Compromising Situations: Episode 16

Saag arrived home from his trip last night, and when he reported for work this morning sent a message to the Ambassador that he was back. Now he's been asked to meet the Ambassador in his study, and he's a bit ~~ on edge ~~ about what to say.

Saag taps gently on the study door.

Tsibola looks up from the imported New Washington Post-Intelligencer.

Tsibola: Come in!

Saag opens and enters, closing the door behind him.

Saag: Good afternoon, sir.

Tsibola: Ah, Saag. What luck on your mission?

Saag: Well... I found the two women and they seem to be doing well. They've both found jobs and are settled in.

Tsibola: Well, that's something. From what the one woman's husband said, I was dreading having to smooth over another diplomatic emergency.

Tsibola has discovered that semi-retirement suits him.

Saag: They're worried that somebody may come after them and give them a hard time. I guess that could cause a diplomatic emergency.

Tsibola: Have you any idea why they ran away across the border in the first place? Most women would go back to their parents, or some other relative.

Saag shrugs and intends to dissemble.

Tsibola might not be able to zlin, but he wasn't born yesterday, either. He looks at the youngster ~~ firmly ~~.

Saag: Maybe they thought they'd be safest here in Nivet. They think that back ho... I mean, in New Washington Territory, their husbands could make them come back.

Tsibola: What's so terribly awful about a woman going back to her husband?

Saag: They seem to be afraid of them. I think their husbands must have mistreated them really badly.

Tsibola: Did they have broken bones? Scars on their faces? Any actual evidence of abuse?

Saag: I didn't see anything, but of course they've been here for months now, and all I saw was their faces and hands, mostly.

Tsibola: Did they make any specific accusations against their husbands?

Tsibola is a patriarch from a patriarchal society, but he wouldn't send a runaway back to an abuser. He has a rather limited definition of abuse, to be true.

Saag: One of them said they were cruel and both of them said that they were determined not to go back. They were talking about moving someplace else, since I'd found them. They wrote a letter saying that they were all right and didn't want to go back.

Tsibola: May I see the letter?

Saag takes the sealed letter out of his pocket and offers it to Tsibola. He hasn't read it himself -- the women gave it to him already sealed.

Tsibola thinks that maybe the ladies were too embarrassed to report the specifics he needs. He scans the letter.

Tsibola: Hmm, these ladies could always take up writing for the ladies' journals. This is worthy of a penny dreadful. Their husbands sound like ultra-liberal axe murderers.

Tsibola, being a conservative, considers liberals depraved by definition.

Saag: They zlinned very determined not to go back.

Saag is a little uncomfortable about referring to his Sime senses, but figures that it's his duty to report what he zlinned.

Tsibola continues working through the purple prose.

Tsibola: They want to stay here and raise their children... children? I thought there was only one baby belonging to, what was it? Dilena.

Saag: The other woman, Portia, is expecting.

Saag automatically uses the euphemism, since he's speaking Genlan.

Tsibola: So that's it. Now I understand. She had an affair and is trying to escape the consequences.

Tsibola's ~~ sympathy ~~ for the women diminishes.

Tsibola: Or is she even sure the baby isn't her husband's?

Saag: I don't know. I zlinned that she was expecting but we didn't talk about it.

Tsibola: If the baby is her husband's, he has a right to know about it. He might not want it to be brought up among Simes.

Saag's sympathy is still with the women, and wonders if he should send them a letter telling them to get ready to leave, even though he has not yet revealed exactly where they are living.

Tsibola is less concerned about Dilena's baby's father, who does not have his Senator's ear.

Tsibola: This is quite a dilemma. I wish the letter had more useful details among the purple prose. I think I had better consult a translator about this letter. Sometimes women can be very difficult to interpret. Thank you for your assistance with this matter, Saag.

Saag thinks the women were very clear, but the Ambassador wants to find something that may or may not be there.

Saag: You're welcome, sir.

Saag nods and departs. He's glad he didn't have to say where he found them, but of course the ambassador could ask him at any time. He's glad he managed to avoid telling him that the women are calling themselves each other's wife.

Tsibola goes in search of his wife, who is very good at translating woman-talk. He finds her with the embassy's cultural consultant/translator.

Bernice: Oh, hello, Ruthven. I was just asking Tuib Lua to explain these pictures in the morning paper.

Tsibola: Bernice, I'm glad I found both of you together. I could use a translation of this.

