6 Sucks to Suck, Nutri-Peak
I don't remain idle during the six weeks leading up to New Year's.
Using money I'd originally set aside for a V-Haven and game subscription, I splurge on A-grade nutrient solution. When the Nutri-Peak sales lady explains how the bulk orders work and tells me the cost, I freeze, thumb hovering over the fingerprint scanner used for secure payments.
Worried she's about to lose a major sale, the lady starts talking faster, trying to sell me on how great a deal it is. I can't help the half-hysterical laugh that bubbles up, and her face tightens in even greater worry. She must get paid commission.
She looks around to make sure her boss isn't nearby and leans forward to whisper conspiratorially, "If you commit right now, I can throw in a box of De-Tox Tea and a case of Muscle Mead."
I manage to get myself under control and whisper back, "Five cases, and I'll take the 6-month plan."
"Done!" she agrees, quickly updating the order.
I press my thumb to the scanner, and just like that, I'm 37,050 credits poorer. The saleswoman grins like she's pulled off the greatest scam of her career.
I barely make it outside before my own grin breaks out.
I cannot believe how much I just screwed over Nutri-Peak.
37k may seem like a lot, but it's nothing for six months of uninterrupted game time, especially at my neuro-intensity level. Nutri-Peak is underestimating Viren's Refuge. Instead of charging per bottle, they're selling A-grade bulk orders in 3-month, 6-month, and 1-year supplies. To determine pricing for the 6-month, they used the baseline: one 1500 CR bottle equals 40 hours game time equals one week of game time. Then they simply multiplied by 26 weeks and slapped on a 5% discount to make it more appealing.
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V-Havens store four bottles of solution at a time, so as soon as the fourth bottle is accessed, an alert is sent, and the next shipment is delivered same-day. Nutri-Peak must think most players won't come close to 40 hours a week after the initial fervor dies down, especially since the server's only open during the middle of the day in the US. And since the 40-hour benchmark is actually for the lower C/D-grade solutions, they're expecting closer to 60 hours of game time per bottle of A-grade. They're planning on making a ton of money when players only use 1-2 bottles per month but their subscriptions charge them for 4.3.
Fucking joke's on them. Considering I'll be spending the max-allotment 12 hours a day, 7 days a week in-game, and my neural output is almost twice the average, I'll be going through 3 bottles every week.
Sucks to suck, Nutri-Peak.
If I had the money, I'd buy the 1-year plan with its beautiful 8% discount in a bloody heartbeat. Unfortunately, by the time I make enough money in-game to upgrade, I'm sure they'll have realized how badly they miscalculated.
Figuring it's best to keep this momentum going, I head to the gym near my apartment. It's exactly what I'm looking for: open 24 hours, decent equipment, enough free weights for my needs but not enough to attract a horde of Grunters who'd transform the place into a meathead Testosterone Pit. Plus, the gym offers mixed martial arts classes four nights a week.
I manage to negotiate a reduced rate by paying a full year membership up front, and they offer a discount on one month of personal training.
My trainer's name is Ken, and he looks exactly how you'd expect a personal trainer named Ken to look. It's almost enough to make me quit before I've even started, but I persevere.
I keep reminding myself it's all for the game.
I do my best to ignore his frat t-shirt with the sleeves cut off to showcase his tanned muscles (even though it's winter in Seattle for fuck's sake; no one's seen the Sun in months) and calmly explain my goals: Gain lean muscle. Enhance flexibility and agility. Improve endurance.
Ken responds with an encouraging smile. His straight teeth are so blindingly white my eyes water. "Can do, bro!" He slaps my back. I wish I had my dual blades. "Ken's got you. Ken knows just what you need!"
Ken refers to himself in the third person.
Of course Ken does.
I remind myself if I kill Ken, they won't let me bring my V-Haven to prison.
Anything for the game, right? Sighing, I let Ken drag me to the agility course.
"You look like shit, Lieu."
"For shame, Deion, better not let your husband hear you flirting." I flutter my eyelashes at my neighbor as I unlock my door.
Deion's concerned frown lightens at my easy teasing. He'd been worried about me, again. I swear he and his husband order shit online every day just so they have an excuse to 'coincidentally' be in the hall picking up packages when they hear me coming.
I amp up my trademark smirk and let him know for the millionth time that I'm fine. Really, truly fine.
Relieved, he winks at me. "Theo knows he's the only one for me. Like I could give up his big, beautiful di—"
"Dimples!" I interrupt loudly. "Psh, we all know mine are superior. And speaking of superior, how's my traitorous dog's real best friend doing?" I ask the nine-year-old boy who's appeared in Deion's open doorway. Deion chokes, and if his skin weren't dark brown, he'd be bright red.
"G'morning, Eric!" Deion and Theo's adopted son Robbie says, loud and energetic as ever.
I raise a skeptical eyebrow. "It's 7 at night, Robbie."
"Yup, so, like mid-morning for you, right?"
I mean, he's technically not wrong. "All right then, good morning to you, too."
"Need me to walk Pix?" Robbie asks, wiggling in excitement. "You don't look so good."
In my defense, I'm more exhausted from the effort of not strangling Ken with an exercise band than from the three-hour work out, but I still look like death.
Deion laughs so hard he needs to lean on the doorframe. I glare at him, then with a somewhat softer expression, I turn back to Robbie. "Thanks, but I took him for a long run today, so he won't need to go out until later." I can't handle Robbie's slump of utter dejection, so I add, "Never fear! He'll be needing walks every day again, starting in January, so he'll get plenty of time with his favorite little dude."
Robbie literally jumps for joy. It's stupidly adorable. "Yay! I can't wait! But don't feel sad, Eric. Pix loves you, too! Even if he likes me better!"
As Robbie runs back into the apartment, I don't know whether to laugh or cry at the little dude's blunt savagery.
"It's your fault he's so shameless, you know," Deion says, pushing off the doorframe.
"How do you figure?"
Deion just looks at me.
I look back, wide-eyed innocence.
Deion snorts. "Thanks for the save, earlier."
"I'm telling Theo next time I see him."
"You're dead to me." Deion stomps into his apartment, and laughing, I go into mine, ready for a beer and a bath.
My dog Alopix (yes, after the Alolan Vulpix Pokémon, fight me.) is waiting by the door, and I decide to believe the Samoyed's spirited tail-wagging is purely enthusiasm about my return, and has nothing to do with him hearing Robbie outside.
I carry my first Nutri-Peak deliveries to the table and open a bottle of Muscle Mead. The bland taste and chalky texture is ten kinds of awful, but I can feel the burn telling me the drink's working overtime repairing my sore, shredded muscles, so that makes me finish the bottle in one go. If I drink one of these after every workout with Ken and the thankfully non-douchey MMA instructor, I should be able to put on a decent amount of muscle before the launch.
Alopix the friendly neighborhood polar bear blocks the hall to the bathroom. Though he's generally a chill floof, when he decides it's time to go out, he's impossible to ignore. His tilty-head pout and wistful stare break me down every time.
This is Xiuying's win as much as his, since she'd gotten him for me in the first place because she wanted to make sure I'd regularly see the outside once I got serious about making a living gaming.
With a last longing look in the direction of my bath, I ignore my aching muscles and turn right back around, gesturing for Pix to heel. With a cheerful bark, he bounds to my side, and together, we head out into the night.