The board members shifted under Julia’s frosty stare until Xavier coughed.
“Thank you, I think they understand.” Xavier patted his aunt’s arm. Looking around the room, he continued, “I have the utmost trust that you will all keep these affairs amongst ourselves. We have worked well together for years, and, though we are moving into a new situation, I’m sure we will continue to work well together.”
Somehow hearing Xavier’s calm, measured tone seemed to scare them even more than Julia’s harsh words, and the board members rushed to assure Xavier that they would comply with the non-disclosure agreement. Due to his age, they were bound to sign at his request, and they all remembered what had happened a number of years back when a former board member had let some things regarding Xavier’s health slip to the media. Suffice it to say, he had immediately retired and vanished into the night.
Positions on Atlas’ board were fiercely contested, and no one was willing to forfeit their coveted position. After all, as the largest and most advanced energy company in the world, Atlas had its hands in countless different industries. From technology to manufacturing, from military development to consumer goods, Atlas powered the world.
This gave those on the board immense personal power, but the fear of losing that power bound them to Xavier and Julia’s side. As the majority shareholder by an overwhelming amount, Xavier’s position was very stable, and his savvy aunt had taught him how to leverage that stability.
After a round or two of questions about the specifics of how the next few months would be handled and an overview of the company’s overall plan for the next two years, the meeting broke up. Letting out a sigh of relief after seeing everyone sign the documents, Julia and Xavier headed up to her office on the top floor. Despite owning most of the company, Xavier refused to have an office of his own, instead using his aunt’s when he was at the company.
“Man, I get so nervous when I have to go to board meetings,” sighed Xavier.
“You did well, hun. Besides, they were more afraid of you than you were of them,” said Julia with a laugh. “Your business face is pretty intimidating.”
“What do you mean, my business face? This is my regular face,” said Xavier, rolling his eyes.
“Yeah, that too,” Julia teased, giving him a kiss on the forehead. Despite the fact that Xavier was seated, she still had to stand on her tiptoes.
“Is this going to mean more work for you?”
“A little bit,” Julia smiled, “but I can handle it. Plus, I am only holding on until you turn 18. Once you are an adult, you will have to take over, which means I’ll be free.”
“Then you’ll finally have time to go on dates with one of the hundred guys who called you yesterday,” countered Xavier with a straight face, earning himself a scowl.
“Forget it. I am too busy making my guild the number one guild in the world.”
“Oh yeah? How close are you?”
“We are doing pretty well.” Julia sighed. “There are a lot of good players in Nova Terra and, unfortunately, they play together. We rank in the top ten, though the rankings tend to fluctuate a good bit. Considering the restrictions on our guild, I am quite proud of what we have achieved.”
“What sort of restrictions?”
“Well, we only accept women into the guild, and we are a pure mercenary corps, which means we do not take on anything that isn’t a mercenary job.” Seeing her nephew’s confused look, Julia smiled. “There are many things that a guild can do in Nova Terra. We handle requests from other players and NPCs. Other guilds might trade in luxury goods or sell production items in a store.
“Some even hunt for rare creatures or explore the game. With how large Nova Terra is, people haven’t even scratched the surface of the game. According to the rumors floating around, there is an entire storyline that we have not activated yet. But that is a rumor at this point. With all the different things that we could choose to do in Nova Terra, we have decided to focus on mercenary jobs.
“While we might take on a job to guard a merchant caravan or a bunch of miners, we won’t run our own caravan or do the digging for ore ourselves. We do have a production branch, but we use everything they produce ourselves. Because we restrict ourselves to a specific kind of work, it is a bit harder for us to expand than guilds with a diversified portfolio.”
“That makes sense, I guess. All of those restrictions are self-imposed, right? What made you decide to play that way?”
“That is an old story,” Julia paused to tuck a stray hair behind her ear. “About thirty years ago, I was in another guild, but the leader was a total jerk, so I quit. When I quit, a bunch of the other ladies quit, as well. We wanted to show him that we could make a guild that was even better than his.”
“Thirty years ago? That would have made you, what? Four years old?”
“No, thirty years ago in the game. This was four years ago in real life.”
“Right. Time dilation. So, what happened to the old guild?”
“They ended up disbanding about three years ago, after we crushed them in a tournament. When we left, we took a good chunk of their core players and the three best player versus player casters in the game. Player versus player combat is a huge part of the game, so losing us crippled their ability to compete with the top tier guilds. Most guilds solve their problems through duels or team fights, so after we left, they suffered. All the other guilds started to pick on them. I mean, we did too, but we actually had a reason.
