Tsibola sits in his compartment, reading through some reports. He's trying to get a feel for how the previous Ambassador has handled the position. He's also trying to ignore the rapidly approaching border, and what it means.
Maklinn raps his knuckles once on the door frame before bursting into Tsibola's compartment.
Tsibola looks up.
Tsibola: Maklinn, what's the matter?
Maklinn: Boss! I've just found out...
Maklinn pauses to catch his breath. He's not young enough any more to be sprinting the entire length of the train like this.
Tsibola sets aside the report he's been scanning.
Maklinn: There's...(puff, puff) going... (puff) to be....
Maklinn puts a hand to the stitch in his side.
Tsibola waits with well-disciplined ~ impatience ~.
Maklinn: A big bunch of reporters waiting at the border. Mostly hostile. Rundle apparently...
Maklinn takes a couple of deep breaths and regains some of his decorum.
Maklinn: Senator Rundle apparently tipped them off, sir.
Tsibola's face grows white with ~~ anger ~~.
Maklinn: The rumor is that they want to watch you donate, Pollovic-style.
Tsibola: He wants to make sure my humiliation makes the front page.
Maklinn: Yes, sir.
Tsibola: I can't allow that. What are our options?
Maklinn glances longingly at the sole empty seat, across the tiny compartment from Tsibola.
Maklinn: Um. Well. Aside from giving them what they want, and living it down later. Which wouldn't be good for your heart.
Tsibola: No, nor for my reputation.
Tsibola gestures for Maklinn to sit.
Maklinn drops into the seat.
Maklinn: Best I can think of is donate before we get there, so there's nothing for them to see. Then give them a speech about "pleased to be taking up this new post" and all that.
Tsibola doesn't like the idea, but he doesn't like the alternative any better.
Tsibola: How many of the staff were planning on donating at the border?
Maklinn: Just Nixin and Mrs. Tsibola's maid, I think, sir. The rest of us have taken care of it already.
Maklinn has caught his breath by now and sits up a bit straighter.
Tsibola: I won't require it of them, but it would make things go smoother if they were lowfield also, when we reach the border.
Maklinn: Yes, sir.
Tsibola: If Hajene Farris is agreeable, of course. My understanding is that she was to look after my heart, not save us time at the border.
Maklinn: She's a channel, sir. She's here to do whatever you need a channel for. She's already taken two donations since this trip started, in fact. That I know of, anyway.
Maklinn realizes that for all he knows, Nixin and Brenda may have taken care of it in the past few hours, as well.
Maklinn: Yes, sir. She did Kiero this morning.
Tsibola: Kiero? I thought she was going to wait for the border.
Maklinn: I guess she decided to get it over with a bit early, sir.
Tsibola: That's convenient for us, as it is turning out.
Maklinn: Yes, sir.
Maklinn hesitates, on the brink of saying something more.
Tsibola sees the hesitation.
Maklinn: Um, on the physical side, sir, there's nothing for you to worry about. I, um...
Maklinn hesitates again.
Tsibola waits for Maklinn to continue.
Maklinn: You know I used to donate when I was younger, sir.
Tsibola: Yes, you told me that.
Maklinn: Well, I always used to feel a bit of something. Kind of an odd tingle. They told me it was nothing to worry about. But this time, with Hajene Farris, it was as smooth as butter. I didn't feel anything at all. She's that good.
Tsibola: It's nice to know they sent me someone competent.
Tsibola is not particularly afraid of being injured while donating; it's the humiliation he objects to.
Maklinn: She's a Farris, sir. And not just any Farris, at that. I'm told she's the heir to her House. Sat'htine, which is the big one that runs all those hospitals.
Tsibola: She's a cardiac expert, I know. The Tecton apparently doesn't want my heart giving out on their watch. I'd prefer Dr. Young, but he wouldn't leave his practice.
Maklinn: Yes, sir.
Maklinn remembers overhearing one or two of his boss' efforts to persuade the doctor to leave his comfortable practice and pack his wife and kids across the border.
Maklinn: You can hardly blame him, sir.
Tsibola: No, I can't. In his position, I'd have refused me, too. I could probably have found some adventurous youngster just out of medical school, but I'd rather not entrust my health to a relative amateur.
Maklinn: I'm sure that was wise, sir.
