Chapter 3:

Question #12

Slacker Squad: Why Work When You Can Cheat?

T-minus three minutes to launch.Bookmark here

Makoto took a deep breath and entered the classroom. He made a beeline straight to his seat, ignoring the general hubbub of the classroom. Setting his bag down, he let out a large, involuntary yawn.Bookmark here

Welp, this was less than ideal. Sleep deprivation was not a status effect he needed on the upcoming battle. He slapped his face with both hands, attempting to jog the drowsiness out of his system.Bookmark here

‘Makoto, what time do you think it is? All students should be in class at least 10 minutes before the teacher arrives,’ chided an authoritative voice coming from beside him.Bookmark here

Makoto looked to his right to find the half-scowling face of Uyeno Shizuka staring at him as she stood right there, arms folded. Bookmark here

A rare opportunity to converse with her? Makoto froze for a moment before gathering his wits. Bookmark here

‘Hey Shizuka, sorry about that,’ he stated. ‘Between working at my family’s shop and studying for the quiz, I ended up oversleeping a little bit.’Bookmark here

Shizuka’s furrowed brows eased a little. ‘That’s alright. I appreciate the honesty. Most would have come up with some variety of excuses that would deflect all accountability off them,’ she said as she marked something down on the attendance sheet.Bookmark here

‘Well my name, Makoto, literally means truth, so maybe I’m predisposed to believing there’s little to gain from being dishonest,’ jested Makoto.Bookmark here

Shizuka raised an eyebrow. ‘And what would that say about me then, given that my name means quiet?’Bookmark here

‘I haven’t the faintest clue. Possibly that you speak at volumes only very slightly louder than a foghorn?’Bookmark here

Was it Makoto’s imagination or did the corner of Shizuka’s mouth seem to curve ever so slightly upward?Bookmark here

He took a second to process the situation. Was this really happening? Was this a wet dream? He’d wanted to talk to Shizuka since forever but he’d never really gotten a chance to, with her endless list of admirers constantly thronging around her. It was a good thing he wasn’t the kind to get tongue-tied, he thought, recalling all the times he’d had to smooth talk and deal with troublesome customers at the shop.Bookmark here

‘Ahem. Tanaka sensei mentioned to me the other day that you and some others failed the last test,'' she said, changing the subject. ‘I was a little surprised, I didn’t think you’d be the type to struggle on exams.’Bookmark here

Makoto shed an imaginary tear. Why did Shizuka have to know about his low moments? Curse you Tanaka sensei, curse you!Bookmark here

But for now, it was Makoto’s turn to raise an eyebrow. ‘Really? What makes you think that?’Bookmark here

‘Let’s just say I’m a huge Shogi fan,’ Shizuka responded.Bookmark here

Makoto blinked. This was a curveball. Did she know? Well there was no way she didn’t, with that comment, was there? After everything he’d done to put his Shogi past behind him, it had to be Shizuka of all people?! Bookmark here

‘Nah, that was pretty long ago,’ said Makoto as he shook his head, remaining stoic. ‘Besides, there’s little correlation between that and class material.’Bookmark here

‘That’s not the point. You seem like the type that can put in minimal effort but still obtain good grades.’Bookmark here

Hmm. Makoto never thought of himself like that. Performing well academically hinged a lot on rote memorization, a skill that had never been his strongest suite.Bookmark here

‘Well,’ started Makoto, jerking back to reality. ‘I wish I could live up to your high expectations, Ms. Uyeno. Unfortunately, I must admit that I’m just the average guy who can fail tests if I don’t study properly.’Bookmark here

So much for cursing Tanaka sensei. He was essentially making his own diss track at this point.Bookmark here

Shizuka sighed. ‘Well, if you say so.’ She took a seat at the desk. ‘In that case, I’m sure you studied extra hard for this test right?’Bookmark here

‘Yeah, uh, totally,’ Makoto responded, hoping the guilt didn’t show in his voice. ‘Studied extra hard, I think I’ll crush this test.’Bookmark here

She looked at him for a second before replying, ‘That’s very good. Best of luck to you!’Bookmark here

But wait, something was off. Bookmark here

‘Hang on, isn’t your seat by the window? How come you’re sitting in Yamasaki’s place today?’Bookmark here

‘Aoi was feeling a little nauseous, nothing serious, so she requested to switch seats with me for some fresh air.’Bookmark here

