Tsibola has sought the refuge of his brother-in-law's house after the debacle of Pollovic's publicity stunt. He's aware that his opponents will suffer more than his own party, but he can't help feeling that the dignity of the entire Senate has suffered.
Fennik has settled him in the usual comfortable leather chair and provided a snifter of well-aged brandy for each of them.
Tsibola is, however, finding Fennik's company less relaxing than usual, despite the excellent food and even better brandy. He keeps seeing his brother-in-law in Pollovic's place, being pulled forward for the Sime's kiss. His efforts to derail this train of thought aren't helped by knowing that Seruffin also took Fennik's donation.
Fennik mends the fire with a poker and adds another log.
Fennik: Fall is upon us. I don't suppose we really need a fire, but it's pleasant.
Tsibola: Yes. There's something... purifying, about fire. A simple creature comfort. Like your brandy.
Fennik: Hardly simple, Ruthven. This brandy is twenty years old.
Fennik holds up his snifter to enjoy the play of the flames through the crystal and liquor.
Tsibola: I know, but it's so smooth and mellow that you forget how complicated it was to make.
Fennik smiles, inhales the bouquet and enjoys another sip. He sits in the other comfortable armchair and relaxes.
Tsibola: And in their simplicity, the fire and brandy help you forget the complexities of life. Or at least put them in perspective.
Fennik: So what's troubling you today?
Tsibola: This whole fiasco with that greenhorn, Senator Pollovic. You saw the paper.
Fennik was actually rather pleased to see a senator donating so publicly, but he thought Seruffin looked a bit stressed at having to function in that venue.
Fennik: Why a fiasco? I thought the donation went smoothly, or so the papers said.
Tsibola: A Senator is supposed to embody the dignity of his office. That... wasn't dignified. Not at all.
Fennik: Perhaps not, but it did demonstrate that donation is something even a very respectable person like a senator might do.
Tsibola: If he'd had the sense to do it in private, like you did, maybe.
Fennik: I'll certainly agree that it was rather... ostentatious. But that might be what it takes to convince some people that donation is not something to be ashamed of.
Tsibola: Do you think those pictures, of his lips plastered to a Sime's like they were lovers, is going to convince anybody of that?
Fennik: Well, maybe he should have gotten a woman to take his donation. An elderly one, perhaps, so as not to get people upset the other way either.
Tsibola: He probably didn't think of it, until it was too late.
Fennik: But under the conditions, perhaps Seruffin was the only available channel strong enough and experienced enough to manage it. It must have been extremely difficult, working in that crowd of untrained Gens.
Tsibola considers this idea with ~~ interest ~~, as he takes a contemplative sip of the brandy.
Tsibola: Actually, I'm a bit surprised that Pollovic was able to get a Sime of Seruffin's rank to participate in such a stunt. It's certainly a promotion of Tecton goals, but Pollovic is too junior to matter much, diplomatically.
Fennik: I expect Seruffin's interest was the effect on the public, removing some of the stigma from donation. He's very dedicated to the cause of Unity.
Tsibola: I know. My job would be a great deal easier if he were less dedicated. Or less capable.
Tsibola has a ~~ grudging respect ~~ for Seruffin, as a worthy opponent.
Fennik makes a "so it goes" hand gesture. He's feeling good, and the brandy is making him feel even better.
Tsibola: Still, I admit, I find... that aspect... of his job disquieting. And after seeing it, I find picturing you in Pollovic's place difficult.
Fennik waves that away.
Fennik: Whatever it looked like, it isn't a kiss. And it's a good deal less uncomfortable than some of the things a physician does at a checkup.
Tsibola: Pollovic didn't look comfortable. He looked rather alarmed, actually.
Fennik: It was his first go at it, and in front of an audience.
Fennik shakes his head.
Fennik: You wouldn't get me to put on a performance like that.
Tsibola: Believe me, I've been appreciating that this past week.
Fennik snorts. As if he'd even consider doing such a thing!
Fennik: More brandy, Ruthven?
Tsibola holds out his snifter.
