On the Run: Episode 22

Fennik uses a pair of silver tongs to add ice to two glasses of cold tea.

Fennik isn't having brandy as a postprandial drink, since his brother-in-law isn't allowed any.

Fennik: Lemon in yours, Ruthven?

Tsibola: Thank you. Although I'd much prefer brandy, Bernice wouldn't approve.

Fennik squeezes lemon juice into Ruthven's glass, gives it to him, and sits down with his own.

Tsibola: Ah, well. Just having a bit of meat is a real treat, these days.

Fennik: I'm glad you enjoyed it. It must be difficult doing without. You are looking well, though, so perhaps the privations are worth it.

Tsibola: I've adjusted. There are so many strange new things that it tends to blend in with the rest.

Fennik nods.

Tsibola: It would have been much more difficult to give up meat if I'd stayed here. Which overlooks the point that I wouldn't have had to give up meat if I were still living here.

Tsibola gives a slightly crooked smile.

Fennik: So what's it like, in Capital? Does it seem like a civilized place?

Tsibola: Yes, and no. So much of it is new. They had a civilization of sorts before the Unity War, of course, but they are reluctant to admit that past is still relevant. There are bits of it left standing, here and there, and everybody tries hard to ignore them. Can you imagine trying to hold a reasonable conversation while never mentioning anything with a history older than thirty years?

Fennik: I suppose it could be quite difficult, although my field deals with far earlier times, of course.

Tsibola: The ironic thing is that every bit of their current culture is either a holdover from before Unity or the direct opposite of an aspect they rejected at that time.

Fennik: I imagine it seems stranger to you than to them -- few of them are old enough to remember the times before Unity, I understand.

Tsibola: Yes. Seruffin is about as old as they get, and he's barely middle aged.

Fennik laughs.

Fennik: Must be like the university -- a handful of us and a mob of the young.

Tsibola: Not too unlike, actually. Although when I was attending, I thought we were all quite grown up.

Fennik: The students still do, of course. It's characteristic of students to be sure they know at least as much about how the world works as their elders.

Tsibola: It's funny how much less they think they know a few years later, once they're got some actual experience. It makes one skeptical about the value of a good education.

Tsibola winks.

Fennik laughs.

Fennik: Oh, well, it takes them even longer than that to appreciate the value of their education.

Fennik sips his tea.

Tsibola: You seem to have educated your daughter out of that. She is quite serious about her studies.

Fennik: How is she, Ruthven?

Tsibola: She is quite the young lady. It's not just the tentacles; there's a whole new appreciation for the subtle aspects of life. She's going to graduate near the top of her class, in another year or so. She's still thinking over what to do then.

Fennik: I know she's doing well at university. As for the rest, I'm glad to hear she's continuing to mature. I can read it in her letters, but it's good that you can see it in her in person.

Fennik sighs.

Fennik: I'm so proud of her. I'm so glad she has the chance to develop into the woman she has the potential to be.

Tsibola: It's too bad that irresponsible photographer sold those photos of us to the tabloids. Fortunately, the incident seems to have blown over.

Fennik: Nobody could take such things seriously. I understand such photos can be faked, too, even if they weren't in this case. I suppose it isn't so important that people might learn that she's your niece, now that you don't have to stand for election any more.

Tsibola: Yes. I'm free of running campaigns. It's another adjustment in my new life.

Fennik: So, does life as a diplomat suit you now?

Tsibola takes the time to consider the question, sipping at his tea.

Tsibola: I'd rather still be in the Senate, of course. That's where the center of things is. However, it's not a bad way to semi-retire. I'm doing something useful, not just sitting in the sun and writing my memoirs.

Fennik: I suppose it's easier on your blood pressure, which must please Bernice as well as your doctors.

Tsibola: Well, sometimes it's hard to tell what my current doctors think. I suppose they know their trade; I haven't had much trouble, lately.

Fennik: You are looking better. Much healthier than when you left.

Tsibola: I still get a bit short of breath from time to time, but not nearly as badly as before.

