The Reveler’s Mask
By Ronald Brandenburg
Published by Ronald Brandenburg at Shakespir
Copyright 2015 Ronald Brandenburg
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The city was coming alive, Kayla could feel it. For one month every year, the capitol city of Pheros celebrated what the locals affectionately called carnival. Kayla vaguely remembered that the original reason for carnival was a religious celebration, but she and the vast majority of people on Pheros were not religious. They celebrated carnival to revel in the debauchery.
All of that, of course, was good for her business. Kayla Covington was a huntress, a private eye, a bounty hunter and there were always people looking for lost things during and after carnival. Jewelry, cars, and people had a habit of disappearing during the hectic events of carnival. Some people just couldn’t handle it; Kayla abstained from the celebration in order to keep her wits about her.
The first public event was only days away, leaving Kayla little time to prepare, but since she didn’t have a case at the moment, there was little to do. Not wanting to be idle, Kayla left her tiny apartment and headed to the local watering hole where she was a regular. The life of a private detective was not glamorous, but it fit Kayla perfectly. There was no way that she would have fit into the cookie cutter mold of an office drone working half the day away, only to repeat the process for days, month, and years. Sure, there was no such thing as a steady pay check in her business, but she learned long ago that if you don’t owe much, then you don’t need much.
The sky overhead was overcast, but warmer than it had been in months. That was probably why carnival was always held at this time of the year, people were just sick of being stuck inside their homes while the weather was brutally cold. Kayla always walked with her head held up, watching those around her as they hurried to and fro on their errands. People walking like that always missed the world around them, Kayla thought to herself. However, today nothing interesting presented itself to her as she made her way to The Well, the local beerhall.
The door chimed as she walked through them. The bar was nearly empty, but it was just shortly after mid-day.
“Hey Kayla, your usual?” The bartender asked.
“Yeah” was the only response from her as she picked a high seat at the bar where she could watch the door.
“Anything going on in here?” she said when her mixed drink was sat in front of her.
“What you see is what you get, pretty dead in here.”
Kayla could tell that Mike was bored and in a talkative mood to pass the time.
“Anybody come in here looking for something?”
“You’re looking for more work, aren’t you?”
“I’m always looking for work.”
“Well, you’re in luck. Nobody came in here, but I heard from another patron that a shipment of tires has vanished.”
“Really? I’m not going to track down a truck full of tires for a mega-corporation that hasn’t noticed them missing yet. What else you got?”
“That is all I’ve heard lately, but carnival is almost here. You know as well as I do that people lose a lot of stuff that they want back.”
“Then I guess that I will have to wait for people to lose it before they can hire me.”
Kayla and Mike continued talking with each other for the rest of the afternoon, only other drinkers ordering their beverages interrupted their conversation. Kayla really liked this aspect of her job, she didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything. By the time she decided to head home, she realized that she had a good buzz going. Kayla cursed herself for imbibing so much in those drinks. She paid her tab and wobbled out the door.
The walk from The Well to her apartment wasn’t long, but it seemed to take even longer tonight. To be fair though, Kayla had to keep a hand on a building or a lamp post to keep herself upright. It must have been her inebriated state that kept her from realizing that she was being followed. Before she knew it, there was a bag over her head and a sharp pain in her neck as her abductors drugged her. Blackness overcame all of her senses as her body was gently placed in the back of a nearby, inconspicuous van.
The drug that her abductors used made her dream vividly. Even though she couldn’t remember the dreams for very long, there did seem to be a theme to them. She was always moving, but from where and to where was a mystery. Voices coming from all around her, men and women, but she couldn’t catch what they were saying. Kayla didn’t come round to consciousness until the bag was removed from her head.
Her captors had a bright light aimed in her eyes so that she couldn’t see who they were. Kayla was still very disoriented and her usual sharp observation skills had completely deserted her.
“Miss Covington, we have a job for you.”
Well, this was strange; usually Kayla talked to her clients at the bar, over the phone, or in her apartment. Why had these people bothered to snatch her off of the street?
“What kind of job? And why did you kidnap me?”
“Because for this job, it has to seem like you are doing it against your will.”
Kayla’s interest was piqued now.
“So why don’t you turn the light off and tell me about it?”
“Because I don’t want you to see my face, and I don’t like wearing a mask. I can put your bag back on though.”
“No thanks, I’ll just close my eyes and listen to you.”
“As you wish, I need you to retrieve something for me, something that was stolen from me years ago and hidden away.”
“That is what I specialize in.” Kayla was getting ill with the whole cloak and dagger bit that her soon-to-be employer was putting on.
“Just tell me what you want and where to find it.”
“It is not that easy.”
“Of course it’s not, what is going on here?”
“The mask that the Head Reveler from the Order of Time wears was stolen from my family. It is now being underutilized in their pathetic carnival. I must have it back, but the Order of Time cannot know that it has been reclaimed until I am ready for them.”
“I’ve seen that mask. So you want me to swipe the mask and leave a good fake, is that it?”
“In essence, we cannot provide you with a replacement, because they may have altered the mask. So you need to infiltrate the Order of Time, smuggle the mask out, replicate it, and place the new mask on the dais where the original one is being held.”
“And do all this without them knowing that their precious mask is gone?”
“Correct, and it must be completed before their parade and ball. The thought of them parading our revered artifact around cannot be allowed to continue.”
“I understand wanting to reclaim your mask, but why wait until now?”
“They keep it hidden during the year and only bring it out of secured storage at the beginning of carnival.”
