Mr. Ambassador: Episode 19

Pollovic has just gotten the news that he's lost the ambassadorial race to Tsibola.

Pollovic took just a few minutes in the privacy of his office to compose himself, before running a comb through his hair, straightening his collar, and setting out to do what must be done: visit Tsibola to congratulate him.

Pollovic is startled by the intensity of his own reaction. There were, after all, only a few days between Burgess's withdrawal from the race, giving Pollovic a real chance, and today's decision. How was he able to get so attached to the idea of becoming Ambassador, in so little time?

Pollovic keeps his face as expressionless as he can, as he walks through the long corridors of the Senate building. Was it because he'd been so sure Tsibola would withdraw, given the new requirement that the Ambassador donate? Or is it the size of the landslide in Tsibola's favor that bothers him?

Pollovic had really thought that all of his own party would support him, and that he'd capture most of the Centrist vote as well. To know that Tsibola got most of the Centrists, and a few from the liberal parties as well, is a real blow.

Pollovic has had enough doubts about his own competence, of late. To know that his friends and colleagues doubt him as well... to put it bluntly, it hurts.

Pollovic pauses outside the door to Tsibola's offices. He squares his shoulders, pastes on the best approximation of a smile he can manage, then opens the outer office door and walks in.

Tsibola is sitting alone in his inner office, feeling ~~ empty ~~. He's finding it hard to come to terms with the forthcoming changes in his life. He's in fact had far too many negative changes in his life, since his heart failed him.

Tsibola was forced to face the fact that his Senate career is effectively over, and he doesn't know whether he will be able to do anything effective as an Ambassador.

Tsibola pulls himself together as his aide pokes a head into the office and announces that Pollovic has arrived to concede, and directs that his colleague be shown in.

Pollovic feels more uncertain of his acting skills than he ever has, as he forces his smile up half a notch and walks in.

Tsibola: Ah, Pollovic, I've been expecting you.

Tsibola rises courteously, and offers his colleague a chair.

Pollovic leans across the desk and offers a handshake.

Pollovic: Congratulations, Ruthven.

Pollovic then takes the offered seat.

Tsibola: Thank you, Brenn.

Tsibola: Would you care for some fruit juice? Or if you prefer something stronger, I can send for it. I'm not permitted much alcohol, any more.

Pollovic: Fruit juice is fine, thanks.

Tsibola pours for both of them.

Tsibola: It's cranberry and pomegranate, so at least it has a bit of flavor.

Pollovic takes a sip and nods.

Pollovic: Nice. Very refreshing.

Tsibola: Poor Bernice went to some effort to find me something tolerable. She knows how much I loved my brandy.

Tsibola is feeling considerable ~~ nostalgia ~~ for his pre-heart-attack life.

Pollovic: Have you tried trin tea?

Tsibola: No, but I suppose I'll get a chance to do so soon enough.

Pollovic manages a wry smile.

Pollovic: It's an acquired taste, but I find it grows on you. Insist on Narosian trin, if it's available. It's the best.

Tsibola: I suppose I'd better lay in a supply, then, for guests.

Tsibola makes a quick note.

Pollovic: Despite the rather... colorful... names the various blends carry, the Narosian is the only thing for serious entertaining.

Pollovic manages a wry smile.

Tsibola: Colorful names?

Pollovic's smile briefly becomes a grin.

Pollovic: Let's just say that some things we'd find shocking in a social context are merely amusing to a Sime.

Tsibola: They're blunt to a fault, that's true.

Pollovic: They have a very different idea of the boundaries of social privacy. It comes from being able to zlin, I'd think.

Pollovic manages a small, real smile at the thought of the buttoned-up Tsibola drinking Orange Orgasm in public.

Tsibola: Over the years, Hajene Seruffin has taught me the social value of prevarication. Civilization is nearly impossible without it.

Pollovic: Are you suggesting I'm too honest for civilized politics?

Pollovic's feelings of ~~ inadequacy ~~are all too close to the surface right now.

