After getting back to city center, Ellison veered off for the central gate while Matilda continued down Knots Hollow Way, to the rooming house on Marylebone Place where Fulke lived.
Ellison’s brother, Jerald Crewe, owned an investigation agency that mostly handled background checks and delivered subpoenas. When Ellison got out prison, Jerald was the only one who offered him a job and even that was purely on a freelance basis.
Jerald recently had to move his office to Facepage, which was an evil corporation with little concern for personal privacy. But Ellison had to admit that the new office was nice, and in a perfect location.
That was the thing about Facepage that pulled you in. Every location was a perfect location.
The street that Ellison walked down was populated by all his favorite stores. His favorite bars. His favorite restaurants. The Facepage rank algorithm showed every visitor exactly the places — and people — they most wanted to see. If you wander long enough on Facepage’s streets you will eventually bump into everyone you know.
Ellison didn’t want to bump into anyone he knew, and had been avoiding Facepage. But he eventually figure out how to turn off every single notification and turn all his privacy settings up to their maximum levels. The streets were still full of people, though, and eventually someone would recognize him, or one of his friends or relatives checking up on him would discover that he was back in the real world and come bother him.
Oh, who was he kidding. None of his friends or relatives wanted anything to do with him.
The only people who wanted to get in touch were the reintegration counselors and career advisers and various other social services personnel. Busy bodies with holier-than-thou attitudes who were convinced that if only Ellison could connect to his real feelings, then he could start taking responsibility for his actions and become a productive member of society again.
Ellison may have been found guilty by the courts, but only because nobody had been able to find any direct evidence pointing to the actual culprit, Elea Carlyle. She was the reason that more than 5,000 people had died, permanently died, while others — like Ellison — lost their physical bodies and now had to live online.
He didn’t miss his physical body. He rather liked the fact that nothing itched, he never got hangovers, and if he stubbed his toe it didn’t hurt. But he missed his old corporate job, and the money, and the respect that came with it. And he hated the fact that he had to work on Krim, whenever everything itched, all he had were hangovers, and he didn’t just keep stubbing his toes but people kept stabbing him in the back, as well.
But that was just temporary. As soon as he straightened things out, he’d be back doing real work, and could hang out on Facepage as much as he liked without worrying who he might bump into.
Ellison walked past the Potato Palace with barely a second glance before ducking into the Crewe Investigations offices.
Once inside the doors, he relaxed slightly. The investigation agency had business privacy settings in place. Nothing like what Krim and other private worlds had, but at least he didn’t feel that everyone was looking at him anymore.
Just Jerald’s sexy new receptionist, the bot that came with Facepage’s standard business package.
Ellison wave the bot off and walked into his brother’s office.
Last time he’d been there, there was a floor-to-ceiling glass window that overlooked a mountain landscape.
The mountains were now gone, and the office overlooked a nude beach.
Jerald was sitting outside on the balcony, reading the day’s news.
Ellison stepped through the sliding glass panels and a second lounge chair appeared next to Jerald’s. His brother looked up and raised a bottle of beer.
“That’s not what the clients see when they come in,” said Jerald, nodding at the naked people lounging on the sand or playing volleyball in the waves. “It automatically switches to the Manhattan skyline for real customers.”
“It’s nice,” said Ellison, settling down in the chair. Seconds later, the receptionist appeared with a beer. It was nice to be waited on by someone who wasn’t going to murder you if you undertipped. He sighed and leaned back.
“You could stay here, you know,” said his brother. “Meet with your counselors. Get a real job. It won’t be the same thing you were doing before, but that ship has sailed. Maybe go back to school?” He pointed at the screen floating in their air just above his lap. “There’s amazing things happening in the asteroid belt right now. You could be out there, making a difference.”
“No, I’ve got a plan,” said Ellison.
“A plan to do what? Keep delivering subpoenas to missing spouses and delinquent business partners who’d rather play dress-up medieval games?”
Ellison took a drink of his beer. Perfectly cold and crisp. Not like the room temperature dreck on Krim. Beer wasn’t supposed to be thick enough that a spoon would stand up in it.
“Like I said, I have a plan,” he said.
“You think if you catch Elea Carlyle doing something bad that you’ll magically get your life back,” said Jerald. “It doesn’t work that way.”
Ellison closed his eyes and enjoyed the feel of the sun on his face, the salty smell of the sea in the air. Why didn’t Krim’s port smell the same way? Probably the tar used to waterproof the ship, the dead fish that fell out of the fishing nets and were never cleared away.
“Well?” Jerald poked Ellison to get his attention. “Are you going to tell me why you’re here?”
Ellison opened his eyes. “I need you to look someone up,” he said. “I’ve got his contact details for you. Also, do you have any new work for me?”
“You still owe me from last time,” said Jerald. “But yeah, I’ve got a couple of people for you to track down.”
“Send everything down to the Krim post office. I’ll pick it up on my way home. I mean, I’ll pick it up on my way back to the inn.”
“I’ve also got something else for you. Remember, I asked you last week about it? Elea Carlyle wants to hire you to find something for her.”
“I’ll think about it,” said Ellison. “When this case is done. What is she looking for?”
“Some notebook somebody stole from her.”
“Really.” Ellison took a sip of his beer. He had a very good idea of where the notebook was. In his room, back at the Barley Mow Inn, in a box under a pile of pornographic woodcuts.