Fall of a Senator: Episode 14

Tsibola is in his study, having finally persuaded his wife to go comfort Eulalia Pollovic as she tries to salvage her son's rash engagement.

Tsibola had a somewhat less difficult time persuading the servants to help him downstairs, and was completely unsuccessful in persuading them to allow him a sip of brandy. He's making do with some lemon-flavored water instead, as he looks through some of the briefing papers his staff has prepared in an effort to catch up with the doings in the Senate.

Tsibola has managed to arrange for more appropriate refreshments for the visitor he's expecting, however.

Fennik comes through the open door trailed by a servant bearing his gift -- an attractive arrangement of forced spring bulbs in a tasteful porcelain cache-pot.

Fennik: Hello, Ruthven. You're looking much better.

Fennik visited his brother-in-law briefly as soon as he was allowed visitors, but Tsibola wasn't up to more than a short conversation.

Tsibola: They've finally allowed me to wear real clothes all day, which is progress of a sort.

Fennik: Indeed. It's step by step, I suppose, but you're progressing well.

Tsibola directs the hovering servant to bring a brandy for his brother-in-law.

Tsibola: And you might as well bring me more of this poor substitute, as well.

Tsibola: I'm not allowed alcohol; it apparently reacts badly with those pills your Sime friend prescribed. [to Fennik]

Fennik: Yes. Bernice warned me not to bring you anything to eat or drink, so...

Fennik gestures at the flowers.

Tsibola: Flowers. Well, I appreciate the thought, and Bernice loves them. Anything that persuades Bernice to hover over something else, even for a few minutes, is appreciated.

Fennik laughs.

Tsibola directs the servant in how to dispose of the offering.

Fennik: I don't believe I've ever seen her so protective of you.

Tsibola: She had a bad scare. As did I.

Fennik: Indeed. We're very fortunate there was someone there to intervene.

Tsibola: Yes... and no.

Fennik: I know it was a blow to your pride, Ruthven, but at least you're still with us.

Tsibola: This whole thing has taught me some things about myself I'd rather not have known.

Tsibola gestures for the returning servant to serve Fennik's brandy and his own hated lemon water, then dismisses the man.

Fennik gratefully drops his cheer-up-the-convalescent pose, touched that Tsibola wants to confide in him. He warms the snifter with his hands and studies the bouquet of the brandy.

Tsibola: For instance, I'd always viewed those who succumb to temptation with contempt. I thought I was the kind of honorable person who would not compromise his principles.

Fennik nods and continues to inhale.

Tsibola: Oh, technically it was Bernice who told Seruffin to do his worst for me. But a large part of me wanted her to say yes. I'm not sure I'd have had the strength of character to turn away from temptation, if the choice had been mine.

Fennik: It's natural to want to live, Ruthven. In extremis, everyone feels that way.

Fennik knows this is true because it's shown in all but the most romanticised literature.

Tsibola: I know, I know. That's why we respect the rare individuals who can move past that instinct so highly. It just that I'd always imagined that I had what it takes to be one of them. It's rather humbling to find out that I don't.

Fennik: Had it really been your considered decision, you might have. You weren't in any condition to refuse, even if you had wanted to.

Tsibola: I think you have more faith in my character than I do. Technically, my honor is intact, but who wants to be honorable only by a technicality? Furthermore, even after thinking it over, I expect that in similar circumstances, I would give in to temptation. In fact, it would be easier than the first time.

Fennik smiles and nods. One of his recent graduate students wanted to do his thesis on just that theme in novels by an Ancient author, but Fennik dissuaded him. The boy just didn't have enough experience of life to deal with it effectively.

Tsibola: Even knowing first-hand how unpleasant it is to have those gooey tentacles slithering all over one's chest.

Fennik: You can only lose your virginity once?

Tsibola: Exactly. After that, one has less of a stake in holding out. And the advantages look far more tempting. I expect it wouldn't be long before I genuinely didn't mind. And I would have lost myself.

Fennik: Good heavens, Ruthven. There's more to you than your stance on relations with Simes.

Fennik thinks that was already compromised, though much less publicly, when Tsibola visited Fridda in Hannard's Ford.

