What's Yours Is Mine: Episode 17

Irthmon: The guy probably means well, but he's screwing the union. Maybe all we have to do is explain it to him.

Newmerkle: I can round up a couple of the boys, I guess, but we better go armed, since he's a Sime, hey?

Irthmon: Nah. He's the harmless kind. A channel, like in the war. They don't kill.

Newmerkle: Well, fine, but when a man's getting something "explained" to him, that kinda thing tends not to hold up. At least that's my experience.

Newmerkle gives "explained" an ironic inflection.

Irthmon: I mean really just explain. He's a foreigner, probably doesn't understand that he's making things worse instead of better. My wife says that simpleton he's got working for him says they're here to help people as well as look for that criminal.

Newmerkle: Oh. Well, if you say so. In that case, you and me is probably enough, hey?

Irthmon: Yeah, should be. Finish your drink and we'll go over there right now.

Newmerkle wipes out the beer and puts his jacket on.

Newmerkle: Lead on.

Irthmon leads on and a few minutes later knocks on the door next to the bootlegger's.

Seruffin has been waiting ~~ not entirely patiently ~~ for Gerrhonot to return with the supplies that were supposed to be shipped on the day's train. He's not all that surprised that it proved impossible to have them brought in with the store's supplies and delivered.

Seruffin winces at the smashed-knuckle zlin, and hastily opens the door.

Seruffin: Good evening, gentlemen. How can I help you?

Irthmon: We'd like to have a chat with you.

Newmerkle: Yeah. ~~ attempted intimidation ~~

Newmerkle figures he'll let Irthmon play the good guy -- he's better at the bad-guy role anyhow.

Seruffin has been intimidated by experts with much more sec than Newmerkle.

Irthmon, on the other hand, zlins ~~ open and sincere ~~.

Seruffin: Please, come in.

Seruffin steps back to give his guests room.

Irthmon steps in, ~~ unafraid and confident ~~.

Seruffin gestures towards the mismatched chairs that he and Gerrhonot have managed to scrounge since it became clear that they were going to have a lot of visitors.

Seruffin: Sit down if you wish.

Irthmon: I hope this won't take that long.

Seruffin settles on one chair at some distance from the others.

Seruffin: As you wish. How can I assist you?

Irthmon: I hear that you've come here to help us miners, and in some ways you have, with the doctoring and the money for donations. But in some ways, you're making things worse in both the near term and the long term.

Irthmon waits for the Sime's reaction.

Newmerkle doesn't.

Newmerkle: Yeah. Prices are sky-high and going higher.

Seruffin: Actually, my mission here is not related to the mine, although I am glad to provide what services a channel offers to anyone who wishes. How is this a problem?

Irthmon: Well, don't you think you should understand a situation before you mess with it? You're messing things up for a lot of people.

Seruffin: How so?

Irthmon: Your neighbor there has raised his prices. He doesn't just sell booze, you know, he brings in vegetables and other stuff we can't get at the store. The people who donate can still buy from him, buy him out, even, but the rest can't afford it any more.

Newmerkle: And the reason he can raise his prices is that folks who ain't leaving are selling their stuff to you. That means a lot more money running around than before. And because there ain't anywhere else to buy ...

Seruffin: I see.

Seruffin takes hungry Gens ~~ seriously ~~.

Irthmon: But overall, it's even worse. You'll be gone in a while. We tried to get a union going here before and we got screwed. The more forward-looking miners are taking your money and planning to leave. The ones who aren't are the timid ones, the ones who won't stand up to Coleman.

Newmerkle continues.

Newmerkle: ... he can get away with it, and the folks who are poor because they ain't donating -- they're screwed.

Irthmon: We need a union here, mister. You've seen how we live. The only way we'll get a decent life here is to organize and make Coleman give in. He can always find more poor suckers to move here with the promise of a good job and get trapped like most people here have.

Seruffin nods.

Irthmon: Coleman's goons are keeping a much closer eye on people, to see who comes here. Makes it harder to talk among ourselves about organizing, you see.

Seruffin: I don't know your situation as well as you do, of course. But I do have some experience in difficult negotiations, and desperate situations.

Newmerkle: Man can't walk down the street any more without Coleman hears about it right away.

Irthmon sighs deeply.

Irthmon: If only people would consider using the money they get from you for a strike fund, but they can't. They're too desperate.

Seruffin: Most of the people who have donated seem to want to pay their debts and leave.

Newmerkle: Most, but not all! Some just want something a bit better for their kids.

Irthmon: We had a strike once, and they broke us. We had a miner bringing in food, and they came down on him so he had to run for Simeland before they got him. His name was Nick Debree, but he had a Simeland name too. What was it, Newm? Ratchet, Ratcage, something like that.

Newmerkle: Wrecker, I think.

Seruffin: Actually, it was Reckage. Although he's Nick ambrov Sat'htine, now.

Irthmon: You know the guy?

