A Walk in the Woods: Episode 3

Hiram settles in behind his desk after a productive overnight shift. He smiles at Lusinka, then reaches for the just-delivered pile of morning mail.

Lusinka is enjoying a relaxing cup of tea before the start of their shift, which should be relatively easy, as Hiram and she had transfer only three days before.

Hiram picks up the first item. It's a telegram form.

Hiram: What???!!! ~~ shock ~~

Lusinka almost drops her teacup.

Lusinka: Hiram, what is it?

Lusinka is already offering ~~ calm support ~~ of a general nature.

Hiram crushes the form between quivering tentacles. He sputters incoherently, then offers the crumpled remains of the form to the Companion.

Lusinka takes the telegram and smoothes it out, tutting at Hiram's loss of control, and scans it.

Telegram: Nick arrested by Firlith supporters for going out-T. Will stay with him. Help.

Hiram: What possible excuse...?

Lusinka: Politics, of course. We knew that young Nick had had difficulties with those who hate his former channels.

Hiram: But... what makes them think they could possibly get away with this?

Lusinka: They probably thought he had left Sat'htine's protection.

Hiram: Well, he hadn't. ~~ firm ~~

Hiram is starting to get his thoughts back in order. He glances down at the rest of the mail stack.

Lusinka: He was off our grounds, and you know the Houseless see the local Controller as having authority over all Tecton personnel in their territories. Fortunately Kat had the sense not to leave him. That will help the situation a great deal.

Hiram: There ought to be another telegram in here. An official one.

Hiram scoops up a stack of routine papers, and glances at the newspapers underneath.

Lusinka follows Hiram's gaze, her eyes lighting on a headline.

Lusinka: Oh, shen. "Fugitive from the Audnes Rebellion Escapes Custody"? Is that Nick?

Hiram: "Rogue on the Run"?!! And look at this... even the New Washington Times!!

Hiram stares at a photo of Kat and Nick under a huge headline: "FUGITIVE!" in Genlan.

Lusinka: They spread the story in Gen Territory as well? I'd think that even Firlith would have more sense than to invite the out-Territory government to interfere with internal Tecton matters.

Hiram stares at the smaller print.

Hiram: They seem to think they've gone there. Out-T. Nothing from the out-T government. Just speculation.

Lusinka: Out-Territory? But why? They should be coming back to stay under Sat'htine's protection until we can get this settled.

Hiram: I don't know why. ~~ slowly building anger ~~ The shidoni-bleeding out-Territory press knows more than I do! Here, take half of these. See if there's anything in here.

Hiram hands Lusinka half of the stack of mail.

Lusinka takes the stack and starts sorting through it.

Hiram: Routine, routine.... nothing in here.

Hiram tosses the stack of letters aside.

Lusinka: Reports, catalogs, hmm, this might be relevant.

Hiram snatches it from her hand.

Hiram: Notice of reassignment?

Lusinka: They got the World Controller to reassign Nick?

Hiram: No. Some piddling little local Controller I've never heard of reassigned Nick. Odradek... where's that?

Lusinka: Never heard of it, either. I don't see why this Controller would think he could reassign one of our Donors.

Hiram is working his way up to a huge Sectuib-sized ~~ RAGE ~~ .

Lusinka: Or one of our channels, either, and while they might make a case that Nick isn't technically ambrov Sat'htine, Kat most certainly is ours.

Hiram: He probably figured "Possession is nine-tenths of a kill."

Hiram looks at the next page.

Hiram: He assigned a Donor to escort Kat home.

Lusinka: I don't suppose it was someone we would have cared to keep?

Lusinka has seen "possession is nine-tenths of a kill" used in Sat'htine's favor as well.

Hiram: Never heard of him. Haven't a clue. But he couldn't possibly be as good as Nick.

Lusinka nods; there simply aren't that many Farris-compatible Donors around.

Lusinka: Does this Controller of the obscure town have a use for a Donor of Nick's talent?

Hiram: Not likely. Besides, look at this.

Hiram usually knows better than to believe anything he sees in the press, but for the moment it's the only source of information he's got.

Lusinka takes the paper and scans the indicated article.

Hiram: "... arrested for parole violations..."

Lusinka: Parole violations?

Hiram: They didn't care about his Donor talent. They just wanted to get him.

Hiram sighs.

Lusinka: I know that the Second Audnes Rebellion sparked some hard feelings, but this does seem a bit excessive.

