Tsibola returns home from the Senate, feeling a little ~~ weak-kneed ~~ with shock. He goes to his office -- which at least is on the first floor -- and sends the servant for a brandy.
Bernice arrives before the brandy.
Tsibola is breathing slowly and carefully, since his heart is beating a little more quickly than is comfortable.
Bernice: How are you feeling, dear? Another rough day?
Tsibola: Not unduly, but the end of it was... a bit overwhelming.
Tsibola: Burgess was giving a press conference -- the usual sort of thing, about what he planned to do as Ambassador, and so on. Nothing we haven't heard in committee. But then...
Tsibola shakes his head in continuing ~~ disbelief ~~.
Bernice accepts the brandy from the servant and dismisses him. She figures this is a medicinal dose, and hands it over.
Tsibola takes a careful sip, figuring that she's not likely to allow him a second any time soon.
Tsibola: I still can't believe it. Except that disbelieving it is even less possible.
Bernice: Here, let's sit.
Bernice guides her husband to the sofa.
Tsibola tries hard not to collapse too obviously onto the seat and takes another sip of the brandy.
Tsibola: Burgess and his wife were answering questions -- it was all routine. Then Jacind Rittenberg appeared.
Bernice: What was she doing at a senator's press conference?
Tsibola: Plotting his downfall, apparently. And she did a good job of it.
Bernice: Oh, my.
Bernice has heard that Jacind was a bit of a problem child, but didn't think she had any real interest in politics. Or politicians.
Bernice: What has she got against him? Well, perhaps I should let you tell the tale first.
Tsibola: She accused him of seducing her.
Bernice takes a sharp breath. This is a very serious accusation, one that could indeed ruin the man's career, even if untrue.
Tsibola: And... from his reaction, I believe her story.
Bernice: What a fool. How could he do such a thing? And how could Jacind be so foolish as to go along with it and what's worse confess it in public? Now she's ruined.
Tsibola: They both are. It would be one thing if Burgess had taken a mistress from the lower classes, who knew how to be discreet. But a girl of good family? That displays a lack of judgement that would disqualify him for any position of trust in itself.
Bernice: Disgusting man. Where's his self-discipline?
Tsibola: Mind you, I don't want to believe it.
Bernice: The papers will have a field day. Poor Mrs. Rittenberg.
Tsibola: It doesn't speak well of her, that her daughter would do such a thing.
Bernice: I suppose she did her best, but young girls these days... It's not like when you and I were courting. We knew the rules and stayed within them, for our own protection and each other's.
Tsibola: No. There are far more temptations today. Particularly for the lower classes, who can be lured into a Sime Center with the promise of easy money that doesn't have to be earned.
Bernice: Fridda... Fridda wouldn't have disgraced herself and her family like that.
Tsibola: No. She had honor, even at the last.
Bernice: Has Jon heard anything from her recently?
Tsibola: I haven't seen him in a few weeks -- not since I started going back to the Senate. It's the start of the new term, you know, and he's teaching.
Bernice: Poor girl. I wish there were some way we could see her again.
Tsibola: That... may not be as impossible as... well, as we've both been assuming. Perhaps.
Bernice is startled.
Tsibola looks closely at Bernice, trying to judge her mood.
Bernice: Oh, dear. With Burgess having destroyed himself... you aren't thinking of taking the ambassadorship after all, are you?
Tsibola: I won't if you're opposed to the idea. It wasn't part of the original deal, after all. But the alternative would be to allow Pollovic to take the post.
Bernice: Pollovic? I'd think that if Burgess's party wants to discipline him they'd do well to exile him to Nivet for a few years! Whyever Pollovic? He's terribly soft on Simes -- he wouldn't be reliable in representing our interests.
Tsibola: Pollovic wants the position, badly. He's got some fool idea that he'd find a more sympathetic ear for his wild schemes in Simeland -- and that with their help, he'd be able to rewrite the First Contract to his specifications without Senate oversight.
Bernice: What nonsense.
Tsibola: Nonsense, yes. But dangerous nonsense. It didn't matter when everybody assumed Burgess would get the position, but now...
Bernice: I really can't see the Senate approving Pollovic's appointment. He's a woolly thinker, a loose cannon, and he could do a great deal of damage to our relationship with Nivet.
Bernice shakes her head.