Tsibola: True, but that has been the focus of what I've tried to accomplish with my life. And it's still just as important, in my opinion, as it ever was. More so, perhaps, now that I understand better how easy it is to just give in and compromise.

Fennik, having gone through a substantial change in his own views and indeed in his own self-image since Fridda's changeover put him in contact with Simes, thinks this is not such a bad thing, especially afterwards.

Fennik: You know, I always expected Fridda to be Gen -- she's so like her mother in some ways. And when she was almost sixteen, I was sure she was. I even refused to believe her when she told me she was in changeover.

Tsibola: You're fortunate she took action, or she might have killed you.

Fennik takes a slow sip of brandy.

Fennik: Yes. Or I would have had to... murder her. Or have someone else do it.

Fennik struggles to control the strong surge of horror at the idea.

Tsibola: I know.

Fennik: I never thought I'd have anything to do with Simes, except civility with the rare scholar from Nivet.

Tsibola: Tell me. If it had come to that, would you have allowed Fridda to kill you, rather than be responsible for her death?

Tsibola has heard of parents who did, especially if they didn't have the possibility of a Gen child to salve the pain of the loss.

Fennik: I don't know. If she had killed me, I'm sure she wouldn't have wanted to live. But... I don't know what it would take for me to be able to... end her life myself. What we think, or think we would do... it's not the same when it really happens.

Tsibola finds it interesting that his brother-in-law views dispatching of his Sime child as more horrible than death at her tentacles.

Tsibola: No, it isn't.

Fennik looks down.

Fennik: If I were a religious man I'd thank God that I never had to face that confrontation, even though all my life I've known it could happen, and known what my duty was.

Fennik looks at his brother-in-law.

Fennik: When it happens, in extremis, all our thinking and planning and ideas of duty and taking the best course... emotion can override all that, and maybe it's right that it do so. I don't know if I'd want to live, if I'd murdered my daughter.

Tsibola: Death by Sime is pretty horrible, I'm told. And I know you better than to think you'd allow your daughter to kill a servant.

Fennik: It's not as if I'd be in control of things, if she'd become a berserker. No, I can't see myself arranging for her to kill someone else. But I also don't know if I could have shot her had she come to attack me.

Fennik shakes his head, and sips his brandy.

Tsibola: Would that have been easier, do you think, than letting Seruffin take your selyn, that first time?

Fennik: Good God, no! I was nervous with Seruffin, but I knew he wasn't going to harm me. I don't have a position like yours on donation to uphold.

Fennik smiles.

Tsibola: You were raised to value the same things I was, however.

Fennik: Fridda changing over was a big change in my own life, and my attitudes and values followed. I'm glad she's alive. I'm glad she didn't have to kill, and I didn't have to murder. I love her, and if I have to donate to be with her, it's not much of a cost.

Tsibola: It's the small costs which make many an enterprise go under, isn't it? I find myself wondering if it would really matter that much, if I had a channel look after me from time to time. After all, the damage to my reputation has already been done.

Fennik looks at Ruthven.

Fennik: You know, Fridda is still Fridda, despite being Sime. All Simes are like that, really. It's not us and them, on an individual basis. They are us, and we might have been them. If you have a channel look after you, he's that one channel, not the entire Tecton. You're dealing with another human being, not the collective enemy of mankind, as we were taught in our youth.

Tsibola: It may not be us or them, as we were taught, and we might have been them, if things had turned out differently. But it's also true that if we try to be them, we'll no longer be ourselves. Or at least, not the selves we are now. And what I've seen of how Gens live in Simeland makes me worried that if it happens too often, the new collective self will be less than the old one.

Fennik: Ruthven, you and Bernice have a good marriage. The two of you are very different in many ways, but you work well together, respect each other, care about each other, make allowances for each other. You do that without trying or wanting to be a woman.

Tsibola: Whyever would I want to be a woman?

Fennik: You wouldn't want to be a Sime, either. But you can get along with a woman like Bernice, and you can get along with a Sime like Fridda. Or a channel who's treating you as a Gen doctor would.

Tsibola gives a wry smile.

Tsibola: The whole problem is that a channel wouldn't treat me as a Gen doctor would.

Fennik: You know I mean the professional relationship, not the methodology of treatment.

