Compromising Situations: Episode 6

Roper approaches the unexceptional house ~~eagerly ~~ . He's heard so much about Nick Debree over the years, and he was delighted to be the union rep chosen to interface with the legendary hero. He hurries up to the door and pounds on it enthusiastically.

Nick is in the front room, giving Kat a little space while the Dar are out at morning combat practice.

Nick opens the door, the Dar not being there to prevent him.

Nick: Hello. Are you looking for the channel?

Roper: No. I'm here to see Nick Debree.

Nick: I'm Nick, although it's Nick ambrov Sat'htine these days.

Roper gives a broad, awe-stricken grin and sticks out his hand.

Nick shakes with aplomb.

Roper: I'm so pleased to meet you. I've heard so much about you over the years, I couldn't wait to...

Roper trails off, aware that he's acting and sounding like a much younger and less dignified man than his office demands.

Nick: Why don't you come in and have some tea? I was just making some.

Roper: Uh... thank you.

Nick holds the door open for Roper.

Roper enters, stepping past neatly stacked piles of Dar gear.

Nick: Sorry for the mess, we're a little crowded here.

Roper: No problem.

Roper looks around, counting bedrolls.

Nick: Have a seat.

Nick gestures towards the crates that are doing double duty as chairs.

Roper: You've got... what, a whole private army here? ~~ awe ~~

Nick laughs.

Roper settles his tall and muscular frame gingerly on what looks to be the sturdiest crate.

Nick: No, just six of them. I admit, in this small space it sure seems like an army.

Roper: Revolutions have been started by fewer than that. As you well know, sir.

Nick: We're not here to start a revolution. We're just here to help you and Coleman work out a solution.

Roper nods.

Roper: That's why I'm here, sir. On behalf of the union, I'm here as your liaison, to co-ordinate strategy and to make sure you and your people have everything you need.

Nick: I see.

Roper belatedly remembers his manners.

Roper: Name's Roper. Dav Roper.

Nick: Pleased to meet you, Roper. Have some trin tea. It's all we have.

Nick hands Roper a mug of tea and sips another himself. He has brought a supply of Narosian blends, of course, being genetically inclined to be a tea snob.

Roper takes one cautious sip, then politely forces down a second one before setting the cup aside.

Nick: Ah, well, it's an acquired taste.

Roper: No, no, it's excellent. Just a bit hot, still.

Roper is trying to ignore the fact that the tea is actually nicely cooled to a drinkable temperature.

Nick is used to the out-T concept of the white lie, and doesn't try to correct it.

Nick: So, what is the union planning to do? And more important, what does it want for a final solution?

Roper: Well, we figure this is our big chance. With all the extra money the Simes are bringing in, we've got Coleman over a barrel. This gives us the leverage to go after all the things we've been trying for, for years: working conditions, health and safety, benefits. More pay, of course. I've got a copy of the list for you.

Roper pulls out the list and passes it across.

Nick scans it.

Roper: If Coleman doesn't deliver, or if he tries to claw it back later, we'll be inviting the Simes to make their outpost here permanent. So long as it's even an inch outside town limits, Coleman can't do anything to stop it.

Nick: This is quite a long list.

Roper glances at the list and shrugs.

Roper: There's a lot of years of a lot of problems to make up for. It's prioritized, of course. The big items are the ones underlined in red; the ones we aren't going to push on are the ones on the second sheet.

Nick: It can take years to get the Tecton to open a new Sime Center, even if nobody objects. I'm not sure they would agree to put one this far from the border.

Nick: So of the red items, which one do you want to start with?

Roper: Even if we can promise them an 80% turnout, men and their wives? You don't think they'd go for that much stuff?

Roper is suddenly ~~ worried ~~ . If the union can't keep the Sime pressure on, a lot of their bargaining power is gone.

Nick: The problem is that it's a long, long trip back across the border before that selyn can be used.

