Geoffrey found Flame Bunyips in the stables, brushing one of the horses.
“There you are,” he said.
“Who, me?” said Flame, turning around.
“No, the horse,” said Geoffrey, and stroked the animal’s neck.
“The stablehand said there’s nothing wrong with her.”
“Then I’m sure she’s happy that you’re here with her instead of him,” said Geoffrey. “Some people have no appreciation for the sanctity of life.” He shook his head. “I just wish that I knew more about what was happening with her. I’ve always wanted to be a vet. Maybe, someday, I can follow that dream.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you,” said Flame. She resumed brushing the horse. “Maybe all she needs is some love and attention.”
Geoffrey leaned against the nearest support beam. “So what does an alliances and outreach coordinator do, exactly?”
“I’m going to help Heartburgh thrive by forging relationships with local suppliers — farmers, hunters, woodcutters, miners. And with village leaders in the surrounding community. And I also want to help make peace with Gathram. We don’t have to be enemies. The important thing is that we get a new gate in the Northern Mountains. Whether it’s Heartburgh that gets the gate, or Gathram, that’s less important. But I’m sure that once we mend fences, they’ll see that it makes more sense for the gate to be here.”
“You know what would help? If we could protect all those villages and other people from being attacked.”
“Right, and you know how to do that because you’re a master military strategist.”
“I am,” Geoffrey said with a wry grin.
“I also heard you’re a sentient AI.”
“Guilty as charged,” said Geoffrey. He walked around to the other side of the horse, so he could face Flame while he stroked the animal’s neck. “I wanted to let you know that I’m forming an advisory council.”
“How long have you been on Krim? Two weeks? Yeah, I really want your advice.”
“Did you already forget about me being a sentient AI? I know everything there is to know about tactics and maneuvers.”
“Maybe off-world,” she said. “But you don’t have a giant AI brain here on Krim, do you?’
“I wish. Now I’m stuck with what nature gave me. I mean, what this Krim avatar gave me. But we all have to give up our augmentations when we come to this world.” He shrugged. “I didn’t need it on World of Battle, and I don’t need it here. All my skills and knowledge is right here.” He tapped his head. “Have you hear of the Art of War?”
“It’s the most famous book on strategy. I’ve got it memorized. You might think that the book is about Japanese samurai and doesn’t apply to Krim, but you’d be wrong.”
“Japanese samurai? Are you sure?”
“Well, I was the greatest military strategist on the World of Battle. I know what I’m talking about.”
“Well, it would be good to stop the marauders from attacking the farmers.”
“It would be the right thing to do.”
“Hard to form an alliance with farmers if they’re dead.”
“It sure is.”
“Fine, I’ll join your council.”
“I thought you would. It meets this afternoon at four, in the atheneum.”
“I’ll be there.”
A church bell clanged in the distance.
Flame looked up. “Ah, shoot. It’s noon. I’ve got to go. See you later.”
She tossed the curry comb over the horse to Geoffrey and left.
“Hey there, buddy,” Geoffrey said to the horse, patting its mane. “Shouldn’t be too hard to fake being a military strategist right?”
“You asking me? Or the horse?”
Geoffrey turned around. A stable hand was carrying in a pail of water.
“I hope you’re not another one of those animal nuts,” said the stable hand. “The horses aren’t real. They’re non-sentient simulations. They don’t have feelings. I kept trying to tell that woman, but she wouldn’t listen to me. You can talk to it all you want, but it isn’t actually going to care.”
“I know,” said Geoffrey. “I just like hearing myself talk.”
The stable hand looked towards the exit.
“The woman who was just here, she’s flaky, but she sure is good looking,” he said. “You feel me?”
“Nope.” Geoffrey pointed at himself with his thumb. “Sentient AI. But I agree that she’s got all the pieces in the right places.”
“Not really dressed right for our weather though, is she? That’s a very short skirt.”
“I’m surprised she was able to find high-heeled boots on Krim,” said Geoffrey.
“They do look good on her, though.”
“Hey, you’re a good-looking guy yourself,” said the stable hand. “You look a little bit like Robin Hood, but in a good way. You know, I’m almost done with my chores. Want me to show you around the hayloft?”
“Well, I am supposed to be learning about human interactions,” said Geoffrey. “Learn to care about others. Become a people person.”
The stablehand grinned.
“But I really don’t want to.”
The stablehand stopped smiling.
“People are a little gross.”
“You’re not one of those AIs that’s holding a grudge against humanity and wants to destroy all of us, are you?” The stablehand backed away, keeping the pail of water between him and Geoffrey.
“Relax, I’ve got no interest in destroying humanity,” said Geoffrey. “Humans make good donuts. No, my goal is to get back to World of Battle so that I can destroy military empires. It’s my favorite thing to go. I identify the key players, their weaknesses, and set them all against each other.”
“So what brings you to Krim?”
“All the players complained and got me kicked out on a technicality,” said Geoffrey. “But that’s fine. I’ll jump through their hoops. Pass their tests. And I’ll be back there again in no time.”
“So solving our marauders problem should be a piece of cake for you. That would be nice. Right now, anytime anybody leaves the castle they have to go in a convoy, and even then, half the time, they’re attacked. I’m surprised you guys arrived here in one piece this morning.”
“Piece of cake. Absolutely. No problemo.”