A Walk in the Woods: Episode 7

Pollovic hurries up the steps of the imposing edifice that houses Hajene Seruffin's office. He has a newspaper and a file folder in his briefcase, and a very worried look on his face.

Pollovic is even more unhappy now that he was a few hours ago when the news broke. The more he learns, the less he likes this mess. He dislikes being torn between his instincts and his common sense. Sanity says he should distance himself from this whole situation... but if he were entirely sane, he would never have run for office.

Pollovic pauses on the top step to try to calm himself before opening the door and blasting the Simes in the Embassy with his ~~ worry ~~ .

Seruffin, unlike Pollovic, never decided to get involved in politics; the choice was made for him by his genes. His sanity or lack thereof is directly attributable to the stress of his job, therefore.

Seruffin is currently trying to improvise a response to this morning's headlines, without benefit of any more facts than the reporter had.

Gerrhonot is worried about the trouble Nick has gotten himself into. He likes Nick, but knows Seruffin has his reservations about the Donor.

Seruffin can sympathize with Nick's situation, while seeing quite plainly that the man created most of his troubles for himself.

Pollovic takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly, and squares his shoulders. He reaches for the door handle, then quickly stands aside as two young Gens in Tecton uniform come hurrying out the door and pass him without a glance. He finds it refreshing, after the morning he's had, not to be stared at by everyone he passes.

Pollovic catches the door before it closes, and goes inside. He nods to the receptionist -- a pretty, young Sime with red hair, whom he's met before -- crosses the lobby, and heads for Seruffin's office.

Seruffin zlins Pollovic approaching and tries not to wince.

Seruffin: Our visitor is here.

Gerrhonot puts aside the magazine he's reading and opens the door.

Pollovic offers Gerrhonot a smile that doesn't go past the muscles of his face.

Gerrhonot nods politely and goes back to his chair near Seruffin, ready to protect his channel as needed.

Pollovic has felt, personally, a bit awkward around Seruffin and his young Donor since his disastrous first donation. However, this is business, and when it comes to business he ~~ trusts ~~ Seruffin's honesty.

Pollovic: Hajene Seruffin. Thank you for seeing me on such short notice.

Pollovic raises his hand to offer the standard fingertip-touch greeting. He seems to have been getting a lot of practice at it lately.

Seruffin zlins Pollovic's ambivalence and chooses to return the gesture Gen-style, with fingertips instead of tentacles.

Seruffin: It gives me a chance to put off the reporters a bit longer.

Seruffin's expression is ~~ wry ~~; it has been a busy day.

Pollovic gives an equally wry smile in return.

Pollovic: I had no such luck myself. But so far I've managed to satisfy them without saying much. That won't last.

Seruffin: No, it won't.

Pollovic: My staff have been combing the archives all morning, and at least now I know what the Audnes Rebellion was. But that's barely a start to the information I require before I can make any decisions.

Seruffin shrugs with a touch of ~~ helplessness ~~.

Seruffin: I'm afraid that I know very little of the current situation, besides what was in that article. I won't even get the in-Territory press coverage for a few more days. And I've gotten no instructions from the World Controller's Office, as yet.

Pollovic: I'm not looking for an official statement, Hajene. But you know a lot more about the background to this than my staffers could uncover, and you know at least some of the players.

Seruffin: That's true, although I'm not at liberty to tell you some things, as I'm sure you realize.

Pollovic nods.

Pollovic: Of course.

Seruffin: Within those limits, however, I'll answer what questions I can.

Pollovic: Hajene, all my political experience -- and my top advisors -- tell me I should distance myself from this whole situation. Repeat the statement that I knew nothing of the channel and Donor as individuals when my picture was taken with them, and wash my hands of the whole thing. But...

Seruffin: But?

Pollovic shrugs helplessly.

Pollovic: My instincts say otherwise.

Seruffin signals Gerrhonot to lighten up on the support, so he can zlin Pollovic more clearly.

Gerrhonot complies.

Seruffin: You wish to assist the fugitives?

Pollovic: Hajene, I may not be able to zlin, but I've learned to trust my judgment of people. And I liked what I saw of Sosu Nick.

Seruffin: He's a charming man, much like his father.

Pollovic: You know him personally? ~~ curiosity ~~ hope ~~

Seruffin: Yes. I worked at the Snake River Dam for a while, although Gerrhonot and I left shortly before the actual rebellion.

Pollovic: What's beneath the surface charm?

Seruffin: I don't think anyone is sure of that, not even Reckage himself. He has great talent as a Donor, but he doesn't seem sure of how he wants to use it.

