Seruffin leads Gerrhonot through a part of Gumgeeville that is quite a bit more prosperous than where they stayed on their first visit, at least by local standards.
Gerrhonot is on the alert for dangerous Wild Gens, ready to give his channel as much help and support as he can. His nager is full of ~~ sympathy ~~ and ~~ comfort ~~ for Seruffin, whose tentacles are no doubt getting painfully chilled in the metal retainers on this cold day.
Seruffin is ~~ glad ~~ of Gerrhonot's support. He has spent a lot of years working among what a few of his colleagues still refer to as "Wild Gens", not entirely as a joke, but there are some things about such interaction that still chill his laterals.
Seruffin starts his mental list with his right and left retainers.
Gerrhonot is looking forward to seeing Nick again, as well as Virla. So many things have changed in Gumgeeville since they were here a year ago.
Seruffin zlins a channel's nager ahead.
Seruffin: Ah, I believe I zlin Hajene Katsura in that green house ahead.
Katsura, sitting on a sofa in Virla's parlor and trying to get into an English language novel, is ~~ startled ~~ to zlin a First Order pair approaching.
Seruffin: And if I zlin her, she can certainly zlin the pair of us.
Katsura looks out the front window and sees an unfamiliar channel and Donor. She goes to the door and opens it, figuring they aren't likely to be heading anywhere else.
Seruffin is dressed in dignified fashion, despite the train ride.
Katsura figures the channel must be a Householder, judging by his age, but can't identify the House from the clothing.
Seruffin approaches the door in the equally dignified fashion he learned long ago, to avoid pinching a lateral while wearing retainers.
Seruffin: Hajene Katsura Farris ambrov Sat'htine, I presume?
Katsura: Yes. Please come in out of the cold.
Seruffin: Thank you.
Katsura gestures to the sign on the door.
Katsura: And take off your retainers!
Seruffin: That's a very welcome offer, Hajene.
Seruffin steps inside and holds out an arm for Gerrhonot to help with the retainer.
Seruffin: I am Hajene Seruffin, and this is Sosu Gerrhonot.
Katsura: Pleased to meet you, Hajene, Sosu.
Gerrhonot nods politely and ~~ gladly ~~ removes the unpleasant appliances.
Seruffin carefully retracts his laterals as they work free of the retainers, zlinning to make sure they aren't frostbitten.
Katsura can't help but zlin the state of his tentacles and extends her own laterals to offer a little ~~ healing ~~ to the abused organs.
Seruffin ~~ accepts ~~ the offered assistance, using the opportunity to zlin a bit of Katsura's health, as well.
Seruffin: We are currently working as special troubleshooters for the World Controller's office.
Katsura: I see. Please join me in the parlor where we'll be more comfortable.
Katsura wonders just how opaque she should make her showfield, anticipating a confrontation.
Seruffin follows Kat into the parlor.
Gerrhonot follows Seruffin. Hajene Katsura looks rather stressed to him, but she's probably been having trouble with entran. He knows that Nick has a lot of experience treating that condition in a Farris channel, however.
Katsura sits at one end of the room. She's heard of Seruffin, one of the few non-Householding Firsts of his age. Hiram met him in Capital recently, and was favorably impressed, so went the gossip back home.
Katsura: Can I offer you some peppermint tea?
Katsura and Nick used up the trin Bibi gave them some time ago.
Seruffin: I am sure Gerrhonot would welcome something hot, after that walk.
Gerrhonot thinks he might be an inhibiting presence in a channel to channel chat.
Gerrhonot: I can make tea for everybody.
Katsura can zlin that Gerrhonot is hungry -- he's young and still growing a bit.
Katsura: Make yourself a snack if you like. There's bread and cheese, and some baked goods.
Gerrhonot projects ~~ thanks ~~ and heads for the kitchen at the back of the house.
Seruffin looks at Kat ~~ soberly ~~.
Katsura returns the look ~~ calmly ~~ with her ~~ apprehension ~~ concealed behind her showfield.
Seruffin: As you've no doubt guessed, we're not here on a social visit. Your... disappearance has raised some eyebrows, even among those who sympathize with your reasons.
Katsura: Sectuib is aware that we're here. We've corresponded.
Seruffin raises an eyebrow.
Seruffin: He might have saved some of his allies in this matter a few sleepless nights if he'd thought to tell the World Controller.
Katsura gestures that away. She informed her Sectuib and Controller, and it's up to him what he does with the information. She's not responsible for his actions. A chain of command can be a handy thing.
