Disaster Strikes: Episode 16

Pollovic stares out the train window, appalled at the devastation of Cottonwood City. He has never before understood why his colleagues insist on rushing off to make political nuisances of themselves at disaster sites, but now that it's his people, in his district, he feels the urgent need to be there.

Pollovic wishes he had better news to offer from New Washington. Now he sees the magnitude of the destruction, he knows the aid package that's been voted is scarcely enough to be worth making a stump speech about.

Quispel draws closer to his boss, holding his omnipresent notebook poised. For once, he's not scribbling in it.

Quispel: It's bad, isn't it, boss?

Pollovic: Worse than I'd imagined.

Quispel: I wish the rest of the Senate were here to look at it.

Pollovic: The aid they voted seemed so generous back in New Washington. It's nothing compared to what's needed.

Quispel: It never is.

Pollovic: You know, I could use a little of your usual optimism about now.

Quispel: If you're looking for the bright side, I counted no less than six reporters in the cars behind us. That should help spread the word.

Pollovic: Get some public donation funds started?

Quispel: It can't hurt. You know Congress votes the headlines.

Pollovic: Always.

Quispel: One thing's sure, the speech we planned isn't going to work. I've got Ilvin working on a revision.

Pollovic feels the train slowing as it enters the edge of the rescue camp area.

Pollovic: Good. I hope he can be quick with it. We're nearly there.

Quispel: I told him to start with a one-pager. Just an expression of the enormity of the damage, your respect for what people are accomplishing, your sympathy for their losses, and your determination to spread the word so that help can arrive in a timely fashion.

Quispel checks off each item on a page in his notebook as he goes over it.

Pollovic looks out the window to see two workers trotting alongside the train carrying a loaded stretcher.

Pollovic: Good, good.

Pollovic sees one of the runners stumble and almost drop his end of the stretcher. He stifles the urge to run out there and grab it.

Quispel: The plan is to meet the local dignitaries, such as they are, and tour the damage with the press. We'll find some good opportunities for you to be seen talking to refugees, the injured, the rescue workers, and so on.

Pollovic: I think we should do more than just tour the damage and talk. I think they need to see us pitching in and helping. Physically helping.

Quispel makes a note.

Quispel: I'll work in some opportunities for that, then.

Quispel is already dividing up the chores between the limited staff who could make the trip.

Pollovic isn't thinking half so much about the photo ops as about the fact that, now he's here, he doesn't think he can stand by and not help. He listens to the screech of brakes as the train comes to a halt.

Pollovic: We're here. I hope Ilvin's got that page ready.

Quispel reaches behind him as the compartment door opens, grabs the paper being thrust into his hand, glances at it briefly, then passes it to Pollovic.

Quispel: Just in time.

Pollovic: Thanks.

Pollovic quickly scans his lines.

Pollovic: It looks good.

Gabimar stands on the platform, waiting for the Senator to emerge. He's a city council member, delegated by the mayor pro tem to meet, greet and escort the VIP. The mayor himself is recovering from two broken legs.

Quispel takes a moment to check out Pollovic's appearance, artfully rumpling his hair.

Quispel: Don't want to look too well-groomed, here where baths can't be common. Now, you want concerned, sympathetic, and determined to help your constituents.

Pollovic: After three days on a train, I don't think I could look well-groomed if I tried.

Gabimar thinks he should have been appointed mayor pro tem, but the mayor has always had it out for him, as have his cronies, like the mayor pro tem.

Quispel: You'll be better groomed than anyone living through that. Or if not, the person in question hasn't been lifting a finger to help, and should be avoided.

Pollovic smiles grimly.

Pollovic: I'll remember that.

Pollovic folds the speech and tucks it into the pocket of his coat, then puts the coat on.

Quispel: Good. Now, Senatorial dignity, please.

Pollovic: Ready?

Pollovic squares his shoulders, picks up his own briefcase, and gestures for Quispel to precede him out of the train.