Tsibola: He could. But the Senate's got to approve somebody. Without a credible alternative, Pollovic might succeed.
Bernice: Certainly there's some good solid man who can step forward. You shouldn't have to. It's an important position -- it could make some younger man's career.
Tsibola: Bernice... I don't think there are any young men in the Senate with the ability to match Pollovic's experience.
Bernice: What experience? That ridiculous show in the rotunda? That foolish scene at the party his mother threw to find him a wife?
Tsibola: He can make a case that whatever else they do, those incidents show his ability to interact with Simes.
Tsibola: No, it won't convince our set, but there's a real danger that he could convince enough of the center, if the alternative is a much younger, inexperienced man. On the other hand... if his opponent were at all qualified, he wouldn't stand a chance.
Bernice: It shouldn't have to be you, Ruthven, but if there's no acceptable alternative, and you really feel you must do it, you know I'll back you. But try to find another way. You don't deserve exile, after all these years.
Tsibola: Are you sure, Bernice? This wouldn't be a matter of a few parties at the Sime embassy. It would mean leaving home to live among them.
Bernice: I know, and I hope there's someone acceptable who can take the job. But if there's no other way, and you feel you have to do it, how can I refuse to support you in your decision? But there must be another candidate, at least an adequate, if not an exceptional one. Someone sound.
Ragel is announced by the servant: he's an old friend, both political and personal, of both Tsibolas, and belongs to a party closely allied to Tsibola's in the Conservative coalition.
Tsibola greets his old friend ~~ warmly ~~ and waits until his guest has been provided with a chair and a drink.
Tsibola: So, what brings you here today? Not that you're not welcome, but you have the appearance of a man bearing news.
Ragel: Not news exactly, more like a request. You've heard about the Burgess fiasco? Bad business, that.
Tsibola: I was actually there, and saw it in person. I admit, I hadn't thought Burgess capable of such poor judgement.
Ragel: Well, that leaves us with a serious problem. There is no one else who wants the job and is enough of a centrist to command the necessary two-thirds majority.
Tsibola: No one? I thought perhaps Hindel...?
Ragel: He's been circulating a "not interested" memo -- I can forward it to you if you want, but that's what it boils down to.
Bernice: Surely some other younger man would see the potential for his career in this prestigious position!
Ragel: I wish. But those who want the job can't get it, and those who can get it, don't want it. Nobody wants another implosion when something comes out -- you know the Liberals will cross-examine any candidate to death.
Tsibola: So this means it's me or Pollovic?
Ragel: Yes, and that's ugly. The Senate will just have to ballot and reballot and re-reballot until enough people crumble. And whichever side loses will feel that all bets are off, and all existing compromises too.
Bernice: I would think any rational patriotic Senator would prefer anyone other than Pollovic. The man is blatantly soft on Simes. As an ambassador he could be... treasonous. How could anyone trust him to represent our interests?
Ragel: Under these circumstances, no Liberal will believe that you want the job out of anything but spite. You know I wouldn't say it if it weren't the way they were talking, Ruthven.
Tsibola: Do you think the Centrists will be any happier about sending me to Nivet, than Pollovic?
Ragel: Just possibly, if you were to act more like Burgess and less like yourself....
Ragel realizes too late what he's said.
Ragel: Oh, I didn't mean... Forgive me, Ruthven, Bernice.
Ragel grinds to a halt.
Tsibola: Yes, you did mean it. And the answer is... I'm aware that the Ambassador represents the whole of New Washington Territory, not just his party or coalition.
Ragel: A whole which is currently Liberal, if not necessarily radical Liberal, by a small majority at present.
Tsibola: If I were sent to Nivet, I'd be obligated to represent the interests of the liberals as well as the conservatives. All the while using my best judgement, because I would know more about the specifics of the situation than anyone in New Washington.
Ragel: Exactly. But if the conservative interest were to prevail over the liberal interest, broadly speaking, too many times ...
Ragel looks at Tsibola to see if he's going to give the right answer.
Tsibola: I'm a conservative, and that's not going to change. That determines my general approach to issues, and my resources. However, the ambassador doesn't have a party.
Ragel: No, but he is subject to a recall election. And that's something we must avoid at all costs. It would be a black eye for the whole Territory.
Tsibola: Ragel, let's talk turkey. What are you offering?
