Ismeln walks through the streets of Cottonwood City, looking for the inn that the railroad conductor told them about.
Ismeln: Who'd have thought the place was so big? It's almost like an Ancient city. Has about as many intact buildings as one, too.
Vlad looks around, intimidated. He'd heard that the out-T Gens had big cities but if they're bigger than this, they must be huge.
Dubblet hopes Ismeln will start acting up to her role of self-appointed leader Real Soon Now. He points at a semi-intact structure.
Dubblet: How about trying there? If it's wrong, at least the folks there are likely to know the right answer.
Ismeln looks the building over.
Ismeln: Looks like it's been patched up, and they've got ovens baking. That fits the description. It's worth a try, anyway.
Vlad would like to get out of the crowds. He's seen more strangers in the past five minutes than in the five years before he left on this trip.
Ismeln: Now just remember, we've got to be reasonable. All we want is to have our traditions respected, after all.
Dubblet nods, then realizes that Ismeln is in front and can't see him.
Vlad nods too. Of course, as a citizen of Nivet, he has somewhat different traditions than the others. He wishes his wife hadn't talked him into this.
Vlad: Let's get in out of the wind, anyway.
Dubblet: Good idea, Valad.
Vlad is long accustomed to the way Dubblet mispronounces his name.
Ismeln: This guy's a Senator. He's got power -- he's gotten the folks here money to rebuild. It'll be a lot easier for him to tell the authorities that they don't have to spend money on us.
Vlad: They don't?
Vlad hopes they've got their story straight.
Ismeln: Yeah. No reason to hire inspectors, patrol the borders, hire extra police to enforce laws that never made any sense...
Ismeln: We just want to be left alone.
Vlad: Right. Us too. Right.
Ismeln squares her shoulders and climbs up the steps to the entrance.
Pollovic relaxes in his hotel room. It's bare, rough-hewn wood, with splinters in your socks and sawdust in your clothes, but it's orders of magnitude better than the tent he stayed in the last time he was here. He's enjoying a few Eulalia-free days and hiding from the fallout of his precipitous engagement, while ostensibly checking out the progress of the rebuilding in Cottonwood City.
Pollovic has spent a productive day applying what he learned from Kat and Seruffin, explaining to the local organizers what they'll have to do to get a Sime Center into Cottonwood City. He's now ready for a quiet evening of solitude.
Quispel pops in.
Quispel: Hey, boss, you've got visitors.
Pollovic looks up wearily.
Pollovic: Is it urgent? Or can they wait till tomorrow?
Quispel is still bouncing on his toes, of course.
Quispel: I dunno. They wouldn't tell me their business. But they don't look like they're from around here. And one of them was swearing in Simelan when he stubbed his toe.
Pollovic sits up straight, suddenly alert.
Pollovic: Show them in.
Quispel looks ~~ dubious ~~, but nods.
Quispel: Sure thing, boss.
Pollovic quickly dusts sawdust from his lapels.
Quispel bounces out the door, and returns a moment later with three obviously very rural types.
Quispel: Here they are, boss.
Pollovic: Thank you, Quispel. You may go.
Pollovic turns to the new arrivals.
Ismeln steps aside as their guide bounces out the door.
Pollovic: I'm Senator Pollovic. What can I do for you ladies and gentlemen?
Vlad shuffles his feet, smearing mud on the rough lumber of the subfloor.
Ismeln looks at her fellow conspirators, then steps forward.
Ismeln: I'm Ismeln. I run a small inn at Desperation Point, which is -- well, it's quite a ways from here. Over near the border. You probably never heard of it.
Ismeln: This is Dubblet -- he has a ranch outside what passes for the town. And Vlad's a neighbor of ours from...
Ismeln rattles off the Simelan name of Vlad's town.
Vlad: Uh, Elk Mountain in English.
Pollovic nods, though he's not at all sure where that is.
Vlad: Because of all the elks.
Dubblet: And I'm representing the Associated Ranchers of Desperation.
Vlad shuffles his feet again.
Vlad: Uh. On both sides of the border.
Dubblet: Umm, yeah.
Pollovic spares a moment to wish forlornly for his well-organized office in New Washington, where his staff keep files on almost every person he's ever shaken hands with.
Pollovic: I'm pleased to meet you all.
Pollovic pauses a moment, then gives them an expectant smile.
Ismeln: Right. And I represent the townsfolk of Desperation. Kadi was going to come to represent Elk Mountain, but without a Sime Center here, she had to send her husband. We didn't know how long the trip would take, you see.
Dubblet takes a stab at expressing the problem.
Dubblet: Sir, what we need from you is just to figure out some way so we get left alone to do things like we always done them.
