Ready Player One (Page 61)
“Your first technical support shift begins in seven hours,” the HR computer droned softly in my ear. “You have until then to sleep. Turn left at the intersection in front of you and proceed to your assigned hab-unit, number 42G.”
I continued to do as I was told. I thought I was already getting pretty good at it.
The Hab Block reminded me of a mausoleum. It was a network of vaulted hallways, each lined with coffin-shaped sleeping capsules, row after row of them, stacked to the ceiling, ten high. Each column of hab-units was numbered, and the door of each capsule was lettered, A through J, with unit A at the bottom.
I eventually reached my unit, near the top of column number forty-two. As I approached it, the hatch irised open with a hiss, and a soft blue light winked on inside. I ascended the narrow access ladder mounted between the adjacent rows of capsules, then stepped onto the short platform beneath the hatch to my unit. When I climbed inside the capsule, the platform retracted and the hatch irised shut at my feet.
The inside of my hab-unit was an eggshell white injection-molded plastic coffin, a meter high, a meter wide, and two meters long. The floor of the capsule was covered with a gel-foam mattress pad and pillow. They both smelled like burned rubber, so I assumed they must be new.
In addition to the camera attached to the side of my head, there was a camera mounted above the door of my hab-unit. The company didn’t bother hiding it. They wanted their indents to know they were being watched.
The unit’s only amenity was the entertainment console—a large, flat touchscreen built into the wall. A wireless visor was snapped into a holder beside it. I tapped the touchscreen, activating the unit. My new employee number and position appeared at the top of the display: Lynch, Bryce T.—OASIS TECH REP II—IOI Employee #338645.
A menu appeared below, listing the entertainment programming to which I presently had access. It took only a few seconds to peruse my limited options. I could view only one channel: IOI-N—the company’s twenty-four-hour news network. It provided a nonstop stream of company-related news and propaganda. I also had access to a library of training films and simulations, most of which were geared toward my new position as an OASIS technical support representative.
When I tried to access one of the other entertainment libraries, Vintage Movies, the system informed me that I wouldn’t be granted access to a wider selection of entertainment options until I had received an above-average rating in three consecutive employee performance reviews. Then the system asked me if I wanted more information on the Indentured Employee Entertainment Reward Program. I didn’t.
The only TV show I had access to was a company-produced sitcom called Tommy Queue. The synopsis said it was a “wacky situation comedy chronicling the misadventures of Tommy, a newly indentured OASIS tech rep struggling to achieve his goals of financial independence and on-the-job excellence!”
I selected the first episode of Tommy Queue, then unsnapped the visor and put it on. As I expected, the show was really just a training film with a laugh track. I had absolutely no interest in it. I just wanted to go to sleep. But I knew I was being watched, and that every move I made was being scrutinized and logged. So I stayed awake as long as I could, ignoring one episode of Tommy Queue after another.
Despite my best efforts, my thoughts drifted to Art3mis. Regardless of what I’d been telling myself, I knew she was the real reason I’d gone through with this lunatic plan. What the hell was wrong with me? There was a good chance I might never escape from this place. I felt buried under an avalanche of self-doubt. Had my dual obsessions with the egg and Art3mis finally driven me completely insane? Why would I take such an idiotic risk to win over someone I’d never actually met? Someone who appeared to have no interest in ever talking to me again?
Where was she right now? Did she miss me?
I continued to mentally torture myself like that until I finally drifted off to sleep.
lOI’s Technical Support call center occupied three entire floors of the headquarters’ eastern I-shaped tower. Each of these floors contained a maze of numbered cubicles. Mine was stuck back in a remote corner, far from any windows. My cubicle was completely empty except for an adjustable office chair bolted to the floor. Several of the cubicles around me were unoccupied, awaiting the arrival of other new indents.
I wasn’t permitted to have any decorations in my cubicle, because I hadn’t earned that privilege yet. If I obtained a sufficient number of “perk points” by getting high productivity and customer approval ratings, I could “spend” some of them to purchase the privilege of decorating my cube, perhaps with a potted plant or an inspirational poster of a kitten hanging from a clothesline.
