told the company cops to stay clear of them, of course. Let them do their job and leave, to get things back to normal as soon as possible.

Tsibola: Most of them have, but it seems there were three young hotheads among them who couldn't leave well enough alone.

Fennik thinks this sounds bad.

Fennik: There weren't any shootings, were there?

Tsibola: No, thank goodness. They just decided to corner one of the interlopers in a dark alley and give them the same fist work they're used to passing out to union agitators.

Fennik: Oh, dear. One of those trained-from-birth fighters you were telling me about?

Tsibola: They picked a fine victim, or so they thought: a Gen woman who handled some of the administrative work, not a fighter. She was four months pregnant, too. The result was a concussion, two broken ribs, and a shattered knee.

Fennik: It's a wonder they didn't kill her! Brutes, attacking a woman like that.

Tsibola picks up his glass and raises it in an ironic toast.

Tsibola: Did I fail to mention that all of these injuries were suffered by the three hotheads?

Fennik shakes his head in amazement, and gets up to refill the glasses.

Tsibola: Their "victim" was completely unscathed. Not that that prevented her colleagues from lodging a very stiff official protest on her behalf.

Fennik: Well, Ruthven, I'd have to say that those men got what they deserved. Imagine, attacking a pregnant woman!

Tsibola: Of course they got what they deserved, pulling a stunt like that against explicit orders.

Fennik: It's disgrace. Can't you recruit people with more....

Fennik isn't sure what word to use. Civility? Morality? Decency?

Tsibola: Scruples? We could, but a force like that could never control a rowdy mining town. Those three are out, though. We don't pay them to ignore orders. And if they were going to do something like that, they should have made sure they succeeded.

Fennik looks at the Senator with barely concealed disgust.

Tsibola: Now they've made the foreigner into a heroine, and our company police into laughingstocks.

Tsibola notes Fennik's look of disgust.

Fennik: I should think she'd be seen to be even more in the right if she hadn't managed to fight them off so effectively.

Tsibola: Of course she would. And rightly. But the damage to company authority is going to be very hard to recover.

Fennik is a college professor, and can afford to have delicate sensibilities about respecting women. Well, women of a certain class. Decent women.

Fennik: Well, you'll just have to stress that what they did was completely out of line and a disgrace to the company.

Tsibola: I know. There's no other response possible, for now. And by doing so, I'll be tacitly reinforcing their right to be there.

Fennik: How's the rest of their scheme going? Have the Simes recruited any donors yet?

Tsibola: Some. Not as many as I'd feared, but it's early days, yet. I'm told that many of the agitators and their key recruits have donated. We expected that, of course. It remains to be seen whether enough of their followers ape them to suit their purpose.

Fennik: Well, they'd have to, wouldn't they? Otherwise they'd lose all their credibility. But for the rest of the workers... They're an ignorant lot, and they have their stubborn pride, and their own ideas about manliness. What kind of man would let his wife donate?

Fennik figures they'd probably have no problem slapping their wives around to stop them from damaging their manly pride as breadwinners.

Tsibola: Jon... if just most of the men donated, they'd be well on their way to being able to risk a strike. There's hope. Our tame pastor is busy raising doubts in every sermon, but his congregation doesn't include a lot of the workers we'd like him to reach.

Fennik: Don't those people have religious events, camp meetings or such? Where they get someone out there to whip them into a fervor? Maybe your tame preacher can do something like that.

Fennik laughs.

Fennik: Subsidize it with free food, and you'll probably get almost everybody out for it. It's not like they have much else in the way of entertainment.

Tsibola: That's not a bad idea, actually. Well, we couldn't use Billver, of course, but there are a lot of itinerant firebrands with the right theology who could probably be induced to visit the Cordvain Valley, with the right persuasion.

Fennik makes a gesture meaning "money".

Tsibola: Of course. What else moves that sort of clergyman? The honest ones stay home and serve their congregations. But if one can be found with the proper doctrines, and who puts on a good show at a level comprehensible by miners, it would be well worth the investment.

Fennik: It plays to their weaknesses. Always better than playing to their strengths, when you're trying to get the upper hand.

