Zleaff has reserved a table with a nice view of the park at trendy little bistro not far from the embassy. She's an administrative staffer at the Nivet embassy, a Gen who manages the office work for the upper level managers, all channels, of course.
Zleaff toys with the vase of rosebuds while waiting for Voil, her opposite number in Senator Xiu's staff.
Voil hurries up.
Voil: Sorry I'm late. I got held up by the Boss, who's still trying to figure out how to spin the latest scandal.
Zleaff: The one with Senator Tsibola and Hajene Seruffin, I suppose?
Zleaff knows that there are mixed feelings about possible repercussions of the event on the Nivet side, as well as in the Senate.
Voil: Yes. Tsibola has always been a thorn in Senator Xiu's side. He's hoping this will finally discredit the man.
Zleaff: That doesn't seem fair. It was Tsibola's wife who told Hajene Seruffin to go ahead. Tsibola was in no condition to understand what was being proposed.
Voil: They've been married, what? Almost fifty years? I hardly think Bernice Tsibola would make a decision her husband couldn't live with.
Zleaff: She would have been desperate -- how could she not try to save his life however she could, regardless of later consequences? Well, maybe I'm too soft hearted.
Voil: About the only way he could disavow her decision would be to divorce her, and I doubt he'd go that far. By all accounts, they're devoted to each other.
Zleaff shakes her head.
Zleaff: I'll never understand you people.
Zleaff figures this is the sort of thing you get in a culture where nobody can zlin people's true feelings.
Voil: What's to understand? Tsibola's made a career out of insisting that any constructive interaction with Simes or Sime sympathizers would lead to the downfall of civilization. It appears, though, that his own family doesn't practice what he preaches.
Zleaff: I've ordered omelettes for us, like you said. And salads and tea.
Voil: Thank you. How do your people view the whole thing?
Zleaff: Well, they imagine, especially the channels, what it would have zlinned like, the poor guy having a heart attack. It would be hard to turn your back on that if you could do something, even if you knew what the man's attitude was.
Voil: I suppose.
Zleaff: Some wonder how Seruffin managed to get himself into that situation, though. They wonder if he's grandstanding again, like the time he took Senator Pollovic's donation in public. But apparently it was Pollovic, the host, who called him over to help. So he couldn't very well refuse.
Voil: Why not? Couldn't he have just said that there wasn't anything he could do? I mean, he was there as a diplomat, not a doctor, right?
Zleaff: It's kind of hard for Simes to lie outright like that. Even diplomats, I suppose. Besides, he could zlin how Tsibola was suffering, so it would have been hard to refuse.
Zleaff sips her tea, which the waiter has just delivered.
Zleaff: Anyhow, his Donor got upset and pleaded with the wife to let Seruffin help Tsibola, so he kind of got cornered.
Voil: Oh. Sort of like Tsibola, when his wife agreed?
Zleaff: I guess. Seruffin's Donor is a kind-hearted sort, but he's not at all sharp politically.
Zleaff doesn't want to say 'not very sharp at all', although it's certainly true.
Voil: I'd think that your folks would be glad to see Tsibola discredited. After all, he's been one of the more effective opponents of everything the Tecton's tried to do, these past decades.
Zleaff: I guess, but it doesn't seem fair to take advantage of him having that heart attack.
Zleaff is often glad that she doesn't have to engage in politics, except office politics.
Voil: Why not? It happened, and he survived by taking advantage of a source of help that he's tried to deny to everybody else, on principle.
Zleaff: But he didn't ask for it, or even consent to it. He was unconscious. I don't see how anybody can be responsible for when they're unconscious.
Zleaff: You could say that he's responsible for what his wife does on his behalf... but, well, I kind of feel sorry for her too. It must have been horrible to watch him dying, and here was a channel who could save him...
Zleaff shrugs again.
Zleaff: I'm too soft hearted.
Voil: Oh, I don't blame her a bit, but she did demonstrate, very clearly, the way the conservatives think that the rules apply to them only when it's convenient.
Zleaff: I guess you political types have to look at it that way.
Zleaff smiles to take the potential sting out of it.
Voil: With luck, this whole incident represents an opportunity to move cooperation between our Territories forward. If only by partially hamstringing our most effective opponent. Senator Xiu isn't quite sure what his official stand should be, yet. Or his unofficial one, either. Partly, it will depend on whether Tsibola's health recovers enough for him to remain in politics.
Voil: Well, and whether his party chooses to let him continue, if he's able. But they'd be fools not to.
