Wynefrede Aumberden, as she decided to call herself on Krim, scooted down a little bit in her seat in the back of a carriage slowly making its way along the cobblestones of Knots Hollow Way. She spread her legs a little further apart, giving the man under her skirts a little more space to work in.
“It’s dark under here,” he complained.
“Well, you’ll just have to work by feel.” As he returned to his task, she flipped the newspaper she was reading to the next page. “Oh, listen to this, there’s an article here about me.”
“No, don’t stop,” she said. “I’ll just read it out loud to you.”
“Mmm hmm,” the man said.
“This is the first year that the Royal Season has come to Krim,” she read out loud. “A bunch of spoiled off-worlders who will spend the next three months touring our fair city, watching bloody battles under frilly parasols, and attending ball after ball after all. All with the goal of finding their soul mate while raising money for charity. One wonders how Lady Wynefrede Aumberden will ever find a suitable match if she keeps seducing the completely unsuitable strapping young men and women assigned to guard her body.” She moaned slightly. “Right there, that’s good. You are an unsuitable strapping young man, aren’t you?”
“Let’s see. According to this article, Benedicta Bernewelt is actually a famous actress in real life. And Margarett Pennebrygg is on Krim because she’s fleeing a terrible financial scandal on another grid. I had no idea.”
“It even talks about the queen. Listen to this.” She cleared her throat. “How much money did Elea Carlyle fork over in order to be named the Queen of Krim? Someone less narcissistic would just have donated the money to the charity, instead. She’s going to have to watch her back. If Krim history is anything to go by, a big title just makes you a bigger target. Maybe a historian would make a better queen.”
She closed the newspaper and put it down on the seat next to her. “Maybe there’s going to be an assassination attempt at tonight’s ball.
Meanwhile, at Carlyle Castle, Elea Carlyle slapped the newspaper down at the table in front of her. “This is slander. Can’t you do something about this?”
Weldon Layton, assistant grid manager, shook his head. He was unlucky enough to be in his office when Elea’s flunky showed up at city hall, which also doubled as the in-world Krim grid management office. Elea Carlyle wasn’t just Krim’s new queen, but also its newest and richest board member. “We don’t interfere with the press,” he said. “If you’d like, you can start your own competing newspaper.”
She tapped her finger on the table. “Or maybe I’ll just have the newspaper building firebombed,” she said.
“You could.” Weldon shrugged. “They’ve been fire bombed before. It hasn’t seemed to interfere with their production schedule.”
“I could have the editor killed…”
“He’d just take the opportunity to check his mail, eat some potatoes, drink some coffee, and get a fresh avatar. He’d be back within a couple of hours.”
“Fine. I’ll have him chained up in a dungeon.”
“I hear he’s got a poison tooth,” said Weldon. “If anyone tries to kidnap him, he bites down, and he’s dead. Then he’ll check his mail, eat some potatoes…”
“There’s got to be a way.”
“Seymour Gellhorn has been on the grid for years,” said Weldon. “A lot of people have tried to take him down.”
Elea opened the newspaper. “It says the article was written by someone named The Nightingale. Maybe they’ll be easier to remove. Do you know who they are?”
“Can you look them up in your grid database?”
“That would be a privacy violation,” he said. “The Nightingale hasn’t violated the grid’s terms of service. But, in any case, The Nightingale is probably just a pen name.”
“Aren’t most avatar names pseudonyms? Not mine, of course. I didn’t come here to hide my identity.”
“Yes, but whoever is writing the column probably isn’t using their avatar name, either.”
She tapped the newspaper. “There’s a paragraph here claiming that one of the participants in the Royal Season has recently completed a long term of rehabilitation. For pedophilia. A lie like that could ruin the whole program and puts me in a bad light. I can’t be associated with something like that.”
Elea Carlyle was on Krim to reclaim her public image. In 2114, the the company she owned exploded. Literally exploded, killing several employees and thousands of people who’d been living virtually in the company’s computers. Elea herself had died in the disaster and was now living online. There wasn’t any direct evidence that she bore any responsibility for the disaster, but rumors persisted.
“I’m going to need you to find out who The Nightingale is so that I can take care of them,” she said.
“Again, I can’t do anything officially,” said Weldon. “Maybe you should hire an investigator.”
“That’s an idea,” she said. “I know someone. He can stake out the newspaper, track down who delivers the column. But this Nightgale knows a lot about what’s happening in the Royal Season. They have to be involved somehow. If I hire the man I’m thinking of, I don’t want him anywhere near us. He’s too uncouth. He’s not fit for polite society. He can just hide in the alleys and see who comes to the newspaper building. But I also want someone here, at the balls.”
“You want my help to find you a second investigator?”
“No, I want you to do it,” said Elea. “The Royal Season is spending a lot of money to be on Krim. How many mansions have they rented? How many servants and guards have they hired? The costume budget alone is enough to keep Krim in the black for another year. Not to mention all the money that’s being raised for charity. All that money is eventually going to be spent on Krim.”
“I’ve got commitments…”
“Why don’t you go back to your boss and have a talk with him,” Elea said. “Once you do, tonight’s ball start at 7 p.m. Be here early, and dress in formal attire.”