“So, why choose me to get it back?”
“We heard you were looking for work.”
“Fair enough, so where do I bring it, once I have it in my possession? And how are you going to pay me?”
“Don’t worry about that, we will be watching you, anything you need just send a note to this address.”
“Creepy, can I go home now?”
“Yes, but I am afraid that we will have to drug you again.”
Before Kayla could complain, a needle struck her neck again, just above her hairline. Within seconds, she was back in her dream land.
Kayla awoke, rubbing her neck where the needle had stuck her. She came out of her drug induced unconsciousness faster than before and realized that she was in her own apartment on her own bed.
“This is getting out of control; they broke into my house with me in tow.” Kayla said to the empty rooms.
Afternoon light was streaming in through her windows; she had been unconscious for nearly an entire day. She felt her pockets and found a business card with an inconspicuous online address.
“Well, carnival is only a couple days away and I’ve got work to do.”
Her phone didn’t have any missed calls or messages on it, another side effect of living alone with no significant other. Kayla brought her data slate online and started researching the Order of Time. A quick query brought her to their main page where they had thousands of pictures from previous years, including pictures of the Head Reveler, who apparently changed every year. The fact page told Kayla that the Order of Time was amongst the oldest carnival organizations on Pheros, going back almost two hundred years.
Suddenly curious about who would have a complaint against an organization that self-funded a parade that gave away party favors, Kayla continued her research, looking for any past news articles that might mention a lawsuit. Sadly, nothing turned up. She had to put that train of thought aside and start coming up with a plan to infiltrate the Order of Time and retrieve the mask.
Looking back at the pictures, Kayla could tell that it did change year to year, even though the pictures didn’t have a time stamp on them, she could tell by the wearer. It seemed that each year, the mask was repainted in a slightly different fashion. The only constant, as far as Kayla could tell, was the underlying mask and a huge blue sapphire that was fixed in the forehead of the mask.
“That is going to be difficult to replicate.”
Pulling up the Order of Time’s public calendar, she saw that their parade and ball was eight days away.
“Not a lot of time to plan this one.”
Fortunately, Kayla was very good at finding things. That was what brought her into the profession in the first place. Looking at the mask, she began to formulate an idea. What she needed was more research. The online site for the Order of Time was proving to be a treasure trove of information as Kayla found their address. On a big banner on the site’s homepage, was an ad for an open house that night to kick off the carnival season. Kayla thought that it looked like a recruiting ploy, but she would use it to her advantage if it would get her a good look at the mask. Quickly, she deleted her history and powered off the data slate. She only had a couple hours to get ready and over to the Order of Times headquarters.
Kayla opted to take the luxury of a taxi to the Order of Times open house, she reasoned it looked better than walking up alone. She was wearing one of the few cocktail dresses that she owned. Kayla deplored dresses under normal circumstances, but in situations like these, she knew that she could rely on stereotypes to avoid too much scrutiny. The taxi stopped in front of their building while a valet opened the door for her.
“Welcome to the Order of Time. I assume that you’re here for the open house?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Right this way, ma’am.”
Kayla followed the valet as he led her up to and through the front doors into the lobby of the Order of Time. There he left her as he went back to tending his lot. But a couple was sitting behind a table with a stack of pamphlets spread out in front of them.
“Welcome to the Order of Time, it’s almost that time of year again! If you are here for the open house, then we would like for you to wear a name badge so that our members can help answer any questions that you might have.”
“Oh, thank you very much. My name is Sarah Edwards.”
“Thank you” said the woman of the welcome committee as her male counterpart quickly wrote her name on a badge.
“Here you go, have a fun time. If you have any questions and can’t find someone to answer them, then you can come back here and we will help you. And here, take a pamphlet.” The woman was being overly nice in Kayla’s opinion, as she took the literature in her outstretched hand.
“Thank you very much.”
Kayla entered the ballroom, where the Order of Time held their annual formal. Right now though, it was full of displays and people chatting in small groups. It wasn’t long before Kayla was approached by a young man with no name tag.
“Ahh, let’s see, Sarah. How are you today?”
“Excited, carnival is just around the corner.”
“I know; it is the best time of year, especially if you are a member of a carnival order. My name is Seth Evans, I’ve been a member for six years.”
“I’ve always been in the crowd during the parades, but I want to see the view from the floats.”
“Well, to do that, you have to be a member. Luckily for you, we have openings available in our order. You can get that view you want in only eight days.”
“Oh really? That sounds grand.” Kayla was laying on her naïve girl act pretty thick, but if these people can keep up the overjoyed act, then she could too.
“How do I join?”
“Oh, it’s easy, we do a quick background check, you pay a small fee, we have a short vote, and you’re in.”
“That sounds pretty detailed for membership into a parade.”
“Oh, we’re not just a parade and ball. We are a year round social group.”
“I had no idea. I have only heard about the parade.”
“To be sure, carnival is our most active time of year, but we have meetings year-round to organize, repair floats, and build new floats, and recruit new members.”
Kayla realized that this young man was subtly steering her through the exhibits, when she saw the mask out of the corner of her eye. With a schoolgirl-like squeal, she broke the conversation and walked over to the display case holding the mask.
“I’ve seen this on your website!”
“Yes, that is the Head Reveler’s mask. We choose a new Head Reveler every year, and he or she wears the mask during the parade and following ball.”
“Why does the Head Reveler wear a mask?”
“Well, the Order of Time is a secret organization. I can’t just go telling you our ancient secrets, can I?”
