Pollovic sits in his office with the door closed, after a sleepless night. He has always supported Unity as a political stance, and has been elected and re-elected on a pro-Sime platform. His family, though, is from the social class to whom actually donating just Isn't Done, and until last night's conversation with Seruffin, he had never thought about rolling up his own sleeves. Now he's thinking about it.
Pollovic is picturing tentacles. He was picturing tentacles, in various configurations, all night as he tossed and turned. Now he has the "About Donating" pamphlet Hajene Seruffin so thoughtfully included in the package he sent over with Walliver, to spark his imagination further.
Pollovic stares at the picture, neatly drawn, of tentacles wrapped around a Gen forearm, and imagines his own arm in such a grip. His eyes linger on phrases like "higher body temperature" and "slightly moist". He buries his face in his hands.
Quispel knocks, then bustles in without waiting for an answer.
Quispel is rather on the slim side, for a Gen, due to his hyped-up energy level: he's physically incapable of holding still.
Quispel: Boss, I've got the latest numbers, and we've got trouble.
Pollovic sits up, trying to look calm and collected.
Pollovic doesn't need more trouble. Not today.
Quispel comes to a halt in front of the desk and bounces in place.
Quispel: You're down five points, and Sinder is up two. The focus group coordinator thinks it's the result of that deal you made with Tsibola's crowd. You got included in the irrigation supplement, but they didn't like what you traded away for it.
Pollovic isn't thinking too swiftly, after his sleepless night.
Quispel: Yeah. That columnist for the Morning Herald is calling it a sell-out to the anti-Sime bigots who want to go back to the Stone Age. And you know she never lets go of a gripe.
Quispel looks ~~ worried ~~, which is actually pretty normal for him.
Pollovic really can't cope with Quispel's energy level right now. He hopes the youngster is overreacting.
Pollovic: What do you suggest I do?
Quispel: You've got to find a gesture of some sort to let people know which side you're really on, on the important stuff.
Pollovic is afraid he knows where this is leading. He tries to shift his arm to cover Seruffin's pamphlet on the desk.
Quispel: Something big, that'll be carried in all the papers.
Pollovic watches as the button on his cuff catches on the pamphlet and it flutters to the floor. He makes a grab for the pamphlet, much too late.
Quispel: What's that?
Pollovic: Oh, nothing.
Quispel gets a good look at the pamphlet.
Quispel: Where'd you get that?
Pollovic: Hajene Seruffin sent it over, along with some materials on sugar beets and fabrics.
Quispel: The Tecton never stops trying to spread information, does it? Although, come to think of it...
Quispel gets that completely absorbed look that means his highly caffeinated brain is working at warp speed.
Pollovic tries not to groan aloud. He's afraid he knows what's coming. He can feel his hopes of being able to get out of this crazy scheme dissolving away with every flicker of Quispel's eyelids.
Rinaldi knocks and enters.
Rinaldi: Senator? I hope you aren't too busy right now?
Rinaldi nods to Quispel then dismisses him from his attention.
Quispel is still mumbling to himself as he bounces in place, giving a good imitation of an autistic child.
Pollovic: I'm never too busy to speak to one of my constituents.
Rinaldi: I really need to know soon whether I'll be able to get those fabrics I need for the spring collection.
Pollovic tries to think of a way to stall.
Rinaldi: I refuse to license the designs to the FashionTex factory in your riding unless they can be made up with the appropriate materials, even if they are "knock-offs" as some say.
Rinaldi believes that even those poor folk who can't afford custom couture should have some opportunity to wear truly well-designed clothing.
Pollovic: I was talking to Hajene Seruffin just the other day... quite unofficially, you understand. It looks as if something might be worked out.
Pollovic notices that the top sheet in the folder on his desk is about the fabrics, and tries to close it with a casual gesture. His hands are shaking, and the folder spills onto the floor, scattering papers.
Rinaldi: Oh, good. But we must have a guarantee of supply before we can sign the contract on the designs. They have to start manufacturing well in advance of the season, of course!
Rinaldi realizes that Pollovic is not well informed about the fashion industry, as clearly demonstrated by his extremely boring conventional business costume.
Pollovic: These things do take a certain amount of time.
Rinaldi stoops to pick up the spilled papers almost under his feet.
Rinaldi: Oh! The donation pamphlet. I'm so glad you're considering donating, Senator. I have many Sime friends and colleagues and of course they depend on selyn for their lives.