Pollovic raises an eyebrow. ~~ listening ~~

Seruffin: He can't realistically hope to work outside the Tecton, but he has no loyalty to it, and no real respect for its authority. Or so I gather; you will understand that he was working with other channels.

Pollovic: So you think he's simply reaping what he's sown?

Seruffin: To some extent. On the other tentacle, the faction who opposed his former channel most strongly aren't beyond getting their revenge where they can find it. They were furious when Reckage was sent for rehabilitation, instead of being imprisoned for treason.

Pollovic nods thoughtfully.

Pollovic: I've seen several versions of the story: that he was arrested legally, that it was a trumped-up charge, that it was technically legal but avoided proper channels...?

Seruffin spreads hands and tentacles in a gesture of helplessness.

Seruffin: There, I can't help you. I've nothing to go on but the same news stories. I expect that this is going to keep the lawyers busy for a long time.

Pollovic: I understand the channel, Hajene Katsura, is very respectable, from a very respectable family?

Seruffin: Yes. She's expected to become the next Sectuib of Householding Sat'htine.

Pollovic: I keep asking myself why a channel like that would stage a jailbreak for such a man unless there is something very wrong.

Seruffin: To a channel, having one's Donor arrested is something very wrong.

Pollovic: ~~ awkward ~~ Hajene, a few years ago I heard a very disturbing rumor. I ignored it at the time because it didn't seem relevant to anything then.

Seruffin: Yes?

Pollovic: I don't want this to sound like an accusation, but I heard... ~~ embarrassment ~~

Seruffin tries to look ~~ tolerant ~~ and ~~ encouraging ~~.

Pollovic: I heard that if a Gen is imprisoned who's considered dangerous, they feed him some of the old Pen drugs.

Seruffin shrugs.

Seruffin: The drugs are still available -- they have many legitimate medical uses.

Pollovic raises an eyebrow, waiting for more.

Seruffin: I suppose it's possible that they've been used on Gen prisoners, particularly when the insane have to be transported. It's certainly not a standard practice, however. Jail cells tend to be well insulated and impregnable, so why would anyone bother?

Pollovic nods ~~ thoughtfully ~~ . He knows how to read between the lines.

Pollovic: On to another matter, then. You mentioned Reckage's father. An influential man?

Seruffin: Well... he used to be influential. There was a scandal a few years back, and he lost his position as Sectuib over it.

Pollovic: So the family is riddled with scandal, then?

Pollovic seems almost ~~ relieved ~~ .

Seruffin: Well, his father is. On the other hand, Nick was raised by his grandmother, and didn't know of his parentage until recently, I gather.

Pollovic: So he had no involvement in whatever his father did?

Seruffin: Only as a victim.

Pollovic: And his father is in no position to help him now.

Pollovic feels something ~~ heavy ~~ settle onto his shoulders that for a moment he'd thought he was honorably free of.

Seruffin: I don't know if Nick would accept his father's help if it was offered. He certainly turned down the chance to join his Householding. Under the circumstances, I don't blame him. It's nice to have a family, but Naros is perhaps more family than any sane person can tolerate.

Pollovic is ~~ curious ~~ . That's the strongest opinion the channel has volunteered yet in this discussion.

Seruffin: Apparently, Sectuib Riyyh took his role as father figure for his House very seriously. Seriously enough to have sired the last two generations of children there. And many children outside his House, too. Including Nick's mother.

Pollovic takes a moment to process this, then bursts out laughing.

Seruffin is ~~ puzzled ~~ by this response, which doesn't fit the normal out-Territory prudishness.

Pollovic has been under too much stress today. This story seems like such incredible farce, he can only laugh. He does so, until tears start to run down his face.

Seruffin zlins Pollovic closely for indications of hysteria.

Gerrhonot moves closer to his channel in case more support is needed.

Pollovic struggles to get himself under control.

Pollovic: I'm sorry, Hajene. That was uncalled for. It just seemed... so much like a headline from "The Tattler". My apologies. It must have been quite serious for the people involved.

Seruffin: Sectuib Riyyh was forced to resign in favor of his heir, among other things. But yes, our tabloids had a great deal of amusement at Riyyh's expense.

Pollovic isn't too proud to accept the tacit forgiveness for his outburst.

Pollovic: So Sosu Nick can expect no help from his family, and may actually be harmed by them in the public eye.

Seruffin: Yes. Although I'm not sure he really considers them his family.

Pollovic comes to at least one ~~ decision ~~ .

Pollovic: Hajene Seruffin, you may be wondering why I don't just shrug this aside as the Tecton's problem, and work on protecting my own reputation.

Seruffin: It does seem to be an issue that affects you only distantly.

Pollovic: The media are always eager to tar any politician with any handy brush. But, as you say, this is something I could easily distance myself from if that were my only concern.

