Travel Broadens: Episode 16

Senator Ruthven Tsibola sips at a brandy in the private dining room of New Washington's most private and exclusive gentlemen's club. He takes the time to enjoy his drink, knowing that relatively little of the meeting is likely to be pleasurable, despite the company of his closest surviving (Gen) family.

Tsibola has some disturbing news to report about recent events in the Cordvain Valley, and for once is not quite sure what course would be most profitable for General Metals.

Craig stares meditatively into his drink. He's worried about his cousin Ruthven's recent liberal tendencies, and hopes things don't get out of hand tonight.

Fennik is seated further down the table. Since his wife's death he's voted her shares in trust for Fridda. Everyone except Ruthven now thinks he's voting them in his own right, but he's transferred them to Fridda, and is acting as her proxy.

Craig knows that Fennik, on the other hand, has gone way over the top. If Fennik can be kept from further corrupting Ruthven, something useful may still be accomplished.

Fennik has been feeling increasingly uncomfortable about pretending that Fridda is dead. Everyone has been so tactful about not mentioning her that he hasn't had to say anything about her at all. He's still determined not to lie if push comes to shove.

Markius toys with his cut crystal liqueur glass. What fills it is a beverage with an excellent pedigree. He wafts the aroma under his nose... same old stuff

Craig scowls at Markius. He had arranged a diversion to keep Markius from today's meeting, but apparently it didn't work.

Markius lets his mind wander to the cases of exotic trin-based brew aging in his warehouse. Exciting new possibilities. He once again thanks his stars that he managed to inherit what little spirit of adventure is possible in this clan.

Tsibola stands as the waiter leaves the room.

Tsibola: Gentlemen, if you are comfortable for the moment, there are some developments I'd like to discuss informally among the family, before the board hears about them.

Tsibola waits for the conversation to die down.

Tsibola: I'm sure all of you know at least a little about our labor problems in the Cordvain Valley. The situation has recently gotten a great deal more complicated, and I'd like to reach a consensus about how we should respond, before the board gets the latest.

Tsibola understands the importance of a united front.

Craig: Jon's been out of touch. Maybe you could summarize the situation so far?

Fennik makes a small gesture of assent.

Craig is most troubled by where Fennik was when he was out of touch.

Markius wonders with sinking heart how long old Tsib will drone on when things are "complicated."

Tsibola: All right. You all know the union organizers managed to get a temporary Tecton outpost in the Valley, ostensibly to clear the ruins of any rogue Simes, but actually to build up a war chest so they could afford to strike.

Fennik nods reflexively.

Tsibola: Our countermeasures were only partially effective; the tent revivals we sponsored did not prevent the union from building a solid core of workers willing to donate, and our company security guards lost a great deal of face when three of them attacked a pregnant, middle-aged Gen woman who came with the Simes... and lost. Badly.

Craig: You should have been using some of my men. Your boys are too... unsubtle.

Tsibola: Be that as it may. I was expecting the union to start making demands a month or more ago, with a strike attempt shortly thereafter. Instead, things have been relatively quiet. Too quiet. I had a reliable agent of mine make some discreet inquiries. The results were not as I expected.

Tsibola pauses to take a sip of his brandy.

Fennik has never been very interested in the workings of General Metals, but he has the responsibility to see the company prosper to Fridda's benefit. He waits for the bad news.

Markius thinks if General Metals just paid its people right it wouldn't have to worry about strikes or the Tecton.

Tsibola: It appears that the union has spies of its own. One of them managed to learn of our plans to shut the mine down in about six months, and yet there has been no outcry, no desperation among the workers.

Markius thinks Tsibola is never satisfied. He seems to want his employees to be desperate.

Craig is considering whether to try to salvage the situation, or use it to disgrace one of his too-liberal kinsmen.

Fennik wonders whether the workers are now too content with their donation payments to risk protests and violence.

Craig knows it's the long view that's important. The mine has only six good months left in it anyway.

Tsibola: Further inquiry revealed the reason. It appears that the Simes have located substantial minable metals in the Ancient ruins. The union is hoping that General Metals will pull out, and leave that metal to them.

Craig scowls.

Markius: So we can continue to milk the GM cow?

Tsibola: Only if we modify our policies substantially. Salvage work is quite different from a normal mine.

Markius: But you said substantial minable metals.

Tsibola: Yes. Not, however, minable with current technology. At least, not the technology available on this side of the border.