Tsibola examines his younger colleague closely.

Tsibola: I don't know. Politics is the art of compromise, finding the possible and never reaching the ideal. It takes a certain kind of personality to thrive in such an enterprise. One has to be satisfied with accomplishing something, while knowing how much more ought to have been done.

Tsibola can think of a lot of things that he would still like to accomplish in the Senate, and which he will have to leave to others.

Pollovic: I suppose I should count myself fortunate, that you can't accomplish everything you'd like to. Given how different your aims are from mine.

Tsibola chuckles, and concedes the point with a gesture.

Tsibola: You'll probably find smoother sailing in the Senate, when I'm gone.

Pollovic begins to relax into the banter.

Tsibola: The Centrists have made sure that I'll have no influence left with the Conservatives.

Pollovic: By forcing you to donate, you mean.

Pollovic makes it a statement, not a question.

Tsibola: Yes.

Tsibola hisses the agreement.

Pollovic: I admit I'm surprised you agreed to it.

Tsibola: They wanted to make sure that I won't come back to the Senate, even if my health permits it. In fact, if I wish to maintain what's left of my integrity, I'll have to resign formally before I leave.

Pollovic nods. He's very aware of the exact wording of the promise Tsibola made to his constituents.

Pollovic: You would anyway, wouldn't you? Before the formal appointment ceremony?

Pollovic imagines how naked he would feel for those few hours: no longer a senator, but not yet an ambassador.

Tsibola: Normally, I would be able to hold my Senate seat, and its vote, until a replacement could be confirmed, so my constituents would not be without a representative.

Pollovic realizes that he got into the race so hastily, he never had time to think through the practical details. And now they don't matter to him.

Tsibola: As it is, my constituents effectively lost their representation when you and Seruffin talked Bernice into letting him save my life. Although to be fair, they'd have lost my representation anyway, if I'd died.

Pollovic: Do you truly regret that you lived?

Tsibola considers for a long moment.

Pollovic had not, until now, questioned whether he'd made the right decision in that crisis.

Tsibola: I still have a great deal I would like to accomplish with my life. Whether I'll be able to, I don't know. Quite apart from my current status as a Senate pariah, I still tire very easily, and the chest pains can be quite distracting.

Pollovic begins to realize that his opponent isn't taking his appointment as the victory it ought to be.

Pollovic: Channels are excellent physicians. They'll keep you alive and well, if you let them. And as for the rest...

Pollovic shrugs.

Pollovic: An ambassador may have very little power, but he has a great deal of influence. And I don't know anyone who's better at wielding influence than you are, Ruthven.

Tsibola: Influence is mostly a matter of knowing all the parties involved. Unfortunately, I don't know many of the influential folks in Simeland. Yet. On the other hand, I do know where most of the skeletons are buried in New Washington.

Pollovic: You'll catch on fast. Um...

Tsibola: Yes?

Pollovic takes a moment to consider just how much help he really wants to give a man whose agenda is so different from his own. After a few seconds, honor wins.

Pollovic: One of the concepts that runs through everything they do over there, that I've barely begun to understand myself, is the idea of "sec".

Tsibola: Sec?

Pollovic thinks back over Sosu Nick's explanation.

Pollovic: It's about how big your nager is. How much selyn you can hold and manipulate. Or, if you're a Gen, how much you can produce. It's invisible to us, of course, but it's the first thing Simes notice about a person.

Tsibola: Ah, that's why they're so eager to make sure their visitors don't have a lot of selyn.

Pollovic: No... no, that's not it. A powerful Donor, even if he's just donated and his selyn tank is empty, still has just as much influence as when it's full.

Pollovic still doesn't have a clear mental image of where and how Gens store their selyn. Or what, exactly, the stuff is.

Tsibola: Well, I suppose I'll have to find a way around that, and convince them I'm worth taking seriously.

Pollovic: It's the biggest factor in all their hierarchies. So a channel or a Donor, any channel or Donor, outranks any ordinary Sime or Gen. You can't get around that. But you can use it to figure out who's really in charge.

