Compromising Situations: Episode 9

Nick's channel is taking advantage of the tin washtub in the back room, so Nick is taking advantage of her preoccupation to clean her retainers properly. He bends over the manacles, making sure every bit of sweat and ronaplin is scrubbed away.

Craig has wrapped up the third of his three tent meetings here, and has decided to indulge his curiosity while his teardown crew does its thing on Coleman's front yard.

Craig has also finished writing up his business suggestions for Coleman, not without a great deal of introspection about the sort of hard-nosed bottom-line man he himself used to be. He figures he's earned an hour's break before going to deliver it, and he's curious about the man he's heard so many songs about lately.

Nick hums a silly song as he scrubs.

Katsura is doing her best to clean her Farris hair without tangling it more than necessary. It might be time to hack it back again into the poodle cut she resorted to after her trek through the bush with Nick last winter.

Craig stops in front of one of a row of identical wooden shacks. There's no need to double-check the house number, as a pair of young men in oddly cut uniforms, with bouncers' body language, are lounging on the patch of mud that passes for a front lawn. He recognizes the cut of the uniforms as rather similar to that of Royben's favorite shirts.

Snatch notes the visitor and approaches.

Snatch: If you're here to donate, I'm afraid the channel isn't available just now.

Craig: Actually, I'm here to meet Sosu Nick, if I may. I'm Reverend Andrew Craig.

Snatch: Pleased to meet you. Sosu Nick is inside.

Craig approaches the door. He knows by now that it's rude to knock, though he's not very good at "signalling" with his nager yet.

Katsura can, of course, zlin the ambrov Dar and the stranger outside, but since there isn't any stress zlinnable, she ignores it.

Craig waits for a minute. Nothing happens.

Nick is well aware of the paucity of good nageric signaling out-T, which is why he installed a rather nice brass door knocker on the front door.

Craig looks around, finally spots the knocker, and gives it a decisive rap. He would have recognized the knocker sooner if it hadn't been so elaborately decorated.

Nick leaves the retainers in the battered sink and answers the door, drying the Farris-safe soap off his hands and arms with a ragged towel.

Nick: Hello. Can I help you?

Nick checks this Gen over for signs of nervousness, which usually mean a first-time donor or other work for his channel.

Craig: Hello. I'm Reverend Andrew Craig. You must be Sosu Nick, the famous Nick of the food wagon?

Nick tries hard not to roll his eyes.

Nick: If by that you mean, am I the guy who tried and failed to pull one over on Coleman many years ago, the answer is yes.

Nick has been getting a little tired of the song, which might have a memorable melody, but lacks good lyrics, in his opinion.

Nick: Please, come in.

Katsura can't hear what Nick and the stranger are discussing because of the soap in her ears, but it all zlins harmless. The Gen isn't full field, which is a good sign, and Nick seems unperturbed.

Craig smiles. After several days at Coleman's house, he finds this man's down-to-earth honesty refreshing. He steps inside and raises a hand, not sure whether to offer a Gen-style handshake or the fingertip-touch Royben has taught him.

Nick is quite ~~ comfortable ~~ with the Gen-style shake.

Nick: Hajene Katsura is busy just now, Reverend, but perhaps I can assist you?

Craig: Actually, you were the one I was hoping to meet. Simple human curiosity, mostly, though if there's anything further I can do to aid the situation in progress here, I'd be happy to help.

Nick reflects that at least this out-Territory Gen isn't out to meet the Notorious Rogue Donor of the Last Audnes Rebellion.

Nick shrugs.

Nick: As far as I know, I'm just a guy who used to work here. I didn't have a family or a permanent home at the time, so I was the one who was crazy enough to volunteer for what could well have become a suicide mission.

Craig smiles.

Craig: Isn't that how heroes are usually born?

Nick chuckles. It is too bad that Craig can't zlin the sparkle in his nager.

Nick: I suppose so.

Katsura smiles as she zlins that Nick is enjoying himself.

Nick: At least I was warned in time to cut and run for the border. Which turned out well for me in the end.

Craig nods soberly, remembering his own dash for the border, with Ruthven's keys in his pocket.

Nick: Now I got sent back out here because someone seems to think I might be able to fix a situation that's been years in the making.

Craig: And I was similarly pulled in, but with no idea of the shape of things until I'd already started my tent ministry here.

Nick: Just what exactly is your ministry, Reverend? I admit, I'm surprised at how many people are donating after hearing your sermon.

Craig: The Church of Sime Truth. It's based on what God revealed to me when I visited Nivet and was forced to re-evaluate my own understanding of Simes. The Sime, with his ability to zlin lies and deception, is God's gift of Truth to us all, and not the vehicle of Hell's curse as most of us once thought.

Nick blinks.

Nick: Well, it's true that most Simes don't lie, and that it's usually pretty useless to lie to one. Unless you're really good at controlling your nager, anyway.

Craig: Which is why I'm also fascinated to meet you as a Donor, outside the businesslike atmosphere of a Sime Center. I admit that, to me, you seem like one so steeped in God's gift as to be a beacon of light for others.

Nick: Why?

Nick is finding this conversation ~~ puzzling ~~.

Katsura has finished rinsing her hair and is listening in. She supposes she might describe Nick's nager as like a beacon of light if trying to describe such things to an out-T Gen.

Craig: You live your life in the closest company with Simes, the most deeply perceptive of Simes. Surely there must be no deception left in you. Do Simes ever let you get away with a lie for long? A lie to others, or even to yourself?

