Physicians Across Borders: Episode 14

Seruffin is in his New Washington office at the Tecton embassy, looking over the stacks of reports and papers that have accumulated during his last trip. He reflects that at least this last trip had the advantage of removing one possible major complication from his agenda.

Gerrhonot settles into his comfy chair in the corner and leafs through the new issue of Church of Unity Youth Monthly that arrived while he was away. It looks like it has some good stories.

Seruffin looks for some last-minute distraction.

Seruffin: Anything interesting in your magazine, Gerrhonot?

Gerrhonot: Um. There's another chapter in the story about the Householding just before the Unity War.

Gerrhonot identifies with the First Companion in the story and enjoys it very much. ~~ happy anticipation ~~

Seruffin smiles at the anticipation.

Gerrhonot doesn't tell Seruffin that he thinks the heroic Sectuib in the story is kind of like Seruffin, too.

Seruffin: It sound much more interesting than these economic figures I have to learn.

Gerrhonot projects some ~~ kindness, sympathy and admiration ~~ toward his channel. He's glad nobody ever tries to get him to understand economics.

Crynwyr ~~ steels ~~ himself for the encounter for the Big Nager. Of course, he knows the First will see right through him, but it's worth a try anyhow.

Crynwyr: ~~ request to enter ~~

Seruffin looks up.

Seruffin: Ah, that's the interruption that upset Bayvly so much. Come in!

Crynwyr does.

Crynwyr: Hajene Seruffin, Sosu Gerrhonot? I'm Crynwyr, QN-2, from the New Washington Sime Center. I, ah, have something to tell you in confidence.

Seruffin: Please, sit down. Would you like some tea?

Seruffin zlins his guest as he pours, with some ~~ curiosity ~~.

Gerrhonot remembers Crynwyr from the time he brought the artist Pigasso to him to get his field lowered so he could sketch some live Sime models for the mural.

Seruffin refreshes Gerrhonot's tea and his own, then sets the pot down.

Gerrhonot puts his magazine aside and sips tea. He doesn't expect much trouble for his channel from a QN-2. Not nageric trouble, that is.

Seruffin waits until his guest has had a sip of tea, then his ~~ curiosity ~~ gets the better of him.

Seruffin: So, Hajene, what brings you to speak with me?

Crynwyr rubs his head with fingers and tentacles.

Crynwyr: I've been doing a bit of discernment work for, umm, a high official in the Gen government. And I have a concern.

Seruffin: Discernment? What for?

Seruffin wonders if Crynwyr has been approached by some competitor to General Metals.

Crynwyr: He wanted me to convince one of his, umm, relatives that he was telling the truth. And let him know if the relative was telling lies, too.

Seruffin raises an eyebrow.

Seruffin: That's quite perceptive. Rather few out-Territory Gens would think of using a Sime to settle such issues.

Crynwyr nods.

Crynwyr: But I believe the relationship between the two is seriously dysfunctional. And for some reason I don't fully understand, my original employer has been keeping his relative Penned up.

Seruffin blinks.

Seruffin: Penned?

Gerrhonot is ~~ startled ~~ too.

Crynwyr: Well, under guard at least. At present the relative is agreeing to stay there, but I zlinned he's not happy about it.

Crynwyr reflects belatedly that he probably shouldn't use that metaphor with a Sime of Seruffin's age.

Seruffin: Is this relative of age?

Crynwyr: Yes, he is. That's the concern. High government official or not, he shouldn't be able to imprison people -- should he?

Seruffin: Not under most circumstances, I believe. Unless he's insane or otherwise unable to look after himself?

Crynwyr: ~~ cautious ~~ Well, his viewpoint is certainly unusual for an out-T Gen. You see, he believes that -- you're familiar with Gen supernaturalism?

Seruffin: Yes, at least in theory. I can't say I really understand it, though.