Tsibola: Just as long as they realize that I'm in charge in my Embassy, even if I don't produce a lot of food for them.

Tsibola has still not quite resigned himself to all aspects of his future.

Pollovic: Oh, they'll recognize that. So long as you feel like you're in charge, and everyone else in the Embassy defers to you, they'll zlin that.

Tsibola: Good.

Pollovic: But find out which channels and Donors are rated higher; it's useful information.

Tsibola nods.

Pollovic sips his juice. He decides he's earned himself the right to ask for a favor.

Pollovic: I don't know if you've heard about Desperation Point.

Tsibola: Desperation Point?

Pollovic: It's a little border town in my district. And it needs some help that I'd hoped, if I were Ambassador, I might be able to give it.

Tsibola: What's the problem? A trade imbalance?

Tsibola is aware that Simes can work longer hours than Gens, and thus have an unfair advantage.

Pollovic: Two problems, actually, and they're intertwined. The first is that the cattle ranchers...

Pollovic carefully avoids saying, "whom you brought in."

Pollovic: ... are driving out the sheep that are the basis of the local economy, and ruining the pasture lands.

Tsibola: And the second?

Pollovic: The two towns there, on opposite sides of the border, are a lot closer to each other than either of them are to anything else on their own side. They've been functioning for decades as a single unit. Effectively, no border.

Tsibola: They've been playing fast and loose with the law, you mean?

Pollovic: They've made Unity work. They're a single, sprawling community. And they don't want to lose that. I know it's too much to ask you to share my view that they're an inspiration for the rest of us. But at least, don't take away what they've got. Find a way to make a special case of them, if you can.

Tsibola: It will depend on what laws they're breaking. I won't bend the rules for tax evasion, for instance.

Pollovic: A farm wife sending her sister a paper of pins, when her brother-in-law drops by to help with the crops? A man giving his neighbor a deal on a spare wagon axle?

Tsibola: That sort of thing is often innocent -- but one also has to consider what sorts of precedents are being set. I won't support anything that jeopardizes the sovereignty of our Territory.

Pollovic: There's no big cross-border smuggling traffic, if that's what you're thinking. Just local folk, local community. The sorts of things that any town that's entirely on one side or the other of the border would manage for itself, as a matter of course.

Tsibola looks at Pollovic with ~~ interest ~~.

Tsibola: Are you genuinely unable to see the implications of that, or do you just see nothing wrong with them?

Pollovic: Oh, I see them, Ruthven. I'm not entirely the naive idealist you think I am.

Pollovic takes a deep breath.

Pollovic: Lately, every time I ride onto or off of my own estate, with the tidy little brass plaque at the gate that proclaims my home as Sime Territory, I'm quite aware of the implications. And some of them scare me. But then I think of the alternative.

Tsibola: There are less extreme ways to solve the berserker problems than signing your estate over to the Simes, you know.

Pollovic: You're older than I am, Ruthven. You can remember what it was like before Unity, even better than I can. Do you want to go back to that? If we don't go forward, we go back.

Tsibola: Go forward, yes, but in our own direction. We can accept the valuable things the Simes have to offer, without signing ourselves over to them completely.

Tsibola is ~~ uncomfortably ~~ aware that his devil's bargain with the Centrists has forced him to do pretty much exactly that.

Pollovic: The Simes made a hell of a big sacrifice when they stopped killing a Gen a month. An entire generation of Simes died because, as individuals, they couldn't stop. What have we ever sacrificed that's comparable? Compromise takes sacrifice from both sides.

Pollovic has never, in all the years he and Tsibola have opposed each other in the Senate, spoken to him as openly and honestly as this.

Tsibola: They didn't make that sacrifice for us. They made it because they had no more Gens of their own to kill, and we were too strong for them to overrun. They were doomed, either way, and so they saved what they could for their children. Not for us Gens -- I doubt they cared about our well-being, except as a potential source of selyn.

