Tarren made his way through the marketplace and was surprised to see so many of the stalls empty. Usually this place was full of merchants calling for people to come and buy their wares and happy people hoping to find a good deal. That normal atmosphere was replaced with downcast merchants packing up their stalls and mournful people not paying them any attention. He just didn’t understand it, shouldn’t everyone be talking about the Masked Man’s latest attack?
Tarren shook his head and started to enter Obediah’s bakery, but was shoved to the ground followed by an authoritative voice saying, “Watch where you’re going.”
Tarren growled at the Enforcer that had shoved him and started to rise to his feet. The first Enforcer was followed by two others that didn’t pay Tarren any attention and Obediah, who quickly rushed to Tarren’s side and grabbed on to him. He waved at the Enforcers and cheerfully said, “I certainly hope that you capture that Masked nuisance, he is certainly making it harder on everyone.” Under his breath he muttered to Tarren, “You do not want to pick a fight with them today, my friend. They are out for blood and they don’t care whose they spill.”
Tarren stopped struggling in Obediah’s grasp and watched the Enforcers make their way through the marketplace, shoving anyone aside that didn’t get out of their way fast enough. Tarren shoved Obediah’s hands off of him and stood up. “You didn’t mean what you said, Obediah, did you? About the Masked Man?”
Obediah grunted, “That he is making it harder on everyone? I certainly did. The Pedestal has raised my taxes three hundred percent to help cover the damage he has caused and the Enforcers are watching everyone more closely. It doesn’t take much to be arrested and put to the question these days. Just one wrong look, and you dragged off and never heard from again.”
Tarren frowned. “If that’s all it takes perhaps I should get today’s bread and get out of here as soon as I can. I’d have a hard time not glaring at the Enforcers.”
Obediah sighed. “I’m sorry, Tarren, but I can’t give you any bread today. In fact, until this all blows over and the taxes drop again I won’t have any bread to spare.”
Tarren looked at Obediah and shook his head. “What are you talking about? You are sure to have some old bread lying around that no one would want. It doesn’t matter how old it is, the orphanage will be happy to get rid of it for you. I’ll even chop up extra wood and do any other tasks you may need doing around here.”
Tears formed in the corner of Obediah’s eyes and he turned his head away. “I wish I could accept your offer, but with the price of everything going up I can’t afford to make as much bread as I once did. The cost of fresh bread has tripled, and my two day old bread goes for the price that fresh once did. I’m afraid that you won’t find things any different at any other bakeries either. It’s all because of that Masked Man; if he hadn’t started all this trouble then things would be different. If I ever find out who he is I won’t hesitate to hand him over to the Enforcers.”
Tarren swallowed hard and his voice shook when he spoke. “Surely there must be some way that you can help us, we’ll take anything.”
“I think you had better go, Tarren. Before the Enforcers come back and have us both arrested for creating a scene. I wish you the best of luck, my friend.” Obediah walked back into his bakery and closed the door behind him.
Tarren stared at the closed door blankly and started toward it, but stopped. He knew that Obediah would help if he could and him going back in would just put both of them at risk. What was he going to do? He couldn’t just return to the orphanage empty handed. Maybe if he tried some of the other bakeries in the marketplace he could find something. Even if it was only one loaf of bread it would be better than no bread at all.
Tarren decided to try Herman’s market stand next. Perhaps Herman would still feel like he owed him from when Tarren fought the Enforcers to protect him. He searched the entire market place, but couldn’t find old man Herman’s stall anywhere. He stopped at every food stall he could find and begged the merchants to help him provide for the orphanage, but he got the same response that he did from Obediah. The prices for everything was going up and no one could afford to part with anything for less than full price.
He heard murmurs from nearly everyone he passed about what the people would do to the masked man if they ever found him, along with a few about overthrowing the government. Tarren was tempted to approach those talking about the government and inviting them to the rebellion, but reconsidered when he heard their talk change to stringing up the Masked Man.
Tarren turned when he heard something crash behind him and saw that a man had thrown a merchant’s table over. The man roared out, “I can’t afford to pay for that! The mines are closed because of the damage that draxxin Masked maniac did to it! How am I supposed to feed my family with no income and prices this high?”
The merchant weakly held his hands in front of him and muttered, “Please calm down. You do not want to make a scene here today.”
The angry man picked the merchant up by his collar. He chuckled a weak laugh. “What are you going to do to me? Things can’t get any worse than they already are.”
The merchant squawked out, “Please! Things are tough for everyone! I have to do what I can to feed my family as well!”
The angry man shook his head. “Why should your family be fed while mine goes hungry?”
More tables were tossed aside as others moved in to attack the merchants. “That’s right! Why should our families go hungry instead of yours? It’s not fair that the Masked Man attacked the mines instead of the marketplace!”
