Katsura leans against a potting bench in the conservatory attached to Senator Pollovic's back parlor. She's watching Nick putter with the plants, and ~~ enjoying ~~ the delightful sight and scent of growing things in the dead of winter.
Nick is ~~ industriously ~~ repotting some of the roses, which in his opinion have become a bit root-bound. He shifts one victim carefully out of its pot, with due ~~ caution ~~ for the thorns, then reaches out a hand.
Nick: Pass me those clippers, would you?
Katsura hands them over, without obsessing over Gens and sharp tools.
Nick loosens the dirt ball, and begins trimming back the roots.
Katsura and Nick have been doing evening and overnight shifts at the main Sime Center which gives her a good deal of work in the evening, and Nick a chance to nap later on, while they wait for a night time changeover patient to appear. And of course, all the local renSimes want to take transfer from her.
Katsura knows that despite the light workload, this scheduling makes them less conspicuous than they might be.
Nick is reasonably content with the schedule, although he's aware that Kat isn't getting to do the sort of challenging work to which she is accustomed.
Katsura does miss the more technical work, but so it goes. She'd like to get back home to Nivet where she can use her unusual skills more effectively.
Pollovic is warming himself by the fireplace in the main sitting room, skimming the weekend newspaper.
Fulberg is standing by, or more accurately sitting by: his experience shows that the Senator will have something or other for him to do within five minutes. Ten at the outside.
Pollovic turns the page and glances at the sports headlines, while part of his mind makes lists. He realizes something and glances up.
Pollovic: Could you please locate our house guests for me?
Fulberg: Certainly, sir.
Pollovic: Thank you.
Pollovic goes back to his newspaper and his lists.
Fulberg goes off to consult with various other staff to locate Katsura and Nick, and is told they were last seen going to the gardens. He searches the gardens quickly -- not too difficult, given the lack of tracks in the snow -- and enters the conservatory by the outside door.
Nick looks up at the gust of cold air.
Fulberg: Sosu? Hajene?
Nick: Careful! The chill will hurt the plants.
Fulberg hastily shuts the door: outside work is normally no part of his duties.
Katsura retracts her tentacles and hopes Fulberg won't display more distrust and hostility than usual.
Fulberg: Excuse me: will you be here for a few minutes? I believe the Senator would like to see you at your convenience.
Katsura looks to Nick to see if he's willing to go see their host immediately. Well, after he washes up, of course.
Nick: Oh, certainly. We can attend the Senator as soon as I can get cleaned up.
Fulberg: Very well, Sosu.
Katsura: Where is he now, Mr. Fulberg?
Nick looks a bit ~~ ruefully ~~ at his grubby hands and the dirt on the old shirt he put on for the exercise.
Nick: I hope he doesn't mind what I've been doing here.
Nick is quickly repotting the rose as he speaks, since he can't be sure that he can get back to finish before he has to change into his hated Tecton uniform for their evening shift.
Fulberg: I'm not sure exactly what the Senator has in mind. Excuse me, please.
Fulberg crosses the conservatory, avoiding the pair, and exits into the main building.
Katsura follows Fulberg with her eyes. She wishes he felt more comfortable with them. Of course, Fulberg seems to act very formal with everyone, but she can zlin his feelings about Simes and Sime-kissers.
Fulberg thinks it's a bit odd for the respected guest to be pottering about in the dirt, but it's not his place to judge. He returns to Pollovic and reports.
Pollovic nods his thanks, folds his newspaper, and heads for the conservatory. He hasn't been in here in over a year, and often forgets this part of the house exists.
Fulberg follows Pollovic at the usual discreet distance.
Nick tamps the dirt down firmly, and asks Kat for the watering can.
Katsura hands it over.
Pollovic finds the little greenhouse unexpectedly pleasant in the pale sunlight of a winter afternoon. It occurs to him that maybe he ought to pay more attention to where his dinner table bouquets come from.
Nick carefully waters the plant.
Pollovic: Hajene? Sosu?
Katsura: We're over here, Senator.
Pollovic follows the sound of voices past a screen of vines and finds the pair working.
Nick has an "oops" moment, caught as he is with his hands in the potting soil. He essays a weak grin.
Nick: I was just repotting some of the roses that looked like they could use some attention. I hope you don't mind.
Nick brushes futilely at a blob of well-aged manure on his shirt front, and ends up smearing it worse.
Pollovic: Ah, Sosu Nick. Please feel free. My mother used to work in here a lot, but I never touch the place. It's good to see someone enjoying it for a change.
Katsura: It is delightful to see and smell all this green life in the dead of winter.
Pollovic: It is, isn't it? Maybe I should come here more often.
Fulberg ~~ approves ~~ of that idea.