The man was flirting with her, Kayla realized.
“Fine, be mysterious like that.” She could flirt right back.
“What is the fee to join?”
“Well, there is an upfront fee to join, then a smaller yearly fee after that. The fee to join is five thousand Joules.”
Kayla’s eyes nearly bugged out of her head, but she kept herself in check. In truth, she had never seen five thousand Joules at any one time in her life. She could get that from the assholes who kidnapped her to give her this job, that would be a small form of payback for their actions.
“I will have to move some funds; I don’t keep that much in my daily expense account.”
“Of course, now if you will come over here, then we can get your information and start the check.”
Kayla smiled to herself internally, her cover was pretty good. Sarah Edwards was a real person, with a real address on the other side of the planet. Kayla had managed to reroute all mail to flow through her before it went on to the real Sarah Edwards. Kayla had been using Sarah’s identification for so long, that she had memorized the address and pertinent identification numbers. Entering her information for the background check was very easy.
“We can vote on you membership as soon as your funds clear. In the unlikely event that you don’t get a majority vote the funds will be returned to your account, but don’t worry, the only person that we rejected in recent memory had a criminal background.”
“You wouldn’t want that would you?”
“No, well, don’t dawdle on the transfer; we need to get you in the Order before you can ride in the parade.”
“Alright, I will transfer the funds this evening. Can I return tomorrow to write you a check?”
“Sure, all of these displays will have been taken down, but I will be here.”
“I will see you tomorrow then.”
“Goodnight Miss Edwards”
“Goodnight Mr. Evans”
Kayla left the Order of Time’s building as quickly as she thought was polite and hailed a taxi. Inside her brain was a mad scramble of fresh information. She could see why her unnamed employer would want the mask back, it was absolutely stunning and probably worth a fortune. She made a note to contact him and have him transfer funds to her Sarah Edwards account; it wouldn’t do for the money to come from an account linked to her real name.
Kayla made it home in a reasonable time, she made sure to get a receipt from the taxi. Kayla was going to make sure that she got reimbursed for every expense and then paid handsomely. Once she was inside her apartment, she fired up her data slate. Finding the business card again, she sent her mysterious employer a short message, explaining what she had done and what she needed.
Within moments, she had double what she asked for in her account.
“Wow, these people are serious about getting their mask back.”
Now that she had the funds to enter the Order of Time, she had to start thinking about how to make a believable replica that would fool the Order. It would be impossible to find a natural sapphire to replace the one on the mask; however, it was possible to grow one in a lab with the right equipment. Fortunately, Kayla had a contact with a local lab that grew precious stones for jewelry. She had helped him out when his lab had been broken into; she had found the burglars and recovered most of the stones.
A refined search did not yield what the mask itself was made of, so Kayla was going to have to use a spectrum analyzer to figure out the composition. That was a bit tricky, she was sure that the local university would have one somewhere. She just had to position herself so that she could use it.
The plan that was slowly evolving in her head was to grow the sapphire ahead of time. Then, swipe the mask and analyze it, then scan it. To replicate it, she was going to use a high definition three dimensional printer to make a new one, attach the grown sapphire, and return the new one to the Order of Time before they had any idea that it was gone.
Nothing else came to mind, so Kayla decided that was the plan. Since her friend at the lab was probably asleep, she decided that it would be a good time for her to catch a few Zzz’s as well. Making sure that all of her windows were locked and the door deadbolt was latched, she curled up in her bed and fell into a dreamless sleep.
“Why do you want a sapphire that big?”
“It is a present for a close friend who loves sapphires.”
“That sounds fishy, but I suppose I can do it. It is going to take a few days.”
“That is fine, but my friend is in the Order of Time and I would like to give it to her before their ball.”
“When is that?”
“Seven days, and I need to polish the sapphire and implant it in the scepter that I’m making for her.”
“I wish I was your friend, you seem to give great gifts.”
“Well, she is very close; I probably owe her my life.”
“I see, I will have your sapphire in four days.”
“Thank you Miguel”
“No problem Kayla”
Kayla went from Miguel’s stone lab back to the Order of Time headquarters. Upon exiting the taxi, there was no valet to open the door for her. She had to knock on the door and wait for several long minutes before Seth opened it for her.
“Ahh, you’ve returned. I was afraid that we scared you away with the talk of the background report and entrance fee. You wouldn’t be the first to politely back out after hearing that, which I think is a shame.”
“No, no, I’m very excited.” Kayla fell back into her schoolgirl mentality, trying to get Seth to get comfortable around her, maybe even try to show off for her. If he started doing that, then she would steer him towards the mask.
Seth had brought her inside the ballroom, where it did look very different from the night before. There was no furniture at all in the room now, and it made the ballroom look tremendously larger. You could easily fit five hundred people in there.
“So you’ve been a member of the Order for six years?”
“Yes, and my parents have been in for forty, they are pretty senior members. Father was nominated for the Head Reveler last year, even though he didn’t get it. My grandfather was in it for years before he was forced to resign.”
“So, your whole family is in?”
“I have a couple siblings that weren’t interested in joining, but it is their loss in my opinion.”
“Is there anything that you can show me now? Or is it all a secret?” Kayla dialed up her flirting effort.
“I can show you the hallway where the previous Head Reveler’s portraits hang, but it is not very exciting.”
“Oh, I would like to see that!”
“Well, come this way then.”
Seth offered Kayla his arm as he guided her to a hallway that led off of the main ballroom. The oldest portraits were closest to the ballroom.