Pollovic: And what things would those be, Mr. Dubblet?
Dubblet: Well, like not making a big fuss about the border. I mean, who crosses and when. We got our own ways here and we don't need any new ones.
Vlad: It was okay before all the Gen cattle.
Vlad, despite being Gen himself and living in an area where the larity ratio is about 50:50, refers to the people north of the border as 'the Gens' like everybody else does, and includes himself when they refer to the people south of the border as 'the Simes'. Of course, he also expects everyone to figure out when he's using 'Gen' and 'Sime' in the more usual way.
Dubblet: Yeah, I mean, we had our own law about that.
Pollovic: And what law would that be?
Vlad: Well, we mostly have sheep.
Dubblet: Cattle, see, they mess things up. The grass, and, and other things.
Ismeln: Besides, they're all owned by folks who've never lived in Desperation and don't care about overgrazing and other things.
Pollovic: So you want border security tightened to prevent unauthorized trafficking in animals?
Vlad: That won't do any good. You Gen politicians made a law they can come in and eat our grass.
Pollovic is intrigued but confused.
Vlad: So they're authorized and we're shenned.
Ismeln: The thing is, that grass was already being eaten by the sheep.
Dubblet: And sheep eat further down on the grass, which doesn't help.
Dubblet would have done better not to mention that point at all, but too late now.
Vlad: Cattle have big heavy feet and trample stuff more.
Ismeln: If you've got to issue permits for livestock owned by nonresidents of Desperation, at least we should be the ones issuing them, and we should choose how many of what livestock the pastures can support. Right, Dubblet?
Vlad: And Elk Mountain, too.
Dubblet tries to parse this remark. He wishes Ismeln would put things less confusingly.
Dubblet: I guess. But better would be not to issue them at all. We never had cattle before, and we don't need no stinkin' cattle now.
Vlad: And it's not just the cattle, it's the cattle Gens. They're messing things up for everybody on both sides. They want things to be their way, not the way we do things.
Pollovic is intrigued. He'd had no idea informal cross-border co-operation ran so deep.
Pollovic: So you want a local licensing board -- representing both sides of the border -- to set quotas?
Vlad: We mostly want things to go back the way they were. Before the politicians changed it.
Vlad tries to remember what the guy's name was Kadi told him.
Ismeln: Yes. We had it worked out, so many animals from each ranch going to Elk Mountain each spring, and the Elk Mountain flocks coming down to the lowlands for winter pasture.
Vlad: It was the Gen senator Zibbla that messed it up.
Pollovic knows the name of everyone in the Senate for the past half-century, and "Zibbla" isn't on the list.
Vlad: Gave it away even though it isn't his. Either side.
Dubblet: Sibowla, he means.
Vlad: That's it, I think.
Pollovic has a horrible sinking feeling.
Dubblet: Yeah, what I said. Sibowla.
Vlad: Kadi read about it in the Shen paper. A trade deal he did.
Vlad: And then the cattle showed up last year and we couldn't do anything. And the cattle Gens.
Ismeln: Yeah, and those new deputies who were supposed to be keeping them in line. Instead, they're hassling our neighbors, saying we're breaking some treaty.
Dubblet: And that just makes no sense. You think all our shepherds are gonna carry papers?
Vlad: People are scared to cross the border.
Pollovic: Ruthven Tsibola is one of the most influential men in the Senate. He negotiates cross-border trade for the entire Territory.
Ismeln: He's a meddling busybody. I mean, what business is it of the sheriff's if my daughter wants to come show me the grandkids?
Dubblet: That too. And poor Simes like Valad here, they really get it in the neck.
Pollovic stares at Vlad, who conspicuously lacks tentacles.
Vlad: Yeah. Try to bring some needles and pins and stuff home to my wife from Desperation and get hassled.
Pollovic: Er, you mean, "Sime-Territory citizens, regardless of larity?"
Vlad: Uh, yeah. Sime Gens like me.
Pollovic is trying to puzzle his way through this tangle of definitions and complaints.
Ismeln: And how can the Sime Simes, or the Gen Simes for that matter, do their shopping, or stop for a beer at my place, or help at a barn raising, if they have to wear manacles? Do you know how crippling the things are? And expensive, too.
Pollovic: So you want fewer restraints on people crossing the border, and more restraints on livestock?
Pollovic privately sympathizes with the comment about retainers. After seeing what Kat went through while staying with him, he considers Simes who live in New Washington to be either masochists or heroes.
Dubblet: But yeah, that was what we had before. We want local control of the border, is what we really want. That way we can do what makes sense for us.
Vlad: We just want things to go back like they were before. Doing things like we always did.
