A Walk in the Woods: Episode 13

Pollovic hurries down the familiar hallway to Hajene Seruffin's office. He's a little less sure-footed than usual; this is his third consecutive day of running on less than four hours' sleep.

Seruffin has been trying to soothe the troubled waters of New Washington since the story of the fugitives broke, and seeing Pollovic comes under that heading. He's at least been able to send Gerrhonot off for a late lunch, since Pollovic is a donor and not a particular threat, comparatively speaking.

Pollovic has just finished giving another "stall while saying nothing" statement to the press, but knows that by tomorrow he'd better have something more substantial for them. He hopes Seruffin will be able to help. He pauses outside Seruffin's office, remembering despite his current tired state that he mustn't knock, but just stand in front of the door.

Seruffin looks up.

Seruffin: Come in!

Pollovic opens the door and enters.

Pollovic: Good afternoon, Hajene.

Seruffin: Good afternoon, Senator. How can I help you? Perhaps the use of Gerrhonot's cot in the back room? You zlin like you haven't been sleeping lately.

Pollovic shrugs.

Pollovic: I wish I had the time to take you up on that. Or that I thought I'd actually get to sleep if I tried.

Seruffin: As to that, I could help you sleep, if you wanted.

Seruffin is Sime enough to find caring for a Gen more interesting than apologizing for the Tecton.

Pollovic is sorely tempted by the offer.

Pollovic: Unfortunately, at the moment there's too much I have to do.

Seruffin: Don't push yourself too far. You can't do anything about the situation if you collapse.

Seruffin speaks with the well-worn tones of a channel who's spent years having his Donors ignore such cautions.

Pollovic suspects that the channel is a fine one to talk in that regard. He staggers into a chair without waiting to be invited.

Seruffin settles for pushing a cup of tea and a plate of pastries that Gerrhonot brought in to tempt him in Pollovic's direction.

Seruffin: Help yourself. And tell me what I can do for you, if helping you sleep isn't it.

Seruffin sighs.

Pollovic nods gratefully and takes one of the pastries. It's the first food he's had time for since last night's supper.

Pollovic: I've just finished giving the press a reworking of yesterday's statement... advise due process, no extradition, urging the fugitives to identify themselves to our authorities. They won't settle for that tomorrow; I've got to have something more for them.

Seruffin: I am sorry that this has disrupted life on this side of the border as well.

Pollovic: Borders are only lines on maps. Problems, like weather, go where they choose.

Seruffin: Too true. And do damage where they choose, as well.

Pollovic: Indeed.

Pollovic finishes the first pastry and washes it down with a swallow of tea. He reaches for something that looks like a poppyseed tart.

Seruffin: In this case, I hope that not too much damage will be done to the First Contract.

Pollovic raises an eyebrow.

Pollovic: I take that to mean you haven't been sleeping much either?

Pollovic opens his mouth to take a bite of the tart.

Seruffin: I never do -- most Simes don't require much sleep. But yes, I've been working on this almost exclusively for the past few days.

Seruffin pushes a bowl of fruit towards Pollovic with the absentminded thoroughness of a channel with a good grounding in basic Gen nutrition.

Pollovic reaches for an apple with the other hand and takes a bite out of it instead.

Pollovic: Any official word from your government today?

Pollovic looks bemusedly back and forth between the apple and the tart, then takes a bite out of the latter.

Seruffin: Only that nobody seems to know where the fugitives are headed, and that the Controller who was behind the attempt to arrest Nick Reckage was called into the World Controller's Office.

Pollovic: Still no position statement, then?

Pollovic finishes the tart and goes back to the apple.

Seruffin: Our government traditionally receives more of a grace period before its leaders are required to account for its actions. It may be because it's so difficult for our politicians to get away with lying. So there's less fear of a cover-up.

Pollovic manages a weary grin.

Pollovic: A mixed blessing?

Seruffin: Yes. Also, our politicians know that there's a great deal worse than personal careers at stake if they make a truly bad decision.

Pollovic: Surely this isn't going to come to that. People aren't going to stop donating over something like this? There won't be any selyn shortages?

Seruffin: Not over this, I hope. At least if there are no further incidents connected with the fugitives.

Pollovic: Which means, the sooner they're found, the better.

Seruffin: Perhaps. I'd be just as glad if they were safely out of the way until some of the legal issues are resolved. Nick Reckage at large is too much like waving a cloth in front of a temperamental bull's nose.

Pollovic pitches his apple core at Seruffin's wastebasket and misses.

Seruffin is not surprised at Gen clumsiness, especially when the Gen in question is dead on his feet.

Pollovic: Sorry.

Pollovic bends to reach for the core and almost falls out of his chair.

Seruffin: Just leave it.

Seruffin resists the urge to augment and steady the Gen: it might be misconstrued.

