General-Class Donors: Episode 5

Pollovic stands and stretches. Today has been filled with back-to-back hearings on various aspects of trade policy, and he's been stuck in hard, straight-backed chairs all day. He's glad that this final session of the day, of the agriculture committee, is over. He's tired. But at least all this work has kept him from dwelling too much on other things today.

Pollovic has, at least, been sleeping a bit better the last couple of days. He's stopped having tentacle nightmares since his experiment two evenings ago, of trying to desensitize himself to the expected feel of laterals against his arms, by trailing fresh-cooked noodles across his forearms. He has not, however, been able to shake the feeling that he's committed himself to doing something faintly vulgar, something that's just Not Done by respectable people, in public.

Tsibola has been asked by several other Senators, not all of them conservatives, to convey the sense of the Senate to an erring colleague. He waits while the rest of the Agriculture Committee file out of the hearing room, then approaches Pollovic.

Tsibola: Well, I'm glad that's over for today. Is it just me, Brenn, or does Fimpky get more long-winded every time he testifies?

Pollovic gives a short laugh.

Pollovic: No, it's not just you, Ruthven. I swear, that man has forgotten how to speak a short, simple sentence.

Tsibola: If he ever knew.

Pollovic: He doesn't even have the excuse of being a college professor, like Lantke.

Tsibola: Now, now. My brother-in-law is a professor, and he's usually quite articulate.

Pollovic: Maybe. But he's not a science professor.

Tsibola: True. Still, one must listen to the scientists as well as the poets.

Pollovic: I do. When they seem to have something to say.

Tsibola: True. Without them, agriculture would be much less productive, and what Senator would go on record as ignoring agriculture?

Tsibola is, of course, a Gen, and gives the usual Gen priority to food.

Pollovic: Neither you nor I, of course. Ruthven, it's been a long day, and I'm exhausted. Was there something specific you wanted to discuss?

Tsibola: It was your approach to supporting agriculture that I wanted to discuss, actually. It's creating quite a response among our colleagues, not all of it favorable.

Pollovic raises one eyebrow.

Pollovic: Oh?

Tsibola's expression gets a bit less cordial.

Tsibola: Don't play games with me; it doesn't become you. This publicity stunt you plan is a disgrace to your office. For however long you hold it, after you've finished making an idiot of yourself in public.

Tsibola usually maintains a facade of collegial dignity with his fellow Senators, except with his hand-picked proteges among the younger conservative Senators. He feels that Pollovic is badly in need of some sound advice from a more experienced colleague, and the liberals don't seem to be taking care of it quietly, as they ought.

Pollovic tries not to wince as his opponent voices exactly what his own doubts have been whispering to him.

Tsibola sees the wince, and hopes that he can resolve the matter quickly.

Pollovic: It's not a stunt, Ruthven. It's a public gesture. A necessary and important one.

Tsibola: Nonsense. You're staging a three-ring circus in the Rotunda, complete with as many of the press corps as your campaign manager can bribe to attend. What else would you call it?

Pollovic: A very visible public gesture. Not too different in structure from what you, or any other Senator, have done dozens of times when an important issue comes up.

Tsibola: If you want to make a public gesture to support the Farmers' Relief Fund, have your picture taken with those dozen farmers who will be attending the signing of the irrigation project bill next week. That means a lot more than a simple check to them, trust me. Particularly when the money is obtained in a fashion that's bound to overshadow any agricultural benefits it might provide.

Pollovic: It's not about the money. As I understand it, the payment for a first-time donation is actually rather small.

Tsibola: All the more reason to find a different event to show your support.

Pollovic: You and I have never agreed on anything involving Simes, Ruthven. I'm not surprised that we don't now.

Pollovic is thinking that the very fact that Tsibola is so set against this is probably the best indication that it will be an effective move.

Tsibola: So this is about the Simes? You want to be shown as being in favor of their expansion?

Pollovic: I was elected on a pro-Sime platform, in case you'd forgotten.

Tsibola: So show your support for them. Shake hands with their representatives at parties. Take a trip to the border. But if you must let them drag their slimy tentacles all over you, at least have the decency to go to a Sime Center to do it. Some things should be done in privacy. One doesn't show one's support for the institution of marriage by engaging in the marital act in the middle of the Rotunda, after all.

Pollovic has been thinking very similar thoughts over the last few days.

Pollovic: It's not the same thing. Not at all.

Tsibola: What's different about it, for goodness' sake? What you plan is a disgrace to the dignity of the Senate, and it's not only my own conservatives who think so.

Pollovic shrugs.

Pollovic: I'm sure you'd like me to believe that.

Tsibola: What's dignified about letting a Sime grope you in front of the entire press corps?

Tsibola's objections are motivated by a genuine concern for the institution to which he has devoted so many years, and not out of any dislike for Pollovic's politics. Or not much, anyway.

