Mr. Ambassador: Episode 4

Pollovic sits over a bowl of soup and a sandwich in the Senate lunchroom. He's as glad to be back in New Washington, among the physical comforts of civilization, as he was to leave it a few days ago. He's pleased about the progress of the rebuilding effort, but concerned about the little group of constituents from Desperation Point who've asked for his help.

Pollovic watches absently as a waiter refills his teacup, mulling over the question of how to accomplish what his people need.

Burgess enters the lunchroom in a distracted state. He's trying to figure out whether he'd be better off taking the offer for the Nivet ambassadorship, and hoping for the best, or turning it down, and hoping for the best.

Burgess is not all that good at strategy, and this isn't something he can entrust to an aide, unfortunately.

Pollovic glances up as Burgess brushes past his elbow on his way in, apparently deep in thought. As the front-running candidate for Ambassador, he undoubtedly has a lot on his mind.

Pollovic suddenly realizes that the next Ambassador is exactly who he should approach over the Desperation Point problem.

Pollovic: Lance!

Burgess looks around, startled.

Pollovic gestures to the empty chair across from himself.

Pollovic: Care to join me?

Burgess: Ah, Brenn. What can I do for you? Or rather, what can I do for you that's practical and won't get me in the papers?

Burgess smiles, sits down in the indicated chair and waves for waiterly attention.

Pollovic: I've just gotten back from Cottonwood City. The rebuilding's coming along quite nicely, and things are in motion to get a new Sime Center there.

Burgess: Well, that's good, certainly.

Burgess doesn't sound all that certain about it, especially the last point.

Pollovic: It should give the economy a big boost. But while I was there, I had a visit from a delegation from Desperation Point and Elk Mountain.

Burgess raises an eyebrow.

Burgess: Hmm, remind me. What are those places known for?

Burgess hates these impromptu conversations, and sometimes wishes he had a way of getting private messages to and from his aides undetected.

Pollovic: Not for very much, really. They're both quite small. But the important thing is that Desperation Point is on our side of the border, just barely, and Elk Mountain is in Nivet. Again, just barely.

Burgess: Ah. So you talked to some border Simes as well as Gens?

Burgess figures there's nothing surprising there.

Pollovic shakes his head.

Pollovic: The Elk Mountain delegate was a Gen. His wife's Sime, though. And apparently the two communities have built an informal co-operation the rest of us might well envy.

Burgess: Within the law, or -- ahem -- winking at it?

Pollovic: The latter, it seems. Not in any harmful way. But Simes travel freely back and forth, live on whichever side they prefer, don't bother with retainers. And they've worked out their own local arrangements for sheep pasturing and the like. Arrangements that don't take our trade deals into account.

Pollovic: Now, they approached me primarily over the issue of absentee landlords running cattle on their grazing lands, ruining the pastures with overgrazing. That's something I'll have to take up with the trade negotiators. But the really interesting thing, as far as the next Ambassador to Nivet is concerned, is this system they've got going. They're living our ideal of Unity, but they're having to bend the law to do so.

Burgess: Hmmmm.

Burgess is more concerned about this than he wants to show.

Burgess: Do you have details: names, places, trading partners, that sort of thing?

Pollovic: I have the names of the delegates who came to me. And it's that whole stretch of border, as far as I can tell. We're not talking huge numbers of people, though. Just families visiting their in-laws, working each other's fields, bringing home a few jars of jam or a paper of pins. In a very lightly populated area.

Burgess: No doubt. But isn't there an issue of principle here? If we tolerate smuggling in remote border areas, why make a fuss about it at Valzor or any other border city? And granted, the retainer laws are easy enough to waive, or even just ignore, but what happens when some outsider panics and some Sime kills? What then?

Pollovic: At first I tried to tell them that. But they've already got what the rest of us claim as the ultimate goal of Unity: to just let the border dissolve away because it isn't required any more. And all they ask is to be able to keep on doing it. Shouldn't we find some way to help them?

Burgess sighs and seizes the opportunity not to answer provided by the arrival of his lunch, which is rather more hearty than Pollovic's.