Pollovic is too tired for the usual obligatory protest.

Pollovic: What exactly did Reckage do? I've read everything in our files about the Audnes Rebellion, and it comes to less than three pages. Reckage isn't mentioned at all.

Seruffin: Reckage has been rather a thorn in the Tecton's side since he established.

Pollovic raises an eyebrow ~~ curiously ~~ .

Seruffin: He was accepted into a Donor training program, and left without explanation after two weeks or so. It appears he spent the next ten years or so as a common agricultural laborer on your side of the border.

Pollovic nods thoughtfully. It would explain how Reckage and his channel might manage to vanish out there now.

Seruffin: Then he showed up again in Bender Cove, a particularly disreputable sore on the Tecton's face. He joined up with a renegade Farris channel who agreed to train him, outside of Tecton auspices.

Pollovic: Not a promising start to a career.

Seruffin: No. By becoming her Donor, he removed the last hold the Tecton had on her: the last hope it had of preventing her insanity from damaging others.

Pollovic: Insanity?

Seruffin: Yes. Wise Snake Farris was insane.

Pollovic: Farris. Then she wasn't one of those Audneses.

Pollovic knows the Farrises are generally greatly respected among Simes.

Seruffin: She was. She was the daughter of Arat Audnes, although neither she nor he knew it, at the time.

Pollovic: So she wasn't really a Farris after all?

Seruffin: The Audnes are Farrises, although they have some peculiar characteristics and history of their own.

Pollovic: So by becoming her Donor, he enabled her and her father's rebellion?

Pollovic is ~~ struggling ~~ to keep the story straight.

Seruffin: Yes. He kept both of them alive, healthy, and able to thumb their noses at the Tecton's authority. Which they proceeded to do.

Pollovic: Apart from simply working for the wrong boss, what did he do? Was he an organizer of the rebellion?

Seruffin: He had the power and the responsibility, as a Donor, to prevent his channels from engaging in active rebellion. Channels are absolutely dependent on our Donors, and a Donor who is willing to use that power can control a channel pretty thoroughly. It's usually considered unethical to do so, but the options exists, and Donors are supposed to use it when a channel does something that threatens the integrity of the Tecton.

Pollovic: It seems to me that a school dropout who spent most of his adult life picking grapes or ploughing wheat wouldn't know much about politics.

Seruffin: He doesn't. And he was fanatically loyal to the channel who trained him, until she finally betrayed him. If she hadn't, the rebellion at the Snake River Dam might have succeeded, at least temporarily.

Pollovic: So in the end, he did go against the Audneses?

Seruffin: He supported their rule throughout last winter, at least partly because both Farris channels were required for the survival of the people there. When the passes thawed, and help could arrive, he walked out on them.

Pollovic: So why is he blamed?

Pollovic considers taking another piece of fruit, but decides he'd better avoid anything with seeds or peels. He glances at the pastry tray.

Seruffin: Because he could have prevented the rebellion from even starting. Also, walking out on one's channel without notice or arranging for a replacement is the sort of behavior that gives channels nightmares just thinking about it.

Pollovic: Damned if he did and damned if he didn't?

Seruffin: Yes. A situation which he could have avoided by taking the several opportunities he'd been given to become a legitimate Tecton Donor. That in the end he recognized the mess his actions had helped cause is commendable, but it doesn't erase those actions, or the people who were harmed because of them.

Pollovic: So why hasn't he been in jail ever since?

Pollovic thinks rather uncharitably that that would certainly simplify the problem of finding the man now.

Seruffin: Because he managed to convince some critical people that he genuinely hadn't foreseen the larger consequences of his actions -- me among them. Also, he happens to have an extraordinary degree of Donor's talent. Much more than Gerrhonot, for instance. Such talent is extremely rare, and no channel wants to see it wasted.

Pollovic raises an eyebrow. He'd been under the impression that Gerrhonot, in order to be where he is with his problem, must be an extraordinarily fine Donor.

Pollovic: So you'd been trying to... rehabilitate him? And people don't like that?

Pollovic wonders whether "rehabilitate" is the word for someone who was never particularly habilitated in the first place.

Seruffin: He was sent to Sat'htine for retraining, and his critics assumed that he would be safely confined there, with no opportunity to dabble in politics or rebellions until he'd proved his loyalty to the Tecton. Those critics were justifiably incensed when he turned up in Cottonwood City instead.

Pollovic: Where, as far as I could see, he was working on exactly the things the Tecton team was sent there for... and for which my constituents were most grateful.

Seruffin: Yes. It turns out that his presence was probably an accident, since the search and rescue team was supposed to be engaged in exercises close to Sat'htine. Unfortunately, Reckage used the opportunity to engage in more questionable actions.

Pollovic: Anything you know of besides the thing about the gambling debts?

