Pollovic sits at his desk behind the closed door of his private office, his face buried in his hands. Quite at odds with his mood, the morning sunlight streams cheerfully across his fingers.
Quispel bustles in, quivering with excitement as usual.
Quispel: Good morning, Senator.
Quispel is shuffling a large stack of newspapers.
Pollovic doesn't want to see the morning papers. He knows his political career is over.
Pollovic: What's good about it, Quispel?
Pollovic isn't ready to face Quispel's boundless energy today. Or any other day.
Quispel heartlessly dumps the papers onto a clear spot on the desk, and sorts through them.
Quispel: We got coverage, that's what's good. Of course, not all of it's positive, but hey, every mention of your name helps.
Pollovic suppresses a shudder.
Quispel: Look, front page of the Tribune and the Post, and above the fold, too.
Quispel spreads out two papers, both displaying pictures of Pollovic and Seruffin in full clench from slightly different angles.
Pollovic: Let me guess... the Post wants me shot, the Trib would settle for having me recalled? And the Weekly Scoop loves me? ~~ grim irony ~~
Quispel: Of course the Weekly Scoop loves you -- they'll be milking this for weeks.
Pollovic rolls his eyes to the ceiling.
Quispel: It'll give you better name recognition, and no one's actually going to believe that Hajene Seruffin and you have been lovers for a decade.
Pollovic buries his face in his hands again.
Quispel: The Post is calling it an undignified publicity stunt, although they did mention that the proceeds will go to the Farmers' Relief Fund. The Observer -- well, what do you expect? They'd drag you in front of a heresy tribunal, except that you belong to the wrong church. The Leader isn't sure what to make of the whole thing, and settled for just reporting the event in a straightforward fashion.
Quispel: The Globe and the Chronicle are cheering your "noble gesture", though, and they have a bigger readership in our district than any of the others. The Times calls it an historic moment, although the editor goes on to say that it was perhaps not in the best of taste. And the Worker's Exchange is spinning a rather peculiar angle as they try to figure out whether increased income from donating, if more people did so, would be counterbalanced by cuts in wages.
Quispel: We should have some reactions from our focus groups in a few days.
Pollovic wonders whether those few days would be enough time to change his name and leave the territory. He realizes, on second thought, that there's no escape. Everyone on both sides of the border has seen a clear close-up picture of his face. Recently.
Quispel: Oh, and there's a Sime reporter out in the front office who wants to interview you.
Pollovic doesn't bother to panic. What does he have left to lose?
Pollovic: [wearily] Send him in.
Pollovic makes an effort to pull himself together.
Quispel goes to the door and opens it.
Quispel: The Senator will see you now, Mr. Triangusul.
Triangusul: Thank you, Mr. Quispel.
Triangusul walks into the room.
Quispel bounces over to stand beside the desk, in a position to run interference if Pollovic appears to be getting the worst of the interview.
Triangusul: Hello, Senator Pollovic. Yesterday was quite a day.
Pollovic rises to offer a careful fingertip-touch.
Triangusul brushes his fingers, as his tentacles are boxed, pleased that Pollovic knows Sime courtesy.
Pollovic: ~~ guarded ~~ It was, indeed. What can I do for you, Mr. Triangusul?
Triangusul: Well, first I want to offer you my personal congratulations on what was undoubtedly a very difficult effort.
Pollovic: ~~ neutral ~~ Thank you.
Triangusul: Second, I don't want to take up too much of your time, but I do want to get your reactions to this extraordinary event.
Pollovic wonders how much a renSime was able to zlin through retainers. He wishes there'd been a copy of Triangusul's paper in Quispel's stack. Not that he would have been able to read it, if there was. He glances at Quispel, hoping for a clue.
Quispel is ~~ clueless ~~, but as a general rule, he believes in being nice to the press.
Quispel: The Senator is always glad to speak to the press.
Triangusul: Good. In particular, Senator, it was clear that your stated motivations for donating so publicly were true ones. But I'd also like to know what other motivations, perhaps of a more pragmatic nature, you had.
Pollovic: ~~ stalling for time ~~ Please sit down, Mr. Triangusul.
Triangusul: Of course.
Triangusul does so.
Pollovic decides to bite the bullet.
Pollovic: It was time to let my constituents see where I stand. Actions speak louder than words.
Triangusul: So you think this will improve your chances of re-election?
Pollovic: My constituency is largely pro-Unity, Mr. Triangusul.
