Ellison stepped through the gate in his new avatar, wearing a randomly-generated face and a default adventurer outfit. He looked around as if he were on Krim for the first time.
Matilda was nowhere in sight, but there were a lot of people milling around between the merchant stands in the Gate Plaza. Or she could be somewhere across the street, keeping an eye out from a distance.
He still thought that Matilda should have been the one acting as bait. She could let them grab her, then rescue herself when they got to the destination. He could have stayed home and slept in.
Instead, he had to pretend to be a noob.
He stomped his feet. Gravity normal. He waved his hands in the air, trying to bring up the settings menu and swore when nothing happened.
What else did noobs do?
He looked around the plaza, then walked over to the nearest stall. It sold homespun tunics with funny sayings and logos of local bars.
“Say, where do you go to get a quest around here?” he asked the vendor.
The vendor smiled. “One second, sir.” He ducked down under the table and brought out a basket full of scrolls, each tied with a ribbon.
“I’ve got maps here to ancient treasures,” said the vendor. “Maybe you prefer to slay monsters?” The vendor untied the ribbon around one of the scrolls and unrolled. It was a reward poster for a creature that looked somewhat like a bear, but larger, and more frightening. “These fur-covered forest ogres are terrorizing a local village,” said the vendor, and rolled it back up again before Ellison could read the fine print. “Ten coppers for each of the reward scrolls, one silver per treasure map.”
“So I need to kill some monsters to level up my stats?” Ellison asked.
“Ah, you want to understand the rules,” said the vendor, and ducked back under the table again. When he popped back up again he was holding a cloth-bound book. “This is the essential reference manual to the rules of Krim.”
Ellison bought the book and a wanted poster and stepped away from the stall. The hot dog booth at the south side of the plaza, right across from city hall, was doing a booming business and he weaved his way through the crowd and got in line. While he waited, he unrolled the scroll and read the fine print. The reward was for the monster’s fur. He could get half a silver per pelt.
Weldon Layton, the assistant grid manager, got in line behind him.
“Excuse me,” Ellison said, holding up the scroll. “I’m new here.”
Weldon sighed and looked at the wanted poster.
“How many stats points do I get for killing this?” Ellison asked in a loud, carrying voice.
Weldon rubbed his face and sighed. “There are no stats. It’s all spelled out in the terms of service.”
Ellison waved his hand. “Nobody ever reads those. A medieval world is a medieval world, right? I must have been on hundreds of them. Where do I go to get my first quest?”
“There are no quests,” said Weldon. “We’re more like a historical simulation world.”
“Oh.” Ellison frowned. “Wait, if this is a historical simulation, that means that there are historical battles I can go see, right?” He waved his hands in the air in front of him. “How do I pull up the events menu? I can’t get the interface to load.”
Weldon sighed again. “There is no interface. You’re limited to basic biology, just as if you were living back in the 1500s.”
“Hardcore.” Ellison looked around. “So is there an event board somewhere? Where can I see a battle?”
“We don’t have any historical battle reenactments,” said Weldon.
“No quests and no reenactments? Then what’s the point of this game, anyway?”
“Krim is not a game,” said Weldon. “It’s more of a parallel existence, a second life, if you will, in a time before modern technology.”
“Well, that sucks.” He held up the scroll again. “So do I get anything if I kill the monster?”
Weldon peered at the poster. “That looks like a bear. If you kill it, you’ll get the opportunity to butcher it, eat its meat, and then sell its fur. But odds are that it will disembowel you instead and eat your internal organs while you die slowly and painfully.”
“You should have read the terms of service.” Weldon pushed Ellison aside and moved up the line.
“Well, where do I get that?” Ellison called after him.
The next guy in line laughed and pointed at the book Ellison was holding. “Looks like you already got a copy.”
Ellison tucked the scroll away under his leather adventurer jacket and opened the book.
The title page said, “Krim World Terms of Service.”