“After they collapsed, we continued to grow as we found other players like us. I don’t think there was ever an official conversation about it, the rules formed naturally based on what we are all interested in. I mean, there are only sixty of us. So it isn’t like we are one of the big guilds. Sixty players is a nice size because we can split into squads of eleven. Ten mercenaries and one officer. We have five total squads with five players in our production division. The five officers are our guild officers, as well. Overall we have a neat little family.”
“It sounds like it.” Xavier could tell how proud his aunt was by the huge smile on her face as she talked about her guild.
The intercom buzzed, and Julia’s secretary informed them that the lawyers had arrived to handle the final paperwork for the medical treatment. It did not take long for the documents to get filed with Atlas’ lawyers, and after finalizing the documents for his immersion, there was nothing left for Xavier but to wait. Waiting suited Xavier fine - after all, he felt like had been waiting for his whole life. He would leave the business stuff to his aunt while he got ready for adventure.
The last two days passed, the time of immersion arrived, and his tearful aunt brought him to the hospital. The whole ride over she fretted and tried to convince him to immediately contact her when he got into the game. With a high mastery character and a fully formed guild, she could help him get used to the game in the shortest time possible - an offer that Xavier immediately rejected, of course.
“I want to play by myself at first. You know, take my time and explore. I have 14 years, for goodness sake. At the very least, I want a year on my own. Plus, your guild doesn’t allow men, so I can’t join anyway.”
“Believe me, Xavier, the game isn’t easy. Especially in the beginning. We have tons of experienced players who can teach you the ropes. Plus, the girls have always wanted to meet you! I am positive that they would make an exception for you, if you wanted to join. Like I said, it is not an official rule or anything like that. It just ended up that way.”
“And I’m sure all the ladies in your guild are very nice, but I would like to spend some time on my own,” Xavier said, suppressing a shudder. Thinking about being surrounded by innumerable women like his aunt made his skin crawl. He loved her dearly, but one overprotective, clingy aunt was more than enough.
Unable to move him from this position no matter how much she threatened or cajoled him, Julia finally huffed and let it be, but only after extracting a promise that he would at least call her within the first year. A year in the game was only a bit more than a month and a half in real time anyway. The game had a video chat feature that would allow them to connect easily, and Julia went over how to use it with Xavier three times to make sure he understood.
A few hours later, Xavier had been prepared by the staff and was about to enter his custom-built pod. Bending down was awkward with his braces but Xavier bore with the discomfort, so that his aunt could give him a hug, Xavier consoled her in his slow, deep voice. “Don’t worry, Aunt Julia, I can still communicate with you and the doctors while in Nova, so I will be sure to let them know if anything is a problem. Think of this like boarding school. Plus, I will see you soon in game.”
Straightening back up, Xavier stepped over to the massive pod and watched his aunt leave the room. Looking around for his last view of the real world for the next two years, he shed his hospital gown, proving to the curious nurses that he was indeed proportional all over, and lay down in the pod, which began to fill up with a nanite-infused gel from the large nanite colony on the wall.
Twice the size of a traditional full immersion pod, the device that had been customized for Xavier was quite impressive. Housing better processing power, multiple power system failsafes, a state of the art monitoring suite and every other feature one could imagine apart from a mini-bar, the pod had cost a pretty penny.
The researchers who had proposed the method of treatment had proposed something much less expensive, but Julia was not about to let her nephew use a regular full immersion pod and had ordered it rebuilt from the ground up. Xavier had wanted to pay for it himself, but Julia, ever business minded, had worked out a special deal with Horizon to provide special state-of-the-art backup batteries that Atlas had developed for their pods in exchange for this custom built pod.
Almost instantly the strong anesthetic put him under, and he fell into a deep sleep. Outside the pod, the doctor was glaring at the curious nurses while keeping one eye on the controls for the pod. It had taken almost three years of experimentation to come up with a mixture of anesthetic that was strong enough to put Xavier out without shutting his organs down, so the doctor paid special attention to the pod’s vital sign indicators to make sure there were no problems.
After Xavier was asleep, the hospital staff got busy attaching various tubes, sensors, and stimulators to his massive pod. Not only would the pod ensure that Xavier would get the proper amounts of nutrients, but they would also cycle him through the nanite treatment, flushing out old nanites and introducing new ones in. From here all the parties involved, including Julia, could monitor his situation to make sure that everything was going well.
Once they were sure that everything was stable and that the game had loaded, the doctor moved everyone out of the room except for the monitoring nurses. At Julia’s insistence, there would be two nurses in the room at all times to monitor Xavier and make sure nothing dangerous was happening.
“Good luck, young man,” the doctor whispered as he headed off to settle his next patient.
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Bio: My name is Seth Ring and I am a writer. I create worlds and tell the stories of those who inhabit them. I love exploring these new worlds with other people. I post a chapter every Friday around 12 pm EST. To get advanced access to chapters you can support me on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/SethRing.