Conductor knocks on the door of the Senator's private compartment, hoping the man is going to be reasonable. However, it is his job to let the customers vent at him for any problems the railway has.
Pollovic slips his jacket on before opening the door.
Conductor: I'm sorry to disturb you, Senator.
Conductor puts on a serious and apologetic demeanor.
Pollovic: What's the problem?
Conductor: We have some mechanical difficulties with the train, and we will have to stop here until a mechanic and some parts arrive.
Pollovic: How long?
Conductor: We hope the repairs will be completed by early morning. I wanted to give you advance notice so you can make arrangements for accommodations in this town, if you prefer.
Pollovic: Thank you.
Conductor: There's an inn, or small hotel, here, but unfortunately I don't know much about it.
Pollovic has gotten himself and Pametta one of the finest private compartments, but he's not so fond of it as to want to sleep on the train more than he must.
Pollovic: I'll go have a look, then, before others get all the rooms. Um, what's this town called?
Conductor: Gumgeeville, sir.
Pollovic: All right. Thank you for notifying me.
Conductor nods obsequiously and leaves.
Pollovic glances back at Pametta, who's buried in her book.
Pollovic: I'll see if I can get us a room. I'll be right back.
Pametta: All right, dear. I'm sure I'll be fine.
Pametta is ~~ hopeful ~~ that her husband can procure a proper bed, for several reasons.
Pollovic hurries off the train and looks around. Gumgeeville looks like a typical small town, much like many in his own district.
Henree is sweeping the floor of his saloon, in preparation for the evening custom.
Pollovic quickly identifies the building that has to be the local inn. Other passengers are starting to get off the train, so he hurries to get there first. He opens the door and steps inside.
Henree looks up from his sweeping, and his eyes widen.
Pollovic: Good afternoon, sir.
Henree: Good afternoon.
Henree takes another look.
Henree: Forgive me, sir, but you are not my usual sort of patron.
Pollovic: I'm not looking for a pint, I'm afraid. The train is stuck here for the night, and I'm hoping to get a room, for myself and my wife.
Henree: I see.
Pollovic is aware of how out of place he looks, in his fine tweed jacket and clothing that's casual only by city standards.
Henree experiences a ~~ nagging familiarity ~~ when he looks at his potential guest.
Pollovic: The finest one available, please.
Henree: You look vaguely familiar, Mr...?
Pollovic: Pollovic. Brenn Pollovic.
Pollovic is quite aware of how often his face has made front pages, territory-wide.
Henree's upper lip twitches in ~~ disgust ~~.
Henree: The Sime-kissing Senator. Of course. I should have recognized you immediately.
Pollovic gives a gracious nod, as if he'd just been complimented.
Pollovic: I do require a room.
Henree is not feeling at all charitable towards Sime-kissing since his wayward daughter announced her intention to run off to Simeland for the birth of Magit's child. His business has been doing quite well lately, and there will be no lack of custom with a whole trainload of passengers seeking accommodations.
Henree: You know, I really don't have a room that's suitable for a Senator.
Pollovic: I don't expect the Grand Hotel. Any room that's clean and comfortable will do.
Henree: There is one person in town who has First Order accommodations. Truly. He's housed most of the notables who've visited Gumgeeville.
Pollovic isn't sure whether he's being complimented or given the brush-off. The latter, he suspects.
Henree might not approve of Simes, but he does understand that the ones who visited Gegg were high ranking
Henree: You want Gegg's place.
Henree gives directions.
Pollovic takes careful note of them.
Pollovic: Is he prepared for unexpected guests?
Pollovic doesn't think a town this size would have a second inn.
Henree: Oh, he's had plenty of unexpected guests before.
Henree remembers the story he heard about a Sime and a shotgun, and hopes this Sime-kisser gets the same treatment.
Pollovic: Very well, then. Where can I hire a carriage?
Henree: A carriage?
Pollovic has misgivings. If he goes to see this Gegg, and he can't put up guests, the inn will be full by the time he gets back.
Henree thinks it over.
Pollovic: A wagon? A ride for two, and our luggage.
Henree: There's no carriages in Gumgeeville, but...
Henree looks out the window.
Henree: That's Jed's wagon in front of the store. He's Gegg's cousin. He could give you a ride out there, I expect.
Pollovic: All right. Thank you, and good day.
Pollovic hurries across the street to the general store, passing several of his fellow passengers on their way to Henree's. He steps into the store and looks around.
Pollovic: Hello. I'm looking for someone named Jed.
Jed: That's me.
Pollovic: Good afternoon, sir. A gentleman named Henree said you might be able to help me.
Jed is surprised and somewhat suspicious.
Jed: Oh yeah?
Pollovic: My name is Brenn Pollovic.
Pollovic offers a handshake.
Jed: Jed Mullins.
Pollovic: Pleased to meet you, sir.
Jed: What can I do for you?
Pollovic: My wife and I, and our luggage, require a ride from the train station to visit a gentleman named Gegg. I'm told you're his cousin.
