Tsibola: Just what did you think you were doing, Craig?
Tsibola glares at his errant relative from his place in front of the mantle in Professor Fennik's comfortable study.
Tsibola has picked this relatively private location over the GMM offices or his Senate office, as more conducive to getting at the truth. Whatever it happens to be. He thinks it's got to be pretty spectacular: of all the people he would have been willing to swear would not have nervous breakdowns on the wrong side of the Sime Territory border and get themselves deported, Craig tops the list.
Craig looks around the room nervously, as if fearing that something horrible might leap out from behind the furniture. To a casual glance, he's as impeccably dressed as ever, but to anyone who knows him well, he's looking rumpled and hesitant.
Fennik leans back in his comfortable leather armchair and swirls the fine old port in his glass. He knows it's unworthy of him, but he's gloating a bit over Craig's apparent downfall.
Craig: I was trying to save the family. And the company.
Tsibola: From what? What could your actions possibly have averted that is more embarrassing than having you publicly kicked out of Sime Territory as an undesirable?
Fennik: The story was on the front page of the financial section. At least it was below the fold.
Craig: You didn't believe me, neither of you, about the dangers in dealing with Simes. You're getting GMM more and more involved with them. I had to try to find some way to stop you.
Craig picks up his whiskey and starts to gulp it down, then stops himself and sets the drink aside with a shaking hand.
Craig: I didn't accomplish any of what I was trying to do. God forgive me, I'm not as strong as I thought I was. But I'm more sure than ever that I was right about Simes. How can I make you see it?
Tsibola: If you were trying to limit the company's contact with Simes, then what possessed you to visit Simeland? And without a waiver? We all know what that required.
Craig: I had to try. I was trying to get some kind of evidence I could use to force your hand over the Cordvain Valley. I knew what I'd have to do to get it, but I thought I was strong enough. I'm not strong, Ruthven. I know that now. But I'm right. More right than I knew.
Tsibola: About what? The damage that irresponsible actions can cause the company?
Craig: Simes, Ruthven. Simes and how terribly dangerous they are. We can't afford any dealings with them at all, not even the arms'-length sort of things we've done before. It's worse than anything I ever suspected.
Craig glances at Fennik.
Fennik: What on earth happened to you, Craig? I rather enjoyed my own trip to Nivet.
Tsibola is rather ~~ curious ~~ about this himself.
Craig: I know you're biased, Jon, and in some ways I can't blame you. If Fridda survived, you can't afford to believe that your little girl is a demon. But...
Craig pauses, visibly struggling with his emotions. He still has enough pride to want to look like a proper man, even though he now knows how false that image of strength is.
Tsibola has long suspected that Seruffin isn't an ordinary kind of channel: if nothing else, the man has a habit of making the most outrageous things sound ordinary and practical.
Tsibola: What did they do to you, anyway?
Craig: They... well, let me tell it in order. I got to the border, and had to donate. That was as bad as I'd expected, but no worse than I'd expected. Right through that part, I hadn't seen anything worse than I'd expected to see.
Fennik is a bit impressed, in spite of himself, that Craig isn't getting histrionic about the donation.
Tsibola: So, you had to give in and let the Simes take your selyn. I'd have expected a man like you to stick to his principles, but I suppose you thought it was justified.
Tsibola himself has gone to great lengths to keep his promise to his constituents never to set foot in a Sime Center, however inconvenient it might be.
Craig: If you'd done it, Ruthven, you'd have been breaking a promise, I know. But I'd never made any such promise. It was a matter of personal cost, against the welfare of the family, and all the people whose lives GMM touches.
Tsibola: Did it never occur to you that I am quite capable of guarding the welfare of this family, and of GMM?
Fennik: It certainly hasn't done the reputation of the company or the family any good for your psychiatric problems to show up in a major newspaper.
Tsibola: No, indeed. Our stock price will be slipping, this next week.
Craig: You've always been reasonable before, Ruthven. I've trusted you in the past. But in the last little while, I've seen you softening towards Simes. As for the newspaper, Jon, yes, I know I failed in that regard. It wasn't the outcome I intended. If Ruthven feels he has to hang me out to dry in public to salvage that, I'm willing to accept the cost. I won't fight you on that. But at least let me salvage what all this was about.
Fennik: What were you trying to accomplish?
Tsibola: I can't think of a single thing you could have done in Sime Territory that would justify the damage you've done to GMM and this family.