Seruffin: Isn't that enough? It has the potential to undermine decades of work the Tecton has put in to assure your people that donating is and always will be completely voluntary. It's the same sort of irresponsibility that landed him in trouble at the Snake River Dam.

Pollovic: I've sent a telegram to my constituency office, asking them to send a staffer over to Cottonwood to check out that gambling story. All we've got so far is rumor. It's hard to take official action on a rumor.

Seruffin: Unfortunately, the rumors are consistent with what I know of the man. He used similar tactics to get work for his first rogue channel, when they were fugitives. Of course, then they could simply move on to the next town, and leave the Tecton to clean up the mess.

Pollovic: Let's assume the story's accurate, then. What can we do? More specifically, what can I do?

Seruffin considers.

Seruffin: Perhaps the most valuable thing would be to do what's possible to prevent the truth or falsity of the rumors from being determined.

Pollovic is too tired to follow the reasoning behind this. ~~ puzzled ~~

Seruffin: No one has yet lodged a formal complaint, which suggests to me that Reckage's victims, if any, are not feeling particularly ill done by.

Pollovic is beginning to form a mental image of Reckage as a gutter kid with street smarts whose talents have flung him, ill-suited, into high society.

Seruffin: That means in turn that it's possible to salvage the situation without doing permanent damage to the trust the Tecton has managed to build since Unity. That wouldn't be possible if some crusading reporter finds one of the victims and plasters his story all over the media.

Pollovic: If my man from the constituency office hasn't left yet, I'll send a followup message.

Seruffin holds up a cautionary tentacle.

Seruffin: I'm not advising that your man take any ethically dubious actions. That would do much more harm than good when it was discovered. And it would be. But if he can locate Reckage's victims, extend them the Tecton's sincere apologies, and explain that the necessary trust which stopped the Unity Wars is at stake....

Seruffin shrugs.

Pollovic: Don't worry; I'm still that much my father's son. No... unethical pressure will be used. I'll tell them to send Jorkins; he's less of an investigator but far more of a diplomat.

Seruffin: Reckage is good at reading people, even if he doesn't understand politics. I expect he was careful to only blackmail prospective donors who wouldn't give his channel too much trouble.

Pollovic: Or who didn't feel blackmailed at all?

Seruffin: He'd have avoided people who were more afraid than average, or who had strong misgivings about contact with Simes, certainly.

Pollovic: Then the witnesses, and the friends they've talked to, may be more of a problem than the actual donors.

Seruffin: Yes. They will be the source of our rumors.

Pollovic absently reaches for a small square pastry with an odd design marked on the top with icing.

Seruffin: Not that one.

Seruffin reaches to block Pollovic's hand.

Pollovic: Hmmm?

Seruffin: See that symbol on the top? It has herbs in it that don't agree with Gens.

Pollovic: Oh. Um.

Seruffin: Try that one. It's filled with blueberries.

Pollovic: Thank you.

Pollovic takes the indicated pastry.

Pollovic: You know, I've known all along that Simes and Gens can't eat all the same things, but aside from not serving strawberries at mixed functions, I think that's the first example I've run into.

Seruffin: Oh, that pastry wouldn't have poisoned you. But you'd have spent the next few days spending more time occupying a chair in the Senate bathroom than the chair of your office.

Pollovic: ~~ wry ~~ It's a very ornate bathroom, all done in black marble, but I'm not quite that fond of it.

Seruffin chuckles.

Seruffin: Don't worry. That one you're eating is perfectly safe.

Pollovic: You know, I spend so much time pointing out our similarities, it's a bit odd to have to focus on one of our differences. And one that has nothing to do with selyn.

Pollovic takes a deliberate bite of the blueberry pastry.

Seruffin chuckles.

Seruffin: There are as many differences between Simes and Gens which don't have to do with selyn as there are differences between men and women which don't have to do directly with reproduction.

Pollovic finds that an odd thought.

Pollovic: You know, sometime when the pressure is off for a while, I really should visit Sime Territory and get to know some of these things first hand.

Seruffin: I would be delighted to help arrange such a visit.

Pollovic gives a wan smile.

Pollovic: Thank you. But in the meantime...

Seruffin: Yes?

Pollovic: I still need something fresh that I can give to the reporters tomorrow morning.

Pollovic isn't usually that sloppy about using the word "need" around a Sime, but he really is exhausted.

Seruffin considers.

Seruffin: You could say that you are consulting with the Tecton authorities on what is best to be done -- which you have. And then... where was that list?

Seruffin shuffles some papers on his desk.

Seruffin: Ah, there it is.

Seruffin hands the list to Pollovic.

Seruffin: This is a list of goods and services still required by people left homeless by the earthquake.

Pollovic glances at it upside down, then takes a moment longer than usual to realize what's wrong.

