The last acting job Lydia had gotten wasn’t even worthy of the title; it was more of a thinly veiled con. They’d thrown her in a dress and heels next to a guy in a suit on a newsroom set and had them do a fake story, complete with cutting to a “reporter in the field” one set over. The whole production was designed to look like a regional newscast, complete with realistic if generic logos and animations added in postproduction.

Some company out of Encino arranged the whole deal; they were willing to pay good–well, modest–money to put Lydia’s “newscast” in pop-up ads. People with low IQ’s or short attention spans might mistake it for the real thing and try out the product extolled in the spot. Lydia had to memorize a dozen lines about how recession-addled people were paying to bid on so-called penny auctions and at 75¢per bid wound up walking away with an iPod or something at 80% off the asking price.

Austin’s company had handled some of the postproduction work, and Lydia had watched him whip up a faux “Channel 9 News” screen tag after the shoot. Lydia had been toying with the idea of rolling a little of her paycheck into the auctions she was shilling.

“Don’t,” Austin said. “It’s the nearest thing to absolute evil I’ve ever seen in a business plan.”

“Why?” Lydia asked, watching the screen dance with colorful counterfeit news branding. “If you have to pay to bid, it means fewer bidders and it’s in everyone’s best interest to see the auction end quick and cheap.”

“It’s a brinksmanship game that preys and the darkest angels of human nature,” Austin said. He took a sip from his coffee while running the mouse with two fingers. “Once someone pays money to bid they’re invested in the outcome, which means they’ll bid long past the point of profitability. You might lose $700 before winning an iPod, which you still have to pay for and which they just buy from Amazon and ship to you.”

“I think I could beat the system,” said Lydia.

“So does everyone else. And as long as you just take the money for their stupid commercials and run, you will.”