The Royal Season conference room was bigger on the inside than it looked from the outside. Ellison doubted that this was the normal configuration since it would give employees headaches. Only cheap office violated the laws of physics on an ongoing basis. That included most of the low-rent spaces available on Facepage. Speaking of low-rent offices…
Ellison looked around the conference room. Wynefrede Auberden sat on one end of a large conference table, a tray holding drinks and snacks floating discretely in the air behind her. She was unrecognizable out of her Krim body. In real life — well, in what passed for real life these days — she wore a business suit instead of medieval dresses, her hair was still brown and wavy but now short and her face had the eternal, ageless look currently fashionable across the metaverse. She looked exhausted. She’s spent the past few days explaining to the investigators everything she knew about a construction project she was tangentially involved in more than ten years ago.
That wasn’t what she was going to discuss today. Just to make sure, there was a government investigator sitting at her left hand. Ellison recognized Javier Vidoc from his own interrogations six years ago. He hadn’t liked the man then, and the years since had only seemed to make him more bitter and angry. It served him right. Vidoc had years to find out what had really happened in the Civinos disaster and made no progress. It was easier to let Ellison take all the blame for the thousands of deaths, instead of putting in some actual effort.
Wynefrede had her own lawyer to her right. Ellison guessed that she was planning to sue both Krim World and the Royal Season. Maybe him personally as well as well as Crewe Investigations, if this meeting didn’t go well.
Ellison found an empty seat on the opposite side of the table. The investigator glanced up at him, then his eyes moved to an empty area directly above Ellison’s head. He was looking up Ellison’s biography and, judging by the sour look on his face, he didn’t like what he was reading.
Ellison ignored him and looked at his neighbor, instead. Welton Layton was sitting to his left, with a pad of paper and a pen in front of him. This meeting was being fully recorded, but some people like to take notes, anyway, as a mental crutch. The days that Wynefrede had spent with the investigators had given Welton time to sail back to Krim City with the contraband weapons and the body of a dead commando.
“Did you shut down the gate?” Ellison whispered as he sat down.
Welton nodded. “The board complained, but they did it. And we’ll be adding a few checks-and-balances to make sure that private gates aren’t abused in the future.” He shook his head. “The assault rifle and the dead super soldier finally convinced them. A medieval arquebus or two — or fifty — is one thing. Machine guns are something else entirely. And they were really upset about the night vision goggles.”
A woman on the other side of Welton shushed him.
“Right,” he said. “On the advice of counsel, I’m not supposed to be discussing anything related to the Avourel gate.”
A lawyer sitting between Royal Season coordinator Pleasance Pratt and security chief Chinio Lind rapped the table.
“I think we’re all here?” The lawyer looked across the table to his counterparts, the legal team from Krim.
“Wynefrede, before we start the official deposition, I’d like to express my–” Pleasance began. He lawyer put a hand over her wrist and shook his head.
“Cassia. Cassia Stylianoum. Don’t call me Wynefrede.” The former kidnapping victim glared at the Royal Season team. “If anyone ever calls me that again, I’ll sue for additional emotional damages. In fact,”–she turned to her lawyer–“add it to the list. She called me by a name under which I’d been traumatized in order to deliberately inflict additional injury.”
Pleasance paled and shrank back in her seat.
The deposition officially began with Wynefrede’s — Cassia’s — swearing in, then started in with how she first signed up for the Royal Season and came to Krim. Ellison tuned most of it out. His brother, Jerald Crewe, could review the recording later if they did get sued. Right now, the agency seemed to be in the clear. In fact, Ellison was the only person at the table without his own legal team. Jerald didn’t want to spring for it if he didn’t need to, and Ellison couldn’t afford it. He’d used up all his savings at his trial six year ago.
As Cassia talked, Ellison wondered what she’d told the investigators in the days since she’d been rescued. Was there enough to open the case? Was there any evidence to back up Ellison’s side of the story? If he could get his conviction overturned, he might get life back. He might even be able to get compensated for the money he spent on legal fees.
What would life be like if he could go out in public again without the record of his conviction and five-year prison term literally hanging over his head for everyone to see?
Then Cassia got to the part where she escaped, and Ellison started paying attention again, since this was new to him.
“They had plastic zip-ties on our hands and feet,” Cassia said.
Welton hissed under his breath.
“I stole a knife and cut Finnbogi free and he tried to run but they caught him. But he’d cut through part of the zip tie on my ankles and when they carried me through the gate I broke free.”
“This is the hypergate leading from the island of Lamacoln to the Cult of Avourel private welcome area?” one of the Royal Season attorneys asked.
“Yes,” said Cassie. “It was all fire and smoke on the other side. When I got loose, I just started running. They couldn’t just shoot me and kill me because I’d be free. I ran down the hill, between the rocks. There was fire everywhere but it didn’t hurt. I couldn’t see far with all the smoke, but that means that they probably couldn’t see me, either. I heard them yelling behind me, looking for me. The smoke smelled like rotten eggs and scratched my throat.”
Cassie coughed and glanced to her side. The tray of drinks moved within reach. She took a glass of water, sipped from it, and put it down on the table in front of her.
“Then I came to the bottom of the hill and saw a cave up ahead. Just barely visible. And there was a blue glow coming from the inside.”
“Like another hypergate?” asked the Royal Season attorney.
“Exactly,” said Wynefrede. “But then I remembered something Finnbogi told me when we were prisoners together. About a fake exit gate. So instead of running to it, I went to the side and hid behind some rocks. Two commandos showed up almost immediately. One of them said that I must have gone through already and the other said that they didn’t couldn’t go back to the island to find me. Then they left. I waited, but nobody else came. I wandered around for a while. I didn’t want to go back up the hill in case they were waiting for me. Then I finally noticed that I wasn’t getting tired, and that my feet didn’t hurt. Which meant I was back in the real world. And I pulled up my interface and teleported home.”
The deposition wound down. Ellison hadn’t needed to contribute anything, and wondered why he’d been even invited.
Everyone stood up, shook hands, and started making their way to the exit. Nobody was rude enough to teleport out right from the conference room, the way young people sometimes did.
Ellison was headed out of the building when Vidoc caught up to him.
“You’ve been avoiding my calls,” Vidoc said.
“Talk to my lawyer.” Ellison continued to walk towards the exit without slowing down.
“You don’t have a lawyer,” said Vidoc.
Ellison had been forced to use an AI legal assistant, but had turned off all notifications except those that would immediately result in jail time if he ignored them. He turned to look at Vidoc. “Is that why I was allowed to come to this meeting? So you could harass me? Unless you have a warrant…” He started turning away and Vidoc stepped around him, blocking his path.
“We need your help,” the investigator said.
Ellison tried to step around him, and Vidoc spoke quickly.
“We traced the destination of the dark hypergate to a domain authenticated by a company that Elea Carlyle invested in. We know you have a standing job offer to join her team.”
Ellison pushed past him, but the investigator followed him towards the exit.
“This could be the connection we were looking for. If we had someone on the inside, we could make it worth your while…”
“Can you give me five years of my life back? No? Then don’t call me again.”
Wynefrede was safe. Matilda could take care of herself. Ellison didn’t owe anybody anything. Including politeness. He activated his interface and teleported back to Krim, where no government bureaucrat was going to follow.”