Hiram: Technically, Nick's a free man. Apparently, there are some folks out there who don't care much for technicalities.

Lusinka: I don't know what they think they'll gain by this. It's not as if Nick is any threat to the Tecton.

Hiram: There were a lot of hard feelings after the Audnes mess. Nick was taking the brunt of a lot of them. That's one of the reasons Jaklin sent him to us; there weren't many places he'd be offered a chance for a decent life. It doesn't matter whether he's a real threat; he's a Giant Killer Gen who isn't trusted to play by the rules.

Lusinka: One can hardly blame the boy for not playing by the rules. It's not as if they've been followed with respect to him.

Hiram begins pacing.

Hiram: What matters right now isn't why. What matters is finding out exactly what's happened, and deciding what to do about it.

Lusinka: I'm a little concerned that Kat hasn't been in touch, apparently since her escape with Nick.

Hiram tries to trim down his blazing ~~ RAGE ~~ into something a little more disciplined.

Lusinka: We can't help them if we don't know what happened, or even where they are.

Lusinka would be able to help more if she weren't in a crusading mood herself.

Hiram: The old Sat'htine secret codes haven't been used since Unity. I don't know if Kat even knows them.

Lusinka frowns.

Lusinka: That was an oversight, if she doesn't.

Hiram: Who ever expected to require them again?

Lusinka: It's always convenient to be able to pass information without letting everybody else in on the conversation. I've used Genlan that way, once or twice, when the codes were too much work.

Hiram thoughtfully picks up the New Washington Times and leafs through to the classified ads.

Hiram: Hmmm... no. Nothing here. It's probably too soon anyway. Wait a minute.... "Lost: black-haired cat. Answers to "Nicky"." Probably just coincidence... it's a New Washington address.

Lusinka: Nick's hair isn't black, and he's not likely to be suffering from entran.

Hiram: It's a Genlan pun: Kat. "Cat". I admit, it's a bit of a stretch.

Lusinka: No mention of a nose, either. Still, it wouldn't hurt to check it out, I suppose.

Hiram: And keep a zlin on all the newspapers from both sides of the border for the duration.

Lusinka: Yes. We'd better pull some people off of nonessential chores for it.

Hiram is doing quick calculations in his head.

Lusinka: The Geggs might be useful to help with the out-Territory papers.

Hiram: There's usually about a three-day lag for advertising copy. Silly to expect anything this soon.

Lusinka: That gives us a little time to get set up.

Hiram: Yes. The Geggs. We should call them in. And our legal team.

Lusinka: Don't forget to write the World Controller's Office while you're at it. Jaklin doesn't like having petty bureaucrats interfering with her decisions.

Hiram: I'll send her a telegram.

Lusinka: And a letter, when we have the details. She can't do much if she doesn't know what's going on. And I have a tiny suspicion that they haven't bothered to inform her.

Hiram: You go send for the lawyers and the Geggs. I'll start drafting the telegram.

Hiram sits down at his desk and picks up a pen. It snaps between his tentacles.

Lusinka is ready to tackle the damage control, but doesn't want Hiram to be alone in such a mood.

Lusinka: Shall I find Shorsh for you?

Hiram: What? Oh, no. I'll be fine.

Hiram doesn't look fine. He looks like he's ready to tear something apart stone by stone.

Lusinka gives Hiram a Look.

Lusinka: Do save it for your letter.

Hiram gives a single tight nod.

Lusinka moves off on her errands briskly, the sooner to get Hiram's temper back under more-or-less control.

Hiram takes out a fresh pen and sits staring at the blank page. The longer he sits, the angrier he gets.

* * * A little later * * *

Hiram Farris, Sectuib in Sat'htine, one of the most powerful channels in the Tecton, is ~~ furious ~~. He is ~~ livid ~~. He is in a towering ~~ rage ~~ that can be zlinned right through the considerable insulation of his office walls.

Sokum arrives at his Sectuib's summons, but even though he has long been inured to facing angry, sometimes bigoted judges in the courtroom, he is still a bit ~~ taken aback ~~ by the nature and strength of the projection leaking through the office door.

Sokum ~~ cautiously ~~ pushes the signal button.

Sokum: ...Sectuib?

Hiram: Come in.

Hiram speaks in a dangerously soft voice.

Sokum does so, bracing himself against the ambient.

Sokum: Whatever is wrong?

Hiram: Lusinka didn't fill you in? ~~ impatience ~~

Sokum: No, she just said to come quickly.