Tsibola: Which I gather that Hajene Farris is not, despite her relative youth.
Maklinn: As I said, sir, she's the best of the best, or she wouldn't be inheriting. Their heirs are chosen, not just born. Sosu Nick was telling me.
Maklinn has, in fact, been pumping the Donor for as much information about life in Nivet as he can think to ask for.
Tsibola: He's not exactly an objective authority on the subject of his channel. Or haven't you noticed the way he looks at her? He's interested in a lot more of her than her tentacles.
Maklinn: So it would seem, sir. But what little I heard before we left New Washington matches everything he's told me so far.
Tsibola: Maklinn, I appreciate your attempt to reassure me, but I assure you that I am not afraid of Hajene Katsura. Nor do I doubt her competence to do what is, after all, a relatively simple, routine procedure for a channel.
Maklinn: Yes, sir.
Maklinn can't think of anything else to say. For Tsibola's real problem with donating, he has no comfort to offer.
Maklinn clears his throat awkwardly.
Tsibola lifts an ~~ interrogative ~~ eyebrow.
Maklinn: It's less than two hours to the border, sir.
Tsibola gives a sigh.
Tsibola: Then we'd best get started.
Tsibola considers a moment.
Tsibola: Would you take care of informing Hajene Katsura of the situation, and ask her to join me here?
Maklinn: Yes, sir.
Tsibola: Then talk to Nixin. I'll tell Bernice what's going on, and she can take care of informing her maid.
Maklinn: Yes, sir.
Maklinn stands, balancing easily after so many days on a moving train.
Tsibola: While Nixin is waiting his turn, he can start thinking about a statement for the press at the border. Something firm, but not controversial.
Maklinn: Yes, sir. And sir?
Tsibola: Yes, Maklinn?
Maklinn: All of us who chose to come with you, who've worked for you long enough to know who you are and what you stand for...
Maklinn: We respect you deeply, Mr. Ambassador. No matter how much selyn you are or aren't carrying.
Maklinn turns and leaves the compartment, without waiting for a reply.
Tsibola looks after Maklinn for a moment, ~~ touched ~~, then turns his attention back to the report. He finds himself unable to focus on it, however, as he contemplates the necessity of what he has to do. He looks at the compartment door that will shortly reopen, and his chest starts to ~~ ache ~~ as he waits.
Maklinn has spoken to the channel, and moves on up the railcar to notify Nixin next. He taps lightly at the speechwriter's door.
Nixin: Come in! Is that my coffee?
Nixin peers ~~ hopefully ~~ at the opening door.
Maklinn: I'm afraid not, Peet. Bid of bad news.
Maklinn slips into the compartment and closes the door.
Nixin: Isn't no coffee bad enough news for one morning?
Maklinn: I'll fix you some coffee myself as soon as we've taken care of this, okay?
Nixin: I'll hold you to that. What's gone wrong? The Sena- I mean, the Ambassador's all right, isn't he? Not more heart trouble?
Maklinn: No, nothing like that. He's fine. Physically. It turns out that that bast- er, that Senator Rundle has set us up. There's a big batch of reporters waiting at the border, and they want to watch the boss do a Pollovic.
Nixin: You're kidding.
Maklinn: I wish I were.
Nixin: He'd never agree to that.
Maklinn: He won't. He's getting it over with before we get there, so there'll be nothing for them to see. Or try to see.
Nixin: They'll be upset, if they don't get their story.
Maklinn: Which is part of where you come in. Short, snappy speech full of "looking forward to my new responsibilities" followed by a smile and a wave. Throw them a bone, but not the whole carcass.
Nixin: Good enough.
Nixin scribbles a few notes.
Nixin: Did he want me to say anything about the Desperation Point situation?
Maklinn: He didn't say. I'd assume not. This is supposed to look like a victory: assuming a wonderful new post, great opportunities, all that. Keep a tight focus. Stuff like Desperation Point is for another day.
Nixin: Okay. Optimistic tone, no specifics?
Nixin: I can rework some of the stuff I did for his acceptance speech, I think.
Nixin scribbles a few more notes.
Maklinn: Sounds perfect.
Nixin: I wish there was a little more time, though. We'll be at the border in, what, an hour or so?
Maklinn: Hour and a half. But I'm afraid you don't have that much time to work on this.