Pollovic reaches for the folded newspaper on Seruffin's desk, and opens it to page 3. He points to a small article near the bottom of the page.

Seruffin bends over and skims the indicated item.

Pollovic: It seems that one of the reporters who went to Cottonwood City with me spent some time around the camps interviewing the locals for background stories. And while Sosu Nick was there, he played a few games of cards.

Seruffin: Yes?

Pollovic: Instead of taking his winnings in cash, which must be in short supply there, he told some of his debtors to pay by donating to the channels at the camp.

Seruffin: He what?

Seruffin is ~~ aghast ~~ at this lapse in ethics.

Pollovic: This appears to be purely hearsay... but that doesn't matter. What matters is that it's been printed.

Seruffin: I assure you, such behavior is not considered acceptable in a Tecton Donor.

Pollovic shrugs.

Pollovic: It may or may not be true. Or he may have meant it as a joke. Or it could be a misunderstanding.

Seruffin: But in either case, you feel compelled to protect your people and bring him to justice?

Pollovic is ~~ startled ~~ .

Pollovic: It's not my people I'm worried about, it's Sosu Nick.

Seruffin: The Donor who was illegally trying to pressure your people into donating?

Seruffin is ~~ amazed ~~.

Pollovic: If there's any truth to the story at all, and if someone actually lodges a complaint, that side of it can be dealt with through normal legal channels. And if so, I will certainly express my disapproval of what he did -- or may have done -- in the strongest possible terms. And I'd expect him to pay a fine, or do some jail time, or whatever punishment is reasonable.

Seruffin is now ~~ heartily confused ~~, and looks at Gerrhonot to see if this is one of those matters that is so simple that he overlooks the obvious.

Gerrhonot is reserving judgment on the whole matter, since it seems mostly to be a bunch of rumors, and he's been told not to believe rumors, advice he has found useful in avoiding getting more confused than necessary. He's more worried about Nick, though.

Pollovic: But. ~~ grim ~~

Seruffin: Yes?

Seruffin doesn't like the zlin of Pollovic's nager.

Pollovic: If one of my junior legal staffers noticed it, so will others. I'm told a good legal argument could be mounted that the alleged act could reasonably fall under the formal definition of Genrunning.

Seruffin: The end result was certainly to provide a source of selyn to Simes.

Pollovic: And the old, pre-Unity laws about that are still on the books -- including the one that says known Genrunners may be shot on sight.

Seruffin: You fear that one of your people will shoot Nick out of hand?

Pollovic nods ~~ heavily ~~ .

Seruffin closes his eyes for a moment, trying to regain his customary calm.

Gerrhonot assists, putting a hand on his channel's shoulder, and suppressing his own alarm.

Seruffin: I had thought that once he crossed the border, there would be time to sort this matter out thoroughly, while he was out of reach. Now, it appears that the matter must be resolved a great deal more promptly.

Seruffin reaches up and gives Gerrhonot's hand a squeeze of thanks.

Gerrhonot responds, as usual, with ~~ happiness ~~.

Pollovic: I could distance myself from this... or I could go out on a limb to try to keep this man alive.

Seruffin: What can you do? Do you have a way to locate the fugitives?

Pollovic: No. But I could speak out in favor of keeping him alive to face due process. I might even offer him my personal protection, for whatever it's worth, if he turns himself in. Or I could exert pressure to quash the witnesses and retract the story.

Pollovic suppresses a shudder; he has never liked that sort of underhanded dealing.

Seruffin: Why would you go to such lengths for a fugitive Donor?

Pollovic: Hajene, I'm usually a pretty hardheaded politician. But I'm not sure I could sleep at night if I stood back and let a man be shot.

Seruffin: Even if he is, in fact, guilty of a sort of Genrunning?

Pollovic: It's not what Genrunning was when those laws were written.

Seruffin: Perhaps not. But if it causes your people to lose their trust in the Tecton, it might be even more damaging.

Pollovic: If he's shot, your folks will have some disavowing to do. If he lives to face due process, the Tecton gets a chance to demonstrate it doesn't stand for that sort of deed.

Seruffin: Let's hope that he can be located, then, and allowed to justify his deeds if he can.

Pollovic: I am so, so tempted, Hajene, to say my duty is done by warning you of the possible problem. And to walk away.

Seruffin: I wouldn't blame you if you did so.

Pollovic: My father was in politics for forty-three years, without ever a breath of scandal. Is this man worth it, Hajene? Is he just a bad apple, that should be allowed to fall?

Seruffin considers the question carefully.