“The order was founded one hundred and ninety years ago and we have had a Head Reveler every year.”
Kayla noticed that the first portraits didn’t have the mask that they had today. Then it showed up about twenty portraits down for a while, and then disappeared again.
“What is the deal with the mask? I saw this mask last night and it is in some portraits but not others.”
“I can’t tell you. After you join and get sworn in, then that will be revealed. But it is one of our secrets.”
“Ahh, secrets again, well, I hope that I get sworn in before the parade.”
“Do you want to come to the ball? It is an invite only formal affair, but you can be my date even if you don’t join in time.”
Kayla forced a squeal again, “That would be wonderful, but I do hope to be a member.”
Kayla bit her lip, trying to foster more warm feelings from Seth.
“Is the mask here? I would like to see it again.”
“It is here, the Reveler’s mask is in its cleaning room, but nobody is in there right now if you would like to see it.”
Seth grabbed Kayla’s hand as he looked about himself. She could immediately picture him as a schoolboy about to do something that the headmaster expressly forbid.
“This way, and keep quiet.”
Kayla followed Seth down the hallway and into a non-descript door that looked just like all of the others that they had passed. Seth stealthily opened the door and stuck his head in, looking for any other Order member. Seeing that the coast was clear, he motioned for Kayla to follow him in and closed the door after her.
It took Kayla a moment for her eyes to adjust to the semi darkness, but there in front of her was the mask. It wasn’t even in a display case this time. Kayla started at it and started to walk around it in a closing spiral while Seth stood and watched her. She could tell that he was proud of the Reveler’s mask and was approving of the reaction that she had. She had to keep the ruse up; she had already memorized the directions to this room so that she could get back to it by herself later. It wouldn’t do to have him get suspicious of her and alert others, which would make her job much more difficult.
Eventually, she stopped out of arm’s length from the mask on the opposite side of the room from Seth. She inspected the mask and committed its decorations to memory.
“It is different that the mask from last year’s portrait.”
“It is the same mask, but we update it in accordance with our traditions.”
“So you’ve already updated it for this year?”
“It has been painted, but it is curing now.”
“It will be ready for the parade?”
“Oh yes, that is its most important night of the year.”
“But you can’t tell me why because it is a secret?”
“You’re catching on quick”
“Well, I guess I had better go.”
“Really, would you care to join me for dinner?”
“That would be great!”
Kayla realized that she was going to have to spend the entire evening with this aristocratic fop, but if she got a decent meal and a couple drinks out of it, then she could keep up the charade. Hell, maybe she could coax some information out of him. It was not as if she had other plans, or even given thought to what she would eat later.
Dinner turned out to be a bad idea. Kayla tried not to get close to her clients, and it was hard to fake to this man who was being nice to her. The whole time at dinner, she couldn’t get the thought that she was trying to steal from this guy and his club from her mind. She wasn’t wrong about his upbringing though, as far as she could tell, his family was loaded and had been for generations. He wasn’t a member of an old family like the Confederates or New Order, but he didn’t want for anything. Guessing from the lack of flaws, Kayla thought that Seth could be one of those genetically selected embryos that didn’t have any diseases or malformations; everything from his teeth to his wavy golden hair was perfect.
Behind it all, he didn’t act like a princeling, he had a real job. Sure, his parents probably paid for his Order of Time membership, but he did work. Kayla had to push these thought out of her head while still being civil with Seth. She didn’t get to choose her jobs. At the end of the date, Seth was giving her all the signs of wanting to make out, but Kayla didn’t feel like she could take the deception that far, so she cut the moment short and bade him good night.
It was two days before she heard from Seth again, she mentally gave him kudos for giving her longer than twenty four hours, it didn’t make him seem clingy.
“Hey Sarah, I just wanted to let you know that the Order held a vote last night on new members and you made the cut, congratulations and welcome to the Order of Time! We need you to come to headquarters tonight so that we can initiate you, see you around six o’clock?”
“Of course, I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” Kayla hung up the phone, pleased with herself and the progress that she had made. Once again, an uneasy feeling arose that she was cheating good people, but she fought it off and continued on.
Then she had to get ready for her initiation. For once, she was truly excited. The rumor mills always spoke of mystical ceremonies in these secret societies. Nobody told her what to wear, so she chose another dress that was a little more elegant than the one she wore to the open house. It took her considerably longer to get ready this time too, as she pulled out all the stops to look her best. The afternoon flew by and before she felt completely ready, she was out of time and had to leave.
The taxi dropped her off in front of the Order of Time headquarters, this time all the lights were off inside the building. She let herself out of the car and walked timidly up the steps. At the first knock, the door opened, but nobody was behind it so Kayla let herself in. The interior of the lobby was completely dark, eerie.
“Is anybody there?”
Without any warning, Kayla lost consciousness. Once again she was in a dream heavy unconscious state. She had the same sensation of movement as before, and heard snippets of voices.
When she awoke, there was a light in her eyes. This was feeling like an exact reenactment from the first time she was abducted.
“Do you know why you have been brought here?”
Kayla decided to continue to play dumb and act like she was still Sarah.
“To be inducted into the Order of Time?”
A laughing voice responded, “Oh ho, so you think you are good enough to be in the Order, do you?”
“I was already informed by Seth Evans that I had been voted in.”
“Ah, that was to get you here, you have passed the first obstacles, but we must be sure that our secrets will be safe with you.”
Kayla stayed quiet, not sure how a ditsy girl would respond to that. The booming voice continued.