Fennik replenishes both glasses and settles back again.
Fennik: I wouldn't be surprised if some other senators donate, too, you know. More discreetly, of course.
Tsibola: I just can't figure out what he thought he was accomplishing. He doesn't have a Sime child to support.
Fennik: He likely thought it would do him some good with his own constituents, no?
Tsibola: He would have done much better if he'd kept his dignity and let the photographers snap photos of him on the Sime Center steps. Now -- well, those who support him won't be able to keep their illusions as to exactly where his policies logically lead.
Fennik: I'm no expert on winning voters. He must have thought it would do him good. Perhaps his supporters already donate.
Tsibola: More of them do than among my supporters, certainly.
Fennik laughs and sips his brandy.
Tsibola: The rest, however, are going to be looking at those photos, and putting themselves into that picture, and well, I suspect at least some of them won't be happy at the thought.
Fennik: All the better for your party and the worse for his, no?
Tsibola: For that matter, Pollovic's got me wondering.
Tsibola: Just what you go through, every month. I know you do it for Fridda, and I respect your right to do so, but I hadn't thought much about the actual mechanics, before this.
Tsibola finds them rather ~~ revolting ~~, actually.
Fennik: I did find the idea of the mechanics, as you say, rather distasteful at first, but it's really not all that bad. The channels are very professional about it. There's no real feeling of intimacy to it, no more than dentistry.
Fennik is putting on a bit of an act for his brother-in-law. He's still uncomfortable when it comes to the clinch, but it's now tolerable for him. However, he really believes what he's saying: it's what he tells himself. And all feels well in the glow of the brandy.
Tsibola: It's true that Seruffin seemed detached. At least, he wasn't nearly as... affectionate... with Pollovic as I've seen him be with that young assistant of his.
Fennik: Seruffin seems to get on well with his Donor, and the young man is quite devoted to him.
Tsibola: You mean, Gerrhonot follows him around mooning over him like a lovesick maiden. It's... not quite respectable.
Tsibola has never been comfortable with the Gens who choose to make Simes their vocation, and Gerrhonot is less reserved about it than most.
Fennik: Oh, I wouldn't see it that way. He's more like a devoted personal servant. He's not very bright, I think.
Tsibola: He certainly never seems to have much to say for himself.
Fennik: The few times I've heard him speak, he didn't impress me as of normal intelligence. It's probably politic for him to say as little as possible, in English, at any rate. But he must be very good at his nageric work or he wouldn't have been assigned to a channel of Seruffin's rank. A sort of idiot savant, perhaps.
Tsibola: Probably. He's less discreet with how he fondles Seruffin than he is with his words. Seruffin seems to enjoy it, too. Even in public.
Fennik shrugs again.
Fennik: It's a different culture, and the relationship between channel and Donor isn't like anything we have here.
Tsibola: It's certainly not. I can understand why you chose to donate, but I can't figure out what motivates a Gen to tackle a job like that. I mean, how would you like to face Seruffin if you knew he was in hard need, and fixed on you?
Tsibola has no idea that he witnessed exactly that, during Pollovic's donation.
Fennik: Clearly, neither of us have the talent for it, but as I understand it, Donors find transfer intensely pleasurable. The job pays well, too, and carries a lot of prestige in-T.
Tsibola: Pleasurable? What could be pleasurable about something so... undignified? Surely they just mean the satisfaction of completing a necessary task?
Fennik: No, from what I've read, it's physically pleasurable, greatly so. Something like a reflection of what the channel feels.
Fennik: Perhaps something like another undignified but pleasurable activity.
Fennik decides not to disgust his brother-in-law further by explaining that it's a simulation of his Donor's pleasure that the channel presents to renSimes when he serves transfer to them.
Tsibola finds this comparison startling, although he's been unconsciously making it himself every time he views the close-ups of Seruffin and Pollovic.
Tsibola: You haven't mentioned feeling any such pleasure.
Tsibola is starting to wonder just how much Fennik hasn't told him about his encounters with Seruffin.
