Author's Note: Inspired by playing the "Grow" games. If you haven't played them, why not drop on by the Eyezmaze dot com website and try them out? (Just don't try it on company time!)
Kaiba stood and watched. He was a man who could appreciate a good gamer - and a good game - when he saw one, so at first all he did was observe quietly from a few feet away. However, as the game went on, he crept closer and closer until he was practically breathing down the player's neck. At last, he spoke.
"Put the black ten on the red Jack," he said.
The player jumped, whipped around in his chair, and practically smacked into his employer. He quickly tried to back off, and didn't quite realize that there was nowhere to back to before he collided with his desk, making the walls of his cubicle shake. A lone cartoon strip was shaken from its moorings and went fluttering forlornly to earth as the pushpin that had been holding it in place struck the floor. It landed with an audible ping, because the room had gone quiet.
"Mr. Kaiba, I..." the unfortunate man began.
"Mr. Nishiyama," said Kaiba, his words as delicate and cold as falling snowflakes, "would you care to explain to all of us why you are playing Solitaire on company time?"
"I - I just needed a moment to think, and..."
"So you are saying you are so thick that you can't even think without a computer program to help you?" Kaiba suggested. "Or maybe thoughts move so glacially slowly through your thick cranium that you need something to do to pass the time?"
"Sir, please, it was just for a moment. Besides, our business is card games, so..."
"Ahh, I see," said Kaiba, nodding and smiling wisely. "That's right. We are a gaming company, so of course you're playing games. It's just part of the job, eh, Mr. Nishiyama?"
The unfortunate worker, desperate to mollify his employer, nodded and made agreeable noises.
Kaiba's hand lashed out to seize the man's necktie and haul him forward until their noses were nearly touching.
"How dare you degrade the game of Duel Monsters by comparing it with trash like Solitaire," he hissed. "You're a disgrace to the company. Get out and stay out!"
"But..." the man protested. "It was just one little game of Solitaire!"
"If you don't have a proper appreciation for the game then you don't belong here. Go!"
The man scrambled to gather up his belongings. When Seto Kaiba told you to go in that tone of voice, you went.
"Let that be an example for the rest of you," said Kaiba. "I will not tolerate loafing on the job! If you are playing games on the job, they had better be one of Kaiba Corp's games! The next person I catch slacking is going to get an express ticket to the unemployment line! Do I make myself clear?"
There was a chorus of affirmative murmurs. Kaiba nodded, his annoyance momentarily assuaged. Nishiyama had never been a notable worker anyway; at least now he was useful as an example to everyone else.
I think I'll have a stroll around the building and see if anyone else is lying down on the job, he decided. He had been wrapped up in a lot of his own pet projects lately, ranging from laying out the plans for the newest wave of Duel Disks to helping Mokuba with a school project that had been giving him problems. Those things were unavoidable, but now Kaiba felt he needed to make his presence felt among his workers again. With that in mind, he began making the grand tour of the building.
There were no problems in the accounting department, but that was no surprise - the minds of his accountants were so cluttered with numbers, he doubted they would know a game if it stole their calculators. Advertising was likewise clean. Purchasing tended to get a bit dull at times, but while Kaiba caught three of them chatting around the water cooler, they weren't playing games. The legal department, of course, knew exactly what was best for them, and stayed cleanly on Kaiba's good side. Kaiba took a quick glance in the mail room before swinging by the public relations office.
It was there that he found the problem. A lone man was absorbed in playing some kind of web-based game, the nature of which Kaiba was not familiar with, but it seemed to involve dragging and dropping an assortment of odd implements and watching them do improbable things, to the accompaniment of some jaunty music. To Kaiba, it seemed utterly pointless.
"Enjoying yourself?" he inquired.
The man jumped, just as the thing on his screen exploded in a burst of digital confetti.
"Um... Mr. Kaiba, I can explain..."
"No, I don't think you can," Kaiba replied. "Or rather, I don't want to hear it. Just answer plainly: are you or are you not playing video games on company time?"
There was an awkward pause as the man realized that he had no choice but to be honest. "Yes, sir."
"And you know that's not allowed, don't you?"
"And what do you think I'm going to do about it?"
"Very good," said Kaiba. "Pity it's too late for your cleverness to help you. Pack your things."
To the man's credit, he did as he was told. Kaiba stood and watched him icily until every last pen and paper clip was safely stowed away, and the man had taken himself quietly out the door. The computer screen continued to flash; a number of little cartoon people, hardly more than stick figures, were jumping around waving banners that said "Congratulations!" on them.
What a pointless game, he mused. How could anyone waste their time on such a thing?
The jaunty music was getting on his nerves. He reached for the mouse and attempted to turn the thing off, but in his agitation, he missed and clicked the button labeled "Reset" instead. The cheerful stickmen disappeared, leaving a clean playing board and eight boxes with peculiar objects waiting for his attention.
Kaiba really had intended just to turn the whole thing off, but now that the game had been restarted, he felt an overwhelming urge to try to play it. He had never been able to resist a challenge, particularly where games were concerned, and he refused to allow that anyone might be able to beat him at anything. The idea that one of his employees might be better at any game than Kaiba himself was, was beyond consideration.