Jed: Well, you can practically see the place from here, if Miz Toozer's lilac hedge weren't in the way. But I suppose I can run you up there if you want.
Jed isn't eager to go back home, since Ma is doing another round of spring cleaning.
Pollovic: Thank you very much.
Jed heads back out to his wagon.
Pollovic goes to collect Pametta and the luggage. Strange how much heavier these bags have gotten since the servants helped load them onto the train.
Pollovic: Pametta, can you get the small one?
Pollovic is struggling with the other two bags and the trunk.
Pametta: Of course, dear. And let me take that bag, as well.
Pametta is, after all, young and very healthy.
Pollovic doesn't protest as much as a gallant young bridegroom ought. He's only two out of three, after all.
Pollovic struggles towards Jed's wagon with the trunk and the second largest bag.
Pametta stows the bags neatly, and discreetly.
Jed takes pity on the man and helps load the trunk.
Pollovic makes the introductions. It's too late to hand his wife up onto the wagon in a gentlemanly fashion; she's up there already. He clambers up alongside her.
Pametta settles on the splintery seat and reaches out to hold her husband's hand.
Jed: Okay? Here we go.
Jed chirps to his old horse, who sighs and heads slowly up the hill.
Pollovic searches for a topic to make small talk while they ride. He considers and discards that old rural standby, the weather.
Pametta looks around at the houses, thinking that they have charm despite the obvious poverty.
Pametta: What charming flowers in that yard.
Jed: Here we go.
Jed turns at Gegg's gate, goes past the barn and up to the house.
Sanda comes out of the house, glad to escape. Both twins are screaming and her mother is trying to cool them out.
Jed: Where's your dad, Sanda? These people are looking for him.
Sanda: He's in the barn.
Jed turns to his passengers.
Jed: He's in the barn.
Sanda hears her mother calling her and reluctantly goes back into the house, wondering what's going on with these well-dressed strangers.
Pametta turns to her husband.
Pametta: Brenn, dear, why don't you talk with the man while I admire the garden?
Pametta is not unaware of the male wish to be In Charge and is willing to indulge it, as long as it doesn't require possibly injurious acts such as flinging heavy luggage around.
Pollovic, stepping gingerly in his fine leather city shoes, heads for the barn. The door is open, so he takes a step inside.
Jed stays with the wagon, waiting to see what happens.
Pollovic: Hello? Mr. Gegg?
Pollovic isn't sure whether Gegg is a first name or a surname, but decides to play it safe.
Gegg looks up from the nail he is pounding into Petunia's quarters.
Gegg: That's me. Who're you?
Pollovic: Good afternoon, sir. I'm Brenn Pollovic. I'm told that perhaps you can help me.
Gegg: Brenn Pollovic? Haven't I heard that name before?
Pollovic gives a resigned sigh. Is he going to get another brush-off for being a "Sime-kisser"?
Pollovic: Probably. I've been on the front page rather often of late.
Gegg: The front page?
Gegg thinks it over.
Gegg: Oh. The Senator?
Pollovic: The same.
Gegg: What's a guy like you doing in my barn?
Pollovic: Our train is stalled here in town for the night. Mr. Henree, at the inn, seemed reluctant to house myself and my wife, but suggested that you might be able to make space for us. I apologize for the imposition.
Gegg shakes his head in ~~ bewilderment ~~.
Gegg: Why would Henree send you to me?
Pollovic: He said you've housed many distinguished guests in the past, and seemed to think his own accommodations were unsuitable for such as myself. I believe the phrase he used to describe your home was, "First Order accommodations."
Gegg: First Order...
Gegg: I think Henree's having a bit of a joke on both of us.
Pollovic raises an eyebrow. He hopes he and Pametta aren't going to have to go back to the train for the night.
Gegg: I had some visitors he didn't approve of. Channels. My guess is, he's hoping you'll be left with the same accommodations they had.
Pollovic suddenly gets the "First Order" part.
Pollovic: I'm sure any place that suited the finest channels in the Tecton will be more than adequate for a couple of stranded travellers.
Pollovic hasn't quite been reduced to explicit begging yet. But he's headed in that direction.
Gegg: Before you say yes, you might be interested to know that they were staying right here.
Gegg points to the barn floor next to himself -- and the pigpen.
Gegg: Right there.
Pollovic looks around in disbelief.
Gegg: I couldn't tolerate having them in the house with me, you see.
Pollovic stares at Gegg, his jaw sagging.
Gegg: Yeah. That's why they were in Gumgeeville in the first place, you see.
Pollovic: I... I'm not sure I understand.
Gegg: They were there to help me get over it. Sort of.
Pollovic: Over... "it"?
Pollovic still hasn't caught on.
Gegg: Being afraid of Simes.
Pollovic takes a moment to try to digest this.
Pollovic: Many people are afraid of Simes. Most don't see it as a problem.
Gegg: It gets kinda awkward, when your son is a channel. And your two babies are heading that way, too, apparently.
