When a chime echoed throughout the empty apartment, James practically bolted to the door. Flinging it open, it was apparent that his visitor was not expecting such a crazed greeting.
"Are you the Rig Installer?"
James asked excitedly as he looked the woman up and down. She was wearing a black and green uniform and one of her brown eyes was obscured by an electronic visor.
"Are you James Sylvester?"
She countered as she looked at him in confusion. Her report had said that she would be doing an install for a VIP by personal request of Quentin Bell. Yet the man in front of her looked like he had walked in off the street. Actually, to be fairer, it looked like he had been kicked in off the street.
"Yes, that's me!"
James offered his wrist so that she could verify his identity. He could see the visor that covered her eye light up momentarily as she ran a check on him.
"Excellent. May I come in, Mr. Sylvester?"
James moved to one side as he gestured towards the kitchen area of the apartment.
"Yes, please, come in. The crates arrived earlier, they look amazing!"
The Rig Installer glanced at the scars on his arm as he pointed into the apartment.
"Lead the way."
She answered as she picked up her toolcase and followed him into the apartment.
"Can I get you a drink, eh, sorry... I didn't catch your name."
James started as he moved to his fridge.
"I literally have one of everything I could find in the stores."
"I'm Liliana, and a coffee would be great if you have it."
The engineer couldn't help but smile as she watched James rush over to the new coffee machine excitedly.
"I'm guessing you've just moved in, Mr. Sylvester?"
She ventured a guess which was rewarded with a laugh from the Wildcard.
"Is it that obvious? Up until a week ago, I was living in the Outskirts."
Liliana couldn't stop herself from gasping, but James didn't react.
He was too busy making his way towards her with a very full cup of coffee.
"You were an E-Classer?"
She asked in genuine amazement as she gratefully accepted the coffee.
"Still am! I have the apartment, and I need to be here for at least half a year before they'll allow me to apply for D-Class."
When James didn't get an answer, he looked at her incredibly confused expression.
"It's a really, really long story."
He finished lamely before moving back towards the fridge to get himself something cold.
Liliana glanced at the crates that were all around the room.
"Well, it's a good thing the installation takes around fourteen hours... isn't it?"
James' eyes widened.
"Fourteen hours?! Like... how can it possibly take that long?"
"You do know what a custom rig is, don't you?"
James nodded as he looked at the crates. Then after looking at the amused expression on Liliana's face, he decided to play along.
"Okay... tell me, what is a custom rig?"
"I'm designing your rig from the ground up. It's going to be built around your body and mind, and will only accept you as its occupant."
Liliana began to explain as she pointed at each of the large crates that were on his floor.
"There are multiple components I could use, each has a different purpose and benefit. Many of the installations I have to do are for A-Classers and S-Classers that want comfort over performance."
The look of disgust on James' face brought a wide smile to Liliana's.
"Exactly! I am pretty sure that you're the type that will favour performance over comfort."
"You seem fairly confident about that."
James teased with a smile.
"Anyone that is willing to inject nerve needles into their arm to get pinpoint accuracy is someone that favours performance."
Liliana said pointedly as she looked at James' arm.
"How much can you actually calibrate these things? Like... will there be much difference between me and Greaves?"
James asked in genuine curiosity, eager to move the topic away from his scars.
"That will completely depend on you, and the answers you give me."
Liliana took a seat on one of the crates and took another sip of her coffee. She pulled the visor from her face and gave James her full attention.
"I'm ready to hear that really, really long story now."
James took a seat and started to explain the whole story to her. Having gone through it with the Paragons and Milly, he was able to get through it without becoming overly emotional. The hardest parts were speaking about using the old slum arcades, as James thought that Liliana would be furious with him since she was in the business of building rigs. She would know the dangers of those old systems more than anyone. To his pleasant surprise, Liliana didn't give him a hard time or even look fazed by the story. She just smiled reassuringly throughout the whole conversation until James finished with his current situation.
Liliana looked at James with a thoughtful expression on her face for a few more moments before shaking her head and placing the visor back on her face.
"That's a really interesting story you got there, thanks for telling me. I always knew the Paragons were good guys."
She turned around and opened up her tool box that sat on the floor. Inside it were all manner of tools and gadgets that James didn't recognise.
"First thing we're going to need to do... is check that mental fatigue rate."
James sat still as Liliana placed a full visor on his face. It was similar to the old rigs that he had used in the past.
"Just follow the prompts of the interface. It's going to be pretty exhausting and mentally taxing because it's going so fast, but... try to bear with it. It's going to tell us what you're able to handle."
Liliana explained as she initiated the sequence before moving back to her toolbox. The next contraption that came out of it was a small drone which started to flit around the room erratically.
After a few moments of flying around, the little drone projected an area between the two large walls that were completely made of glass.
"Optimum location, check. Best bandwidth, check. Which chassis will we go for?"
Liliana mused as she marked the specific areas on the floor of the lounge area. Turning towards where James sat, she was surprised to see that he was still going.
"Scan James Sylvester for body dimensions."
The little drone created a visual projection of James' body as if he was sitting in a rig in the marked location on the floor.
"Hmm, add 20% body mass for him and give an additional 5% height allowance."