Craig: Ultimately, I was trying to put an end to GMM's involvement with Simes. I went about it all wrong. I know that now. I was trying to discredit Jon, when what I should have been doing was finding the evidence that would convince both of you that I'm right. I've got that evidence now. At a cost greater than I would have had the courage to pay, if I'd known how it would happen. But please, don't discount that evidence just because I destroyed myself in getting it.
Tsibola: All right, Craig. You might as well give us this "evidence".
Tsibola is ~~ openly skeptical ~~
Fennik is irked that Craig isn't the least apologetic in admitting that he was trying to discredit him.
Craig: They really are devils, Ruthven, with powers beyond anything human. They pretend they only "zlin" "selyn fields". But what they really do is read minds. I couldn't hide a thing from her, Ruthven, not even the things I wasn't actively thinking about. It was like she could see right into my mind, pull out my thoughts, my motivations, my knowledge and my fears, with barely a glance. We can't afford to deal with anyone with such powers. They'll crush us like gnats. I don't know if they're literally demons; from what I saw they have lives and families much like ours. But I know we can't afford to deal with them. They'll crush us. They're simply too powerful. Picture that kind of power in your opposite number, in any negotiation, and maybe you'll understand. I didn't until I faced it directly. Now I do.
Craig is almost babbling, in his urgency.
Tsibola: Craig, calm down. Perhaps you'd better tell us about what happened, from the beginning. You donated at the border, without any particular difficulty, you said. What happened then?
Craig takes a deep breath.
Craig: I donated, and it was as bad as I expected but no worse. If anything I felt stronger in my soul, and closer to God's love, because I'd faced that and gotten through it. So I hired a translator and went into town.
Tsibola: You didn't take one of the company translators?
Craig: If I'd been able to persuade any of our trustworthy employees to donate and cross the border, do you think I would have done the trip myself? Even Bobby refused.
Tsibola makes a mental note that Bobby is ready for more responsibility, if the lad had the judgment to turn Craig's assignment down.
Craig looks sad; he'd thought of his protege Bobby as almost like a son.
Tsibola: So, you went into town. Where did you end up?
Craig: Orrizan. I went to the Sime Center first, and tried to get my donation payment assigned to Fridda, with a message for her to write to me. If that had worked out, it would have answered a lot of my questions in itself.
Fennik is relieved that Craig tried but apparently didn't succeed.
Fennik: Weren't you planning earlier to demonstrate my lack of sanity by spreading the rumor that I was searching Simeland for my dead daughter?
Craig has retained enough of his former sense of irony to appreciate the joke, even though it's on him.
Craig: Yes, well, after I said it, just trying to get a rise out of you, I started wondering whether I'd hit on part of the truth. Maybe it was something in the way you reacted. I admit, Jon, I was still thinking of you as the enemy.
Tsibola: And you thought if it was true, you'd have a nice little hold over him?
Craig is beyond even embarrassment.
Fennik makes a sound of disgust.
Tsibola: You said, however, that this scheme of yours didn't work out?
Fennik: I doubt they'd take his money with nowhere to send it.
Craig: Well, it hasn't yet. I suppose if she is alive, I might still hear from her. They didn't know either way at the Sime Center; said they'd look into it, and asked for my mailing address in case they couldn't find her.
Fennik: You're despicable, Craig. To attempt to exploit a father's tragedy for your own benefit...
Fennik figures he should act consistently with the cover story. He's finding method acting to be not too difficult. And he hasn't overtly lied yet.
Craig: I know. I know now I was wrong. You're not the enemy. I didn't understand that then.
Fennik: If she's alive you might still hear from her!
Fennik snorts and goes to the window, taking his glass of port with him.
Craig: We've always been ruthless in business, Jon; that's how GMM has survived. And I've always been the family's specialist in those tactics. But I shouldn't have used them against you.
Fennik reminds himself to write to Fridda and ask her not to reply to Craig's message. She'll probably have the sense not to anyway. It will be difficult or impossible to stop the credit transfer and make it look like Fridda doesn't exist, however. Maybe Craig will just assume somebody pocketed the money.
Tsibola: So your errand at the Sime Center was unsuccessful. Was that what caused you to... become upset?
Craig: No. I went around town, trying to do the kind of things I would do here to begin an investigation. I figured my next move would probably be to go to Arreven, where Jon's conference was. But while I was in the neighborhood I decided to pay a courtesy call on our customers in Householding Zalmos.