Seruffin: In any case, this whole incident has been awkward for a number of people. While I have to admit that sometimes it pays to shake things up a bit, there is still a potential for something a great deal more serious than awkwardness.
Katsura: Hajene, those lackeys in Odradek doped Nick into a zombie with Pen drugs and said they intended to keep him doped indefinitely. He was accompanying me, to whom he had been assigned, back to Sat'htine. Our work in Cottonwood City was authorized by his and my Controller, Sectuib Hiram, into whose tentacles World Controller Jaklin had given him.
Seruffin: That was abominable behavior, and I share your indignation, but Nick has attracted far too much interest among far too many senior channels to be left to Firlith's tender mercies. A week or two of Pen drugs would not have harmed more than his dignity, and the two of you could have returned home to Sat'htine.
Seruffin doesn't have centuries of Householding ethics in his background, and so he tends to think more directly in terms of practicalities.
Katsura: Firlith had no right to interfere with Nick, nor any right to take my assigned Donor away from me on her whim. Nick had already been ill-treated by her clique, and I could zlin how he dreaded being put in her power again.
Seruffin: Turning yourself into fugitives did nothing to improve your case, and the surrounding publicity has uncovered some irregularities that have the potential to convince the public that Firlith was right.
Katsura keeps her ~~ sinking feeling ~~ well concealed behind her showfield.
Katsura: Sectuib supports me in my decision to protect my Com-- Donor.
Seruffin can't zlin through Kat's showfield, but he's been through enough high-level negotiations wearing retainers to have learned how to read faces.
Katsura wonders how much Seruffin's upbringing in a junct society affects his opinion that drugging a Gen into semi-consciousness is essentially harmless and quite acceptable.
Seruffin: Hajene, I am not your enemy. I'll even admit to a certain fondness for young Nick. But he does have a habit of attracting trouble, and a history of making questionable decisions.
Katsura has certainly seen that in person. She wonders if the effect is contagious, and suspects it looks like it from Seruffin's point of view.
Katsura: It seemed to me that Firlith's people intended to treat Nick abusively and to ignore his assignment by the World Controller to Sat'htine and Sectuib's direction. As his assigned channel, I felt that I couldn't allow that.
Katsura tries to come up with a more dignified version of "It seemed like a good idea at the time".
Seruffin: However noble your sentiments, the result was to declare to the world that you believe Nick is not innocent of the crimes for which he was arrested.
Katsura: On the contrary, I was rescuing him from a faction of vigilantes, acting outside and against the directives of the World Controller.
Seruffin is finding Kat's continued defensiveness ~~ exasperating ~~.
Katsura zlins the exasperation and wonders if there's some way of getting out of the corner she's painted herself into.
Seruffin: You are so busy trying to convince yourself that your actions were justified that you haven't spent any time considering whether they were prudent, or necessary, or an effective way to free Nick from the burden of his past.
Katsura: Hajene, I did what seemed best to me at the time.
Seruffin decides that's about as close to an admission of wrongdoing as he's likely to get from this prickly, inexperienced young Householding aristocrat.
Katsura spreads hands and tentacles.
Katsura: I don't have your experience, or Sectuib's, with such situations. If you could have zlinned what Nick was feeling...
Seruffin resists the temptation to roll his eyes.
Katsura can zlin that. ~~ embarrassed ~~
Seruffin: When I first joined the diplomatic service, one of my mentors gave me some very good advice. She told me that whenever I was faced with an emotionally loaded decision, I should consider it twice. Once zlinning, and once hypoconscious. If my solution still appeared sound, that was time enough to act on it.
Katsura: Good advice. But the issue was not just Nick's well being, but Firlith's interference in Sat'htine's affairs, and her defiance of the World Controller's intentions.
Katsura spreads tentacles.
Katsura: They were determined to take Nick away from me, from Sat'htine, and from his assignment by the World Controller. I had no way of knowing what they were going to do to him, or whether we could get him back. From what I saw, their intentions were definitely malevolent.
Seruffin: Do you really believe that both Sat'htine and the World Controller would have stood by and allowed Firlith to ruin a Donor of Nick's potential? Or that Firlith, who despite her faults has a long history of loyal service to the Tecton, would fail to obey a legal order from the World Controller to return Nick to Sat'htine?
Katsura: Our responsibility was to rehabilitate Nick. The Gen came to us in poor psychological condition, and we had made some progress with him. Allowing him to be seized by the very people who had most recently abused him would likely be the last straw for him, and the Tecton might lose him altogether.
Seruffin shakes his head.
