Tsibola leans back in his overstuffed leather chair in his brother-in-law's comfortable study, sipping his after-dinner brandy with ~~ contentment ~~.
Tsibola: Another excellent dinner, Jon. Thank you.
Fennik: You're welcome, Ruthven.
Fennik is finding himself glad to have anyone visit. The house is so empty without Fridda. He sips his brandy and sighs.
Fennik: I got a letter from Fridda. She's on her way to Capital by now.
Tsibola: To that Sime university?
Fennik shakes his head.
Fennik: I always imagined she'd be here, starting at NWU...
Tsibola: Funny, I still find it hard to think about Simes and higher education in the same sentence.
Fennik: Why? They have universities over there, and a good standard of scholarship. I've been reading their journals for years, and I certainly met respectable scholars at that conference.
Fennik is ~~ defensive ~~ about it.
Tsibola: It is hard, to have her so far away.
Fennik: Indeed. I'm thinking about visiting her in Capital during the Year's Turning break.
Tsibola: You're making another trip to Simeland?
Fennik: I'm considering it.
Tsibola doesn't blame Fennik for wanting to visit Fridda, or not exactly, but he still finds the idea ~~ unsettling ~~.
Fennik: Really, Ruthven. It's a foreign country, but it's not the pit of hell. People were quite civil to me, and many of them speak English.
Tsibola's religion has always been more a matter of political convenience than true conviction, but some of it has rubbed off.
Fennik doesn't mention that the civility was extended despite many a nageric faux pas on his part.
Tsibola: Oh, they can be polite enough, when it suits them, but one can never be quite sure what to expect, when they want something of you.
Fennik: Certainly that applies here as well as there, and to Gens as well as Simes.
Tsibola: Yes, but it's easier to spot in Gens.
Fennik: Ah, there's where you're wrong! Simes tend to put what they zlin well ahead of what they see, so nobody in-T puts much effort into developing a poker face. More a poker nager, I suppose.
Fennik wonders whether Simes play poker, and what it's like, compared to out-T poker. Not that he's played poker since graduate school himself.
Tsibola: It's still damnably difficult to tell what they really want, sometimes. Outside of selyn, of course.
Fennik: They're just people, Ruthven. They want the same things Gens do. Granted, it's a somewhat different culture there, but take it from me, human nature hasn't really changed from what we see in Ancient literature.
Tsibola: Some of them, anyway. It's the ways they go about getting them that are odd enough to drive me crazy. Take your friend Hajene Seruffin, for instance.
Fennik stiffens slightly at Seruffin being referred to as his friend. It's a situation he's reluctant to think about. He's not happy with his emotions in that context.
Tsibola hadn't thought to get such a reaction.
Tsibola: Is something wrong?
Fennik: No. What about Seruffin?
Tsibola: Just that he always seems to come at things sideways. You seemed upset, when I mentioned him.
Fennik: He's an intelligent man, and as you've said, a skillful and experienced diplomat.
Tsibola: You were describing him as a friend, the last time we spoke of him.
Fennik: I doubt I was, although he and I have had several congenial conversations.
Tsibola: And other... encounters.
Fennik hates it when Tsibola pushes at him like this, and reacts in his usual way: when diversion and denial fail, he gets more rigid and defensive.
Fennik: What? Donating to him? This month I went to the Sime Center and donated to the channel on shift. Lovely young woman, most charming.
Tsibola looks at Fennik sharply.
Tsibola: Does this mean you haven't kept up your... acquaintance... with Seruffin?
Fennik: I haven't spoken to him in some time. There hasn't been any reason to. I certainly don't need to waste his time taking my donation. That's what the Sime Center is for.
Tsibola: That's... inconvenient, just now, but I have to admit I'm relieved. Seruffin is a complicated individual.
Fennik makes a dismissive gesture. Of course he is.
Tsibola thinks his academic brother-in-law is outclassed by the Sime's ability to manipulate the situation to his advantage.
Fennik is offended at Tsibola's "relief". It's none of his damned business if Fennik wants to associate with a Sime.
