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A note from James Northman

Some incredible reactions to the last chapter! We've also hit #1115 in the rankings, which is amazing! Thank you all for making this possible. :) 

James

"Jackal?" 

James asked cautiously, not sure if the artificial intelligence had been activated successfully in his apartment. 

Yes?

An emotionless voice responded quietly from all around him. 

James sighed in relief as he took a seat on one of the nearby crates that Liliana didn't seem to be using. 

"Do you need to ask me anything, like, to calibrate?" 

James asked awkwardly, not sure exactly what he was supposed to do in this situation. A part of him assumed that he needed to teach this young artificial intelligence to become adept at understanding him. 

No. I'm fully calibrated already. 

"Okay, then what do you know about me?" 

Your name is James Sylvester. 

James waited for a few more seconds, but it seemed like Jackal was finished speaking. 

"That's it?" 

Yes. 

James recalled how Quentin spoke to Locke, and knew that the more advanced version of the AI was helpful and friendly. Jackal seemed to be neither of those two things. 

"Do you have any friendly personality modules, or are all of our conversations doomed to be this painful?" 

Time will tell. 

Pausing for a moment, James eventually shook his head and looked back to the screens all around him. He didn't need to be best friends with the AI, he just needed it to provide answers and insights that he wouldn't be able to get himself. 

"Jackal, I would like you to analyse the folders that I received from the Loremasters and summarise the key changes from the current version of Abidden." 

Task complete. How would you like to receive this information? 

"Put it up on the screen that I've titled, Abidden Lore." 

James glanced at the first window pane which he quickly changed the title of. 

Complete. What would you like next?

"Oh, do I sense you actually enjoy having work to do?" 

Perhaps. 

"List out all of the current Heroes in Abidden. Place them on the screen which is titled, Enemies." 

What parameters do you want for each Hero?

James looked at the blank screen for a few moments as he took a sip of his coffee. 

"First put up character class and known in-game abilities." 

Each of the names on the screen flickered before refreshing with his requested information. 

"Next add their in-game avatar picture beside their real picture." 

Pictures appeared beside each of the names faster than James could scan them. 

"Add in-game achievements and statistics." 

What statistics would you like? 

"Quest completion, boss kills, raids, faction reputation... oh! Add in their ascendancy quest progress." 

James smiled widely as each of the Hero profiles in front of him became more and more fleshed out. It would have taken him weeks of research to build out profiles at this level. 

"Fantastic work so far, Jackal." 

Thank you. What's next? Weaknesses? 

James almost sighed in relief. He had thought that Jackal might have just been a basic AI with basic comprehension capabilities, but it looked like it was the real deal. 

"Yes, add in weaknesses! Also, categorise each of the Heroes by competency. Using the statistics, place them in order of best to worst." 

This time the list updated much slower. Individual entries were being inputted and then corrected and replaced with better information. 

There is a lot of conjecture around their actual weaknesses. I will add in reference links to each claim for you to verify independently.

"Jackal, put in a list of known sponsors for each of the Heroes." 

The list returned to the speedy refresh rate, and in the blink of an eye, all of the profiles had a new sponsorship tag. 

"Great work! Can you also pull up any controversies that have happened for each Hero, relating to Abidden or issues between sponsors and Heroes?" 

Researching... complete. May I ask what the purpose of this exercise is, James?

"I want to know how to beat each and every Hero if I encounter them in the game." 

James answered truthfully as he continued to study the information in front of him. 

You're going to be in Abidden? 

The normally emotionless and genderless voice, picked up a hint of both curiosity and femininity. 

"Yes, there is going to be a new expansion released in the next few days. I'll be joining the game when that happens." 

James took another drink of his coffee as he looked to his right. Liliana was completely in the zone and not paying any attention to him or his multiple giant screens. 

The latina was half dancing as she listened to her music and worked on the incredible looking rig. 

Interesting. What would you like to do next?

James started to wonder if he had only imagined the female tone in Jackal. It's responses were back to a metallic monotone. 

"Create a threat profile on each of the Heroes we have listed. Assume that they are facing off a new player with an eSports background." 

I can use your Social Gaming Licence to create a more accurate analysis.

Jackal is requesting access to your Social Gaming Licence Number.

James accepted the request without giving it any thought but became very surprised when the colours on the screen started to change. 

Threat profiles are complete. As a new player with basic capabilities, you would be able to defeat 12.5% of the current roster of Heroes.

Each of the avatars in front of him turned red, with the exception of three. Twenty-one red profiles and three green. 

"Well... that's incredibly disheartening." 

James muttered with a laugh. 

Not when you consider that your Social Gaming Licence hasn't been used in over ten years. My calculations are based on your previous track record.

"Thank you Jackal, that actually makes me feel much better." 

I can create a performance trajectory based on your growth rate, between fifteen years ago and ten years ago.

"What would that achieve?" 