Tsibola is ~~ not at all happy ~~ at the implications.

Markius: But the Simes have it.

Craig: Are you suggesting that we deal with the snakes?

Tsibola: I am making no suggestions, at the moment. This meeting is to discuss possibilities.

Markius: I've been dealing with them quite profitably.

Fennik maintains a poker face, but wonders what Markius has been up to.

Tsibola scowls.

Markius: There's a market for goods from across the border.

Craig: There are principles more important even than profit.

Markius: Bah. Wake up and smell the century, cousin.

Craig: This century reeks of liberalism. So do you, cousin.

Tsibola: Markius, your experiments can be discussed at another time. Today, our concern is the Cordvain Valley mining venture.

Tsibola: The metal deposits are substantial, but they are spread out over many square miles of rubble. There is no profitable way to sift through that much rubble on a random basis, but apparently the Simes can locate deposits close to the surface just by looking at the ground. Or through it; I don't pretend to understand Sime perceptions.

Markius: So there's no technology involved? Just Sime senses?

Tsibola: Yes. Without Simes, the venture can't be profitable.

Tsibola: There is also the small matter that such ruins are a favorite hiding place for workers' children who turn Sime. Company security could patrol the town and the mine, but they couldn't handle the entire ruins.

Markius frowns

Tsibola: In short, there would have to be a permanent Sime presence in the Cordvain Valley for the scheme to be profitable. The profits, however, would be considerable. At least, if the union leadership's analysis is even close to being true.

Craig shakes his head sadly.

Markius: Well the workers have already opened their arms to the Tecton.

Fennik is glad nobody is zlinning him. His mixed emotions contain considerable amusement at Tsibola's personal dilemma, given his long term campaign pledge to stop any Tecton presence in his district.

Markius: So we wouldn't have to worry about riots.

Tsibola: Yes. There would be no trouble convincing the Tecton that there are enough Sime-kissers around to make a Sime Center worthwhile.

Tsibola looks at Craig dryly.

Tsibola: Shutting down the mine on schedule is one possibility, certainly. However, keeping it open for another generation and perhaps more would solve the supply problems for our manufacturing ventures, which has been a source of concern for some time.

Markius: Shutting down the mine won't keep the snakes out.

Craig: You're not being subtle, Ruthven. Don't you remember your government regulations?

Craig sighs with weary patience.

Markius: The workers will need the donation money and they'll grab for the salvage concessions without a qualm.

Craig: There won't be any salvage concessions. Do I have to do all your thinking for you?

Tsibola: There would be some capital investment necessary for General Metals, of course. Specialized equipment, and repair of infrastructure that will now have to last more than six months. That in itself will curb many of our labor problems.

Tsibola: General Metals is already overextended, with the new factories we're building, Craig. We can't afford to pay taxes on the Cordvain Valley holdings without offering salvage concessions.

Craig: I didn't say to shut it down forever.

Tsibola: Especially not after the union has publicized the existence of potentially minable metals. The government won't tax it as wasteland, when that becomes known.

Craig: As long as it's classified as a working mine, it's taxed on output, not as a dormant holding. But regs say it only takes 500 man-hours a month to be considered operational. So close it down to a handpicked skeleton crew, let the troublemakers disperse. Later we can worry about the salvageable metals.

Tsibola: Outwait them? That's only worth doing if we intend to salvage the metals ourselves.

Craig: Once the heat is off and the public focus is elsewhere, we can bring in one or two tame snakes quietly.

Craig shudders theatrically.

Craig: They don't have to live long enough afterwards to talk.

Fennik startles in a way that would have all the Simes in a considerable radius whipping their heads around.

Markius: Or magnetic sensors that emulate Sime senses. I've been reading up...

Tsibola shakes his head.

Fennik: You're talking murder!

Craig: It's not murder if they're caught dead drunk and without retainers. Which can be arranged.

Fennik looks to Tsibola then back to the others.

Markius frowns.

Markius: Could get pretty messy.

Fennik: I can't believe you're suggesting such immoral, ruthless... criminal...

Craig: Then how about those magnetic sensors of yours?

Markius: Well they're still experimental but for this purpose worth looking into it further... maybe even investing in the technology.

Craig: Might be cheaper anyway. Get an R&D grant, patent an improvement or two... hmm.

Markius is not really qualified to evaluate patents on zlin-simulators.

