Bernice inspects her husband, who has dressed casually for this meeting with two senators from his party at his home.
Bernice: You look good, Ruthven. Much less pale.
Bernice knows that her husband isn't supposed to be up, but he refuses to talk to visitors from his bed.
Tsibola: I'm not dead yet, despite everything.
Tsibola seats himself in the armchair in his sitting room, trying to hide that walking the short distance from his bed has made him short of breath again.
Bernice: Of course. But you do have to take it easy for a while or this could happen again.
Bernice hopes Ruthven got enough of a scare to make a real effort to stay calm.
Tsibola remembers tentacles sliming across his chest, and shudders.
Tsibola: I sincerely hope not. Those pills are supposed to prevent that, aren't they?
Tsibola is a little ~~ peevish ~~, as well as thoroughly tired of being an invalid.
Bernice: Perhaps you should take another dose of the syrup before they arrive?
Bernice knows that the purpose of the syrup is to enforce calm on her husband, and ensure he rests.
Tsibola: No, I don't think so. It makes me groggy, and I don't want them thinking I've turned into a senile old man.
Tsibola not-so-secretly ~~ fears ~~ exactly that.
Bernice: Far from it, dear. You're as sharp as ever.
Bernice pats his shoulder.
Tsibola: As long as I don't take the syrup, yes. And now, I believe that's our guests arriving.
Bernice would like to make him promise, again, that he won't let himself get upset, but figures at this point it will just seem like nagging and have the opposite effect.
Rundle puts on his most grave demeanor, glances at his fellow senator, then knocks at the door.
Bernice: Come in, gentlemen.
Bernice stands at her husband's shoulder, in an appropriate pose.
Rundle enters and nods to the Tsibolas but does not offer the usual handshake.
Rundle: Ruthven. Bernice.
Tsibola: Good afternoon to both of you.
Doyle: Afternoon, Tsibola, Mrs. T. How are you? Or should I say, how is he?
Bernice gestures towards Ruthven, making it clear that he can speak for himself.
Tsibola: I'm still not allowed out of the house, but that will come with time, I'm told.
Rundle: Just as well if you're not seen for a while, I should think.
Tsibola: How bad is it?
Doyle and Rundle speak together.
Rundle: Bad, Ruthven. Very bad.
Doyle: Bad enough, Ruthven. First the Pollovic business, and now this ... The hornet's nest has been turned over and no mistake.
Bernice: Perhaps you'd prefer he were dead, to him having accepted first aid from a channel?
Tsibola: Perhaps you would give me some more details, Rundle? For some reason, the staff seems to have misplaced the papers, lately.
Tsibola looks pointedly up at his wife.
Rundle manages a small grunt of humor.
Rundle: It might spare the party a great deal of difficulty if you were to read those headlines, Ruthven. The dead receive sympathy.
Bernice finds that in poor taste, but says nothing.
Rundle seems not at all troubled by the thought of giving his colleague another heart attack.
Tsibola: They were writing me off, then?
Doyle has long ago written off Rundle when it comes to having a sense of decency.
Rundle: Let's just say that as a live hypocrite, you are a considerable embarrassment to the party.
Doyle: Senator, that's outrageous. Senator Tsibola is your host.
Doyle is really angry.
Bernice: Hardly a hypocrite. He was unconscious. I'm the one who gave Seruffin permission to save his life.
Rundle: That small detail seems to have escaped the attention of the media.
Bernice: Well, perhaps we should tell them differently. I'm entirely willing to take the blame. Hysterical women, you know.
Tsibola: I appreciate your willingness to take the blame, Bernice, but in truth, I'm glad to be alive. Even if the mechanics were -- unpleasant. And that does make me a hypocrite of sorts. If only after the fact.
Bernice: The point is that it wasn't your decision. At the time. As far as being glad to be alive -- well, perhaps you'd have recovered on your own if I'd refused Seruffin's offer on your behalf.
Rundle watches the two Tsibolas, glancing from one to the other as they speak.
Bernice gives Rundle a Look.
Bernice: Clearly my judgment was impaired.
Tsibola: Neither Seruffin nor Dr. Young seem to think so.
Bernice: Well, the truth isn't so easy to determine in these cases, so I'm entirely willing to take all the blame and the political consequences.
Doyle shakes his head.
