Pollovic feels his tight shoulders relaxing, as he crosses the fence line of the New Washington embassy in Capital. He never would have thought, a few weeks ago, that he'd find the little brass "Gen Territory" sign at the gate so very reassuring.
Randayl takes a shortcut across the embassy lobby, having spent a little longer than he intended talking with his sweetheart.
Pollovic walks from the bright outdoor sunlight into the relative dimness of the lobby and stumbles a little on the raised door sill.
Randayl is close enough to reach out and steady the visitor before he can trip.
Randayl: Steady, there.
Pollovic: Sorry. Thanks.
Randayl: Usually the light is better, but the curtains were drawn to keep out the heat and....
Pollovic looks down and sees tentacles, not fingers, grasping his arm. ~~ panic ~~
Randayl yelps, releasing Pollovic like he was scalding hot, and hastily steps backwards.
Randayl: Hey, calm down. That hurt.
Pollovic: You're a... you're not wearing...
Randayl: Oh. No. Retainers would make it very hard to dig post holes.
Pollovic struggles to get a grip on himself.
Pollovic: You... work on the grounds here?
Pollovic: I, uh. I thought this was Gen Territory. There was a sign at the gate...?
Randayl: Well, the Gen staff all donate, including the Ambassador, and Simes can't really do useful work wearing retainers. So we usually don't bother, when we're on duty. Speaking of which, my lunch is over, so I'd better hustle...
Pollovic gives a distracted nod as the young Sime hurries away.
Tsibola notices that his visitor has finally arrived, and comes out to greet him.
Tsibola: Hello, Brenn. How was your journey?
Pollovic: Hello, Ruthven. The trip was fine, though the start of it was a bit delayed. I trust you got my telegram about that?
Tsibola: Yes, but I think someone garbled it. At least, I sincerely hope so.
Pollovic manages a smooth raised eyebrow. He might as well know the worst of what Tsibola has heard.
Pollovic: Why? What did it say?
Tsibola leads the way to his office, where they can converse without being overheard.
Tsibola: It was a pretty wild tale of horse thievery and I don't know what else.
Pollovic forces a chuckle.
Pollovic: Let me guess... handcuffs and chains? Sime berserkers? broken bones and mayhem?
Tsibola: That's about right. I was hoping you could give me the less exciting, but more accurate, version.
Tsibola gestures Pollovic to a seat and offers him a brandy.
Tsibola: Please, indulge yourself. My physician won't let me drink more than a sip or two after dinner, so I have to enjoy it vicariously.
Pollovic takes a deep breath and a sip of brandy, then begins reciting in a dry voice.
Pollovic: Pametta and I were arriving home on our wedding night, when we found a neighbor boy in changeover on our doorstep. My coachman was reluctant to drive with a Sime loose in the carriage, so I fastened the boy to myself with a locking dog chain. I'd donated just a few days earlier, so I thought I was safe.
Tsibola: You didn't think to chain the boy to the carriage, instead?
Pollovic takes another sip of the excellent brandy.
Pollovic: Not at the time, no. And it's a good thing I didn't, because the carriage broke down en route.
Tsibola: With you inside? With the Sime chained to you?
Tsibola: I see. Since you're alive, I gather you found an alternative means of transportation?
Pollovic: My bride, um, borrowed a horse from a passing stranger and I got the boy to the Sime Center just in time. The horse threw us as we jumped the fence, and I cracked a few ribs.
Tsibola: Cracked ribs? What did that do to your... passenger?
Pollovic tries for a casual shrug, but fails miserably.
Pollovic: His tentacles broke out, he went for me, and Hajene Seruffin grabbed him away from me just in time. I'll confess it was one of the less pleasant experiences of my life.
Pollovic takes a much larger swallow of brandy.
Tsibola shakes his head.
Tsibola: Only you, Brenn Pollovic, could get into that sort of trouble on your wedding night.
Pollovic: I'll admit the timing was a bit inconvenient. Pametta was very understanding about it all, though. She's a better woman than I deserve, Ruthven.
Tsibola: I remember her as a quiet, bookish thing.