Fennik nods.

Fennik: I'm thinking about visiting Fridda before the autumn term starts here.

Tsibola: Really? I know she'd be glad to see you. Bernice would enjoy having company, as well. She's been a brave soul, but I know she misses New Washington society.

Fennik: How has she been managing? Is she building up a network of friends and contacts there?

Tsibola: She's a Senator's wife, born and bred. Of course she's meeting people. But most of them are at least thirty years younger than we are, and view her as something of a curiosity. I mean, you interact with students every day. How many of them do you consider close friends?

Fennik: None of them, of course. But aren't there people of your vintage and our class on the diplomatic staff?

Tsibola: No. The local staff conforms to local demographics and the people we brought with us were all younger.

Fennik: And I don't suppose any of her friends here in New Washington would be willing to visit her for a time, considering the... requirements.

Tsibola: No. Nor would she ask them to.

Fennik nods.

Fennik: It must be difficult for her.

Tsibola: She is bearing it well, without complaint.

Tsibola smiles.

Tsibola: But she is also making the most of our brief visit, which is why she had to decline your invitation tonight.

Fennik: A hen party, perhaps?

Tsibola: Very much so. I was very glad to escape unpecked.

Fennik laughs.

Fennik: Indeed.

Tsibola: So tell me, Jon, has New Washington survived my absence?

Fennik: Well, I don't travel in the same circles, you did, of course. I do miss reading about you in the papers. You certainly know what to tell a reporter!

Tsibola chuckles.

Tsibola: There are an infinite number of ways to say absolutely nothing, and many of them sound quite impressive.

Fennik: Does it work the same with the Nivet reporters? I imagine they'd be more respectful to an ambassador, of course.

Tsibola: I'm not sure if it's my station or my venerable age. But they do have to be approached differently. You have to just keep repeating "no comment" until they stop trying to wheedle you and go away.

Tsibola takes another sip of the tea.

Tsibola: So, when should I tell Bernice to expect you?

Fennik: I haven't made any arrangements yet, but it will be after the summer term exams are over and graded.

Tsibola: Late summer, then. I'll be sure to let Fridda know, so she doesn't make any plans that would take her out of town.

Fennik: Oh, I've told her I might visit then. She'd like me to speak to a sort of student literary society some of her friends belong to.

Tsibola chuckles.

Tsibola: Making it a busman's holiday?

Fennik: Well, perhaps. It will be interesting to speak to foreign students and see how they differ from ours.

Tsibola: Not by a whole lot, I'd guess. Some things come with being young.

Fennik: It will be good to meet some of the young people Fridda associates with, as well as her friends, of course.

Tsibola: I haven't heard about any particular young man, if that's what you're wondering. And I think she would have told me, if it was serious.

Fennik: I suppose I'm lucky -- I haven't had to go through all the anxiety a father of daughters normally does in our society. Fridda's an adult, and she can manage her own affairs. And as I understand it, she has much greater opportunities in Nivet. She doesn't need to marry right off. Women have careers like men there, she says.

Tsibola: They do. And she's well enough off that she doesn't have to depend on whatever man she picks for her livelihood. Although I'm certainly going to look at any young man she mentions very closely.

Fennik: Please do, Ruthven. You've always been a second father to her, and you're the one on the spot now.

Tsibola: You can depend on me. And on Bernice. Her judgement of young men is impeccable... look which one she picked to marry.

Fennik laughs.

Fennik: She did find one she can work with over the long haul. You two are as well-suited a pair as I've seen anywhere, even after all these years.

Tsibola: It has to have been her judgement. I was a young man. I didn't have judgement.

Fennik: Your sister told me a few tales. She was quite young then, but very observant even as a child.

Tsibola chuckles.

Tsibola: Nosey, rather.

Fennik: Astute. Sharp. Fridda gets a great deal of that from her mother.

Tsibola: Fortunately, I'm not her older brother, just her boring old uncle.

Fennik sighs.

Fennik: I wonder what she'd think of her daughter now.

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