It had been about twenty days since James had left his shop behind, and fortunately, but perhaps unexpectedly, nothing extraordinary had happened after the werewolf attack. Based on the maps and local guides he’d conferred with, it would take another nine days to arrive at the trade city, assuming that the weather held. Unfortunately, that assumption seemed increasingly unlikely to be proven true.
By now, summer has turned to fall, bringing with it the occasional rain that would force them to slow their progress for many days in a row or risk losing a wheel in the mud. Nevertheless, James could admire the countryside of this world, something that had for the most part been lost in his industrialized home dimension. Along the more populated sections of the road, people would often work on their farms and fields, preparing for the coming harvest. On this day, however, the weather was more severe than usual, so the group sat crouched beneath the wagon while poor Howard braved the front of the storm. Eventually, though, the raging rain and thunder forced the group to shelter at a roadside inn instead of stalwartly forging on. If not for James utilizing his best salesman pitches on the [Innkeeper] and even offering one of his heaters, they might not have even received a room for the four of them. While he’d still gotten paid for his invention, he’d had to part with it at a severe discount. After all, there was a veritable line of travelers trying to book rooms about the small town, and there was no need for the [Innkeeper] to offer them special treatment. Two days passed like this, and as they had feared, the weather washed out the bridge ahead of them.
During this entire time, the heroes were nowhere to be found. Nevertheless, that was not unusual. It would not surprise him if they were scouting a new route over the river or hunting the unique monsters that came with such storms. Should they gather any rare materials, he’d happily buy a few of them: one never knew when a random component could come in handy. Snapping out of his musings, James eyed the warm broth in front of him. It was a goulash soup filled with some small bits of meat that the [Innkeeper] had hunted before the storms had arrived. It had also cost almost twenty Seedz, practically highway robbery. With a sigh, James forked a brown piece of meat and savored the rather fragrant juices. Perhaps the price was worth it… The [Cook] in this inn must be relatively high Leveled to turn simple materials into a rather delicious meal. Kira ate with her hands while Diana watched in exasperation, her original surprised disgust having long since faded away at the beginning of the trip. Still, Diana elegantly blew on the wooden spoon before delicately sipping at the broth. James struggled to control his mirth at the between the ravenous Kira and collected Diana since any laughter would result in some rather unpleasant choking.
After they had finished eating, James pulled out a deck of cards to play Solitaire with while the others found their own things to do. That was when a small group of [Soldier]s arrived at the inn. Obviously, they had been through a fight because of how bandaged they were. They started sitting around anywhere that was free while their [Captain] talked to the [Innkeeper]. From the brief tidbits James picked up from their hurried conversation, the [Captain] sought room and supplies for his injured men so that the rest could return to their fight with peace of mind. Still, it wasn’t his business, so James wisely tried to distance himself from the restless [Soldier]s. Tired, beaten men were often a source of trouble for snooping travelers.
James had decided to head up to where the others were resting when another [Soldier] came into the inn while panting. Breaking off from his conversation with the rather unhelpful [Innkeeper], the [Captain] glared at his subordinate before composing his features. Compared to the out of breath [Soldier], the [Captain] looked intimidating with a bandage wrapped around his head. A frown forming on his face, the [Captain] fingered his bandages while the [Soldier] gave his report about the current situation. Muttering at the [Innkeeper], the [Captain] beckoned for his men to collect their belongings to search for another place.
Going up the stairs, James overheard a gruff voice mention something about his wagon. Creasing his brow, he hurried his steps to figure out what was going on. By the time he reached his room, he found a couple of [Soldier]s standing in the hallway while talking to Howard about some potions. Thinking that they were just trying to buy some simple wares, James decided to let the old [Knight] handle the simple matters since he wanted to relax with the girls. Keeping a wary ear toward their negotiation, James got Kira and Diana to rest beside one of the heaters that he’d unpacked from his wagon. Kira lazily let the heat warm her back while Diana performed maintenance on her sword, carefully eyeing the fearsome edge of the flamberge.
