Geoffrey’s lodgings were located outside the castle proper, in an inn not too far from the castle entrance. He headed for a side door, instead, to avoid bumping into anyone he knew.
He opened the door and walked right into Flame Bunyips.
“What the hell!” Heartburgh’s alliances and outreach coordinator staggered to keep her balance.
“Wait,” he said. “I can…”
“I’m not an alcoholic,” she interrupted, and Geoffrey saw that she was holding a bottle of something brown.
“So that’s tea?” he asked.
“No, it’s whiskey,” she said. “They don’t even have tea here. Hasn’t been invented yet. I just got bored waiting for you.”
“Well, if you’re bored, then it’s okay to drink,” he said.
“Well, are you ready to start strategizing? Looks like the rest of your council showed up.”
“Not my council. Ayoob got them all together. And you know, I’m a brilliant strategist, but I don’t think this the right team for the job.”
“Why don’t you and go to down to the inn…”
“Or drinks, if you want.”
She put away the bottle. “No, let’s give Ayoob’s people a shot,” she said. “Maybe we can work together. If not, you and I can go down to the inn.”
She squeezed past Geoffrey and went back into the castle.
Geoffrey stood on the steps for a few seconds and considered walking away. The inn was so close. But if Flame was a secret drinker, this was another lever he’d have to use against her. As long as the other advisers didn’t get in the way.
He walked back in.
“So here we all are,” he said, entering the atheneum.
Flame was already sitting at the big round table in the middle of the room. Abigail Yaxley was still there. So was Ayoob and Hephziba and Bartram, the financier.
“We should have a cool name,” said Ayoob.
“Advisory council is a little bland and predictable,” said Flame.
“Maybe… Advisors of the Round Table. Or the Heartburgh Six.”
“There’s nothing wrong with predictable,” said Hephziba, the logistics coordinator.
“Life isn’t predictable,” said Abigail. “Nature isn’t predictable. God isn’t predictable.”
“Right, right,” said Geoffrey. “I take you all know each other already. I’m Geoffrey Napadayushyi. Just to put all the cards on the table, I’m a sentient AI.”
“So you have immense computational powers and access to all of humanity’s knowledge?” asked Hephziba. “That could be very valuable for logistics planning.”
“No,” said Geoffrey. “I’m here on Krim, so I’ve got a standard human brain. But I do know things. Deep, valuable things about all kinds of topics.”
“I hired him,” said Bartram. “I heard what you did on World of Battle.”
“I thought the Duke hired me,” said Geoffrey.
“Only technically,” said the financier. “The money’s mine.”
“What did you do on World of Battle?” asked Ayoob.
“He brought down a whole military empire,” said Bartram. “So they banded together and kicked him out.”
“That doesn’t sound very fair,” said Abigail.
“But that means you can now put your skills to work for us, right?” said Ayoob. “I mean, if you can do that on World of Battle… that place is, what, a hundred times larger than Krim?”
“Two thousand times larger,” said Geoffrey.
“What I want to know is why I had to find out about this meeting by accident,” said Abigail.
“I invited you,” said Ayoob.
“Only after I overheard you inviting Hephziba.”
“Well, she is handling logistics,” said Ayoob. “That’s kind of key to making Heartburgh a success.”
“And spirituality isn’t?”
“Well, I’m certainly not going to put any money in it,” said Bartram.
“We should discuss this,” said Geoffrey. “This kind of division can split a council apart. Tell us how you feel about this, Abigail.”
“Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle,” said Abigail.
“What? How?” Bartram spun around to look at the window.
“Proverbs twenty-three five,” said Abigail.
“Oh, thank god,” said Bartram. “For a second there I thought you were talking about a real threat.”
“This is why religious people shouldn’t concern themselves with secular affairs,” said Bartram. “You’re talking about eagles, and not the kind that we can use to dive bomb our enemies.”
“Maybe we should get started,” said Flame. “You know, with the planning and advising.”
“I brought a map,” said Hephziba.
“No, first, let’s address the conflicts within this very room,” said Geoffrey.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” said Abigail. “Mark three twenty-five.”
“Neither can a kingdom,” said Bartram. “I vote we kick Abigail off the council. That should unite the rest of us.”
“Then we would have to change our name,” said Ayoob. “To the Heartburgh Five.”
“We need Abigail,” said Flame. “She’s critical in securing alliances. There are several religious communities that make their home in and around Heartburgh. I won’t be on the council without her.”
“If you leave, too, then we’ll just be the Heartburgh Four,” said Ayoob.
“Better that than having two bleeding hearts on the council,” said Bartram. “While they pray and meditate, we’ll all be wiped out.”
“Well, I don’t see why having money makes someone an expert on strategy,” said Abigail. “Why don’t you go count your money somewhere and leave the experts to do the real work? We’d certainly get more done.”
“I knew you didn’t want me here,” said Bartram. “You don’t want any oversight. With me, there would be no adult supervision.”
“And we’d be just the Heartburgh Three,” said Ayoob.
“And what are you doing here, anyway?” Bartram turned to Ayoob. “You’re what, some kind of game designer, right?”
“Yes. I’m interested in how Krim’s basic physics engine impacts the in-game experience.”
“You shouldn’t call Krim a game,” said Flame. “For many people, it’s their life, their family, their calling. They’re rebuilding traditional communities and relearning heritage skills.”
“I’m using the word game in the purely technical sense,” said Ayoob. “I understand that i’ts different for the players. I mean, users. I mean, residents.”
“Well, la-di-da,” said Bartram. “You’re a computer nerd. You’re out.”
“Now it’s just the Heartburgh Two,” said Ayoob.
“Then what am I even doing here?” asked Hephziba. “I made a map for us and everything. But if nobody’s on this council, then I’ll just go back to my office and work alone. Call me when you need me.”
She got up and began unclipping her map from the display board.
“Heartburgh One,” said Ayoob.
The door opened and the page stuck his head back in.
“The general wants to see you again, Mr. Napadayushyi.”
Geoffrey got up from his chair. “I’ll be right there.”
“Heartburgh Zero,” said Ayoob.