Bridge Over the River Krim: Chapter 28

Read all previous installments here.

Krim’s central square had the main teleportation gate into the world at the north end, and was surrounded by Banking Street on the east side, Upping Street on the south, and Knots Hollow Way to the west. City Hall — which also housed the grid administration in-world offices — was across Upping to the south. The King’s Arms was on the corner of Upping and Banking streets.

Both were good places to find new newcomers, but if he was looking for long-time Krim residents pretending to be noobs, they’d probably stop by one other place first.

He glanced briefly into the King’s Arms out of habit. He didn’t have any subpoenas to deliver right now, but if he did, most of his captures were at the King’s Arms. There were three new faces sitting in the window looking over the central square, and he memorized their signatures without even slowing down his pace. Over the past few months, his mind had become a virtual library of identification prints.

Ellison had a form of synesthesia which allowed him to see the patterns of people’s standing quantum waves. The very same ones that made it possible to transfer people’s identities from physical bodies into computer chips — and to bring people long dead back to life. He wasn’t the only one in the world with the skill but, as far as he knew, he was the only one who had it on Krim. He didn’t talk about it much. The ability to be able to discern a user’s real identity was something he kept close to the chest. As far as anyone knew he was just very good at reading people’s body language and micro expressions.

And he was. Back when he was a corporate recruiter, he got training in how to do just that. The training quickly become obsolete as people started enabling personal filters on both their physical bodies and virtual representations. But he had the skills. On Krim, where there were no personal filters, those skills had come in handy when he was looking for signs of deception and anxiety.

He saw those signs all around him now. When people first stepped through the central gate, experienced Krim residents immediately went off to the side and got out of the plaza as quickly as possible.

But newcomers milled around in the center, marveling at the smells and sounds that came through in full force, often for the very first time in their lives. What human would voluntary subject themselves to foul, nausea-inducing smells if they didn’t have to? Ellison could see a few people franctically gesturing in the air in front of them, trying to dial down the stench and the noise and clear away the press of human flesh.

But, on Krim, you couldn’t block annoying people and have them disappear from your sight.

“Norbert Hawking, at your service.” A man in a top hat and single-handedly cornered three noobs against a stall selling grid-themed T-shirts made of homespun linen. “Welcome, abecedarians! It is the year 1500, a time of adventure and excitement, royalty, and passion! Mayhaps I can interest you in some of my wares?”

Ellison moved on before Norbert could open the side of his duster like some creepy flasher, or a back-alley dirty picture seller.

“I’ve got flint lighters, I’ve got nail clippers, I’ve got reading glasses, and I’ve got honest-to-goodness flea repellent,” Norbert proclaimed behind him.

Ellison headed towards the gate itself. Somewhere close to the front, there was usually a stall — and there it was. “Work on Krim. Earn gold. Travel the world!” The sign above the stall was a lie. Noob jobs rarely paid gold. They usually paid coppers. But, for some players, it was a matter of pride that they didn’t buy any in-world currency but earned all their money in-world. Spending real cash to equip your new characters with the best weapons, armor and maps right at the start seemed like cheating to a lot of people.

The “Work on Krim” stall featured a poster of a caravan traveling across a barren, rocky landscape with occasionally clumps of low scraggly grass.

“Where is that?” someone was asking, pointing at the poster.

“That’s the Great Gedran Desert to the north,” the stallkeeper said. “Caravans are leaving weekly, and there’s always demand for labor. If you have experience with horses or bladed weapons, the pay is higher.”

“Are you sure that’s a desert?” The noob peered closer at the picture. “That’s grass, not cactuses. I’d say this was a steppe.”

“Excuse me,” Ellison interrupted. This kind of discussion could go on for hours, and he didn’t have the time. “I’m looking for two people, pretending to be noobs, looking for jobs as delivery men. They would have come through two or three days ago. Maybe a little longer.”

“No,” said the stallkeeper. “But if they did, I would have sent them to the teamster and carter hiring hall, over by the docks.” He passed Ellison a brochure. “It’s a great opportunity. You get to work with animals, learn your way around the city, meet all kinds of interesting people. If you know how to defend yourself and your cargo, the pay is higher. I recommend joining the guild, too. Better wages, health care benefits, and first dips on job opportunities.”

“Health care benefits, really?” Ellison was surprised. Krim was not known for its health care.

“Yes, they have a bloodletter on staff, with real leeches. And amputations are free.”

The noob next to Ellison swallowed audibly.

Ellison glanced at the pamphlet but didn’t take it. He knew the location.

“That looks like a saxaul,” the noob said, pointing at a low, gnarly tree in the picture’s background. “It’s definitely a steppe plant. You should change the name to the Great Gedran Steppe.”

“It’s called a desert on all the official maps.”

“Then they should change the maps.”

Ellison walked away before the noob got murdered. He didn’t want to get blood on his shirt.

The docks were to the west, near where the Krim River flowed into the Bay of Krim. Krim’s economy was based on the fact that almost anything grown or built inside Krim could be exported via the grid’s commercial gate, located right at the water edge. One side of the gated opened up into the water, allowing ships to pass in and out. The other side of the gate opened up on land, and allowed transport wagons to pass.

Merchants would get export licenses for, say, vegetables or fabric, drive a wagon-full out through the gate, then, for a small fee, drive the same wagon back in — over and over again. Without this loophole, Krim’s residents would have long died of starvation since there weren’t enough masochists in the entire metaverse willing to work for any length of time in a farm field or fabric mill or slaughterhouse.

There was still labor required. Someone had to drive the wagons in through the gate, then to their destinations. But it was relatively easy work once you got the hang of it, and some people liked it.

Many of those people liked to hang out at the hiring hall between gigs, drinking and playing cards with fellow teamsters.

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