Yawning, he steeled his resolve and scooted away from the warmth. Some things just had to be done. He thought about asking Kira to help, but she hated the rain and would probably just spend most of the time complaining. In the end, she would be more of a hindrance than a help. “Diana, I am worried about those heroes. Care to come with me to look for them?”
Diana looked at him, mildly surprised. “You cared about them?”
James glanced at the door, eyeing the group of [Soldier]s trying to convince Howard to give them a discount since they were “protecting the roads. ” The wily [Knight] was having none of it. “Honestly, I don’t, but they have made the journey much easier for us so far. It would be a shame to have to go any further without them. Plus, they are good for business.” He let out a small chuckle.
Diana laughed a little, figuring that was the real reason. James was glad that she had accepted his falsehood without thinking much on it as she fetched her cloak. After all, he had to maintain his tough-guy persona! Kira sadly gazed at James; she was disappointed that she had not been asked, but that momentary feeling of abandonment disappeared with a thunderbolt that struck a bit too close for her comfort, causing her fur to stand on end before she hid her head under her arm. James kneeled down to rub her back before rising to hurry off. Wrapping her in a blanket from the bed, he nodded to the [Soldier]s and patted Howard’s back. “Once you settle the deal, just give me a note signed by both parties detailing the deal, and I’ll exchange it for the goods.”
The moment James came down the stairs, the [Captain] of the [Soldier]s finished off his mug of liquid courage and strode to James with purpose. James had hoped he would have escaped the inn before being confronted. “Hey, you the one with the wagon?”
James looked back at Diana before deciding to take a defensive stance in his response. James displayed the crest to the [Captain] that was also on the wagon. “Good, me and my men will escort you up to the front-line base. We need your supplies.”
James reflected on that for a moment. While he was unwilling to let the [Captain] order him about like this, they could provide some useful protection. “Did your men happen to meet up with four heroes: an [Axeman], a thin [Thief], a [Sorceress] and a [Cleric]?”
The mid Level [Captain] paused, surprised. “Well then, that makes this easier if you know them. I will explain on the way.”
James listened to the [Captain]’s story as the two rode in the back of the wagon; the rest of the [Soldier]s patrolled the path while Diana guided the horses. Half of James’s belongings had been packed into his room to make room for extra food and arms that the [Soldier]s had bought around the small town. It sounded like the [Soldier]s were fighting a monster that loomed a hundred feet tall and could knock out dozens of men with a single movement. Somehow, it all sounded strangely familiar.
It was a bumpy, long hour ride in the washed-out back road, but there were no incidents. Few [Bandit]s would be foolish enough to attack a small army. The [Soldier]s must have cleared the path just for them since James didn’t spot any signs of a rampaging monster that could have injured the trained [Soldier]s to such an extent. Surely, a violent 100-foot being would leave some type of wreckage in its wake? When they got to the camp, it became clear the weather had done it no favors, with tents half set up around grim [Soldier]s. The campfires, where they had been successfully lit, were small and flickering in the heavy downpour. A [Soldier] approached the [Captain] as soon as he got off the wagon to give an update. Meanwhile, James spoke to Diana, “They paid for everything in the bags. The stuff in my boxes is still for sale. There are potions, revives and mana restores. Do not buy anything from them. If they ask, say that I will be taking a look at the monster that they mentioned.”
Diana only gave a nod and got into the wagon to vigilantly make sure that no one touched anything that was not supposed to be touched, and James got off through the front. Mentally thanking the [Knight], he hurried to where several men were limping, nursing battered and sometimes bloody limbs. They were only too happy to point out where the being responsible for their injuries was, although the contemptuous looks in their eyes revealed their belief that James was sending himself toward his own doom. Then, a brief run allowed James to see something he could not believe. Staring at the metallic creature before him, he felt a thrill of shock course through him. While he was completely unaware of how it had happened, he couldn’t deny the proof walking before him.