Tsibola: On the other hand, there are things that he knows, and Fridda isn't yet in a position to tell us, that could be critical, if the plan to keep the Cordvain Valley mine is to go forward.
Tsibola takes a thoughtful sip of his brandy.
Fennik is curious, but still miffed. He's also reluctant to be used as a go between to preserve Ruthven's arm's length relationship with the Tecton.
Fennik: What did you have in mind?
Tsibola: I've had people trying to recruit a few Simes for an initial survey of the site, so that we can get some idea of how practical the idea is.
Tsibola: They haven't found any takers.
Fennik: Well, it's not a very appealing job opportunity. You'll have to do something to make it so if you want to recruit anyone.
Tsibola: From what I've been able to learn, it isn't highly skilled work. I authorized a generous offer that would have half the laborers in New Washington lining up to apply, plus a hardship bonus. There's something we're overlooking, and none of my people have been able to figure out what it is.
Fennik: How does it compare to in-T wages? Simes pay some pretty hefty taxes, so they might well be expecting more than workers here. And of course, a Sime out-T might feel very much like a rabbit surrounded by well-armed foxes.
Fennik is rather pleased at that simile.
Tsibola thinks they're more likely to feel like a fox surrounded by well-armed rabbits, but he prefers not to discuss Simes and arms in the same sentence.
Fennik doesn't realize that his views have gone 180 degrees -- he now sees Simes as potential victims of Gens, rather than the reverse. His sympathy for Fridda, and his experiences unintentionally irritating Simes in-T have a good bit to do with it.
Tsibola: I told my recruiters to authorize a comparable salary, but most of them report that they haven't even gotten far enough to make the offer.
Fennik: I suspect you'll have to assure them of safe and comfortable surroundings. By comfortable, I mean away from untrained Gens, at least when they're off work. And of course, ready access to a channel.
Tsibola: We put together a nice little presentation on the Cordvain Valley mine, explaining all the measures we take to make our workers comfortable. Including a lot of the arrangements the union made for their Sime "security force".
Tsibola is visibly ~~ frustrated ~~ at the way things are going.
Fennik spreads his hands.
Fennik: Why ask me, Ruthven? A week in-T doesn't make me an expert. I'm sure the embassy has people who can advise GMM on how to go about it.
Tsibola: There's something in what we're offering, or in how we're offering it, that's sufficient to make Simes who need work turn down our offer before we can properly make it.
Fennik: Well, what did the potential recruits say when they turned it down? Surely your recruiters got more than "no thanks" from them.
Tsibola: There were also quite a few "You're joking"s, I'm told.
Tsibola: The embassy trade liaisons have been heavily involved in the Xerchon negotiations.
Tsibola has been involved in them himself, and not to the Simes' advantage.
Tsibola: I doubt they would be inclined to be helpful, and even if they were, I'd rather that they didn't get quite such a detailed picture of General Metals' procedures.
Fennik: Have the recruiters ask the applicants what the problem is. Have somebody ask the Simes you've already got on site. Why ask me?
Tsibola: I suspect the problem is less with the terms of the job than with the working conditions. That's more Seruffin's area of expertise, anyway. And if this matter can be handled quietly and informally, it would be a great benefit to the company.
Tsibola was able to strong-arm the Board of Directors into going along with the idea, but if it becomes a matter of public curiosity that might still change.
Fennik presses his lips together in distaste. Ruthven does want him to act as a go between. He's tempted to suggest getting Markius to do it. After all, Markius was eager to meet Seruffin for his own financial purposes.
Fennik: I really don't see why this can't be done at a lower level.
Fennik realizes that he would like an excuse to meet with Seruffin again, despite his confused emotions about the man. He's reluctant to give in to Tsibola for that reason as well.
Tsibola: That would require a formal request to the Sime government. And they tend to expect considerations that I'd rather not be forced to provide. Besides, when it comes to sifting through a lot of information to find the few useful bits, you're worth any ten young "trade liaisons" the Simes can provide.
Tsibola tends to take Seruffin more seriously than the other diplomatic staff, simply because he's older.