Roper: We've got a good rail line out of here. Connects with both the Char-see and the Number Five, in just over a hundred miles.

Nick: On the other hand, it's only two days by train to the nearest permanent Sime Center. You might be able to negotiate for time off to go and donate.

Roper shakes his head.

Roper: Four days round trip? Nobody can afford that long away. Not every month. Not only would it eat up a big chunk of what money you'd make, but there's arrangements you have to make if you're gone that long. Even worse if you've got kids.

Nick: It's only two days, Roper. There's a new express train departing twice a week from Babbing.

Nick names the next town down the road.

Roper: Oh. Hmm.

Roper thinks about it.

Roper: A few guys might go that far, but not enough to give us any real leverage. Wives wouldn't, especially if they've got kids.

Roper shakes his head.

Roper: Wouldn't be enough people doing it to give us much of a hammer to hold over Coleman's nuts. No, we need to be able to threaten him with a Sime Center here.

Nick: Well, don't use a threat you can't deliver. If Coleman asks Seruffin if the Tecton is likely to open a Sime Center here, Seruffin will answer honestly.

Roper scratches his head.

Roper: Do you think Babbing would be willing to send their guy here once a month? Do everybody at once?

Nick: Maybe. It would complicate negotiation, and it would probably take some time to set up, but maybe.

Roper: That'd be good enough for Coleman. Wouldn't solve the berserker problem, or give us the kind of doctoring that Seruffing guy did for Jory's back, but it would take care of the money question. And it's really all about money for a guy like Coleman. Us, it's our lives, but for him it's always just a question of how much he can make, or how much it costs.

Roper thinks of something else.

Roper: And the union would guarantee the Sime safe passage. Coleman does anything to hurt him, or stop him... we strike. We can afford to strike, once we have resources.

Nick: Coleman's people haven't threatened us so far. Let's not borrow trouble.

Roper nods.

Roper: Okay, sure. Though Coleman's always willing to lend us plenty.

Roper laughs bitterly.

Roper: It's about the only thing he's not stingy with.

Nick: He's certainly a hard man.

Roper nods.

Roper: You haven't forgotten, sir. Just like we haven't forgotten you.

Nick: These wage increases are pretty large, especially considering that sales are down.

Roper: scratches his chin.

Nick: Coleman will fight such a large dent in his ready cash.

Roper: A lot of the guys say pay's the big thing. Most of us would've, before the Simes came along. But now... as long as we can sell our stuff, money's not the biggest issue for those of us who're looking ahead. What's more important is working conditions, safety, health. Benefits, like a real schoolteacher for our kids.

Nick: How did you decide on this figure? Did you set it so that an average family can get out of debt and stay that way?

Roper nods.

Roper: Plus 30%, so there's some room to let him knock us down a bit.

Roper reveals this information without batting an eye. He has no doubt but that the great Nick Debree would never let a fact like this slip to the enemy.

Nick: It might actually be easier to get the same result by getting Coleman to lower the rents a bit. Or open up the store to competition.

Roper: And give us something for our rent money. Like walls that keep the cold out, and more space if you've got more kids.

Roper grins.

Roper: I've heard the song, how Coleman tried to starve the strikers, but you brought in a little competition with a wagonload of food.

Nick: It never got delivered, I'm afraid. So I didn't actually save the day, after all.

Roper: You showed us we've got choices. You gave everyone heart.

Nick: I took a fool chance out of desperation, and it very nearly got me murdered.

Roper: I didn't even live here yet, but even now we're feeling the effects of what you did. You were a hero, man. You'll always be a hero to the little guys here. ~~ awe ~~ and ~~ admiration ~~

Nick: Well, I hope that this time I can actually deliver on your expectations. A song is well and good, but you can't eat it.

Roper: We're all counting on you, Nick Debree. You'll deliver. We know it.

Roper's look is pure ~~ hero worship ~~ , unadulterated by realism.

Nick: I'll do my best.

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