Seruffin: The people who are most opposed to him seem to base much of their opposition on what he might do, not what he's actually done. He did seem sincerely dedicated to his profession, when I knew him, if not to the Tecton. Under the right circumstances, he could do a lot of good for the world. The reverse is also true, of course. On the other hand, the same could be said for just about anyone who is fortunate enough to have the power or position to influence events.

Pollovic studies the channel very carefully, trying to listen between the lines.

Seruffin: I rather like him, personally, but then, he's an extremely enticing Donor. I'm not necessarily unbiased in that regard.

Pollovic: When I looked at him, I thought I saw a good man. And what kind of Donor he is means nothing at all to me.

Seruffin: It is at the heart of the whole conflict, or at least the part of it on my side of the border, however.

Pollovic: What difference does that make, to what kind of person he is, or what treatment he deserves?

Seruffin: If he didn't possess such a rare talent, he could not have been used in Arat Audnes's rebellion. One could argue that his presence allowed the rebellion to occur at all. On the other hand, if that same talent could be put towards legitimate uses, it would benefit the Tecton immensely.

Pollovic: Been used. His presence. Then there was nothing he actually did.

Seruffin: He kept Arat Audnes and his daughter alive and healthy, even after it became clear that they planned an open rebellion.

Pollovic: He kept people alive. Quite some sin, wouldn't you say? ~~ bitter ~~

Seruffin: One might argue -- in fact, I have -- that by doing so he also kept alive the people who had flocked to the Dam site in search of employment. But it is true that neither Arat nor his daughter would have broken Tecton law if he hadn't at least tacitly permitted it.

Pollovic: What should he have done? Killed them to stop them? He's a Gen, after all. He couldn't just wrestle them to the ground.

Pollovic's sympathies are increasingly with Sosu Nick Reckage.

Seruffin: A good Donor can do a great deal to bring a contrary channel into compliance. Right, Gerrhonot?

Gerrhonot: I guess so. But Nick's channels were pretty scary people, especially Wise Snake.

Gerrhonot wouldn't like to be the one to try to get either of them to do something they didn't want to.

Seruffin: They were certainly difficult enough that it was very hard to find a compatible Donor who would consent to work with them.

Pollovic: Sosu, what do you think of your runaway colleague?

Gerrhonot: Um. I like Nick. He's a good guy, and a really good Donor. He felt he had to keep taking care of those two channels because nobody else could. But I was scared of Hajene Snake, and Hajene Arat could be pretty scary too.

Pollovic knows Seruffin's young Donor isn't much for brains, but he seems to have a wise heart.

Pollovic: Is he worth taking some risks for?

Seruffin is ~~ curious ~~ to hear Gerrhonot's opinion on the matter.

Gerrhonot shrugs. He doesn't have any advice for the Senator.

Gerrhonot: Um. I don't know what kind of risks it would be for you.

Pollovic: I'm not asking you to make my decisions for me, Sosu. I'm just asking what you think Sosu Nick is worth.

Gerrhonot is getting uncomfortable.

Gerrhonot: Nick's a good guy. It's bad that he's in all this trouble. At the Dam, he was in a bad situation and he was trying to do what he thought was best.

Gerrhonot has a lot of experience at trying to do what he thinks is best in situations he doesn't know how to deal with.

Pollovic: Thank you, Sosu Gerrhonot.

Pollovic appreciates that that's the most he's ever heard Gerrhonot say on any topic before. He glances at his watch. He pushes his chair back.

Pollovic: I'm afraid I've taken up too much of your time already, Hajene.

Seruffin smiles ~~ wryly ~~.

Seruffin: If you get any solid information on the location of the fugitive, I'd appreciate a warning. This situation may take a great deal of diplomacy to resolve peacefully. And for all the trouble he's been a part of, I like Nick Reckage. I don't want him to be shot arbitrarily.

Pollovic: Likewise, I trust you'll keep me posted on anything relevant that you hear. Hajene, I don't know yet what I'm going to do. I don't know what I can do. And we can still hope this latest complication will blow over.

Seruffin nods in agreement, although he's ~~ skeptical ~~.

Pollovic: I'll let you know as soon as I decide anything.

Pollovic offers his hand.

Seruffin reaches out to shake it Gen-style, this time.

Pollovic is not so distracted as to miss the gesture. ~~ appreciation ~~

Gerrhonot automatically gives Seruffin a little more support in case Pollovic's uncontrolled nager does something uncomfortable.

Pollovic gives them both a brisk nod, and turns to go. He heads back to his office, dreading what new developments might await.

Gerrhonot: I hope Nick will be okay.

Seruffin puts his head in his hands wearily.

Seruffin: So do I, Gerrhonot. So do I.

Gerrhonot gently strokes the back of Seruffin's neck. Now he's also worried about that poor channel Nick is with. What will happen to her if somebody shoots Nick?

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