Doyle: I'm afraid whatever harms you, harms Senator Tsibola equally. It does him no good at all to shift the matter on to you. This Dr. Young, would he be willing to make a statement for the press? We can always employ the necessity defense, or the public-relations version of it.
Tsibola: I appreciate your efforts at damage control. I will have to consider whether to use them. In part, that depends on whether I recover sufficiently to resume an active political life.
Rundle: Hmm, yes.
Doyle: Of course that's so.
Doyle is surprised to find himself actually agreeing with Rundle.
Doyle: If not, I'm sure the party will find a suitable role for you.
Doyle: Ambassador to Nivet, perhaps.
Rundle controls a shudder.
Bernice pats Ruthven's shoulder, hoping he'll take it as a joke, and not get annoyed.
Tsibola snorts ~~ impatiently ~~ at what he assumes is a joke.
Rundle: A suitable fate, perhaps.
Bernice glares at Rundle for his rudeness.
Tsibola: What role I play depends, in part, on whether my constituents are still willing to have me serve them. And on whether I can do so effectively.
Rundle: Which depends largely upon what spin we put upon the incident.
Tsibola: Probably. From what you said, the press is in full attack mode?
Rundle: Some are attacking, some crowing in glee. Which amounts to the same thing, as far as our supporters are concerned.
Tsibola: True. What is the sense of the party?
Doyle: Depends on if you ask him or me, really. We're hardly united on the subject.
Rundle: Shock, disappointment. From some, a suspension of judgment until they hear your side of the story.
Doyle: Well put, I suppose.
Rundle glances at Doyle.
Rundle: From your point of view, what reassurances would you trust now?
Rundle makes it clear from his tone that nothing could restore his own trust at this stage.
Tsibola: You believe I should retire, then?
Doyle doesn't wait for an answer to that.
Doyle: I'd trust Senator Tsibola's assurances, which are obviously true and sincere, that he never intended what happened to him, and that it's what he does intentionally, not what happens to him beyond his control, that matters. That's just speaking for myself.
Rundle: And no doubt you would tell me that those who share my views are in the minority.
Doyle: I think it's easy to see that just by counting the floor. Your supporters may still be the party base, but if so we are standing on a shrinking pedestal.
Tsibola: I take it, then, that the opposition is gleefully taking full advantage of the situation?
Rundle: Your friend Brenn Pollovic is distressingly cheerful. The public eye has been taken off of him. And he seems to be saving you a chair on the other side of the aisle.
Tsibola: He's delusional.
Doyle: I think that was the Senator's idea of a witticism, Senator Tsibola.
Tsibola: My opinions haven't changed. And I'm not so desperate for power at all costs that I'd walk across the aisle for the sake of staying in the Senate.
Rundle raises an eyebrow -- which is as close as he's likely to come, in the current situation, to genuine laughter.
Rundle: That seems ungrateful to the snake who supposedly saved your life, Ruthven.
Doyle: As for Senator Pollovic, his only real delusion is that he still thinks he's going to marry my daughter.
Rundle: You mean there's still someone in your household, Doyle, who's neither a Sime nor a kisser of Simes?
Bernice's hand tightens on her husband's shoulder, reminding him not to get incensed, even at Rundle's outrageous behavior.
Tsibola: That was unnecessary, Rundle. My wife is present.
Rundle knows why he was one of the two chosen for this task. Bad cop. He enjoys the role.
Rundle: And your wife has no great dislike of Simes either. Or did not, a few days ago.
Bernice: Unlike you, Seruffin at least has manners.
Bernice's voice could freeze brandy.
Doyle: Indeed. If Senator Tsibola will not, I will demand an apology to Mrs. Tsibola.
Rundle shrugs. It's almost time to stand back now, and let the Good Cop woo the Tsibolas back to the straight and narrow.
Rundle: If my language offended you, Bernice, I am sorry.
Rundle does not apologize for the sentiment behind it.
Tsibola has spent long enough in the Senate to recognize a non-apology when he hears it, but etiquette doesn't allow him to protest.
Bernice gives him an obviously insincere smile.
Bernice: I'm sure you couldn't help yourself.
Bernice knows how to make an outwardly sympathetic comment into an insult.
Rundle eyes her coolly.
Rundle: A distraught and loving wife, still fearful for her husband's survival... yes, it's best if the stories we give the press have some basis in fact.
Bernice makes a gesture inviting him to go ahead. She knows who her friends are.
