Bridge Over the River Krim: Chapter 17

Read all previous installments here.

Ellison popped his head into his brother’s office. “Don’t mind me. I’m just here to do some background research and eat some fries.”

The back of Jerald’s office was one large window that used to open up on a mountain vista. Today, the office overlooked a dramatic jungle waterfall. Ellison has a second of disorientation. The front door behind him was at street level. He walked over the window and looked down. They must be at least a hundred feet up in the air.

Non-Euclidean topologies were a matter of course in most places in the metaverse. Basic physics worlds like Krim were exceptions. He’d clearly been spending too much time there if he was surprised that Jerald’s offices were larger on the inside than the outside, or if every window opened up to a completely different environment.

“I’ve got a surprise for you,” Jerald said, getting up from his chair as the screens around him flickered out of existence. “You did a great job with Simond, so I upgraded the place.”

Simond was an old client who, apparently, had been very happy with Ellison’s work. The last he’d heard, Simond was still trying to sail around Krim. Looking for potatoes, in fact. Ellison hoped he found them. He bit into a waffle fry and followed his brother out to the reception area.

The dragon had settled down and was reading a novel, occasionally glancing up at Ellison with a reptilian eye. Ellison moved so that Jerald’s body would be between him and the flames.

“Are you scared of the dragon?” Jerald asked. “You’re starting to act like one of those radical Humanists who never set foot online.”

Ellison shook his head. “I’ve been on Krim too long,” he said. “I’ve forgotten what real life is like. Why do you have a dragon, anyway?”

“Keeps away the spam bots.” Jerald led the way down the hallway that led to the conference room, kitchenette, and a couple of smaller offices for part-time researchers.

There was a new door there now, with Ellison’s name on it. Jerald nodded at it. “All yours.”

Ellison transferred his waffle fries to his other hand and opened the door. A fraction of a second later, lights automatically switched on, then, immediately afterwards, a cacophony of clashing alert bells accompanied a sudden explosion of pop up messages that filled the air in front of him. Ellison jumped back into the hallway to get away from the pulsating neon letters.

“Sorry about that,” said Jerald. “You might have to disable some of the notifications.” He glanced into the room. “You’re going to have to start dealing with your messages at some point. You know, there are virtual assistants that can handle most of them for you.”

“I know.” Ellison waved his hand and some of the messages disappeared. “I just don’t want to think about it right now. I’ll deal with it later.” He stepped all the way into the room and gestured at the walls until all the messages were gone. He tried to avoid reading them, but couldn’t help noticing that one of the subject lines mentioned taxes. Well, if it was anything urgent, they’d send someone to Krim to let him know.

He looked around the room. Like Jerald’s office, the back wall was all window that looked out onto a generic field of flowers.

“You can change the view to whatever you’d like,” said Jerald. “And the furniture, of course. This is just what the default configuration came with.”

The furniture was infinitely nicer than what he had at the Barley Mow. The room was bigger, too. He sat down on the couch, which floated in the air a few inches above the floor. It dipped just a little bit as he put his weight on it then bounced back into place. A small side table floated over immediately so that Ellison could put his waffle fries down.

“Coffee?” Ellison asked.

“I’ve got a few roasts in the break room,” said Jerald. “And, of course, there’s always generic instant.”

“Instant is fine,” said Ellison.

Jerald waved his hand, activating a menu that was visible onto to him. “You should have access to all the controls. There’s also a virtual assistant…”

“That’s okay, I’m good.” Ellison poked at the air and a mug of coffee appeared on the side table next to him. He blew at the coffee, took a sip, then leaned back.

“Well, I’ll leave you to… whatever…”

“No, hold on,” said Ellison.

Jerald paused in the doorway.

“I haven’t told you why I’m here. Do you know the Royal Season? They should have gotten a contract to you already.”

“Yes, a while ago. Why?”

“So they hired me to investigate some in-world leaks. Someone’s been spilling gossip about the participants to a columnist for AviNewz.”

“They hired you on Krim?”

“Yes. They said they already had a contract in place with you.”

“They do. When was this?”

“A couple of days ago. Anyway, I’m hitting a dead end, and thought I’d do some investigating on the other end.”

“Investigating what?”

“Who would want to leak sensitive information to the media,” said Ellison. “I’m thinking of running some background checks.”

“I’ve already run the background checks,” said Jerald.

“That fast?”

“I ran them months ago,” said Jerald. “But I don’t know anything about leaks.”

“The leaks only started a few days ago,” said Ellison. “What did they hire you for?”

“Like I said, background checks. You look confused. Why?”

“Who did you run the background checks on?”

“The candidates, of course. The Royal Season want to be sure that anyone they invited to participate had the right background. Money, influence, that kind of thing. And a minimum of scandals. Recent scandals, at least.”

Ellison swore.

“What?”

“I was hoping to find a disgruntled employee who had access to all the participants’ information,” said Ellison. “Maybe someone who hates the Royal Season, or who hates Elea Carlyle, because she’s now the public face of the Royal Season on Krim.

“You hate Elea Carlyle.”

“Exactly.”

“I’ll have to notify the client of the conflict of interest,” Jerald said. “At least, when they hired me, Elea Carlyle wasn’t associated with them yet. So there was no conflict of interest at that point. Now there is. Elea Carlyle is the reason you were in prison for five years. If that’s not a potential conflict, I don’t know what is. They’ll have to be told.”

“And I told them,” said Ellison. “I told Pleasance Pratt when she hired me that Elea Carlyle and I were involved in a legal dispute. She said that Elea was the one who recommended me and that anyway I was the only investigator on Krim.”

“I’ll put it in writing,” said Jerald. “Have them sign a waiver of liability. I’ll check with my lawyers, too, but it will probably be fine. They’ve been my customers for years. The thing with Elea Carlyle is brand new.”

“Are you going to kick me off the case?”

“No,” said Jerald. “They want you to do the investigations in-world. So go back to Krim and find the leak. I’ll do the background checks and let you know if anyone sets of any warning bells.”

“And find out who had access to the background reports. Some of the information that was leaked doesn’t sound like stuff people would casually chat about.”

“I originally sent the reports to the Royal Season electronically. I check who got them. I also had a set printed and sent to them in-world, on Krim. I’ll follow up on that, as well. I hope we don’t end up liable for the leaks. I’m already paying too much for business liability insurance as is.” He glared at Ellison. “Now shoo. Get out of here. Go tail some people or whatever you do down there.”

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