Fennik: Oh, you don't feel anything when a channel takes your donation. Most Gens would feel fear and pain if the channel drew at a transfer rate. They go much slower to ensure their clients feel nothing.
Tsibola: So what makes their Donors different?
Tsibola is ~~ curious ~~, and he doesn't have the privacy to pursue this line of thought in any other context.
Fennik: Some kind of talent, and a lot of training.
Tsibola: It sounds like the training would be a bit risky.
Fennik: As I understand it, if you have the talent, you're not at risk. Of course the teachers are channels, and can zlin how the student is reacting, in detail.
Fennik: I'm glad I can't tell how my students really feel sometimes.
Tsibola: I'm sure you are.
Tsibola picks up the brandy, and tops off both snifters.
Tsibola: I admit, though, there have been times when I've thought it'd be handy to know what my opponents feel about a proposal. And I know it's a huge disadvantage when they know mine. Negotiations with your friend Seruffin and his colleagues are the bane of my existence.
Fennik wonders if the same negotiations are the bane of Seruffin's existence. It must be very unpleasant to zlin the hostile and uncontrolled emotions of the other side.
Fennik: Better you than I, Ruthven. You thrive on it.
Fennik sips his brandy.
Tsibola: Have you ever wondered what it would be like, to know what everyone about you is feeling, no matter how hard they tried to hide it?
Fennik: I've wondered indeed. I've tried to understand what life is like for Fridda now.
Tsibola: Did she talk about it at all, when you saw her?
Fennik: Some, and I've read about it, and talked to other Simes, Seruffin among them.
Fennik pauses and sips.
Fennik: When we met... she hadn't been sure I really meant the things I'd written to her... but when we were together she could zlin...
Fennik tries to ignore the tears in his eyes.
Tsibola takes a quick sip of the brandy to regain his own composure.
Fennik: She could zlin how much I still loved her, and my joy in seeing her again, and she said the love and joy were reverberating between us, becoming more intense...
Fennik has a sip of brandy that's more of a gulp.
Fennik: It's very strange, Ruthven, but it can be very beautiful.
Tsibola: Under the right circumstances, yes. But what about living all the time, in a society where most of the people around you can see right through all of the little lies and half-truths that grease the social wheels?
Fennik: It's shaped their culture. Apparently they mostly dispense with the grease, yet they seem to get along reasonably well.
Tsibola: How can you have a truly civilized society if you can't assure your hostess at a campaign picnic that her tasteless, fruit-festooned hat is becoming?
Fennik: As I understand it, you avoid mentioning the hat, and come up with a compliment you can zlin as sincere about.
Fennik: That seems like a reasonable policy even if there are no Simes around, no?
Tsibola: Not if your hostess considers the hat the crowning jewel of her wardrobe, and you want her to volunteer for your campaign.
Fennik: Perhaps Sime politicians use different methods in such a case.
Tsibola: Seruffin has ways of avoiding a question so smoothly that you never realize he didn't answer it. It's... shifty.
Fennik: You're not so bad at that yourself, Ruthven. Especially with the press.
Tsibola: Handling the press isn't like talking to other people. It's more like tossing food to a pack of snarling wolves. They'll drop any piece of food you want, if you offer them a juicier tidbit. It's not like what Seruffin does, at all.
Tsibola considers as he sips from his snifter -- rather glad he can do so without having to embarrass himself by saying that three times out loud.
Tsibola: I'm never sure, when I ask him a question, what he's going to do. There are times when I ask something I consider quite reasonable and germane, only to have him sidestep the whole issue. The next moment, he's giving out personal details that a respectable gentleman would keep private.
Fennik: Perhaps you need to study his culture, as he has no doubt studied ours.
Tsibola: It's... uncivilized.
Fennik: I suspect he regards a lot of what you and your colleagues say as uncivilized. It would be, where he comes from.
Tsibola mulls over the idea, however, in a brandy-fogged way, as he sits back to watch the flames.
Tsibola: Yes. The question is, whose definition of civilization will prevail?
Fennik: Need one prevail? We have our culture and they have theirs.