Ellison realized that he’d never actually looked at the terms of service before. He flipped through the pages. There were standard warranties and indemnifications, copyright policies, and indemnifications.
Then, about halfway through the book, it got ominous.
“In order to gain access to the Krim World, you affirm that you are at least 18 years of age and are not suffering from heart problems, high blood pressure, or any other medical conditions that may be exacerbated by extreme stress and pain. If you are corporeal, and disconnect from your VR system before leaving Krim through a world gate, your account will be debited…”
Ellison flipped through several pages of fines. He wasn’t corporeal, so most of those didn’t apply to him.
Then he got to the warnings. Being disemboweled by a bear was just one of hundreds horrible things that could happen to a visitor to Krim. The terms of service spelled it all out in gory detail. Amputations, chocking on foreign objects, poisons, snake bites, falls. He flipped further. Auto-cannibalism? Scalping? Being used for archery target practice?
Oh, and there it was. Being sacrificed in a religious ritual.
He flipped further. Sinking in quicksand. Being burned alive for heresy. Being eaten by alligators. He slammed the book shut.
“You look like you’re new.”
Ellison turned to face the woman talking to him. She was dressed in a version of his own adventurer outfit, and was one of the women he’d seen in line at the Aldwich Row Community Center the night before.
“Can I help?” she asked.
“Sure, I’ve got a question,” he said. “I’ve got this terms of service here.” He patted the book. “It says if I’m corporeal, and disconnect from my VR system, I get fined. What’s with that? I’m not corporeal, but I’m just curious.”
“It’s to keep day trippers from leaving their dead bodies all over the place,” said the woman.
He put a confused expression on his face.
“Say you have a physical body, and you get online, and come to Krim,” she said. “You walk through the gate, wander around the city, then decide that you’re bored and want to stop playing. You just disconnect, right?”
“Well, sure. That’s what I used to do back when I had a body.”
“And in most places, your in-game character just disappears,” she said. “But Krim is a basic-bio grid. People don’t just disappear into thin air. Instead, if you disconnect without existing through the gate like you’re supposed to, your avatar just falls down dead. And the body lies there and decomposes and stinks up the place until someone finds it and disposes of it.”
“I can see why the grid won’t want that,” he said.
“So what made you come to Krim?”
He shrugged. “Just bored. I’ve never been here before. I heard that it was hardcore, but I don’t know anything else about it. Figure I’d check it out.”
“Do you know anyone who lives here?”
“Not yet,” he said, and waggled his eyebrows. “But I’m good at making friends. Can you recommend any good places to go?”
She tapped her chin. “Hmm, let me think. Well, first, you should definitely stop by the King’s Arms for some ale.” She pointed towards the eastern end of the plaza. The King’s Arms was across the street. “But you know what? My girlfriends and I are going to be down at the Crow’s Nest Cafe for dinner tonight. It’s at the docks.” She pointed west. “You just keep going that way, and eventually you’ll hit the bay. The sunset view is amazing, and the sailing ships are beautiful. Plus, the Crow’s Nest has some of the best food in the city.”
“That is very nice of you,” said Ellison. “I’ll try to find it.”
“If you get lost, just ask anyone for directions to the docks, and to the Crow’s Nest Cafe. Try not to get killed!” She patted him on the arm and disappeared into the crowd.
“Hello, young man!”
Ellison narrowly avoided saying, “Hello, Norbert!”
The itinerant peddler tipped the brim of his top hat and smiled at Ellison through his bushy mustache.
“Norbert Hawking, at your service,” Norbert said. “I see that you an abecedarian in our fine world and I bid you welcome. It is the year 1500, a time of adventure and excitement, royalty, and passion. Perhaps I may interest you in some of my wares?” Norbert opened up the right side of his long duster coat. “An adventurer like yourself must be in need of some dragon repellent.”
Ellison looked back at city hall. He still had some time to kill before sunset and his date with the cult kidnappers.
“Sure,” he told Norbert. “Tell me about the dragon repellent.”