1. Epystells of ye immortal folke

Sunday, September 8, 2120

“Well, hello miscreant!” Ellison Davo grinned as he looked backat the ID print in his document packet. Yup, it was the same guy.

“Who, me?” The warrior turned towards Ellison, blood still dripping from his sword as the victim at his feet screamed in pain. 

“No, no, him.” Ellison pointed at the victim, who was curled up, clutching at his belly. A faint aura hung over him and its pattern matched the ID print in Ellison’s file. 

Ellison crouched down. “Thought you could hide, didn’t you?”

Everybody thought that by coming to a medieval-themed virtual world like Krim that nobody could find them. People kept forgetting that privacy controls only go so far.

The victim stopped screaming. “What?”

Ellison pulled a slim envelope out of the packet in his hands and dropped it in the man’s lap. “You’ve been served.”

Clutching at his wound with one hand, the guy picked up the envelope with the other and squinted at it. “Maile deliv’rance and apyrrans requeste fromme ye law firmme off…” He looked up at Ellson. “Is this a summons? What the hell? Hw did you ever find me? Did you bribe a grid admin? I’m going to complain to the management.”

The warrior bent down and wiped his sword on the victim’s cloak then glanced over at Ellison. “For a second there, I thought you were talking to me.” He waved his sword at Ellison’s default assassin outfit. “Being a noob and all. But don’t worry about it. He’ll be back again complaining in no time.”

“I’m never coming back here again,” said his victim, then coughed, spraying blood over Ellison’s clothes.

“I’m not a noob.” Ellison backed up and tried to wipe away the blood. “Do you know how hard it is to find decent clothes around here?”

“If you weren’t a noob, you’d know to have a tailor,” said the warrior, whose outfit did look particularly well-fitted and flattering. 

“You lunkhead role players are all alike.” The victim struggled to sit up. “All I said was that the Post Office shouldn’t be here. Krim is supposed to be based on London in the year 1500. The first general post office didn’t open until 1643.”

The warrior kicked him.

“Ouch! Stop that! This really hurts!” The victim looked down at the bloody stain spreading out under his palms and winced. “I think you’ve hit some vital organs. I can’t believe how much this hurts.” He looked over at the warrior who’d stabbed him. “And your armor is anachronistic. The minute I die, I’m never stepping foot in this place again.”

The warrior kicked him again and walked away.

The victim slowly topped over on his side, moaning. 

A Krim City employee came down the steps of the post office and looked down at the bleeding man.

“Who did this?” He looked around at the pedestrians, then at the half-dozen or so protesters holding signs just a few feet away. “The body’s blocking the steps.” He pointed at a sign that said, “No littering. Fine: 50 silvers. That includes dead bodies.”

Everybody else backed away.

“Hey, I’m not dead yet,” said the victim.

“Good, then you can dispose of your own body.”

“I’m pretty sure they didn’t fine people for getting stabbed in real Tudor England,” said the victim. He looked around for help, but nobody stepped forward and, with a groan, he began dragging himself away from the post office steps. “And I sure they didn’t have stupid process servers, either.”

“Well, actually,” said a pedestrian. “The Magna Carta, which was signed — ouch!” He spun around. “Who stabbed me?”

Ellison stepped back away from the post office steps and took out the rest of the mail from his inside jacket pocket, right behind a thin book titled “Poysonnes annd how to useth them” that had come with his default assassin outfit. Three of the envelopes were responses to his job hunt efforts — he didn’t want to stay a minimum wage process server for the rest of his life. He saved those to open later. The last envelope was another assignment from his brother’s agency. He’d already opened this one but glanced in to check the ID. 

Any chance he’d strike it lucky and find two fugitives from civil suits in one morning?

None of the people walking by him matched the ID in the paperwork.

“Hey hey, ho ho, all the dead have got to go!” Ellison turned around. There was a group of Humanist protesters marching up Leavenhall Street. They were probably coming from the Lifeworks compound, judging by one of the signs, “Lifeworks is doing the devil’s work.”

None of them matched his target’s ID print either but it was worth paying attention to them, anyway. They were probably the kind of people who had trouble in their real lives.

“What are you starting at?” one the Humanists stopped in front of Ellison. “You one of those damned returnees Lifeworks brought back from the dead?”

“No.” Ellison had been brought back to a life — a digital life, that is — by a completely different company.

“And so what if he was?” Another passer-by stepped forward between them, a hand on his sword hilt, and glared at the protesters. “I bet all you guys died at least once. Or, if you haven’t, you won’t turn down resuscitation when you do.” He spat on the ground. “Hypocrites.”

Ellison edged away. 

“You bleeding-heart liberals are all the same.” The protester handed his sign to the guy behind him and put a hand on his own sword. “We are fighting for the survival of the human race.”

“Who are you calling a bleeding heart? I’ll give you a bleeding heart.” 

Ellison turned and walked away. The sound of metal striking metal rang out behind him, followed by yells and screams.

He glanced back. The protest march was quickly turning into a bloodbath.

The postal employee came out of the post office building again and threw up his arms in despair, then went back inside and slammed the door shut.

A warrior pushed past Ellison, nearly knocking him down. “Out of my way, noob.”

“Not a noob,” Ellison said, barely keeping his balance. His stomach grumbled. One of the many inconveniences of being on Krim was having to eat regularly

The Krim Central Gate was just down the street, around the corner, and two blocks north, on the other side of the Central Plaza. In fifteen minutes, maybe less, he could be teleporting out to real life, eating real food, someplace like that little floating cafe on the Facepage Main Street. Catch up on the news. Reach out to his friends. One of the best things about no longer having a physical body was the freedom to go and do anything you wanted, without any of the pesky physical discomforts of flesh and bone.

