Fantasies and Realities: Episode 7

Calyna ambrov Varin has arrived at the restaurant early, to make sure all the preparations are as she'd specified. Despite living in Capital for many years, she's never eaten here before, but she knows this is one of the few establishments elite enough for this particular patient's birthday party.

Calyna has made herself a student of out-T customs, these past few weeks, and thinks she understands the peculiar significance of birthdays to a culture in which few adults know when they established. She has booked a private room, and has specified a menu comprised entirely of heart-healthy foods for her elderly patient and his wife.

Calyna zlins the maitre d' approaching with Ambassador Tsibola and his wife. She rises to greet them.

Tsibola: Hajene Calyna, it was good of you to invite us.

Bernice nods and smiles. She's glad she managed to talk her husband into accepting the invitation. Ruthven was a little skeptical about a social occasion with his physician.

Calyna: It's my pleasure, Ambassador. Please, let me be the first to wish you a very happy seventy-third birthday.

Calyna offers an out-T style handshake to the Senator, and then to his wife.

Tsibola: Thank you.

Calyna: I regret that my husband can't join us, but he was required to work at the last minute.

Bernice: Is he a physician as well?

Tsibola holds a chair for Bernice to sit.

Bernice sits, smoothly anticipating the location of the chair as it's moved under her.

Calyna: No. He's only a donor. He tends children at the Narrin Orphanage.

Tsibola: I see.

Bernice thinks "only a donor" is a rather tactless way to refer to one's mate.

Tsibola has one of those all-too-frequent moments when he's ~~ floored ~~ by the sheer strangeness of Sime Territory.

Calyna: I had hoped Hajene Seruffin, or Katsura and Nick ambrov Sat'htine might join us as well, but they weren't available either. Such is life for a channel, I'm afraid.

Calyna zlins Tsibola's reaction.

Calyna: A problem, Ambassador?

Calyna zlins Tsibola's already overstressed heart as she speaks.

Tsibola supposes that if the man spends his time wiping the noses of grubby orphans, referring to him as "a donor" might be more dignified, at that.

Tsibola: I'm just reminded of how different your culture is.

Calyna: How so?

Calyna had not, until the Ambassador was added to her case list, studied much of out-T culture.

Tsibola hesitates, then decides that since this is a private event with a physician, not a public event with Nivet government officials, it's all right to be candid. He hasn't yet grasped that all First Order channels are high-ranking government officials by definition.

Tsibola: On our side of the border, the women tend children. And I don't know of anyone who would imply that a person's primary function was donating.

Calyna is ~~ puzzled ~~ . Didn't she just say that her husband works at the orphanage?

Calyna: Children don't require selyn. But don't you think they ought to grow up with role models of both genders, and both larities?

Calyna is ~~ confused ~~ . She doesn't think the Ambassador is trying to insult her husband, but she's not sure exactly what he means instead. She spreads her handling tentacles in a gesture of perplexity.

Tsibola: What good is it to provide a role model who doesn't model an appropriate role? Or am I mistaken? Is he perhaps keeping the accounts, or doing maintenance?

Calyna: No, he tends the children.

Calyna thought she had made that clear already.

Tsibola is still not able to view waving tentacles without a ~~ nauseating ~~ reminder of how they feel.

Calyna hastily sheathes her dorsals and ventrals.

Calyna: My apologies. Rohn is especially good with the older children, a rarer talent in many ways than caring for the infants.

Tsibola: Ah. He's a coach, then?

Tsibola is trying hard to find a way to classify his hostess's husband as at least somewhat masculine.

Calyna: Among other things. Coach, mentor, mender of shirts and finder of missing toys. Mediator in the daily battles of children struggling towards adulthood. A surrogate father is much like any other father, really.

Tsibola: I see.

Tsibola sees that it really isn't worth pursuing the matter, and makes a mental note not to ask Calyna's husband about his work if they find themselves at the same event in the future.

Calyna is ~~ relieved ~~ to zlin a waiter approaching with the carefully planned, hand-lettered custom menus. She hopes the Ambassador will be content with the small selection of healthy foods she pre-selected and had rendered into Genlan.

Bernice is glad to get off a subject that her husband seems determined to be difficult about.

Bernice: What pretty menus. The lettering is very artistic.

Calyna smiles.

Bernice wonders if the purpose is divert the attention from the strange phraseology.

Tsibola notes that the grammar and spelling is a little artistic, too, but what can you expect? At least it's in English, and there's a chance of finding some identifiable food.

Calyna: I'm told the food here is very good. The fresh tropical fruits and juices are one of the house specialties.

Calyna barely glances at her own menu. She already knows what she's ordering, but intends to go through the motions along with her guests.

Tsibola: The pumpkin soup sounds interesting, especially if they serve it with cream.

Calyna made a point of keeping the rich creamy dishes off the menu.

Tsibola: But what is this sauce on the asparagus?

Calyna mentally translates the menu listing back into Simelan, then into Genlan once more.

Calyna: Yellow tomatoes and soybean curd, with basil and mint. I'm told it's one of their most popular items.

