âH-hey, Cora,â he stammers.
Archer looks at him with a frown. âBeat it, techno-nerd.â
The skinny guyâs face falls and he hurries off and settles down at an empty table before Cora or I can say anything. She throws me a stricken look while Archer and Cooper just chat among themselves like nothing happened. I heave a sigh and stand, knowing Iâm probably about to commit social suicide. Somehow, this feels like high school all over again.
âCome on, Cora.â I pick up my tray. âLetâs go.â
âDonât leave,â Archer protests. âCome on. If you want to sit with the dork, we donât mind. Iâll call him back.â
âDonât do me any favours,â I say, then cross the room to the Indian guy, whoâs staring at me like Iâve grown a second head.
âAre you crazy?â he hisses when I sit down. Cora joins us a second later and sheâs breathing kind of fast. The conversation in the room dips and I realise people are watching us.
âThat was unexpected.â Cora puts her tray down. âJosie, this is my friend, Darsh. Darsh, meet Josie.â
âYou do realise that was your big chance to join the elite group,â Darsh tells me.
I shrug. âWhat does it matter?â
Cora gives me a funny look. âLike I was telling you before, Galloway Industries only offers limited positions to graduating cadets. A lot of it comes down to politics, families and who you know. Cooper and Archer both have corporate capital. Archerâs dad is a high ranking judge and Cooperâs heir to some pharmaceutical empire. You can be pretty sure that come graduation, theyâll be offered positions with Galloway Industries. Theyâd be good friends to have.â
âAnd you just blew it with them,â Darsh points out helpfully.
âJosieâs not like them,â Cora tells him, then turns to me. âBut heâs right, you know. Life would be pretty easy inside their group. Most of them have been at the academy since primary school, so they think they run the place.â
âScrew the elite,â I mutter. Sure, Cora and Darsh couldnât do anything for me socially, but sitting here just felt like the right thing to do. I guess Iâm lucky Helios isnât interested in me for my street smarts. âDoing things the easy way has never been an option for me, why start now.â I offer up a winning smile to Darsh. âSo, whatâs your talent?â
âHeâs a technopath.â Cora jumps in before Darsh can say anything. âA really good one.â
âAnd all the ladies love me for it.â Darsh pretends to adjust some imaginary cuffs. âI used to work at my family manufacturing plant in Bangalore, before I was offered a place at Helios.â
âCool,â I say, then add awkwardly, âwell, Iâm a threader.â
âOh yeah?â Darsh looks more impressed than he should be. âHow good are you?â
âShe only went to Assessment today,â Cora says. âGive her a break.â
âWhat kind of tests did they want you to do?â he asks, shovelling some pasta into his mouth.
âI met Aaron Galloway,â I say. âAnd they wanted me to do stuff with him.â
Darsh pauses between mouthfuls, his eyes darting to Cora. âThat sounded creepy to you as well, right?â
âIt didnât go so well. I may have broken his brain.â An idea forms in my head. âHow good a technopath are you?â I ask Darsh. âAre you as good as Aaron Galloway is supposed to be?â
Darsh swallows before answering. âUh â¦ no. Heâs kind of the best there is.â
Coraâs eyes dart behind me. âDonât look now, but Olivia Galloway just walked in.â
âWho?â I turn to see a long-legged redhead stride into the canteen. Her clothes have the Helios logo, but I havenât seen anyone