Pollovic: Have you ever talked, really talked, to one of their top Donors? I don't mean Gerrhonot; he's a bit of a puppy. But any of the others. You can see it in their body language: they're used to being in charge. They're not just milk cows for selyn.

Tsibola: They have influence over their channels, I know. That's hardly the same as holding power in their own right.

Pollovic: You know I had a channel and her Donor as house guests.

Tsibola: I saw them at your ball.

Pollovic: I watched them together a fair bit. And I had some long conversations with Sosu Nick.

Pollovic: In terms of "sec", Nick's way below his channel. But I still watched him manage her the way a good jockey manages a skittish horse. And I listened to him talk. The ordinary Simes don't just obey him; they almost worship him. So much so that it scares him sometimes.

Tsibola: Scares him?

Pollovic: Well, that's how it seemed to me. He didn't live there his entire life like some of them did; he doesn't take it for granted. But it's clear just from listening to him that a Gen is not in any way a second class citizen over there.

Pollovic is completely unaware of how his own prejudices have filtered what he's seen. His own elitist habits insist on seeing Nick as a farm boy who's been raised above his social station.

Tsibola: Ah. It's sheer coincidence then that in the thirty years since Unity, all the Ambassadors they've sent here have been Simes? Not one has been a Gen.

Pollovic: And, to draw a parallel, how many women ambassadors have we sent them? But does that mean that Bernice has no influence?

Pollovic thinks of his mother's many lectures on the importance of a Senator's wife.

Tsibola: Your comparison is spurious. Women alone will never make a viable civilization, but Gens will.

Pollovic: Only if we keep on murdering a third of our children. Is that the future you want?

Pollovic has tact enough, barely, to refrain from mentioning Fridda by name.

Tsibola: If that is the only way to maintain Gen independence, it might still prove to be the lesser of two evils, in the long term. However, I'm open to examining alternatives -- carefully.

Pollovic: You are. Do you know how rare that makes you?

Tsibola: It does seem I'm the odd man out.

Pollovic: I've watched you negotiating against Seruffin. You treat him like a political opponent. A fellow human being, in other words. Even on my side of the aisle, most people see him as just an intelligent wild beast.

Tsibola shrugs.

Tsibola: Seruffin is a very dangerous man. Viewing him as a beast has led more than one Senator to underestimate him.

Pollovic: Perhaps. But that's the motivation of most of the people who've shaped the policies you defend. Fighting, controlling, containing the beasts.

Tsibola: That works well enough for random killers hiding out in the Ancient ruins between kills, but to fight, control, and contain educated Simes requires more finesse.

Tsibola is just as convinced of the necessity, however.

Pollovic wonders why he'd thought Tsibola would be any more open to reason, now, than he's ever been before. ~~ despair ~~

Pollovic: You've got a rare opportunity, Ruthven. To build a future where both halves can stop slaughtering each other like animals. They already have, so it's our turn now. And I don't want to think about the way you're going to waste that chance.

Tsibola: I won't let our independence be sacrificed on the altar of expediency. In the long run, that's a losing proposition.

Pollovic: Our independence is an illusion. An illusion paid for with the blood of our children. Our very human children.

Pollovic has once more, of late, begun thinking of children in a very personal fashion.

Tsibola: If it's an illusion, it's a necessary one. For us... and for them, if we are not to be taken over.

Pollovic drinks down the last of his juice and sets down the cup with an air of finality.

Pollovic: It doesn't matter now, I suppose. I've lost. You've won. And you will do as you see fit.

Tsibola: Yes, I will.

Pollovic stands, and offers a handshake.

Pollovic: Congratulations, Ruthven.

Tsibola: Thank you, Brenn.

Pollovic shuffles out of the office, moving like a much older man.

Tsibola watches his defeated fellow candidate leave, then takes a moment to look around, ~~ mourning ~~ the imminent departure.

Tsibola's chest develops a nagging ~~ ache ~~ that isn't completely a result of his malfunctioning heart.

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