Seruffin: Yes, I worked with him at the Snake River Dam. And I've been following his career with interest ever since.

Irthmon wonders what this Sime means by a career. Nick, as far as he can remember, had mostly been a farm worker before he tried mining.

Irthmon: Doing well, is he?

Seruffin: Very. He's become a professional Donor since you knew him. And an extremely talented one, too.

Irthmon doesn't know what a professional Donor is.

Irthmon: Well, couldn't happen to a nicer guy. He's well remembered around here. There's even a song about him and the strike. Pity he had to run like that.

Seruffin: It was unfortunate for the strike, but I think it was good for Nick. Not that I'm unbiased: we channels depend on our Donors.

Irthmon: Like that simpleton you've got talking to all the women for you, hey?

Seruffin: Gerrhonot has a great deal of talent for his work.

Irthmon shrugs. The women seem to like talking to him, and he's not trying to get it on with any of them, so nobody's concerned.

Newmerkle raises his eyebrows.

Newmerkle: Which is what, exactly?

Seruffin: Gerrhonot keeps me stable and healthy, helps me with my work, and of course he provides me with selyn as well. In a situation like this, where I can't move freely, his help is especially critical.

Newmerkle: O-kay, whatever you say.

Seruffin: Now, as regards your present situation, would you be interested in the observations of an outsider?

Irthmon: Go ahead.

Seruffin: It seems to me that the difficulties I've inadvertently caused you also provide an opportunity.

Irthmon: Really? Tell me about it.

Seruffin: If you are more pressed than usual by higher food prices, Mr. Coleman is also being pressed by the fact that several families have succeeded in paying their debts and leaving. He can replace them in time, of course, but at the moment, he can't afford to lose any more of you. Have you considered that this might be a good time to press your advantage -- or Coleman's disadvantage -- and renegotiate your situation?

Irthmon: There's one thing you're missing, mister. Summer's the slack season for coal. Coleman can take his time bringing in more miners. It actually saves him money, people quitting.

Seruffin: It's never good business to have your workforce leave. That's why Coleman is trying to discourage people from doing so. The slower schedule does give both you and Coleman time to negotiate, however.

Seruffin: And you have another advantage. I am a diplomat. I have been negotiating trade agreements between our governments for several years. I would be willing to offer my services as a mediator between your miners and Coleman.

Irthmon: I've never known Coleman to be willing to negotiate, mediator or no, right, Newmerkle?

Seruffin: Coleman has never been faced with the prospect of his workforce being able to legally leave. Nor is he used to having an outside witness to any measures he might take against you.

Irthmon: Sorry, mister, but as an outside witness I don't see how anybody is going to listen to you where it counts.

Irthmon isn't going to come right out and say "Who's going to listen to a Sime?"

Newmerkle has no such scruples.

Newmerkle: Who's going to listen to a Sime?

Seruffin: Your Senators have learned to listen to me. Also, Coleman will find having a neutral observer just as useful as you will.

Irthmon: When have senators ever given a shit about people like us? And Coleman doesn't care who sees what he does.

Seruffin: He may lack shame, but he understands profit. Conflict doesn't pay.

Irthmon: Look, I got a couple things to do before it's time to go down the pit. Newmerkle here will tell you what the problems are.

Irthmon gives Seruffin one last look, ~~ disgusted ~~. The Sime might mean well, but he just doesn't know what it's like for the average working stiff.

Irthmon: You tell him, Newm.

Irthmon gets up and takes off.

Newmerkle: Mediator, that means you're not on anybody's side, right? If you were on our side, that'd be different. We could maybe use that.

Seruffin: I would be much more valuable to both sides if I am truly neutral. Only that way can my suggestions be taken seriously by both sides.

Newmerkle: Well, then, we need somebody who's definitely on our side, but can't be blackmailed by Coleman. Somebody like that Debree guy.

Seruffin is ~~ surprised ~~.

Seruffin: Nick?

Newmerkle: Yeah. If like you say he's a professional now, he won't need to take Coleman's money. And we know he's loyal.

Seruffin looks ~~ thoughtful ~~.

Seruffin: Yes, he is that. He hasn't always been wise about choosing those to whom he is loyal, but no one can doubt that his loyalty is real, once given.

Newmerkle nods his head vigorously.

Newmerkle: So. Huh. Could he, like, come out here and work with you, maybe? I mean, not with you, but ... for you, whatever it is? Instead of ...

Newmerkle isn't very diplomatic, but he's diplomatic enough not to say "the dummy".

Seruffin: Nick has far more talent than I require. However, it is possible that Nick's Sectuib could be persuaded to send him. It is at least worth making the inquiry.

Newmerkle makes a victory gesture.

Newmerkle: Yee-ha!

Seruffin raises a hand in warning.

Seruffin: I can't promise anything. Sectuib Hiram may decide that it's too risky to send Nick here, after Coleman tried to have him kidnapped.