Tsibola: Morwin, in other words?
Craig: Yes. It would give me a plausible cover story for the trip, and might produce some actual business benefits. By the way, Morwin is a "Miz" and not a "Mister".
Tsibola raises an eyebrow.
Tsibola: Is that so?
Craig: And a Sime.
Craig can't help a shudder.
Tsibola: Well, it stands to reason.
Tsibola has never wasted any time thinking over the practical aspects of Householdings being a mixed larity operation.
Craig: Oh, by the way, I have a memo... wherever my notebook went. Some shipments that came through late. I promised we'd look into it.
Tsibola makes a mental note to have the matter seen to.
Tsibola: So you talked business with this Sime.
Craig: For a few minutes. She seemed to be in a bit of a hurry. But then, I did show up without an appointment, which was probably another mistake.
Tsibola can't see anything in this story, at least so far, which could possibly cause even Craig to have a nervous breakdown.
Fennik continues gazing out the window, his back to Craig, so as to appear more upset than he is.
Craig: And then she looked right at me, like she was looking into my soul, and asked me why I was lying about the main reason for my trip.
Tsibola: I gather, then, that you didn't actually get around to reading that nice little pamphlet they pass out, about Simeland manners?
Tsibola makes a point of having his staffers on the Foreign Affairs committee review it before entering into any dealings with Simes.
Craig: I'd read it. But it sounded so simple and straightforward. And the truth was so far beyond anything I'd imagined from reading the pamphlet.
Tsibola: In other words, you didn't really believe that you can't get a lie past a Sime?
Craig: I didn't panic yet. I know how to handle that kind of accusation in negotiations: lay some truth on the table. So I told her my main reason for the trip was an investigation. I even told her I was having trouble with it, and was willing to offer a substantial consideration in return for her help.
Tsibola: All of which was the literal truth, I assume.
Craig: Yes. Of course.
Fennik wonders whether an upper level manager would be more likely to be insulted or made suspicious by such an offer. Probably both.
Tsibola: But Morwin became suspicious of your motivations?
Craig: She wasn't just suspicious. It's like she was reading my mind. She told me everything I was thinking. Once she stopped being polite, she lit into me as if she'd been reading my diary. If I'd had one, which I don't. So she can't even have gotten it that way. It had to be mind reading.
Tsibola: Or perhaps she has children, and can tell a coverup when she sees one.
Tsibola pulls a letter out of his pocket.
Craig: That was when I panicked, when I finally understood what demonic powers Simes have.
Fennik imagines how well a Sime would react to a panicking Gen, based on his own experiences with much milder emotions in-T.
Fennik: That would be very offensive to this important customer, as I understand it.
Tsibola: She tells me here, rather apologetically, that she began to suspect your investigation was not approved by GMM when you responded strangely to her logical question of why you couldn't simply ask your other family members what happened. One doesn't have to be able to read minds, to find that a bit fishy.
Craig: I told her... I didn't want to say that the two of you had gone crazy; that wouldn't have done GMM's reputation any good. I simply said Jon was "ill" -- a euphemism anyone should understand and know better than to pry beyond. But she didn't need to pry. She already knew. Everything.
Tsibola: I doubt it. If Simes could read minds, I'd never have gotten those tariff concessions out of them.
Craig: Face to face? Without other people in between to block your thoughts?
Tsibola: Yes. I may not have ever visited Simeland, but I've probably spent more time actually talking with Simes than either of you.
Craig: They're more subtle than I thought. A trick to soften you up, so you'd trust them now, and invite them in to destroy us.
Tsibola: I doubt it. Even the liberals aren't that subtle. More to the point, I've never seen or heard anything that led me to believe that Simes can read actual thoughts. Emotions, yes. And there's a great deal that a clever Sime can deduce from your emotions. You'll never get a direct lie past a Sime, and they can spot the intent to deceive as well, but they can't know what the actual truth is, unless you tell them.
Craig: I didn't tell her anything. She told me. Everything.
Craig is beginning to realize that he's failing at his mission again.
Tsibola: What exactly did she tell you, that she couldn't have deduced from your behavior?
Craig: All of it. I didn't tell her anything, beyond wanting her help for my investigation.
Craig remembers little beyond that moment of desperate ~~ panic ~~ .
Tsibola looks at the letter.
Craig: Afterwards, I don't know. I broke. I'm not proud to admit it, but I broke.