The drone complied and the body shape became slightly taller and much broader. This resulted in a satisfied noise from Liliana who was back in her tool box searching for something.
James exclaimed as he took off the headset.
"That wasn't fun at all."
Liliana looked at him in surprise.
"Don't you have a splitting headache?"
James looked at the visor in his hands and paused for a few moments, before shaking his head.
"Nope, no headache... but that test was a nightmare. It was so difficult to keep up with it all."
Liliana ignored whatever she was looking for in her tool box and instead approached James to take the visor from him. She tapped the visor that covered one of her eyes and started to sync the two devices.
Her visible eyebrow popped up in curiosity as she read the results.
"Looks like we'll be going with a unique performance build for your rig."
Liliana sounded pretty excited as she turned back to the drone.
"Use Chessmaster Preset with current measurements."
The image that previously showed a rough frame and a large bodied male in the centre morphed and changed into a sleek looking capsule which James marvelled at.
"Do you prefer laying down, or sitting upright?"
Liliana asked as she started to drag some of the crates across the floor.
James tried to register the question, but it took him a few moments.
Liliana gave him a sympathetic smile.
"Sorry, you should get yourself something sugary to drink. Your brain is going to be fried for a little while after that test. We can go through the questions later."
"I prefer laying down, I think."
James answered as he rubbed his eyes. The fogginess in his head was starting to dissipate.
"Sorry about that, I'm fine now."
He added as he got to his feet and walked over to where the projection was flickering.
"Your recovery rate is monstrous."
Liliana laughed as she took out two pieces of metal.
"This is just for aesthetics, which is your preference? And what is your favourite colour?"
James pointed at the black shard of metal in her hand before glancing at her uniform once more.
"I like Black and Green, just like your outfit. It's a really good combination."
Liliana rolled her eyes at the comment.
"You're literally the second person this week to tell me that. Unfortunately, she took all the green cores... so I'll have to get you to pick a different one, or I can order them in for tomorrow?"
James shook his head and raised his hands to relax the rig installer.
"No no, any colour is fine. You can pick!"
Liliana looked into James' eyes for a moment before nodding her head.
"Blue it is."
With that said, Liliana started to unpack all of the crates in a systematic way. Each component was placed in a specific place and there was no hesitation in any of her movements. Some of the crates remained unopened, and James surmised that they probably held components that wouldn't be used for his setup.
The projection was of a unit that was actually much larger than he was expecting. The slum arcades were essentially filled with glorified metal shells that had a headset and wires. The rigs in DV8, whilst outdated, were larger and had much more comfortable interiors. They didn't have the nerve needles, but instead had sensors.
"Liliana, why do the later models only have sensors instead of needles? You said that the needles give pinpoint accuracy and they have the lowest latency."
James asked as he thought about it.
"The people that can afford the later models don't like discomfort. The latency doesn't particularly matter when you're only playing against environmental AI."
After a few moments of silence, James spoke again.
"Would it be possible to fit this rig with needles?"
Liliana froze at the question before turning to look at James. Her face was a picture of excitement.
"It's VERY possible!"
Turning over her shoulder, she spoke to the drone.
"Change Chessmaster Preset to Chessmaster Custom. Add spinal injector plates."
Liliana paused once more.
"You did say you preferred laying down?"
"Good, that makes this much easier."
Liliana looked back at the unopened crates before a broad smile appeared on her face.
"Ooooh, this is going to be fun!"
James watched as she practically danced across the room to open the untouched crates. Unlike the other crates that had a foam style protection, these units were refrigerated and emitted what looked like steam which Liliana casually waved away. When it finally evaporated, James saw what she was holding. It was a long metal snake-like object. All along its body were pincer like claws that had white hairs embedded at the very tips. All certainty left James in that very moment.
"Actually, I think the sensors are probably the best choice..."
Liliana laughed as she ignored James. She placed it neatly on the ground beside the other components. Looking back at James, she traced her fingernail against one of the hair-like needles.
"These pins here are nothing like the needles you're used to in the slum arcades. They're our most advanced piece of sensory equipment and practically nobody ever wants to try them because they hear the word 'Needles' and think of the old-tech. The pain is actually more like an itch and it won't be anything like what you were injecting in the slum arcades. But... that's not the best part."
The engineer turned the spine brace over to show a series of tubes that connected into it.
"If you use this spinal brace, you'll have the nutrient upgrade pack... which will have you back to full body weight in no time! After it gets you to a healthy point, it'll start working on muscle stimulation. This is literally A-Class MedTech!"
Liliana listed all of the specs excitedly as she pointed to various parts around her. Her enthusiasm was infectious and he couldn't help but smile and take a knee beside her to get a closer look as she explained everything.
Once everything was laid out, Liliana pulled out two ear pieces from her pocket and gave James an apologetic look.
"I need to get into the zone for the assembly part, so how about you go and get some shut eye for a bit while I get to work on this?"
James was going to suggest that he could leave the apartment instead, but his legs began to shake the moment he got to his feet.
"Guess I'm much weaker than I thought."
He apologised before excusing himself and walking towards the bedroom.
"Not for long!"
Liliana called after him before switching on her music and getting to work.