But here he was on Krim, where everything itched, everything smelled bad, and some idiot was liable to stab him with a sword any second.

Ellison scratched his head. 

Was that a flea?

There were probably dozens of messages from friends stacked up, all wondering where he was. 

He turned and walked the other way down Leadenhall Street, to the Barley Mow Inn.

***

“Hello, innkeeper!” 

Quimby Plummer, manning the Barley Mow’s front desk, raised an eyebrow. “Ellison.” 

“What’s today’s special?”

“Fried skirrets and egg, cabbage and skirrets, pig parts, and fish cakes.”

“Fish cakes sound good.”

“They’re mostly skirret… but there is some fish in there. A fishy taste, anyway.”

“What about the pig parts? What parts are they, exactly?”

“Just parts. Parts of the pig. You probably don’t want to know which parts, exactly. Anyway, you can barely taste them with all the skirrets.”

“The fishy skirrets, then.”

A woman walked in — Tottie Lovell, a seamstress who owned one of the shops further down the street.

“Can you believe all those protests? They’re scaring away customers!” she said. “The chamber needs to do something about it.” 

The innkeeper tsk tsked.

“What’s the point of being a member of the chamber if you can’t get any protection? Anyway, I didn’t come here to complain.” She opened her bag and pulled out about a dozen newspapers, passed one to Quimby and placed the rest on the front desk.

Quimby held the paper up to the light. “Nice job on the woodcut.”

“You can almost tell it’s supposed to be me,” she said.

“You should get it framed.”

“I did. I’m going to hang it in my shop window.”

Ellison peered over her shoulder. The headline screamed, “Krim’s top needler stuns with new designs.”

Tottie turned and looked him up and down. “You need new clothes. You look like a noob. Is that the default assassin outfit?”

“With any luck, I won’t be here long enough to bother,” he said, reaching inside the jacket. The envelopes were still there. “I’ve got some feelers out about some jobs out in real life.”

Tottie sniffed.

“Careful there,” said Quimby. “Noobs always think that Krim is a game. But look around.” He waved his hand at the rough-hewn logs that framed the walls around him. “I’ve got customers. They pay me money for meals and lodging. People think that just because they can’t check their Facepage alerts that this isn’t real life.”

“It’s just a different kind of life, that’s all,” said Tottie. “I’m sick of people looking down on us.”

“So how’s business?” Quimby asked her.

“It’s going well, especially with the article. I’m already fully booked for the next two months.” Tottie patted the stack of newspapers. “And with all this publicity, I’m probably going to be turning away a lot of customers if I can’t hire any help.” She sighed and hung her bag back on her shoulder. “It’s so hard to find people on Krim who want to do anything besides stabbing and drinking.”

“When you’re right, you’re right..” The innkeeper picked up a damp rag and started wiping the desk where her bag had been. 

“You know, those returnees the protesters are mad about—you think some of them might be looking for work?”

“Sure, once they get over the shock of being brought back from the dead after a hundred years.” The innkeeper glanced out at the front window. “And if those fanatics don’t scare them off.”

Ellison took one of Tottie’s newspapers and walked through the dining room to his usual table next to the window at the far end. He sat with his back to the wall and could look all the way across the dining room to the inn’s front desk. And if he craned his head, he could look see people walking towards the post office. 

He pulled out his bundle of letters and unfolded the page with his target’s background and ID. The target wasn’t in the dining room, nor was he outside, walking past the window. He pushed it off to the side.

There were three unopened envelopes. Each from a potential employer. Each one could be his ticket back to a normal life. 

He opened the letter from International Business Machinima first. They probably wanted him to run their recruitment department.

“Dear Sir or Madam…”

Well, that wasn’t a promising start.

“We regret to inform you…”

He slapped it down at the table. They’d sent him a form letter. No, wait, there was a personal note at the bottom from the VP of human resources. He picked the sheet of paper up again.

“Ellison, I’m familiar with your history. You give the whole profession a bad name. Don’t contact us again.”

He ripped up the letter and dropped the shreds on the table. Quimby could probably use the paper for kindling.

The next envelope was from a tiny mom-and-mom agency. It was the first place Ellison worked when he graduated from college — they were probably grandma-and-grandma by now. He was glad to see they were still in business. 

“El, so glad to hear from you, and congratulations on your release. Obviously, we can’t offer you a job, but we can offer you emotional support. You could probably use a home-cooked meal about now…”

The waiter walked up with Ellison’s food and a chipped mug full of ale.

The last letter was from HumanPower, one of the larger recruitment firms. Not as big as the ones he’d worked at before, but still…

“Aside from one very unfortunate incident, your background is impressive and would be an asset to our organization. We know that the news doesn’t always give the full story, and are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. We will be contacting your references. We notice that you didn’t include the Carlyle Group, your most recent employer, which is understandable in light of the situation. But Elea Carlyle is one of our clients, and we will be talking with her before we can consider extending you a job offer.”

He wadded up the letter and was about to throw it on the pile of bones and broken pottery in the back corner when he saw Elea Carlyle’s coach drive past.

The garish purple paint, along with the gold crest of the Carlyle Foundation, clashed sharply with Krim’s mud-and-stone aesthetic. The coach rolled to a stop a little short of the entrance to the post office, close enough for Ellison to see that it let someone off before it rolled away again.

The man left behind wore leather armor and a sword, so was probably one of her hired guards. More importantly — Ellison picked up the assignment sheet to confirm— someone back in the real world was willing to pay real money to track the guy down. But the subpoena could also be used for leverage, to help give Ellison some insight into Elea’s activities on Krim, if he played things right.

It looked like he was going to be sticking around for a while. Ellison put the paperwork back in his jacket pocket. If he was going to stay on Krim, he was going to need a new suit.

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