Quispel nods, and steps through the door onto the platform, checking to see where their escort is, the photographers and press are, and the best angles for both.

Gabimar: Welcome to Cottonwood City, Senator, what's left of it.

Gabimar approaches Quispel with his hand outstretched. He wants to make sure the Senator realizes how much aid the city can use.

Quispel: Er...

Quispel bobbles a little, his head turning as he looks back for his boss.

Gabimar is offended that the Senator won't shake hands with him. He did wash his hands, although the rest of him is somewhat dusty.

Pollovic, who has hung back to retie his shoelace, is unaware of the problem.

Quispel has now identified the Official Greeter, and the press at the end of the platform... a good angle with the current lighting. He notes that the boss is still missing, and goes into well-practiced Stall Mode.

Quispel: The damage here is a lot worse than we'd heard, in New Washington.

Gabimar: Don't know what you heard, Senator, but most of the center city is in ruins. Guy come down from the government and told us we should never have built along the river here. There's some kind of clay down deep that turns to jelly in a quake.

Gabimar is pretty disgusted that the government didn't tell them that thirty years ago.

Pollovic catches up with Quispel, slips past him onto the platform, and offers a handshake.

Pollovic: And of course, you only find that out when the quake occurs. I'm Senator Pollovic.

Gabimar: Oh. I thought this fellow here was you.

Pollovic: This is Quispel, my assistant.

Gabimar shakes hands, further disgusted that the flunkey didn't identify himself.

Quispel: Pleased to meet you.

Gabimar nods.

Pollovic still isn't sure of this official's name or position.

Gabimar: I'm City Councillor Gabimar. I'm to show you around, get you settled and all.

Pollovic: I'm pleased to meet you, sir, though I deeply regret the circumstances.

Gabimar: We'll put you up in a city councillor's house. The better neighborhood up over the ridge has houses that are still livable, though pretty badly damaged.

Pollovic: I don't expect any special treatment, Councillor Gabimar. I know you're strapped for resources right now, and I don't want to be a burden.

Gabimar: Well, that burned out heap of rubble over there is the local hotel. I suppose you could camp in one of the tents the army set up in the stockyards for the homeless, if you want.

Gabimar looks at the Senator's well-cut, expensive clothes.

Gabimar: It's a bit cold and dusty and lacking in amenities, though.

Pollovic: It will be fine. I'll leave the walls and roofs for the sick and injured.

Quispel is ~~ proud ~~ to be working for a politician who still has some humanitarian principles -- they're not common.

Gabimar snorts. As if the well-to-do residents of the neighborhood over the ridge are letting the riffraff from the downtown tenements into their somewhat disheveled stately homes.

Pollovic hasn't done any winter camping since he was a boy, and hopes he hasn't overestimated his tolerance for tenting.

Gabimar: Well, if you like. Boy's got a wagon here, can load your stuff up. We've got the main streets pretty clear of rubble by now.

Quispel motions behind his back for the staff to take care of the luggage.

Pollovic: I'm truly appalled at the magnitude of the damage, but from what I glimpsed as we rolled in, it looks like you've made a good start at the cleanup.

Gabimar shrugs.

Gabimar: People are doing what they can. A lot of those who have relatives on the farms to move in with have left. Outside of this here jelly clay area, the damage wasn't too bad.

Pollovic: Can you talk me through the situation? We didn't hear much in New Washington.

Gabimar: Sure. What do you want to see first?

Pollovic glances to Quispel for a suggestion.

Quispel is taking notes, which he will hand off to Ilvin for incorporation into the long version of the speech.

Quispel: Hospital or refugees?

Quispel speaks softly, only for Pollovic's ears.

Gabimar: Had some fires right after the quake, stoves and lamps knocked over, probably. A lot of the poorer class of housing is completely gone now.

Pollovic: A quick look at the area of worst damage, then, and follow that with a visit to the hospital?

