Mr. Ambassador: Episode 14

Burgess is just wrapping up his remarks at the press conference he's holding in order to announce his candidacy for Ambassador to Nivet.

Burgess: And to conclude, let me say that I hope you all write stories about this that put a positive spin on it,

Burgess waits out the dutiful laughter.

Burgess: So that I can go and lie abroad for the good of my country,

Ernestine smiles in fashion of an experienced campaigner, clinging to her husband's arm in the approved style for a Senator's wife.

Burgess is glad to hear the laughter is rather better quality this time.

Burgess: And above all, to be able to spend more time with my lovely wife Ernestine here.

Ernestine catches the cue and smoothly directs her smile up at her husband.

Reporter A: Senator, do you see your position as a compromise one between your fellow candidates from either extreme, Senators Tsibola and Pollovic?

Tsibola pokes his head into the rear of the room, hoping to get a better idea of what policies Burgess is going to support. He intends to get back his position as lead negotiator of trade agreements. He doesn't trust his replacement to hold his own against Seruffin, with some reason. He just wishes he had more energy to devote to his work.

Burgess: I think it's generally accepted that my position is a moderate one, and since you've named two of the more, umm, widely separated Senators, I think it would be difficult to avoid.

Tsibola notes with ~~ moderate approval ~~ that Burgess seems to be adept at the art of being truthful while saying nothing helpful.

Tsibola views that as an important skill for anyone dealing with Simes.

Reporter B: Senator, do you plan to promote freer trade between New Washington and Nivet, should you win the appointment? Recent efforts to promote free trade have been entirely from the Nivet side.

Tsibola has started looking for a suitable person to carry on his efforts to keep Gen Territory Gen-centered.

Burgess: Well, I'll do what's best for my country, my party, and my personal views in that order.

Tsibola isn't confining his efforts to his own, minority party, either: this is too important to let party rivalries stand in the way of competence.

Ernestine: As long as you also do what I tell you, dear.

Ernestine aims for a laugh of her own.

Burgess: Of course, darling.

Jacind is beginning to seethe. What kind of game is her ex-boyfriend playing here, anyhow? It's one thing to drop her, another to flirt with his supposedly-estranged wife in the most public place possible.

Reporter C: Mrs. Burgess, how do you feel about the prospect of a life of isolation, confined to the embassy building in a very foreign city, unless you're accompanied by Nivet escorts or... well, I'm sure you wouldn't consider letting a Sime touch your soul.

Ernestine: I'm aware that there will be certain hardships we will have to endure, to live in Simeland. But I knew Burgie was going places when I married him. And I'm looking forward to wearing the beautiful ruby necklace he gave me for our twentieth anniversary to impress the Sime officials!

Jacind snorts out loud this time. "Burgie", indeed.

Ernestine waits for the laugh to wind down.

Ernestine: Seriously, we're both looking forward to working together to represent our Territory.

Ernestine discreetly touches her husband's neck in that secret spot that drives him wild.

Jacind sees the touch on the special spot and all of a sudden her ~~ rage ~~ boils up out of control.

Jacind: Senator Burgess? ~~ loud and furious, both physically and nagerically ~~

Triangusul standing in his usual spot winces at the emotional outburst and wishes once again that one of his naztehrhai was here.

Burgess ignores the female voice: it can't be a reporter, after all.

Burgess: If there are no more questions, gentlemen....

Jacind: Senator Burgess! Why don't you tell these good people about the dirty deal you made with the Simes to keep your name out of the Ancient artifact smuggling scandal?

Jacind may wind up going down, but Burgess is going down with her for sure.

Ernestine: What the... Jacind Rittenberg, what are you doing in the Senate? Does your father know you're wandering around, unescorted?

Ernestine looks down her formidable nose at the errant debutante.

Jacind: More to the point, Ernestine Burgess, your husband knows exactly what I'm doing here.

Jacind's voice is well-trained enough to make herself heard, even though she's not standing on the acoustic sweet spot of the chamber, as the Burgesses are.

Ernestine looks at Burgess for an explanation.

Jacind: Tell her, Lance. Tell everybody. ~~ viciously ~~ No more secrets.

Ernestine can almost see the ears of the reporters lengthening, as they take in the confrontation avidly.

