“All they said was we’ll be spending a lot of time in here,” Lyssa replies. “Classes are on the bottom five floors, morning and mid-afternoon, but the rest of the time we’ll be in here. And they told us to mingle. That suggests teaming up, doesn’t it?”
“I told you I don’t know. We’re stuck here. Let’s at least do something.” She puffs her cheeks and blows a slow, cherry-flavoured breath onto the digitab. Nothing happens to the screen, but I end up snorting a laugh. She’s just so jaded and honest and bored by the whole thing; it’s the opposite of what buggos are supposed to be like.
“All right, you go first.” I motion at the stream of aimless, gormless candidates passing behind her. They’re not interacting with each other; all they’re doing is walking in continuous loops around the Hex, weaving in and out of the various apparatuses, looking but not engaging. “See who can come up with the best way of recruiting a teamie,” I add.
The sparkle in her eyes and the wicked grin twisting her lips tell me I’ve already lost this game. But one thing she doesn’t know is I’m a skimmer. A career skimmer. Craftiness is my trade. And I had one heckuva teacher.
“Our goal is to fill the other four seats,” she says, pivoting her head this way and that in the search for fresh fish. “But they can’t be all boys or all girls. Let’s make it interesting: you have to recruit at least one girl, and I have to recruit at least one guy.”
She’s ready to jump up and start when I add my own condition: “And here’s the best part: we’re not allowed to leave our seats.”
“What? Then how do we—”
“Figure it out as we go,” I remind her.
She playfully narrows her eyes at me, then, with a crack of her knuckles, gets down to business. She sticks her pinkies in her mouth and lets loose an impressive whistle that stops everyone on this side of the arena dead in their tracks. I feel like hiding under the table, but I’ve promised not to leave my seat.
Lyssa crooks her finger at one boy, bats her eyelashes at another. She pats the seat next to her, waves, pouts, even strikes a desperate fashion model pose to beckon people over. But no one takes her on. It’s either the funniest thing I’ve ever seen or the most pathetic.
She finally folds her arms and gives up. “What’s wrong with them? Was I that bad?”
“Not bad. Just not good enough.”
“Okay, hotshot, let’s see you do any better.”
I pretend to roll up my sleeves. “You can’t leave them to make the decision; you have to make it for them. Watch and learn.” I tug a girl’s arm as she passes. She pulls away. Flips me off.
“Suave,” says Lyssa.
After seeing that altercation, the other buggos instinctively keep their distance, so I’m forced to resort to more creative methods of getting their attention. Before I can stop myself I’ve thrown a fistful of sand that showers at least five people. At least I have their attention—and the cumulative hostility of a five-strong stink-eye.
This is harder than I thought. So I cup my hands into a loudspeaker: “Listen up. The next one who sits at this table gets ten credits.” I might not have shouted loud enough, so I repeat the offer.
Not a single customer.
“He means twenty credits,” Lyssa bids, and flicks her eyebrows up at me.
Still no takers.
“Fifty,” I add. Nothing.
“One hundred?” She ups the volume. “Trillion here will pay one hundred clips to whoever sits at his table. And he’ll do all your homework for the next three—”
“Lyssa Van Buren has promised to snog anyone who joins our team. Boy or girl, it doesn’t matter. Believe me, it’s worth it.”
Her half-scream, half-laugh—while pulling at her own hair—leaves me in stitches. She’s about to jump across the table and probably beat me to a pulp when someone catches her eye, and she composes herself.