Mr. Ambassador: Episode 11

Ismeln is in the courtyard of her inn, ~~ energetically ~~ scrubbing out some large barrels. She's ~~ worried ~~ about the still-unresolved problems she presented to the Senator, but life goes on, and beer must be brewed regardless.

Tscheka leads her pony into the courtyard and ties him up out of the wind. She's a small, wiry middle aged woman, the Donor at the Elk Mountain Sime Center.

Tscheka: G'day, Ismeln!

Tscheka unfolds a pony blanket, and spreads it over the animal's back.

Ismeln: Tscheka! It's good to see you. Let me finish this barrel while the water's hot, then I'll get you a brew.

Tscheka takes off her elk-hide mitts, slaps them against her hip and sticks them in her pocket.

Tscheka: Sounds good. Weather's been good, eh? Spring's got to be coming eventually.

Ismeln: Yes. How are the mountain pastures? I've got folks wondering how soon the herds must be gathered and moved.

Tscheka: Oh, long time yet. Snow isn't even off them, except the lowest ones, and the grass there hasn't started growing yet. Be a few weeks yet. Probably more. Or so they tell me.

Tscheka puts a nosebag with some oats on her pony. He had a drink in the stream on the way in to town.

Tscheka: Our people are still feeding hay, most of them.

Ismeln: Well, then, it's a good thing I'm starting an extra batch of brew or two, because it looks like there'll be plenty of folks here to drink it.

Tscheka laughs.

Tscheka: Aren't there always?

Ismeln dumps the water out of the barrel, inspecting it closely.

Ismeln: There, that'll do. Come in now and tell me the rest of the news over a brew.

Tscheka follows Ismeln into the inn and sits at a table by the stove, hanging up her jacket to dry.

Ismeln busies herself drawing a couple of brews and assembling a plate of bread and cheese. She then settles next to her guest.

Ismeln: So, how is everything at Elk Mountain?

Ismeln naturally uses the Simelan words.

Tscheka: Oh, pretty good. Everybody tired of winter and getting ready to be tired of mud season.

Ismeln: My mouth is watering for the first radishes, too.

Tscheka: Lettuce! Green onions! Fiddleheads! I've got stuff coming up in my hot beds already.

Ismeln: Anything but more sprouts. I know they're good for me, but by this time of year I'd almost prefer scurvy.

Tscheka: Yeah. Cabbage all done for, potatoes sprouting, carrots getting kind of limp.

Tscheka sips her beer.

Tscheka: Good brew, Ismeln.

Ismeln: Thanks.

Tscheka waits a few moments before bringing up the reason she crossed the border to visit.

Tscheka: It seems we have some results from your trip to Cottonwood City already.

Ismeln: Already? That's faster than I expected. Are they going to keep the cattle out?

Tscheka: Not quite that kind of result. Hajene got a letter from the higher muckety-mucks. I think some members of your delegation may have been a little more forthcoming about our lifestyle here than is good for us.

Ismeln: We didn't tell them about the bugs.

Tscheka sighs.

Tscheka: But you did tell them about our apparent disregard for the retainer laws. Although our Simes have been a lot more cautious about coming up here since all those cattle Gens have been around.

Ismeln: I said we didn't want folks to get shot as berserkers when they're just trying to do their jobs here.

Tscheka sighs again.

Tscheka: I told Hajene that he should just order a bale of those Sime Territory signs to post everywhere a tentacle might be visible around here, but apparently it's not that simple when people are outdoors.

Ismeln: It isn't? Even when it's private property?

Tscheka shrugs.

Tscheka: I'm no lawyer, especially not for out-T law. But with those cattle Gens coming through here all the time now, who knows what they might do? I can't see any Sime taking a chance with them.

Ismeln: No. And with range mostly unfenced and free, it wouldn't help with managing the herds even if all the private areas were posted.

Tscheka: Too easy to miss a sign and say they didn't know. Meanwhile, somebody is dead and apologies are no help.

Ismeln: That crowd wouldn't bother to apologize. And their bosses wouldn't offer reparations, either, you can bet on that.

Tscheka: Truth to tell, Ismeln, if I had tentacles I'd stay on the Sime side until things get sorted out. And if I lived here, I wouldn't invite any Simes to visit me, except for Gens. I wouldn't want them to take the risk.

Ismeln: No, indeed.

Ismeln looks ~~ thoughtful ~~.

Ismeln: Although... Do you think it would help if we got some tentacled folk here at the inn, and make it plain that the cattle Gens have to share the bar with them or go thirsty? It's not as if there's anyone else selling a brew in Desperation Point, after all.

Tscheka: I don't know, Ismeln. Sure, they'd probably be safe in the bar, if you post it, but coming and going? They'd be more at risk from a real murderous Gen -- easier to find, eh?

Ismeln: True. And while folks would make things very difficult for the shooter, that's small consolation to the victim. What exactly did that letter say?

Tscheka: Oh, it went on and on, reminding us of all sorts of border regulations people around here tend to ignore. I think we should all be more discreet about goods moving between our villages -- nobody wants to bother with regulations and tariffs, so we shouldn't make it obvious how we're flouting them.

Ismeln: Botheration. Spring is supposed to be the time when folks can relax, after being cooped up together all winter.

Tscheka burrows into the inner pockets of her elk-hide jacket.

Tscheka: Here, I brought it along. Read it yourself.

Ismeln takes the document and begins to make her way through it slowly.

Tscheka: Oh, another thing. Don't anybody mention to outsiders about Norvell. I mean, he's only served First Transfer three times since our villages were founded, but the way things are now, that's three times too many.

