At the start of the day the data entry software would reward Masha when she completed 25 lines of information. A little bronze star would appear, a glittery sound would chime, and the star would drift into a little box called 'Achievements'. After about an hour, it would be for every 50 lines of information, then 100, 200, and so on with the colour of the star changing from bronze, to silver, gold, ruby, emerald with diamond as the ultimate - almost unattainable - crowning accomplishment if someone, somehow managed 12,800 lines of information in one working day. She'd known colleagues to arrive early and stay late in an effort to attain diamond star status.
Nobody had, and nobody knew what happened if you did.
That day she'd reached Blue Garnet (3,200) and didn't think Serendibite was within her reach. Colette, in stall 89, looked sleepless yet determined, when Masha glanced her way Colette yelled; "9,000!" A small crowd, Henry, Barnes, Petra, had gathered around her, cheering her on.
Masha rolled her eyes, smiling, and left the office.
On the way home she stopped into Cafe Zeno for a latte, she didn't really feel like a coffee, but she only had to get one more stamp on her card and she could have a free drink. She smiled as the clerk, whose nametag read 'Mikey: Caramel Latte with Chocolate & Two Sugars', under this he had two gold stars.
"What are the stars for?" Masha asked, as Mikey took her charge card.
"Customer service," Mikey smiled. "Could I take your name?"
And Mikey wrote Marsha on the paper cup, sliding it down to his colleague hidden behind the gargantuan hissing coffee machine. Masha smiled and followed her cup, reminding herself that - as far as her coffee was concerned - she was called Marsha.
At home, with her dinner on her lap, she opened up her TV Planner on the digibox and checked her completion levels on the shows she was watching. She was a little disgruntled to find that no new episodes had been uploaded, so she'd either have to find something new or just watch something again.
Then she thought about Alex, maybe she should send a text or call, they'd had three dates, kissed a little, it wasn't out of place to do such a thing. But she wasn't sure exactly what she'd say, I mean, she hadn't really done anything all day and couldn't exactly tell her about the stars at work or the coffee card. Maybe she should ask for a recommendation of something to watch? It'd make Alex feel good.
The text delivered, with a little notification saying 'Text sent 19:37', which Masha kept eyeballing until it changed to 'Text read 19:39'.
With a growing ire Masha - at 19:57 - began to wonder what exactly could be causing Alex to dither for so long. Was this a hint, a sign that perhaps she had been getting her hopes up and Alex didn't feel as strongly about her? Maybe Alex was busy compiling an exhaustive list of great television shows to really impress her? Maybe she'd just forgotten that Masha had sent her the text, insipid as it was.
Perhaps, Masha thought if she sent something better, something more enticing that would prompt Alex to respond. She began reminiscing about their dates, trying to happen upon some detail, some anecdote, that Masha could belatedly respond to. What music did Alex say she liked? Maybe one of her favourite bands has a gig coming up and she could suggest they go? Or a screening of a classic film?
Or is that too desperate?
Suddenly her phone buzzed, juddering excitedly upon her thigh, but it was a text from Barnes reading: 'Colette did it!'
Strangely this gave Masha a sense of optimism, that anything is possible, and she immediately composed a text for Alex that read: 'If you're stuck for something good to watch too, maybe we should put our heads together?' Masha enjoyed the innuendo, and hoped that Alex would pick up on it.
Afterward she replied to Barnes, 'What happened?'
'Big diamond star. Longer tune. Now all future stars are +1 level.'
'Think boss got a msg, so maybe more? Don't know, finished pretty l8.'
It was disappointing for Masha just to read, she can't really imagine how Colette must have felt at the end of all that anticipation just to get more of the same. Still, there's a strong chance that if the boss has heard of the achievement then she'll give Colette some sort of bonus or extra day off, some kind of recognition.
Masha's phone buzzed again, it was Alex: 'Sounds fun. Your place?'
Feeling good about herself Masha claimed her free coffee that morning, striding quite proudly up to the counter and holding out the completed card.
"Hi Mikey," she beamed.
"Morning, free coffee today, good for you!" he stapled the card to the receipt and slipped it into the till, handing her a new, empty card for her to continue on with. "What's your name?"
Walking into the office, holding a cup with the word 'Martha' scribbled on the side, she craned her neck to try and see if Colette was in. She wasn't, but there was a balloon tied to her desk. Curious, Masha approached and written on the stretched peach rubber were the words: 'Congratulations on your diamond day. Everyone at DataPro.'
"Hey," Masha called to Petra who was walking towards the break room, "did you get this for Col?"
"No, the boss did."
Petra carried on her way leaving Masha to stare, quite judgmentally, at the hovering helium balloon jigging slightly in the air con's breeze.
Colette had, according to Barnes who texted from his stall, come in before Masha got there, she'd seen the balloon and immediately gone home, calling in to say she'd had a migraine come on suddenly. Barnes wasn't convinced, neither was Masha, and both didn't feel so enamoured by the star targets any more.
That afternoon though Ms. Radchec made an announcement, letting the team know that the rewards system was changing from stars to a leaderboard, with each employee's four weekly totals being totted up and averaged to see who was the most productive each month. The winner, Ms. Radchec said, would be rewarded. Barnes, under his breath, made a joke about her being full of gas, much like the reward would be, but it went largely unnoticed.
She'd felt a bit down all day, so had sent Alex a text seeing if she could come over after work, but Alex hadn't replied and, in an effort to stave off depression, Masha had picked up some ice-cream on the way home.
She was sat, with her dinner on her lap, pleased to see that one of her favourite series had two new episodes now - a double-bill had been on - so she could watch those tonight.
Her phone thrummed eagerly on the cushion beside her, she could see it was Alex calling, but she didn't answer, she didn't want to give Alex the satisfaction after she hadn't replied earlier. She kind of enjoyed this moment of being in control of the dispensation of happiness, besides she had her tv show and her dinner and her ice-cream.