Zleaff: I guess if Tsibola does stay in the Senate, he'll be vulnerable on any issues related to Nivet, now. I mean, people can always bring this incident up.
Voil: Yes. Although I doubt his positions will change, or the fervor with which he advocates for them.
Zleaff: But aren't you further ahead with him vulnerable like that than with a replacement who isn't? It gives you a way to undercut him on Sime-related issues.
Voil: True, although it depends on who the replacement would be. A cousin of his might be less vulnerable on the Sime issue, but would also lack Tsibola's knowledge of the Senate and which closets hide its skeletons.
Zleaff: Tsibola could coach him.
Voil: Unless he was too far away to keep his pulse on the Senate...now, there's an idea.
Voil grins as a figurative torch lights over her head.
Zleaff: Oh, my! What nefarious idea have you come up with now?
Zleaff rather enjoys Voil's clever notions.
Voil: It's our turn to name the ambassador to Nivet. We were dreading a big confirmation fight -- the conservatives have enough votes to scuttle any liberal nominee -- but what if we could get Tsibola nominated?
Voil: They'd almost have to confirm him, and there he'd be, off where he couldn't do any harm.
Zleaff: What an awful idea. He could do a great deal of harm. The Simes tell me he's none too pleasant to zlin.
Zleaff smiles because she doesn't imagine that Voil is serious.
Zleaff: Although I suppose once they take his field down it wouldn't be so bad.
Voil: I doubt he'd agree to that. Which means, he'd be under house arrest in the embassy, locked away where he can't mess with progress any more.
Zleaff: Poor guy. Well, he can always refuse the appointment, and stay here and write his memoirs instead. And coach his replacement.
Zleaff snickers herself.
Zleaff: And maintain his purity. After all, Seruffin didn't get any of his selyn.
Voil: Not that Tsibola can be sure of that. My friend Gorgy was there, and he said Seruffin's tentacles were all over the guy.
Zleaff: He was restarting his heart or something like that. It must have taken a lot out of him, too. He was really pale when he came in the next day and his Donor was fussing over him a lot. Well, pale for Seruffin, that is.
Voil: Restarting his heart? You mean, it actually stopped?
Zleaff: I don't know the details. I'm not a Donor, or any kind of medical type. Pure admin, that's me.
Voil: If his heart stopped, that means...Tsibola was dead. I didn't know channels could resurrect the dead.
Zleaff: I guess it didn't really stop then. Just sort of faltered or something. You probably know more about heart attacks than I do, with all the old people around .
Zleaff thinks about it.
Zleaff: Won't the religious people get upset at the idea of reviving the dead? Better not bring it to their attention. But nobody claims that channels can do that in-T. Dead is dead.
Zleaff doesn't consider that the legal definition of death in-T is based on the state of the body's selyn system, not its heart.
Voil: I guess you're right. Unity is controversial enough with them, as it is.
Zleaff shakes her head again.
Zleaff: I'll never understand why so many people out here are against Unity. I guess it must be all this religious stuff.
Zleaff, like most people in-T has had little exposure to religion of any form.
Voil: Well, how much headway did your Householdings make in promoting Unity, before your selyn supply ran out?
Zleaff: There is that, I guess. Maybe people didn't believe it would work.
Voil: I expect they were just perfectly content to live as their parents did. I mean, you don't eat meat, despite the fact that it's perfectly nutritious, high-quality protein, right?
Zleaff: Well, I have tried it, a little bit, since I came here. But yeah, most people won't eat it, in-T.
Voil: How rational is that? I mean, even if Simes can't eat it, think how many Gens and children would enjoy it.
Zleaff: I guess it's just what you're used to. There's lots of bugs that are nutritious and all, but nobody eats them, either side of the border. And earthworms, too. Speaking of which, here's our order.
Voil: Exactly. I would predict that a hundred years from now, no matter how far Unity has advanced, Gens on your side of the border will still avoid meat -- because there isn't any pressing reason for them to reject their old diet.
Zleaff: True. If it works, don't mess with it. Most people aren't very adventurous.
Zleaff considers herself to be adventurous, which is why she has an administrative job out-T instead of in-T.
Voil: Your people accepted Unity because their old ways no longer existed. We still have our old ways, and they still work well enough for a lot of people.
Zleaff: Even all those poor kids who get shot, and the Gens who get killed, and the people who care about them?
Zleaff usually tries not to think about it.
Voil: Yes. Even with all of that, people can still say that they have just as viable a chance at a decent life as their parents and grandparents had.
Voil: They're not desperately grasping at straws -- or a channel's tentacles -- for survival.
