Travel Broadens: Episode 20

Fennik strolls the long corridor leading from the Senate Dining Room to the front lobby, pausing occasionally to look at one of the paintings or sculptures that ornament the wood-paneled, marble-floored hall. He's feeling ~~ satisfied ~~ after another excellent noon repast shared with his brother-in-law, Senator Tsibola.

Fennik was a bit annoyed, however, by Tsibola's efforts to convince him that Seruffin had manipulated him into donating, regaling him with tales of Seruffin's clever exploits at the bargaining table, out-maneuvering experienced negotiators at several times in the past

Fennik feels he donated for good and sufficient reasons, of his own will, guided by his own intelligence, not due to being outfoxed by a wily Sime. Nonetheless, he feels just a bit uncertain about whether Ruthven's claim might have some substance. After all, Ruthven's successful career is based on his ability to judge the character of political types, and outfox them himself, while Fennik's political experience has been confined to the academic sphere, a usually less cutthroat arena.

Seruffin is making his way through the Gen Senate building, keeping a courteously bland expression on his face as occasional waves of nervousness, distrust, and even fear wash through the ambient from passing Gens.

Gerrhonot stays close, providing as much ~~ protection ~~ as he can manage. He worries about the shocks Seruffin gets when a Gen doesn't realize he's Sime until he's quite close, then reacts strongly.

Seruffin is glad of Gerrhonot's presence at his side; it has been an exhausting morning, explaining over and over just why it is necessary that the out-T cattle handlers grazing herds on Nivet grasslands be lowfield if they stop for supplies in Nivet towns. He's just as glad that today's session was called short, by the obligation of two Senators to attend another committee meeting.

Gerrhonot maintained his standard ~~ strong steady reliable ~~ support for Seruffin throughout the boring meeting while looking calm and professional and daydreaming about Seruffin as Sectuib of a pre-Unity Householding, negotiating with the juncts, with Gerrhonot as his trusty First Companion.

Seruffin is making his way to a small room in the Gen Senate building that has been designated as a "Sime room". He's looking forward to a chance to take his retainers off and have a cup of trin tea, before he makes his way back to the Sime Center to work a shift.

Seruffin braces himself as he and Gerrhonot enter the main lobby, with its greater traffic.

Gerrhonot intensifies his ~~ support ~~ in the more chaotic ambient.

Seruffin tries not to zlin the guard on duty at the entrance; the man is a Simephobe, and Seruffin always finds himself worrying if some day the man will snap, and pull out his gun despite Seruffin's retainers.

Gerrhonot is aware of Seruffin's aversion to the guard and makes sure that his own body is interposed between them.

Fennik emerges from the north corridor into the lobby and spots Seruffin entering it from the east corridor. ~~ surprise ~~ interest ~~ pleasure ~~

Seruffin zlins some unexpectedly positive emotions, directed at him, and turns towards them, zlinning as well as he can through the retainers to spot the source.

Fennik crosses the busy lobby towards Seruffin. ~~ welcome ~~ eager ~~

Seruffin spots the source of the projection, with some ~~ surprise ~~

Fennik lifts his hand to wave, but sees that he's already attracted the channel's attention.

Gerrhonot: It's Fridda's dad, Hajene.

Seruffin: So I zlin. Shall we see what he wants?

Gerrhonot: Sure.

Seruffin changes direction to stroll casually towards Fennik.

Fennik smiles and approaches the two men.

Fennik: Hajene Seruffin. A pleasure to see you again. And you, Sosu Gerrhonot.

Fennik makes a perfunctory nod toward the Donor.

Gerrhonot nods back, politely.

Seruffin: Professor Fennik, it's good to see you again. How was your trip? Was the conference productive?

Fennik: It was a very interesting experience. I appreciate the effort you made to help me understand Nivet culture and etiquette. It was very helpful.

Seruffin: I'm glad to hear that.

Fennik looks around and lowers his voice.

Fennik: Also for my visit with Fridda, which went extremely well.

Fennik feels an uncharacteristically open ~~ happiness ~~ when he thinks about his visit with Fridda.

Seruffin smiles.

Seruffin: I was hoping it would go well for you.

Seruffin thinks he zlins, through the cluttered, retainer-blurred ambient, a desire to discuss the matter in greater depth.

Seruffin: Sosu Gerrhonot and I were going to have a cup of tea, someplace a bit more private than this. Would you like to join us?

Fennik: Yes. I would. Thank you.

Fennik is glad to have the opportunity to discuss his meeting with Fridda with Seruffin, who is the only person he's been able to unburden himself with.

Seruffin: There's a break room down that way.

Seruffin points down the west corridor.

Seruffin: We won't be disturbed there.

Fennik: Of course.

Seruffin leads the way.

Gerrhonot follows, carefully watching both men and spreading his field to protect Seruffin from all sides.