Well, I can spare a moment or two, Kaiba told himself. It looks simple enough...
He studied the eight boxes and the weird things in them, and attempted to guess what he was supposed to do with them all. There didn't appear to be any rules anywhere. Very well, then, he would learn through a process of trial and error. He clicked on one of the items, some kind of wheel, and dropped it in the center of the screen. It situated itself and began to spin. Encouraged, he tried dropping several more items, which also performed various actions, and several encouraging messages appeared announcing, "Level up!" Kaiba smirked a little.
This is easy - only a fool would find this entertaining!
Then he dropped the final object. He was surprised that instead of a congratulatory announcement from the little stickmen, he instead got a series of scores in each of the little boxes, most of which looked less than encouraging. To make matters worse, the game's sound effects booed at him. He stared at it in consternation.
I see. You must have to drop all the items in the correct order. Simple. It's just a matter of trial and error...
He pressed the "Reset" button and had another go at it.
Two hours later, someone got tired of waiting outside of his office, and finally put life and limb in jeopardy to get up and have a look inside the room, only to discover that he wasn't there. A company-wide search was made. Everyone was very surprised to find Kaiba sitting at an abandoned desk in the public relations area, and even more surprised to find him staring at a computer screen and muttering things like, "Maybe if I plug in the light bulb before I turn on the fan..."
"Sir?" someone asked. "Are you... doing something important?"
Kaiba looked up, trying and mostly succeeding in not looking embarrassed. After all, he was the boss - he could play games if he wanted to.
"Conducting a little research," he declared. His look dared anyone to ask why he was doing said research in someone else's cubicle. "Was there something you needed me for?"
"The client from Akimoto Industries is here to see you, sir," his secretary informed him. "Shall I tell him you're busy?"
"No," said Kaiba. He told himself he was getting immensely frustrated with that stupid game and was glad for an excuse to stop. "I'll see him now."
He abandoned the computer, still playing its cheerful tune, and glided away at a rate that indicated plainly that he thought wherever he was going was not important enough to merit a big rush. He did not realize that he was still humming the music as he walked.
The client from Akimoto Industries was only slightly annoyed by the wait - after all, it had only been about fifteen minutes, and Kaiba, everyone knew, was a very busy man. Kaiba apologized anyway, though somewhat curtly; Akimoto Industries was not a very large or powerful corporation, but their people had developed a new kind of circuit board that would be lighter and conduct less heat than the ones Kaiba Corporation was using now. It would be the ideal thing for a new Duel Disk, and Kaiba wanted to be certain he could get a good deal on the technology. He cleared his mind of all previous concerns and turned his attention completely to the matter at hand.
That lasted about three minutes into the representative's obviously prepared speech on how important Kaiba's business was to him. Kaiba was used to tuning out such speeches, and did so automatically. It was his practice to use such times to size up his adversary (he thought of everyone as an adversary until they were either subjugated or they had proven that they were worth taking seriously as an ally) and decide what tactics it might be best to use to get them to do what he wished. Instead, he found himself thinking, Maybe if I had put down the waterfall before the egg...
It was a very long and trying meeting. It took every bit of Kaiba's determination to look as if he were paying proper attention instead of turning over in his mind whether it would have been best to plant the shrub before or after he launched the paper airplane, and even all his self- discipline was not enough to make him keep his mind on business. The idea that such a cute and silly looking little puzzle was defeating him was as maddening as having a chirping cricket in his bedroom: he couldn't ignore it and he couldn't find the secret that would make it go away.
As soon as the meeting was over, Kaiba retreated to his office. He knew he could easily lock himself in there and do whatever it was he felt like doing for as long as he pleased, and no one would dare disturb him. He would conquer that game if it took him all night! With that thought firmly in mind, he turned on his computer. He stared at the screen.
He realized his plan might perhaps have worked better if he'd taken the time to memorize the game's URL first.
It turned out to be a very long day. Kaiba was grumpier than usual as he finished up his daily routine, and by the time the staff began to clock out, he was in a foul mood indeed. The only thing that kept him in check was the sure knowledge that once everyone was gone for the day, he could go back to the abandoned computer and find the URL he wanted saved safely in its cache. He could play down there as easily as he could in his office, and there would be no one around to ask awkward questions (or, worse yet, hear the game booing at him as he once again entered the wrong combination). When at last he was sure he was alone, he slipped out of his office, tiptoed down the halls - it would have been wrong to say he did it guiltily, because Kaiba never looked guilty, but it was a very near thing - and finally arrived at his destination.
There appeared to be a technician working on the computer.
"What are you doing?" Kaiba snapped.
"Well, sir, this computer belongs to one of the men you fired today," the technician explained. "We have to wipe it clean now. It's a privacy issue."
"Let me get this straight - you're erasing the hard drive?"
"Actually, I'm done with that part. Now I'm just reinstalling the operating system and the necessary software, so it will be ready for the next person. Unless there was something else you wanted me to do...?"