Pollovic can feel the tentacles of inevitability closing around his forearms. He sighs heavily.
Quispel: [mumbles] Time, time, we've got to find something that doesn't take much...
Quispel: Of course! That's the gesture we need!
Pollovic wishes he could just sink through the floor.
Quispel uses the Gen language convention, oblivious to the possible double meaning in this context.
Quispel: There's nothing that could make your basic differences from Senator Tsibola's crowd more clear!
Quispel is starting to get more and more ~~ enthusiastic ~~ as the idea takes shape.
Quispel: Let's see, we'll want a good crowd. Where did you have in mind, Senator?
Pollovic hopes, for a split second, that Quispel has come up with some brilliant alternative solution that would leave the senatorial sleeves rolled down.
Pollovic: A good crowd for what, Quispel?
Quispel: A donation, of course! What else could distinguish you from Senator Tsibola so completely that they'll forget what you traded away for their irrigation systems? It's a perfect gesture, and it doesn't cost you anything at all!
Pollovic gives in to the inevitable.
Pollovic: I suppose it is. A donation, of course, would be done at the Sime Center.
Quispel: No, we couldn't get the press coverage we need, there. You know the Press Corps: they'll go anywhere for a story, as long as it isn't far from their comfortable press room. And besides, it'd be too easy for everyone to ignore if it's off on the other side of town. I was thinking the main conference room...
Rinaldi listens with interest, wondering whether there's an opportunity for him to display some of his new designs before the press at this event.
Rinaldi: Perhaps the Senate building Rotunda? Not just the press, but the public could witness your contribution to Unity.
Quispel gives a whoop of approval.
Quispel: Can you imagine Tsibola's face? We'll have to send him an invitation -- and the rest of his crowd, for that matter!
Rinaldi couldn't care less about Tsibola, but he can imagine a crowd of movers and shakers getting an enticing preview of his spring designs.
Pollovic: So a press conference, say at the noon break, then off to the Sime Center with one or two photographers to get a picture on the doorstep of the Center?
Quispel: No, no, most of the press would stay behind. We'll do the whole thing, right there in the Rotunda! Why not, when Tsibola held that conference objecting to the Ulgern appointment there?
Rinaldi: Senator, I'd be delighted to offer you a splendid and most suitable outfit from my newest designs, customized to your fit and style.
Quispel points a finger at Rinaldi.
Quispel: Of course! A fashion statement to underline the rest!
Quispel is practically dancing, by this point.
Pollovic is running out of adrenaline to panic with. How did this get so completely out of hand so fast?
Pollovic: Something a little bit conservative, Rinaldi. I am over fifty, after all.
Rinaldi knows that he won't be able to get Pollovic out of his drab browns and grays, but perhaps a rich seal brown with silver threads, to go with his distinguished graying hair and subtly suggest a Gen's store of selyn, in a velvet perhaps, with a satin lining of brilliant Zeor blue that will show when he rolls up his sleeves...
Rinaldi: Of course, Senator. I know you would feel most comfortable in the colors you are most accustomed to.
Pollovic is tempted to sigh with relief, then he remembers what he's going to be doing in this costume.
Rinaldi: I've got a lovely comfortable shirt-jacket on the boards, with loose sleeves that fold up and fasten with a tab, very comfortable, but with shoulders that will accent your natural robust build.
Quispel: It's got to say, "I support donating, firmly and unequivocally", Rinaldi. We'll get some of our Senate allies to attend, and if it's in the Rotunda, we'll get most of the press corps. Just after the morning session is adjourned, I think. That way, everybody will be free to come.
Rinaldi would really like to have an attractive young woman show off his new loosely draped gown, in brilliant flame colored striped silk, with gold couching and beaded embroidery at throat and hem...
Quispel: We'll rope off the center, under the lights, so the photographers can get good pictures. A speech -- we'll get Vilmore to come up with a short, snappy five minutes. Then we introduce -- hmm, can we get the Simes to send over a channel with some name recognition?
Quispel looks at Pollovic, offering him the first opportunity to provide input since he came up with his brainstorm.
Pollovic wearily gives in the rest of the way.
Pollovic: I think Hajene Seruffin might be persuaded.
Quispel: The diplomat? Well, I suppose we can't exactly hold out for the World Controller, or the Sectuib in Zeor.
Pollovic sincerely hopes not.
Quispel: I'll tell Vilmore to look up what the guy's done, and put a few references to it in your speech.
