Pollovic is, for once, at home during daylight hours on a weekday. It's a rare luxury, or it would be if he weren't anticipating the imminent arrival of the fugitive pair from Nivet. He received Hajene Seruffin's messenger just as he was getting out of a meeting, and cleared his calendar to hurry home right away.
Pollovic: So everything's in place, Fulberg?
Pollovic turns to look at the old family retainer.
Fulberg's face indicates that he's not entirely satisfied with the situation.
Pollovic: What's the problem?
Fulberg attempts to force himself to speak up.
Pollovic tries to look encouraging.
Pollovic: I won't bite your head off. Just tell me.
Fulberg: My father used to say, "Don't distress yourself with vain imaginings." That's advice I've always tried to follow. But I think some of those... country folks you brought here aren't up to the level they think they are up to. If you understand me, sir.
Pollovic: Any individuals in particular?
Fulberg: Jones, sir. And Bagson. They don't have what it takes for this assignment. In my opinion, sir.
Pollovic: Hmmm. I'll ask you to help me keep an eye on them, then. You do understand why I rotated some of the regular staff out, don't you?
Fulberg: Of course, sir. There's bad, and then there's worse. And when it's a matter of Simes...
Fulberg: You don't want to take any chances, sir. I recommend we... adjust to this situation, even if the staff is a little short. Sir.
Pollovic: You're not a donor yourself, are you, Fulberg?
Fulberg: No, sir. But I could be, if the Senator found it necessary.
Pollovic: I won't demand it of you. If you're genuinely willing, it would make things easier for the channel.
Fulberg: Very well, sir.
Pollovic studies Fulberg more closely.
Pollovic: I mean that. I'm not demanding it of you.
Fulberg: I understand that.
Pollovic: Did you stay in town because you're genuinely okay with living under the same roof with a Sime? Or only because you thought I couldn't spare you?
Fulberg makes the subtle facial expression which passes with him for a broad grin.
Fulberg: Yes, sir.
Pollovic: Well, which?
Fulberg: Both, sir.
Pollovic: Ah. All right, then. You're a good man, Fulberg.
Pollovic sometimes finds it easier to get comments out of a sofa cushion than out of the taciturn old retainer.
Fulberg: Thank you, sir. I attempt to provide satisfaction. Though not usually to a Sime.
Fulberg winks openly.
Pollovic chuckles, then hears a commotion in the front driveway and turns towards the entrance hall.
Pollovic: I think they're here.
Nick helps Kat down from the closed carriage which whisked them from the train station, so she won't injure her arms in the retainers.
Katsura: Thanks, Nick.
Katsura stays close to her Donor. Despite a good, though rather bland, transfer, she's still feeling pretty stressed out from her travels and adventures, as well as all the entran.
Nick casts an eye at the imposing residence in front of them.
Nick: This looks a little more civilized than Gumgeeville, don't you think?
Nick is trying hard to be ~~ encouraging ~~, but unlike Kat, he's not particularly comfortable among the obviously wealthy and powerful.
Katsura looks at the senator's mansion, and wonders how big his family is.
Katsura: It's rather grand, isn't it? And rather large, too.
Nick glances around in search of nervous out-Territory Gens, and absently notes two trees and three bushes that weren't properly pruned in fall.
Nick: Yes. Very grand. I suppose a Senator has to impress people somehow.
Katsura: Part of the job, I guess.
Katsura hopes the mansion is large enough, and solid enough in construction, that she'll be able to get away from uncontrolled Gen nagers, friendly or otherwise.
Nick leads the way towards the door.
Nick: How good is the insulation? Can you zlin the inhabitants from here?
Katsura: The stone outer walls are pretty thick... but I don't think there are many Gens in there right now.
Nick: Good. That's fewer people to object to us.
Spow has been watching the foreigners through the small window in the main door. He closes the window and opens the door.
Nick is glad now that he wore one of the Tecton uniforms he picked up at their last stop, rather than something comfortable and old.
Spow is another old family retainer, considerably older in years than Fulberg.
Spow: Hajene Katsura ambrov Satteen?
Katsura: Yes, that's me. And this is Sosu Nick Reckage.
Katsura keeps her arms under her cloak as she and Nick enter.
Spow smiles professionally.
Spow: Welcome to Castle Pollovic, Hajene, Sosu.
Katsura: Thank you, sir.
Nick smiles and nods in a friendly fashion.
Katsura isn't current with appropriate forms of address for out-T servants, so defaults to the most polite form.
Spow takes their cloaks and passes them off to another Pollovic minion.
Spow: The Senator is in his office, just upstairs. Allow me to escort you.
Katsura nods, moving closer to Nick. This Gen is outwardly calm, but inwardly he's not at all at ease.
Spow leads Nick and Katsura up the grand staircase and through the library to the door of Pollovic's office. He scratches on the door.