Newmerkle: What? ~~ outrage ~~

Seruffin: Indeed. Our government was not pleased.

Newmerkle: He sent one of his goons to Simeland? I'll bet they weren't. Not to mention the goon musta been crazy. What happened?

Seruffin: He was apparently under the illusion that Nick was still a simple laborer. The kidnapper was quickly apprehended, tried, and convicted.

Newmerkle gapes.

Newmerkle: Well, that oughta settle that, no? Coleman dasn't lay a finger on him now.

Seruffin: Not in Sime Territory. Whether he would be as forbearing here is another question.

Newmerkle: Count on us for that. We've got a few goons of our own now.

Seruffin: I would rather avoid that sort of conflict.

Newmerkle: Sure. Like I was saying to Irthmon before we came here, when a man sees a lotta big guys coming toward him, he's real easy to persuade. ~~ sheepish ~~ I sorta thought we might need something like that with you, tell the truth.

Seruffin: It's just as well you decided to talk first.

Newmerkle: That's what Irthmon was saying, yeah. 'Course, you being a Sime and all, we'd'a brought some equalizers with us.

Seruffin: You could easily have overwhelmed me and Gerrhonot. Overwhelming the combined governments of our Territories would have been much more difficult. Now, before we go any further, suppose you tell me what the miners want. And what you can afford to settle for.

Newmerkle: Huh. Of course, I can't speak for the whole committee. But if we don't do anything else, we gotta break Coleman's monopoly on necessities. And that means he has to start payin' us in cash money, not company scrip.

Seruffin: You have no objection to the existence of the company store, as long as there are other alternatives as well?

Newmerkle: 'Slong as they take our cash money, I guess so. The guy running it ain't so bad, but he's under Coleman's thumb same as us.

Seruffin: Are there any other basic changes that you would like to place on the table?

Newmerkle: He's gotta recognize the union, 'n bargain with us on wages, conditions of work, mine safety, and so on. We get that, we can get all the rest eventually. Coleman may own the mine, but he's gotta be made to see he doesn't own us. Those two are non-negotiable, for sure.

Seruffin: What negotiable changes would you like to bring up?

Newmerkle: That's definitely a question for the whole committee. We'd have to make a list and pri-, pri-, what's the word?

Seruffin: Prioritize?

Newmerkle: Yeah. That. Funny, hey? You speak English better than I do.

Seruffin: They made sure of that before they sent me across the border the first time. And that was many years ago.

Newmerkle chuckles.

Newmerkle: Yeah. Well, I guess, is there anything we can help you with?

Seruffin: I would appreciate any help you can provide towards completing my mission here. I was sent to investigate rumors that the Distect has a presence here.

Newmerkle: Who's the Distect, then?

Seruffin: They are enemies of the Tecton: Simes who insist on taking transfer directly from Gens, rather then from a channel. Despite the risks.

Newmerkle: You mean, killers? None of them around here. Not except the kids, 'n we deal with them toot sweet.

Seruffin: They do not always kill, but yes, there is always that risk. You can understand why the Tecton is concerned.

Newmerkle: Sure, sure. Well, I never heard of that kind of thing before, no. These rumors, where did they come from? Do you know?

Seruffin: The first indications came from the man Coleman hired to kidnap Sosu Nick.

Newmerkle: He couldn't a-been from around here. If he was, we'd know all about it. So the story's gotta be a fake. Did they, y'know, persuade him to talk? Sometimes guy's'll say anything if you do that too much.

Seruffin: No such persuasion was used. It is not necessary, when Simes can easily zlin whether a statement is true or false.

Seruffin is simplifying, of course.

Newmerkle: Huh. Well, I'm betting they don't all talk English as good as you do over there. Probably they didn't follow whatever he was saying. Or maybe he figured he could tell you something like that, and he'd get off lighter.

Seruffin: He at least believed what he said when he was saying it. The Tecton was concerned enough to send me here to investigate.

Newmerkle: Well, I reckon they would be. But even if it was so, he'd have to come from here to know about it. Unless it was a guy from those farms outside town. But how would he get the job? He'd have to come in town, and they never go anywhere.

Seruffin: I hope he was simply mistaken. However, I must stay here until I can be certain that was the case. In the mean time, that gives your union the chance to build up a war chest.

Newmerkle: Umm, how can you ever be certain you're done? I mean, no matter how many woodpiles you look in, there might be a Sime in the next one, hey?

Seruffin: I can't remain here indefinitely.

Newmerkle shrugs.

Newmerkle: Okay, keep looking till time runs out. Gotcha. If we hear anything, we'll definitely pass it on. You got my personal word on that.

Newmerkle extends his hand.

Seruffin: Thank you.

Seruffin extends his own hand (tentacles retracted).

Newmerkle shakes Seruffin's hand.

Newmerkle: Shift's starting soon. Catchyalater, hey?

Seruffin: Indeed.

Newmerkle doesn't actually look at Seruffin's arm, even though he's shaking it.

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