Rinaldi examines Pollovic critically. He is rather well-preserved. Would he be willing to go for the masculine version, a loosely draped sleeveless robe? Again, in a rich brown velvet... Perhaps he'd like to show off his well-muscled Gen limbs?
Pollovic: Seruffin and I have been talking on some of those trade proposals. We've established something of a rapport.
Pollovic now has a much more specific image to fuel his nightmares. Seruffin's tentacles, with the graying but Sime-strong face bending towards him...
Quispel: Good, good. When the press releases are passed out, we take a few questions, not too many: we don't want the press wandering off for lunch.
Rinaldi reconsiders. Perhaps just his arms. He could wear matching loose trousers under the robe. And his throat probably shows his age... Ah! A high silver collar to accentuate the graying temples and the silver thread in the robe, a sort of choker, perhaps, rather than an attached collar, with a trailing chain down the chest...
Pollovic notices Rinaldi's thoughtful look.
Pollovic: Something with a simple cut, Rinaldi. Simple.
Rinaldi: Of course, Senator. Very simple, but in rich fabrics, and perhaps a dark brown.
Quispel: Then this Seruffin does you, nice and slow so the photographers can get good pictures, and then you announce that you're giving your donation payment to some worthy cause.
Pollovic: Farmers' Relief Fund.
Pollovic is still thinking, at least.
Quispel: Yeah. They're more conservative, so this should keep them from getting upset. It'll probably take ten minutes or so for the photographers to get their pictures from all the angles they want, but that shouldn't be a problem.
Quispel turns to Rinaldi.
Quispel: Bear that in mind. We can't have the Senator looking washed-out in the photos. Those news photographers don't always take the care they should.
Rinaldi: Of course. Just leave it to me. I'll prepare a most elegant garb for the Senator and the press.
Quispel is struck by a thought.
Quispel: What about this Seruffin? How's he going to dress?
Pollovic: I would assume, in a Tecton uniform.
Rinaldi: Yes. Drab and utilitarian, and his Donor as well. The Senator will look splendid in contrast.
Quispel: The Rotunda is small. Maybe we can have the Donor off to the side?
Quispel is worried that the photographers will split their attention among all the official party, thus diluting coverage of Pollovic.
Pollovic: You'd have to talk to Hajene Seruffin about that. Every time I've seen him, his Donor has been right up at his side.
Rinaldi: They stay close to their channels when the channel is working, but they're usually quite unobtrusive.
Rinaldi has donated many times, in-T and out-, so regards himself as something of an expert, in this company at least.
Quispel: Well, as long as this Donor isn't a camera hog.
Pollovic: He's actually a very quiet young man.
Rinaldi: In those bland uniforms it wouldn't matter if he was.
Quispel concedes the Donor issue with a wave.
Pollovic, having given in to the inevitable, is now beginning to think of how to get the most mileage out of it.
Pollovic: Make sure you notify Wilson from the farm lobby, and... who's the sugar refinery man? Sillman.
Quispel: Will do.
Quispel scribbles down a quick note to himself in his ever-present notebook.
Pollovic: Draft up a statement for me by lunchtime today, so there'll be time to get it copied. You know my schedule; get over to Seruffin's office and pick a good day.
Quispel: I'd suggest next week, maybe after the vote on education policy? That way we could put a reference to that in your speech.
Pollovic isn't sure whether having another week to anticipate the event is a good thing or not. One could think of it as extra prep time. Or one could try not to think of it.
Pollovic: Excellent. And have a look at the rest of this package Seruffin sent over; pick out some key points from it. Make sure you co-ordinate with Seruffin's office every step of the way on this.
Pollovic is very much hoping that Seruffin will be in a good mood when the day comes. Anything that makes the channel a bit more friendly to his, er, client, is worth the extra effort.
Pollovic: Anything you can think of that we haven't covered, Quispel?
Quispel: There'll be details to work out, but I think I can manage from here. I'll report back when I've cleared a date with Seruffin's people. With any luck, we'll reverse those numbers and get a boost out of it, as well.
Quispel bounces for the door, practically chortling with glee in a complete reversal of his mood on entering the office.
Pollovic turns to Rinaldi.
Rinaldi emerges from his creative trance and looks at the Senator alertly.
Pollovic: So what can you tell a first-time donor? I've read the pamphlet, of course, but that's not the same as actual experience.
Rinaldi: It's really quite simple. The channel does all the work. Of course, it helps a lot if you just relax and don't feel any fear. It's a lot smoother that way. For both of you.