Nick puts a ~~ protective ~~ hand on Kat's arm, hopes that the formalities can be finished quickly, so she can shed her retainers in privacy.
Spow is actually ~~ nervous ~~ not merely because of the nature of the Senator's guests, but also because he's been reshuffled into this job on short notice.
Pollovic lets Fulberg get the door.
Spow waits for his charges to pass the door and returns to his post, just in case. He ~~ hopes ~~ he hasn't bungled it.
Pollovic rises from his comfortable desk chair.
Pollovic: Hajene Farris. Sosu Reckage. Welcome to my home. And respect to Sat-hateen, Hajene.
Nick: Thank you for having us, Senator.
Pollovic offers the fingertip-touch, which he's actually getting fairly good at.
Nick touches fingers, a little of his Gen ~ optimism ~ showing at this sign of cultural flexibility.
Katsura touches fingertips with the Senator, hoping the formalities won't go on too long.
Pollovic: This is my right-hand man, Fulberg.
Katsura: Pleased to meet you, Mr. Fulberg.
Fulberg: Hajene. Sosu.
Fulberg has practiced those titles till saying them is second nature.
Nick nods politely to Fulberg, but doesn't offer to shake hands, since that would require the man to offer the same courtesy to Kat.
Fulberg can't extend his fingers, even though he's practiced that too, unless the higher-ranking visitors do.
Pollovic: How was your journey?
Nick: Long and tiring, I'm afraid.
Pollovic: Can I offer you some refreshments? Or would you rather be shown directly to your suite, so you can freshen up?
Nick glances at Kat's retainers.
Nick: I don't want to give the impression that we don't appreciate your hospitality, but Kat has been in retainers for hours.
Pollovic: Oh, go ahead and take those off. The entire grounds are posted as Sime Territory; have been for quite some time, in fact.
Katsura looks to Nick for help, reluctant to offer her arms in case it causes the Gens distress or provokes prurient interest. She has had a pretty rough two months.
Nick puts his body between his channel and the audience, as much as possible, and reaches for the catches of the first retainer.
Katsura is grateful for Nick's tact.
Fulberg watches with his usual unflappability, ~~ ready to jump ~~ between Pollovic and the Sime if it seems necessary. He doubts it will be, but as his father so often said, "Trust, but verify".
Nick deftly slips the first retainer off.
Pollovic ~~ calmly ~~ busies himself sending downstairs for tea and biscuits.
Katsura suppresses a sigh of relief and offers Nick her other arm, while stretching her cramped tentacles out of view of Pollovic and Fulberg.
Nick busies himself with the other retainer, being particularly careful with his ~~ support ~~ as her laterals emerge, exposing her to their hosts' uncut nagers. He "disappears" the retainers into his ever-present satchel, and rests a hand on Kat's arm, tutting over the nasty red mark.
Pollovic gestures towards a group of comfortable chairs by the fireplace.
Pollovic: Please have a seat. Tea will be up shortly.
Nick wonders if the beverage will be trin, or rose hips.
Pollovic has ordered in a good supply of "Narosian Assortment" -- at ten times the in-T price.
Nick sees that they will not be free of social obligations for a while, and leads Kat to a chair.
Katsura sits, knowing that Nick chose the chair to allow his nager to shelter her as much as possible. Wonderful to have a Compan... Donor with such excellent intuition.
Nick mostly has a lot more practice supporting a channel out-T than most Donors.
Pollovic glances at the channel's forearms. Those red pressure marks look nasty. ~~ sympathy ~~.
Pollovic: My home is yours for as long as you require it.
Nick: We really do appreciate your willingness to give us shelter. I hope it isn't causing distress to your staff.
Pollovic: I've made a few reassignments. And a couple of areas of the house have been designated "private" to accommodate some staff -- Fulberg will fill you in when he gives you the grand tour. I didn't demand that all my staff donate. I'm told that shouldn't be a problem?
Katsura: I wouldn't want them to go against their consciences. I've become accustomed to out-T nondonors in the past two months.
Katsura isn't really lying, is she?
Pollovic: A few more may decide to donate to you, once they've had time to get used to you, of course.
Nick decides to spend some time with the nondonors among the staff, to see what he can accomplish within the bounds of what Kat is likely to tolerate. He knows that Kat will be able to work regular shifts, but old habits die hard, and lowfield Gens are easier on a channel.
Nick: If we can be of assistance in any other way, I hope you won't hesitate to call on us.
Pollovic: By the way, I apologize for the decor of your suite. Your people sent over several bolts of insulating fabric, and my people did the best they could with it, on short notice. I'm afraid it isn't very pretty. ~~ wry apology ~~
Nick chuckles, which makes his nager sparkle.
Katsura: I'm sure the decor won't bother us. At this point, just warm, clean and dry is wonderful.
