A Walk in the Woods: Episode 5

Triangusul: So, Senator, first I'll ask you if you have any on-the-record comment about this.

Triangusul holds up a copy of the New Washington Times with the shot of the Senator and Nick Reckage on it.

Quispel bounces on his toes behind his boss's chair, ~~ anxious ~~ because he hasn't had a chance to brief his boss on this latest calamity yet.

Pollovic glances across his desk at the newspaper, then does a double-take and looks again.

Pollovic: What!?

Pollovic turns and looks at Quispel.

Quispel thought at the time that briefing him on the budget figures was more important.

Pollovic: What do you know of this?

Quispel shuffles his feet.

Quispel: Just what's in the article, boss. Apparently that Donor we met in Cottonwood City wasn't really a Donor, or something.

Quispel is a bit confused about the minutiae of Tecton law.

Triangusul: Oh, he's a Donor, all right. The question is whether he's also a traitor. But that's neither here nor there just now. I need either an on-the-record comment or a refusal to comment on the record, if you please.

Pollovic stares at the paper. Above the fold is the photo of himself with the channel and Donor in Cottonwood City, and the headline screams, "FUGITIVE!"

Quispel really hates it when commentary must be ad-libbed.

Pollovic clears his throat.

Pollovic: I cannot possibly comment on that Donor, or on what he may or may not have done, until I have more of the facts. To the best of my knowledge and belief at that time, he and the channel with him were legitimate Tecton representatives, in charge of the Tecton's relief effort in Cottonwood City. It was on that basis that I gave my donation to them.

Quispel ~~ approves ~~ of this answer.

Triangusul: Thank you very much, Senator.

Pollovic gives Quispel a glare that says, get me more information fast!

Quispel nods a "message understood".

Triangusul: Now let's go to deep background: that is, I won't attribute anything to you, not even in an anonymous way; it'll look like I pulled the story out of my lateral sheaths.

Triangusul grins.

Pollovic appreciates the idiom.

Triangusul defines the term because not everyone uses it in the same way.

Triangusul: Now, is there anything you want to tell me? Or to ask me, for that matter?

Quispel decides that two can play the asking-questions game.

Pollovic struggles to regain his calm.

Pollovic: As you undoubtedly zlinned, this was the first I'd heard of the story. What can you tell me?

Quispel: The article there was a little short of details.

Pollovic still hasn't managed to read more than the headline.

Triangusul: There's a family in Norwest Territory that used to be very powerful before Unity -- say, about as powerful as Senator Tsibola's family, and with even more personal influence over their dependents. What nobody knew at the time is that they were Farris channels, who as you know are inherently extremely influential, because we Simes have an instinct to defer to the most powerful channel around.

Triangusul zlins to see if he's losing his audience.

Pollovic nods. he still really doesn't understand the concept, but it makes a kind of theoretical sense.

Triangusul: Twice in the years since Unity the Audneses have tried to defy Tecton authority and restore their power. Sosu Nick was the Donor for the leader of the most recent rebellion.

Quispel: So the channel there was a rebel?

Quispel looks at the photo ~~ anxiously ~~.

Triangusul: Not at all. The Tecton broke the rebellion last spring, and Sosu Nick was cleared -- officially. I don't have to tell you gentlemen how little that necessarily means.

Triangusul looks around at his audience significantly.

Pollovic nods slowly.

Pollovic: So he's still on some sort of... blacklist?

Triangusul: Not -- officially.

Pollovic: Then why is he now a fugitive?

Triangusul: He was sent to Householding Sat'htine, one of the most highly respected Householdings in Nivet Territory, for retraining. Somehow or other, he wound up on a disaster team that wound up being sent to Cottonwood City. Certain -- elements -- in the Tecton chose to interpret that as breaking his assignment and arrested him.

Quispel is ~~ relieved ~~.

Triangusul: His channel helped him flee from custody, and apparently they're somewhere in the Unincorporated Territory.

Pollovic: Was his arrest legally done?

Triangusul is cautious.

Triangusul: That's a matter of interpretation, which means the World Controller will probably have to decide.