Crynwyr: You and me both, Hajene. Anyhow, he believes that [English] God [Simelan] has put Simes here in order to keep Gens honest. As far as I understand it, I was supposed to tell him when he was in error; unfortunately the official didn't understand the difference between zlinning lying and detecting error.

Seruffin: It's a difficult distinction to make, for many out-Territory Gens.

Crynwyr smiles in appreciation of Seruffin's subtle jab.

Crynwyr: In any case, I suppose a Gen politician might suppose that someone who actually believes in honesty is a little bit crazy, eh?

Seruffin: They do tend to value it -- in someone else.

Crynwyr laughs outright at that.

Crynwyr: But surely there is some kind of public process for determining someone's sanity -- Oh, I forgot. ~~ chagrin ~~

Crynwyr: In any case, the relative requested access to experts, and that was denied, on the grounds that experts can't keep quiet about things. So there is something unsavory about all this even by out-Territory standards.

Seruffin: Quite. I expect this politician is trying to hide something potentially embarrassing to him. I suppose having a relative of questionable sanity might lead to questioning of his own.

Crynwyr thinks a while.

Seruffin: So you were asked to zlin this Penned relative, and determine if he was being truthful?

Crynwyr: Yes. Which he was.

Seruffin: I gather from what you said earlier that this fellow has a somewhat different view of the truth than his jailer?

Crynwyr: He was even sincere when he said he would stop preaching his version of the Gen religion. But the official said he might sincerely change his mind later.

Seruffin: That's always a possibility. Especially where Gen religions are concerned.

Crynwyr: ~~ rueful ~~ Well, I discussed it with some of my mates, and they thought I should see someone in high places who could keep confidences, and so here I am.

Seruffin: You think there should be some intervention by the Tecton, as opposed to the New Washington police?

Crynwyr: I did say a high official in the Gen government, Hajene.

Seruffin: You are afraid that the Gen authorities might not respond?

Crynwyr: Indeed.

Seruffin: Well, perhaps you're right. You know the situation better than I do. What sort of intervention on my part would be effective? Notifying some of the Senators of the problem, perhaps?

Crynwyr ~~ hesitates ~~.

Crynwyr: It is a Senator I'm referring to, Hajene.

Seruffin blinks in ~~ astonishment ~~.

Seruffin: Truly?

Crynwyr reluctantly decides to Tell All.

Crynwyr: Senator Tsibola, in fact.

Crynwyr ~~ cringes ~~ nagerically, expecting Trouble.

Seruffin: Tsibola? Is holding a relative prisoner? And hired you?

Crynwyr: Yes. Yes. And yes.

Seruffin: You're right. Tsibola could probably quash an inquiry.

Crynwyr sighs.

Crynwyr: I was afraid you'd say that. Is there anything at all to do? Quite apart from the legalities, the two of them are pushing each other further away from normality the longer they remain locked together. At least, that's what it zlins like to me.

Seruffin: Well, if you went to the press, the other Senators might feel compelled to take action. Of course, the relative might suffer in the process.

Crynwyr: ~~ worry ~~ That's not all that might suffer, Hajene.

Crynwyr points to himself with one tentacle.

Seruffin: Well, yes, that's true. Although Tsibola's influence isn't large in-Territory, neither is it nonexistent.

Crynwyr: Not to mention that I'm sure my Controller wouldn't be happy if I were sent home in disgrace.

Seruffin: The other possibility is to convince the Senator and his relative to settle their differences. Unless the relative really is dangerously insane?

Crynwyr: That would of course be better. I know this is a blue-sky idea, but what if the two of them, Tsibola and Craig, were able to get some sort of counseling from one of our Mind-Healers? I told them I would look into the possibility, since obviously I'm not trained for it myself.

Seruffin: A mind-healer? Most of them work in big-city Sime Centers. I don't know if Tsibola would be willing to go to Sime Territory, but I do know that the paperwork for arranging it would be a nightmare. He's taken a vow never to enter a Sime Center, or to donate.