Nick: We've seen worse, I'm sure. At least the roof doesn't leak, and it's not moving like the train.
Katsura: Yes. Just being stationary is a big relief.
Pollovic: We haven't had a quake here since my grandfather's time, so I think we can continue to offer "stationary".
Nick pantomimes intense ~~ relief ~~.
Pollovic glances up as the tea arrives. The kitchen has sent up two flavors. The packages say, if only Pollovic could read Simelan, "Orange Orgasm" and "Lilac Passion".
Pollovic: Would you like, um, the orange tag or the purple tag trin?
Katsura is surprised to be offered trin.
Nick's eyes widen as he recognizes the packaging.
Katsura: The orange, please. It's very thoughtful of you to have trin for us.
Nick: Wherever did you get Narosian blends, out here?
Pollovic: A Senator must always have his sources, Sosu. Actually, I think my chef found a little shop across the street from the Nivet Embassy.
Nick: Ah. I'll have to check it out.
Nick thinks tea is the only good thing ever to come out of Naros. He thinks it's a pity that his familial house's chief export for the past few decades has been genetic.
Pollovic: I take it Naros is especially fine? Sort of like Farris?
Nick: Trust me, there's no comparison. They do make fine tea, though.
Katsura: Naros teas are a delicacy in-T.
Pollovic is trying to remember where he heard the name "Naros" before. It seems there was something in the thick file folder Quispel handed him about these guests, but he can't quite capture the memory.
Pollovic: I've actually been developing a bit of a taste for trin, though I fear I'm not enough of a connoisseur yet to know the good blends from the bad.
Pollovic serves the tea.
Pollovic: Milk? Honey? Lemon?
Nick: None for me, thanks.
Katsura: Just as it is, thanks.
Katsura isn't going to point out that adding anything to gourmet tea like this is barbaric.
Pollovic takes care of their individual requests and then sits back to sip at a cup of heavily honeyed "Orange Orgasm".
Katsura is glad that Nick intercepted the cup and handed it to her.
Nick takes a sip of his own.
Nick: Ah. The [Simelan] Orange Orgasm [English] is up to its usual standards.
Katsura: It's very good. I haven't tasted such good trin in some time.
Katsura keeps her reaction to the Simelan name off her face, and there's no one around to zlin it, even if they could zlin through her showfield.
Nick decides that having to live in this mansion may have benefits as well as drawbacks.
Pollovic: I suppose none of us anticipated this, when we first met in that tent in Cottonwood City.
Katsura: No, indeed.
Pollovic: A terrible business, that. They're going to be a long time picking up the pieces there. ~~ sorrow ~~
Katsura: Senator... if people there petitioned the Tecton for a Sime Center, they'd probably get priority. The income could make a big difference for many who've lost so much.
Pollovic: Your people's help was greatly appreciated. If the city can be persuaded to go for such a thing, it will be largely because of the good impression your team made.
Pollovic carefully doesn't mention the impression Nick's gambling game made.
Katsura: We were glad to offer our assistance, and it was very educational for all of us to see life on your side of the border. I hope it will help some of your people to see us as not too different from themselves, even those of us who are Sime.
Pollovic: We need more such instances of cross-border co-operation. Knowledge erases fear.
Nick: Most of the time it does, yes. It certainly reduces accidents.
Pollovic: Accidents, Sosu?
Nick: Anything from berserkers to simple misunderstandings.
Pollovic: Berserkers, unfortunately, are no accidents. They're as predictable as rainfall, where there are no channels.
Katsura looks down, thinking of Norrin, and how nobody brought a child in changeover to them at Cottonwood City, although some changeovers must have occurred while they were there, with the local demographics.
Nick sets down his now-empty cup.
Nick: Let's hope that someday, no one will have to worry about that particular problem.
Pollovic: That's my life's goal, Sosu. To make Unity a reality, and not just a word on paper.
Nick: That's a worthy goal, Senator, and one that we share.
Katsura finds this puzzling, considering that Pollovic never donated until recently, but this is perhaps a customary way of speech for out-T politicians.
Katsura: There's a long way to go, but progress continues.
Nick: In the mean time, however, we have been on the train since early morning. Perhaps we should freshen up, and continue this conversation later?
Pollovic: By all means. Fulberg will show you to your rooms. Be sure to ask, if there's anything you require.
Nick: Thank you, we will.
Pollovic sets down his cup, rises, and gives a little half-bow.
Katsura nods in return, and rises.
Pollovic: Hajene. Sosu.
Nick imitates Pollovic's bow, hoping he's got the etiquette right, then places himself between Fulberg and Kat.
Nick: If you would, Mr. Fulberg?
Nick takes Kat's elbow and steers her after the retainer.
Katsura appreciates the contact and nageric protection and follows Nick's lead.
Nick hopes that they can finally get some privacy soon, so he can really work on the damage that travel has done Kat.