Gabimar: As you like. Some of the worst is right downtown here. Got to give the railroad credit, they built them tracks solid, and they were right out here to check 'em out and fix them where they needed it. If we couldn't get supplies in here by rail we'd really be shot and pissed on.

Quispel looks quickly around, to make sure none of the reporters were in earshot for the bad language. He doesn't want his boss's speech relegated to below the fold by a colorful local.

Pollovic: Have you been getting the supplies you need?

Gabimar: Some. The army come in here the next day and did a pretty good job organizing the relief, but even they didn't know how bad it was and how much stuff they needed, so it was pretty tight at first.

Gabimar strolls off the platform, a new temporary structure.

Pollovic: What do you need most? Maybe I can get the word out.

Quispel flips to a clean page and prepares to scribble fast.

Gabimar: Food, clothing, building materials. Damn near everything. Stoves. Blankets. Churches been sending us some stuff, but more is needed.

Pollovic: Fuel? Medical supplies?

Gabimar: Fuel, we got. The coal trains from the mountains can get in here now, and there's plenty of wood in the ruins.

Pollovic: Ah.

Gabimar: Medical supplies, yeah. Let you talk to the doctors. They were tearing their hair out at first, what with all the injured people.

Gabimar gestures towards the train.

Gabimar: Other side of the train and down a ways was the station. Nice pile of bricks now. We put up this platform here just so people could get on and off, unload supplies easier.

Gabimar shakes his head. The station was one of the best buildings in the city. Who knew how unstable a solid brick building was going to be in an earthquake?

Pollovic: I can see you've accomplished a lot already.

Gabimar: I don't know why you say that. The city is a ruin. The most we've done is to try to get people in some kind of shelter, with a little food and medical care for the injured. We've cleared the main streets enough for a wagon. People are trying to rebuild, but mostly they're just picking through the ruins for what they can salvage.

Pollovic: Then let's go have a look around, shall we?

Gabimar: Sure.

Gabimar tells the wagon driver to take the Senator's goods to the camp in the stockyards, and coerce them into emptying a tent for his use.

Quispel is scanning busily, looking for a photo op for the eager newshounds who are trailing them.

Gabimar: I guess we can walk along Main Street here. Watch your step, ground's pretty uneven.

Pollovic nods and follows, picking his way carefully along behind Gabimar.

Quispel peers down a cross street, and spots a group working on a partially collapsed but still identifiable building.

Quispel: Senator...?

Pollovic: Yes?

Quispel: Down there.

Quispel points.

Gabimar spots a crew working on the remains of the neighborhood school.

Pollovic takes one look and heads off in the indicated direction.

Pollovic: Let's go see.

Gabimar follows, hoping there aren't any demons on the crew. He doesn't see any army escort types, so probably there aren't.

Gabimar: That was the main school house built when the town was incorporated maybe thirty years ago.

Pollovic is peripherally aware of the gaggle of reporters following like a bunch of ducklings.

Quispel thinks, "Jackpot" and prepares to brief the press.

Gabimar: Thank God the quake hit during recess on a nice day, so the kids were out playing in the yard.

Pollovic: Thank God indeed.

Gabimar: I don't know if the building can be fixed up. Probably not. Maybe they're trying to get some books and things out. Dangerous work.

Pollovic nods and strides ahead, aware that he ought to line up a good shot for the photographers when he greets the workers.

Quispel's head is bobbing around as he checks out angles and lighting.

Gabimar sees a scrawny fellow moving a hell of a big beam. Oh, shit.

Quispel ~~ brightens ~~ as he notes that a good part of the school's sign is visible, with that nice backdrop of the guy wrestling with the beam, and another crew close in, near the sign. He nudges his boss, and points discreetly to the optimum photo-op spot.

Pollovic sees, as he gets closer, what appears to be a very slender woman perched atop an unstable pile of rubble, singlehandedly lifting a large beam.

