Mr. Ambassador: Episode 21

Vlad is sitting at the kitchen table which is covered with a layer of the Capital New Times and a lot of pieces of greasy metal from a disassembled cart axle. He's hoping that if he cleans all the pieces, greases them thoroughly, and reassembles them carefully, he can avoid replacing more than a few of the least spherical ball bearings.

Kadi is humming as she dusts the knickknack shelf that holds their prize possessions: a porcelain cat, a framed letter of commendation from the Nivet government with Vlad's father's name on it, and a pair of silver candlesticks with fire damage.

Vlad sorts the bearings into order by how flattened, pitted or generally off-round they are and sighs. He should really replace the lot, but they're expensive and have to be ordered from the city.

Kadi projects ~~ sympathy ~~.

Kadi: It's a lost cause, then?

Vlad: Well... maybe I can put it all together with lots of extra grease and it will be sort of okay until the wool money comes in. I just hate that grinding and crunching noise.

Kadi: There's the money from the notions, although I was hoping to make us both new shirts this summer.

Vlad: Last donation payment sure went by fast.

Vlad sighs again.

Vlad: I hope I don't get hassled bringing you stuff from the Gen side again this summer.

Kadi: You could take the back trails. It's longer, but they don't have enough people to patrol everything.

Vlad: I couldn't take the cart, then. I guess I can use old Brownie as a pack pony, though. Better than carrying it all myself. It's all those friggin cattle Gens' fault. Not to mention my Gen side relative.

Kadi: The next time you go, Annyl wanted a few things for her kitchen, besides the usual notions. And you should see if you can get some lace, too. It always sells well, this time of year.

Kadi looks at the no-longer-round bearings.

Kadi: Would that be enough to replace the worst of them?

Vlad: Dunno, Kadi. Depends on what I can find over there, what it'll cost and how much you can get Annyl to pay you for it. Are you gonna order from the Gen-side catalog again? We'd need money upfront for that.

Vlad catches some motion through the trees across the yard through the small window in the log wall.

Vlad: Somebody coming. Zlin anything?

Kadi steps to the door.

Kadi: It's a stranger. He's been traveling a while, from the zlin of him.

Vlad: What's he doing here? Must be lost.

Vlad watches the renSime man approach the door.

Triangusul ties up the rented horse he got back at Desperation Point and walks to the door; he zlins another Sime behind it and signals for admission.

Kadi opens the door.

Triangusul uses Simelan automatically with a Sime.

Kadi: Hello, stranger. It zlins like you took the wrong turn back at the crossroads.

Triangusul looks at Kadi quizzically. He's not used to Simelan with that much English in it.

Kadi: If you go back and veer right, you'll reach Elk Mountain before too long.

Triangusul: Umm, no, I don't think so. Is this where Vlad lives?

Vlad: That's me.

Kadi turns to her husband.

Kadi: Vlad, I thought that plow was paid for?

Triangusul: Triangusul ambrov Joiffre. May I come in?

Kadi: That depends on whether you're here to repossess the plow.

Triangusul laughs silently.

Vlad: Paid for, yes. Welcome. C'mon Kadi, you wouldn't expect a Householder to be a repo man!

Triangusul: No, no. I'm a reporter from a newspaper back in Capital.

Vlad stands and offers fingers to brush.

Triangusul walks in, brushes tentacles with Vlad and turns to Kadi.

Vlad: As you can see, we find the Capital newspapers to be very useful here.

Vlad gestures to the table.

Triangusul chuckles openly this time.

Kadi brushes tentacle tips, but stays close to Vlad, who is generally not as good at dealing with out-of-the-ordinary situations as she is.

Triangusul: Well, better than what some subscribers use them for. Anyway, I'm actually on the out-T beat most of the time, but since it's easier to get here from Gen T than the rest of Nivet -- well, here I am.

Vlad turns, shoves the kettle over the firebox and stirs up the fire. It's automatic to offer trin to visitors.

Kadi is ~~ pleased ~~.

Triangusul: It took some doing, and I know I was robbed by your friend back at the Desperation Point inn, but at least her map was good.

Kadi: Well, it's about time that you folks started paying attention to both sides of the grazing issue.

Triangusul: Grazing issue? What grazing issue? ~~ puzzled ~~

Kadi: The truth of the matter is, we have plenty of livestock grazing here already. The cows the big Gen Tuibs brought in are ruining the range.

Vlad: Gen cattle! And cattle Gens! Our side sold us out to that Gen relative of mine! I went all the way to Cottonwood City with some of the Gensiders and talked to their Senator, but nothing happened.