Say what again? Ordinarily Makoto would’ve thrown a grand banquet and wept tears of joy at having Shizuka sit next to him. But, why, oh, why did it have to be today of all days, he thought, weeping tears not of joy.Bookmark here

‘Alright,’ announced Tanaka sensei as she rushed back in, the mean-looking stack of quiz sheets in hand.Bookmark here

‘Everyone, pipe down. I will begin handing out the tests. Do not start until I say go.’Bookmark here

Tanaka Sensei started passing the sheets.Bookmark here

Makoto closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Bookmark here

As the rustling of paper against paper pervaded the room, Makoto emptied his mind of everything but the present. Bookmark here

‘And .. that should be everyone. Okay, the time is 8:30 AM and you all have exactly one hour to finish. Well then, without any further delay, you may ... begin!’Bookmark here

He opened his eyes, his paper sitting in front of him. It was showtime.Bookmark here

...Bookmark here

Makoto looked around furtively for a status update on the team. He himself tapped his foot impatiently, brimming with nervous energy. Bookmark here

The good kind though, he thought. Bookmark here

He looked around to check on his teammates. Orochi sat coolly, with his hands resting on the desk, fingers interlocking. Saburo had a slight conspiratorial smile on his face which Makoto wished he would get rid of, and Masao looked similarly pumped.Bookmark here

The other two members in his party were not doing as well unfortunately. Kenta looked more than a little green despite his two visits to the washroom before class and Takashi was rapidly mumbling incantations again with his eyes squeezed shut tightly, hands running over rosary beads. Bookmark here

The history quiz, which in Makoto’s opinion was a gross misnomer for an exam, consisted of 40 multiple choice questions and 2 written response questions to be completed in around 60 minutes. It was about the two main units they had been covering for the past month in class. Bookmark here

Makoto noted the time, which was 8:37 in the morning. They had till 9:30 to submit their test. He read question 7.Bookmark here

Hoping this was not a trick question, Makoto circled B. He was pretty confident about this one, it was from one of the topics he’d studied.Bookmark here

He coughed twice, followed by scratching his head twice. He paused for a moment, with silence ensuing. All according to plan. He glanced at the clock again, where 30 seconds had passed.Bookmark here

Two days ago, when the group had been mulling over how best to carry out their nefarious plan of action, given their manpower of 6 people versus the 20 topics in total, the intuitive solution of division had been for each person to memorize 4 adjacent subtopics. Of course, this meant that there was some overlap in the material studied, which was an intentional move to provide backup in case one person did not know the answer to their question. Bookmark here

And well, it was much more doable to memorize 4 topics in two days than 20.Bookmark here

Makoto moved on to the next question, which asked about the cause of some revolution somewhere in the 1700s. He wasn’t sure about this one, so he waited it out. Bookmark here

The key obstacle in their operation had been communication. Kenta was in the lowest left corner of the classroom, basically isolated from the rest of the group - he was the Straggler. Makoto and Takashi sat right next to each other though, with Orochi directly a row ahead of Makoto; these three were right in the middle of the general classroom, comprising the Central Unit. Finally, there were Masao and Saburo, who sat next to each other just like Makoto and Takashi, except that they were located at the very top right of the classroom; they were the Corner Unit. Bookmark here

Seats were assigned in this class, meaning they could not change seats. Makoto suspected that Tanaka Sensei wouldn’t care if he himself were to sit at a different seat, since Shizuka had clearly done it just now, but the real issue was negotiating with 6 other classmates in switching their seats with his whole group, which would at the very least arouse unnecessary suspicion.Bookmark here

Another 30 seconds passed by, before he saw Orochi scratch his head once, from the Central Unit. Makoto circled A and scratched his head once as well, relaying the signal to the Straggler in the back. Moving on, the tenth question was on a random country’s constitution, which Makoto had no clue about. Once again, he was gonna have to wait.Bookmark here

For information to propagate backwards had been a menial task. For example, if Masao from the Corner Unit were to know the answer to the current question, he could visibly scratch his head the associated amount of times to indicate the answer to the multiple choice question. From the Central Unit, Orochi could pick up this signal and scratch his head similarly to relay it to Makoto and Takashi, and from there Takashi could scratch his head to pass it on to Kenta. Bookmark here