Crynwyr: And presumably none of those would have experience with out-Territory Gens, anyhow. ~~ chagrin ~~

Seruffin: It's true that out-Territory Gens are rather an odd specialty for a mind-healer, but I do know of one who has some relevant experience. I don't know if he's available, or interested in taking on another case. But I didn't think he'd take on the other case I dangled in front of him, either.

Crynwyr: ~~ oh really? do tell! ~~

Seruffin: It was a Simephobe with Donor potential, who wanted a relationship with his channel son. Not a case I would have wanted to tackle, I assure you.

Crynwyr: Nor I, Hajene, nor I.

Bayvly opens Seruffin's office door and sticks his curly red head in.

Seruffin looks up.

Bayvly: Hajene Seruffin, the Senator is here.

Seruffin: Ah, good.

Crynwyr: Well, I suppose -- the Senator? ~~ alarm! ~~

Seruffin was zlinning past Crynwyr's channel's field to discern Bayvly, and ~~ flinches ~~ at the onslaught before he can regain control of the ambient.

Gerrhonot comes alert and offers ~~ support ~~ to Seruffin.

Seruffin: Please, Hajene. Not that one.

Crynwyr: My apologies, Hajene. ~~ chagrin again ~~ I should take my leave, then. If you hear of anything useful, please do let me know.

Seruffin: I will write to D'zoll, and ask him if he'd be interested in taking on this case.

Crynwyr: Thank you very much. And if you think any other action is applicable -- please don't let me know.

Crynwyr smiles.

Seruffin: I will be careful to keep you in ignorance.

Crynwyr represses a chuckle.

Crynwyr: Goodbye, Hajene, Sosu.

Crynwyr gets up and goes out, closing the door carefully behind him.

Pollovic passes Crynwyr in the hall with a polite nod but no trace of recognition. He approaches Seruffin's door and waits to be admitted.

Crynwyr heads back to work, ~~ relieved ~~ that the experience was no worse.

Seruffin gets up and opens the door.

Seruffin: Come in, Senator.

Pollovic: Thank you, Hajene.

Pollovic comes in and takes the indicated seat.

Seruffin: Tea?

Pollovic: Yes, please.

Seruffin pours tea, and places a plate of Gen-friendly goodies within easy reach.

Pollovic is almost developing a taste for trin. He certainly drinks enough of it lately. He starts to reach for a pastry. Then, remembering the incident on a previous visit, he glances at the channel to make sure the one he's reaching for is safe for Gens.

Seruffin: Yes, those are safe for you. I already ate the others.

Pollovic smiles and takes the pastry.

Pollovic: I got your message about our guests being delayed, but you didn't say by how much. Has something happened?

Pollovic really doesn't need any more headaches over Nick Reckage and Katsura Farris. He's been burning the candle at both ends too much lately, anyway.

Seruffin: Yes, but nothing to worry about. There wasn't a good match for either of them here, just now, so they had to go elsewhere for transfer.

Pollovic: Oh. Okay.

Seruffin: They'll be here in a few days, at which point your assistance will be most welcome.

Pollovic: I think everything is in place at my end, but I did want to go over the arrangements with you one more time.

Seruffin: The main concern is to keep them isolated from in-Territory enemies and reporters.

Pollovic: I've beefed up perimeter security on my estate by twenty-five percent. Good loyal family retainers, every one of them. There shouldn't be any leaks. Three of my household staff, by their own request, have been transferred to other assignments for the duration.

Seruffin: They didn't want to work in the same house as a Sime?

Pollovic nods.

Pollovic: Their replacements are all volunteers, from my country house. They've simply swapped jobs.

Seruffin: Were they upset enough about the prospect to go to the press?

Pollovic looks ~~ grim ~~ .

Pollovic: They all know what happened to the last family employee who broke confidentiality. That was several years ago, but they remember.

Seruffin considers, then nods.

Seruffin: I doubt our fugitives' enemies would pay enough to make the risk worthwhile.