Tsibola hands the letter to Bernice.

Bernice is ~~ puzzled ~~ since the letter is in grammatical English.

Lua, a young Gen born in Sime Territory, listens to the interchange between the Ambassador and his wife with interest, but of course not attempting to look at the letter until she's asked to. She does wonder why she's not being asked right off.

Tsibola: It's written in woman, and you know I'm not fluent.

Bernice laughs and reads the letter.

Bernice: It looks pretty straightforward to me, Ruthven. They want to stay here and I believe they are de facto Nivet citizens now.

Tsibola: It's not that simple. One of the husbands is well connected and wants his wife back. There's also a child involved, and another on the way.

Bernice: Oh, dear. Well, I don't believe he has any recourse if he can't persuade his wife himself. As I understand it, children here more or less belong to their mothers, just as they belong to their fathers back home. If the child is well cared for, the father doesn't seem to have more rights than the mother wants to give him.

Bernice: Is that right, Tuib Lua?

Lua: Almost. Certainly the courts are unwilling to take children from mothers who are willing and able to care for them. But the father may insist on the right to visit. At least, so I understand -- I'm no lawyer, Mrs. Tsibola.

Tsibola: There's some question as to whether one could consider the children well cared for. The ladies have no real prospects for employment, I understand. At least, not the sort of respectable employment that is required to support a child.

Bernice: Would you like to read this, Tuib?

Bernice offers the letter to Lua.

Lua: Please. Is that all right, Ambassador?

Tsibola: Certainly. I trust to your discretion.

Lua: Of course.

Lua reads the letter carefully, trying to match English descriptions against Nivet realities.

Lua: I think this phrase here, "well-founded fear of persecution", probably refers to something more than fear of personal persecution by their husbands. It's as if they think they've done something wrong in Gen Territory that they will be called to account for.

Tsibola: They're involved in some sort of criminal activity, then? Or some scandal? I mean, worse than running away from their husbands?

Lua: It's possible that it's criminal, but I doubt it. Scandalous, yes, possibly. People in small towns, at least here in Nivet, can be very cruel to people who live or behave unusually.

Tsibola: Running away from from one's husband is generally considered unusual.

Lua: That would be scandalous by your Territory's standards, all right, but there would be no need to flee from scandal if the flight itself were the only scandal.

Tsibola: So what aren't they telling us?

Lua shakes her head.

Lua: I can't imagine. This letter doesn't seem to be written by someone with a guilty conscience at all.

Tsibola: Then what in the world would possess two ladies to run off across the border together, with no place to go and one infant to support and another on the way?

Bernice: Now, Ruthven, in a small town, if their husbands were abusing them, especially if one is an influential man... well, it's not likely they would call in the reeve, or that it would do much good if they did.

Tsibola: There are plenty of charities that would offer help to an abused wife. They might have to travel to another town, but they wouldn't have to cross the border.

Lua: Ah! I have an idea!

Tsibola looks at Lua ~~ inquiringly ~~.

Lua: Perhaps they prefer each other to their husbands. I mean, in bed. That would be a scandal in your Territory, wouldn't it?

Tsibola's eyes widen.

Bernice is startled that Lua would mention such a thing so casually, but this is a different culture, isn't it?

Tsibola: It certainly would. What an embarrassment to their husbands.

Lua would ask why, but she's afraid it might be taboo.

Tsibola wonders if it would be better to send a message to Portia's husband that she could not be found.

Tsibola: That sort of thing is more tolerated here?

Lua shrugs.

Lua: Certainly. People come in all sorts, and women especially seem to be more flexible. Nobody cares who you sleep with except other people who sleep with you, usually.

Lua's fluency in English far exceeds her awareness of out-T mores.

Bernice finds this talk of promiscuity and worse rather uncomfortable.

Tsibola notes Bernice's discomfort.

Bernice figures Nivet is welcome to any perverts and loose women who are willing to leave New Washington. Good riddance.

Lua is also aware of Mrs. Tsibola's distress, but not its source.

Tsibola: Thank you for your input, ladies. I need to consider what to do.

Bernice puts the whole disgusting matter out of her mind. She picks up the newspaper and looks at the pictures again.

Bernice: So what are they doing in this picture, Tuib? Does it take place right after this one, then?

Lua looks at the picture and its context, considering the problem of translating from images to speech.

Tsibola returns to his study, wondering what to tell the woman's husband.

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