Ragel: I can get you enough support from the Liberals to make you overwhelmingly the majority candidate. But you are going to have to do ... certain things ... their way. Or you can skip Liberal support and take your chances against Pollovic.
Ragel: Now until a few weeks ago, I wouldn't have even suggested this. But ... the old rules don't necessarily hold any more, do they.
Tsibola: What exactly do the liberals want?
Ragel: Details aren't hard and fast. But one thing's for sure: you'd have to waive the special privileges of diplomatic Gens in Nivet. That's non-negotiable.
Tsibola: Waive the... you can't be serious?
Ragel: I am. More to the point, they are. They say it's time. As I was saying, if it was a matter of your personal honor, I'd be compelled to push back. But ....
Ragel just lets that hang.
Tsibola: That's never been a requirement before.
Ragel: That's what "It's time" means.
Tsibola looks at Bernice.
Tsibola: How far does that waiver of privilege have to extend?
Bernice doesn't like the way Ragel is assuming there's no other course but for Ruthven to take the job, and she doesn't like the effect the argument is having on Ruthven.
Ragel: Well, I'd say for your family and the families of your personal staff, it'd be optional. The local staff of course already donates.
Bernice: But you'd expect Ruthven to undergo this distasteful and humiliating act every month he's in Nivet?
Tsibola: I'll admit, that requirement makes the position much less appealing to me. Is it why they can't find any other takers, outside of Pollovic?
Ragel: It wouldn't surprise me at all, Ruthven. Bernice, it's the only way to get someone as conservative as Ruthven in, in my best judgment.
Tsibola: What happened a few weeks ago hasn't exactly made me eager for more... close encounters with Simes.
Tsibola feels his heart pounding harder at the thought, sending an ache across his chest.
Ragel: I can understand that, and I can understand how the idea's distressing at first hearing. Let me let you think about it, then.
Tsibola: Yes. That would be best.
Tsibola takes another sip of brandy, hoping to ease the pain in his chest.
Ragel: I can see myself out. You look pale, Ruthven: maybe you should take a dose of those new drugs?
Ragel means "Sime drugs", but he's not going to say so now.
Tsibola winces at the reminder.
Tsibola: They do work, and better than the alternatives, my doctor says.
Bernice's burning look lets Ragel know what she thinks of Ragel's suggestion, after he was the one to get Ruthven so upset.
Ragel misses the look, as he has already turned on his heel and walked out. If Tsibola has another heart attack, he isn't getting involved, old friend or not. Who knows if a channel may be on call even now?
Bernice takes her husband's hand.
Tsibola: Bernice? What should I do?
Bernice: You could retire...
Tsibola: And do what? Sit around the house all day, complaining about the mess my replacements are making of everything I've worked to accomplish?
Bernice looks down and squeezes his hand.
Bernice: They're expecting too much of you. You're still not well. I'd rather listen to you complain all day than let them pressure you into a situation that could kill you.
Tsibola: Oh, it wouldn't kill me. The Simes would make sure of that, if only to protect their own reputation and interests.
Tsibola's voice is a little ~~ bitter ~~.
Bernice: If none of your colleagues will step forward to do the job, a senior statesman like you shouldn't have to. The party has betrayed you, Ruthven. I don't think you owe it that much any more.
Bernice knows that the channels have the best chance of preserving Ruthven's life, but she's bitter at the way he's been treated by the party since his collapse.
Tsibola: Perhaps not. But what do I owe the people of New Washington? Should their interests be left to the mercy of an incompetent who'd let the Simes dictate terms to him? Or to Pollovic, who'd help them willingly?
Tsibola clearly finds both alternatives unacceptable.
Bernice: I don't want to lose you. I don't want to see you abused by a party that's been your life's work.
Bernice squeezes his hand again.
Bernice: They don't make men like you any more. Burgess... what a selfish fool. How could he?
Tsibola: A lot of men lack sense where pretty faces are concerned.
Bernice: At his age he should have enough sense to cope with any number of pretty faces, especially when attached to his colleagues' daughters.
Tsibola: I'll grant you that much. If he wanted a mistress, he shouldn't have picked a girl of good family. What's done is done, though. The damage has been done, and now a new ambassador must be selected.
Bernice puts her head in her hands.
Bernice: If it's what you have to do, I'll support you in it. You know that. But I wish there were another way out.
Tsibola: So do I, Bernice. So do I.