Nick: Oh, yes. Simes are human, Reverend. They're no more inclined to probe matters that make them uncomfortable, or ask questions when they know they won't like the answer, than anybody else.

Craig is ~~ disappointed ~~ to hear this.

Craig: Simes shun God's gift?

Nick: On most matters, no. Most Simes will refuse to answer a question, rather than lie. But if there's something they really want to hide, it's often not that hard to prevent people from asking them about it in the first place. And it's very hard for even a very sensitive Sime to zlin someone who's successfully lying to themselves.

Craig: My mission is to teach people to seek out the perceptive gaze of truth, not to dodge it. The Ancients called it Katharsis, purification. Sometimes it hurts, but it's like the sting of an antiseptic soap: it hurts to heal.

Nick: Indeed. As a way of life, it complicates some things but makes others much easier.

Nick, having been raised by Simes and living with Farris channels, has no real feeling for how much lying out-Territory Gens do, although he's familiar with the concept of white social lies.

Craig: It certainly changes business dealings, which I'm trying to help Mr. Coleman appreciate before I leave town. If he can appreciate the benefits in business terms, he'll be less opposed to a Sime presence here. Instead of running the Simes out of town, which is what he thought he'd brought me in to do.

Nick: Now, that might help things go more smoothly. I've been wondering how to get Coleman to negotiate in good faith.

Craig smiles.

Craig: You never saw a man so shocked as he was, when he saw the Sime I'd brought with me, sitting in his own living room.

Nick bursts into sparkling ~~ laughter ~~.

Nick: I wish I'd been a fly on the wall.

Craig: Royben tells me it was quite the nageric blast. As bad as anything he gets from a crowd at one of our tent meetings.

Nick winces.

Nick: It didn't injure him, did it?

Craig: I don't think so. He deals with the same at meetings, regularly. He came to see your channel, a couple of days ago. Was he all right then?

Nick: He seemed to be.

Craig: ~~ concern ~~ I protect him as best I can, at meetings. He's surrounded by high-field staffers, and supplicants approach past that shield one or two at a time.

Nick: He was very relieved to know a good transfer was available.

Craig: And he'll be in the day after tomorrow to get it, just before we hop on the train.

Nick: Good. It's not healthy for a Sime to travel on the train when in hard need.

Craig: I'm afraid it's catch as catch can for him, on the road. We schedule our travels to put him in a town with a Sime Center at transfer time, but you know how often train schedules are disrupted. And not all Sime Centers, he tells me, are alike.

Nick looks at Craig ~~ sternly ~~.

Nick: It's only once a month. Surely you can arrange your schedule to allow a sufficient safety margin.

Craig: A few times we've had to hire a pair of fast horses to get him down the road ahead of us, while the rest of us wait for the train. Often he travels ahead of us, or catches up a day late. But we manage.

Craig clears his throat.

Craig: At any rate, you were asking about Coleman.

Nick makes a mental note to talk to Royben about safety.

Nick: Yes. How is he viewing the situation?

Craig: With the fear of a man who values the bottom line above all else, and the instincts of a bulldog. I know him; I used to be like him.

Nick: What is his bottom line? How much can he afford to compromise?

Nick would rather not put the mine out of business, but only if it can become profitable for the miners, too.

Craig: I'd advise you to bring a Sime to every meeting; he'll know you're neither lying to him, nor able to be hoodwinked. He hasn't discussed specific numbers with me, but I know he can't afford to give everything the miners are asking. Half or less on anything with a price tag, I'm expecting.

Craig: He may be more open on the quality of life stuff; I've been trying to show him that oppressing the men into obedience isn't the only way to do business.

Nick: The situation must change so that the miners are no longer effectively paying Coleman for the privilege of risking their lives in his mine. Somehow, they have to be able to feed, clothe, and shelter their families on their wages. That could be accomplished by lowering prices in the store, allowing competition for it, lowering rents on the houses.... Raising wages isn't the only option.

Craig frowns.

Craig: He doesn't see the men as human like himself, you know. They're pieces on a gameboard, and that's all. Be aware of that when you deal with him. And I'm afraid the only way to be sure he won't backslide later is to promise him a frequent, if not ongoing, Sime presence. I'm trying to make him see the benefits, as well of the costs of that.

Nick nods.

Nick: I've never had any illusions that Coleman sees his employees as anything but slaves. Reminds me of some of the juncts and former juncts I've known. Although junct Simes are a bit easier for a Donor to handle than Gen businessmen.

Craig: I've wondered a bit about that, you know. What it's like to be a Donor; what it's like to be seen that way by Simes. ~~ wistful ~~

Nick: I take it you have no talent in that direction?

Craig: I've never asked. Besides, I have my life's work already. God has given me more than I deserved. Still, I wonder sometimes.

Nick: It's... surprisingly like being married. At least, so I suppose. I've never had a wife.

Craig: Nor have I. It was what made me such a good enforcer, when I was still in the business world. No hostages to fortune.

Nick: Well, you don't get to hide behind "business" as a Donor. Especially when you are attending to business.

Craig sits forward, listening ~~ eagerly ~~ .

Craig: Openness? Honesty? Truth?

Craig gives "Truth" that special inflection that only a minister of his calling can give the word.

Nick: You can't look after another person's well being without caring about them. And that can't be faked with a channel who matches you. So yes, you do have to be honest with yourself.

Craig nods, eyes shining. It's his ideal, the gift of Sime grace.

Craig: Tell me more.

Nick grins.

Nick: Look, why don't I make some tea, and we can chat at our leisure.

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