Pollovic: I don't like ruining a man's career, but I'll do it if the situation warrants. My people all know that. Anyway, the ones who stayed are aware of the situation, and are staying voluntarily.

Seruffin: Good. Are any of them donors?

Pollovic: Some are. Less than half, though. I didn't require that of them; I figure it's a matter for a man's own conscience.

Seruffin: Of course. I was just wondering how likely they are to be at least somewhat comfortable around a Sime.

Pollovic shrugs.

Pollovic: I'm sure it will vary. I've already had a request from my cook that Simes stay out of the kitchen, and the stairwell leading to the servants' quarters.

Seruffin smiles a little ~~ wryly ~~.

Seruffin: I doubt Hajene Katsura has any more interest in food than any other Sime.

Pollovic: Just so long as she doesn't go on a personal quest for snacks to tempt her Donor.

Seruffin chuckles.

Seruffin: That's hardly likely. Nick Reckage is still a young man, with the appetite that implies.

Pollovic grins.

Pollovic: So I should tell the cook to get in extra supplies?

Seruffin: Perhaps. I don't know young Nick's preferences, however, so it might be better to wait until he gets here to lay in extra supplies.

Pollovic: My cook already knows what foods Simes can't or won't eat; you're not the only Sime guest I've invited to my dinner parties. I've passed along your list of the Farris allergies, and I'm assured it's been taken care of.

Seruffin: Good.

Pollovic: The insulating fabric you sent over has been draped in the guest suite. Somewhat inelegant, but it should at least be functional.

Seruffin: I do want to stress that our young fugitives aren't prisoners, although I expect that they'll spend most of their time taking advantage of that insulation.

Pollovic: Unless I have guests in -- and I do have a couple of functions scheduled in the next two weeks -- they have free run of the house, except for the kitchen and the back stairs. The north side of the grounds is completely invisible from outside. And if they choose to risk leaving the grounds, they can take one of my security men with them or not, as they see fit.

Seruffin: They will also be working shifts in the Sime Center close to the campus, where they're less likely to run into anyone who'll recognize them.

Pollovic: A vehicle with a fully curtained passenger compartment will be at their disposal, round the clock.

Seruffin: Good. I do appreciate your willingness to help out in this instance.

Pollovic shrugs.

Pollovic: So long as we don't have a PR blowup -- and we shouldn't -- it's not a burden. ~~ mild prevarication ~~

Seruffin accepts the assurance in the spirit it was given.

Pollovic: So what am I forgetting, in the way of preparations?

Seruffin: They may require some clothing and incidentals, although I expect they'll have taken care of some of that before they get here.

Pollovic: That's easy enough to manage.

Seruffin: I also have some pamphlets, if any of your staff care to read them. You've seen them before.

Seruffin pushes several copies of the standard Tecton pamphlets about how to behave safely around Simes across the desk.

Pollovic: I'm one step ahead of you. I grabbed a batch of them from your front lobby, on my way in here.

Pollovic gestures towards his brief case. He feels a bit ~~ proud ~~ of himself, that he's been faster than a Sime at anything.

Seruffin chuckles.

Seruffin: Well, then, this should go smoothly.

Pollovic: In return, of course, I'm expecting red-carpet treatment when I come to Nivet playing tourist. ~~ teasing ~~

Seruffin: Of course, of course. Truly, Nick Reckage is a charming young man, and Katsura Farris is quite pleasant also. I think you'll enjoy them both.

Pollovic: I do hope so.

Seruffin: If they do create any problems for you, let me know, and I'll see what can be done about.

Pollovic nods.

Pollovic: So you'll send a runner ahead to let me know, as soon as our guests arrive in town? And then deliver them to my gates in a plain brown wrapper? On second thought, make it two runners. One to me, no matter where I am at the time. And one to the house.

Seruffin: Yes. Fortunately, your neighbors can't zlin. Otherwise, this would be much more difficult.

Pollovic looks thoughtful.