We could apply that growth rate to the last ten years to see how your skills have improved. Hypothetically. 

James was positive now. Jackal was definitely capable of emotions. He decided to test that theory. 

"Nah, it probably wouldn't be useful..." 

Too late, I've applied it. If your performance increased at the same rate as it did in the five years leading up to your last official game, the threat profiles change...

James' smile widened triumphantly. Jackal was just like Locke, but it looked like 'she' was still figuring out how to communicate best with James. 

You would be able to defeat 45.8% of the current roster of Heroes. With a starting character build. 

Eleven green profiles appeared, while thirteen remained red. 

James placed his now empty coffee cup on the floor as he looked at all the information in front of him. 

"Does the Dryksell Pharmaceutical group sponsor any of the Heroes?" 

Dryksell Pharma are both an Investor and Sponsor of Abidden. They hold a 6.2% stake in the company and they are the sole sponsor of the Hero, Percivus. According to reputable media sources, Graham Dryksell pulled his sponsorship of Percivus for business reasons recently.

James blinked for a moment as a new thought entered his mind. 

"Jackal, can you take a new window screen and dedicate it to the investors of Abidden? I want to know the breakdown of ownership, personality traits of each investor and any-" 

Controversies that they have been involved in publicly? Working on it now. 

"Perfect!" 

James sighed with a childlike wonder. The illuminated screens around him were constantly relaying new updates of live feed information relating to his 'Enemies'. The threat profile was especially interesting to him because he knew that he'd be able to check in with Jackal as he made progress in Abidden. It would be a good way for him to stay on top of everything while he was logged out. 

As he walked over to the first window pane, James lifted his hand and started to arrange the different folders that he had received from the Loremasters. Many of the files had been about the political landscapes of the game, the different factions and the various changes that would occur with the introduction of the Nemesis system. He decided that he would start studying it as soon as he had more context around the actual gameplay. Whilst James never enjoyed complacency, he knew that sometimes it was better to learn through actions rather than just studying. 

Glancing over at the threat profiles, James knew that any one of them would be able to kill his character. 12.5% and 45.8% meant nothing in the middle of battle, it was just a guideline. Luck, skill, mindset... There were so many factors that decided the victor in any PvP encounter. 

Investor analysis complete. Would you like me to run hypothetical battle simulations against gameplay footage of the Heroes? It may yield factual weaknesses.

"Please do. Thank you for everything, Jackal." 

You're very welcome. 

James turned back around to look at the rig, but jumped in surprise when he saw Liliana inches away from him. Her face was glued to the screens on the wall and he could still hear the faint ringing of her earpieces playing music. 

Her brown eyes locked onto his face for a moment and she tapped her wrist abruptly. 

"As much as I'd like to know what all of this is, I need you to get your ass back into the rig." 

Liliana gestured wildly at the multiple screens filled with Abidden information. 

"Hey, what happened to the 'Mr. Sylvester.' treatment when I first met you?" 

James complained as he moved towards the rig. 

"Oh, I thought you were some stuffy A-Classer or S-Classer, but I can bully you a bit now that I know you're an E-Classer." 

Liliana explained with a straight face as though it was obvious. 

James just smiled as he entered the rig. Laying down on his back, everything felt different since he was last inside it. There was no cold sensation on his exposed back, and the cushioning around him was incredibly comfortable. 

"Are you sure you didn't accidentally give me the comfort option instead of performance?" 

Liliana snorted in response. 

"Honestly, if I tried giving this rig to one of the Heroes, they'd try to have me fired for causing them grevous bodily harm. Trust me when I tell you, this rig is a beast for performance." 

James nodded as he looked straight upward. He couldn't see any visor that attached to his face which confused him.

"I know what you're thinking. No, there's no visor that attaches to your face. This rig has no exposed areas, and when activated it closes up like an egg." 

"Jackal! Do Eggs close up?" 

No James, Eggs do not close up. They can be cracked in multiple ways, but uncracking them is quite improbable. Did this answer your question?

"Yes Jackal, thank you." 

James beamed at Liliana's unamused expression. 

"That's my new AI, isn't she great?" 

Instead of responding, Liliana just smiled wickedly as she tapped a button on her wrist. 

James had no time to react as his spine was pinched by dozens of hair-like needles, he couldn't feel them individually but he knew they were attaching him to the rig. All around him, lights slowly started to appear as the rig began to power up. 

"Keep your eyes open and follow the instructions... Mr. Sylvester." 

James tried to answer, but the walls of the pod enclosed around him too quickly. For a split second, he was trapped in absolute darkness and there was no sound coming from anywhere. Never in his life had he experienced such an assault on his senses. It was like he was completely trapped within a void that let in no sound or light. 

Suddenly the ceiling above him burst into light and words started to form, no matter where he looked. 

Follow the bird with your eyes. 

James kept his eyes locked on the colourful bird as it chirped and flew around in wide circles. When the bird was on it's fourth lap of the forest, James slipped into unconsciousness. 