Zleaff: But they could have a better life, too. Not having to worry about how their children turn out, and having a guaranteed income from donation.
Voil: No offense, but a lot of folks out here aren't sure that is a better life.
Zleaff: I've noticed. I've stopped trying to explain it to people unless they ask. Although sometimes they come at me with such strange ideas about it, I have to try to straighten them out.
Voil: What scares Tsibola and the rest of the conservatives is that once people start to ask questions, they're likely to learn that the answers aren't what they've always assumed. And once they experiment with one innovation, it's easier to try the next.
Zleaff: And that's how progress gets made.
Voil: With all the speed of a galloping garden snail.
Zleaff: Well, with a population your size, there's lots of inertia. And with all these older people. In-T most people are young and more open to change.
Zleaff finishes her omelette and works on the salad.
Zleaff: Yum. The dressing on this salad is great. One great thing about New Washington is all the good restaurants.
Voil: Just you watch. You'll have as many unbending old fogies as we do, in another few decades.
Zleaff: True. So we'll have to get as much done as we can before that happens.
Voil: Yes. I mean, can you imagine trying to eat a lunch like this without teeth?
Mardin, on his way back to his table from the washroom, spots his co-worker Voil with a very attractive friend.
Zleaff: That would be awful. The junct Simes used to lose their teeth quite young, but they didn't eat much but sweets, and didn't live long either.
Voil: We'd better take advantage while we can, right? Which means the Death By Chocolate Cake. Or maybe the one with the cherries?
Zleaff: None for me, thanks. But I'll enjoy watching you. I have to get back soon, anyway.
Zleaff figures service is going to be slow now that the bistro has filled up with lunching office workers.
Mardin works his way past the crowded tables to where the two women are sitting.
Zleaff pours herself more tea and offers the pot to Voil.
Voil: I'll tell them to bring an extra fork.
Zleaff: Well, okay.
Mardin: Hi, ladies.
Mardin gives his most charming, redheaded and freckled smile.
Voil: Mardin. What are you doing, so far from the office?
Zleaff nods at the freakish looking man. Red hair and that sort of patchy frog skin are pretty rare.
Mardin: I could ask you the same question. Or I could simply admit that I love the food here.
Mardin glances from Voil to Zleaff.
Mardin: Are you going to introduce us, Voil?
Voil: This is Zleaff. She works in administration, too, only for the Tecton.
Mardin: Pleased to meet you, Zleaff. I was just about to order. Do you mind if I join you?
Zleaff: Fine with me, but I have to leave shortly.
Voil: Please do. Oh, there's the dessert! Have a bite, Zleaff, before you go.
Mardin gives Zleaff another smile. He knows he isn't handsome, but he can usually manage cute. He pulls up a chair.
Voil passes Zleaff the extra fork, and pushes the cake over.
Zleaff takes a forkful of the luscious confection and sighs with pleasure.
Zleaff: Mmm. Wonderful. I'll remember it all afternoon.
Zleaff gathers her bag and cloak.
Zleaff: Nice to meet you Mardin. Until next time , Voil.
Zleaff gets up and works her way to the front of the restaurant to pay and leave.
Mardin watches appreciatively as Zleaff leaves.
Mardin: So your friend works for the Tecton?
Voil: Yes. She does pretty much the same things I do for Senator Xiu. We've worked together several times. I was pumping her for the Tecton's response to the latest scandal.
Mardin leans forward conspiratorially.
Voil: It's going to be interesting to see how he tries to dodge the charge of hypocrisy, isn't it?
Mardin: Yeah. What do you figure he'll say?
Voil: He might try to blame his wife -- she gave permission, after all.
Mardin: Think he'll try to claim he was too far gone to know what was happening?
Voil: He could. Although I hope he wasn't. It would serve him right, after all his speeches, if he was alert enough to enjoy the whole thing.
Voil has something of a ~~ vindictive ~~ streak.
Mardin: Hmm. What's the Tecton's take on that? Has your friend heard anything from the channel's side of the story?
Voil: Just that some of them think Hajene Seruffin was grandstanding again.
Mardin: He does seem to make the headlines a lot, doesn't he? First those trade talks, then Pollovic, now this.
Voil: He's a Big Cheese. We have some of our own.
Mardin: Do you think --
Mardin interrupts himself to catch a waiter and place his order: a sandwich, and some of the same cake Voil's having.
Voil: Think what?
Voil takes a luscious bite.
Mardin: Do you think it's a deliberate Tecton policy, to get a few of their people in the news, get them seen as individuals instead of just a faceless Tecton? Make them seem more human?
