Abigail clutched her file to her chest. “Even if we burn these files, what’s to stop the Duke from ordering the same kinds of background checks that Ayoob did?”
“I came to Krim to get away from all my mistakes,” said Hephziba. “I didn’t think I could get any further away from Heartburgh.” She glanced down at the file in her hands. “I guess I was wrong. My mistakes followed me here.” She leaned against the wall next to the room’s one narrow window.
“Just because the Duke thinks that Flame betrayed him by lying on her resume doesn’t mean that he’ll go and order background checks on all of us,” said the general. “He’s a reasonable man, easy-going, laid back, forgiving… never mind. He’s none of those things. He will definitely order background checks on all of us and then send us packing when the reports come back.”
“Maybe we should all quit now,” said Abigail. “Out of solidarity with Flame, of course.” She held up her file. “Not to keep this stuff from getting out. But because we’re good friends and we support her.”
“We could go back to Krim City,” said Hephziba. “I could become a wench. Or a mercenary. Or a sailor on a whaling ship. I hear they’re hiring.”
“Well, my job here is safe,” said Geoffrey. “I don’t have any secrets hidden in my past.”
“That’s because you don’t have a past,” said Ayoob. “You grew up on World of Battle. Which is really interesting to me. I don’t know that there are many AIs like that. And now there won’t be, of course, since it’s now illegal. I’d love to interview you about what it was like.”
“Enough about him,” said the general. “How do we save Flame, and save our jobs?”
“I don’t know. I think we’re doomed,” said Abigail.
“You’ve got at least a month to think of something,” said Geoffrey. “That’s how long it will take the Duke to order reports and get them back. At least.”
“Right, right,” said Abigail. “We’ll think of something.”
“I just did,” said the general. “Starting a month from now, we intercept the mail before the Duke sees it. We steam open anything from Bartram’s business manager. If there’s a background report in there, we take out anything we don’t want him to see.”
“I like that, said Abigail. “It’s foolproof.”
“As long as we don’t get caught,” said Hephziba. “What happens when one of the servants see us taking the Duke’s mail?”
“Well, what’s your idea, then?” said the general.
“We don’t intercept the mail here,” said Hephziba. “We intercept it down in Gegorport. I met a guy on my last research trip whose job it is to make sure that the mail isn’t tampered with. He’s very bribable.”
“All we have to do is make sure that Geoffrey convinces the Duke to wait for the reports before making any decisions,” said Abigail. “About Flame, and about us.”
“Maybe you could all just go to the Duke and come clean,” said Ayoob. “If you’re straight with him, I’m sure he’ll be understanding and respectful.”
The general snorted.
“That’s not going to work for me,” said Abigail.
“Me neither,” said Hephziba. “You know, this has been the best gig I’ve had in years. I’m finally doing something meaningful, and people are treating me with respect. I don’t want to lose that.”
Abgail glanced over at Ayoob. “He knows,” she said.
Hephziba and the general turned to look at Ayoob, who backed away.
“Maybe we should kill him,” the general said.
“I haven’t said anything to anyone since I came here,” said Ayoob. “I’m not going to start gossiping now. But I also don’t want to be part of whatever plot you decide to hatch.”
“Fine,” said Abigail, opened the door, and walked out into the hallway.
“Fine,” added Hephziba, following her out.
“Can I have my filed back?” Ayoob asked.
“No,” said the general, walking out.
Geoffrey stayed behind. “You’ve got files on everybody in there, don’t you?” He nodded at the chest.
“Yeah,” said Ayoob. “I’m interested in team dynamics. I’ve also been interviewing soldiers about what they did before and why they came here.”
“You’re going to use it all in a game you’re writing?”
“Yup. A narrative-based game, based on either defending Heartburgh from attack, or helping it grow economically. I haven’t decided yet if it’s going to be a battle game, or a building game. Maybe it’s going to be both. But the plot is actually the least important part. What makes or breaks a game is the characters.”
“You’re going to base characters in your game on us?”
“Not directly. My characters will probably be composites.”
Geoffrey sat down on Ayoob’s narrow bed. “You know,” he said, “If I was sent in to destabilize Heartburgh, getting the Duke’s advisors to plot against him would be one of my top action items.”
“Like what the council is doing now.”
“Exactly. First, they’re keeping minor secrets from him, then interfering with his mail. Then it builds from there.”
“You think it could lead to a coup?”
Geoffrey shrugged. “I’ve been known to incite a few in my time. The general’s got the army, so he’s the most likely leader. And he’s easy to manipulate.”
“Who’d be manipulating him?” asked Ayoob. “I’m speaking purely out of professional curiosity here. Abigail? Hephziba?”
“Well, normally, I would be,” said Geoffrey. He leaned back against the wall. “First, he’d throw the Duke in the dungeon, install himself as a ruler, and take some decisive steps to get rid of the Duke’s loyalists. That would create resentment and opposition. He’d have to impose martial law to quell unrest. The population would rise up against him. The citizens of Heartburgh would kill each other in the civil war. And I’d go back to my client and collect my pay.”
“But that’s not going to happen here,” said Ayoob. “Nobody’s planning a coup.”
“No, of course not,” said Geoffrey. “Just a little light treason.”