Pollovic is ~~ relieved ~~ that Triangusul's questions are going in this direction. He had been braced for something much more personal, and much harder to answer.
Triangusul: In that case, what do you judge the effect on your relationships with other Senators will be? I know how important it is to Gen politicians to form effective alliances.
Pollovic: ~~ wry ~~ I'm sure I've done myself no good among the conservative Senators.
Triangusul: But surely that was true already. They would never have voted with you?
Quispel: The Senator is a member of a liberal party, however.
Triangusul makes the "Of course" gesture, heedless of whether it will be understood immediately.
Pollovic: I expect more gains than losses, there. ~~ doubtful ~~
Triangusul: But you're far from sure of it. So this gesture was to some extent a gamble?
Pollovic: There are few sure things in politics. You know that, Mr. Triangusul.
Triangusul: To be sure. But not everything is quite as high-risk as, well, violating one Gen Territory taboo while appearing to violate another at the same time.
Pollovic tries to suppress a stab of ~~ panic ~~ .
Pollovic: Taboo, sir?
Pollovic hopes Triangusul hasn't been reading the article in the Scoop.
Triangusul smiles slightly and points at the piles of papers.
Triangusul: You know perfectly well what I mean. And of course it's absurd. But the attitudes of most of your fellow-countrymen are -- what they are.
Pollovic decides to face this part of it head-on.
Pollovic: In retrospect, I might have done better to work with a female channel yesterday. But frankly, until we were in mid-donation, the issue never occurred to me.
Triangusul: I see. So it was that realization that caused your emotional reaction? A reaction, I hasten to add, that was probably perceptible only to the two Simes present.
Pollovic: What, exactly, did you zlin, Mr. Triangusul?
Pollovic isn't sure that he really wants to know.
Triangusul: Moderate panic, not that different from what you hit me with a moment ago when I asked you about breaking taboo. Also shock.
Triangusul tactfully omits the disgust.
Pollovic: ~~ embarrassment ~~
Quispel hopes those particular details don't trickle back across the border into the Gen press.
Pollovic wonders whether Triangusul mentioned this in his report. He really does need someone on his staff who can read Simelan.
Triangusul: A very natural reaction, after all. It's plain you're a liberal in more than cross-border issues, but the effects of early training can't be entirely suppressed by any of us.
Quispel is trying to figure out what sort of editorial slant that analysis will add up to.
Pollovic: ~~ cautious ~~ Mr. Triangusul, I trust you are aware that any mention of such a reaction in the press on this side of the border would do considerable harm to my position.
Pollovic hopes he doesn't really zlin like he's begging for mercy.
Triangusul: I saw no reason to mention it in my own dispatches. I did, however, include a precis of the local press reactions.
Pollovic: ~~ relief ~~ Thank you, sir.
Quispel can't control his ~~ curiosity ~~.
Quispel: What exactly were those reactions, Mr. Triangusul?
Triangusul: I meant the reactions that appeared in print: the ones in there.
Triangusul points to the newspapers again.
Pollovic: How do you think your readership will react to those?
Pollovic is glad to move the discussion onto safer ground; none of his constituents are likely to read the Sime press.
Triangusul: With disbelief, among the less well-informed; with resignation, otherwise. My newspaper reaches a broader readership than most of yours, I think. The average Sime Territory citizen has a contradictory view of NWT: the source of technical miracles, but also the home of attitudes that are essentially "stone knives and bearskins as far as the eye can see." I mean no offense.
Pollovic: ~~ wry ~~ None taken. There's still a lot of intercultural understanding that needs to be built, Mr. Triangusul. Enough to keep both of us busy for the rest of our lives.
Triangusul: Amen, as I think you say.
Quispel: Mr. Triangusul, why would the more well-informed of your readers react with resignation? I'd think that they would be pleased at the Senator's gesture.
Triangusul: Oh yes. I was speaking of the attitudes of your reporters and their, ah, readership. We all know that social attitudes don't change quickly, but a generation after Unity there is, perhaps, a sense of unfulfilled expectation. And there will be some who will be thinking "too little, too late", of course. We have our radicals just as you do.
Pollovic: The larger the population, the larger the cultural inertia, and the slower the change.
Triangusul: Certainly. But we -- that is, the average Sime Territory citizen -- expected to see change coming in waves. What we see is more a few high spots and that's all.
Quispel: There has been a great deal of progress: new Sime Centers are opening almost every year.