Katsura is amused by the Companion-like attitude.
Pollovic: You look like you really know what you're doing with those bushes, Sosu. From everything I've heard about a Donor's working life, I'm surprised you've had the time to pick up such a hobby.
Nick: Oh, it's a hobby now, but I spent a decade making my living doing this kind of thing.
Pollovic: You did? ~~ surprise ~~
Nick has already taken advantage of Pollovic's permission to tackle the next-most-abused rose.
Pollovic has temporarily forgotten this detail from Nick's file.
Pollovic: I thought Donors considered it their bounden duty to spend every waking minute, and half their sleeping ones, caring for a channel.
Nick: I wasn't a Donor at the time.
Nick reaches for the clippers again and starts to trim roots.
Pollovic: You weren't?
Nick shakes his head.
Pollovic is ~~ puzzled ~~ .
Nick: Nah, I was just another runaway refugee from the wrong side of the border.
Pollovic: What? You were born here? But I thought your father was...
Pollovic trails off, thoroughly ~~ confused ~~ .
Katsura winces on Nick's behalf.
Pollovic catches the wince.
Pollovic: Forgive me for prying, Sosu.
Nick: No, I was born in Simeland. I hopped the border to get out of my grandmother's reach.
Pollovic: Ah. Then you became a Donor when you eventually went home? I thought it was a skill you have to learn right after establishment.
Nick: It helps, but it's not absolutely required.
Pollovic: Come to think of it, Hugh Valleroy didn't, did he?
Nick winces at being compared with the founder of the Distect, again.
Katsura: Hugh Valleroy was something of a special case, but Gens can learn to be Donors at any age. However, they don't usually achieve their greatest potential if they don't start soon after establishment.
Nick supposes most Donors who start training late don't have the advantage (?!) of being tutored by an insane Farris channel.
Pollovic: Please forgive my curiosity. I'm afraid that lately I've been having to rearrange a lot of the things I thought I knew about Simes. And Gens.
Katsura: Feel free to ask us. Answering your questions is the least we can do.
Fulberg listens carefully: there may be things the Senator will miss that can be brought out when they become necessary for him to know.
Katsura: You, too, Mr. Fulberg.
Fulberg: Thank you, Hajene.
Pollovic seats himself at one end of a nearby bench, settling in for a good long chat. With a gesture, he invites Fulberg to settle his aging bones on the other end of the same bench.
Fulberg does, since it's a direct order.
Nick finishes pruning the current rose and puts it back in the pot, tamping the fresh soil down firmly.
Pollovic: You know, I've been a fierce supporter of Unity for all my political life. Or I thought I was. ~~ introspective ~~ But I thought of Unity entirely in terms of treaties and trade agreements. And Sime Centers, as featureless blobs on the distant horizon.
Pollovic gives a ~~ rueful ~~ smile.
Nick: Well, that's not entirely false. Most Sime Centers built since Unity seem to be designed by the low-bidding architect: featureless blob is a pretty good description of many.
Pollovic: Would you believe, just a few months ago, I thought I was displaying my support for Unity by actually going so far as to chat with a Sime at a wine and cheese?
Pollovic belatedly smiles at Nick's witticism.
Pollovic: I'd never been inside a Sime Center except on a politicians' tour. I'd never donated. I'd never learned to take Unity personally.
Katsura nods encouragingly.
Katsura: But now you're not only a donor, but someone who publicly advocates donation.
Pollovic: I'm supposed to be a leader. But I'm confused half the time. The things I thought I knew a few weeks ago seem hopelessly naive. What I know now will turn out all wrong in another few weeks. How am I supposed to lead?
Nick: By muddling through as best you can, because there are times when making any decision is better than making none?
Pollovic: ~~ ironic ~~ I seem to be making an entire career of "muddling through".
Katsura wonders why a successful politician twice her age is confiding in them like this.
Katsura: You can't be an expert on everything, Senator. As you learn new things, your attitudes ought to change. It's important to be flexible in your thinking.
Fulberg decides to add his voice to the chorus.
Fulberg: She's right, Senator.
Pollovic: You two are my teaching resources at the moment. I apologize if this puts a burden on you. And I especially apologize for the times I trespass onto the personal for the sake of my curiosity. Did you know, it's one of the biggest sins in politics to admit you've learned something? That your opinion has changed on anything. "Inconsistency", it's called. Inconsistency can get you slaughtered at the polls. People don't want to vote for someone whose decisions they can't predict.
Fulberg laughs inside his head.
Katsura is glad she isn't a politician. And Sectuib isn't an elected office, either.
Pollovic turns to study the aging retainer.
Pollovic: Yes, Fulberg? You twitched as if you were thinking something you weren't sure you should say.