Seruffin stops in front of a door with a bronze plaque attached to the wall, declaring the room to be Sime Territory.

Seruffin: Here. It's a diplomatic courtesy extended by your government, and a very welcome one.

Gerrhonot opens the door so Seruffin doesn't have to twist his wrist inside the retainers to turn the knob.

Seruffin stands back while Gerrhonot opens the door, then gestures politely for Fennik to precede him.

Fennik enters the room and looks around ~~ curiously ~~. It appears to be a former utility room decorated in Nivet style, with comfortable but not elegant furniture, a strange looking lounge chair, and cabinets of unfamiliar supplies, as well as an oil burner and tea service.

Seruffin finds the familiar, Sime Center environment ~~ reassuring ~~, after the chaos of a morning trying to make out the chaotic nagers of untrained Gens through retainers.

Seruffin gestures towards a sofa.

Seruffin: Please, Professor, make yourself comfortable.

Seruffin holds out his arms to Gerrhonot, so the Donor can help him off with the hated retainers.

Fennik sits. He reminds himself to control his nager, as best he can.

Gerrhonot carefully unlatches and removes the devices and places them on a table. He gently runs his hands up Seruffin's forearms and offers a transfer grip.

Fennik is ~~ unafraid ~~, but thinks it's probably rude to watch, so transfers his attention to the decor.

Seruffin gingerly extends his tentacles, trying to work the cramps out of his handling tentacles, then wraps them around Gerrhonot's arms, basking in the Donor's clean, disciplined nager.

Gerrhonot: ~~ kindness ~~ sympathy ~~ reliability ~~ affection ~~

Seruffin gives a sigh of relief, then lets Gerrhonot go, zlinning Fennik ~~ curiously ~~ to see how the man is reacting.

Gerrhonot lights the oil burner, fills the kettle and sets it to boil.

Fennik turns back to Seruffin and smiles.

Fennik: I found out just how much I don't know about controlling my nager in-T, but nonetheless, most Simes were very forgiving.

Seruffin leans against the wall close to Gerrhonot, where he can still take full advantage of his Donor's nager, and smiles back.

Seruffin: I'm glad to hear that. Did you find your travels an interesting experience?

Fennik: Very much so, although I did confirm that academic conferences are much the same on both sides of the border. I met a mutual acquaintance, Professor Nattin ambrov Frihill.

Seruffin: Indeed? I admit, I know rather little about his academic work, although he's been a great help to Hajene Bibi at the Hannard's Ford Sime Center.

Fennik: He didn't present a paper, although he chaired a panel discussion. He was chaperoning one of his students as well, just as I was.

Seruffin: I see.

Fennik: We spoke about Fridda a little, and he helped me learn to control strong emotions by diverting my attention into copying a complex hand gesture.

Seruffin: Thinking of a favorite piece of music works, too. Or reciting the multiplication table, for that matter. Anything that directs your attention away from the emotion you don't want to broadcast, without suppressing it.

Seruffin: Was it useful, when you met Fridda?

Fennik: I believe so. A channel interviewed me first. She seemed to think I had developed some control, and was willing to let us sit close together, and even embrace.

Fennik feels an echo of his intense emotions of ~~ love and gratitude ~~ as he remembers that moment.

Seruffin smiles, as his gamble proves to have paid off.

Fennik: So I greatly appreciate your advice and encouragement, and willingness to take my donation twice, despite it being so unpleasant for you.

Seruffin: I'm glad it went so well. I was hoping that you would be allowed the sort of visit you wanted, with your daughter.

Seruffin: How is young Fridda doing?

Seruffin appears ~~ genuinely interested ~~

Fennik: She was very relieved to zlin me, to know that I was sincere about what I'd written to her. She's still my daughter, still the same person in all the important ways, but her experiences have matured her. She's very much a young woman now.

Fennik realizes he's projecting the complex mixture of emotions this evokes, and tries to avoid irritating Seruffin by studying the pattern of the carpet.

Seruffin: Yes, it's amazing how quickly young Simes become adults. Has she made plans for her future yet?

Fennik: Yes. She'll be going to Capital in a few weeks. The University of West Nivet has a program for entering students with inadequate preparation. Since she's in First Year, and seems to have an even more accelerated learning capability than most young Simes she may be ready for a normal schedule by the fall term. ~~ pride ~~

Seruffin smiles.

Seruffin: It doesn't surprise me. There's nothing slow about that young woman.

Fennik: As for her tentacles...

Seruffin: Yes?

Fennik sighs. ~~ sadness ~~ guilt ~~

Seruffin zlins Fennik discreetly.

Fennik: They're much better, but they'll never have an entirely normal appearance, and will be somewhat lacking in dexterity and strength. They're expected to continue to improve during her First Year. She's seen a specialist, who prescribed exercises, which she's doing religiously.