Seruffin: You can take it; my secretary can make another copy.

Pollovic: Thank you. ~~ curious ~~ What's the source of this?

Seruffin: It's compiled from the reports of those members of the Sat'htine rescue mission who are not currently fugitives from justice, along with official and unofficial requests from the local authorities.

Pollovic: Good. That gives me a chance to emphasize the unambiguously positive aspects of that rescue team.

Seruffin: Your people are probably assembling a similar list.

Pollovic: For our people, I'll combine the information from both lists. But for the press, I'll emphasize this one.

Seruffin: When you've told them that you're consulting with Tecton authorities about Reckage, say that you'll notify them when there is anything further on that issue to report, and say that in the mean time, there are other urgent matters which must be taken care of to preserve lives.

Pollovic knows he should have thought of that sort of move himself. Or Quispel should. Quispel must be exhausted too.

Seruffin: Pull out that list, or yours, or both, and enlist their help in advertising the most critical items and soliciting funds with which to supply them.

Pollovic: I'll do that. Thank you.

Seruffin: Remind them that there are plenty of other good stories out there, which can sell just as many papers, and actually do some good for people who are hurting.

Pollovic: And bury this story as deep as we can down the darkest available mineshaft.

Seruffin: Reporters are human, even if they like to pretend that they aren't. Most will choose to get ahead by helping people, rather than by hurting them, if given a choice.

Pollovic: Um...

Seruffin: Yes?

Pollovic: I've already broadcast a plea for the fugitives to contact our authorities. What would you like me to do if they actually do show up, before things have been sorted out on your side?

Seruffin: If they have the sense to contact you quietly, tell them to find a place to hide out until the lawyers have settled things. Preferably a place without reporters.

Pollovic: And if it can't be kept quiet? Protective custody? Jaywalking arrest? Five-star hotel?

Seruffin sighs.

Seruffin: I'd rather avoid even trumped-up legal action against them on this side of the border. It has a way of implying that they might be guilty of other things, and besides, legal records are too easy for an enterprising reporter to investigate.

Pollovic nods.

Seruffin: Perhaps an invitation to stay at a private home with a good wall and a security guard?

Pollovic realizes with a horrible ~~ sinking feeling ~~ that that's an accurate description of his own home.

Seruffin: They may have the sense to go to ground without prompting. Reckage has been on the run before, even if Hajene Katsura Farris hasn't.

Pollovic: Let's hope so.

Pollovic has long since given up hoping for the best; expecting the worst tends to yield fewer ugly surprises.

Seruffin: Now that there's a plan, you really should get some sleep.

Pollovic: Can't. Budget committee meeting in less than an hour.

Seruffin: When, exactly?

Pollovic glances at his watch.

Pollovic: Fifty-two minutes, if this is accurate.

Seruffin estimates that Pollovic's watch is running almost five minutes fast.

Seruffin: And how much time does the committee spend arranging papers, getting coffee, and otherwise wasting time before they get down to business?

Pollovic grins wryly.

Pollovic: At least twenty minutes. More likely half an hour.

Seruffin: Thats what I thought. You can grab a good 45 minutes of sleep and still make it to your meeting with plenty of time for your staff to brief you first.

Pollovic: I'd probably spend the whole time tossing and turning, and drift off just as I should be waking up.

Seruffin: Not if you let me help you get to sleep.

Pollovic: What would that involve?

Pollovic knows Simes have miracle drugs, but he doesn't want to be groggy for the meeting.

Seruffin: Just a little nageric manipulation. You're almost asleep right now.

Pollovic: In that case, I accept. Thank you.

Seruffin stands, gesturing for Pollovic to precede him into the back room where Gerrhonot naps occasionally.

Pollovic drags himself to his feet, stumbles through the doorway, and drops himself onto the narrow cot.

Seruffin: I'll make sure you're awake in plenty of time to make the meeting.

Pollovic nods.

Seruffin sits beside Pollovic on the cot and holds out his hands.

Seruffin: This is easiest if I make a transfer contact.

Pollovic raises leaden arms.

Seruffin relieves Pollovic of the burden by taking hold of the arms, lightly restraining them with handling tentacles.

Seruffin: Just think about 45 minutes from now, when you can awake refreshed and ready to handle the budget.

Pollovic nods again.

Seruffin lets his laterals extend, and starts to reach for control of Pollovic's field.

Pollovic is vaguely aware of the pleasant warmth of the Sime touch.

Seruffin leans forward to make lip contact, and the deeper nageric blending allows him to tilt Pollovic's nager towards sleep.

Pollovic drops like a brick into deep, dreamless sleep.

Seruffin dismantles the contact with a wry smile, takes a blanket from a nearby shelf and covers the Gen, then returns to his office and the endless reports.

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