Pollovic: As the next Ambassador, you'll be in an ideal position to act on this. Maybe something along the lines of declaring a Special Co-operation Zone, or... I'm not sure what to call it. Or maybe finding out if there are other border areas doing the same sort of thing. Or...

Pollovic shrugs. He isn't sure what other options there are, but he's hoping Burgess might have some ideas of his own.

Burgess: I certainly can do that.

Pollovic: Good. Because if it's happening elsewhere, it's not just a special case.

Burgess decides the time for evasion is over.

Burgess: I'm perfectly willing to find out if there are other such cases. But I can't agree that "Unity by any means possible" is at all a good idea. For either Territory. We need to proceed toward Unity step by step, with full consultation from both sides. Rushing it just exposes everyone to unacceptable risks, and I'm sure the Tecton would think exactly the same thing.

Burgess looks closely at Pollovic to see if all this is sinking in.

Pollovic: They're hardly rushing it. These people have been doing what they're doing for at least a couple of decades. All they ask is governmental support for what's already in place.

Burgess: And that's exactly what we cannot -- must not -- provide. It's one thing what happens, or even what we know is happening. It's quite another thing for us to proclaim openly that we know it.

Burgess: The Tecton's standards are being egregiously violated. Consider just the retainer laws. All we say is that retainered Simes can't be treated as berserkers. They punish people for not wearing retainers. Are we willing to be seen as undermining their whole principle of protecting Gens at all costs?

Pollovic: As I understand it, those laws only apply to Tecton staff. They can hardly make laws about what ordinary Simes do while not in Sime Territory. And nobody's expected to wear retainers while in Sime Territory.

Burgess waves his hands.

Burgess: That's a detail. I don't care, speaking personally, about the particular content of Nivet law. I care very much if this government sets itself in open opposition to Nivet law.

Pollovic: And I care about what will happen once word gets out, that any sadist who loves shooting ducks in a barrel can just go to Desperation Point and legally shoot a bunch of farm hands and housewives. And word will get out, once the grazing issue makes the front page.

Burgess: Sounds like we have to see to it that it does not.

Pollovic: But it will. That's why we need ambassadorial involvement, now.

Burgess knows when to yield a point, he hopes.

Burgess: Very well. But not in the direction of legalization. That's unacceptable. The most we can expect is to keep the situation under wraps until it can be quietly normalized.

Burgess reflects that this applies to his personal situation as well.

Pollovic: Normalized? How? By jailing an entire county?

Pollovic is lucky there are no Simes within zlinning range, as he's building up a nice head of steam by now, and it's been 25 days since his last donation.

Burgess: By whatever combination of jawboning and lawboning is effective. And you better hope something is. These people need to realize that they are part of a larger Territory -- or two Territories -- and what they do has larger implications.

Burgess is constitutionally suited to looking at the Big Picture, sometimes so much so that he misses the trees for the forest.

Pollovic: But it's up to us, whether those implications become positive or negative. If we don't botch it, this is a chance to take a step closer to real Unity. And as for the people of Elk Mountain... they're farmers. They just want to get Uncle Tomity's fields ploughed on time.

Burgess sighs again.

Burgess: I'm afraid what it looks like to me is that you're one of those leaders who tries to figure out which way the mob is going, and then runs faster to get in front of them.

Pollovic: Hardly. I'm quite aware that I'm going out on a limb with this. Most people on our side of the border don't really want Unity. They just want Simes to go away. I just think it's a limb that needs to be gone out on.

Burgess: I'm talking about the people at Desperation Mountain, or whatever it's called. They are egregious scofflaws, and all you can think of is ways to keep them that way.

Burgess finishes his food, realizing that he doesn't remember what he ordered and he didn't taste a thing.

Pollovic has lost his appetite. He shoves his plate away and stands.

Pollovic: I can see it was a mistake to talk to you about any of this. Maybe you're not such an ideal candidate for Ambassador as I first thought.

Pollovic, in disgust, throws his napkin down like a gauntlet and stalks out of the lunchroom.

Burgess wonders whether he really needed to make an enemy of Pollovic like that. If only he could get his own problems out of the way so he could concentrate on other people's.

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