"No," said Kaiba in an ever-so-slightly strangled tone. "No, that's fine. Carry on."
He returned to his office. He sat down in his executive leather chair and swivelled it thoughtfully, staring at the ceiling. Then, with a sigh, he turned on his own computer, logged in as the administrator, and began going through the logs for the day. His computer system took note of every website that was accessed during the day, and kept records extending back for several weeks. The system was in place so it would be possible to investigate if someone was doing something completely unacceptable - say, downloading child pornography or operating a business from the company computers - but tonight, Kaiba resigned himself to searching through hundreds of URLs to find the one he was interested in using himself.
It took him a good deal of trial and error, clicking on web addresses that he could not immediately identify until at last he found one that brought up a familiar page. He watched as the screen once again filled with those ridiculous items, and the speakers began playing the tune that had been running through his head all day. He took a deep breath.
All right. It's just a matter of trying the combinations until one works. With eight items, that makes... He did the math in his head. He felt his stomach sink. 40,320 combinations. This could take a while.
Then he steeled himself. There had to be some way of cracking the code. It was just a matter of observing how the different items interacted with each other and keeping track of which placements netted the best scores. He was a logical thinker. He could do this.
So he tried. For the next three hours, he tried and tried, watching with mounting exasperation as various combinations played out in various unlikely ways. He did manage to get the computer to stop booing at him every time he finished the game, but he was not making very much more headway. While he racked his brain attempting to think of some new combination, the sound of his cell phone aroused him from his thoughts.
"Nii-sama," said a small voice on the other end of the phone, "is something wrong? I thought you'd be home for dinner by now."
"No, no, everything is fine. I just got caught up in something," Kaiba hastily assured him. "I lost track of time, but I'll be home soon. Keep everything warm for me, all right?"
"All right!" said Mokuba, sounding more cheerful. "See you soon, okay?"
"Fifteen minutes," Kaiba promised. He said goodbye to his brother and turned off the phone.
He thought for a little while. Several possibilities occurred to him, all of which he could have pursued with equal ease - it was just a matter of whether he wished to sacrifice his pride, his free time, or his promise to Mokuba. Naturally, he came to the conclusion that there was really only one thing he could do. He resolutely clicked away from the game page and brought up the list of company phone numbers instead. As he'd thought, the number of the man he'd fired had not yet been removed from the system. He'd never actually called one of his workers at their home phone number before, but there was a first time for everything. He punched the number into his phone and listened to it ring.
"Hello?" a female voice answered, with the irritation of one who was in the middle of cooking something and is worried the pot will boil over.
"This is Seto Kaiba. I need to speak to your husband."
"I'll get him," she said. There was a faint clatter of someone setting a handset down on a counter, and then a muffled call: "Honey? It's for you - it's Mr. Kaiba." Then there was a snarled comment that Kaiba couldn't quite hear, but the tone and rhythm of it were right for an expletive. The man's voice was controlled when he picked up the phone, however.
"Good evening, Mr. Kaiba. Is there something I can do for you?"
"Yes," said Kaiba. "That game you were playing - do you remember how to win it?"
"Well, you can have your job back if you will tell me how to win the damned thing!"
There was a spluttering noise, the sound of someone realizing it would be better not to laugh, no matter how much he wanted to.
"First the egg, then the rock, the waterfall, the seed, the wheel, the light bulb, the spring, and the fan."
"Egg, rock, waterfall..." Kaiba repeated the combination under his breath as he busily clicked on the screen. It all looked so easy now that someone had told him. He watched as the waterfall rolled down the rock to power the wheel that lit the light bulb that warmed the egg, which hatched into a beast that ate the plant which released the spring that turned the fan. The little men danced across the screen waving banners. Kaiba felt absurdly pleased.
"Fine. Be at work first thing tomorrow morning," he said. "Don't be late or I'll reconsider my offer."
"Thank you, sir. Right you are. Bright and early. Have a good night, sir." Kaiba did not put down the phone immediately, so he was barely able to hear the man's muffled voice continuing, "Wait until you hear what he wanted..." before the connection closed with a click.
Kaiba couldn't resist playing through the game a second time, just to prove he could, just to see if his success wasn't just some kind of fluke. Then he went home. His brother was waiting for him, nose pressed up against the window. As soon as Kaiba made it through the door, Mokuba flung himself at him and hugged him.
"Take it easy," said Kaiba, but he softened his gruff words by lightly brushing a hand over Mokuba's hair.
Mokuba was not perturbed by the less-than-effusive greeting. "How was work?"
"Frustrating," Kaiba replied. "But I got the deal with Akimoto."
"That's great! Knew you could do it," said Mokuba. "Ready to eat now?"
"Absolutely," Kaiba replied. His lips twitched a little in a small smile. "And after dinner, there's a website I want to show you..."
And he did. Consequently, he sent the staff of the mansion running to his room in a panic, wondering if their master had finally snapped, because Mokuba had solved the puzzle by sheer luck on his third try, and no one was used to Kaiba laughing that hard.