Fennik realizes that the Senator isn't going to listen to any alternatives he proposes. Surely an inquiry to the embassy from someone in GMM's personnel department isn't going to put Tsibola himself in anyone's debt.
Fennik also realizes that Tsibola, who has a not too exaggerated opinion of his own importance, feels that his perpetual thorn-in-the-side presence in most interterritorial matters might well come back at him in this one.
Fennik isn't impressed by the flattery, either -- he knows his expertise in Ancient literature isn't of much value in assessing the worth of information on personnel management practices for Simes out-T.
Fennik sighs deeply. Constant dripping wears away the stone, or better, constant pressure deforms the intentions of the object in question, himself. And he really would like to see Seruffin again. The last meeting made him feel so unsettled. Certainly there's a better way of resolving their relationship.
Fennik: So just what is it you want me to do, Ruthven?
Tsibola: Go have a friendly conversation with Seruffin. He likes to talk, at least when it's something he doesn't have to keep confidential. See if you can get him to discuss labor relations in Simeland, at least in general terms. What people expect from their employer, and what they consider adequate living conditions. With luck, that will be sufficient for us to figure out where we're going wrong. And without disclosing too many embarrassing details to the Simes.
Fennik is disgusted that Ruthven expects him to conceal his intentions, both morally and practically. He's sure that Seruffin will see, or zlin, right through him.
Tsibola sees his brother-in-law's distaste.
Tsibola: I'm not asking you to lie about General Metals' intentions. However, the more background information we have on how the Simes handle these matters, the better we'll do at making this project succeed. That would be a good thing for all of us, our potential Sime employees included.
Tsibola: And... it's quite possible that what we learn will help us make Fridda more comfortable, if she's ever willing to visit in Gen Territory.
Fennik is getting annoyed at the manipulation. He has consented to talk to Seruffin, so why this mention of Fridda?
Tsibola has no intention of breaking his campaign promise not to enter a Sime Center, which precludes him from visiting his niece in Simeland. He made no such promise not to meet Simes in Genland, however, and is ~~ hopeful ~~ that someday he'll be able to see Fridda again.
Fennik: Before she can visit, we'll have to admit that she's alive, won't we?
Tsibola: If you intend to keep visiting her, it will come out eventually. You know that.
Fennik looks even more disgusted than before.
Tsibola has started putting some contingency plans into effect, and is much more optimistic than he was at first that such a revelation need not be a total disaster.
Fennik: All right. I've consented to speak to him. You can give me a list of questions if you like, but I'll be the one to decide how much to conceal or reveal. After all, you haven't told me anything truly confidential, have you?
Tsibola: No, I haven't. If you believe that offering some of the specifics will be of help, I'll leave that to your judgment.
Tsibola is well aware of how easily Seruffin can spot an attempt to hold back information, and how stubborn the Sime can get in return.
Fennik makes a gesture of reluctant acceptance.
Fennik: Well, I suppose I can't invite him to lunch at the club.
Tsibola: Can you imagine Kinneth's face, if you brought a Sime into the sanctum?
Fennik: If I bring a Sime in there, it will likely be Fridda.
Fennik wouldn't really expose Fridda to the reaction of the club members, but he wants to annoy Tsibola a bit.
Tsibola: It would be the sensation of the year, I'm sure.
Fennik: I'm not going to take up his time during the day, either. I'll invite him here for supper.
Fennik recalls that the whole issue of food and eating is problematic with Simes.
Fennik: Or perhaps for drinks in the evening.
Fennik thinks about it further.
Fennik: I'll let him pick the day. I know he's a busy man.
Fennik also thinks that Seruffin's need cycle might have a good bit to do with when he'll feel like socializing, especially with an out-T Gen.
Tsibola: I leave it to your good judgment. I've seen him drink red wine, at an embassy reception or two. I don't know if he likes brandy. And, Jon, I do appreciate your willingness to do this. I definitely owe you a big one.
Tsibola is well known for taking such obligations seriously.
Fennik's face again shows the disgusted look of someone who's consented to be manipulated, even if not entirely against his will. He now has an excuse, acceptable to himself, to see Seruffin again.
Fennik: I'll let you know what happens.