Tsibola: You know I won't countenance falsehoods. Not on something as important to my constituents as this.
Rundle: You deny that your wife made the decision while you were unconscious?
Bernice: I did fear for his life, and took it on myself to authorize Seruffin to try to save it. That's the truth.
Tsibola: If my constituents can't accept that, they can and must find another Senator to represent them.
Doyle: Which is to say, one of your cousins.
Doyle is aware of the cousin or two breathing down his neck, should he make a mistake.
Rundle looks thoughtful. But none of Ruthven's cousins, really, measure up to the man himself. Witness the unfortunate matter of Andrew Craig.
Tsibola doesn't think that any of the candidates are as good as he is, or was, but that's not up to him to decide, in the final analysis.
Rundle: Given that you still seem to have friends within the party, Ruthven, I am sure something can be done to retrieve the current situation.
Doyle notes this flip-flop with interest.
Rundle is careful not to promise that Ruthven will retain his seat.
Tsibola: I'm glad to hear it, and I am of course happy to continue serving, my health permitting.
Rundle: Then I shall leave the three of you to work out the details of a public statement. I fear that I am already overdue at a committee meeting.
Rundle makes a great show of beginning to button his coat.
Bernice: The footman will see you out, senator.
Tsibola: Tell them you did a good job presenting their message.
Doyle chuckles hollowly.
Tsibola's tone is a bit ~~ ironic ~~, as he has acted as a similar messenger more than once.
Rundle: Good day, gentlemen... and Bernice.
Rundle leaves, with one last cool glance back.
Bernice sighs with relief.
Bernice: His father would turn over in his grave to hear the way his son speaks.
Tsibola: Oh, at least part of that was an act. Not that the warning wasn't real enough.'
Doyle: If it was an act, Senator, it was a very bad act indeed.
Doyle smiles sourly.
Tsibola: So what message were you instructed to give me?
Doyle: That there are still people who matter who don't think we can afford to lose you. But you already know that.
Tsibola: I've been compromised, Doyle. I wouldn't be as effective as I've been.
Doyle: That's not the issue. The issue is whether, even at reduced effectiveness, you will be more effective than any plausible replacement. And we think so.
Bernice: Honestly, you men are acting like Seruffin infected him with some disgusting social disease.
Bernice: I don't see how Ruthven can be blamed for what happened when he was unconscious.
Doyle: I see that, Mrs. Tsibola. And I see how unfair it looks. And yet.
Tsibola: And yet, a lot of people saw me being helped by a source of assistance I've worked to deny to others.
Doyle: Particulars are a different matter from general rules. I wouldn't object, for example, to my daughter marrying some Liberal.
Tsibola: You've decided to quash the engagement?
Doyle: Well, no. I've decided I'm opposed to it. But of course my wife --
Doyle trails off.
Tsibola: She views it as the lesser of two evils?
Doyle: Just so. Very like, if you'll excuse me saying so, your continuing to occupy your seat.
Tsibola: Even if it's the will of our colleagues that I continue, I won't if I believe that someone else could be more effective.
Doyle: So you'd put your own authority over the consensus of the party, then?
Tsibola: Is there a higher authority than a man's conscience?
Doyle: Dear me. Perhaps you should take up Pollovic's offer after all -- that's more their point of view.
Tsibola: On issues of service, doctrine leaves a great deal of room for individual conscience. After all, how can it be service if it isn't inspired by conscience?
Doyle waves his hands.
Doyle: That's too deep for me, Senator. And perhaps I should let you get your rest, or you'll have exhausted me.
DrYoung, one of the most expensive cardiac specialists in New Washington, knocks softly at the door.
Bernice: Oh, that must be the doctor. Come in, please!
DrYoung enters and nods greeting to the Tsibolas, then glances at Doyle.
DrYoung: Visitors so soon, Senator?
Doyle: In any case, I'll take my leave, then.
Tsibola: It was good of you to drop by, Doyle.
Doyle salutes Senator and Mrs. Tsibola and leaves the room.
DrYoung: You have an odd notion of what constitutes "taking it very easy", Senator.
Tsibola: I have responsibilities, Doctor.
DrYoung pulls a stethoscope from his pocket and puts it on. He unbuttons Tsibola's collar and slides the cold business end of the instrument down inside his shirt.
Tsibola: They don't disappear, just because I'm ill...
Tsibola winces a little at the chill.
Tsibola: You must have dunked that thing in ice water again.