Tarren started to back away before things could get any worse, and he backed into someone and was shoved to the ground again. Tarren glared at the Enforcers that rushed past him and gasped when one of them swung his spearbutt into the back of the head of the man lifting the merchant up. The man dropped to the ground heavily and the Enforcer roared out, “That’s enough out of all of you! Surrender quietly before things get any worse!”
Some of the rioters turned and ran further into the marketplace, and some of the Enforcers chased after them, but others attacked the Enforcers. Tarren was tempted to join join the fight until he saw the first rioter get stabbed in his stomach with an Enforcer spear. Tarren decided it was best to get out of there before the crowd got pulled into the fight. On his way out of the market place he saw a wanted poster hanging on a pole. The government was willing to pay ten thousand quillions for any information that led to the Masked Man’s capture, or one million quill for his body.
Scott flipped a page on a report and started to read. He groaned, set the report aside and leaned back in his chair. Why did these scientists have to say everything in such a complicated way on their reports? He wanted to keep a close eye on them and make sure that they weren’t doing anything that they shouldn’t, but the only thing that accomplished was making his head hurt. How did his father do it?
He pulled a drawer open on his desk and pulled out what appeared to be a hardened clump of red sand. He scratched at the surface of the clump and lifted it up to his nose and breathed in deeply. His eyes rolled back in his head and he let out a sigh of bliss. Without scrock he didn’t know if he could make it through the day.
A knock sounded at his door and he quickly replaced the clump of scrock in his drawer and slammed it shut. He picked up the reports he had been looking over and placed them in front of him. He cleared his throat and said, “Come in.”
Lawrence opened the door to allow himself in and closed it behind him. He smiled at Scott but his smile turned into a frown when he noticed a small trail of blood running out of Scott’s nose. He lifted his finger up to his nostril and said, “You seem to have a bit of a nose bleed, sir.”
Scott picked up a piece of tissue paper and dabbed at the blood running from his nose. That was the biggest drawback of using scrock to calm him down. If he didn’t do it someplace private the bloody nose was a dead give away. Why did Lawrence have to come to give his report now? He’d have to come up with a believable excuse to throw him off. “The air in this office is so dry. That’s not why you’re here though; is Tarren the one that stole our prototype?”
Lawrence shook his head. “I don’t think so. He seemed to be upset about your lack of help, but I didn’t get the feeling that he had anything to do with the attacks. He seemed just as in the dark as the rest of us are.”
Scott shook his head. Tarren had to be the one; he had access to the prototype around the time it went missing. Not only that, but he certainly matched the profile of the Masked Man. He couldn’t think of anyone else that would want the government off of Aquore badly enough to go as far as this Masked Man had. “Keep watching him, I’m sure he has something to do with this. Have the rest of our scientists keep their ears open for any other news that might help us figure out who’s behind this.”
Lawrence nervously cleared his throat. “Perhaps we could forget about Tarren for the moment and I could focus on our new project? I feel that would be more beneficial to the company as a whole.”
Scott frowned. He had thought that Lawrence wouldn’t have the spine to question him, especially after the way his predecessor was let go for doing that. Perhaps it was time to remind Lawrence of how he got to where he was. “I’m sorry, are you suggesting that I am wrong? Funny, the head scientist before you thought the same thing and look where that got him. Don’t forget how easily you replaced him, because I have an entire staff that could just as easily do your job.”
Lawrence shuddered and looked down at the floor. “Forgive me, sir. I can see now that following this Tarren should be my top priority.”
Scott smiled. That was the way that his employees should respond to his requests. Lawrence would do anything that he asked him to do now. He leaned back in his chair and nodded his head. “Good, I’m glad that you see things my way. How is your new project going?”
Lawrence hesitated before answering. “The project is developing, but we seem to have hit a bit of a snag. The acid eats through the rock well enough, but it alters the quorite whenever it comes in contact with it.”
Scott frowned. “Alters it how?”
Lawrence pushed his glasses further up his nose and shuffled his feet. “Once the process is finished it’s no longer quorite, it’s some other new metal that we haven’t found a use for yet.”
Scott shook his head. “This acid of yours was supposed to replace the suits that we lost because of that Masked Man’s attacks. If it makes the quorite useless, then it’s completely useless.”
Lawrence swallowed and replied, “We are aware of that, sir. We are taking another look at the formula to see if we can’t alter it to do what we want, but I haven’t been able to give it my full attention.”
Scott sat up and glared at Lawrence. “Are you trying to blame this on me?”
Lawrence jumped and replied, “Of course not, sir! I’m just trying to explain that it could take some time to perfect.” Scott glowered at Lawrence, and Lawrence picked up his clipboard and looked over his notes. “On the bright side, it has been suggested that we could spread some of this chemical over government mining sites to slow down their production of Quorite.”