Hiram throws a stack of papers at Sat'htine's best lawyer.

Hiram: Some shidoni-be-damned little village Controller has stolen Sosu Nick from us, or tried to, because of his part in the Audnes rebellion. Hajene Kat grabbed him and ran... out-T, we think.

Sokum understands -- no Sime likes having his Gen taken away, and Hiram is an old-school Sectuib who takes a very proprietary interest in his Donors.

Hiram: ~~ raging anger ~~ impatience ~~

Sokum: You think? What do you actually know for sure?

Hiram reaches to pull Kat's telegram and the reassignment notice from the jumble of papers clasped against the lawyer's chest.

Hiram: This. And this.

Hiram adds the newspapers.

Hiram: And these. The shenning newspapers know more than I do right now. And you know how far we can trust what's in the press.

Hiram becomes aware that he's blasting the renSime with his anger, and Lusinka isn't here to shield the lawyer from it.

Sokum is ~~ bravely ~~ trying to withstand the onslaught, but it's hard.

Hiram: ~~ forced brittle veneer of calm ~~

Sokum gives a very surreptitious sigh of ~~ relief ~~.

Hiram: My apologies.

Sokum nods.

Sokum: The first thing is to find out what happened. That will determine what rights each party has, and how we can make the case that Sosu Nick is ours.

Hiram pulls a train schedule from the clutter on his desk.

Hiram: According to this, Odradek is barely a whistle stop. This Controller...

Hiram blanks on the vermin's name.

Sokum: Was no doubt acting under orders from Firlith's crew. He's a bit player. We can ignore him.

Hiram: He must have grabbed Nick off the platform, if not the train itself. This suggests planning, and organization. It was more than just opportunism.

Sokum: Of course it was. My main concern is that our fugitives will be caught by unsympathetic parties before we can settle the matter. The wheels of the law grind slowly. Do you have any idea where they would have gone? To one of Sat'htine's allied Houses, perhaps?

Hiram: They're both intelligent. Kat's lived a sheltered life, but Nick certainly hasn't. He's a very good improviser. But he doesn't think like a Householder.

Sokum: What do you mean by that?

Sokum is House-bred for generations, and insular generations at that.

Hiram: I suspect Kat would follow Nick's lead, and Nick would lead them away from anything having to do with the Tecton.

Sokum: It's kind of hard to escape the Tecton, these days.

Hiram: Not out-T, it isn't.

Sokum: Gen Territory? With our Kat?

Hiram: It wouldn't be unthinkable to her. Not after she's spent the last few weeks there.

Sokum: With proper support and diplomatic permission, yes. But have they even got the medications a Farris channel will require?

Hiram: I haven't a clue. My poor little Kat. ~~ despair ~~

Sokum: Gen Territory isn't very friendly to Simes, I'm told.

Sokum has never been there.

Sokum: On the other hand, it is an elegant solution, to go outside the Tecton's authority entirely until this matter can be resolved.

Hiram: With their picture splashed across the front page of every newspaper, they'd have to hide. Nick as well as Kat. But there's a lot of wilderness out there. They might stay hidden a long time.

Sokum: And a lot of places where the outside world might as well not exist, if my daughter is understanding Sanda Gegg's stories properly.

Hiram thinks about the backwater little town of Gumgeeville, and the time he spent there.

Hiram: A lot of possible hiding places.

Sokum: If they can avoid frightening the locals, yes.

Hiram: People see what they expect to see. Nobody there can zlin. A slender young woman, with long sleeves...?

Sokum: Won't her retainers give her away?

Hiram: If she's wearing them.

Sokum: You mean she might break the law by not wearing them?

Sokum is a little ~~ shocked ~~.

Hiram: I don't know if she even had them with her. Besides, it's not illegal for a Sime to be out-T without retainers. It's just not illegal to murder a Sime who doesn't have them on.

Sokum: It's a barbaric place.

Hiram: It is.

Hiram shudders at the memory.

Hiram: But at the moment, I'm not sure that the Tecton is any less barbaric. In its very civilized way, of course. ~~ heavy irony ~~ A Gen can't be executed in the attrition cage, of course. Do you know what they do instead?

Sokum: No. What?

Hiram: Pen drugs. Till your brain rots. Myself, I think the attrition cage is cleaner.

Sokum shudders.

Sokum: I suppose some would say it's kinder, and allows the criminal to repay society, but I'd have to agree with you.