DrYoung: You won't be able to fulfill them if you're dead. Now hold still a moment, while I check you.
DrYoung ignores the ice water comment; he's heard variants of it many thousands of times. He completes his examination in a businesslike manner and then pulls up a chair.
DrYoung: How have you been feeling? Any further pain?
Tsibola: No, I'm just more tired than a man who's spent the day in bed ought to be.
DrYoung: Not surprising, Senator. Are you fully aware of just how big a miracle it is that you're alive at all right now?
Tsibola would prefer not to be, actually.
Tsibola: Bernice said that I was only really -- indisposed -- for about half an hour. I was starting to respond by the time the ambulance arrived.
DrYoung: You should be thanking God that there happened to be a cardiac specialist in the room with you when it happened, even if he is a Sime.
Tsibola: Seruffin is a diplomat. In fact, he recommended that I seek out the help of a real cardiac specialist, on the grounds that his makeshift first aid wasn't a long term solution.
Tsibola doesn't understand the relative capabilities of channels and doctors in treating his particular malady.
DrYoung: He may be a diplomat, but he's also clearly a topnotch medic. And far too modest. His "makeshift first aid" saved your life, at a time I'm not sure I could have done anything. Medical science as I know it has ways to reduce the likelihood of a heart attack, ways to help you recover after a heart attack -- but nothing that can prevent you from dying in the midst of one. Yet that's what Hajene Seruffin did for you.
Bernice: Seruffin said the heart rhythm was disrupted, and what he did was normalize it.
Tsibola: It felt like being blasted by lightning. Very unpleasant, as was the rest of it.
DrYoung: I believe that's precisely what he did. Blast you with a huge burst of... of energy, shaped and patterned to restore a normal heart rhythm. At least, that's the best sense I can make of his very detailed report.
Tsibola: He sent you a report?
DrYoung: Oh, yes. Two, actually. The one in Simelan is much shorter, but I can't read it. The one in English is extraordinary.
Tsibola: How so?
DrYoung: You have no medical training, Senator, so I won't go into details. But he mentions, in passing, techniques any doctor I know would give a decade off his life expectancy for.
Tsibola: Oh? I didn't think the Simes were that advanced, medically. They don't even do surgery, I'm told.
Tsibola shares the common Gen Territory assumption that surgery is the pinnacle of medical science.
DrYoung: Hmm. In that case, they don't seem to need it. And their pharmacology... well, let's just say I'm continuing you on the pills Seruffin sent over. They're much better than anything we've got.
Tsibola: You're sure of that?
DrYoung: Well, I sent a couple of pills down to the hospital lab for some tests, and I'm still waiting for the results. But if they do what he claims they do, then yes. And the fact that you're still alive would tend to support his claims.
Tsibola: I admit, I don't like being beholden to a Sime. Particularly one that's mopped the negotiating table with me more than once.
DrYoung: You've been given a miraculous second chance, Senator. Now, please don't waste it. When I tell you to take it easy, then take it easy. That way, you may live to negotiate with him again.
Tsibola: I just hope he doesn't use the leverage this whole disaster has granted him.
DrYoung: I could offer you two answers to that, Senator. No, three. He's a healer. Doctor, channel, whatever you call it, it's still the same. He heals because he must, not for the sake of any reward. Second reason... do you play chess, Senator?
Tsibola: Of course.
DrYoung: Then surely you know how much a player values a good, well-matched opponent.
Tsibola: Only if it doesn't matter to him if he wins. And Seruffin cares about winning.
DrYoung: I'm sure he does. But in a fair game. Not by playing against the village idiot.
Tsibola: Perhaps not. And your third reason?
DrYoung: My third answer? Of course he'll want to take advantage. He's only human. But he can't blackmail you; the story is already out. Any pressure he can exert will depend solely upon your sense of gratitude, weighed against your sense of duty. But you should be resting, not thinking of such stressful things. Your recovery is going to be a slow business; you'll have plenty of time to think about your work later. For now, you must take it easy.
Tsibola: I suppose you're right. After all, until I am able to take up my duties again, whether Seruffin would take advantage of the situation is a moot point.
DrYoung reaches for the bottle of poppy syrup. Expertly, he measures out a dose.
DrYoung: Definitely. Now, take your medicine and get some rest.
DrYoung holds the spoonful to Tsibola's lips.
Tsibola makes a face, and complies.