Scott shook his head. “As much as I love the idea of that, it would simply make the supply of quorite diminish; we want to get as much as we can, not just more than the government. Keep at it, Lawrence. I expect to see results soon. You are dismissed.”
Lawrence opened his mouth to say more, but one look at Scott’s face and he just left the office. Scott sighed and sat back in his chair. Perhaps it was time that he met with the rebellion again. With all the chaos and riots going on the last thing he needed was for them to do anything foolish and get them all captured. The government’s focus may be on finding this Masked man, but they certainly couldn’t have forgotten about the rebellion. If he did it right, he could use the rebellion to take advantage of the confusion going on and send them on the offensive. Perhaps they even knew who this Masked Man was.
If he couldn’t get his prototype back at least he could use the Masked Man to continue his attacks on the government’s mining sites. That would certainly slow them down. He grimaced. He didn’t like the idea of it but perhaps he would have the Masked Man attack one of his mining sites to clear Daley Devices of any suspicion. The small mine near Lake Bed, that wouldn’t provide him with too much of a set back.
That prototype performed far better than he had expected them to. He knew that they would be able to mine quorite more efficiently than any team of humans could hope to, but he had never imagined the sheer power that they had. Perhaps he should have the project revived and sell them on some other planet as a weapon. No, he couldn’t do that. If the government came poking around at the wrong time they could blame the entire thing on Daley Devices, and his father wouldn’t be pleased with that. This Masked Man needed to be captured eventually and this whole matter die down before they could move forward with those designs. He would find out who this Masked Man was, use him until he saw fit to turn him into the government.
The first step of this new plan was to get in contact with John and start working with the rebellion once more. Scott pulled his drawer open once more and pulled out his lump of scrock and scratched the surface. He took a deep sniff and sighed in delight once more. His father may have been the inventor that started this company, but Scott was the mastermind that was going to make it greater than his father had ever dreamed possible.
Tarren walked into the kitchen of the orphanage with a far away look in his eyes. Eugene looked up from the newspaper that he was reading and frowned at Tarren. “Did you forget the bread at Obediah’s again?”
Tarren dropped onto a stool and started muttering, “It’s all my fault. It’s all happening because of me.”
Eugene’s frown turned into a look of concern and he walked over to Tarren and patted him on the back. “What’s your fault Tarren? What are you talking about?”
Tears formed in Tarren’s eyes and he looked at Eugene. “Obediah won’t be giving us any more bread, not for a while if ever again.”
Eugene’s eyes opened wide in alarm. “Did something happen to Obediah?”
“The government increased everyone’s taxes to the point where most shops can’t afford to stay open, and those that can are charging an insane amount for their goods.”
Eugene growled, “I don’t see how that could be your fault, it’s that darn Masked Man’s fault! I was just reading in the paper about how he attacked a mine last night and got into a fight with the Enforcers. Fifteen of them died last night, and another twenty were injured. He seems like a brute intent on the destruction of this planet. All those poor miners are without a job now until the mines can be reopened.”
Tarren started sobbing. “I wanted to help the people, to send a message to the government that they couldn’t oppress us any longer! I didn’t want anything like this to happen!”
Eugene looked at Tarren in shock. After a few moments of silence, he moved over to the doors and made sure that no one was close enough to overhear anything they said before he growled out, “Do you mean to tell me that you are that Masked Man?”
Tarren nodded his head. “When Kyle was captured by the Enforcers and the rebellion’s rescue party was captured, I went looking for help. I found this glove that gave me incredible strength in my right arm, so I broke into the Pedestal and rescued everyone. I saw how upset it made the government and I thought that if I did another attack, they would be more lenient on the people and things would get better. I didn’t want any of this to happen!”
Eugene stared at Tarren in silence for a couple of minutes before he finally said, “You have been in the rebellion this whole time, even after what they did to your parents?”
Tarren said in between sobs, “My parents are dead because of the government! The rebellion had nothing to do with it!”
Eugene slapped Tarren in the face. “What do you mean the rebellion had nothing to do with it? Don’t you realize that if the rebellion hadn’t been attacking the Enforcers that they never would have lashed back like that? That if they weren’t part of the rebellion they wouldn’t have been near that massacure? Tarren, I have done my best to keep you safe ever since you came to this orphanage; I loved you like I would my own son! And you have repaid me by trying to get yourself killed! Do you have any idea what could have happened to the orphanage if you were caught?”
Tarren sniffled. “I was being careful.”
Eugene threw his hands up. “Careful? You killed fifteen men last night! I don’t care what the Enforcers did to you or your parents, that’s fifteen lives that you ended. I raised you better than that, Tarren!”
