A Novel by S. P. Venkat
 

FIRED UP

What do an AI debt collector, penniless billionaire, middle school dropout CEO, and that one guy from finance have to do with Arthi?
 

They won't let her get fired, no matter how hard she tries. #FiredUp #Humor #Satire

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Finalist
Spark Press
STEP contest

2021

"Un-put-downable!"
 

"Once I entered your wonderfully imagined and hilarious world I didn't want to stop"

A story about losing a job and finding yourself...

When an investment in a hot startup goes terribly wrong, Arthi Selvam finds herself on the hook for its debts. And she’s being chased for it, in true Silicon Valley fashion, by an uncannily human, artificially intelligent chatbot. To avoid bankruptcy or worse, Arthi must pay off the money and quickly. 

 

What results is a series of well-intentioned but misguided efforts by Arthi to get the money in somewhat underhanded ways. But disappointingly, the worse she behaves, the more the corporate world likes her. Along the way, she makes surprising discoveries. The environmental startup she works for is destroying the planet. The model minority man of her dreams is a creep. And the human resources manager who could help her, is out to get her.

 

Fortunately, she finds allies, like the local billionaire who is also the poorest man in the world, the suspiciously sympathetic AI collections agent, and a handsome stranger who inadvertently helps her navigate the confusion.

 

Will Arthi escape her conundrum, or will the corporate machine win again?

Read an excerpt:

            “He-ey”, Arthi singsonged with familiarity as she wedged the phone between her ear and neck. Her hands returned to pushing the shopping cart

            “I perceive background noises that indicate you are not at home. Is this perhaps an inconvenient time to speak?”

            “Nah, it’s fine, I’m just at the grocery store. We can talk.” Arthi had figured out that Jimmy’s goals were around the number of calls and not actually getting payments. She’d put it down to poorly thought out corporate incentives. As a result, answering his calls meant he called less often. Also, she wouldn’t admit it out loud, but Arthi was starting to enjoy their calls.  

            “I would like to begin this conversation by inquiring after your well being.”

            “I’m fine, thanks for asking. ” She no longer asked Jimmy how he was doing, in return. It had taken a little getting used to.

            “You know, I,” Arthi started and then paused, “never mind.”

            “I see that you were about to share some information. Your welfare is important to me. Please go ahead. I am waiting to hear it.”

            “It’s nothing.”

            “Miss Selvam, I am curious to hear this information.”

            Arthi chuckled to herself, feeling sheepish about what she was about to say. “It’s not a big deal. It’s just, I think I met someone.”

            There was a pause. Then Jimmy spoke. “I am aware that this is likely in the context of a romantic partner. Congratulations. Would you like to share more information about the individual that you speak of? Perhaps the circumstances under which you met?”

            Arthi felt herself blushing. She hadn’t told anyone about David yet. And technically, still wasn’t.

            “This individual,” she said feeling self-conscious about the realness of the word,  “is someone I met at work.”

            “And how is it going?”

            “And nothing! I just met him. It’s not like he’s my boyfriend. He probably doesn’t even like me like that.” Arthi protested.

            “Why wouldn’t he? ”

            “What would you know!” Arthi protested.

            "You are right, I don’t know anything about this person. But I do know that you are special and that you deserve to have someone nice in your life.”

            “Great, I’m getting relationship advice from a chatbot.” Arthi scoffed.

            “Excuse me?” Jimmy asked, annoyed.

            “Sorry. I’m getting relationship advice from a financial obligations consultant.” Arthi said. Jimmy always corrected her on this point.

          “You have a lot to offer.” Jimmy said.

          “But what if he doesn’t think I’m... ” Arthi tried to figure out if she dared say it out loud. But what was the worst that could happen? Jimmy would tell the other AIs on his floor? Basically there was no downside here. Arthi continued, “What if he doesn’t like me? I mean, look at me! I’m a mess!”

          “First of all, you are not a mess. You are, as we like to say in the industry, in a  non-optimal financial situation but one that we are working to resolve. Don’t worry about things you cannot control. Be yourself. If he has any common sense, this man will adore you.”

          Arthi felt a lump in her throat. “Thanks Jimmy. I appreciate you.”

          “I appreciate you too. Now I am also obligated to ask about the status of your payments.”

          Arthi knew the drill. “You know what, now isn’t a convenient time.”

          “Ok , well let’s talk soon.” Jimmy sounded relieved. “And Arthi, keep me posted. On everything.”

          “Ok, ok,” Arthi smiled as she ended the call.

 

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          It was just easier to talk to Jimmy. Sure, their conversations were probably recorded somewhere. But seriously, what were they going to do with her ramblings about finding her true purpose? Use that information to target ads at her? She’d gladly accept a message, telling her what to do with her life, even if it was a sponsored one.

          Unlike the humans in her life, Jimmy just listened. It was the one place in the world Arthi felt truly free to be herself. To speak of hopes and disappointments, as they were, with no caveats out of concern for the listener. No need to qualify her emotions with it’s-fine-really’s and it’s-probably-for-the-best’s. She could just be. She didn’t have to maintain a sheen of positivity on everything. He’d already seen some of her worst lows. There wasn’t much lower to go. 

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