Passing information forwards, however, had been a much tougher problem to tackle. Since everyone faced the front of the class, if, say, Kenta were to know the answer to a question, sight could not be relied on in obtaining information from him. Ruling out 3 of the other 4 senses that could be exploited, the only other viable option remaining, Makoto had realized, was sound.Bookmark here

The final solution they’d come up with was to assign a single cough to indicate A, a double cough to B, throat clearing for C, and sniffing loudly as D. It was difficult to come up with a signal for E, as noises like fixed amounts of pen tapping and hitting the desk were a bit too suspicious. After some contemplation, they’d decided that it would be best to raise their hand and have the teacher come up for E. That meant that if Tanaka Sensei ever left the front of the room, those in the middle and front would need to look behind to see where she was going. Bookmark here

Finally, Makoto heard someone clear their throat behind him. He circled C and cleared his throat as well, so that Orochi in the Central Unit and the Corner Unit could obtain the answer signal.Bookmark here

The final crux of the operation had been the timing. It was important to be in sync for all the questions, otherwise the entire operation would be jeopardized. The initial idea they’d come up with was to transmit a signal back to the sender acknowledging their response (something suggested by Saburo, since it is done regularly by computers according to him) but the idea was quickly shot down as impractical and attracting unwanted attention. Bookmark here

They’d thought long and hard before Makoto came up with the game plan they’d decided to go with: to align the signal passing based on the time. There was a wall clock at the side of the room which was accurate to the minute. Each question was to be given one minute, and no matter what happened they would move on to the next question after a minute. Since 40 questions only meant 40 minutes, the last 20 minutes was for the free response section.Bookmark here

Orochi by far was the most busy person. Not only was he relaying signals from the front to the rest of the squad in the back, but he also was writing responses to the open-ended questions. He wasn’t filling in the multiple choice questions though, for the sake of focusing on writing, so he would have to get the multiple choice answers a different way. Once he finished, he would outline his responses on three small, discrete pieces of paper, and distribute them to all the units. Bookmark here

Overall, Makoto thought it was a mostly fool-proof strategy.Bookmark here

As he sent and received signals, one after the other, just like that, 11 questions had gone by, all without a hitch. Bookmark here

Makoto allowed himself the privatest of grins, concealed behind his hands.Bookmark here

Nothing could go wrong now. They were mighty. They were invincible. They’d dared to defy the system and emerged victors through all of it. It should be smooth sailing from here. Makoto relaxed a bit as he was waiting for the answer to question 12. Teamwork really did make the dream work. This was ---Bookmark here

Cough.Bookmark here

Ah there it was. Seems like Kenta knew this one. Now to see if another cough followed.Bookmark here

Cough.Bookmark here

Sweet, seemed like the answer was B. Makoto raised his pencil --Bookmark here

Cough Cough.Bookmark here

Okay, wait so the answer was D instead? Interesting, thought Makoto, as he went to circle D.Bookmark here

Hol’ up.Bookmark here

The signal for D was sniffing, not coughing! Shoot, did he really mishear the coughs? Perhaps Kenta had forgotten the signal and just coughed four times? Or was it someone else who’d coughed, which intermingled with Kenta’s signal? Bookmark here

Makoto glanced sideways furtively at Takashi to confirm whether he was similarly confused, but Takashi was looking sagely at his test sheet. Makoto squinted at what seemed to be A being circled on Takashi’s test. Did Takashi only hear one cough? Makoto glanced at Tanaka Sensei, who was preoccupied on her phone, before kicking Takashi’s leg underneath to grab his attention. Takashi swerved his gaze quizzically towards Makoto. Bookmark here

‘Answer?’ mouthed Makoto silently.Bookmark here

‘B,’ mouthed back Takashi.Bookmark here

Makoto blinked. He could’ve sworn he’d seen Takashi circling A. Well, there was no time to dawdle. He waved his hand nonchalantly, indicating Takashi to forget about it and turned ahead, only to see Orochi in the middle of scratching his head. Shoot, he’d missed the signal queue from Orochi! Bookmark here

Makoto cursed internally. Oh well, it was only one question. Surely things couldn’t get any worse. He just needed to collect himself for the next question. Oh, he knew this one, it was easily A. He waited for the minute to loop around again. Alright, in 3, 2, 1 …Bookmark here

Cough, cou-cough, sneeze, cough, cou-cough cough. Cough.Bookmark here

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