Pollovic: It's hardly groping. As I'm sure even you must know. There've been enough public demonstrations of donations, over the last few years.

Tsibola has had to rethink the whole donation issue since his brother-in-law and young Craig started indulging.

Tsibola: What else would you call letting a Sime run his tentacles all over your arms? It's so... lower class.

Tsibola's face twists in genteel distaste for the vices of the hoi polloi.

Pollovic: That's exactly the attitude that has to change. That's the message behind what I'm doing.

Pollovic wants to think of himself as a bold crusader, not a vulgarian. He really wants to think that way.

Tsibola: Fine. Go donate, then. At the Sime Center. In privacy. Let the press take a picture of you going into the donation room, if you want a Sime-friendly photo op.

Tsibola is unwittingly betraying a greater knowledge of donation than his politics would imply.

Pollovic: Which would be placed on page twenty-seven, below the fold.

Tsibola: Not in your home town, and that's what will win your election.

Pollovic decides it's time to go on the offensive.

Pollovic: Why is this such an issue to you, Ruthven? If you think I'm going to embarrass myself, you should be happy.

Tsibola: Why would you think that, Brenn? Because your politics are liberal, and mine are conservative? Do you think I'm such an idiot as to think that your district would elect a conservative if they got rid of you?

Pollovic: No, but they might choose someone more middle-of-the-road. Someone easier to persuade to your policies, at least some of the time.

Tsibola: My concern is more fundamental: that if Senators are seen behaving in a fashion unbecoming the dignity of our office, the public will lose confidence in our ability to carry out our duties. One might enjoy laughing at a clown, but one hardly trusts him with the public welfare, after all.

Pollovic laughs.

Pollovic: After Simpson was caught in bed with a hooker last year, and after the Kellvan scandal six months before that, you're worried that a simple donation is going to ruin the dignity of the Senate?

Tsibola: Yes. There is a proper way to go about making a statement, and an improper way. You're over the line, with this stunt of yours.

Pollovic is inclined to agree with him.

Pollovic: I see we've found yet one more thing we're never going to agree upon. But if you're concerned about public trust, look to some of the grift and pork on your side of the aisle. That concerns voters far more than anything in a Senator's personal life.

Tsibola: Tell that to Simpson, losing his seat to his now ex-wife. Brenn, think about what you're doing, for pity's sake. Can you even be sure that you will be able to bring off the effect that your campaign manager wants?

Pollovic: There are no sureties in politics, Ruthven. You've been at this game longer than I have; surely you know that. But this is far more likely to be effective than anything else I might do right now.

Pollovic has fewer doubts about that than he had an hour ago.

Tsibola: Brenn, you're young and enthusiastic. I like that. But how much time have you actually spent with Simes? Simes who aren't wearing those retainers?

Tsibola is trying hard to maintain his patience.

Pollovic: Enough.

Pollovic isn't going to specify how much time "enough" is.

Pollovic: I've seen a tentacle or two.

Pollovic is careful not to add, in photographs.

Tsibola: Close enough to grab you? Actually touching you? Taking your selyn?

Tsibola has stopped making assumptions about who has donated and who hasn't, since his brother-in-law made his surprising declaration.

Pollovic: This is my first donation, Ruthven. That is, after all, part of the point of this exercise. But I did spend a lot of time with the Simes who came over for the trade talks last year. Not all of them were even channels.

Tsibola: Then that's all the more reason to donate in privacy at the Sime Center, rather than in the Rotunda in front of the Press Corps.

Pollovic: A public gesture is only public if the press takes note of it.

Pollovic actually feels as if he's on much firmer ground here than he was a few minutes ago when Tsibola was talking about vulgarity and embarrassment. That stunt with the noodles seems to have done some good.

Tsibola: The press might take more interest than you would prefer, if you find that you react a bit more... strongly... to the experience than you anticipate. I'm told that a lot of people find it very difficult to remember their altruistic intentions at first, during the act itself.

Pollovic: And now you're an expert on donating?

Pollovic chuckles.

Tsibola: No, but the channel who told me that had some experience in the matter.

Pollovic: You've begun chatting with channels? One of these days, Ruthven, you may yet start seeing things my way.

Tsibola: I've been chairing trade committees for over a decade, Brenn. I've met a number of channels, and I've got a healthy respect for their dedication to the benefit of their society. I simply disagree that those goals are necessarily to the benefit of my own constituents.

Pollovic: Unity -- true Unity -- benefits all of us. It's true that we have to look out for the interests of our own people first. But co-operation can be made to serve both sides. Win-win, Ruthven.

Tsibola: It'll be lose-lose if the press catches you looking undignified. Which, I'm given to understand, is a relatively high probability, no matter your good intentions.