Tsibola: Yes. They're a bunch of ignorant louts, but they've got enough stubborn determination for a pack train full of mules. Why did this have to happen now?

Fennik knows a rhetorical question when he hears one, and gets up to fill the goblets again.

Tsibola: If they'd even waited another six months... we'll have mined out the accessible metals in a year. Then it won't matter what sort of organizing they do.

Fennik: Well, if you can get the pro- and anti-Sime factions going at it against each other, they won't have any energy left to give the company a hard time.

Tsibola: True. Of course, the fracas might make it hard to get any actual mining done.

Tsibola takes a deep breath to calm himself.

Tsibola: I'm sorry, that sounded bitter.

Fennik: It's all right, Ruthven. Between this and what happened to Fridda, it's been several difficult months.

Tsibola: I suppose we can muddle through somehow, as long as the agitators don't manage to collect enough donation payments to fund a full-blown strike.

Tsibola: We could eat a small raise in salary, but not the infrastructure improvements they'd also be demanding.

Tsibola: If they only had the wits to understand: we can't put new roofs on their cottages, if we want to still have a company capable of hiring them at all in two years.

Fennik: Well, they'll be out of work anyway when the mines close in a year. You could promise the improvements for next year.

Tsibola: We've been doing that for the last three years, since we finished that survey on the extent of the Ancient ruins. We timed it just right, too: everything important should last that long.

Fennik shrugs. He sees bad times when the workers find out the mines are closing after more than thirty years, but the company can just walk away from it afterwards.

Tsibola: As I see it, our best hope is to cooperate fully with the interlopers so they can leave as quickly as possible. And in the mean time, try to discourage the workers from getting too friendly with them.

Fennik: Maybe a good fiery preacher can stir up enough anti-Sime feeling to make the interlopers feel unwelcome, and the workers unwilling to get near a Sime.

Tsibola sighs.

Fennik sips his port and realizes he's slipped back to the comfortable views he held before Fridda changed over. He knows he's changed somewhat but isn't sure how his new views apply to the current situation.

Tsibola: Life was simpler when we were young, wasn't it? More brutal, in some respects, but simpler.

Fennik: It was simpler last winter, Ruthven, before Fridda changed over.

Tsibola: Yes, it was. That's the worst part of this: the Simes may be wreaking havoc with General Metals' future, but they're not the enemy. To some extent, Fridda's depending on people like our rebel miners to survive.

Fennik: Yes, she is.

Fennik is pleased that Tsibola's thinking has probably changed too.

Tsibola: So, we've got to undermine this particular venture without disturbing the Tecton as a whole.

Tsibola sighs.

Tsibola: I saw a flier on your desk this afternoon. Don't tell me you're serious about going to a conference in Simeland?

Fennik laughs.

Fennik: Not serious yet. Just curious, for now.

Tsibola: I'm relieved.

Fennik isn't going to volunteer that he's been looking into the state of scholarship in his field in Nivet. He doesn't want to look more ignorant than necessary if he goes in-T to a conference or as a guest lecturer.

Tsibola: After the fuss I made over the Simes being sent in, I don't think the Sime Ambassador would be very happy if I asked him to assist you.

Fennik: Don't worry, Ruthven.

Fennik figures that if he does need the assistance of the ambassador, he can probably get it without mentioning his connection with Tsibola. Playing up his connection with Fridda should do it.

Tsibola chuckles.

Tsibola: I still can't see you, of all people, in Simeland. You've always been so content in your ivory tower.

Fennik: It is a pretty comfortable life.

Tsibola: Once you got tenure, you didn't even have to worry about keeping your job.

Fennik smiles. Non-academics always think it's easy.

Fennik: How many years have you been in office now?

Tsibola: Which one? I've been serving my constituents in some capacity for decades.

Fennik: Not too different from tenure.

Tsibola: Well, perhaps not. Although in politics, you're more in the center of things.

Fennik: I prefer the ivory tower to the center of things, but I know you couldn't stand to be away from where the political action is.

Tsibola: Yes. I like to be in control of my destiny.

Fennik: And the destiny of everybody else, no?

Tsibola spreads his hands in an admission of guilt.

Fennik laughs and gets up to pour more port.

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