"Wakey wakey!" 

Liliana teased as she tapped James' face with her hand. 

His eyes shot open and he looked around in a panic. He was sitting up in the rig, which was now fully open. 

"The bird..."

He started in confusion, but his head was spinning. 

"The bird is to distract you while I calibrate The Chessmaster. I needed to find out what dosage of knockout gas was right. Everyone reacts to it differently." 

James shook his head one more time and looked at Liliana with yet another confused expression on his face. 

"Why can't you just do the pulse knock out like the other rigs?" 

"Jackal, could you tell James the danger of VR Rigs using electrocution to put users to sleep?" 

Liliana shouted while maintaining eye contact with James. 

Repeated use of electromagnetic charges to login to virtual reality environments has been found to cause a range of disabilities, primarily related to cognitive focus and motor functions. Would you like to hear more?

"Any more stupid questions, or can I continue?" 

Liliana asked, but it sounded more like a threat to James who simply nodded. 

"Great. So the spine brace is calibrated for your body, which is perfect. I did most of the tests while you were knocked out, it saved a lot of time." 

She spoke absentmindedly as she started to pack away all of her tools. James noticed that it was dark outside. The screens displaying all his data looked even more impressive against the darkness. 

"I'll be visiting every week or so, initially to make sure that everything is running smoothly. The unopened crates that I've left in the kitchen are filled with nutrient packs and anaesthetic packs. Just slot them in their trays, which you'll find here." 

Liliana gestured to an area on the rig, glanced up to make sure that James was watching, before tugging her hand in and pulling out a compartment. James peered in and saw that it had colour coded cartridges already installed. 

"The rig itself will give you a full tutorial on how to operate it. Since it's the Chessmaster, it's already calibrated to you specifically." 

She looked like she was going to switch to the next topic, so James quickly jumped in. 

"What makes the Chessmaster different to all the other rigs that are out there?" 

Liliana paused for a moment as she looked at James. A wide smile crossed her face and James felt himself mirroring the expression. 

"The Chessmaster is the absolute perfect rig for you, because it's designed to keep up with your mental fatigue and recovery rates. You broke our existing record when I gave you that mental exhaustion test." 

James looked at the rig around him with a newfound respect. He had already fallen in love with the design of the machine, but now that he saw that it was designed for what he was good at, he felt happier about it. 

"The average gamer would be able to stay in-game safely for about ten hours. Back when you were playing, it would have been around eight. This machine is top of the line, and is designed around what you can handle."

He realised he was holding his breath, and exhaled slowly as Liliana continued. 

"I'd estimate you'd be able to stay in-game for twelve hours no problem. Longer once you get that body back into fighting shape." 

James stared dumbly at the engineer for a moment before he burst into excited laughter. 

"Twelve hours?! This is incredible, thank you so much!" 

"At least! But be careful for your first few sessions... and try not to get too lost in those pre-loaded tutorial missions! I'll know if you stayed up all night." 

Liliana warned him. 

"Ha, did you bug the rig to see all my stats?" 

"Pfft, don't be silly. I'm going to see you tomorrow at the sponsorship event."

As if to emphasise her point, Liliana pulled on her jacket and pointed at the crest that was printed across her sleeve. 

Nexus Rigs

James frowned at the name, knowing it looked familiar when it finally dawned on him. Whipping around in the rig, he looked at the closest window pane in surprise. 

Abidden External Investors: Ownership (Descending)

1. Nexus Rigs - 13.2%

2. Royal D1 - 11.8%

3. Otterman Intelligence Systems - 7.1%

4. Dryksell Pharmaceuticals - 6.2%... (See More)

"I want a full report on the Chessmaster's Maiden Voyage!" 

Liliana called out, and James looked back to see that she was completely packed up and walking towards the door. 

"See you tomorrow, I guess!" 

James shouted back before laying down in the rig. When he heard his front door close, he tapped the console inside the Chessmaster. 

Just like before, the walls around him slid up silently, cocooning him in a pitch black void. 

"Let's get started." 

 

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A note from James Northman

I've decided to share my master plan with all of you. We've only two more Chapters to go until the end of Act One. Which, as I'm sure you've all guessed will be James logging into Abidden for the very first time. The next chapters are called: 

Chapter 17: Meet the Sponsors

Chapter 18: Entering Abidden 

I always disliked stories that skipped over the real world elements in VRMMO. I wanted to successfully build a world that people would be interested in alongside the gaming parts. Thank you all so much for your patience with the story so far. I'm genuinely delighted with the progress! 

James


Support "Wildcards: Book One - The Dread Pirate"

About the author

James Northman

Bio: Irishman struggling to get through the #LitRPG Tutorial Island.

Currently writing Wildcards: Book 1 - The Dread Pirate

If you'd like to support me, here's a link to my Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/JamesNorthman

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