Tsibola: Before we start advocating measures like that, Craig, you might want to bear in mind that one or two Simes can't possibly spot more than a few weeks worth of deposits before you'd have to get them back to Simeland, or murder them.

Craig: I thought all they had to do was walk across the ground and look at it, with a can of paint in hand.

Tsibola: You won't be able to keep the salvage mining going for long, that way. Eventually, someone's going to notice that Simes are disappearing.

Craig: Markius' new technology may be the way to go, then.

Fennik realizes that Ruthven is just placating Craig, but is still disgusted at the callous disregard for human life implied.

Craig: So how many would you want, for how long?

Tsibola: If the information my agent procured is correct, the effort would require a permanent staff of three or four Simes, to spot metals ahead of the mining crews and report on how much is there, and what it will take to get it out. We won't get Sime employees if there's no Sime Center around, either.

Craig: The important thing right now is to shut down the current situation, not put a bandage on it. Then there's time to consider how to deal with the salvage.

Tsibola: We must decide on our strategy with regards to the ruins before we take any action. As a practical matter, either General Metals will mine them, or it will be done independently by the union. That last possibility would have certain advantages.

Craig raises an eyebrow.

Tsibola: General Metals would keep its traditional corporate image, the union would have to handle the repairs to current infrastructure and new equipment, not to mention personnel problems.

Craig: Most of the money but none of the involvement. Hmmm.

Tsibola: Yes. But that won't work if we effectively shut down the mine for long enough for the workers to disperse.

Craig: Where there's work, you can always find more workers.

Tsibola: For an independent venture like that? They couldn't raise the capital to begin, if they have to import labor.

Craig: We'd be rid of the mess anyway, and of course we'd either take out all movable equipment as we leave, or sell it to them at a decent profit. If it goes to the dogs once we're out, it's no worry of ours.

Markius: Well, yeah, but what's the difference on the profit to us compared to running it ourselves?

Tsibola: Is it your opinion then, Craig, that General Metals should not pursue exploiting the metals in the ruins?

Craig: I can see advantages either way. I'd like more information about that new sensor technology before making a decision. The more I think about it, the less I like the option of GM bringing in tame snakes.

Tsibola: You feel, then, that the damage to the company's reputation would hurt General Metals more than a reliable source of raw metal would help it?

Craig: I do. Excuse me, gentlemen.

Craig gets up and leaves the room. He really hates the fact that his bladder is aging faster than his mind.

Tsibola: Markius, what is your opinion? Given that your sensor technology may or may not become practical, but either way, it probably won't be in time to help with this project?

Markius: Well I think we should definitely keep the mine going. Three or four Simes is nothing. There's more than that there now

Markius remembers the mousy little Gen with the zlin-magneto schematics.

Tsibola: Not permanently. They are supposed to leave as soon as they can certify that the ruins have no berserkers in them. They're taking their time about that, but they'll leave before the main mine gives out.

Markius: But there is already a Sime presence and they're accepted by the locals. I can see the advantages to letting the union run the operation though. If something does go wrong, they'd bear the liability. The sensors are worth looking into before we make a final decision. That would make the risks negligible.

Tsibola: Good enough. I want a report on the sensors within the week. This situation can't be kept quiet much longer than that.

Markius resigns himself to a bumpy train ride to the border rather than his planned junket in New Washington.

Tsibola: Jon, what do you think of the situation?

Tsibola values the opinion of the only family member with sense and enough age to spot impractical dreams as such.

Fennik: The company already does a great deal of business with Nivet. Bringing in some expertise from there wouldn't be out of line. The workers seem to want a Sime Center, don't they? So why not let them have one.

Tsibola: It's true that allowing the Sime Center, and the necessary repairs to infrastructure if we keep the mine open, will probably solve our immediate labor relations problems.

Markius nods

Fennik: I don't know whether turning operations over to the workers is likely to be a good idea or not. They're just a lot of ignorant laborers; how would they know how to run it?

Fennik regards uneducated people as not capable of much. It doesn't occur to him that the miners do all the work at the site, and presumably have some clue about what they do for a living.

Tsibola: Indeed. And with a continuing Sime presence in the town anyway... Well, it would make sense to add Sime guards to our payroll. We can justify that as a shakeup, after our current force's dismal showing.

Markius is always amazed how the expectation of profit resolves moral scruples.

Tsibola: It's certainly the only way to make sure that the supply of metal from the mine is adequate to our needs.

Fennik: Ruthven, you may have to pay Sime workers a premium. Anywhere out-T would be a hardship post for them.