Katsura: I knew Sectuib would sort the situation out, but it might be too late for Nick by then.
Katsura thinks it would be a bad idea to tell Seruffin how close Nick was to staying out-T when Firlith's lackey Pedro came nosing around.
Seruffin: I'm a diplomat, not a psychologist, but I've known Nick for some time. It's my admittedly inexpert opinion that learning he has powerful allies willing to defend him from Firlith would have done a great deal to convince him to stay on as a Donor.
Katsura: I agree with you there. I tried to be one of those allies and defend him in Sectuib's place. Nick is finding it almost impossible to trust anyone to have genuine concern for him as a human being. If I had left him, drugged and imprisoned by people who had already shown their malevolence for him, any progress we had made would be lost, and possibly never regained.
Seruffin: I think you underestimate Nick's flexibility, and his vocation as a Donor.
Katsura: He ignored his Donor's talent for ten years after establishment. He believes he could go out-T and abandon that vocation as he had before, and intends to if life as a Tecton Donor continues for him as it had.
Seruffin: He's certainly stubborn enough to do so, I agree. And by missing the opportunity to prove to him that he has the support he requires to face down the likes of Firlith and clear himself legally, we've missed out on what would have been our strongest argument to convince him otherwise.
Seruffin: Not to mention that World Controller Jaklin had to personally order Firlith to back down, instead of letting her present her case... and lose. Firlith naturally resents such treatment, and so her usefulness to the Tecton is diminished.
Katsura: If I had relinquished Nick to his enemies, who had no right to take him, his usefulness to the Tecton would have been lost.
Seruffin: For a week, or perhaps two, yes. Not permanently.
Katsura: I had no way of knowing how long they'd keep him, or what they'd do to him beyond treating him like a Pen Gen, as if that weren't bad enough.
Seruffin: Your Sectuib agrees with me, by the way. As does World Controller Jaklin.
Katsura lets her ~~ disbelief ~~ show.
Katsura: That's not what Sectuib told me. But what's done is done, wise or otherwise. What now?
Seruffin: Unfortunately, your jailbreak and the attendant publicity has led to closer scrutiny of your actions at Cottonwood City. And, unfortunately, of Nick's actions as well.
Katsura: My actions?
Katsura's ~~ sinking feeling ~~ returns full force, thinking about some of Nick's actions, like crooked gambling to maneuver Gens to donate.
Seruffin: Your assumption of Gen-style clothing, and your work with the Gen doctors, can be dismissed as harmless eccentricities. Some of Nick's activities, however, weren't quite so innocent. I see that you know what I mean.
Seruffin can't, of course, zlin through Kat's showfield.
Katsura is ~~ offended ~~, behind her showfield, at describing her cooperation with the Gen doctors as "harmless eccentricity". She and Nick saved a lot of lives and limbs that way. And without the Gen clothing she would have had to augment much more to keep warm.
Katsura: Nick... appears to have a tendency not to look beyond the short-term benefits of his actions.
Seruffin: I know. And he's pathologically loyal to any channel he decides to serve. That's what got him into trouble with the law in the first place.
Katsura: Not any more, I would say. In that regard, Firlith has rehabilitated him. As I said, he's very cautious with his trust now.
Seruffin: That's not necessarily a bad thing, in moderation. I zlin that his tendency to give unconditional loyalty, no matter the cost, hasn't changed, however.
Katsura: When did you last zlin him? ~~ honest curiosity ~~
Seruffin: I last zlinned him over a year ago, a few days before I left the Snake River Dam to carry warning of Arat Audnes's intentions to the World Controller. I can, however, zlin that you are in good health, despite having lived as a rogue and fugitive for so many weeks.
Seruffin: I travel a great deal myself, in a strictly conventional fashion, and I have some conception of the sort of personal loyalty and dedication that a single Donor requires to keep a channel functional under such conditions. Particularly a Farris channel. I've got a healthy respect for Nick's talent, but your condition speaks of more than that.
Katsura: Nick has performed well in a number of difficult situations. He's looked after me in a competent manner. He's somewhat fond of me, but isn't particularly loyal to me personally. He showed similar skill and reserve with other Farris channels at Sat'htine.
Seruffin: Young love. Isn't it grand?
Katsura: I admit to feeling a good bit of affection towards him, and substantial nageric attraction, but the affection is only superficially returned. His relationship with me or with any of the Sat'htine Farrises is collegial, but nothing like the obsessive sort of loyalty he had to the Audnes channels.
Seruffin decides to leave Kat with her illusions.
