The HPI

Milo meets a man with a very odd and unorthodox spreadsheet.

Photo by Mika Baumeister / Unsplash

This story is a part of a writing experiment I did from May 24 to June 24, 2021. The goal was to write a new story every day. Although I'm happy with them, they are first drafts and many could use some work.


Milo sits in an office painted a lovely coral hue. A large fish tank bubbled beside him, full of graceful angelfish and skittering neon tetras.

But it is a stark contrast to the man sitting across from him. He is middle-aged with short hair and a slim build. He wears a pair of glasses and a button-up shirt with a grey microfibre tie. The nameplate in front of him says Lane King, and he is the most humourless HR personnel Milo’s ever met.

“Do you have your M-3978 form filled out?” the man asks.

Milo places it on the desk, spinning it around to face the man. “Uh, yeah, but I wasn’t sure about some of the questions.”

Lane rolls his eyes. “Of course, you weren’t.”

Milo tries to ignore the attitude. “Like 7b: What was your most traumatic childhood event?”

“Seems pretty obvious.”

“Yeah, but you can’t ask that.”

“Hey, I don’t make the rules. If you want the benefits package, this needs to be filled out.”

“Okay... What about 10e? In response to the questions about the death of loved ones, it says: Please rate the order in which you wished them dead.”

“Definitely fill that one out, or else it won’t be able to process it.”

“What won’t process it?”

Lane points at the tall black box that sat to his side. “If I try and scan it, it’ll just spit it out if that one isn’t filled out correctly.” He pushed a box of blue pens over to Milo.

“What the hell is going on? Why do you need all of this?”

Lane sighs in annoyance. “Why do you guys from the tenth floor always ask this many questions.” He turned his computer screen around so Milo could see.

On it is a spreadsheet with thousands of entries. People’s names are listed on the left, then employee numbers, birthdates, and the forms they’ve signed. After that are columns of numbers, some natural, some with decimals points, and some integers.

“That’s personal information! You can’t be showing me all of this.”

“Did you not read Section 2S before you signed it?” He points to the form. “That’s an NDA. That basically says that anything you see in this room stays in this room.”

Milo’s mouth opens and closes as he struggles to find words. None come. He glances at the computer screen and sees “Naomi Saito” amongst the names. “Hey, wait! I work with her. I can’t be seeing this.”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter.” Lane points at a number. “Her rate of tolerance is pretty high. I’m sure she’ll forgive you if she finds out.”

“Her what?”

“Her Rate of Tolerance.” Lane scrolls across the numbers, “This whole thing is the Human Pain Index or HPI for short. It’s where we calculate every one’s misery, nuisance, and heartbreak.”

Milo shudders. “What are you talking about?”

“Well, we’re still in the test phase, but we’ve been using the data points from our employees to quantify suffering.”

“Oh my god! Why would you do this?”

He sneers. “For the algorithm, of course. Once we generate enough, the AI can take over and start calculating adjustment rates for the market.”

“Wait, you are quantifying people’s pain to make money?”

Lane shrugs. “Of course. How else do you think we stay accountable to our shareholders.”

Milo grabs the form and rips it up. “You can count me out. I’m done with this place.”

Lane pulls out a new form and pushes it towards him.

“No way, I’m not filling it out again.”

“No, this is for your resignation.”

“Really?” Milo questions and pulls it closer to study it.

“Of course. That way, I can get to work on my half.”

“Your half?”

“Getting the ball rolling on suing you. We already have your initial signatures, plus the ones you signed when you applied for this position, plus the ones you signed when you took this job ten years ago. That’ll be enough information to send over to legal, so they can begin litigation on you.”

“On me?”

“For breach of contract.”

“No, I’ll countersue.”

“You can, but it doesn’t usually work out.” He filters the spreadsheet to twenty-five names. “All these people took a serious course of action, and look, their overall pain index went through the roof. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see how negatively it will affect your life.”

Milo stares at the man sitting across the desk. No wonder he’s joyless.

“Fine, I’ll stay.”

“Excellent, that’ll boost your numbers a bit. Wise choice.”

“Are we done?”

“Absolutely.”

Milo struggled to pull himself out of his seat. Never had he felt so trapped at his job, and that he knew the truth, he couldn’t imagine working here another twenty years.

“If it’s any consolation, your present numbers are probably at their highest they’ll ever be,” Lane said.

It wasn’t. It never would be. He looks back at the computer screen. “May I see that again.”

“Absolutely.”

“Can you scroll down, please?”

Lane flicks through the pages until Milo said, “Stop.” He studied the screen.

“Can you hand me Form AV-268?”

“Why do you want that?”

“Can I please have one?”

For the first time, Lane no longer looks smug. He looks scared. He hands him the form.

“Application for HR position, 268. I believe that’s your position, correct?”

Lane didn’t answer.

“Interesting. So, if I sign this—and with my qualifications from the tenth floor—I’m guaranteed to replace you, correct?”

“Correct.”

“And how does that affect your HPI?”

Lane grits his teeth and says nothing.

“So how about this? We forget I ever applied for those benefits, I forget that I ever wanted to fill out AV-268, and we go on about our day?”

Lane pretends to mull the question over, but they both know his answer.

“You know that if anyone else sees your Pain Index, they know what happened here.”

Milo smiles. “Let them. I don’t care.”

Milo stands up and heads for the door. He thought of taking the afternoon off. He heard it was going to beautiful out, and he was goings to enjoy every second of it.


Thank you so much for reading.

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