Seruffin: That's excellent news. I was more pessimistic, but I'm not a specialist in such problems.

Fennik: She seems to have come to terms with it, and is still optimistic about improvement, but it makes me sad that she'll be disfigured and somewhat disabled.

Fennik laughs ruefully.

Fennik: I can see how far I've come, regarding tentacles as something that ought not to be imperfect, rather than a deformity in themselves.

Seruffin chuckles in sympathy.

Seruffin: It is a big adjustment to make.

Fennik suddenly loses control of his emotions and finds himself close to tears.

Fennik: It's so good to know that we can still love each other as we did, despite what happened.

Gerrhonot moves closer to Seruffin.

Fennik pulls himself together and repeats his rote Simelan phrase.

Fennik: Please forgive my unintended rudeness. I am from out-T.

Seruffin: There is nothing to forgive.

Seruffin doesn't find it necessary to correct Fennik's accent.

Seruffin: I am glad that the two of you have found a way to remain family. That will be very important to Fridda, as she makes her new life.

Fennik: I intend to visit her again.

Seruffin: I hope that won't cause you trouble with your brother-in-law.

Fennik sighs.

Gerrhonot hears the water come to a boil, puts trin in the teapot and adds the water.

Fennik: He was quite upset when he learned I'd donated, last week.

Seruffin: That would account for the look he gave me in the hall yesterday, I expect.

Fennik: It was in the middle of a situation that was fairly fraught for other reasons, which didn't help.

Fennik carefully evaluates his emotions to see if his ~~ frustration ~~ is leaking out unacceptably.

Seruffin notes that Fennik has at least started to get the idea of controlling his nager, even if he hasn't quite mastered the necessary skill.

Seruffin: I see.

Fennik: I explained that the reasons you gave me were entirely validated by my own experiences in-T, but he was convinced that you'd manipulated me for nefarious reasons of your own.

Fennik is intellectually sure of his own stated opinion, but Ruthven has raised a shadow of a doubt in the back of his mind, which he hopes Seruffin will dispel.

Seruffin zlins Fennik in hopes of determining whether Fennik has come to share his brother-in-law's doubts.

Fennik chuckles.

Fennik: Perhaps you can take it as a compliment -- he regards you as a manipulator of extraordinary skill, which explains your notable success as a negotiator.

Seruffin: Senator Tsibola is a very perceptive gentleman. I have a healthy respect for his acumen. In this particular instance, he isn't entirely wrong. I did pressure you to donate.

Fennik isn't going to accept himself as easily manipulated.

Fennik: Surely for my own benefit, and that of Fridda.

Seruffin: I thought so, at the time, and I believe the results vindicate me.

Fennik ~~ agrees ~~

Seruffin: However, it is true that I was a bit selective in what I told you, and that my purpose in doing so was to convince you to donate.

Fennik is slightly ~~ puzzled ~~, then slightly ~~ alarmed ~~. Just how right was Ruthven?

Fennik: [stiffly] Could you clarify that, please?

Seruffin nods a Sime-graceful concession.

Gerrhonot notes the change in the tone and becomes more alert.

Seruffin: I could probably have helped you to get a waiver, and an Escort. You'd definitely have been allowed to attend the conference, and you'd have had a reasonable chance of being allowed to visit the First Year camp, depending on how much control you'd demonstrated.

Seruffin: You'd have had a much harder time convincing the channel who interviewed you to let you speak to Fridda, of course. You'd probably have had to speak with a channel and Donor team in the room, or maybe even through a selyn-insulating barrier. It would have depended on Fridda's condition, and the judgment of the channels responsible for her case.

Fennik: I appreciate your honesty with me now, but I'm somewhat disappointed that you weren't willing to level with me then. ~~ chagrin ~~ mild offense ~~

Seruffin spreads his hands in a gesture of acknowledgment of the criticism.

Fennik, the more he thinks about it, gets more ~~ annoyed ~~ at Seruffin's ploy. He feels like he was... manipulated.

Seruffin: You weren't completely honest with me, either, that day. You asked me for a way to see your daughter, and perhaps to speak with her. However, I could zlin that you wanted a great deal more.

Seruffin: You wanted to hold her, but you were afraid of how you would react to her as a Sime... and how she would react to your reaction. If I'd given you what you asked for, you'd probably have accepted it. And you'd never have gotten what you wanted.

Fennik thinks about this for a time, as Gerrhonot pours tea, gives Seruffin a cup and offers him one. He takes the cup and holds it without tasting it.

Seruffin sips his own tea, zlinning as Fennik considers.

Fennik realizes that Seruffin didn't know him when they first met, and his ignorance of all things Sime was probably very obvious. But he's still ~~ humiliated ~~ at having been treated as ignorant, and ~~ offended ~~ at having been manipulated.