“The Order of Time is an ancient brotherhood, in its current reincarnation we have been here almost two hundred years. But this is simply the latest in an unending cycle; our organization can be traced back to ancient Earth.”
Kayla’s ears perked up at that, Earth was not invoked on a daily basis anymore.
“I thought that you guys did parades and masquerades.”
“We do that and much more; we have our fingers in every little pie on this planet and across the inhabited sector. Our membership includes politicians, CEOs, doctors, lawyers, and teachers. People who are in a position to spread our message, and we have been doing so for centuries. Now you will hear our secrets and become a member; you will spread our message. You have been selected Sarah, because we believe that you can bring more people into the fold. Before now, your life has had no purpose, but we will give you purpose. Does that sound good to you?”
Hesitantly, Kayla nodded her head.
“Good, now we will start. Every Order on Pheros is actually a different aspect of the same Order, but the Order that controls the mask is the prime Order that sets the direction for the other Orders. The Head Reveler wears the mask; it ritually shields his identity and makes every Head Reveler the same from year to year. The United Order rules Pheros and is trying to expand to other planets, but as you can imagine the families on those other planets don’t want anything to do with us. It makes no difference though, year after year, generation after generation, our reach grows. We will have control over the inhabited sector in time. Does this all make sense?”
This time, Kayla nodded her head more confidently. So the voice went on. Kayla could tell that the speaker liked the sound of his own voice.
“There are Orders here on Pheros that don’t believe that we should expand, that we would lose our soul in exchange for sector domination. They have to follow our lead while we have the Reveler’s mask. We have to safe guard against them Sarah, they cannot be allowed to control the mask. Sarah, will you help us guard the Reveler’s Mask?”
“I will”, Kayla responded, but her mind was made up to guard humanity by stealing it from them. The Order of Time planned to use the united Orders on Pheros to infiltrate and control all of humanity. Kayla didn’t like the New Order, but they kept the peace. She knew that every time there was a handover in power, it was a brutal affair. The most recent one between the Confederacy and the New Order had been the cleanest by far because the New Order had throttled the Confederacy before they could react.
Of course, who the ones were that wanted the mask was of greater concern. Was it another Order that wanted to be in charge, or was it one of these Orders that didn’t want to leave Pheros? She was going to have to do some more digging.
“Then it is my pleasure to welcome you to the Order of Time, the prime of the United Order.”
The bright light in her face shut off and the overhead lights came on, revealing dozens of people that Kayla assumed were already members of the Order of Time. Seth was off on the side leading the applause that had erupted when the lights came on. He was the first to come forward and hug her.
“Congratulations, I hope that cleared a few questions that you had.”
“It did, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed now that I know that I am some sort of protector.”
“It is not as serious as all that, after all, anybody that knows about us is a member. Come; let me introduce you to the assembled members.”
The rest of the night was a blur to Kayla as she had to keep her identity focused on Sarah Edwards. There were a couple points where she thought that she gave herself away, but everybody simply assumed that it was an after effect of the drug. Kayla didn’t make it home before the sun came up.
When the taxi dropped her off at her apartment, the driver had a funny look on his face. It took Kayla a moment to realize that the taxi driver thought that she was getting home after a one night stand. She was still wearing a very nice dress that was much the worse for wear. Kayla had to smile at herself and left the driver a big tip.
She made her way inside and into her apartment before shedding her dress and leaving it on the floor. She fell into bed naked and slept like a babe.
She awoke after dark and had two messages on her data slate. The first was from Miguel saying that her sapphire was done and could be picked up in the morning. The other was from her secret employer, asking about her progress. Kayla decided to send a short message that was lacking on specifics. She said that she had made progress on the replica mask and was making inroads into the Order of Time.
After she sent the message off, she realized that it was after midnight. Feeling completely rested though, she decided to go back The Well for a drink and hear some local gossip. Leaving the dress on the floor, she put on a pair of pants and a loose-fitting sweater since there was a chill in the air.
The Well was much busier tonight than it had been previously. Carnival had just started and people were celebrating everything they could possible think of. Kayla smiled when she saw familiar faces and Mike working much harder, he wouldn’t be able to talk much with her tonight. Still he came over.
“Haven’t seen you in a while, was starting to get worried.”
“I got another job; it has been keeping me very busy. Hey, you don’t know where I could get my hands on a spectrum analyzer do you?”
“Not off the top of my head, who uses something like that?”
“Geologists use them, looking for rare metals and the like.”
“Geologists huh, I think I know a geologist. When do you need it?”
“Probably tomorrow night”
“Cutting it close Kayla”
“I was going to break into the University, but this way would be nicer.”
“If you stay here for a bit, I will see if I can get a hold of him. He might let you use it.”
Kayla sipped her drink, determined not to drink as much as she did last time, she felt as if that made her a target and got her in this mess. An hour went by, and then another before Mike returned to her with news.
“My friend is going out of town for a couple days.”
Kayla’s heart dropped, it looked like she was going to break into the University after all.
“But, he isn’t taking his analyzer with him and said that you can borrow it with the promise that you don’t break it and bring it back. I told him that your bar tab is more expensive than his machine.”
“Ha, thanks Mike, I owe you one”
“It sounds like you owe me more than one, but you’re welcome.”
Kayla left to go back home with a bounce in her step. Getting home, she was able to go back to sleep until the morning sun came through the window curtain that she had inadvertently left open.