Pollovic: She's still bookish. Quiet, no. Not once you get to know her. She has strong opinions for such a young woman.
Pollovic's smile is genuine this time.
Tsibola: Well, I'm glad you're happy with her.
Pollovic: Very happy.
Narisha taps, Out-T style, on the Ambassador's office door.
Tsibola: Come in!
Narisha sticks her head in.
Narisha: I just thought you ought to know, Tuib, that a Wild Gen threw a panic at one of the staff a few minutes ago, in the lobby.
Tsibola: A Wild Gen?
Pollovic: Um, that would have been me. ~~ embarrassment ~~
Tsibola: You? Whatever did my staff do?
Pollovic: Nothing, really. I stumbled on the door sill and he caught me. But I wasn't expecting tentacles, not here inside the Embassy.
Tsibola: We are in the middle of Nivet. One has to expect tentacles so far from the border.
Pollovic: Er, yes. But...
Pollovic glances meaningfully at the young woman standing in the doorway.
Tsibola: Thank you, Narisha. The situation is under control.
Pollovic watches as the door closes behind the woman, then speaks very quietly.
Pollovic: I'm not finding it as easy as it was before the incident.
Pollovic: Being around Simes.
Pollovic gulps down the rest of his brandy, then stares down into the empty snifter.
Tsibola raises an eyebrow.
Tsibola: You've finally figured out that they really can be dangerous?
Pollovic: It's... difficult. I hate to admit it, Ruthven, but you may be right. Maybe we should stay as far away from them as possible.
Tsibola: They can't afford to leave us alone. The trick is to make sure that we, not them, are controlling the interaction. That way we can remain ourselves.
Pollovic: And yet, you let them wander around without retainers, right here in the Embassy.
Tsibola: I hire them to do work, not to sit around wincing from pinched tentacles.
Pollovic raises an eyebrow.
Pollovic: You've certainly gotten more...
Pollovic pauses, searching for the right word.
Tsibola: As I learn more about Simes, I know more accurately what I can allow without making too great a concession.
Pollovic: Are you sure you're the one doing the allowing?
Tsibola concedes with a gesture.
Tsibola: Well, Bernice does have a veto.
Pollovic ignores the jest.
Pollovic: But that can all change, the moment they grab you by the wrists.
Tsibola: Yes, it can. I try to be very sure I know a Sime can't afford to harm me before I allow any wrist grabbing.
Pollovic: Treaties, status, diplomatic immunity... none of them mean a thing when a Sime's in need.
Tsibola: I know.
Pollovic: And yet you... you're okay here?
Tsibola: I miss the Senate, of course. But I couldn't keep up the pace, these days.
Pollovic: But you're all right, surrounded by Simes? Having to donate?
Pollovic, who had thought to find more kinship with Tsibola than before, instead feels that the gap between them has widened in a way he could never have foreseen.
Tsibola: It's undignified, to be sure. But the medical care that comes with it appears to be doing the trick.
Pollovic seizes upon the proffered change of topic.
Pollovic: Your heart's improving, then? The channels here are taking good care of you?
Tsibola: I haven't had any more trouble, at least. Although I am getting very tired of eating like a rabbit.
Pollovic: Not that they give you a lot of choice about that, here. I've only been Nivet a couple of days, most of it on the train, but already I'd kill for a nice rare steak. Or even a ham sandwich.
Tsibola: Well, I can't help you there. If I kept such things around, my staff would leave me.
Pollovic gives a conspiratorial grin.
Pollovic: No secret Gen cafeteria, hidden away in the basement, filled with carnivore food?
Tsibola: Alas, no. Meat doesn't keep very long, and it's hard to find anybody willing to import it.
Pollovic: I suppose so. Besides, if you aren't allowed to indulge anyway, what would be the point?
Tsibola: I still have a few vices I'm allowed.
Pollovic: Such as?
Tsibola pours Pollovic another glass of brandy, then pours himself a small taste.
Pollovic: Ah. Yes, excellent.
Tsibola: Or at least, can get away with. Bernice keeps a sharp eye on me.
Tsibola lifts his snifter.
Tsibola: To married life.
Pollovic grins and echoes the toast.