Pollovic: Just how do you manage intrigues of this sort, in a city full of Simes?

Seruffin: By misdirection, knowing where the bodies are buried, and occasionally by simply telling the truth.

Pollovic grins.

Pollovic: So that nutcase Craig is wrong? Keeping a few Simes around won't force us all into a permanent state of hypertruth?

Seruffin: Craig?

Pollovic: The preacher. A relative of Tsibola's, I think; used to do some of his strongarm stuff. Got religion, and founded a new church. The Church of Sime Truth. Wants to use Simes as lie detectors, and force us all to be honest. All the time.

Seruffin makes mental notes while smiling and nodding.

Seruffin: Well, I wouldn't think such a church would catch on very quickly.

Pollovic: I don't know. The whole idea of catharsis, of coming completely clean about whatever guilts you've been saving up, has a certain emotional appeal. I could see it catching on, especially among folks who don't have a lot to lose.

Seruffin: In my experience, very few Gens raised on your side of the border are really comfortable knowing that their emotions are easily zlinned. The habit of hiding them is too strong.

Pollovic: Well, I guess we'll find out. Poor Ruthven will certainly be happy if Craig goes down in ruin, that's for sure.

Seruffin: I'm sure he will.

Seruffin is glad that Pollovic is not capable of zlinning him, just now.

Pollovic: Would you believe, the man started his preaching career on the steps of the Senate, telling the world that Tsibola's niece survived changeover? And is alive and well in Nivet, with Ruthven writing letters to her? ~~ amusement ~~

Pollovic: You certainly can't fault him for lack of nerve. But whatever sense of The Rules he once had is obviously long gone.

Seruffin: Indeed. It does seem... indiscreet.

Pollovic: Ruthven was furious. I'm surprised you hadn't heard. It happened while you were in town. And it was quite the scene.

Seruffin: I'm sure.

Pollovic stifles a yawn.

Pollovic: Sorry. I assure you, I'm not bored by your company. Just tired.

Seruffin is, like any channel, ~~ solicitous ~~ of Gen weaknesses.

Seruffin: It has been a busy few weeks, hasn't it? I hope that when winter is over, and people can get outdoors again, they'll have less opportunity to get into mischief.

Pollovic shrugs.

Pollovic: I'm sure the Budget Committee will still be dragging on, winter or summer. By the time this year's budget is settled, it will be time to start on next year's.

Seruffin: Think of it as guaranteed employment.

Pollovic: It's a prestigious committee, and I don't want to give it up. But it does take up a lot of time. And speaking of guaranteed employment, it won't be long before I have to start gearing up for the next election, too. We wouldn't want Corbin in in my place, would we?

Seruffin: He would be more difficult to work with.

Pollovic: ~~ wry ~~ You have a gift for understatement, Hajene. I think the man believes Unity was a false rumor.

Seruffin: I'm surprised he'd make a run in a district like yours.

Pollovic: He doesn't have to be popular. He just has to be less unpopular than I am. As the incumbent, I'm in the public eye. Every mistake I make is seen and remembered.

Seruffin: Well, let's hope you don't make too many mistakes then, for both our sakes.

Pollovic: I didn't inherit the family genius for politics, Hajene. I just muddle along, doing my best. Sometimes my best isn't good enough. ~~ discouraged ~~

Seruffin: And sometimes it is. Unfortunately, there's no way to distinguish the two situations before trying both.

Pollovic: Unfortunately. You know, I think maybe Craig's got a point. When I know you can zlin my emotions, it just encourages me to spill my guts. I'm sorry to burden you, Hajene.

Seruffin shrugs.

Seruffin: You unburden to me, I unburden to Gerrhonot, and Gerrhonot...

Seruffin looks at his Donor.

Seruffin: To whom do you unburden yourself?

Gerrhonot smiles and projects ~~ happiness and devotion ~~ to his channel, who is always willing to take a moment to help and advise him.

Return to Table of Contents