Pollovic: Is that a Sime?

Gabimar hunches his shoulders.

Gabimar: Yeah, probably.

Pollovic: You've got Sime volunteers?

Gabimar: Bunch of them come up from Nivet to do search and rescue and medical work. We called off the search day before yesterday. Nobody left alive who hadn't been found by then.

Quispel is scribbling rapidly -- and so are the reporters.

Gabimar: So now these Simes are helping with other stuff while the medical ones keep doing that.

Quispel thinks this could be a perfect opportunity for his boss to live down some of the man-kissing bit, and get back on point.

Pollovic pauses and turns for a moment to let the reporters get the shot Quispel lined up, then hurries to the foot of the rubble pile.

Gabimar isn't real happy about having demons running around loose, but they did do good work finding survivors, and seem to be pretty safe to have around.

Pollovic: Hello! Hello up there!

Amanda zlins that one of the Gens arriving thinks of himself as a big cheese, and determines to act accordingly.

Amanda: Hello down there, highly respected person!

Pollovic: Is it safe for me to climb up there?

Pollovic is thinking of photo angles, but also of his neck.

Amanda is as overprotective of Gens as any Sime.

Amanda: Unfortunately no. Your feets are not able to bring you up the slope of falling bricks fast enough.

Quispel is very glad, upon hearing the voice, to note that this particular Sime is safely female.

Pollovic: Can you be spared to come down for a moment, then?

Amanda: With caution, yes indeed.

Amanda augments to run down the pile of bricks and only knocks loose a few.

Gabimar is impressed but also slightly disgusted by this display of inhuman agility.

Pollovic offers the Simeland-style fingertip touch rather than a handshake.

Pollovic: I'm Senator Pollovic.

Amanda: And I am Amanda ambrov Sat'htine, Senatorpollovic. Can I do you a service?

Amanda secretly thinks nobody, not even an out-T big cheese, needs a name as long as that.

Pollovic: I'm here on behalf of the government, to see what help we can offer. I hadn't known there were Sime volunteers here, but I'm very pleased to see you.

Pollovic is very aware of the cameras clicking away in the background.

Pollovic: Can you tell me about your team, and the work you've been doing?

Quispel is glad that his boss is good at spontaneous conversation; he isn't too worried about an embarrassing slip.

Pollovic notices that this woman is almost as tall as he is. He steps up on a bit of fallen brick to give the reporters a more flattering shot of the two of them.

Amanda: Well, first we find hurt or dead Gens under big piles of bricks, stones, and so -- what used to be houses. Now no more hurt Gens, so we take apart big piles, make safe for Gens to recycle bricks, stones, metal, and tree pieces.

Pollovic nods, encouraging her to continue.

Pollovic: How big is your team? Where in Nivet are you from?

Amanda: About four and twenty, Simes and Gens. We are from Householding Sat'htine, near city of...

Pollovic shifts his weight and the bit of brick shifts under his foot. He stumbles awkwardly sideways. ~~ startlement ~~ .

Amanda interrupts herself to grab Pollovic and hold him in midair, then quickly sets him down on his feet.

Quispel ~~ jumps ~~ at the speed of Amanda's grab.

Amanda: Sorry, respected person. Did not want you to fall.

Pollovic: Thank you.

Pollovic feels a delayed ~~ fear ~~ reaction as the adrenaline starts to hit.

Amanda cringes away from Pollovic and forces herself ~~ hypoconscious ~~.

Pollovic: Sorry.

Pollovic steps behind Quispel, since he's closest, to try to block his reaction from the Sime.

Amanda: Are okay. Good, helpful to stand behind not-fearful person. Dangerless now.

Quispel's reaction isn't any less startled than his boss's, but at least it's farther away.

Amanda isn't worried about the startle reflex, only about the possible risks of Gen fear.