Her errands the next day included picking up her sapphire and the spectrum analyzer. The analyzer surprised her; it was much smaller than she though it would be. It was actually portable. This helped her plans out. Instead of taking the mask out of the Order of Time’s headquarters, she could just scan it, go home to make the replica and switch the replica with the Reveler’s mask. The mask would never leave the pedestal until it was time to swap it.
During the day, Seth called her and asked her out that night. Not wanting to throw him off, she agreed. This time, he took her to another Order’s parade. They must have recognized Seth too, since they threw a multitude of favors at him. It was kind of nice to be associated with someone who could command respect from everyone he met. Kayla had to try really hard to suppress the feelings she was starting to develop for this man. Dinner afterwards was pleasant too. Seth didn’t try to brag as much this time, but he did ask more about her. Kayla had an extensive knowledge about the real Sarah’s background and gave mostly broad answers that she knew he could collaborate. At the end of the night, she even let Seth kiss her, a move that she instantly regretted. The surge of betrayal almost caused her to confess everything.
Calmly, she pulled herself together and passed off her moment of emotions as another emotion completely. Seth saw this, and smiled; think that he was making progress. Kayla let him continue thinking that. When she bid him goodnight and hailed a taxi, Seth a dumbfounded look on his face. Kayla simply gave him another quick kiss on the cheek before she got in the cab.
“I will see you soon Seth.”
“Have a good night”
The taxi sped away towards her apartment with Kayla fighting with herself. There was no point in telling him her ruse, he would never trust her again anyways, not that she would blame him. But he thought she was something that she wasn’t. The real Sarah Edwards was in his class of minor nobility, while she wasn’t even steadily employed. Pushing those thoughts out of her mind, Kayla got out of the taxi and stomped upstairs, seemingly determined to make as much noise as possible.
Once in her apartment, she scanned her place, looking for the tools she needed that night. Her climbing gear was under her mattress and her lock picking set was in her medicine cabinet. Changing clothes and gathering her tools, she set off, on foot, back to the Order of Time headquarters.
All the lights were off at the headquarters, just as she expected them to be at this hour of the night. Kayla scaled a nearby building and climbed over the connecting roofs until she was over a skylight in the main ballroom. Tying the rope to a nearby vent stack, Kayla used the pick set to open a panel of the ballroom ceiling. Quietly, she let herself in and repelled down the wall of the ballroom.
Once inside, she recounted her steps to the room holding the Reveler’s Mask and let herself in. Not a soul was in the building, and the only alarms were seemingly on the doors. Nobody in the Order dreamed that someone would come in through the roof.
Pulling out the Spectrum analyzer, she set it up on the same stand as the mask, being careful not to touch it in case it were triggered to alarm. The arm of the analyzer came out and swung around the mask, it’s tiny camera recognizing an object in front of it and began to run its analysis. Kayla just stood there while it did its task. It seemed to take forever, but that was because every nerve in her being was listening for approaching footsteps. Finally, the analyzer was done and put away its arm.
The spectrum analyzer wasn’t as careful folding itself up as it was starting and bumped the mask causing it to rock. The mask must have been on a pressure switch, because even though it didn’t fall off, it rolled off the switch enough to trigger it. Immediately an alarm started going off that was nearly painful to the ears. Kayla grabbed the analyzed and hightailed it back to the ballroom.
As Kayla was running she heard each door go into lockdown. Fortunately, there were no more doors between her and the rope leading to the roof. Quicker than she had ever climbed before, Kayla scurried to the roof. She didn’t even lock it back before making good on her escape to another building. She had to get out of sight quickly before an air unit came over to investigate and she was caught. Knowing that security would be tighter after this bungle, Kayla decided to take her climbing gear back home instead of stashing it on the rooftop. She would have to figure out another way to make the swap. Still, she did have the scans from the spectrum analyzer now, so she could make the replica and attach the lab grown sapphire.
It was a tense walk home, as she heard sirens in the distance responding to the alarm and wondering if any were coming for her. She made it to her apartment with no incident and stashed her gear back in its hiding places. She copied the scan to an encrypted folder on her data slate before passing out from exhaustion.
Kayla slept late the next day, but when she awoke, she had two messages. One message was from her employer asking for a progress report. The other from Seth, telling her that there was an emergency meeting that afternoon. She let that wash over her, they would announce an attempted theft of the Reveler’s mask, but their alarm system spooked the would-be thief. That was going to give them a false sense of security; it hadn’t been the plan to take the mask.
Kayla spent the day at a local artisanal manufacturing plant where people could come and use the machines to make anything they wanted. Kayla simply uploaded her scan and printed off the highest resolution replica she could. The Spectrum analyzer told the 3D printer exactly what powder’s to use where. That gave the Reveler’s mask perfect color too, and as Kayla watched it, she realized that it had every previous year’s color combination on it too. The print job took the entire day and due to its resolution was expensive, but her employer had been generous and so she had adequate funds to pay for it.
When the time came for the meeting, Kayla switched into a dress that was a little more ordinary that what she had been wearing and left for the headquarters. She had taken a gamble and brought the replica mask with her.
The headquarters for the Order of Time was busier than she had ever seen it. All the lights were on and the ballroom was filled with hundreds of chairs, most of which were already full. A wave from the front left attracted Kayla’s eye and she realized that it was Seth. He must have been keeping an eye out for her this entire time to save her a spot. He really was charming. Kayla didn’t know any man that had shown himself to be a gentleman like Seth had.
Kayla made her way to the front with her handbag containing the replica and sat down next to Seth. She had to raise her voice to be heard through the din.
“What is this meeting about? Are we getting ready for the parade?”