Fennik knows he's not being entirely reasonable. It's his dignity that was injured. He's not used to being patronized, and ~~ resents ~~ it.

Seruffin: I didn't lie to you. There was a significant chance that you would not have been allowed to see Fridda if you had remained highfield.

Fennik: I can understand why you did what you did, and it worked out well in the end. But now that we know each other better, can we agree to be more straightforward with one other?

Seruffin: Within the bounds of my professional responsibility, certainly.

Seruffin can't, for example, answer freely questions regarding his current negotiations.

Seruffin: I have confidences I am obligated to keep, as, I'm sure, do you.

Fennik: Yes, of course.

Fennik is much ~~ subdued ~~ and ~~ saddened ~~. He gradually becomes ~~ embarrassed ~~ at having confided his very personal emotions to Seruffin, who is, after all, a foreign national.

Fennik realizes that he had unconsciously hoped to make Seruffin a friend. He hasn't had a true confidant since his wife died, and even with her, there was a certain reserve. Unlike the channel, she couldn't know how he truly felt. ~~ disappointment ~~ chagrin ~~

Seruffin waits to see if Fennik has further questions about his actions.

Fennik stands.

Seruffin: I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive me. I liked your daughter a great deal, when I met her at Hannard's Ford. I liked what I'd seen of you, as well. It was clear to me how much you both wanted to have a real chance to be with each other. When I saw a way to make that happen...

Fennik had been about to speak some formal conventionality and depart on his dignity, but he ~~ reconsiders ~~. He wants to say that it was only his pride that was damaged, and he forgives Seruffin, but wonders whether he's being manipulated again -- or betrayed again by his own emotional neediness. ~~ unsure ~~ distrustful ~~ betrayed ~~ disappointed ~~ wistful ~~ humiliated ~~ chagrined ~~

Seruffin notes that Fennik isn't trying to keep his nager under control, any more.

Fennik: It seems unfair... inequitable... that you can read my emotions so effectively while I have only conventional clues. It gives you a great advantage, should you wish to manipulate me.

Seruffin: It does give me an advantage, although I try not to abuse it. As a practical matter, however, it's far more help in determining the truth than in perpetrating lies.

Fennik studies Seruffin's face, trying to decide whether a friendship was ever possible. Seruffin seems to flicker back and forth between the potential perfect friend who can really understand him, and a total alien.

Seruffin is, in truth, potentially both, and neither. He waits patiently for Fennik to work through his feelings.

Fennik is ~~ confused ~~, ~~ humiliated ~~ by his emotional vulnerability, and ~~ embarrassed ~~ by his ~~ yearning for emotional engagement ~~.

Fennik: I apologize, Hajene, I'm not controlling my nager.

Seruffin nods gracious acceptance of the apology.

Seruffin: I don't blame you for being upset.

Fennik tries to clamp down control on his emotions, tries to think about the next faculty meeting, tries not to think about how he's about to walk out on something he only now understands how much he needs. ~~ rigidity ~~ ~~ despair ~~

Fennik: I forgive you for not being fully forthcoming with me. It did indeed turn out well. I appreciate all you've done to help me. ~~ help me! ~~

Seruffin smiles.

Fennik forces a smile.

Seruffin: Your forgiveness means a great deal to me. I've enjoyed our conversations, and I have to respect your integrity, in maintaining a relationship with your daughter despite the difficulties.

Fennik nods stiffly and offers his hand to brush fingertips to tentacles.

Seruffin reaches out two handling tentacles to brush the fingers lightly.

Fennik: Good afternoon, then. Good afternoon, Sosu.

Seruffin: Good afternoon, Professor Fennik.

Gerrhonot nods politely.

Fennik walks stiffly to the door, opens it and leaves, closing it behind him.

Seruffin gives a huge sigh of ~~ relief ~~.

Seruffin: That might have gone very badly.

Gerrhonot puts his arm around his channel.

Gerrhonot: Let's sit down, Hajene.

Seruffin allows himself to be led over to the sofa.

Gerrhonot: He was so happy to see you. Then later he was so upset. It wasn't just what you said. It was something inside him.

Seruffin: Like many out-Territory Gens, he's not used to considering his feelings -- or having anyone else consider them, either. I think he finds knowing that his emotions are being zlinned upsetting. On the other hand, he's attracted by the idea of an acquaintance who understands how he feels.

Gerrhonot: He's so stiff and formal. But every time we saw him he was more open with you. Like this time especially, at first at least.

Seruffin: Fridda's mother is dead, Fridda herself is miles away and can never return to the family home. Senator Tsibola would never accept donating in a member of his family. Who else does the man have to talk to, who can understand?

Gerrhonot: ~~ sympathy ~~ sorrow ~~ I wish there was something we could do to help him, but there isn't, is there.

Seruffin: We can be his friend. I think he could use one, don't you?

Gerrhonot: Yes. But how?

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