Pollovic stares at Gegg, gradually beginning to appreciate the magnitude of the coincidence that's brought the two of them together. It's almost enough to make a man believe in Providence.
Gegg: So Hajene Bibi over at the Ford asked her man to make some arrangements.
Pollovic: Her man?
Pollovic is replying with only a fraction of his attention, still trying to process what he's already heard.
Gegg: Yeah. Nice fellow named Seruffin.
Pollovic: Hajene Seruffin, the diplomat?
Gegg: Don't know about that last, but he does seem to travel a lot. Stayed with my cousin Jed, once, when the train broke down.
Pollovic: Jed, who drove us out here?
Pollovic is struggling to believe how coincidence is piling upon coincidence.
Gegg: Nobody wanted to put up a Sime overnight, you see, but Jed owed the stationmaster a lot of money. You know Seruffin?
Pollovic: Quite well. I've worked with him a lot, in various Senate negotiations. And lately, I've come to think of him as a...
Pollovic was about to say "friend", but stops himself. he doesn't know what his relationship with Seruffin has become, these last few days.
Pollovic: He took my first donation.
Gegg: Oh. Yes, that does make a difference. Although it took a while for me to get used to D'zoll, even so.
Pollovic stares again.
Pollovic: D'zoll? Hajene D'zoll ambrov Sat'htine?
Gegg: Yes. Nice place, Sat'htine. Good land.
Pollovic: You've been there?
Gegg: Yeah. My wife had to have special care, for the babies. D'zoll said he wasn't qualified.
Pollovic takes a moment to reply.
Pollovic: Oh. Right. You said your babies are probably going to be channels.
Pollovic: Does that mean you or your wife are... no, I guess it would have to be your wife, if you're...
Gegg: My wife's normal. The kids got it from me. My Toria's taking it pretty well, all things considered. At least we don't have to figure out who gets the farm.
Pollovic gives up on trying to process so much information at once, and grabs at the one thing he thinks he might understand.
Pollovic: Only one of your children isn't a channel? Or future channel?
Gegg: Yeah. My girl Sanda.
Pollovic is back on familiar ground, talking to a farmer about farm things.
Pollovic: Difficult, that, leaving your land to a daughter. You'll have to hope she marries the right man.
Gegg: Hope is right. She's inclined to go her own way, my Sanda. Takes after her mother, that way. Are you married?
Pollovic: Yes, as of nine days ago.
Pollovic looks at Gegg.
Pollovic: I take it that that particular story hasn't made it out here yet?
Gegg: Dunno. We've got infant twins with colic. We're a bit behind on the news.
Pollovic: Mr. Gegg, do you believe in Providence?
Gegg: Providence? I leave that to the theologians. I got enough confusion just trying to get my fields planted.
Pollovic: If not Providence, then the most incredible string of coincidences has led us to meet. You see, last week, as Pametta and I were arriving home after our wedding, we found a child in changeover by our front door. We got him to the Sime Center just barely in time. Hajene Seruffin grabbed his tentacles away from my wrists; it was that close. And now... now I seem to share your, uh, problem with Simes.
Gegg: You do?
Pollovic gives a bitter laugh.
Pollovic: The most famous, or infamous, Sime-kisser in New Washington is now afraid to let a Sime touch him.
Gegg shakes his head.
Pollovic: And it's been suggested I see Hajene D'zoll about it.
Gegg: He helped me. It wasn't fun, but I was able to hug my son, tentacles and all. Eventually.
Pollovic: Mr. Gegg, may I buy you a dr...
Pollovic suddenly remembers why he's standing here, in Gegg's barn.
Pollovic: Er, may I beg you for a corner of your barn for the night? And an evening of conversation?
Gegg: The hayloft is at least softer than the barn floor. Smells better, too.
Pollovic remembers an Ancient legend he heard once, about a great ruler who was born in a barn because his parents couldn't get a room at the local inn.
Gegg: I'd invite you to stay in the house, but I don't think you'd get any sleep. Like I said, the twins are having a touch of colic.
Pollovic: Then your hayloft will suit us quite well enough, I'm sure. As I said, if it's good enough for the finest channels in the Tecton...
Pollovic shrugs. He hopes Pametta won't mind too much. By now, they don't have a lot of choice anyway.
Gegg: They did have a little cabin that they put in the barn. That's gone, obviously.
Pollovic remembers the tent he slept in, in winter, after the quake in Cottonwood City. A hayloft in summer can't be worse than that.
Gegg: You can sleep here, and we'll put a few extra potatoes and carrots into the stew.
Pollovic: Thank you. Thank you ever so much.
Pollovic has a feeling this proud farmer will be offended if he offers money. He tries to think what might be in his baggage that would make a suitable guesting-gift. Maybe Pametta can think of something.
Gegg: As for the other... I don't know how much effort you want to put into it, but you can get over it. Not completely, maybe, but enough to get by.
Pollovic takes a deep breath.
Pollovic: That's good to know.
Pollovic pushes down the flutter of doubt that says he isn't so sure any more. How can he even begin to know what he believes, now, until he's dealt with the panic?