“When you get to Cleig Grijan, look for Quarta Pappa.” Flame handed Geoffrey a packet. “She’s the village elder.”
“Her house is right next to the church on the village green,” added Abigail. “You can’t miss it.”
“Fine, I’ll go,” said Geoffrey. “But just to Cleig Grijan. I don’t want to go to the sex cult.”
“Tell her we’re going to be getting a vet, thanks to Bartram. Ask her if there are any specific veterinary skills they need.” Flame pushed Geoffrey towards the coach as Bartram opened the door.
“And tell her that I’ll be up on Saturday for services,” said Abigail. “Ask her if she wants me to bring anything.”
“And thank her for the cheese,” Flame added, with one last shove.
Maybe he shouldn’t have maxed out his appearance at the expense of his ability to stand up to being pushed, Geoffrey thought. “Next time I die, I’m getting more strength and dexterity.”
Bartram heard his grumbling and laughed. “Don’t matter how strong you are. Women will still push you around. That’s what they do.”
As Geoffrey sat down on the seat across from the financier, the coach lurched and Geoffrey barely avoided landing in Bartram’s lap.
“Maybe you should get more dexterity. But let me teach you something about women,” Bartram said. “As an AI, you probably don’t know this, but they give off hormones that make men do things.”
“I don’t think that’s right,” said Geoffrey.
“Trust me, I’ve been around a long time. One day, you’re sitting there next to your financial officer, going over the quarterly statements, and then, all of a sudden, you feel the urge to take off your pants. See, that’s their hormones acting on you. You can’t help yourself.”
“Uh huh.” Geoffrey looked out the window.
“And then you get sued, and wind up forking over a lot of money. That’s how they get you. Women don’t give off the same hormones here on Krim.”
“You might be thinking about pheromones.”
“Maybe the basic biology simulations isn’t perfect,” said Bartram. “I don’t know what else it could be.”
“Maybe it’s the fact that here on Krim, women won’t sue you for sexual harassment. They’ll just cut your hands off. Or other parts.”
Geoffrey stuck his head out the window and yelled up at the driver. “How long until we get there?”
“Cleig Grijan? A couple of hours,” the driver yelled back. “Then another hour to the temple of Qualdir.”
“I’m getting off at Cleig Grijan.” Geoffrey sat back down.
“Why do you have to be like that?” asked Bartram. “I’ve put all this effort into arranging this trip. I even got both of us sexy orgy costumes.”
“You wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for me.”
“I’m here because I know General Dungerame,” said Geoffrey.
“But who put up the money for your salary? And paid for you trip. I did. Out of the goodness of my heart.”
“Listen,” said Geoffrey. “I got a good-sized settlement back when I was first declared sentient. Then I immediately went freelance. I’m very good at my job, and I banked nearly all my earnings. I’m not here because you paid for a coach ticket.”
“So why are you here then?”
“World of Battle kicked me out for a completely arbitrary, trumped-up reason,” Geoffrey said. “So I’ve got some time to kill before they take me back. Also, I have to pass an ethics test.”
“Oh, those are easy,” said Bartram. “All you have to do is think about what you would do, then put down the opposite. I’ve taken a bunch of them.”
“Did you pass?”
“Well, no. But that’s because the examiners were biased against me. It was a court-ordered thing. A formality, really. It didn’t mean anything.”
Geoffrey angled himself diagonally so that he could stretch out his legs, leaned back, and closed his eyes. Maybe they’d be attacked by bandits on this trip. If he was injured, Flame would feel sorry for him, and be more inclined to help him out. On the other hand, this was Krim. So even a minor scratch could get infected, turn gangrenous, and lead to a slow and painful death — then a two-week coach trip to get back to Heartburgh from the central gate in Krim City. He had never died of gangrene before, but it was probably less unpleasant than the trip across the plains.
Maybe he could fake an injury. A twisted ankle, something that just required hobbling around on crutches for a few days while Flame nursed him back to health.
“You know what the worst thing about Heartburgh is?” Bartram asked. “No wenches. I was just going to say that we could go see some strippers when we get back, but they don’t have any. Not a single whorehouse in the whole town.”
“I don’t want to look at strippers,” said Geoffrey. In his experience, wenches were practical, had plenty of common sense, and weren’t particularly soft-hearted, especially if they’d been at it for a while. The odds were bad of getting one of them to help him cheat on a test. Now the veterinarian… that could be more promising. If Flame didn’t work out, that could be a backup. Vets had to be soft-hearted, didn’t they?
“What about cards? Are you into gambling.”
“What about drinking?”
“Why are you being like this?” asked Bartram. “I’m trying to be nice. I’ve reached out to you. Found us a fun activity to do together.”
“Why me? Isn’t there someone else you can hang out with?”
“Everyone’s else formed into cliques the minute they arrived,” said Bartram. “You just got here. You don’t have any friends yet.”
“I’m friends with Luke.”
“That jerk? I don’t know what the Duke sees in him. General this, General that. He can’t battle his way out of a paper bag.”
“I’d rather ride quietly and think. If you can’t leave me alone, I’m going to go sit up top with the driver.”
Bartram shut up, but he sulked aggressively for the next two hours. Geoffrey ignored him, closed his eyes again and ran scenarios. Maybe he would have the opportunity to save Flame’s life. Maybe he could arrange to have her attacked, so that he could save her life. Maybe Luke could get too handsy and Geoffrey could save her from being annoyed to death, or whatever Luke did to drive away the women he was dating. What else did he know about Flame? Well, she liked animals. He should keep an eye out for something pitiful to rescue.