Tarren crossed his arms and sulked. “I couldn’t just sit around and do nothing like everyone else. I wanted to make things better for everyone on the planet.”
Eugene rolled his eyes. “How did that work out for you?” Tarren turned and glared at Eugene. Eugene sighed. “Don’t worry, we’ll find some way to fix this. Have you spoken to the leader of your rebellion about what you did? Perhaps he would have an idea or two of how to calm things down.”
Tarren flinched. “That may not be the best idea. I already met with him as the Masked Man to try and get the rebellion involved in my plans, and he threatened to kill me if I went through with them.”
Eugene started massaging his temples. “Does he know you are the Masked Man?”
Tarren shook his head. “You are the only one that knows besides me. I’ve been keeping it quiet and trying to feel out people’s attitudes towards the Masked Man before I tell them.”
Eugene smiled. “Well, God be praised that you had enough common sense to keep it to yourself. If talking with your leader isn’t an option, perhaps you should have a talk with Troy? He might be able to help you find a way to resolve this peacefully without too much backlash.”
Tarren sniffled and said, “That’s a good idea. If anyone would know how to smooth things over with the government, it would be Troy.”
Eugene nodded his head. “After you get a chance to speak with Troy, we can figure out our next move. Before you do that, we should pray for the Lord’s guidance through this ordeal.”
Tarren wiped away his tears. “I think that would be a good place to start.”
Tarren sat in the coffee shop and nervously took a sip of his coffee. The bell over the door chimed and he jumped and turned to see who had entered the shop. It wasn’t Troy, just another person who had decided that an overpriced cup of coffee was an important thing to have during this economic crisis. Tarren was sure that this place would be deserted in another week or two once the higher prices really started to hit home.
The bell chimed once more and Tarren smiled when he saw Troy wearing one of his fancy black suits. His smile turned into a frown once he saw how tired his friend looked. “Troy, have you been getting enough sleep lately?”
Troy ran his hand through his hair and sat down across from Tarren. “No, the government has been meeting almost nonstop the past two days trying to figure out how to deal with this Masked Man. I swear, if I ever get my hands on this fellow he’ll regret it.”
Tarren paused. “You hate the Masked Man that much?”
Troy growled and formed both of his hands into fists. “I loathe that man more than anyone else on this planet! Fifteen people are dead because of him, and many more are unemployed. This planet is going to fall apart if he isn’t caught soon!”
Tarren flinched. “You don’t think he was doing what he thought was best for the people?”
Troy grimmanced. “What? No! I don’t understand how you can possibly think like that. Can’t you see how much worse things have gotten for the people? If the Masked Man was interested in doing what was best for the people, he should turn himself in before this manhunt gets any worse!”
Tarren slowly nodded his head. “Yes, I can see how that would be for the best.”
Troy smiled at Tarren. “Sorry to come and dump my frustrations on you like this. What did you want to talk with me about?” Tarren had a far away look in his eyes and Troy cleared his throat. “Tarren? I don’t have a lot of spare time, so if you could tell me why you wanted to talk with me so urgently?”
Tarren jumped and looked at Troy in surprise. “What? Oh, yes. I wanted to ask you… if you had any suggestions on how the orphanage could make it through this. Obediah can’t afford to give us anymore of his scraps, and we need to find some way to feed the kids.”
Troy shrugged. “I’m not sure what to tell you, Tarren. Things are tough for everyone. I’ll try bringing it up at the Pedestal again and see if we can’t get some sort of special funding or something while this trouble with the Masked Man is going on. I have to go, but you watch out for yourself; the orphanage could be the Masked Man’s next target.”
Tarren weakly smiled. “I don’t know why he would attack us, but I’ll keep my eyes open for him.”
Troy stood up and pulled out his wallet. He handed Tarren a plastic card. “I know that a hundred quill won’t go as far as it used to, but use it to get some food for you and the kids, and I’ll do what I can to get you more.”
Tarren stood up and shook Troy’s hand. “Thanks, Troy. I knew I could count on you for help.”
Troy nodded his head. “I’ll do anything to help out my family, you know that, Tarren. Say hi to Eugene for me.” Troy walked out of the coffee shop, and Tarren stared at the closed door for five minutes, all the while trying to figure out what to do from here.
Thank you for checking out my story, if you liked this and want to see more stories like it, check out the other stories I’m working on writing, here: Tales of the Imagination, check out my facebook page for updates on the stories here: Facebook, and follow me on Twitter here: @EJBorchardt. Please like, comment, and tell your friends if you like what you’ve read. Don’t forget to come back tomorrow to see my review of what happened previously in The Super Morpher, as well as a sneak peek at what will happen in the next chapter. Then come back on Monday when I will post part of one the next chapter of The Super Morpher, and check out my newly published book, The Kids on the Case.