Dubblet: Until now, the border guards, the sheriff's people, they were our relatives. They understood it. They still are, in fact. But Sibowla's folks, they're clueless.
Vlad: Shenned cattle Gens, come in and mess everything up for us then go home for the winter. Back soon with more trouble. And more Gen cattle.
Dubblet: Cattle Gens, Gen cattle, the same thing, if you ask me.
Pollovic: What you're saying makes a lot of sense, on one level. Local people know local conditions. But I'm afraid there are a lot of larger issues involved, especially when you're talking about the border.
Dubblet is encouraged by this instead of the reverse.
Dubblet: There sure are.
Pollovic searches for an example that isn't too hard to explain.
Vlad: My parents fought in the Unity War. Most of us have parents who did, or grandparents, and afterwards they settled where we are and set things up like we like them to be. And now some politician somewhere wants to change everything, and he doesn't even know us or how we do things.
Vlad, like his neighbors on both sides of the border, doesn't make any distinction about which armies these forebearers fought in or against.
Pollovic resists the urge to bury his face in his hands and cry. These people are living his dream of Unity, and he has to be the heavy who tells them it can't be done.
Pollovic: Some day, I hope, we'll have real Unity and there won't have to be Territory borders. But most people aren't ready for that, yet. And borders, if they're going to work at all, have to be used consistently. For example...
Pollovic: You want to be able to cross the border, to visit friends and family, as if the border wasn't even there?
Dubblet: No, no. We don't mind going past the guards and all.
Ismeln: We just don't want them coming onto private ranches and disrupting work parties.
Dubblet: Yeah. I mean, once you're across, that oughta be it.
Pollovic: But once a Sime is on this side of the border, they're in. They could go anywhere else in New Washington Territory, without passing another border crossing.
Vlad: We're not that stupid. I mean, we could get shot.
Dubblet: Sure. Or at least dragged off to the nearest Sime Center.
Dubblet uses the Simelan term for "Sime Center", as is usual in the border dialect of English.
Vlad: If there is one. Mostly there isn't, right?
Dubblet: So they say.
Vlad: There isn't even one here in this big city, even.
Ismeln: That's right, the train man said so.
Pollovic: If there's one what?
Vlad: A place to get selyn. From channels.
Pollovic: Oh. You mean a [English] Sime Center.
Dubblet: Valad? Does he?
Vlad: I guess so. If he says it. They speak English different here, don't they?
Dubblet: You can say that again.
Vlad is accustomed to switching between English mixed with Simelan and Simelan mixed with English in the same conversation.
Pollovic tries to remember the point he was trying to make.
Pollovic: Most people in New Washington Territory aren't ready, yet, for the kind of Unity you've already got. They're still afraid of Simes, and need to feel safe in knowing there aren't any around who aren't restrained in some way. Now if you let Simes wander across the border here...
Ismeln: The folks here aren't likely to ever come to Desperation and be offended if my girl gives me a hand with the baking. Or if Dubblet's neighbors come to a barn raising, or a wedding.
Dubblet: Not to mention some of the folks here are our people, the ones that didn't inherit land.
Dubblet can't prove that, but he's willing to take a chance on it.
Vlad: People here should do things the way they want and let us do things the way we want. If they don't like the way we do things, they should go away and take their cattle with them.
Pollovic: But most people here need to be able to think of the border as a solid wall that keeps them safe by keeping Simes out.
Vlad: Well, then, they can have their kind of border and we can have our kind.
Vlad doesn't see the problem.
Pollovic: And if their kind of border allows anyone to shoot any Sime they see here, even if they're in retainers? Is that all right, too?
Vlad: That's not the same kind of thing, shooting people.
Dubblet: Why would any of those people come there unless they were running cattle? Which is what we want to stop in the first place.
Pollovic: If you can have your kind of border, they can have theirs. That's why a border has to mean the same thing, all along its length. To everybody.
Vlad thinks that kind of rigidity is stupid, and tries to find a more polite way of saying so. Kadi told him to stay calm and polite.
Dubblet thinks about it.
Ismeln: Nonsense. There ain't no part of the Unity Treaty that says Simes have to be shot for being in Genland. Not Sime Simes, or Gen Simes, either. As I read it, that means it's okay, as long as folks are agreeable.
Pollovic: Unless you want to declare your own little Territory, with its own rules, and lock yourselves away inside it, you have to live with the rules of the larger community. And...
Pollovic isn't aware he's just described the founding, before Unity, of a Householding.
Pollovic does a double-take.
Pollovic: Gen Simes?
Ismeln: Yeah. Like my girl, before she got married and moved to Elk Mountain.