Hiram: Despite whatever you may have heard, Nick's a decent human being. And a worthy candidate for Sat'htine.

Sokum: Ah, so you really are after him. I'd heard rumors, but didn't know how much to credit them.

Hiram: I'd have offered him membership already, but I didn't want to hurry him. Trust has to go both ways, and he hasn't had much reason to trust the Tecton or anyone in it.

Sokum: I can see why, if this is what he's used to.

Sokum waves towards the stack of newspapers and the telegram.

Hiram nods grimly.

Hiram: What does it do to our legal position, that he isn't a member yet?

Sokum: Our position would be a lot stronger if he were a member. As it is, we'll have to make the case that our claim on his services was greater than Firlith's claim that he is a criminal.

Hiram: Hmmm. Put one of your staffers onto researching alternate forms of pledge ceremony.

Sokum: I doubt there's a retroactive form, Sectuib.

Hiram sighs and buries his face in his hands. He begins massaging his temples with two dorsals.

Hiram: What do you advise, then?

Sokum: To start with, get what political pressure you can to bear on our highest-ranking Tecton allies. If we can keep matters out of court, they'll be much easier to resolve.

Hiram: Even when they're all over the press?

Sokum: Yes. The press has a short attention span, and their only power is that of public opinion. If you want to pledge him, Sosu Nick doesn't have to worry about the opinion of any public other than the House.

Hiram: The World Controller will feel much as I do, I'm certain. She was the one who sent Sosu Nick here. As for the rest...

Sokum: The Householdings will probably be behind you on this. The idea that a local Controller can arbitrarily take Gens who are under House protection... it's too much like what the juncts used to do.

Hiram begins mentally cataloging which favors he can call in, and who would be happy to have Sat'htine owe them one.

Hiram: I'll work on them.

Sokum: I'll start working up a case on the argument that this Controller didn't have authority over Sosu Nick.

Hiram: Good. Any information you require from me, just ask. This case has priority until further notice. What else do you recommend?

Sokum: What's most important is to get the real story of what happened. I doubt the press got it -- I can see three different versions from here, and I haven't read them closely.

Hiram: I'll send someone out to Odradek. One of your staffers?

Sokum: I'll find someone. A Gen, so the trail can be followed across the border if necessary. I don't suppose you know where the fugitives are headed?

Hiram: I couldn't begin to guess. Sosu Nick has traveled a lot, on both sides of the border. He might choose anywhere. Until we hear from them, there's no point speculating.

Sokum: Will they contact you?

Hiram: I'm sure Kat will try. But if they're off in the wilderness somewhere...

Sokum: There may not be a regular mail service. ~~ grim ~~

Hiram ripples his tentacles in a shrug.

Hiram: Exactly.

Hiram zlins a familiar Gen nager approaching his office door.

Hiram: If there's nothing else to discuss right now, I'll let you get to work, then.

Sokum: Very well. Let me know as soon as you get any further information.

Sokum stands, makes a gesture of ~~ deference ~~ to his Sectuib, and hurries off, mentally sorting through his department for a Gen who's good at information-gathering.

Gegg reports for his next donation with some ~~ trepidation ~~, although he has really gotten much better at it. He no longer spends the whole week beforehand dreading it; he saves that up for the last hour or so, now.

Hiram: Come in.

Hiram glances up as the office door opens.

Hiram: Good morning, Mr. Gegg.

Hiram's body language suggests the morning is anything but good.

Gegg: Sectuib Hiram.

Gegg frowns, momentarily ~~ distracted ~~ from his impending donation.

Gegg: Is something wrong?

Hiram sighs. Lusinka is obviously in too much of a hurry to inform any of the people she sends him.

Hiram: Yes, it is, and I'm hoping you can help us.

Gegg: Did some critical machine break down?

Hiram: Only the Tecton political machine, I'm afraid.

Gegg: Can't help you. No political types care about Gumgeeville, and we don't care for them much, either.

Hiram manages a small, strained chuckle.

Hiram: Not that kind of help, Mr. Gegg. Here's the situation: some folks in the Tecton who have a grudge against Sosu Nick arrested him on trumped-up charges. Hajene Katsura broke him out of jail, and they've fled. Apparently out-Territory.

Gegg: Mr. Reckage could probably blend in nicely, but I'd think a channel would be a bit hard to overlook.

Hiram nods.

Hiram: Indeed. Even Nick might have a problem; his picture's on the front page of every newspaper.