Pollovic latches onto the word "fear".
Pollovic: Both of us? You mean the channel...?
Rinaldi: Well, fear or anxiety make it harder for the channel to draw the selyn, or so I understand.
Pollovic: What's there to be afraid of?
Pollovic hopes he's controlling his body language as well as he usually does.
Rinaldi didn't have any trouble with his first donation, which was to a really beautiful young woman who later modeled some of his designs for him.
Rinaldi: Nothing really. Tecton channels are all sworn never to harm a Gen. It's quite safe.
Pollovic suppresses a shiver. The word "safe" implies the existence of danger.
Pollovic: Very safe. Of course.
Rinaldi: Oh, yes. If they were to kill a Gen they'd die of it. As I understand it, they'd die first.
Pollovic, for some reason, does not find this a particularly reassuring thought.
Rinaldi is rather proud of this inside information that he got from that beautiful young channel, during a particularly intimate modeling session.
Pollovic can imagine the kind of publicity that would result from killing a channel in the middle of the Rotunda. Mind you, he himself probably wouldn't be around to have to worry about it.
Rinaldi: I understand the channels find taking a first donation somewhat difficult because people are often upset by the feel of the tentacles, but they really aren't slimy as so many people believe.
Rinaldi smiles reminiscently.
Rinaldi: Really, tentacles are quite marvelous. It's wonderful what they can do with them.
Pollovic returns to some of the images that ruined his sleep last night. Slimy is one of the words that sticks out.
Pollovic: What they can do with them?
Rinaldi hasn't blushed in years. He winks.
Rinaldi: A gentleman never tells.
Pollovic's imagination is not at all tracking with Rinaldi's tone of voice. He suddenly realizes what Rinaldi is talking about.
Pollovic: I, uh, doubt that will be an issue with Hajene Seruffin.
Rinaldi: Indeed. On the job, they are very professional.
Pollovic suddenly thinks of something else.
Pollovic: The retainer laws. We've been forgetting about the retainer laws.
Pollovic feels a sudden burst of optimism. It may after all be possible to avoid this whole scheme, with honor.
Rinaldi: I'm sure there's some way around it. I wouldn't know.
Pollovic gets up and sticks his head out of the office.
Quispel bounds up from his desk.
Quispel: Yes, boss?
Pollovic: The retainer laws.
Quispel: I'll look into it. There's gotta be a way to get an exemption of some sort.
Pollovic tries to look pleased.
Quispel scribbles another note in his book.
Pollovic: If it's going to be a problem, we could still separate the donation from the press conference.
Quispel: No, that'd spoil the effect we're going for. Cut two percentage points off the potential, minimum.
Pollovic: I'll leave the issue in your capable hands, then.
Quispel: Sure thing, boss.
Quispel waves, and bounces back to his desk.
Pollovic returns to his desk.
Pollovic: You're a creative man, Rinaldi. What other problems haven't we spotted yet?
Rinaldi gestures gracefully.
Rinaldi: I'd ask the Tecton, myself. They're very good at details. Obsessive, sometimes.
Pollovic is hoping for a really creative problem that would let him call this whole thing off.
Rinaldi: Well, I must be off. Thank you for your time, and I hope the problem with tariffs on the fabric can be resolved very soon.
Pollovic: I'm sure it will be.
Rinaldi: Don't worry about your costume. You'll be striking, I assure you. The design will make it easy for you to bare your arms for the channel's touch. No graceless fumbling in front of the cameras!
Pollovic hears mostly the phrase, "channel's touch".
Pollovic: Um, Walliver has my measurements on file. We'll want a perfect fit, of course.
Pollovic is still picturing a fairly tailored costume.
Rinaldi: Of course. But one of the beauties of my designs is that the loose comfortable flowing character makes them very forgiving. We won't have to schedule any fittings.
Pollovic: Oh. Well, uh, that's good, then.
Rinaldi: Please keep me informed. I'll see you next week, then.
Pollovic nods, and rises to shake hands.
Pollovic: Yes. Good day, Mr. Rinaldi.
Rinaldi offers his hand, and the action turns back the sleeve of his ocher velvet shirt-jacket to reveal the Rior-orange satin lining, and his muscular Gen forearm.
Rinaldi: Good day, Senator.
Pollovic waits until his door closes behind the designer, then sinks back into his chair. He buries his face in his hands. It's going to be a long, long week. Or maybe much too short a week.