Maintaining a clear head, he raced back toward the wagon with all the speed he could muster. A few of the men he’d asked directions from stared at him in bemusement, believing that he’d lost his courage upon seeing the enemy. “How is that here?” He kept muttering in his head as he dashed toward the supplies he’d, fortunately, carried along on this trip. After realizing what the monster was, he wasted not a second, ignoring the numerous hired Adventurers that he passed who advised him against attempting to face the beast with whatever foolish contraption he had in stock.
He continued on, eager to get to the only thing that could help in this situation. Heavily panting, he jumped onto the wagon, completely ignoring Diana, and moved to access a metal lockbox. This one was special. Bolted down to the very structure of the wagon, it was one of the few pieces of technology that had come with him from his world that still worked; he opened it with ease and found a plastic card before heading back toward the monster.
It was not long before he passed the [Guard]s enraptured by the battle between the heroes and the monster. While many of them were trained [Soldier]s, none of them were high Leveled elites, so they wisely chose to stay removed from the fight. Then again, their actions were not completely fueled by cowardice since James could see one of them was already unconscious on her back, and the other three were barely standing while they tried to nurse their wounds with a healing potion. No doubt high command had told them to let the hired heroes handle it. Loyal [Soldier]s were expensive and hard to find.
Eyeing the metal being that fought against more than a dozen trained Adventurers, James hoped what he had planned would work. Walking past the tense heroes, he held up the card in his hand and used his native language. “Engineer N356D-09G-33C-C.” The monster raised its bladed arm to strike James but suddenly stopped to examine the card in his hand. “License recognized. Input further information.” James sighed in relief as the machine returned to a neutral stance.
“Inquiry: time assessment by best estimate; how long have you been on this world?”
The monster’s face flashed green. “This unit has been in this world for fifteen days, six hours, twelve minutes and thirty seconds and counting.”
James’s heart stopped for a moment before playing a scenario in his head. “Before coming to this world, were you to be transported via a teleport pad? From any unspecified location to any unspecified location. You do not have to state the locations.”
The added comment was to ensure its classified protection programs did not activate. While they normally wouldn’t cause the machine to target allied civilians, James feared that this model had been altered by its travels.
James sighed, both relieved and worried. It seemed that it too had arrived here by mistake, so his fears of a hostile invasion by his home dimension were unfounded. However, if these glitches became more frequent… “Here is the current situation as I understand it. We have arrived at a previously unknown world. Its location in space, time and dimensionality is unknown. The very laws of physics are different on some levels. That is why your munitions will not work.” James reached into his pocket and brought out one of the slugs. “However, merging our technology with this reality is possible, and many fundamental ideas remain the same. I have foregone attempts at contacting or bridging this world and the HSRC together as there is the possibility of hostile forces attempting to conquer HRSC. I suspect that there is a powerful entity capable of controlling this whole world and realistically capable of matching our own military. Thus, the best course of action is to lay low and avoid its attention so as to best protect our people. Compute?”
The monster processed the information, and its face turned green. “Computed!”
James continued, “Make and model number?”
The monster seemed to straighten. “I am a sentry bot, series EZ, model number 4, setup R serial number 5,234. Commonly referred to as a Cezar.”
James smiled humored, recalling old Roman history for a minute. They might ignore the ethics section of creative emotionless killer bots, but one thing the military engineers knew well was their military history. “Do you agree that it is necessary to employ a primitive world initiative protocol?”
Again, the green face appeared. “Agreed.”
James relaxed: the hard part was over. “Assessment, locals have reported you as an outside force invading their claimed land. Have you killed any?” Cezar looked toward the base camp. “Negative, life form count has not decreased. System in unknown condition. The situation calls for a retreat. Action failed. Unable to activate mobility tracks.”
James moved to the tracks on Cezar and found after a cursory glance that the oil was gone. It was a miracle that the machine even worked. Taking a step back, James addressed the robot, “I am James Hues. I will attempt to make repairs and render further aid. Can you have your monitor flash green for yes and red for no during negotiations with locals?”
Cezar’s face turned green.
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