Triangusul: One in most years. Two in some. That's not progress, it's stagnation.
Pollovic: ~~ musing ~~ I suppose Sime culture was forced to change rapidly, when everyone had to disjunct or die. Only something that overwhelming can make a society change quickly.
Pollovic: I'm doing what one man can.
Triangusul: Of course. Please don't take my comments personally.
Pollovic: Politics is a strange trade, Mr. Triangusul. Supporting the status quo is always the safest path. But if all one ever does is support the status quo, why bother holding power at all?
Triangusul thinks about this one.
Triangusul: A very good question, Senator. I'll think about that more, and in exchange I'll give you this to think about: Simes are only really convinced by what they can see and hear and zlin for themselves. We aren't nearly as susceptible to manipulation by the written or spoken word alone.
Pollovic: A frustrating thing for a reporter of the written word, I'm sure. What can be done, then, to show your people that change is happening, albeit slowly?
Triangusul: Well, Senator, it's not for me to advise you. But since you ask, I'd say this: now that you've gotten your act together, consider taking it on the road.
Pollovic: Quite frankly, Mr. Triangusul, I'd rather that all my future donations should happen in a nice, private donation room in a Sime Center. ~~ wry humor ~~
Triangusul: Very understandable.
Pollovic: ~~ thoughtful ~~ Or are you suggesting some sort of speaking tour?
Triangusul smiles broadly but says nothing.
Quispel: Mr. Triangusul, if your readers are uninformed about the degree of progress that has been made, perhaps your editor might appreciate a series of interviews with people here who have been affected by such progress?
Triangusul thinks about it.
Triangusul: I'll certainly cable him to inquire.
Pollovic is ~~ glad ~~ that Quispel has managed to turn the onus from himself onto the Sime.
Quispel thinks his boss will look a lot better in the Sime press if the donation story is followed by others in a similar vein.
Triangusul: Of course, as you know there are parts of NWT that are off-limits to ordinary Simes. If the Senator could use his influence to assist in getting the necessary permits?
Pollovic figures it wouldn't hurt to have a reporter who can zlin in his debt.
Pollovic: I'm sure my office can arrange that.
Pollovic glances at Quispel, and gives the gesture that signals, "Take care of it."
Quispel nods, making a mental note to sic that intern, Igliu, on the task.
Triangusul: Well, I believe I've taken up enough of your time. Thank you very much, Senator Pollovic.
Pollovic: Thank you, Mr. Triangusul, for your interest in my work. ~~ warm ~~
Pollovic stands and offers the fingertip-touch again.
Triangusul shakes Pollovic's hand this time.
Pollovic raises an eyebrow, ~~ surprised ~~ and ~~ appreciative ~~ of the gesture. He shakes carefully, mindful of what he's been told about the pain of jarring retainered tentacles.
Quispel ushers the reporter from the room.
Pollovic stares musingly at his hand, realizing how much his attitude towards tentacles has mellowed in the last few days.
Quispel returns to Pollovic's desk.
Quispel: I think you brought him around, Senator.
Pollovic allows himself a smile.
Pollovic: I do believe I did. That's one reporter down, several dozen to go.
Quispel: It could be valuable to have a voice in Simeland.
Pollovic: It could, indeed. Meanwhile, what do we do about the situation closer to home? Triangusul's readers don't vote here.
Quispel: You could issue a statement, reinforcing your speech, to help discourage the mainstream papers from picking up on the tabloids' slant.
Pollovic: Good thought. I'll get it drafted before lunch, and out in time for the afternoon deadlines.
Quispel: Keep on message for a few days, then give them something else topical to write about. Your amendment to the farm bill, perhaps.
Pollovic: Can do.
Pollovic sticks his head through the doorway to the outer office.
Pollovic: Igliu, can you get me the file on... Iggy? Hey, where's the kid gone?
Pollovic glances at his watch and realizes it's past time for lunch.
Pollovic: Go get something to eat, Quispel. We'll deal with everything else this afternoon.
Quispel: Yes, Senator.
Quispel darts off in his usual abrupt fashion, in pursuit of fuel to restoke the calories he consumes with his nervous fidgeting.
Pollovic returns to his desk and sits. The puddle of sunlight has moved from his desk to the patch of carpet just in front of the window. It's a big window, with a good view across the common to some of the other government buildings. A view that Pollovic may, after all, get to enjoy for a good many years yet.