Triangusul: All news to me, and I do want to hear about it. But first I'd like to get your comments on your relative being named Ambassador.

Vlad: Well, I'm not sure he's my relative, but Kadi thinks so. She read that article about him in the paper, how his grandfather went to Nivet when he established. It said he took a pair of silver candlesticks from his family's business and used them to start GMM. So she wrote to the paper.

Kadi: There was a picture of the candlesticks, and they match the ones Vlad's father took from the ruins of the family home after the Unity War.

Vlad: And it sounds a lot like the story my father told me about what his mother told him about the candlesticks from a few generations further back. They lived in Iburan then, near the border, like Tsibola's grandpa. They were silversmiths.

Triangusul: Sounds convincing to me. All the details flow together.

Vlad: So he's probably my second cousin a couple times removed.

Triangusul nods. ~~ conviction ~~

Vlad: I suppose the family would still be silversmiths if they hadn't all got killed in Gen shortage riots, and everything burned up. My dad was sick of the whole thing so he came up here with my mom who he met in the army and a bunch of other veterans and settled Elk Mountain here, and some Gen army people settled Desperation Point.

Kadi: You can see there isn't much here now -- there was a lot less, back then. That's why folks here got in the habit of staying on good terms with their neighbors -- on both sides.

Triangusul is remembering all this automatically as a result of his Joffre training, so he doesn't bother with notes -- the deception would be apparent to Kadi anyhow.

Vlad: I guess this Tsibola is a rich man, wouldn't want to claim us as his relatives. We may not have a lot, but we do okay, and everything is paid for -- land, sheep, everything.

Triangusul: No doubt that's more than he can say.

Kadi: You think he's in debt?

Triangusul knows Tsibola isn't poor, but that doesn't mean he isn't carrying a mortgage or two.

Triangusul: Probably. As long as he has enough income to make the payments, though, why not?

Vlad: Well, I don't suppose he cares that that trade agreement he made with our trade guy is screwing us up, even if we are his relatives. Well, me and our kids, I guess.

Triangusul: Unless you could offer ironclad proof, he probably wouldn't accept the idea anyway, even though it's obvious when you think about it that we all have relatives across the border if you go back far enough.

Kadi: He's a snob, then? Figures. What other type would rewrite a treaty so his rich friends can make even more money, even if the rest of us go hungry?

Vlad: What do you think, Kadi? Should we get together a delegation to visit my cousin in Capital? Complain to him, too? ~~ none too serious ~~

Kadi: If it weren't just about time to move the sheep to summer pasture, I'd say go ahead, but we can't cope without you just now.

Triangusul: I doubt you'd even get in to see him. Not his district, not even his Territory.

Vlad: But his relative!

Vlad grins. ~~ teasing ~~

Triangusul laughs.

Triangusul: That's what you say! ~~ teasing right back ~~

Kadi: We could always take along the candlesticks. The ones his grandfather left behind when he stole the others.

Kadi points to her (fortunately now well dusted) shelf of pretties, where the damaged candlesticks hold place of honor.

Kadi: There were six candlesticks originally. As you can see, they're quite distinctive.

Triangusul: He'll say you could have gotten a hold of them in any number of ways. Including looting his ancestor's house.

Kadi: Do you think he'll try to claim Vlad looted the ancestral ears, as well? ~~ scorn ~~

Triangusul waves his hands.

Triangusul: Coincidence. Or that's what he will say, at any rate.

Kadi: If he refuses to believe us, I expect there will be plenty of other people who aren't quite as skeptical.

Triangusul: Sure. That's where you'd make use of the power of the press. Meaning me.

Triangusul smiles winningly.

Vlad: Oh, well, it's mostly just a joke with us. We're not expecting to do anything about it.

Kadi: Though we wouldn't take it amiss if this Tsibola fellow would rein in his rich friends before our pasture is gone.

Triangusul: So tell me about that. I understand that cattlemen and sheepmen don't get along so well, but why?

Vlad gestures to Kadi to explain, and gets up to make tea, now that he can hear the water boiling.

Kadi: Why would anyone object to having a lot of strangers and their livestock ruining the pastures that our own animals require? Not to mention all the collateral damage that treaty is causing.

Triangusul: Yes, but what I mean is, how do they ruin them? And what collateral damage? Are Gen-side Simes having... problems?

Triangusul just can't bring himself to say "Gen Simes", though he is mixing in a bit more English than usual in a semi-conscious effort to adapt.