Pollovic: Your girl?
Pollovic has a sudden odd feeling in his gut.
Ismeln: Yes. Of course she lived at home until she married. Where else?
Pollovic: What. Larity. Is. She.
Vlad wonders whether this guy was listening. They said she was a Gen Sime.
Ismeln: I told you. She was a Gen Sime, though after she married she became a Sime Sime.
Pollovic: Does she have...
Vlad: Well, technically, she was a Nivet citizen from changeover, of course.
Pollovic loses all capacity for speech and just stares.
Dubblet: It's the usual thing. Why should we send our kids across the border? What would they do there? Where would they live? My wife's younger sister lived with us for years before she finally moved to [Simelan] Capital, or wherever it was.
Pollovic: First Year camps. Training programs. Sime Centers.
Pollovic is reduced to parroting stock phrases from Sime Center literature.
Vlad: Perfectly good Sime Center in Elk Mountain.
Ismeln: My girl learned just fine from her mother.
Dubblet: Where do you think our channels come from? You think anyone else from the Tecton is gonna take a hardship posting to the sheeplands? Ha.
Pollovic suddenly pictures an entire county in his district seceding from New Washington Territory and declaring itself part of Nivet... taking its liberal voters with it.
Dubblet: Ha ha.
Ismeln joins in the chuckle.
Vlad smiles. The present channel at Elk Mountain comes from even further back in the boonies, hard as it may be to imagine.
Vlad: So, Tuib Senator, even though I can't vote for you, I hope you'll think about us Simes as well as the Gens. We just want things to go back to the way they were.
Pollovic: I... You....
Pollovic pulls himself together with an effort.
Vlad: There must be other places that wouldn't mind the Gen cattle and the cattle Gens, but we do.
Pollovic: I'll have to go back to New Washington and talk to some people, see what can be done. Possibly some sort of special trade zone, or...
Pollovic shrugs helplessly.
Dubblet: That's it, yeah. Special trade zone. And special, ummm, customs and immigration zone too.
Dubblet hopes he got that right.
Vlad hopes it means he won't get hassled again for bringing goods across for Kadi to sell.
Pollovic: I'll look into it.
Ismeln: And no cows. Well, aside from a few milkers.
Pollovic: I don't know if anything can be done about the cows. Nonresident ownership is a well-established practice.
Ismeln: So, give us residents control of the pastures. If we can tell them to go home, it's our neighbors who should be using the extra pasture, that'll work just as well.
Vlad nods. It is the Sime side that's getting grazed.
Dubblet: Yeah. Special zoning zone.
Pollovic: In any event, it's late, and we aren't going to settle anything here tonight. May I contact you with questions?
Dubblet blows out his breath.
Dubblet: I guess so. You know where we live.
Dubblet points to Ismeln.
Dubblet: Send her the mail. Simpler.
Ismeln: Yeah. The mail all gets delivered to my inn.
Pollovic: Speak to my aide Quispel before you leave. Make sure he has all the correct information.
Dubblet: We'll do that, sir. Now don't you forget us, and we won't forget you. And Valad here, he's got plenty of relatives on this side, too.
Dubblet fixes Pollovic with the old gimlet.
Pollovic drops back into his politician persona and smiles.
Pollovic: You'll tell them who to vote for, then, I'm sure.
Ismeln: That all depends on the results.
Pollovic: I'll do the best I can for you. I don't know how much that will be. But I can assure you, my opponent wouldn't even try.
Dubblet nods slowly.
Dubblet: Okay. Shake.
Dubblet offers his hand.
Pollovic shakes the hand firmly, a good solid politician's handshake. He turns to Ismeln and offers her a handshake as well, bowing slightly.
Ismeln shakes hands, looking closely at Pollovic's face as she tries to judge his sincerity.
Dubblet wishes they had brought a Gen Sime along after all, to figure out how sincere Pollovic really is.
Pollovic turns to Vlad with his hand positioned for the Nivet-style fingertip-touch between two Gens.
Vlad shakes hands, as the others did, not to look like a rube.
Pollovic ushers his guests out of the room and stands watching as they retreat down the uncarpeted hallway.
Pollovic turns to study the pasteboard "Sime Territory" sign that's been hastily tacked to his door. He sees it with a strangely doubled vision. With one eye, it seems, he sees true Unity spreading from one tiny border zone to sweep the whole of New Washington Territory; with the other, he sees the bubbles of "Sime Territory" in New Washington Territory expanding until they coalesce, until New Washington Territory exists no more.
Pollovic feels more sympathy for his colleague Ruthven than he ever has before, and wonders what kind of hypocrite that makes him.