Quispel: I guess they have to catch him first?

Triangusul smiles and says nothing.

Pollovic: Hmmm. What can you tell me about the channel? Hajene, uh, Kitty?

Triangusul chuckles.

Triangusul: Hajene Katsura, or Kat for short. No connection with the Simelan word for "cat", I'm afraid.

Pollovic: Katsura, then. What about her?

Triangusul: Not much, except that she's a Farris and the Heir to Sat'htine. Not only have I been out-Territory for a number of years, but I think she keeps a deliberately low profile.

Quispel: So she's from the same family you were talking about?

Triangusul raises his hands in the Simelan gesture for "not exactly" before realizing that it won't mean anything here.

Triangusul: No, not all Farrises are related. It's a label for a certain genetic quality.

Quispel does take a step backward: he's not quite as comfortable with tentacles as his boss.

Triangusul: My apologies, Mr. Quispel. --And I do appreciate you posting your office Sime Territory for my benefit, Senator.

Pollovic: You said, um, Satteen, is one of the most respected Houses?

Triangusul: Yes, indeed. They specialize in healing.

Quispel: Well, that explains why they were volunteering to help out at Cottonwood City.

Pollovic: Why would such a respectable channel stage a jailbreak for such a questionable Donor?

Triangusul: For one thing, the bonds of loyalty between channel and Donor are very strong, even if they don't necessarily last more than a month. Channels depend on their Donors for their lives, and they react strongly to any threat against the Donor. For another thing, and this is frankly speculative, Sat'htine may have offered Sosu Nick its protection. If so, Hajene Katsura would be duty bound to uphold it by any means necessary.

Quispel: Do the Nivet police routinely abuse prisoners, that this guy would need protection so badly that a respectable healer would stage a jailbreak?

Pollovic is beginning to realize that this whole situation is a legal and ethical quagmire. Just the sort of thing a politician tries to avoid.

Triangusul: I can't say it never happens. But no, I doubt that was the issue in this case. But Sat'htine's view will certainly be that the arrest was unjustified, and separating channel and Donor without absolute necessity is a serious crime, not to mention an emotional atrocity.

Pollovic is quite aware that many emotional atrocities are perfectly legal.

Quispel: It sounds like an internal Tecton matter to me. Why are you asking the Senator's opinion of it?

Triangusul: Because of the attitude of your own press, Mr. Quispel. I can't ignore the fact that the Times ran the picture this way...

Triangusul covers up Pollovic's portion of the picture

Triangusul: ...and not this way.

Quispel mutters something about "local interest".

Triangusul: Local interest, fine. Or is it "guilt by association"?

Pollovic needs time to think.

Pollovic: How are Nivet's citizens reacting to the story so far?

Triangusul: So far, there's a mixture of outrage and suspended judgment. Much depends on the view the World Controller takes, and that won't be known for a while, I shouldn't think. If she comes out strongly against or in favor of the fugitives, public opinion will almost certainly follow. It's another aspect of that Sime instinct I mentioned.

Triangusul has gotten very used to explaining How Simes Work in his years in the Gen capital.

Pollovic: Outrage at the arrest? Or at the escape?

Triangusul: The escape, Senator.

Pollovic: There was a lot of anger, then, at what this man did... or was acquitted of doing?

Triangusul: Absolutely. The few Simes who want a return to the junct era are the most lunatic of the lunatic fringe... and even they don't really want it, I suspect.

Triangusul is blurring the distinction between the First and Second Audnes Rebellions here.

Pollovic: Why would a man who helped a junct rebellion risk his freedom to help rescue the Gens of Cottonwood City?

Quispel: This Donor wants Simes to start killing again?

Quispel is ~~ shocked ~~.

Triangusul: Not at all, not at all. I don't know if I can explain the difference between the loyalty of a Donor to his channel and political loyalty. Sosu Nick might have -- probably did, since he was acquitted by the Tecton -- have disagreed profoundly with every bit of Arat Audnes's philosophy and plans. But he would still do his very best to keep Arat healthy and functional, and therefore able to try to carry those plans out. Doctors treat criminals and lawyers defend them, here in Gen Territory. That doesn't mean they support criminals or criminal behavior, does it?