Pollovic has known the old retainer literally all his life.
Fulberg: Sir, you once said that the safest thing to do is nothing, but if you never do anything, why take power at all?
Pollovic: Hmm. I did, didn't I? Hoist by my own petard. Or at least my own tongue.
Pollovic realizes he has no idea what a "petard" is. ~~ amusement ~~
Nick: Could you pass me that watering can, Senator?
Pollovic does so.
Nick is putting the finishing touches on his rosebush, which has a neglected top also.
Nick wets the pot down thoroughly, and replaces the rose with its fellows.
Pollovic: You're really going great guns with those roses.
Nick: I like to keep my hands busy. It's relaxing. Besides, they'll flower more, now.
Pollovic: If you ever get tired of being a Donor, Sosu, you can come here and take care of my plants for a living. Fulberg, tell him what a soft boss I am.
Fulberg gives Nick a Fulberg Look, accompanied by a raised eyebrow. It wouldn't be proper Old Family Retainer etiquette to roll his eyes.
Fulberg: The Senator is an extremely accommodating employer, Sosu.
Nick finds the interplay ~~ amusing ~~.
Nick: I'm sure he is, if he's willing to accommodate refugees like us.
Pollovic turns suddenly ~~ serious ~~ again.
Pollovic: The question is, am I too soft? If I really believe in what I'm doing, should I expect my employees to follow my lead and donate?
Fulberg: The Senator would never override the personal scruples of his dependents.
Fulberg is ~~ unshakable ~~ on this point.
Katsura: Certainly it should be a matter for each person to decide for himself.
Pollovic: You believe that, even while you're the one suffering from being around all these high-field non-donors?
Nick feels a touch ~~ guilty ~~ that he is the cause of Kat being in such a situation.
Katsura: My discomfort is a minor thing compared to someone else's conscience. Nick takes good care of me, and I have plenty of opportunity for privacy from the staff.
Katsura isn't going to complain about the laughable level of nageric insulation in her rooms. Fortunately they are far from the staff quarters.
Pollovic: We're building Unity, one dynopter at a time. I don't think we'll really have gotten there until no Gen can even imagine not donating. How many generations is that going to take?
Katsura: It was only a generation ago that we achieved the end of the Kill in-T. If we can end the Kill out here, we'll have made another enormous advance.
Pollovic: Yes, Simes kept their side of the bargain in a single generation. All the killers come from this side of the border now. Sometimes I think I'm trying to empty an ocean of prejudice with a thimble. ~~ discouraged ~~
Nick: Enough thimblefulls of dirt can make a dam, or form a new channel to take the water away.
Fulberg: My father used to say nothing in the world was as soft and yielding as water, but nothing could resist enough water flowing over it.
Pollovic finds Nick's comment reminding him about the Snake River dam, and Nick's role in that debacle. He pulls his straggling emotions together.
Pollovic: Are you telling me I'm all wet, Fulberg? ~~ light teasing ~~
Fulberg: No, Senator.
Nick: Not yet.
Nick threatens Pollovic with the watering can.
Pollovic: Is that any way to treat Senatorial dignity, Sosu? Or to uphold the honor of Nivet?
Nick: Ah, but I'm just a simple laborer. What do I know of Senatorial dignity or Nivet's honor?
Fulberg: That could be arranged, Sosu.
Pollovic: My staff take excellent care of me, Sosu. You won't get away with a thing around them.
Nick gives a theatrical sigh of ~~ resignation ~~.
Nick: I can see that I won't.
Fulberg gets up too, but is ~~ thinking hard ~~.
Pollovic: I suppose I should go and get some work done -- oh. That reminds me. The reason I wanted to see you.
Nick wonders if Fulberg informed his master about the snowball fight.
Pollovic: I'm having a small dinner party, about sixteen people, four days from tonight. As my house guests, you'd be welcome to attend, of course. But if you want to stay unnoticed, you'll have to either stay out until it's over, or be home before it begins and stay upstairs the rest of the evening.
Katsura: We'll be working an evening and night shift again then, so we'll be out.
Katsura is glad she has a good excuse to avoid what would surely be a most uncomfortable experience, even with Nick's assistance.
Katsura: And it might be better not to advertise our presence here, either.
Katsura thought that was the understanding Seruffin had with Pollovic.
Fulberg nods slightly. Courtesy is one thing, but breaches of security are quite another.
Katsura: It's kind of you to invite us, though.
Katsura makes a belated stab at politeness.
Pollovic: I had a feeling you'd prefer to stay out of sight, but I had to ask. By the way, it seems rather odd to me that you're here to hide, but are visible to every Sime within zlinning range, every time you work another shift.
Katsura: I have to work, or my health would suffer.
