Rundle sits in his Senate building office, staring at an item in this morning's in-basket. A newspaper in that squiggly stuff Simes use for an alphabet is displaying, front page above the fold, a photo of Tsibola hugging a pretty (if too scrawny, like all Simes) young woman with tentacles. He flips open the paper; there are three more pages of photos inside.
Rundle looks for the translation or summary that should be clipped to the paper, but there isn't one. It's not really needed, though; the photos are self-explanatory.
Rundle scowls. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to ease Tsibola out of the Senate; at least on this side of the border, it was possible to keep an eye on him.
Rundle gets to his feet and storms out of his office. The trade negotiations should be taking their morning break about now. That means there should be a Sime available for questioning. He hurries downstairs and is waiting when the doors to the meeting room open.
Rundle: Seruffin! Over here!
Rundle doesn't bother to use any polite titles towards the snake-faced bastard.
Seruffin turns towards the call, raising a distinguished-looking eyebrow. He doesn't care much for Rundle and his hatred; Tsibola's disdain was easier to handle.
Seruffin: Can I help you, Senator Rundle?
Rundle waves the newspaper under Seruffin's nose.
Rundle: I want to know what's going on here. Tsibola's a good man. Or was. What have you snakes done to him? ~~ anger ~~
Seruffin takes the paper and scans the picture.
Seruffin: It appears from this picture that he was spending some time with his niece. In a park -- the one close to the New Washington Embassy, if I'm not mistaken.
Rundle: His niece? ~~ incredulity ~~
Rundle: You're telling me he has a niece with....?
Rundle, sputtering, gestures to his own forearms.
Seruffin: He has a niece who went through changeover, yes. She's attending university in Capital at the moment.
Rundle vaguely remembers something about a niece from that idiot Craig's rant on the Senate doorstep a few months ago.
Seruffin: Which, I believe, makes her somewhat better off than your own son.
Rundle: You leave my son out of this! I have no son. ~~ bitter ~~
Seruffin: You have a son, who is currently making a living as a laborer.
Rundle shakes his head harshly.
Rundle: He is dead.
Rundle doesn't want to hear any differently.
Seruffin: He is not. He has a long life ahead of him, with perhaps a wife and children -- your grandchildren.
Rundle shakes his head.
Rundle: Not mine.
Seruffin: Yours. Even if you reject them, they are still your relatives.
Rundle: I have only human beings as kin. ~~ firm ~~
Seruffin: I heard a lot of Sime parents say the same thing about their Gen sons and daughters, after Unity. It wasn't any more true then.
Rundle realizes he has let the wily snake grab control of the discussion.
Rundle: At any rate, if this is Ruthven's... niece... then that only compounds his sins. Incest, on top of everything else.
Rundle waves the paper under Seruffin's nose again.
Seruffin: Incest? I very much doubt it. It looks like she's helping him walk. Given the condition of his heart, and the expression of pain on his face in that picture, I expect he was having some chest pains.
Rundle snorts. Can't a Sime even tell the difference between pain and lust?
Rundle: Then how about this picture? Or this one?
Rundle leafs through the paper and points a shaking finger at the photo of Tsibola kissing the young woman's hand.
Seruffin: I've seen Ambassador Tsibola kiss hands at many diplomatic functions. For that matter, I've seen you do the same. Am I therefore to conclude that you are having an affair with Senator Doyle's wife?
Rundle: Don't be ridiculous.
Rundle takes a moment to regroup, then points to some of the other photos.
Rundle: Look at the way they look at each other. The way they touch each other. The guilty way they look at the camera when they realize they've been caught. Don't try to explain all that away.
Rundle's stomach churns at the thought of touching a Sime like that. Of even getting that close to one.
Seruffin: Senator Rundle, I don't find it at all surprising that Ambassador Tsibola has familial affection for his niece. They have been close all her life, since the Tsibolas have no children of their own.
Rundle: So your official position, then, is to pretend this isn't the scandal it obviously is?
Seruffin: I see no scandal in it.
Rundle decides to change tacks.
Rundle: How did you do it? How did you manage to soften Tsibola? He used to be a good man. A few months ago, he wouldn't have had anything to do with a Sime.
Seruffin: He never shared your fear of Simes, Senator Rundle. And he's been dealing with me and my staff for years.
Rundle: But not like this. Not the way he would with real people.
Rundle stabs a finger at the newspaper again.
Seruffin: Senator Rundle, the reason Ruthven Tsibola has been so successful negotiating with my government is precisely because he never made the mistake of thinking that Simes are anything other than human.
Rundle gives an incredulous, and not at all gentlemanly, snort.
Rundle: I'll grant that you want a lot of the same things human beings want. Land, wealth, power. That doesn't make you human.
Seruffin: If part of your definition of "human" is "no tentacles", I'd have to agree. Of course, my Genlan dictionary doesn't define "human" in precisely that way.
Rundle: Then you should get a better dictionary.
Seruffin: Or you should reconsider your definition.
Rundle snorts again and raises the offending newspaper once more.
Rundle: So if you Simes don't think there's any scandal, why the big photo spread? Is this how you'd treat something that's perfectly innocent?
Seruffin: Ambassador Tsibola has attracted a certain amount of attention in the in-Territory press. As far as their interpretation... I expect they didn't bother to find out the young lady's name, or her relationship to him. At least, her name isn't mentioned here.
Rundle: So your people would agree, then, that a respectable married man shouldn't get so close to a... Sime female? If she weren't his niece? Or is this rag gloating, that the Ambassador has been softened up by Simes?
Seruffin scans the text, such as it is.
Seruffin: This paper's editors can't seem to make up their mind what they think.
Seruffin: They put forth at least six hypotheses about the pictures, none of which has any evidence behind it, while as I mentioned, they apparently failed to ask either of the principals what was going on.
Rundle: Hmm. So what are these other hypotheses?
Rundle wants to know how the enemy thinks.
Seruffin: Let's see. Besides your pet theory, they put forth the possibility that Miz Fennik "might be" an agent for some big corporate concern, or a spy, or, hmm, a fashion consultant for his wife?
Seruffin: I don't know where that one came from.
Rundle gives a short bark of laughter.
Rundle: Clutching at straws?
Seruffin: Probably. I doubt they pay their writers enough for them to evaluate their writings for plausibility.
Rundle: Journalism is not a valued profession among Simes, then?
Rundle doesn't want to think that he and Simes have yet another thing in common.
Seruffin: Journalism, yes. Tabloids, no. Which isn't so different from here. How much respect do you give the staff of the Astrological Daily?
Rundle raises an eyebrow.
Rundle: Are you saying that this...
Seruffin: Is the Nivet equivalent, yes.
Rundle crumples the newspaper in disgust.
Rundle: In that case, Hajene...
Rundle offers the title somewhat ~~ grudgingly ~~ , but he does offer it.
Rundle: ... I apologize for occupying your time.
Seruffin: I accept your apology in the spirit in which it is offered.
Rundle misses the irony entirely.
Rundle: Then I bid you good day.
Seruffin offers a polite bow.
Rundle nods briskly and turns away, more ~~ troubled ~~ than he wants to show. Sex as a motive for fraternizing, he could almost have understood. Not forgiven, but at least understood. Softening towards Simes without such an incentive is far, far worse.
Rundle fingers the crumpled newspaper thoughtfully as he returns to his office. Tsibola bears closer watching. Possibly even a recall, if things have gone too far. He'll have to investigate further.
Rundle's face takes on a disquieting smile. With the summer recess fast approaching, he'll have more than enough time to pursue a little research project of his own.