Tsibola: She writes here that she was asking you a few questions, in order to figure out what was going on, when you accused her of being a killer and collapsed. You do realize that is considered an insult, in Simeland?
Craig: I didn't accuse her of anything. Honestly, Ruthven, I didn't. I wasn't coherent enough to accuse anyone of anything by then.
Tsibola: You don't remember asking her to kill you?
Craig: I just wanted the floor to open up and swallow me. I didn't care if I fell into the pits of Hell. I just wanted out of there. But I didn't ask her to do anything. Except, maybe....
Craig frowns, struggling to remember.
Craig: I might have asked her to leave me alone, or something like that. I'm not too clear on that part. I don't know what I said after that. "Put me down," maybe.
Tsibola: That must have been when she arranged for you to be locked in a psychiatric ward?
Craig: Was that what it was? I don't remember much of that part. I think they drugged me.
Tsibola: They did.
Craig: Next thing I knew I was back home.
Tsibola: And on the front page of the financial section.
Craig: I'm sorry. That wasn't any part of my plan. Please believe me on that, at least.
Tsibola: I'll accept that, for the moment.
Craig: God bless you, Ruthven. What can I do to help with the damage control?
Craig seems to be almost thinking coherently again.
Tsibola considers for a moment, then nods briskly.
Tsibola: The first step is to get you away from the reporters. They'll no doubt be swarming you for your side of the story.
Craig nods gratefully.
Tsibola: I will take care of issuing an appropriate press release.
Tsibola doesn't ask for Craig's input on its content.
Craig: Uh-huh. It's going to be the "unfortunate illness" thing again, isn't it? ~~ irony ~~
Tsibola: You had better leave town completely, and hole up somewhere you're not likely to be found.
Craig: Jon, may I borrow your country house until I figure out where to go?
Fennik: Go ahead, Craig. I'm not up to going back there for a while.
Fennik has already paid Sirtoss a nice bonus for his assistance to Fridda and for his continuing silence about it. And Craig isn't likely to get friendly enough with any of the neighbors to hear any rumors.
Tsibola: You might have to stay there quite a while, until this dies down. I want to move ahead on the plans I outlined, so you'd best sign your shares over to someone reliable. Perhaps your host?
Craig decides it's time to show a little backbone.
Craig: I can't afford to sign away my shares. I need the income.
Tsibola: I'll settle for a proxy.
Craig: All right. Under one condition.
Tsibola: You're not in any position to insist on conditions, Craig.
Craig: Leave me some shred of integrity, Ruthven.
Tsibola: You've shown you have little enough of it.
Fennik smiles at this exchange, but conceals it by looking out the window.
Craig: Please, Ruthven. Just this one thing. It's not like it'll really matter; you control a majority already.
Tsibola: What do you want?
Craig: Don't vote my shares pro-Sime for anything. Abstain with them if necessary, but don't vote them in favor of doing any sort of business with Simes.
Craig, much as he would like to, dares not ask for any larger concession.
Tsibola: That would include too much routine business, of the sort we've been doing for years.
Tsibola considers for a moment.
Tsibola: I will agree to abstain with your shares from any vote involving the future handling of the Cordvain Valley mine.
Craig sighs wearily.
Craig knows it's as good as he's going to get.
Tsibola: I'll have the papers drawn up by tonight. You should be ready to leave by noon tomorrow. Jon, can you get him the key?
Fennik: I have one right here.
Fennik takes a key from the ring in his pocket and hands it to his brother-in-law.
Tsibola takes the key and tosses it to Craig.
Craig listlessly takes the key and puts it in his pocket.
Craig: Thank you, Jon.
Tsibola: I'll notify you when this whole incident has blown over and you can return, Craig.
Craig nods, regaining some semblance of his former square-shouldered crispness.
Craig: I'll go and pack now, if I may. Good day, gentlemen.
Fennik waves Craig off.
Craig stands, takes his jacket from the rack, and leaves.
Tsibola looks at Fennik.
Tsibola: That was unpleasant. Whatever possessed him to do something so... ungentlemanly?
Fennik: It seems to be very much his nature. Look how he was trying to threaten me at the club after the meeting.
Tsibola: Well, I suppose. Still, it's an unfortunate incident, all around.
Fennik: It's getting rather awkward pretending Fridda died, Ruthven.
Tsibola: With luck, this incident with Craig and the new developments in the Cordvain Valley will distract attention from you and Fridda.
Fennik: I hope so.