Hiram holds up the copy of the New Washington Times.

Gegg takes the paper and scans the article with ~~ curiosity ~~.

Gegg: Looks like this is mostly about some politician who got photographed with them. Not the sort of story that the small town papers are going to bother with, when there's a farm bill to be passed.

Hiram: Are you suggesting that the smaller towns don't get copies of the New Washington papers?

Gegg: Not many, and not promptly.

Hiram: Then Nick, at least, might dare go into one of those towns to post a letter to us.

Gegg: I don't see why not. If he doesn't want to go personally, it shouldn't be hard to find someone who'd mail it for him.

Hiram: In that case, Mr. Gegg, I apologize for disturbing you. I'd been going to ask you to sift through the English-language newspapers for anything out of place that might be a communication from Kat or Nick, but it appears that won't be necessary.

Gegg: It might not be. On the other hand, they might not know that. What they really require is a place to go.

Gegg has now been in-Territory long enough to know that "need" has a special meaning to Simes.

Gegg: Someplace out of the way, where they can still stay in contact at least a little.

Hiram: Unfortunately, we no longer maintain starred-cross shrines except as museums.

Gegg snorts.

Gegg: Don't have to have a shrine. If you can get in touch with them, tell 'em to go stay at my place. No one official bothers with Gumgeeville.

Hiram: Mr. Gegg, that is most generous of you.

Gegg: We already proved a Sime could live there, without raising questions with the authorities.

Gegg is, of course, ignorant of how much high-level back and forth went into sending D'zoll and Shorsh to live in his barn.

Hiram: In Sat'htine's name, I thank you. It's a better solution than anything I could have come up with. Will there be any difficulties with the people you left to care for the farm?

Gegg: My cousin? Nah. He'll welcome having someone else to see to the place. I'll write him, if you like.

Hiram: I think that would be wise. He might not appreciate being startled by a Sime when he stops by to gather the eggs.

Gegg: He did think I was plumb crazy for keeping Hajene D'zoll in my barn, that's true.

Hiram thinks privately that Hajene D'zoll considered it a pretty crazy place to keep himself. He smiles.

Hiram: Not your usual sort of livestock?

Gegg: Nope. No money in Simes.

Hiram: Not even in donation payments? ~~ gently teasing ~~

Gegg still ~~ reacts ~~ to the mention of donations, but no longer so violently that a channel would be inclined to flee the room.

Gegg: That, yes. But my neighbors declined to give me a percentage.

Hiram admires the Simephobe's ability to joke about what frightens him.

Hiram: When Gumgeeville gets its own Sime Center, maybe you can rent a bit of land to the Tecton for it, and finally collect a percentage that way.

Gegg: It'll probably end up in Henree's saloon -- much more central.

Gegg is ~~ philosophical ~~ about the way the most important people in a town get all the breaks when money's to be made.

Hiram remembers Shorsh's reports about Henree's attitude.

Hiram: Not necessarily, Mr. Gegg. The Tecton views priorities a bit differently than Gen officials tend to.

Gegg shrugs.

Gegg: Ain't gonna happen any time soon, anyway.

Hiram: True. But there are some things that must, if we're to help Hajene Katsura and Sosu Nick.

Gegg nods.

Gegg: All right. I'll write my cousin, and tell him to keep an eye out for them.

Hiram: In case they don't contact us first, I'll draft a classified ad to go in as many out-Territory newspapers as possible. Will you check the wording on that before I send it out?

Gegg: Sure. Toria's grammar and spelling are better than mine, though.

Hiram: Then I'd appreciate comments from both of you. I'm really thinking more in terms of saying what I wish to without attracting the wrong sort of attention.

Hiram's Genlan spelling and grammar are both impeccable.

Gegg: I see.

Gegg inches towards the door.

Gegg: I'll just be getting to it, then...

Hiram: While you're here, shall we get your donation over with?

Gegg: Er...

Gegg ~~ sheepishly ~~ returns.

Hiram is sufficiently pre-turnover to decide he doesn't require Lusinka's support, even with Gegg.

Hiram: Now just sit over here, and relax. You know the routine by now.

Gegg: Yeah, I do.

Gegg has never been able to follow it particularly well, but he can recite it chapter and verse.

Hiram: Relax, close your eyes, breathe slowly. Whenever you're ready...

Gegg quashes his fear as much as he can, then reaches out towards Hiram.

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