“Not quite, father says that somebody tried to steal the Reveler’s mask last night.”
“Oh no, does anyone know who tried to take it?”
“The police are investigating; the chief of police is a member, so it is a top priority.”
“I hope they catch him. He didn’t get the mask did he?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
That was when the Head Reveler came on stage and told the Order of Time the dreadful news.
“Last night, somebody broke into our headquarters and attempted to steal the Reveler’s mask.”
Loud gasps filled the ballroom as he went on.
“I am glad to say that they were unsuccessful. Furthermore, we know that the would-be thief came in through the roof. So from here on, a watch will be place on the roof and roving guards will patrol the entire building, there will be no repeat of this attempt.”
Applause broke out throughout the room, Kayla joined in vigorously.
“I guess they won’t keep the mask in the same room.”
“No, they’ve moved it to the Reveler’s office, it is way more secure.”
“That is good, it’s a shame that somebody tried to steal the mask this close to the parade and ball.”
“Yeah, somebody is up to no good.”
After the Reveler’s speech was over, the crowd broke up. Many members were busy putting the finishing touches on the floats that would be used in just three days. The Head Reveler went back to his office with the chief of police and other high ranking members, including Seth’s dad.
“Tell you what; let’s go get dinner to take our mind off of this dreadful business.”
Seth seemed to be taken aback, “That sounds like a great idea, but I thought after last night, I, uh, felt like you wanted to slow down.”
“I do want to go slow, but I do want to keep moving too. I’m just talking about dinner.”
“Ok, that sounds good. I need to tell my father something, why don’t you come with me?”
The two of them traversed another hallway that she had never been down before. To a room that was much more ornate than the one that had previously held the mask. Seth knocked on the door, which opened to allow both of them in. The meeting that had been taking place was concluded before they had entered and the men and women were just standing around talking and gossiping. Kayla’s eye’s bulged when she saw the Reveler’s mask just sitting on the desk. When they entered, several people left so that it was only the Head Reveler, Kayla, Seth and Seth’s father.
“Ahh, our newest member, how are you Miss Edwards? It is a shame that this had to happen so soon to your initiation. My apologies, by the way, for drugging you, it is a part of the initiation.”
“That is fine sir; there have been more than a few times I’ve drank myself to unconsciousness.”
“We all have Miss Edwards.”
Kayla positioned herself off to the side and let Seth give his father whatever message he had. The message turned into a conversation that had all three men focusing on each other. Feeling that nobody was paying her any attention, Kayla took her replica out of her bag from behind her back and placed it on the desk while grabbing the real one and easing it into her bag. The switch was made without any of the men present noticing. Kayla breathed a small sigh of relief at her good fortune.
Her sigh was heard by Seth, who misinterpreted it as her being impatient.
“I am afraid that I promised Miss Edwards a decent meal to get her mind off of this, so I will see you tomorrow, gentlemen.”
A chorus of goodbyes and nice to meet you followed them out of the office. Now Kayla’s goal was to get far away from the Order of Time’s headquarters. In that regard, she suggested an open air restaurant on the river.
Kayla had the cool to walk out of the Order of Times headquarters as if nothing happened. She even held Seth’s arm as they exited through the front doors. Nobody they passed so much as raised an eyebrow. Once outside though, the air smelled sweeter than usual to Kayla, perhaps it was the knowledge that her mission was nearing completion, or maybe it was the parade that had just come through here hours ago that left an exotic scent.
Seth decided to walk to the restaurant. Kayla didn’t object. While they were walking, Seth spoke up.
“So, Miss Edwards, do you have a date for the ball?”
“Uh, no, I hadn’t thought that far ahead, what with this nasty business and all.”
“May I have the pleasure of your company then?”
“Of course Seth, I thought you would never ask.”
They quickly made their way to the restaurant, where Seth’s name made their wait time nonexistent. Kayla enjoyed a good meal, but the whole time she was worried about the parcel that was in her handbag. Rather brusquely, Kayla excused herself after the meal and left for her apartment, eager to contact her employer and get rid of this mask. The look on Seth’s face was once again cress fallen, but Kayla was on a mission.
Hailing a taxi, Kayla climbed in and took off into the night, finally free from the Order of Time. When she made it to her apartment, she ran upstairs and turned to her data slate. She sent a quick message to the account that had been given to her, informing her employer that she had the mask and nobody knew better.
Kayla started undressing, but before she was done, a quiet chime from her data slate indicated a response. They were to meet so that Kayla could give him the mask and he could pay her. This part was always tricky; Kayla knew that there might be a trap. She had to plan a safe transfer where this mysterious person didn’t have all the cards. Looking around her room, Kayla saw the spectrum analyzer and a quick plan formed in her head.
Putting on plainer clothing, Kayla made her way back to the artisanal manufacturing hub and went about replicating another mask, this time with a cheap glass sapphire in it that wouldn’t fool anybody for long. The printer took hours, but Kayla spent the time wandering through the various shoppettes that the others had set up to sell their crafts. It was always a good idea to meet people; maybe they could help her in the future.
Eventually, the second replica was complete and she took it home. Her plan was to give her employer the fake and receive the money, but once she got away then she would leave details on where to pick up the real mask. If they threatened to kill her on the spot, then she could confess to hiding the real mask and exchange it in return for her safe passage. Kayla hated not knowing who she was working for.
The meeting was set up for the early afternoon, so Kayla decided it was best to go to sleep so that she would have a clear head the next day.