Seruffin: Now, then, I suppose I'd better pass on to you the scheme that's been worked out for your rehabilitation.
Katsura is ~~ attentive ~~, concealing her offense at Seruffin's assumption that his evaluation of Nick is more accurate than her own, when he hasn't zlinned Nick since a lot of very traumatic things have happened to him.
Seruffin: There have been rumors in the press about you and Nick taking donations from Gens in Cottonwood City who had perhaps not freely volunteered.
Katsura: My naztehrhai and I followed Tecton guidelines as closely as we could under the circumstances. Many donors were reluctant, forcing themselves to offer their first donations, because they had been left destitute and without a livelihood due to the quake.
Seruffin raises a placating tentacle.
Seruffin: I'm sure you did the best you could, in trying circumstances. However, it appears likely that for at least some of your donors, the earthquake wasn't the only thing leaving them destitute.
Katsura: Nick was playing cards with the locals, mostly with the intention of losing to them and paying them in essential staples -- food and clothing. Some people won't accept charity, and this was a way of getting things they required to them without offending their dignity.
Katsura sighs again.
Katsura: He got the idea of funneling money to them by persuading them to donate. The method he used...
Katsura shakes her head.
Katsura: Short range thinking. He figured these card players wouldn't be upset, and he didn't consider anyone else who might find out about it.
Seruffin: Well, he was right, to the extent he thought it through. At least, a very quiet and very thorough investigation didn't turn up any who were likely to press charges. Most had no idea that they had been manipulated. Apparently, Nick is a very convincing card cheat.
Katsura: I persuaded him to stop using that method of donor recruitment as soon as I found out about it. I thought his method of literally losing his shirt to these newly destitute but still proud people was rather clever.
Seruffin: With luck the story will be attributed to the efforts of the anti-Audnes faction to blacken Nick's reputation. Certain steps are being taken to insure this.
Katsura doesn't conceal her ~~ relief ~~.
Katsura: Good. Nick is well-intentioned but not always...
Seruffin: Prudent. And you share some of his impulsiveness, it seems.
Katsura: The situation did bring out some very intense emotions in me. I can't remember when I've ever been as outraged as when they gave Nick that slop to eat and I zlinned the drugs taking effect.
Seruffin: Be that as it may, your Sectuib and the World Controller have decided that it would be best if you did not return to Sat'htine until the press has lost interest in the matter.
Katsura: I've been doing some healing here, and taking donations on behalf of Hajene Bibi. It's controlling the entran somewhat. There's been an outbreak of the coughing sickness and I've worked on a number of babies and young children. Nick caught it too, but he's recovering well now.
Seruffin: I'm glad to hear it.
Katsura: He's still not as strong as he might be and his stamina hasn't recovered yet. He didn't have a very bad case, and it was a pleasure to work on him.
Katsura dares a nageric ~~ wink ~~, channel to channel.
Seruffin can certainly understand why any channel would like the chance to get her laterals on a Gen like Nick.
Seruffin: If he can travel, it would be preferable for you to stay at the safe house we have arranged. It is on the outskirts of New Washington, and it has sufficient security to discourage reporters.
Katsura: New Washington? ~~ surprised ~~
Seruffin: Yes. You would travel as new staff attached to me for the duration of some very delicate negotiations. Think of it as a chance to pick up some practical knowledge of what can be done using political means.
Katsura: I'll need to work.
Katsura thinks a week or two of double shifts at a busy Sime Center would be just what her secondary system needs right now.
Seruffin: That can be arranged. You'll attract less attention, we believe, in a large city Sime Center.
Katsura: Nick is well enough to travel, as long as he keeps warm and doesn't exert himself too much.
Katsura knows freight cars now, but not Sime cars.
Seruffin: Good. I'll be leaving Hannard's Ford for New Washington in two days. I trust you can join me?
Katsura: Yes, unless another baby needs hauling back from death's door, but the outbreak seems to be over now.
Seruffin nods acceptance of this condition; he might be a diplomat, but he's also a channel.
Gerrhonot, his stomach satisfied with a thick sandwich and a couple of muffins, brings mugs of tea to the channels in the parlor.
Gerrhonot smiles at the channel, pours a mug and hands it to her. She's much less intimidating than Hajene Snake or Hajene Arat.
Katsura: Thank you, Sosu.
Seruffin smiles ~~ fondly ~~ at his Donor, and strokes Gerrhonot's hand with one tentacle as he accepts a steaming mug.
Gerrhonot: ~~ happy ~~