Burgess: Umm, ah, Miss Rittenberg, I have no idea....

Jacind shouts.

Jacind: Yes you damned well do. You are a lecher and a, a jilt, and probably a traitor to your country, too. And now everybody knows it.

Jacind: This man, gentlemen, seduced me with a promise of marriage, since it's well-known that he and his wife don't get along and haven't for years. Of course I was concerned about the scandal, but he was going to Simeland and taking me with him -- and I loved him so very much.

Ernestine's jaw drops.

Jacind: And he gave me a necklace, not of rubies, but an Ancient artifact -- with a forged certificate of authenticity.

Jacind's words are just bubbling out now.

Ernestine knew her husband has had the occasional dalliance, but they've always been lower-class professionals who knew how to be discreet.

Jacind: It was stolen, stolen from a site in Simeland, and when the Simes came to ask him about it, he shamelessly told them everything, leaving him open to blackmail.

Ernestine can't imagine anything less discreet than this.

Jacind: Mrs. Burgess, I'm so, so sorry. I never meant it to come to this. But as for you, Senator,

Jacind gives the word all the contempt of which she's capable, which is a whole lot....

Jacind: I'll be happy to discuss you with anyone who wishes to hear.

Reporter D: Senator, what have you to say to these remarkable allegations?

Reporter E: Mrs. Burgess, how do you answer this?

Ernestine says the only thing that might salvage the situation.

Ernestine: It's obvious the poor girl is deranged.

Reporter F: Miss Rittenberg, my paper would be delighted to hear your side in detail.

Jacind returns at once to the verbal politeness she was trained up to, though she makes sure she's still audible to all.

Jacind: Thank you very much, sir. I can't promise you an exclusive, but I think I can promise you a scoop, then.

Tsibola watches in amazement as the scandal of his own downfall evaporates off the news radar.

Reporter G: Miss Rittenberg, now that you've announced your ineligibility for a good marriage, what are your plans for the future?

Ernestine makes a note to grant Reporter G a preferential interview, if interviews become necessary. She nudges her husband, hoping to break him out of his shock to handle the situation.

Jacind tilts her nose up at this insulting question.

Jacind: Perhaps I'll emigrate. From what I understand, Simelanders have sensible marriage laws: they marry for love, and if it doesn't work out, there are no hard feelings.

Jacind doesn't know the full truth, of course.

Tsibola gives a ~~ cynical ~~ shake of his head.

Burgess felt Ernestine's nudge, all right, but somehow his mental faculties are paralyzed. He starts to babble anyhow:

Burgess: Well, I'm sure there's much to be said on all sides, but we mustn't allow the shadows of the present to override the promise of the future or the solid record of the past. And there's no point in crying over split milk, er, spoilt milk, and of course we are all by our just and generous laws considered to be innocent until proven guilty, and ...

Tsibola's opinion of Burgess plummets as the man babbles incoherently.

Burgess chokes off the flow of hooey.

Burgess: Thank you very much, gentlemen. If there are no more relevant questions, then I'll see you another day and perhaps in another place....

Burgess chokes off again, more successfully this time, and slowly walks off the stage. It wouldn't do, of course, to look back and see if anyone might be following him.

Ernestine, left alone on the stage, stares after her husband for a moment, then stalks after him, ~~ determined ~~ to get to the bottom of the story.

Jacind pushes her way through the crowd to Reporter F, whom she promised the scoop to, and begins talking hastily with him in a low tone as they exit the room together.

Triangusul watches and waits as the room empties out, leaving the conspicuous nager of Senator Tsibola in plain zlin. He approaches Tsibola carefully so as not to panic him and raises an eyebrow.

Triangusul: Well, that was certainly interesting, eh, Senator Tsibola?

Tsibola: It will certainly change things. In what way remains to be determined.

Triangusul: Quite so. I don't suppose you have any comment on background, would you? I always find your thought processes fascinating and very useful.

Tsibola ~~ considers ~~ a moment, but Triangusul is a Sime, and therefore likely to stick with the promise to keep anything said to deep background.

Tsibola: Obviously, I don't know more about the situation than you do, at the moment. There are undoubtedly many details that remain to be discovered. However, I must say that I am disappointed in Senator Burgess. If the girl's accusations have merit, it certainly displays a lack of the judgement and character required of an ambassador.