Kadi can't believe she's being asked this question.

Kadi: You do know that cows eat grass, don't you? There's only so many animals the pastures can support, and with the cows there, our sheep go hungry. When our sheep go hungry, they don't thrive, and we don't, either. And with all the strangers around, they're sending in all sorts of officials, poking their noses into things they don't understand and refusing to allow local customs.

Triangusul: Of course, of course. But aren't the sheep farmers being paid for the land they're turning over to cattle? It's not just being seized, surely.

Triangusul notes that nothing was said about Gen-sider Simes.

Vlad: It's all common pasture. We all run our sheep up the mountain in summer, when it's too dry down here, and run them to the valley in Desperation in winter, where there's less snow.

Triangusul: Ah, I see.

Kadi: It's not our fault that the border happens to run in between.

Triangusul quotes an old Sime nursery rhyme.

The law will cage the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But lets the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

Triangusul: So what you need is a common-pasture management committee to prevent over-grazing. Surely the cattlemen will see the sense of that.

Kadi: They'll just tell us to get rid of our sheep, more likely.

Vlad: It's not their land, so they don't care. Big heavy cattle hooves, packing the soil and making a big dirty mess of anywhere they water.

Triangusul: Here comes the power of the press again. And I have some colleagues on the Gen side who could do with a nice juicy story about government corruption.

Kadi: Well, I don't know how much of it was corruption, and how much was plain ignorance about how things work, here. Not that it matters. It's not as if anyone thought to actually ask the people living here if we had pasture space for all their cows.

Kadi is a little ~~ bitter ~~ about it.

Vlad: If you draw more attention to how we do things here, the Tecton might hassle us too.

Vlad is oblivious to the dangers of telling a journalist about things he doesn't want him to report on.

Kadi: They don't much like folks doing things in ways that make sense to us, rather than following their rules that don't make sense at all, here.

Triangusul nods. ~~ sympathy ~~

Triangusul: We Householders have had our troubles with the Tecton too.

Kadi: They'll at least let you do things your own way on your own lands.

Triangusul: Yes. Pity you can't start any new Householdings these days, or that'd be a neat solution. There's precedent for Householdings Gen-side, too.

Vlad: Is there? Gen Householdings?

Vlad can't imagine the people of Elk Mountain and Desperation Point electing or hiring a Sectuib to run their lives. One reason all those army veterans came out here to the boonies was to get away from all that.

Triangusul: Sure. Rior.

Kadi: Not exactly the kind of example you want to hold up to the authorities -- on either side of the border.

Triangusul: No indeed. Still, a precedent's a precedent. But anyhow, this is all beating the -- the air.

Triangusul: It's up to you, folks. You've been crawling under the bushes for years; now you're threatened because of your off-the-books life. So you can take your chances and go on hiding, or you can take your chances and fight back. If you take the second option, there are quite a lot of people who believe in real Unity and would be willing to help.

Kadi: We don't want to be rebel fugitives. We just want to be left in peace to raise our sheep and our children.

Vlad: Yeah. We just want things to go back to the way they were. We were doing okay before all this blew up last year.

Kadi: Nobody was getting hurt, nobody was going junct, and we all paid our taxes. Why anybody would think that was a problem that required fixing is beyond me.

Triangusul shakes his head. ~~ sadness ~~ resignation ~~

Triangusul: There's no turning away from new knowledge. You didn't know your cousin was a Gen Senator, but he is, and now you've got to make choices based on that knowledge. Choosing to do nothing, that's a choice too, and often a very expensive one.

Vlad shrugs.

Vlad: I think it's amusing that he's my relative, but I don't see why I should do anything about it.

Kadi: It's not as if he's likely to acknowledge the connection, as you've pointed out.

Vlad: Too bad my dad didn't live to hear about it. He'd laugh and laugh.

Vlad's dad was a junct, and part of his amusement would be at the notion of a Gen figuring he was superior in any way to a Sime.

Triangusul: A few minutes ago you were considering going to New Washington to petition him -- on the strength of the relationship you now know about.

Vlad: Oh, well, I wasn't really serious. But if other people want to do it, I'll go along and see if that gets us in.

Vlad found Cottonwood City kind of scary. He knows Capital is bigger, but at least it's a normal place with Simes and Gens both, not a whole town of murderous lorshes.

Kadi: There's something to be said for relatives, after all. It has to be said, because even the newspapers consider it unprintable.

Vlad smiles and gets up to serve the trin.

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