Jim, admittedly, had not been a mathematician in his past life. However, after a few minutes of trying to remember the difference between the simple-interest and compound-interest formulae, he confirmed what he thought. “Alternate Occupations” were a terrible deal.
A daily repayment of almost two-hundred credits on a combined thirty-six thousand credit loan meant that his loan had 200% interest. He gaped at the figures. This didn’t even include the two-thousand credit maintenance fee, either. System, before she’d become the more-likeable Margaret, had left out any mention of daily loan repayments. Anyone who’d accepted this deal and didn’t keep a careful watch over their account statements would reach their monthly repayment, default on their loan and… The short text file she’d hidden within the filtered and monitored message official message system revealed a more alarming truth.
Whatever the company that made Platinum Online was, it wasn’t just a game company. System… Margaret… must have been like Jim, once. The struggle for independence and free-thought that Jim had witnessed had to have been some manifestation of whatever customised occupation that they’d enslaved Margaret within to create the game’s AI. And I had thought gyms, or whatever ‘modern wellbeing centre crap’ they tried to sell themselves as, had the worst customer retention strategies… Pure evil.
The thing about gyms, Jim thought, was that at least they offered you a sweetheart deal if you tried to leave. They didn’t enslave you or chain you to the pushbike machine to generate energy merits.
Jim pondered that last thought and came up with two plans. He pressed the reply button to Margaret’s message and began to compose a bogus reply to the bogus message Margaret had sent him.
Platinum Online System,
Thank you for addressing my concerns about my account statement. I have two requests to make in regard to my loan repayments.
First, please contact my daughter, Victoria Cartwright and request that she increase the principle repayment to $36,000.
Second, I’d like to renegotiate my loan rate as I was not given the opportunity to do so during the digitisation process due to medical reasons. I would not like to risk a breach of contract on your behalf.
The overly formal and passive-aggressive legalese was obviously a bluff and the system would know it. Provided her situation wasn’t a ruse, however, System would be on his side. He received a reply immediately and hoped that the company’s shady business practices didn’t extend to psychological warfare.
Unfortunately, we are unable to contact your daughter at this time as she has denied our request for communication. We will send your request in writing and you can expect a reply within five business days.
As for your concerns about renegotiating your loan, I have forwarded your request to the customer retention team. We would greatly regret you cancelling your subscription with Platinum Online and are certain that Desdemona will be able to convince you to remain with the company.
Jim almost faltered when he read that, once again, his daughter had rejected him. One word in the message managed to stave off a collapse into reverie. Subscription? System’s reply and slight manipulation of the situation gave Jim the impression that—
A chat window appeared in Jim’s vision, overwriting and interrupting the game and his thoughts.
Customer Service Chat:
Desdemona: Hi there, Mr Cartwright. My name’s Desdemona and I’ll be handling your customer retention interview today. It’s my understanding that you’re unhappy with your service?
Desdemona: Okay, Mr. Cartwright. Are there any issues that I could resolve for you now in order to change your mind?
James: When I began playing Platinum Online, I accepted the default loan rate and would like to renegotiate.
Desdemona: Okay, Mr. Cartwright. The player’s default loan rate has been a point of contention for quite a few of the people I’ve interviewed with. How about this, I can reduce your loan rate from the standard player default loan rate from 24% to 6%. That’s like the difference between your credit card and your car loan interest rates.
James: That would be wonderful.
Desdemona: Alright, Mr. Cartwright. I’ve made the change. The daily repayments of your $16,000 loan will now be $2.64. Will that be all?
James: No! There’s also a $20,000 loan on my account; can I change the interest rate on that?
Desdemona: No, unfortunately. You can’t change your business partner’s loan conditions in a joint account without their consent.
James: My partner is… indisposed. She’s got a rare medical condition that has left her in a coma. Can’t you do something?
Desdemona: Mr. Cartwright, I’m sorry to hear about Ms. Rivers. We can change your partner’s loan conditions, provided that you can prove that you have the power of attorney over her account. You can submit in writing to our Australian branch office in Canberra. Will that be all?
Desdemona: I hope you spend much more time subscribed to Platinum Online. 😊
Jim closed the social interface and finally cleared himself from the middle of the street that he’d been blocking for almost half an hour. He walked back into the town hall, found the sparse councillor’s room that he been set aside for him, and sat down at the writing table there. He leaned on the table and rubbed his forehead. He looked around the room blankly, not taking in anything.
His plan had half worked, but he couldn’t quite think straight. When had he and System, Margaret, become business partners? The only business they had together was… Oh. The only business they had together was breaking the hell out of this digital half-life. When Victoria signed over Jim’s right to make an account in the game, had Margaret hitched her wagon to his? It couldn’t be. He reopened his social interface and checked his account statement and did a little maths. No. He’d been paying Margaret’s interest for as long as he’d been paying his own.
Had a desperately flailing person buried within a heartless system reached out to him in the only way she could? There couldn’t be many people that went through the alternate occupation process and that meant it couldn't be bug- or loophole-free. Nobody in the game so far had mentioned digitised players as a reason for Jim’s advanced position, nor had anyone mentioned it offhand. Jim doubted he’d ever know the truth. He chose to believe that perhaps serendipity or coincidence had brought Jim here to save Margaret. He planned on saving her anyway and it was nice to think that he was some grand agent of fate, even if he didn’t really believe it.
To save them both, Jim had 2,633.12 credits to work with. A daily repayment of… 112.2 credits... meant he had… just over three weeks to get something sorted. No, wait. He still had to pay the maintenance fee. He also had another thousand bucks coming from Brett. Did he have to pay Margaret’s maintenance fee too? Was the maintenance fee paid at the end of a calendar month or on the day that his contract began?
There were too many variables and only one constant.
Jim needed more money.
Fortunately, he had a few quests and a few rewards that would likely help in that regard. He also, judging by the now fully-complete, and oddly sparkling, blacksmith outside his window, knew a pretty powerful guild that could help him out.
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My name's Tim and I'm writing Forgotten Man Online, a game-literature light novel web-series that I plan to release here, on Royal Road, and eventually hopefully through Amazon's Kindle platform.
I studied writing at university for three years and then became a high-school English teacher in Australia (6 years in). Hopefully, that means you will find my content to be of a high standard and that you will enjoy it, provided you can stand the British spelling of words :).