## A game of F.A.R.T.S.

Inside a small, dimly lit office sat three agents, sitting side by side at their computers, sweating from the stress and the hot stuffy interior of the office. Beads of perspiration ran down their scar-riddled faces, yet the agents paid them no heed. They were fully concentrating on their screens, clicking on numbers in hopes of scoring big points and earning giant paychecks.

To the left of the computers was an office occupied by the boss known only as Starg. None of the agents had ever seen him or met him, but they knew Starg was in his office behind the closed door, monitoring the agents as they worked.

These agents were playing a game known as F.A.R.T.S., a simple game to learn but difficult to master. It is played online with people all over the world with potentially huge payouts. Word had gotten out that the payouts were so huge that people were able to retire from their jobs early and live in luxury from just their F.A.R.T.S. earnings alone.

Simply put, the game consists of a 3×3 grid consisting of 9 numbers:

Clicking on a number of the grid multiplies the score by that number, but each number can only be clicked on so many times before it disappears, so naturally the larger numbers are the ones players go for first before moving on to the smaller numbers.

To make things more interesting, additional algorithms are in place to multiply the score based on various criteria, such as the current time, the position of the mouse cursor and how much memory is available. Each day the game follows a pattern of selected bonus multipliers, and the sooner the players detect this pattern, the better their chances of using it to their advantage.

Rumor had it that there were numerous strategy books floating around on the Web to help players maximize their F.A.R.T.S. winnings, leaving the agents struggling to counter the winnings and try turning the tables in their favor. But this was not easy to do. Losing meant making Starg furious, and no one wanted to see this happen.

STARG> Okay guys, let’s pull up the numbers.

A message came up on all three screens through a chat program the agents used to communicate with Starg and to see how well they fared with their earnings.

“Here we go again,” muttered Dave nervously.

STARG> Current Earnings
DAVE: \$67
STEVE: \$365
IAN: \$4

The agents gasped. No way were their earnings this low.

STARG> Guys, I am deeply disappointed. You can do much better than this.

The message disappeared and the agents resumed clicking frantically on the number grid to start another round of F.A.R.T.S. They were sweating from the stress, desperate to win some games to earn them a decent paycheck. After all, they had bills to pay too. The games were so fast and furious that the scores fluctuated wildly, varying from a few dollars to millions of dollars that could have been theirs except they were taken by their unseen opponents using tricks the agents could have used. This did not fit in well with Starg’s vision who wanted his agents to be consistent enough to earn the huge paychecks they were trained to earn.

STARG> Okay guys, it’s time for Double, Half or Nothing!

“Shit,” Ian whispered. He hated Double, Half or Nothing in which Starg himself manipulated the earnings according to a randomly selected manipulator from some program on his end.

STARG> Current Earnings:
DAVE: \$6
STEVE: \$317
IAN: \$4

Ian and Steve could hear Dave groan at the sight of his earnings.

STARG> You guys are pathetic.

The agents could only sit there, staring at the screens. Their opponents were too good and earning the huge payoffs while the agents earned Starg’s wrath in spite of all the trouble they went through. And they had already been trained on countering their every potential move, which was discouraging considering their lengthy losing streak.

STARG> Double Half or Nothing starting now.

“I hate this,” Dave muttered.

“You’ll do better,” Steve offered, but his tone was so full of uncertainty that it was of no comfort to anyone.

STARG> Dave gets DOUBLE

Dave snorted sarcastically as he watched his earnings double to \$12. That’s it?

STARG> Steve gets DOUBLE

Steve smiled when he saw the \$634 next to his name.

STARG> Ian gets NOTHING

Ian lowered his head, not even bother watching his score disappear to zero.

Ian didn’t see this either but knew the message was there. After all, he was the loser, again. Silently Ian rose up from his seat and walked across the office to the restroom next to the computers where the agents worked. There, on the sink were three X-Acto knives, one for each agent. Ian picked up the knife with his name on it and looked at himself in the mirror. He could see the scars from the previous time he bloodied his face and could also see scabs from wounds still healing from cutting himself earlier in the day. Without hesitating Ian pressed the blade down gently on his face and blood began to trickle down his cheeks. He cut his face in other spots not yet cut and Ian’s face was soon spotted with blood and dripping in the sink. He grabbed a paper towel to wipe the blood off his face before leaving the restroom.

Dave and Steve gasped at Ian’s freshly bloody face, even though they had seen his face bloodied many times before. They felt secretly sorry for him but knowing it was every man for himself at this job. There was no such thing as teamwork here.

STARG> Ian, I trust you will do much better next time.

“Not a very good boss, is he?” Dave muttered.

“Shhh!” Steve hissed. “He’ll hear you.”

STARG> Dave, I’ll pretend you never said that as long as you pretend to be a decent employee.

The number grid once again appeared on the screen and the agents began clicking away frantically in hopes of winning some games for a change. This went on for 15 minutes and nothing further was heard from Starg until the end of the round.

STARG> Okay guys, let’s see how we’re doing.

The agents held their breath in anticipation of the latest numbers.

STARG> Current Earnings:
DAVE: \$7
STEVE: \$529
IAN: \$63

Steve was the only one smiling.

Enraged, Ian typed in a response.

IAN> BUT I JUST BLOODY MY FACE
STARG> Well, do it again.

Ian was so furious that he stormed towards Starg’s office, intent on confronting his boss. This had gone on long enough, perhaps too long. He grabbed the doorknob and threw the door open and stood there in stunned silence. The office was empty.

STARG> Shame, shame, shame.

“I can’t believe you just did that,” Dave was astonished.

“You’re really in for it now,” Steve added.

Under no circumstances was an agent even allowed to touch the door to Starg’s office but Ian had gotten so angry he was intent on a face to face confrontation without respect to the rules. Ian calmed enough for him to realize what he had just done and quickly sat back down.

IAN> I AM SO SORRY
STARG> Don’t apologize with words. Apologize by winning games. Win big.
IAN> I WILL
STARG> Now you and Dave go bloody your faces.

To be continued…