Tsibola: We won't need many of them, at least to begin with.

Fennik knows by bitter experience how uncomfortable Simes find the presence of even friendly Gens who don't have the level of nageric control expected in-T, not to mention hostile ones.

Markius wonders when Fennik started worrying about Sime hardship.

Tsibola: A reliable source of metals would do a great deal to stabilize our bottom line; that's worth a few premiums.

Fennik: I'll leave evaluation of the benefits of various strategies to those of you who understand corporate finance and operations better than I do. But I have no objections to the company hiring a few Simes and allowing the workers a Sime Center.

Fennik imagines all those donations going in-T to support people like Fridda and the other Simes he met on his trip. It's a curiously pleasing thought.

Tsibola: I admit, I'd be more comfortable maintaining control of any mining being done in the Cordvain Valley, myself.

Markius: Hey, Fennik, you picking up a new interest in Simeland? I heard you went to a conference there.

Fennik: Yes, I went to a conference in Arreven with one of my students. It was an interesting experience.

Markius thinks a professor's connections might help with the sensor investigation.

Markius: You manage to wangle a pass by the channels?

Markius cannot imagine otherwise. He has never been able to get one himself.

Fennik: I could have gotten a waiver, I suppose, but decided to donate instead. Apparently it's regarded as extraordinarily rude in-T not to do so.

Tsibola is ~~ appalled ~~

Tsibola: Jon!

Fennik: I had that high-level diplomat, Hajene Seruffin, do it. A very pleasant gentleman.

Tsibola: Pleasant!

Markius is impressed. Who would have thought the reserved professor to be so unconventional?

Fennik: He made it quite tolerable, not undignified at all.

Fennik is trembling slightly at opposing Tsibola this way, but it doesn't show.

Tsibola: That scheming snake has gotten the better of more than one experienced diplomat. I hadn't though that he'd take advantage of you, though, or I'd never have agreed to discuss your difficulty with him.

Tsibola is more angry with himself than with Fennik, as he is the one who ought to have known better.

Fennik: He didn't take advantage of me, much the contrary. I was grateful that he took time from a busy schedule not only to take my donation but to discuss issues about my trip in-T with me in detail.

Fennik gives Tsibola a hard stare. Most of those issues were about Fridda.

Markius's jaw drops.

Tsibola isn't willing to discuss Fridda in front of Markius.

Markius is feeling silly that he waited all this time trying to get a waiver and let Fennik beat him into Simeland the old-fashioned way. He wonders if it really is as easy as Fennik says.

Fennik: I'm glad I donated. Being lowfield enabled me to converse with my Sime colleagues and others without causing them discomfort.

Fennik puts a very slight stress on the word "others".

Tsibola: Jon, I know you had good reason for your journey. Still, I wish you had let me know in time to help with the situation. Seruffin's very persuasive; he can make just about anything sound reasonable, when he wants to. What you did saved the Tecton the trouble of arranging an escort for you. I'm not convinced, however, that it was to your own advantage.

Fennik: It was my decision, Ruthven. If I hadn't donated, my activities in-T would have been more limited. And I would have looked like a boor, as well.

Tsibola: Well, what's done is done. I just hope that in the future, you'll remember that Simes like Seruffin have their own agenda, and it might not always match your own.

Markius thinks Seruffin sounds like a contact who could be useful.

Fennik is disgusted at the way Ruthven is talking down to him, but he's used to it.

Tsibola: I hope your trip went well in... other respects?

Fennik: Yes. It went very well. A most worthwhile experience.

Tsibola is ~~ glad ~~.

Tsibola: You must tell me about it, later.

Fennik: Yes, I'd like to tell you about it.

Fennik accompanies that with a meaningful look.

Tsibola looks irritably at the door.

Tsibola: Well, it looks like we've reached a preliminary decision of sorts. I'd better go find Craig, and let him know.

Tsibola stands, and makes his way to the door.

Markius quaffs what remains in the glass.

Fennik stands, brushes a bit of lint off his sleeve and turns toward the door.

Markius: Fennik old boy... I think we ought to get together for a lunch. You have been up to some intriguing adventures.

Fennik makes a dismissive gesture. He doesn't think much of Markius, a crass and undignified man.

Fennik: It was much like any other academic conference.

Markius is reminded that Fennik always was a snob.

Markius: Just any old conference over the border, eh? Tuesday, noon, at Nandoro's? I want details.

