Slacker Squad: Why Work When You Can Cheat?
Cough, cou-cough, sneeze, cough, cou-cough cough. Cough.
Wait, what? Did they all just cough the answer?
And who the hell sneezed?! That was way too loud and suspicious.
To make matters even worse, from the corner of his eyes Makoto discerned that Tanaka Sensei had looked away from her phone. He didn’t dare move a muscle. Had they pushed their luck too far? Was their whole operation doomed before it could start in full force?
Makoto’s life flashed before his eyes.
This was it. This was his futile attempt to overthrow the schooling regime. To think they would be exposed in under 12 minutes from start! The recent occurrence revealed a brutal reality - a mere group of school students could not possibly subvert the long lasting, omnipresent institution named school.
If there was reincarnation, Makoto hoped to be a dog in a 1st or perhaps even a 2nd world country. If there was an afterlife, all he wished for was a scarcity of history quizzes.
But, with no other options, he decided to look up.
Tanaka Sensei reached into her handbag ... and pulled out a handkerchief.
Phew! Makoto almost let out an audible sigh of relief. Well, that sure explained the sneeze. And for better or for worse, it seemed he would be in this life for a little longer.
Well, at least it was only one question. Makoto and the squad were prepared for this type of potential confusion, as things couldn’t always run smoothly. Imagine if they had to send acknowledgment signals on top of this, how convoluted that would be!
Makoto looked around the room once more to make sure nothing was amiss, before skimming the next question. Nope, Makoto didn’t know this one. Another minute passed before any signal arrived. Tanaka Sensei got up from her seat and headed towards the back of the room. Makoto glanced behind him to see Kenta with a raised hand. Perfect, E was the answer.
Going through the next question, Makoto was once again clueless about the answer. Another minute passed before any signal arrived. Tanaka Sensei got up again from her seat and went towards the back. Makoto glanced behind to see Kenta with a raised hand. Nice, E was the answer again.
It was unusual though, for there to be an E twice in a row. Statistically, Orochi had told them, Tanaka Sensei set E as the option representing the correct answer least frequently, for what should be a around the maximum of five times in a “quiz”. And spaced out evenly, it shouldn’t be suspicious summoning Tanaka Sensei to ask for clarification that many times. Annoying for her, sure, but not suspicious.
The next question was another one that befuddled Makoto. Another minute passed before any signal arrived. Huh, this was starting to feel familiar.
Like deja vu?
Tanaka Sensei got up again from her seat, this time letting out an irked sigh as she locomoted towards the back.
Makoto glanced behind to yet again witness Kenta with his hand raised. And not just Makoto this time, seemingly the whole class was now looking behind! While they all looked at Kenta with disdain at his guts, Makoto couldn’t but applaud mentally. Poor Kenta, his sacrifice as a supposed try hard would not be in vain! Makoto teared up as he circled E again.
The tears were of mirth though. At any rate, they definitely should switch up the signal for E next time. This was a prime example of the phrase hindsight is 20-20. Also, screw Orochi and his useless statistics.
Makoto looked at the clock. It was time.
Orochi got up from his chair. He went up to the front, heading towards the innocuous tissue box sitting there. He yanked out some tissues and blew from his slit-like nose. Then, he strolled to the back of the class to throw his tissue away, before returning to his seat.
At least, that was what occurred to the eye of an average observer.
What actually happened was something far more sophisticated. Possibly the riskiest portion of their operation.
On the way up to the tissues, Orochi slid a sheet of paper outlining the answers of the free response to the Corner unit. And on his way down to the (conveniently placed) trash can at the back of the room by Kenta, he slid another paper with answers to the Straggler.
What an absolute madlad.
Now all he had to do was pass the small, crumpled up outline sheet to Makoto and Takashi. Orochi stretched, his hands moving backward, hand gripped. As he pulled down, he let go of the sheet.
Makoto remembered reading somewhere - the tiniest of moments could change everything. A set of events dictated not merely the now. It was but a single domino that could topple the stack, birthing an unstoppable series of changes, gaining momentum and spinning out of control. And before one could care to become cognizant of, the paradigm had completely flipped and the future irreversibly altered. Indeed it was these moments that defined reality itself.
As for this moment, it was not one of those moments, but it was still pretty damn important.
The ball of paper landed on the floor, in the space right between Makoto and Shizuka's desks.
All Makoto wanted was to saute Orochi alive with some good seasoning. Was that really too much to ask?
Makoto’s life flashed before his life again. It wasn’t as good on a rewatch. Too many spoilers and he would’ve casted someone else for the MC.
But it was an appropriate time to panic. If Shizuka had seen that, it would be game over. Not only would she know who the sender was, the likely intended recipient - that is to say, Makoto - would also not be the toughest mystery to crack. And once she reported it to Tanaka sensei, not only would that have serious consequences for him and the boys, but more importantly he’d have successfully managed to reduce his chances with Shizuka from low to none.
Makoto’s mind ran a billion simulations a second. Most of them involved plans about retiring to the hills and leading a new life as an exiled hermit.
Wait, no! He couldn’t just give up before he hit a financial crisis in his late 20s. Despite it being the last thing he wanted to do, he snuck a cursory glance to his right, holding his breath.
Whether the gods were helping Makoto or simply playing a board game with each square they landed on be a new surprise for him, he knew not. But somehow Shizuka seemed to have been too busy with her own quiz to notice the ball of paper right beside her.
But he couldn’t put his feet up yet. Even if Shizuka hadn’t seen it yet, there was no way it would go unnoticed for long. It wasn’t like Makoto could just pick it up either. She would definitely notice that and report it to Tanaka sensei, and he wasn’t really in the mood to explain what he was doing with an outline sheet clearly in Orochi’s handwriting.
Time was running out. How much longer before Shizuka happened to catch a glimpse of it? Makoto didn’t want to find out. He had to think of something.
He glanced around. It seemed like the others had noticed that things had gone awry as well. Makoto thought he could almost make out the beads of perspiration on Orochi’s neck, but then he reminded himself reptiles couldn’t sweat. Kenta appeared almost visibly blue and Takashi seemed like he was having an astral projection session. Masao looked like his favorite anime’s second season had just been canceled. As for Saburo, the conspiratorial smile had vanished from his face - and that’s when one knew things were bad.
It was clear to Makoto that none of these smooth brains were going to have much to contribute to getting them out of this. This was the worst.
He had to think.
Think, think, think.
He couldn’t afford to dispose of the paper - the long answer questions were worth too much. At the same time, if Shizuka looked at it, there would be no saving them. Should he just give up on trying to retrieve the paper in the first place and just dispose of it instead? But it wasn’t like he had a plan to accomplish the disposal without looking suspicious anyway. Perhaps he should try to distract Shizuka somehow? Because he could totally do that in the middle of an exam, hehe.
Now, all Makoto wanted to do was to saute himself with or without seasoning. Why had his brain gone blank at the most crucial point? He looked bitterly at his empty extra paper provided for the long answer questions. Hang on a minute - blank? That was it! That was it!
But he was out of time. Uyeno Shizuka, apparently having completed her quiz, finally looked up. And there it lay, hard to miss, the piece of paper that could make or break their collective futures.
Makoto looked on in horror as Shizuka first frowned in puzzlement and then slowly started extending her hand to pick the paper up. No, this was bad. This was bad, bad, bad. He had to --
‘Sensei, I found this crumpled up near my desk.’