Tsibola: Bean curd?

Tsibola's appetite diminishes: he's grown to loathe the stuff since his arrival in Capital.

Calyna: In the sauce, it adds texture but little flavor. It lets the taste of the other ingredients come through.

Calyna doesn't mention its health benefits, but she remembers the argument she had with the chef, substituting this sauce for the cream-based equivalent.

Bernice: It does sound tasty.

Bernice wouldn't put it on asparagus, however.

Tsibola: What's this rice dish? Orange peel and artichoke hearts?

Calyna: That does sound good, doesn't it?

Tsibola: It's certainly... different.

Calyna: They use only fresh artichokes here, not those oil-soaked horrors the lesser establishments use. And it's wild rice, not the pale starchy kind.

Tsibola is ~~ trying hard ~~ to find one dish among the offerings that is familiar enough to be palatable.

Calyna is grateful to her last month's Donor for the quick course he gave her in Gen tastes and preferences.

Bernice wonders about that wild rice. Out-T it's something that poor people out in the bush eat, because they can gather it in the swamps for free.

Calyna: Or you might want to try the eggplant cutlets with cranberry sauce.

Tsibola: Perhaps the baked apple would be interesting. What are those spices on it? It looks like the person who translated them wasn't sure which was which. At least, I can't think that they're really putting mushrooms inside?

Calyna: Yes. Different mushrooms, depending on whether you're Sime or Gen. Quite tasty. And the other spices...

Calyna tries to remember the Simelan version of the menu.

Calyna: Thyme and sundried hand grenade, I think.

Calyna is quite unaware of her mistranslation.

Tsibola: Hand grenade? That can't be right, can it? Or if it is, it's a violation of several treaties.

Calyna: A round fruit, a bit larger than an apple, with red seeds in a white pulp. It's the juice of the seeds that they use.

Bernice: Oh, pomegranate in English.

Tsibola: A hand grenade is an explosive weapon, used to clear out groups of enemies.

Calyna: Ah. Yes. Of course. That certainly wouldn't be edible.

Calyna decides to risk a small joke, in an attempt to lighten the conversation.

Calyna: Given all the work I'm doing to keep you alive, surely you don't think I'd try to explode you now? I'm not that eager to lighten my caseload.

Calyna, as a channel, is in fact never eager to lighten her caseload. Entran hurts. But she wouldn't expect an out-T Gen to appreciate that.

Tsibola: Not even to win the gratitude of half of your Diplomatic Corps? I gather that many of them would appreciate a more amenable ambassador.

Calyna: Have you been making yourself a particular thorn in their ventrals, then?

Calyna has been hearing the political gossip, of course. But she'd like to hear Tsibola's side of it.

Tsibola: I'm just doing my job: looking after my Territory's interests.

Tsibola is ~~ quite sincere ~~ about this, too.

Calyna: I don't understand how keeping Gens in fear of Simes serves anyone's interests.

Tsibola: Neither do I. I want Gens to be able to live independently, without undue pressure to conform to Sime law and customs.

Calyna: By "independent" you seem to mean "separate". But how can people lose their fear of what remains unfamiliar?

Tsibola: How can we remain independent if we rearrange our society to accommodate Simes?

Tsibola says this as if it were the most reasonable thing in the world.

Calyna stares at Tsibola in ~~ disbelief ~~ .

Calyna: You think we would ask more of you than we do of our own people?

Tsibola: When the Gens here have the same opportunities as the Simes, then you can argue about how unfair our side of the border is. Right now, it appears to my stranger's eyes that they are valued primarily for the selyn they supply.

Calyna is ~~ astonished ~~ .

Tsibola: And yet, belittled for that, as well.

Calyna: Do you not see what is all around you? How, since Unity, our entire world has been rearranged around the wellbeing and comfort of Gens? How we honor Gens? How Gens rule us?

Tsibola: And yet, earlier you referred to your own husband as "only a donor". And you didn't sound like you were paying him a compliment by that, either.

Calyna: I meant that he is neither a channel nor a Donor, and therefore cannot be a physician, as you asked. But if he were here, you would see how I am clay in his hands.

Tsibola: How so? You have the important position in your society. I expect your earnings are greater, and your influence. In such an inherently unequal situation, your husband has precisely as much influence on you as you wish to give him at any given moment.

Calyna: I chose to marry a man of lesser nager, and therefore yes, I earn more than he does. If he were my nageric equal, he would be wealthier than I with no selyn taxes to pay. As for influence... he's a Gen. I may be a channel, but I am still entirely vulnerable to him.

Tsibola is ~~ highly skeptical ~~.

Calyna: I wish he were here, and you would see. What he does not approve, I do not do. What he wants, I must do, because his happiness is my own.

Tsibola: The very fact that you judge a Gen's worth by how much selyn he produces proves my point. What has that to do with a person's ability or worth?

Calyna: Nothing, of course. But it is a measure of his strength, his ability to shape the... the world around him. Do you not, among your people, have those of greater or lesser natural talent?

Calyna glances up as the waiter approaches to take their orders.