Tscheka refers to a former Gen Army soldier who discovered an ability to serve a renSime in transfer during the last days of the Unity War, when he was snowed in with a needy Sime.

Ismeln: It's not like it's illegal to serve transfer on this side of the border. And he's never done it on your side, or when the weather's good enough for the child to make the trip. What do your bosses want, anyway? Would they rather those children had killed?

Tscheka shrugs.

Tscheka: That sort of thing makes the bureaucrats twitchy. So just don't talk about it, but keep doing it when necessary, seldom as that is.

Ismeln: Good enough.

Ismeln goes back to the letter.

Ismeln: Well, we can post signs warning about tentacles, but really, do they really want folks to cover their tentacles just to walk from one posted building to the next? How could anyone carry groceries and such if they're lugging around great awkward manacles? And it's absolutely insane for "all Simes" to have to wear retainers. What about the Gen Simes, for goodness' sake?

Tscheka rubs her forehead.

Tscheka: There aren't supposed to be any Gen Simes, not without visas and stuff. Escorts, even, I suppose. Certainly they'd have to wear retainers.

Ismeln: Visas? They can't seriously expect my daughter to get a visa every time she brings my grandchildren over for a visit? She'd have to travel fifty miles to the county seat, even to apply.

Tscheka sighs and spreads her hands.

Ismeln: And I don't suppose they're going to send us about three dozen escorts who are willing to camp out in Desperation Point all winter, and go to the mountain pastures in summer?

Tscheka: Well, the mountain pastures are on the Sime side, so the Sime-side Simes won't need Escorts.

Tscheka uses the original term, from which -side has been dropped over the years in colloquial speech.

Ismeln: No, just the Gen side folks who go along to tend their own beasts while they're on the summer pastures.

Tscheka: What a headache. Of course they aren't going to send Escorts for the Gen-side Gens, but Hajene takes their donations all the time, and he'll vouch for them knowing what they're doing around Simes. I don't think they use Escorts for Gens much anymore anyway, only big shots who get an exemption from donating.

Tscheka snorts.

Tscheka: Maybe we should demand Escorts for all these rude cattle Gens when they're Sime-side, eh? Even if they don't have to donate as long as they stay out of town.

Ismeln: Well, that's something. What's this about declaring any "marketable goods" when crossing the border? To whom would such a declaration be made? That colony of ground squirrels? Now, that's a thought.

Tscheka: Well, everybody is supposed to go through an official border crossing, not just take whichever path is most convenient, and a whole lot shorter.

Ismeln: Since the nearest "official" crossing is where the train line goes through, and that's three days' ride...

Ismeln frowns.

Ismeln: Do you suppose we could just post a sign marking a spot on each trail that's "official", and have people recite their goods as they cross? I'm sure it would bore the ground squirrels, but the jays might find it interesting. That way we could say we're making a good-faith effort to comply.

Tscheka snickers, then bursts out laughing.

Tscheka: Oh, dear. I don't think we can designate official sites. That's for the bureaucrats to decide.

Ismeln: But aren't you and your channel as much of a local authority as there is, in Elk Mountain? We could get the Town Council over here to issue a decree, as well.

Tscheka: We're a Sime Center, not a border authority.

Ismeln snickers.

Ismeln: Maybe we could actually staff a station on the main road the cattle Gens use, and charge them a fee to cross?

Tscheka makes an exaggerated fussy brushing-away finger gesture.

Tscheka: Not in our job description, my dear.

Ismeln: But do the cattle Gens know that?

Tscheka: Do you want to pay duty on every last thing that crosses the border? It's not like there's any major movement of goods here, you know. It's all consumed locally.

Ismeln: I didn't say everything that crosses the border -- only everything that crosses at the one point on the road. Which is easily circumvented if you're on good terms with Dubblet and his family.

Tscheka: Well, they did have those customs agents around last summer, when the cattle Gens were driving their cattle back and forth, and that was a big nuisance for everybody,

Ismeln: The customs agents don't know our customs or the deer trails. They're a minor nuisance, and they'll get bored soon enough.

Tscheka: Vlad was quite incensed after he got stopped with a backpack full of odds and sods for Kadi that time. Of course Kadi was even more incensed -- it's not as if she's making very much reselling needles and pins and thread and such.

Ismeln: No, this is a ridiculous request. I mean, consider: If I post my inn as legally Sime Territory, so my daughter and my customers don't have to wear manacles to drink my beer, then I run into an additional problem. To wit, the shed where I store the beer is still Gen Territory. So as I read this, I'd have to pay duty on every barrel of my own beer that I move from my own shed to my own inn.

Ismeln: I could post the shed as Sime Territory also, I suppose. But then I'd have to pay duty twice, because the stable yard in between can't be posted and I'd be crossing the border twice.

Tscheka pretends to tear her hair out.

Ismeln: I'm sure these rules make sense in the big cities, where everybody is a stranger and you can't know who to trust. But they're nonsense here.

Tscheka: I know, I know. But now that they know, we're going to have to be more discreet, and more careful, until the whole matter gets sorted out or forgotten about. I mean, Vlad can keep whining that we just want everything to go back to the way it was before, but we do have to deal with how it is now.

Ismeln: What's likely to be their next move? Or will they be content with just sending that reminder?

Tscheka: Who knows? Our Controller and her Controller and his Controller got copies of the letter, so it's up to them to shit on us now.

Ismeln: Can they be reasoned with? Or will they at least fall for some vague assurances that everything is under control?

Tscheka: I don't know, Ismeln. We'll just have to wait and see.

Ismeln: As long as they don't actually send someone out to view the situation in person, we should be all right.

Tscheka nods and hopes for the best.

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