Fennik: I have a faculty committee meeting on Tuesday.

Markius figures he better up the ante.

Markius: Wednesday at Arteggio's? They have that 50-year-old brandy.

Fennik pulls out a gold watch and looks at the time.

Fennik: I suppose I could have a coffee with you here. I don't have to be back for my seminar for another hour or so.

Markius: Certainly.

Markius grins his best foxy grin.

Fennik: The patio? The roses are doing well this year, they tell me.

Markius: That sounds excellent

Markius wonders if rose petals can be fermented.

Fennik leads the way, is waved to one of the better tables, sits and signals to the waiter to bring two coffees.

Markius: How did you run across this Hajene Seruffin?

Fennik: Ruthven and I went to the Nivet Embassy to arrange for a waiver.

Markius: Ah... so at that point you still planned to duck the tentacles. What changed your mind?

Fennik: When I understood how badly people in-T would regard me if I didn't donate, I realized that it would not only be impolite not to do so, but it would make it difficult for me to participate effectively in the conference.

Markius: And what were you presenting that was so important that it was worth donating to do it?

Fennik: Markius, would you come here to the club reeking of the barnyard and expect people to enjoy conversing with you? A high field out-T Gen is comparably offensive to them.

Fennik managed to unintentionally be fairly offensive even low field, but isn't about to mention that.

Markius: So... out of simple politeness... to snakes... you let a Sime take your selyn?

Fennik doesn't see any reason to tolerate Markius's rudeness and insinuation.

Fennik: Markius, what do you really want to know?

Markius: Everything. You've had an adventure. I am interested.

Fennik: The Sime Centers have booklets describing the process of donation. It's very simple. You just stay still for a minute or two and the channel does the work. You don't feel anything. It's not much of an adventure.

Markius: If we start this salvage operation in the mine, we are going to spend a lot more time around Simes. I think I've heard of your Seruffin... you think he might be a useful contact?

Fennik: As I understand it, he's the chief negotiator in the current trade talks. Ruthven would have more details.

Markius perks up. Trade negotiator??

Markius: Fennik! You have got to introduce me.

Fennik: I'm in no position to do so.

Markius: Why not. He knows you, right? He was willing to grant you a waiver?

Markius thinks that if Seruffin talked Fennik into donating he must be one hell of a negotiator. He reminds himself to be careful with this one.

Fennik: If you wish to see him, make an appointment through his staff. The name Tsibola should be enough of an introduction, don't you think?

Markius: I didn't know that Ruthven spent much effort making nice to snakes... So it was that connection got you in, not the University?

Fennik: I believe so.

Fennik notes that it was a connection through Ruthven, who recognized Gerrhonot, who invited them to speak to Seruffin.

Markius punches Fennik's shoulder in a friendly fashion.

Fennik recoils.

Markius: I may need some help following up on this magneto-zlin angle. You can never have too many contacts.

Fennik takes out his gold watch again, reminding himself to make greater efforts to avoid Markius in future. He seems to be becoming coarser rather than more refined with time.

Fennik: I suppose their embassy must have a technology or industrial attache of some sort.

Markius: Well I won't take any more of your time, old man. Just a hint is all I need and I'm off to the chase.

Fennik: I see. Good afternoon, then.

Fennik picks up his coffee cup and sips.

Markius figures he is an even better relative of Tsibola than Fennik is.

Craig, meanwhile, has been accosted outside the washrooms by Senator "Motormouth" Bixley, and is glad to see Tsibola approaching.

Craig: Ah, Ruthven, there you are. Excuse me, Senator Bixley.

Craig makes his escape at last.

Craig: Sorry about that. So what have I missed?

Tsibola waits until he's a discreet distance away.

Tsibola: We've reached a tentative decision to explore the option of continuing the mine ourselves. Assuming the ruins are as rich as we've been led to believe they are, of course.

Craig: With non-biological metal detectors?

Tsibola: If Markius's magic machines aren't practical -- and I for one doubt that they are -- we'll use the... biological metal detectors. As discreetly as practical, of course.

Craig: Hmmm. Very well.

Craig doesn't really approve, but knows when he's outgunned. The real power in the family passed him by a generation ago.

Tsibola: I know it's a compromise, but we must have a reliable source of metal for the factories, and this is by far the best way to get it.

Craig: I hope the potential complications are worth it.

Tsibola: So do I, Craig. So do I.

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