Katsura isn't going to say she'd die, even though it's true.
Katsura: I suppose we all have a sort of understanding of what to ignore.
Pollovic: Have you encountered any... unpleasantness... yet?
Katsura looks to Nick, who's the more likely recipient of odium from the poorly informed.
Nick shakes his head, indicating that he hasn't heard any pertinent rumors.
Katsura: We've been fairly successful at keeping a low profile so far.
Pollovic: Ah, good. Well, I should go and try to get some work done.
Pollovic turns to leave.
Fulberg makes his decision.
Fulberg: A moment, Senator?
Pollovic: Certainly, Fulberg. What's on your mind?
Fulberg turns to Katsura.
Fulberg: I believe it would be appropriate for me to donate. Are you willing to take my donation, Hajene Katsura?
Katsura is a little taken aback.
Katsura: Here and now, Mr. Fulberg, or would you prefer to come to the Sime Center?
Pollovic is ~~ amazed ~~ and ~~ delighted ~~ .
Nick is not quite so ~~ floored ~~ by this request as to forget to ~~ support ~~ his channel.
Fulberg: I think here would be -- more straightforward. Perhaps at the end of my duty shift? The Senator may have other things for me to do at present.
Pollovic: I'll leave, to give you privacy if you wish. Take all the time you need, Fulberg.
Pollovic turns to go.
Pollovic: I appreciate the magnitude of this, Fulberg.
Fulberg: Thank you, sir.
Pollovic exits through the inside door.
Nick cleans the dirt off his hands, and dries them on a slightly used towel.
Katsura: May I sit next to you on the bench Mr. Fulberg?
Fulberg: Of course, Hajene.
Katsura sits, her hands in her lap, tentacles retracted.
Nick moves with his channel to stand behind her, and drops his hands onto her shoulders for better ~~ support ~~.
Fulberg remains ~~ calm ~~ now that the die is cast.
Katsura: Donation is a very simple process. I'll take your hands, hold your arms snugly with my tentacles, and touch my lips to yours. The whole process will take only a minute or two, and you won't feel anything.
Katsura zlins Fulberg carefully, noting how calm and willing he appears to be. She's surprised by his decision and wonders what's behind it.
Fulberg can't bring himself to say "Hajene" in this context.
Katsura: Do you have any questions before we begin?
Fulberg: No, Hajene.
Katsura: May I take your hands?
Fulberg offers his hands in lieu of replying.
Katsura takes his hands gently.
Katsura: Now I'll extend my tentacles and hold your arms with them....
Katsura does so.
Katsura: Next, my lateral tentacles. The contact may feel a bit strange, but it won't hurt.
Katsura tightens her hold and positions her laterals.
Fulberg is ~~ startled ~~ by the feel of the contact, but not afraid; he quickly returns to his dedicated ~~ calm ~~.
Katsura is impressed by the Gen's emotional control.
Nick is poised to block the other Gen's field, but is glad that he doesn't have to.
Katsura: Next the lip contact, for about a minute or so. Please try not to move -- you could hurt me.
Katsura slowly bends forward and rises slightly to make the contact, glad of Nick's strong, solid support. She leans a little harder on it than usual.
Katsura evaluates Fulberg's health. He's in good shape for a man his age. She slowly takes a GN-3 donation, then relinquishes contact.
Nick breaths a quiet sigh of ~~ relief ~~ when the donation proves uneventful.
Katsura: Thank you, Mr. Fulberg. You've provided enough selyn to sustain someone's life for a month. I'll bring you your fee tomorrow morning when we get back from work.
Katsura figures she better bring a sheaf of forms back with them as well, or the Controller will be annoyed at her taking such informal donations off-site.
Fulberg: Thank you, Hajene. I'll return to the Senator now.
Nick: I'm curious, Mr. Fulberg. What prompted you to donate this afternoon?
Fulberg: I prefer not to say, Sosu. However, I think you may well find some additional donors among the staff now.
Fulberg remains ~~ controlled ~~ and ~~ calm ~~.
Katsura: Their donations will be welcome.
Fulberg: Thank you in advance, Hajene. If you'll excuse me now?
Katsura: Of course.
Fulberg gets up and walks through the inside door, looking exactly the same as when he came in.
Pollovic sips at a cup of trin in his study, feeling unusually ~~ cheerful ~~ about the state of the world in general. Maybe his efforts have been worth something after all. He looks up as the study door opens.
Fulberg: All done, Senator.
Pollovic: You okay, Fulberg?
Fulberg: Quite, sir. No problems. And I think the rest of the staff will be... inspired to follow.
Pollovic: You didn't have to do that, Fulberg.
Fulberg: No, sir. But I thought it was time to do so.
Pollovic: I do appreciate it.