Amanda: As was saying, safe for Simes to take apart large piles, can use extra selyn to lift heavy weights, run fast, keep standing up. So we do. Channel and Donor help with hurt local persons also.

Pollovic: One channel and one Donor?

Amanda: No, three channel, three Donor. One First, two Second.

Quispel wonders why the third pair can't be the third, but supposes there's some protocol issue.

Pollovic: I'm impressed -- and very grateful, on behalf of all of our people -- that you pulled together so substantial a team so quickly.

Amanda: Not intentional. We on a training trip, got telegram, went on real trip instead. Good for you, hey?

Amanda smiles.

Pollovic: Very much so, and we are grateful. Are your people getting everything you need?

Amanda nods.

Amanda: Yes, we Householders fine, if tired of beans. Of course need more supplies for refugees and proctors.

Pollovic: Proctors?

Amanda: You know. Make holes, sew up again? Cut off broken leg? Help people.

Pollovic: Ah. Doctors.

Amanda: Oh, sorry. Doctors.

Amanda repeats "doctors, doctors, doctors" under her breath.

Pollovic: Your English is actually very good.

Amanda: Thank you. Not used very much since school, forget details.

Pollovic decides that he has learned what he can here, and the reporters have gotten enough for the moment.

Amanda zlins the decision.

Pollovic: I shouldn't keep you from your work any longer. Thank you very much for your time.

Amanda: Good day, respected Senatorpollovic. Will start taking apart piles again.

Amanda does.

Gabimar has been standing well back, watching the Senator cuddle up to the snake woman. So it's not just male snakes he likes.

Pollovic moves around the base of the rubble pile, to greet some of the other workers. None of the others in this group seem to be Simes.

Quispel sees that the reporters are finished scribbling, and gestures for his boss to move out.

Pollovic: Councillor Gabimar, shall we move on to the hospital now?

Gabimar: If you can call it that. It's a bunch of tents in the stockyards. Our real hospital is going to have to be pulled down and rebuilt.

Gabimar grunts.

Gabimar: Well, down this way, I think we can make a bit of a shortcut through here.

Pollovic: You've lost almost all your physical infrastructure here, haven't you?

Quispel drops back to make sure that the reporters got all the information they need for their stories.

Gabimar: Yeah, we have. Hospital, schools, churches, feed mill, water works, the lot.

Pollovic follows the councilman down a narrow alley strewn with rubble. He watches his footing very carefully.

Quispel then hurries to catch up, scribbling a few more notes about the size of the destruction.

Pollovic: I'll do everything in my power to get more money for you, both from the government and from the private sector.

Gabimar: Hope you can. We sure need it.

Pollovic: Do you need more labor? Or do you have enough locally?

Gabimar: We can cut across this burned out area here. It's dirty, but pretty safe. None of these houses had basements.

Pollovic is thinking that maybe he can squeeze some workers out of one of the government makework projects.

Pollovic: Water table too high?

Gabimar: Just cheap shacks people put up. Some of them real old -- people who did well for themselves built better houses elsewhere.

Pollovic: Ah.

Gabimar skirts a pile of rubble.

Pollovic realizes this may not be a glamorous disaster. Too many people are eager to blame the poor for their own misfortunes.

Quispel hops over the same rubble, absently.

Gabimar: As for labor, hard to say. Got plenty of people here with nothing to do -- lost their livelihoods. They can't pay carpenters and masons to build for them. Not sure what they plan to do. Build more shacks, maybe.

Pollovic: On the same unstable ground.

Gabimar shrugs.

Gabimar: Or abandon the city, or rebuild it elsewhere, I guess.

Gabimar gestures widely.

Gabimar: Turn the whole friggin downtown into cow pasture.

Pollovic: Is that a real alternative?

Quispel: Besides, you'd have to clear the rubble to get a good pasture for cows.

Quispel does tend to be overly literal, at times.

