The word jeopardy illustrates the human tendency to anticipate the worst in an uncertain situation. The French source of jeopardy, jeu parti, literally "divided game," originally denoted a chess problem and came to mean a position in any game for which the chances of either winning or losing were even. In English jeopardy retained the senses of the French word but extended them to mean "an uncertain or undecided situation." By Chaucer's time, the late 14th century, jeopardy had acquired its modern sense of "peril, danger."
Webster's II: New Riverside University Dictionary




PART THE FIRST

The game is dangerous and involuntary, post-virtual, governed by laws that shift and mutate. There is no blood. Death is a possibility.

Well-groomed men and women gather in clusters to debate strategy. Players must keep moving, so the teams walk as they confer. They travel like synchronized swimmers.

The rest of us, those without teams, are not so organized nor so professionally dressed. I sweat through my clothes.

We play amid the art-gallery whiteness of the game rooms. Our pace varies, the size of the crowd fluctuates, but we go on. Faces emerge and vanish. I try to remember them. The game is not a spectator sport.

I play alone, and I envy the cluster players.

Another of the lone players has died. A woman, like me. Younger than me. But these days the active participants all seem to be younger.

There but for the grace of God… The dead woman easily could have been me.

None of us saw the lone woman die. It is an indisputable fact that she is gone, and the only place one can go is to the grave. It used to be a crematorium, but this is a carbon neutral game.

I move among the contenders as if randomly. My purpose is to approach a tight cluster of six. One of their number, a dark-suited man, says, "Count your tokens." He speaks urgently. I am close enough to smell his body odor, pungent and peppery like gunpowder. The collar of his shirt is soiled. His jaw is unshaven.

Perhaps the cluster players are not as well-groomed as I thought.

I shadow the team because I am attracted to a particular woman young enough to be my daughter. She walks with executive energy. She wears a silk blouse and a burgundy wool suit that is smartly tailored but too warm for the game rooms. The woman concentrates on narrow strips of paper in her left hand. I am surprised to see that her nail polish is cracked. Her cuticles are raw and bitten.

"Count your own," she rebukes me, assuming that I stare at her tokens. They are made from fluttery red rice-paper and inked with Chinese ideograms for luck and prosperity.

Each player collects his or her unique token, earned uniquely by incalculable effort. The gunpowder man has glass marbles that click in his pockets. My own tokens are sequentially numbered card-stock tickets, the kind used for raffles and fund-raising carnivals.

I cannot bear to think what I did to win them. That's why I sweat.

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