Tsibola knows that plenty of his colleagues sleep around, although he's always been content with his wife. However, turning a girl from a respectable family into one's mistress is Not Done.

Triangusul nods.

Tsibola: How will the folks on your side of the border view this?

Tsibola figures that deep background goes both ways.

Triangusul: Well, of course the same caveats apply, but I suspect they'll just see it as more of the crazy ways of, er, Upside-down Territory. And all part of, you should excuse the expression, your obsession with sex. In any case, we're not very good at either secrets or lies: they come out all too easily, and adults just get in the habit of being nondeceptive.

Tsibola: Surely morality is universal enough that seducing a young woman of good family with false promises of marriage would be frowned upon on your side of the border as well?

Triangusul chuckles.

Triangusul: Let me deconstruct that for you, Senator.

Triangusul: "Marriage" is basically living together, so people marry whom they choose, when they choose, and break it off when they choose. Of course, children must be taken care of, but there's always someone to do that.

Triangusul: And our "good families" are the channel/Donor families, and what they care about is good genetics -- which is benefited by a certain amount of outcrossing. But it's true we feel strongly about people who abandon others in a position of weakness. There's a very insulting Simelan term for it.

Tsibola: Oh?

Triangusul: "Lorsh." Fundamentally it means a person who abandons a child in changeover.

Tsibola: I'll make a note of it. We frown on that sort of thing here, too, you know.

Triangusul: Yes, but for the opposite reason. You, because a changeover "victim", as you call them, is a public danger. We, because they are so vulnerable and need to be protected.

Tsibola: Yours would be just as dangerous as ours, if left unattended. In either case, the principle is the same: one must take responsibility for one's children.

Triangusul: Not only for one's own children, but ultimately for all children, related or not.

Tsibola: That's right, Simes have more trouble having children, don't they?

Triangusul starts to scratch his head with his tentacles and instead just bumps his head with his retainers. He winces from the double shock.

Triangusul: Not that I know of. Why?

Tsibola: Your families seem to be much smaller, on average.

Triangusul: It's complicated. Simes are living longer, fewer children are lost to changeover or establishment, our medical care is more effective ... I'd guess the populations are probably growing at about the same rate overall, though I don't really know.

Tsibola: Really? Well, then, you should be able to supply all your own selyn, soon.

Triangusul: So the demographers tell us. But we're a long way from it yet, especially since Simes need extra selyn in stressful situations such as diseases -- or earthquakes.

Tsibola: You do realize that telling me you view us as a... pantry... isn't likely to convince me of your benign intentions?

Triangusul smiles guilelessly.

Triangusul: Why Senator, don't your city Gens view your farming areas as a pantry? And don't you pay for what you get?

Tsibola: We view our farmers as businessmen providing a valuable commodity. We don't view them as commodities in themselves.

Tsibola's mouth curls in ~~ distaste ~~.

Triangusul: I assure you, Gens aren't commodities -- only selyn is.

Tsibola: It's kind of hard to separate the selyn from the Gen, however.

Triangusul laughs.

Triangusul: That's what channels are for! But seriously, Senator, Gens are far more people in Simeland than Simes are out here.

Tsibola: That's hardly surprising, given how few Simes stay on this side of the border.

Triangusul: To most Simes, Gen Territory has all the appeal of a brass band playing in a coal mine.

Triangusul smiles disarmingly again.

Tsibola shrugs, not at all offended.

Tsibola: It's fine with me, if they choose to stay on their own side of the border.

Triangusul: It's hardest, I think, on your new Simes, torn between homesickness and the attitudes of their family, friends, and neighbors. Sending them to us is no real solution.

Tsibola: It works better than the alternative. Which is still available, for those who wish it.

Triangusul: Of course. But eventually... Well, I mustn't take up any more of your time, Senator, and I do have a report to file. Thank you for the frank discussion.

Tsibola: You're welcome.

Tsibola steps to the side, allowing Triangusul plenty of space to leave the room without getting very close.

Triangusul sketches a salute and walks off Gen-slowly but Sime-carefully. He knows he still looks like he's dancing in slow motion. It can't be helped.

Tsibola decides that he got at least as much information as he gave, and departs for his office, where he intends to send his aides scrambling for the full story on Burgess and Jacind Rittenberg.

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