Tsibola: Yes, but we don't consider producing selyn a talent. We judge people by their ability to do useful work, or otherwise contribute to society.

Bernice hopes the interruption will cause a change in the subject. She doesn't think either Ruthven or the channel will change each other's mind.

Tsibola looks at the waiter.

Tsibola: I suppose I'll try the pumpkin soup. Is there some cream to put in it?

Calyna translates the order, changing "cream" to "milk-flavored soybean sauce".

Calyna: And for your main dish?

Tsibola: The rice, I suppose.

Calyna translates that, as well.

Calyna: And for Mrs. Tsibola?

Bernice: The eggplant cutlets.

Calyna translates her order as well.

Calyna: And I'll have the five-lettuce soup and the mushroom apple.

Calyna doesn't bother to specify Sime mushrooms; that much is obvious without saying.

Calyna turns the conversation to lighter topics once the waiter leaves. Soon the food arrives, and they all turn their attention to eating.

Tsibola finds the food strange, but more palatable than some of the creations of the embassy staff. He still thinks that there's nothing wrong with putting cream or cheese sauce on the vegetables, if one has to eat a diet without meat.

Calyna sets down her fork.

Calyna: That was excellent. Did you enjoy yours?

Tsibola: Very much. It's good to have a change, now and then.

Bernice: Yes, it was very interesting.

Calyna nods.

Tsibola is aware that it's neither here nor there that he's craving familiar foods.

Calyna: Since this is your birthday, I've taken the liberty of pre-ordering dessert for all of us. Something a little more traditional, perhaps, than they would usually serve here.

Calyna is ~~ proud ~~ of herself for her careful research into out-T birthday customs and traditional foods.

Tsibola doesn't know whether to be ~~ relieved ~~ or ~~ apprehensive ~~.

Calyna signals, and four waiters enter carrying the birthday cake between them. It's a moist whole-wheat, carrot-apple cake sprinkled with a grating of healthy, anti-oxidant bittersweet chocolate. On top of it, in "icing" -- or rather, pieces of ice -- are the words, "Happy Brithday Ambassador Tsibola" . And mounted around the edges are blazing seventy-three full-sized taper candles.

Tsibola blinks in ~~ astonishment ~~.

Bernice is not only ~~ astonished ~~, she's ~~ amused ~~.

Tsibola's elderly eyes then adjust to the blaze of light, and he realizes that they are not actually bringing him a fully lit candelabra.

Tsibola: This is... quite a surprise.

Bernice: Indeed.

Calyna: Happy Birthday, Ambassador.

Tsibola: Thank you.

Tsibola is ~~ genuinely touched ~~, although he isn't quite sure how to handle the seventy-three tapers.

Calyna notes that the heat of the candles is already melting the ice, and the middle of the cake will soon be getting soggy.

Tsibola leans over and blows, but only succeeds in extinguishing four candles. He tries another two puffs, and accounts for another ten candles, before he starts to feel a bit ~~ lightheaded ~~.

Calyna zlins him with ~~ concern ~~.

Calyna: Shall I ask the waiters to take care of the rest of the candles?

Tsibola: Please. I'm a bit too old for that part of the tradition, I think.

Calyna speaks briefly in Simelan, and the four plump Gens quickly blow out the other fifty-nine flames. One of them takes out a spatula and begins flicking off what remains of the ice lettering.

Tsibola: The traditional candles are a lot smaller. It makes them easier to blow out, because they can be placed closer together.

Calyna: Ah. How small?

Tsibola: About two inches tall, and just thick enough to provide enough wax to burn.

Tsibola illustrates the dimensions.

Calyna nods.

Calyna: I'll remember that for next year.

Calyna figures it never hurts to tell a geriatric patient that you expect him to live at least another year.

Bernice: It's the thought that counts. Kind of you to attempt to follow our custom.

Bernice doesn't explain that candles on a birthday cake are seldom used for adults except as a bit of a joke.

Calyna: I understand the guest of honor usually cuts the cake, but I'll ask the waiters to do that if you'd rather.

Tsibola: Please. I'm afraid there's a lot of wax that will have to be cleaned off.

Calyna speaks to the waiters, who lift the huge cake and take it back to the kitchen. A moment later one of them returns, with two large slices and one very small one.

Calyna: They'll pack up the rest of that, and run it over to the embassy for you.

Tsibola: I'm sure the staff will enjoy a taste.

Calyna thinks she has figured out another aspect of the cake: it allows others, who couldn't attend the primary celebration, to participate in the occasion at second hand.

Tsibola picks up the dessert fork and samples the dessert.

Calyna takes her own fork and tries a bite. It's wonderful, and she's very glad she's pre-turnover today. it would have been a shame not to appreciate this.

Tsibola finds the dessert edible, although he'd much prefer the cherry-and-chocolate layer cake that the dessert chef at the Senate dining hall makes. He's not rude enough to say so, however.

Calyna zlins the Ambassador's lukewarm enjoyment, but says nothing of it.

Calyna: Happy birthday indeed, Ambassador Tsibola.

Tsibola: Thank you, Hajene Calyna.

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