Gabimar: I don't think people will leave, not most of them. This town grew up so fast here because after the war, the soldiers got land grants on the prairie all around here. Before that nobody wanted to live here because of Sime raiders.

Pollovic goes around another pile of rubble, hurrying to keep up with the more agile councilman.

Gabimar: So the ranchers needed supplies and tradesmen, and a place to ship their cattle from, and the city grew from that. People built it up and they'll want to build it again.

Pollovic decides, while the reporters are far enough back to be out of earshot for the moment, to ask an awkward question.

Pollovic: You've got good people here, all working, all helping. No problems with looters?

Gabimar thinks Pollovic is real good at jumping to conclusions.

Gabimar: Sure there's looters, or maybe you'd call them scavengers. Lot of stuff unclaimed, Some people put up signs, that this was their house, so don't take stuff, and it looks like that worked, sort of.

Pollovic is thinking that solid honest citizens will be a far easier sell when he goes scrounging for more aid money.

Gabimar: Army put some soldiers in the better areas, to make sure people were only scavenging where they had the right.

Quispel makes a note that photo ops should be staged in the better areas.

Gabimar gestures to the burned out ruins around them.

Gabimar: Not much to find here, maybe some nails and hinges and stuff, pieces of stoves. Maybe some pots and pans, but the fires were pretty hot, and even metal stuff was ruined. Dishes and things cracked and broken. Glass melted.

Pollovic kicks a bit of charred wood out of his path.

Gabimar points to a ruined area beyond the burned one.

Gabimar: Over there, a lot of houses were built from chunks of Ancient concrete. Didn't burn, but collapsed pretty bad. Hard labor getting anything out of there, and most of it crushed, I guess.

Gabimar doesn't want to think of the people inside those houses. He isn't looking forward to the spring thaw.

Pollovic: Just bring in some horse teams and drag away the lot?

Gabimar: People probably want to rebuild with the same materials. It was a lot of work digging up the concrete and cutting it into blocks.

Pollovic: Ah.

Quispel: Will they still want it, when they see what's underneath?

Gabimar shrugs. He's getting more and more depressed, thinking about what an uphill struggle the next few years are going to be.

Pollovic suddenly regrets his long-ago breakfast.

Gabimar: They'll want to give anybody under there a decent burial, when they can. Their families.

Gabimar hunches his shoulders.

Pollovic is beginning to realize just how many aspects of this situation he just didn't understand, from his nice comfy desk in New Washington. how can he convey any of this to his equally naive colleagues?

Gabimar: We couldn't identify everybody, but we wrote down where we found them and more or less what they looked like before we buried them. We're still at it.

Pollovic: I'm ....sorry.

Pollovic hopes Quispel won't be ghoulish enough to bring in the photographers when he goes to offer meaningless comfort to the bereaved.

Gabimar: A hard job. Well, my family came through it well enough. Didn't lose anybody close, either.

Pollovic: Thank God for that.

Pollovic considers that another meaningless phrase, but it's the best he can come up with at the moment.

Gabimar nods, although he doesn't see why God should be thanked for sparing some when he destroyed so many others.

Gabimar: Here we are, back on the road. Stockyards over here -- medical tents near the gate.

Pollovic: Where have you put the channels? The Sime medics?

Gabimar: Oh, we've got them a few kilometers out, on a siding. But some of them are working here, too.

Gabimar is ambivalent about this.

Pollovic: You must be glad to have them.

Gabimar shrugs.

Gabimar: Not many will let a Sime touch them. And there's lots they won't do, not like real doctors.

Pollovic: And lots they can do, Councilman, that none of our doctors can.

Gabimar shrugs again, and doesn't answer. He doesn't want to talk about it.

Pollovic: I'll want to visit them later. But first, let's see the main hospital.

Gabimar: The big tent over there. That's the main part of it.

Pollovic nods and begins moving in the indicated direction, aware of Quispel and the reporters still trailing behind him.

Return to Table of Contents