Tsibola muses on this for a moment.

Tsibola: That's still not quite true. Seruffin wasn't nearly as detached as a doctor would have been. He was... protective.

Fennik: Well, he did have a political stake in you surviving, as well as a professional one for his medical skills.

Fennik smiles.

Fennik: Can you imagine the fuss if he'd tried and failed? Senator Tsibola dies in the tentacles of a Nivet diplomat?

Tsibola: It was more than that. Or different. More... personal.

Fennik: Well, he was zlinning your feelings and reactions as well as observing them, and I don't suppose he enjoyed them any more than you did. And if a physician working on you were your long time political adversary, I suppose things would be more personal as well.

Tsibola: If he were responding to my emotions, I assure you he wouldn't have been so -- personally concerned. Almost... chivalrous. Oh, I know I'm not describing it very well, but I wasn't imagining it.

Fennik: He's had decades of experience with these things, and he's a diplomat. And perhaps he respects and values you more as a worthy adversary than you give him credit for.

Fennik laughs.

Fennik: Oh, no. You think he was lusting after your selyn, as if he didn't spend hours every week taking donations at the Sime Center!

Tsibola: If he ever had any illusions of talking me into donating, he lost them years ago. But he acts... well, with a twisted sort of chivalry. I produce selyn, so I must be protected. It's, well, as instinctive for him as holding the door for a lady is for you and me.

Fennik: Perhaps that's in there too, but he probably uses his good manners with other Simes as well. He certainly treated Fridda very well at a time when she needed a great deal of kindness as well as medical help.

Fennik laughs.

Fennik: And if you don't want to deal with a well-mannered channel like Seruffin to monitor your health, you can go to that fellow you first tried out on Craig.

Tsibola: It's not his manners I mind, not on a personal level. But a well-mannered person feels obligated to use his strength to help those who are weaker than he is, and thus not in a position to help themselves. Correct?

Fennik: Of course. Are you going to tell me you weren't in need of his help at the museum that night?

Tsibola: Oh, certainly. But think of the larger picture. Most Simes, at least those of their upper classes who set the standards of what they consider polite society, treat all Gens as weaker, and therefore worth of assistance. It sounds harmless, I know, and in many cases I suppose it is. But... what happens when our impressionable young men start associating with well bred Simes?

Fennik has another sip of brandy.

Tsibola: If they take Simeland manners at face value, they will begin to see themselves as naturally weaker. They'll start looking to Simes for assistance, rather than assuming that they can find a solution if they try. And when they get it, they'll become convinced it's the natural way of things.

Fennik: Except for those that notice that a set of tentacles and the ability to zlin don't make a man more intelligent or resourceful or creative or wise than anyone without them. On the other hand, if you want someone to move furniture, hire a Sime.

Tsibola: Exactly my point. Why should Gens assume that moving furniture, or any other human profession, is by definition not suitable for them to try? That sort of thinking limits a person's possibilities. And when restrictions come in the guise of genuine concern and caring, it's very hard to demand freedom anyway.

Fennik suddenly remembers that Ruthven is supposed to be taking things very easily and not engage in any strong emotions. He seems calm, but Fennik wonders whether their conversation has excited the senator more than he ought to be under his professionally controlled facade.

Fennik: I'll have to think about that some more. You've certainly seen more deeply into this than I have.

Fennik wonders what views Fridda might have on the matter, and resolves to ask her. It's such a pleasure to exchange views with his daughter now that she's suddenly become so much more adult.

Tsibola: That's why I'm trying to keep us at a distance from the Tecton, Jon. It's not because of any aversion to tentacle slime, although I admit I'd just as soon not feel that again.

Tsibola shudders, remembering the hot things smearing across his chest, and being too weak to bring up a hand to knock them away.

Fennik nods.

Fennik: So where is Bernice off to today? It's certainly a good sign that she's willing to leave you home alone with visitors like me.

Tsibola: Briefly. But Eulalia Pollovic is a dear friend, and she's been distressed by all the scandal.

Tsibola looks out the window.

Tsibola: It appears she's returned. She'll be glad to tell you all about it, I'm sure. In much more detail than you really care to know.

Fennik laughs.

Fennik: Indeed.

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