Nixin: Why not? Does the Senator need something else?
Maklinn: I'm afraid so.
Nixin: Well, that's why he doesn't pay me the big bucks. What is it?
Maklinn: The Ambassador...
Maklinn puts a little extra emphasis on the title.
Maklinn: ... wants that none of us should have to donate at the border.
Nixin: Huh? I thought the only one using an exemption was his wife?
Nixin is, nevertheless ~~ hopeful ~~. He has not been looking forward to some of the conditions of his employment.
Maklinn: You're catching on, Peet.
Maklinn stares meaningfully at the younger man.
Nixin: He's got exemptions for the rest of us? I thought the Simes wouldn't allow that?
Maklinn gives a weary sigh.
Maklinn: You're not catching on. Okay, let me spell it out. The Ambassador has got the channel in there with him, even as we speak. You're next.
Maklinn: You knew it was coming, Peet.
Nixin: Yeah, just not so soon.
Nixin has, in fact, been trying to ignore the whole issue for weeks, now, ever since he agreed to come.
Maklinn decides it's time to take a harder line.
Maklinn: Unless you want to do it in front of the reporters, in the boss' place? I'm sure they'd love a show like that.
Maklinn: Or slink off the back of the train with your coat over your head and go back to New Washington with your tail between your legs? I understand Senator Rundle is looking for another speechwriter.
Maklinn figures that's a safe guess, as Rundle seems to go through staff at triple the rate of anyone else in the Senate.
Nixin: I'm no coward.
Nixin is ~~ offended ~~.
Maklinn: Well, then.
Maklinn nods as if the matter is settled.
Nixin supposes it is. He wishes not-being-a-coward and not-being-afraid were the same thing. He's also hoping that Maklinn won't notice his... uneasiness.
Maklinn suspects Nixin is young enough, and insecure enough, to only be offended if he offers him the same kind of reassurance he tried to give Tsibola.
Maklinn: I'll let you know when Hajene Farris is ready for you.
Nixin gulps again.
Nixin: Yeah. Thanks.
Nixin grins weakly.
Nixin: I... I guess they sent a good channel to take care of the Ambassador, right? For all she's kind of young?
Maklinn: She's the best.
Maklinn's voice takes on a fatherly tone.
Maklinn: I could show you all kinds of credentials that say she's one of the best they've got. But I can give you something better than that.
Nixin looks ~~ hopeful ~~ and more than a little ~~ desperate ~~.
Maklinn leans forward, and continues in a conspiratorial whisper.
Maklinn: I used to donate when I was younger, to all kinds of different channels. I know something of what it's like. And I donated to Hajene Farris, just a few days ago. She's the best of the bunch. Smooth as butter, gentle as your grandma with a kitten.
Maklinn has never met Nixin's grandmother. He wonders, a moment too late, if this was a good comparison to make.
Nixin's mouth quirks.
Nixin: My grandmother hates cats of all ages. They make her sneeze.
Maklinn: Okay, then. Gentle as my grandma with a kitten. Now the trick is to try to purr, rather than scratch. If you scratch, she'll have to hold your legs still, so you can't claw her. If you purr, you get a nice gentle rub behind the ears. But Gran wouldn't have hurt a kitten, even if it scratched her. And neither will Hajene Farris.
Nixin: Yeah. That's what they say. And I guess if they were wrong, someone would have plastered it across the headlines, right?
Maklinn: You can be sure of that.
Maklinn falls back on received wording, from one of the Tecton's pamphlets.
Maklinn: A channel will die rather than harm a Gen.
Nixin: Look, Maklinn, I'll be fine. Thanks, though.
Maklinn studies the younger man closely, then gives a brisk nod.
Maklinn: All right, then. I'll come get you when Hajene Farris is ready. Meanwhile, you've got less than an hour to finish that speech.
Nixin: The speech?
Nixin has been thoroughly distracted by the discussion about donating. He then recalls himself.
Maklinn: The Sen- er, Ambassador's speech. For the reporters at the border.
Nixin: Oh, yes. The speech!
Nixin dives for his notes and some paper.
Maklinn: I'll see you in a while.
Maklinn lets himself out of the tiny compartment and heaves a deep sigh, glad for the moment only that notifying the only other holdout is Mrs. Tsibola's job, and not his.