One Game to the Next
by E.E. Wesley
Michael sat at his desk staring at his computer, casually clicking through the puzzle on the screen. The garish colors filling his gaze flashed and reorganized as he finished the level. A small, unsatisfied smile briefly crossed his lips as his score blinked and grew. Twelve points for completing the puzzle, and three points for speed. He spared the leaderboard a glance before setting into the next level. He was 123rd out of 400 at the company, three below where he started today. An exasperated sigh escaped him as he reoriented on the newest level. He would probably be even lower by the time he left work. His heart wasn't in it today. Four months ago he had set the company record, neatly capping off a six-month winning streak. It was downhill from there, though. Last month he scored third place.
Of course the puzzle was more than just a dumb game. Michael worked for the logistics division of one of the farming conglomerates that fed most of Europe. A rather complicated job was repackaged as a set of scored puzzles by an algorithm and given to 400 people in cube farms around the world. The conglomerate provided him with food, a small apartment, and entertainment credit proportional to his ranking.
Michael bit his lip as he deliberately clicked through his new puzzle, struggling to keep his focus. His stomach was tying itself in anxious knots as his thoughts wandered to his plans for the evening. He brushed the sleeve of his blank, white sweater and looked at his watch. 4:37. In two hours he could leave his cubicle without attracting attention from his cube-mates.