“Ride back with me,” Benedicta told Wynefrede and Margarett once they were back outside the hospital. “We can gossip about the boys.” She angled her chin slightly in the direction of a couple of other Royal Season participants, dressed in the best Elizabethan finery. “And you can help me pick out a dress for tonight. As a famous actress, I’ve got an image to maintain.”
The three women were able to convince the guards to let them ride together. Benedicta’s guard rode up top, with the driver, and Wynefrede and Margarett’s drivers rode in the coach behind them, ready to jump out and help if they were attacked.
Benedicta’s coach was barely big enough to fit all three of them, particularly considering the size of their dresses. Each of them required help to get in. Wynefrede climbed in first.
“You’ve got a copy of the newspaper, too,” she said, picking up the AviNewz issue with the latest Nightingale gossip. “How do you think the gossip will affect our chances?”
“Our chances of finding someone, you mean?” said Margarett, squeezing into the seat across from her.
“Well, I think my chances have gone way up,” said Benedicta. “I’m sure everyone wants to find out which actress I am.”
“Your face does look a little familiar,” said Margarett. “I bet you were in something more than those baby soap commercials.”
Benedicta smiled mysteriously and settled in next to Wynefrede.
“I hope the rumors of a financial scandal don’t hurt me too much,” said Margarett.
“Pssh.” Benedicta waved her hand. “People are either going to be intrigued by the mystery or assume it was just something blown out of proportion like a hotel room charge you forgot to pay. But Winnie…”
“What?” said Wynefrede.
“You need to be more careful.”
“Fine, fine, I’ll stop flirting with all the guards.”
“That, and the hanging out with lepers. That’s a little off-putting.”
Margarett nodded. “I was little put off.” She glanced down at Wynefrede’s hands. “I mean, it is contagious.”
“It’s not that contagious,” said Wynefrede. “And it was probably just psoriasis, anyway. It’s hard to find the really good diseases.”
“You sound disappointed,” said Margarett.
“Well, sure, who wouldn’t be? We’re in the middle ages…”
“Simulated middle ages,” said Benedicta.
“…and I haven’t seen any signs at all of the bubonic plague.” Wynefrede shook her head. “And the worst thing is, because of all the guards, I haven’t been able to sneak away yet to some sordid little pub and see how the locals really live.”
“I think they’re worried that we might get attacked,” said Margarett. “I mean, the Royal Season is spending a lot of money on Krim. They don’t want any of us to get hurt.”
“It’s a virtual world,” said Wynefrede. “How hurt can we get? Worst case, we die and come back with a new avatar.”
“Didn’t you read the warnings?” said Margarett. “Krim is a basic bio grid. Fully realistic simulation.”
“I was wondering why everything itched so much,” said Benedicta.
“I’m sure they just said that to raise the excitement level,” said Wynefrede. “Get the old adrenalin flowing. Make us feel like we’re risking our lives by coming here, so we’ll be more likely to fall in love with some random computer-selected schmoe.”
“That thing around your leg looked like it hurt,” said Margarett.
“It wasn’t that bad,” said Wynefrede. “I’m sure at some level, the pain would have gone away. I mean, they can’t possibly have historically accurate pain levels here. That would be crazy. Who’d want to live on a world like that?”
Margarett reached across and pinched her on the arm.
“Ouch.” Wynefrede rubbed at where Margarett pinched her. “Let’s change the subject. What did you think of the men today?”
“Overdressed, obviously,” said Benedicta. “But none of us really have a choice about costumes.”
“I was surprised by how attractive they all were,” said Margarett. “I mean, they made me use my default shape for my avatar. I guess they don’t want any surprises. What you see is what you’ll get most of the time if you do wind up in a relationship.”
“That’s probably where the computer algorithm did the most work,” said Benedicta. “Finding a group of people that would be attractive to each other.”
“In that case, they didn’t do too bad a job,” said Margarett. “I mean, they all looked cute. Actually, they reminded me of my exes…”
“That’s probably how they picked us,” said Benedicta. “Proprietary algorithm my ass.”
“I’m actually kind of excited about the ball tonight,” said Margarett. “Our first official introduction to the queen. I heard she’s super rich in real life.” She pulled back the curtain over the window. “We’re getting close.”
The Royal Season had rented a group of houses on Grosvenor Circle for its participants to live in and hired an army of servants to take care of them, emptying out the medieval studies and theater arts departments at several colleges and universities.
When the coach pulled up in front of Benedicta’s house, Wynefrede said she needed to talk to her guard for a minute. “I’ll catch up with you,” she told the other two women, and waited until they headed off to the house. Then she called a guard over to the coach.
The guard leaned in through the open door. “Do you need help getting out?” he asked.
“Where were we before my skirt got caught in my thigh holster?” she said.
The guard looked at her, confused. “Do you mean, before we went to the leper hospital? Do you want to know where we had breakfast?”
“No, after that.” She smiled and reached for his bicep. “You know, you were going to show me something sexy.”
“You’ve got me confused with someone else,” said the guard. “My name’s Diablo. Maybe you’re thinking of one of the other guards.”
She squinted at him. “You’re right, you’re a different guy.” She squeezed his bicep. “But built just as tough. You know what? Get in here.” She grabbed the front of his vest and pulled him into the coach. “I’ve got some wild oats to sow if I’m going to be settling down soon..”