Matilda and Ellison walked Jerald back to the main gate.
The company he ran, Crewe Investigations, now had its main office in a business district on Facepage. Jerald had been renting space in a nice office park, but that world had been swallowed up by Gobble. Given the choice of being part of the Gobble ecosystem, or the Facepage one — or seek out some other independent location — he finally bit the bullet and moved to Facepage. That’s where all his customers were, anyway. Plus, the food was better.
“I’ll send word to the inn if I catch up to Pompas off-world,” he said. “Keep me posted if you find out anything here.”
The main gate was located right in the center of Krim, in the main plaza. City hall was to south, and the King’s Arms — not to be confused with the King’s Armpit — was to the east, directly across Banking Street, so that arriving visitors could immediately fortify themselves with weak drink.
The King’s Arms was one of Ellison’s favorite places to hunt his targets, along with the post office, but Pompas was probably too wily to show up there. Even if he was wearing a new body, there was always the chance that a careless gesture or turn of phrase would give him away to someone who knew him well.
They walked past the King’s Arms, crossed Banking, and were among the merchants stalls that crowded the plaza when Matilda spoke up. “You know, I’ve been thinking about why Pompas decided to run,” she said. “Maybe he recognized you as a detective.”
“Is Ellison famous on Krim?” asked Jerald.
“His picture was in the paper once,” she said.
That was when he’d solved the mysterious murder of a returnee, a man from the 1950s who’s been brought back to virtual life on Krim. Of all places. But it wasn’t being strangled to death that killed him for good. It was the grief of being done in by someone he cared for. Really, that could have happened anywhere, not just on Krim. Ellison’s picture, a nice woodcut that showed his good side, was buried inside the paper, near the end of the story. Three off-world detectives got much better placement, even though they hardly contributed anything at all.
“Maybe you should change you appearance,” said Jerald. “Both of you. So that he doesn’t get spooked if he sees you again.”
“I doubt he got a good look at me,” said Matilda. “I was in a dark alley, and he was carrying an oil lamp, so his night vision would have been shot. I think he just saw me as a big dark shadow.”
“His guard saw you up close,” said Ellison. “He’s might have told Pompas who’s after him, or left him a message somewhere.”
Eventually, after a bit more arguing, all three of them left Krim through the main gate. Jerald, to go back to his office. Ellison and Matilda to go back to the welcome area to pick out new avatars.
They both returned to Krim as wenches.
Ellison was now Ellie and wore a dress with a flouncy skirt and a low-cut bodice.
Matilda was now Matt and was dressed like Aladdin, complete with a tiny vest over a bare chest.
“Oh, this was a mistake,” she said the minute she stepped back into Krim. The outfit was less cold English autumn and more hot Arabian summer. “This is almost as bad as chain mail bikinis.” She looked at Ellison’s outfit. “At least you’ve got a big skirt and a cloak.”
Ellison crossed his arms over his now-ample bosom. “But my chest is cold,” he complained.
They stopped at the first merchant booth they came to and bought heavy wool overshirts, like all the other underdressed tourists were doing.
Ellison’s shirt promoted Rotgut Beer. Hers invited people to drink at the King’s Arms. “Nobody who knows me would ever suspect this was me,” she said, in a now-masculine voice which, actually, didn’t sound all that much lower than her regular one.
She stomped off in the direction of the docks.
“You need to flounce more,” Ellison said when he finally got the hang of walking in a skirt and caught up to her. “Sway your hips a bit. You’re supposed to be a wench.”
“No,” she said. “I’ve decided that I’m going to be a tourist, pretending to be a wench.”
“That sounds better than my idea.” Ellison gave up on trying to sway his hips as well. Walking on cobblestones was difficult enough with a lower center of gravity without trying to be sexy.
At least he was smart enough not to go with the heels the default wench outfit came with, and switch them out for a default pair of boots.
Once they got got out of the central square and away from the crowd of merchants and tourists, walking got easier, and Ellison and Matilda were able to walk side-by-side.
“So,” she said. “Was Count Simond right about how you identify people? By their body language? Is that something you can learn?”
“Yes, they have classes,” said Ellison, evading the real question. “Back in my real life, at my old corporate job, we’d regularly get continuing professional development training. One of the topics was how to gauge intent and sentiment when someone had their filters on.”
“Like Facepage filters?”
“Any filters. Say, they blush easily when embarrassed or don’t know the answer to a question. If the meeting is in a physical world, they’ll pull up the settings for their autonomic nervous system and dial it all down. And if the meeting is online, they’ll set the filters to show honesty and sincerity.”
“Huh,” she said. “I haven’t had a physical body for 20 years now. And I’ve mostly been hanging out in places like Krim. I haven’t really paid attention to any of that.”
“Yup, you can get an app for anything these days,” he said. “So they have courses that teach you how to look for more subtle signals. Or they used to at least.”
“Someone came out with an AI that would look for those subtle signals in people’s behavior,” he said. “Then the companies that made the filters improved the filters so that the AIs could no longer pick anything up. Then the AIs got better. Then the apps got better. I don’t know where things are now, but there’s no point in training humans to try to spot anything anymore.”
“Oh.” She paused. “That’s too bad. I’d have liked to learn.”
“You still can. You can get recordings of the classes, and can probably even still find tutors.”
“Because,” he said, spreading his arms, “Because, on Krim, there are no filters!”