Pollovic: So that's why he was acquitted?

Triangusul: The details weren't made public. But that's what I deduce, yes.

Quispel: He was facilitating crime, but not actually committing it?

Triangusul: I would not say so, no. You don't blame a man's wife for his crimes, though if she didn't feed him he probably wouldn't eat.

Triangusul hopes this extremely out-T analogy will stick a bit better.

Pollovic glances away, considering. He considers himself a fairly good snap judge of character, and he liked what little he saw of Sosu Nick.

Pollovic: Did you ever meet this man?

Pollovic isn't sure where Triangusul worked before he was sent to New Washington.

Triangusul: No, never.

Pollovic: Hmm. Mr. Triangusul, I appreciate all of your advice on this. Please rest assured that when I have a further statement for the press, you will be the first to hear it.

Triangusul zlins and correctly interprets this as a dismissal.

Triangusul: Thank you very much for your time, Senator. Good day, Mr. Quispel.

Quispel bobs his head in farewell.

Pollovic: Good day.

Pollovic clumsily attempts the Gen version of the corresponding tentacle sign, unaware that what he's actually signaled is, "Watch out, Sectuib's angry."

Triangusul takes the intention for the deed, and extends his tentacles in farewell, curious to see what Pollovic will do.

Pollovic manages better with the fingertip touch that he did with the previous gesture... and much more smoothly than he would have, even a couple of months ago.

Triangusul turns and walks out, pleased at his success at both his cover and his real occupations.

Pollovic turns to Quispel as soon as the door closes behind the reporter.

Pollovic: Why did I have to hear about this from a reporter instead of from you?

Pollovic's voice is dangerously quiet.

Quispel: You had the budget meeting this morning -- there wasn't time to go over the news as well.

Quispel carefully refrains from pointing out that Pollovic was late getting in to the office.

Quispel: Sorry, Boss.

Pollovic: You didn't think my photo, on the front page above the fold, would be a showstopper?

Quispel shuffles his feet.

Quispel: Truthfully, I didn't get a close look at the front page this morning.

Quispel managed to spill coffee on it, and didn't get his hands on a clean, readable copy before the budget meeting.

Pollovic's voice gets even softer.

Pollovic: Is it not part of your job to know what's going on in the press?

Quispel: Yes, boss. I won't let it happen again.

Quispel looks appropriately ~~ repentant ~~.

Pollovic gives a tiny nod. Quispel is forgiven... this time.

Pollovic: Now get me an appointment with Hajene Seruffin. Preferably ten minutes ago. If he's out of town, I want to see his most trusted advisor. Not the one with the biggest title. The one you go to when you need to settle something important.

Quispel's notebook whips out and flips open in a well-practiced gesture.

Quispel: Yes, boss.

Pollovic: Get a couple of staffers checking the archives on all the players in this one. Especially anything we've got on the Audnes rebellion. Or Satteen.

Quispel: I'll get right on it.

Pollovic: If anyone else comes looking, give them exactly what I gave Triangusul as an initial statement.

Quispel is already scribbling notes.

Quispel: Yes, boss.

Pollovic: Start preparing two folders. One for if I decide to support Sosu Nick, the other for if I decide to distance myself from him.

Quispel: Two folders, yes.

Pollovic: And Quispel...

Quispel: Yes boss?

Pollovic: Can you get me a big mug of willow bark tea?

Quispel: Er... sure, boss. I'll have it sent in. Anything else, boss?

Pollovic takes a deep breath, lets it out in a long, slow sigh.

Pollovic: An hour of privacy. I need to think.

Quispel: Sure, boss. I'll have that meeting with the caucus put back.

Pollovic: You do that.

Quispel tiptoes out, already mentally assigning tasks to the appropriate staffers.

Pollovic folds his arms on the desk, closes his eyes, and puts his head down.

Pollovic: Damn. (softly) damndamndamn.

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