Voil: I don't think the whole Pollovic thing was the Tecton's idea. And how could they have known that Tsibola's heart was going to give out at a benefit fundraiser? No, I think Seruffin just had the dubious privilege of being in the right place at the right time.
Mardin: Hmm. Right where he could get blasted with all that pain and fear. If I understand Simes at all, that's not their idea of a picnic.
Voil: Zleaff said he was still pale the next day.
Mardin raises a carrot-colored eyebrow.
Mardin: Does that mean Seruffin was really pushing it? Tsibola was in that bad a shape, then?
Voil: The scuttlebutt in Simeland is that Tsibola was dead, or nearly.
Mardin: You mean his heart actually stopped?
Voil: Zleaff wasn't sure -- she's not a physician.
Mardin: That's... that's gonna put a whole different spin on things. What's Tsibola supposed to say now? That he's not glad he's still alive? That he wishes a Sime hadn't saved him? That'll be hard to pull off.
Voil: Yeah. Which means he's got to come up with some way to rationalize taking advantage of services that he's been spending decades trying to deny to others.
Mardin: Any chance he'll do a flipflop and come over to our side?
Voil: I doubt it, at least not soon and not completely. But I think there may be a chance to change some of his positions. Or at least make sure he can't promote them any more.
Mardin: Y'know, sometimes nearly dying really changes a person. Take my cousin Ginty. She was completely anti-Tecton till she had to shoot her kid sister.
Voil: What does your Senator say about the whole thing?
Mardin: Gibson? He thinks this is the first good break we've had in months. He's talking about all the ways we can use this.
Voil: What's he got in mind?
Mardin's sandwich has arrived. He takes a big bite. It's a few moments before he can reply.
Mardin: Well, if Tsibola tries to stay where he is, he's weakened. He's always been such a powerhouse for the conservative side. If he goes... well, apparently none of the three or four guys who might replace him are half as good. We might even be able to take that district in the next general election.
Mardin takes another bite and chews thoughtfully.
Mardin: Can you picture him, after this, trying to sound convincing about limiting the number of Sime Centers? About fewer academic exchange programs? Even about cutting back trade? How can he stand up against Seruffin now and cut the legs out from under him in a trade deal?
Voil: I'm sure he'll try, if they don't make him give up his seat. But as for taking the district...That would depend on how much coaching Tsibola can do behind the scenes, wouldn't it?
Mardin: Hmm, you mean they'd change the figurehead but keep him in power in the backrooms?
Mardin takes a sip of coffee and then another bite of his sandwich.
Voil: They'd be fools not to.
Mardin: So if he does leave office, we'd have to find some way of keeping him too busy to do much. Maybe bribe some publisher to offer him a contract to write his memoirs? Or... appoint him to head a couple of charities?
Voil: Why not send him to Simeland?
Voil gives an ~~ evil ~~ grin.
Mardin drops his sandwich. Onto the plate, fortunately.
Mardin: What?!! How?
Voil: Our party gets to name the next Ambassador to the Tecton, right? And we've all been grumbling because the conservatives are going to veto anybody who'd actually do a good job promoting our agenda, right?
Mardin stares at Voil, wide-eyed.
Voil: So why not send Tsibola off -- he'd have no trouble at all getting confirmed -- and let him sit far away, where he can't mastermind his party from behind the scenes.
Mardin: That's brilliant! It'd get him right out of the way, put him where he has to... wait a minute. He'll turn it down. He'd never donate, like you have to if you cross the border.
Voil: He'd be the ambassador. They allow exceptions for really important people, although they can't go out in public without an escort. His staff wouldn't be granted that exception, though, so he'd have to settle for people who were willing to donate.
Mardin: He'd be immobilized. Politically, if not physically. He's too smart to fall for that. He'll never take the job.
Voil: How could he refuse, and still remain politically viable? Besides, he might see the advantage of being out of the public eye, and close to a channel, if his heart gives him more trouble.
Mardin chews thoughtfully.
Mardin: Gibson's on the Appointments Committee, you know. So's Xiu, isn't he?
Mardin: If we both mention this to our respective bosses... and let's see, who else is on the committee, and who do we know in their offices?
Voil: I'll make a list, if Xiu thinks it's worth pursuing.
Mardin: Great. Was this your idea, Voil?
Voil: Inspired by the cake. We should order one for the next Budget Committee meeting.
Mardin: Definitely. Speaking of which, where's that waiter? I'm ready for my slice.
Mardin, distracted by the cake, forgets his momentary impulse to compliment Voil for her brilliance.
Voil catches the waiter's eye and waves him over.