Pollovic is once more reminded of his greater fears. But he isn't going to admit that.

Pollovic: I'm not going to scream and struggle.

Pollovic manages to look amused at the notion.

Tsibola: You wouldn't have to. All it would take would be one photo showing you looking alarmed, disgusted, ashamed, skittish... And even if you can control your expression, even the Tecton's slickest pamphlets can't make donating look dignified.

Tsibola saw such a pamphlet at his brother-in-law's house, and several others aimed specifically at the lower classes were confiscated by some of the mine managers during the recent labor dispute.

Pollovic doesn't want to think about this. It runs far too close to his own fears. He decides to go on the offensive again.

Pollovic: Ruthven, selyn costs us so little to give. And it's worth so much to Simes. Can't you see that as an opportunity to exploit to the advantage of our people?

Tsibola: Simes are human: they have the human urge to control what's valuable to them. Look at all the restrictions Gens endure in Simeland, "for their own protection". Anyone accepting gifts from Simes -- or attempting to give them, for that matter -- ought to be aware that such exchanges are seldom without complications.

Pollovic: We control our selyn. But grain has no value to a farmer who leaves it to rot in the fields, and selyn brings us no advantage if it stays in our bodies. We count on you, Ruthven, and your people, to make sure we're not taken advantage of. Do that, instead of just trying to block my every move, and we'll all be better off.

Pollovic is on much firmer ground talking about trade rather than tentacles.

Tsibola: I can't do that if my colleagues insist on making a laughingstock of the Senate by making it the site of a circus act. In order to make Unity happen on our own terms, we must have a strong, and very independent, government. How strong and independent can the Senate be, if you turn it into a Sime Center in the eyes of the public?

Pollovic: We are strong, Ruthven. And as long as you're across the aisle from me, Ruthven, I know we're going to stay independent. But openmindedness is one of the signs of strength. It's only those who fear, who dare not try anything new.

Tsibola: I don't fear Simes. But I have a healthy respect for their ability to manipulate us into doing what's best for them.

Pollovic is becoming more and more sure of himself, the more Tsibola pushes. If Tsibola himself weren't afraid of what Pollovic's side could gain, he wouldn't be fighting this so hard.

Pollovic: And if what's best for them is also best for us?

Tsibola hasn't spent this long in the Senate without running into idealistic young Crusaders for Causes.

Tsibola: If you were really sure of that, you wouldn't be so glad that there are people like me around to keep you from getting in over your head. Look, Brenn, before you reject what I say out of hand, I think you should know that the reason I'm the one talking to you about this is because Erm knew that he'd be tied up in meetings all afternoon, and we're on the same committee.

Tsibola drops the name of the Senate's premier liberal, and senior member of Pollovic's party in the Senate.

Pollovic tries not to show his startlement. Tsibola wouldn't be bluffing, not about something this easy to check.

Tsibola: If you want to donate, have your photo-op at the Sime Center.

Pollovic would have done exactly that, left to plan things his way.

Pollovic: I go where the photographers are. I don't have your high public profile, Ruthven, that the entire Press Corps will follow me clear across the city.

Tsibola: You're forgetting, the Sime Center is only a block away from Zgreb's Bar and Grill. Donate around lunchtime on a Half Price Tuesday, and you'll get a good turnout.

Tsibola has long since learned the priorities of the press.

Pollovic is strongly tempted by Tsibola's suggestion.

Pollovic: I'll suggest that to Quispel and see what he thinks.

Pollovic only wants, at this point, to get away from Tsibola's pressure tactics and think. Or better yet, try not to think.

Tsibola has learned long since when to stop pushing.

Tsibola: Good.

Tsibola has, alas, not yet had the displeasure of meeting Quispel.

Pollovic: It's getting late, Ruthven, and the hearings start early again tomorrow. I'll see you in the morning, then, if there's nothing else.

Pollovic stuffs the last of his papers into a folder, and shrugs into his jacket.

Tsibola accepts the change of topic gracefully.

Tsibola: Very well. I'll see you tomorrow, then.

Pollovic: Good night, Ruthven.

Tsibola: Good night, Brenn.

Tsibola gathers his own papers, and leaves to report to a select, bipartisan committee on Senatorial deportment, which meets at a nearby club.

Pollovic closes his eyes briefly as Tsibola leaves. Behind his tired eyelids, all he can see is his late father's face, frowning in disapproval. Briefly, it metamorphoses into Erm's jowly visage.

Pollovic hates vulgarity as much as his father ever did. Is this really the right thing, that he's doing? Is it a bold and necessary move for Unity, or just a crass stunt?

Pollovic opens his eyes and walks from the room. He doesn't know it yet, but tonight he'll be dreaming of tentacles again. Tentacles, and an animated pot of slimy noodles, each one with with his father's face.

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