When I arrived in my cubicle, I grabbed my company-issued visor and gloves from the rack on the bare cube wall and put them on. Then I collapsed into my chair. My work computer was built into the chair’s circular base, and it activated itself automatically when I sat down. My employee ID was verified and I was automatically logged into my work account on the IOI intranet. I wasn’t allowed to have any outbound access to the OASIS. All I could really do was read work-related e-mails, view support documentation and procedural manuals, and check my call time statistics. That was it. And every move I made on the intranet was closely monitored, controlled, and logged.
I put myself in the call queue and began my twelve-hour shift. I’d been an indent for only eight days now, but it already felt like I’d been imprisoned here for years.
The first caller’s avatar appeared in front of me in my support chat room. His name and stats also appeared, floating in the air above him. He had the astoundingly clever name of “HotCock007.”
I could see that it was going to be another fabulous day.
HotCock007 was a hulking bald barbarian with studded black leather armor and lots of demon tattoos covering his arms and face. He was holding a gigantic b*****d sword nearly twice as long as his avatar’s body.
“Good morning, Mr. HotCock007,” I droned. “Thank you for calling technical support. I’m tech rep number 338645. How may I help you this evening?” The customer courtesy software filtered my voice, altering its tone and inflection to ensure that I always sounded cheerful and upbeat.
“Uh, yeah …” HotCock007 began. “I just bought this bad-a*s sword, and now I can’t even use it! I can’t even attack nothing with it. What the hell is wrong with this piece of s**t? Is it broke?”
“Sir, the only problem is that you’re a complete f**king moron,” I said.
I heard a familiar warning buzzer and a message flashed on my display:
COURTESY VIOLATION—FLAGS: F*****G, MORON
LAST RESPONSE MUTED—VIOLATION LOGGED
IOI’s patented customer courtesy software had detected the inappropriate nature of my response and muted it, so the customer didn’t hear what I’d said. The software also logged my “courtesy violation” and forwarded it to Trevor, my section supervisor, so that he could bring it up during my next biweekly performance review.
“Sir, did you purchase this sword in an online auction?”
“Yeah,” HotCock007 replied. “Paid out the a*s for it too.”
“Just a moment, sir, while I examine the item.” I already knew what his problem was, but I needed to make sure before telling him or I’d get hit with a fine.
I tapped the sword with my index finger, selecting it. A small window opened and displayed the item’s properties. The answer was right there, on the first line. This particular magic sword could only be used by an avatar who was tenth level or higher. Mr. HotCock007 was only seventh level. I quickly explained this to him.
“What?! That ain’t fair! The guy who sold it to me didn’t say nothing about that!”
“Sir, it’s always advisable to make sure your avatar can actually use an item before you purchase it.”
“Goddammit!” he shouted. “Well, what am I supposed to do with it now?”
“You could shove it up your a*s and pretend you’re a corn dog.”
COURTESY VIOLATION—RESPONSE MUTED—VIOLATION LOGGED.
I tried again. “Sir, you might want to keep the item stored in your inventory until your avatar has attained tenth level. Or you may wish to put the item back up for auction yourself and use the proceeds to purchase a similar weapon. One with a power level commensurate to that of your avatar.”
“Huh?” HotCock007 responded. “Whaddya mean?”
“Save it or sell it.”
“Can I help you with anything else today, sir?”
“No, I don’t guess—”
“Great. Thank you for calling technical support. Have an outstanding day.”
I tapped the disconnect icon on my display, and HotCock007 vanished. Call Time: 2:07. As the next customer’s avatar appeared—a red-skinned, large-breasted alien female named Vartaxxx—the customer satisfaction rating that HotCock007 had just given me appeared on my display. It was a 6, out of a possible score of 10. The system then helpfully reminded me that I needed to keep my average above 8.5 if I wanted to get a raise after my next review.
Doing tech support here was nothing like working from home. Here, I couldn’t watch movies, play games, or listen to music while I answered the endless stream of inane calls. The only distraction was staring at the clock. (Or the IOI stock ticker, which was always at the top of every indent’s display. You couldn’t get rid of it.)