The next day dawned bright and clear, but Kayla didn’t see it as she slept. It was late in the morning when Kayla shrugged awake. Checking her data slate, she saw that there were no new messages. Slowly, she got dressed and left her apartment with the fake mask. The meeting place was a small coffee shop near the river; it seemed safe enough to Kayla; public, but with a reasonable amount of privacy.
On the way to the café, Kayla made sure to watch all around her. She didn’t want a repeat of the last time where she had been drugged. Her employer must be happy with her though, because there was no hint that she was being followed, even though she was early. Kayla sat down in a booth facing the door, ordered a coffee, and waited. Her wait was nearly an hour long, when her employer walked up from behind her, this time, with no bright lights or hoods.
Kayla gasped as she realized who it was, Seth.
“Stay down and don’t look so surprised.”
Kayla was truly flabbergasted, her tongue was tied.
“You? Why would you want the mask?”
“It’s not for me, at least, not yet. I wanted the mask for my father. The way the Order of Time chooses the Head Reveler is stupid, my father deserved the honor last year and they cheated him. That was when I decided that we should change the way the system worked. The Head Reveler wears the real mask, so if they don’t have the mask then they can’t choose. I have the mask, so I can choose.”
“That is why some of the portraits don’t have the mask. Another Order stole the mask?”
“Yes, Kayla. That gave me the idea. With the mask, I will choose my father. Then after a few years, I will be the Head Reveler. I will usher the United Orders to total power over this world.”
“What power does the mask have? Why can’t the strongest Order simply declare superiority in your mission for supremacy?”
“Hidden in the mask is a data chip. That chip contains a list of information that would be the bane of existence for many people in power. That is why the mask is so coveted. Our internal politics keep the mask from being stolen though, so I had to hire an outsider to do it. Now give me the mask and I will let you walk away.”
“Here it is. I won’t say anything to anybody.”
“I know, your cover was good. Sarah Covington lives on the other side of the planet and doesn’t know that you’re marauding around under her identity. You can live, but you must move away from here. You are too close to headquarters and might be seen randomly by a real member.”
“Alright, I will pack up and be gone. Were you going to pay me?”
“Ha, I don’t have too, but since you’re moving soon, I guess I will.” Seth clicked a few buttons on his wrist-mounted data slate and looked back up at Kayla.
“I don’t want to see you again.”
“You won’t; I’m gone as soon as I leave here.” The color had gone from her face as soon as she had seen Seth and it still hadn’t returned.
“Good” was the last thing that Seth said as he got up a walked away. Kayla stayed still for a moment longer and then bolted out the door for her apartment. She had to get the real mask away from Seth, and into the hands of somebody powerful enough to do something about the Orders trying to corrupt the city.
Kayla was still shaking when she got into her room and dead-bolted the door. She had never been this scared in her life. Seth had seemed like a charming man until today, but he had been using her this whole time. It took her a moment to remember that she had used him too, but she had never intended to threaten him like Seth had
Being back in familiar surroundings made Kayla calm down a little. For the first time since she saw Seth, she was able to think again. She couldn’t turn the mask over to the police; the chief was a member of the Order of Time. Thinking further, Kayla remembered that Seth mentioned that some Orders didn’t want control; they wanted to stay pure to their founding ideals. Kayla did a quick search of the different Orders, specifically looking for the smaller ones that had older floats.
Eventually, she found one, the Order of Ancients; that seemed to fit her description. With nothing else to lose, she sent them a message telling them that she had the Reveler’s Mask and wanted to get rid of it. Knowing that Seth would find out sooner rather than later that the mask he had was a fake, Kayla started packing what few belongings that she had and cared for into a bag. Within minutes, her entire apartment was devoid of anything of meaningful value. Checking her data slate, she saw that she had a response from the Order of Ancients telling her to come to their headquarters.
Kayla rushed to the ground floor of her apartment and out the doors, hailing a taxi as she went. Once she was in, she gave the driver the address and soon was off. The Order of Ancients headquarters was much smaller and dingier than that of the Order of Time. Waiting on the front steps was a wizened old man with white hair. Kayla got out of the taxi and approached the man.
“Are you Miss. Covington?”
Hesitantly, Kayla affirmed the old man’s question.
“And you have the mask?”
“Well, let us get inside then, before anybody sees you here.”
The two of them went into the building.
“I had a job to infiltrate the Order of Time and steal the mask, but I didn’t know the value of the mask or who my employer was. Turns out it was Seth Evans. Once he told me what the mask could do and how he would use it, I couldn’t let him have it.”
“Yes, the mask is too powerful for anybody to control. The idea that our Orders could control a city or a planet is ludicrous. Therefore, with your blessing, I plan on destroying the mask, lifting the people that are being blackmailed by it out of the shadows.”
“That sounds good to me.”
The two arrived in a tool room, where the old man reached out for the mask. Kayla gave it to him without a second thought. Quietly, and in the semi-darkness, the old man removed the sapphire from the mask and set it aside. Underneath the mask was a tiny false panel that the man slid off using a pair of tweezers. Then, using the tweezers, the old man pulled out a data chip and held it up for Kayla to see. When Kayla saw it, she nodded to the old man who gave her a smile. Placing the chip on the workbench, the man grabbed a hammer and smashed it to bits.
“It is done. That felt really good. One of the reasons that the Order of the Ancients is dying is because there was information on that chip that was being held over us, but no more. Now, people all across this city will be allowed to live their lives knowing that whatever they, or one of their forefathers, have done can’t be held against them anymore. Miss Covington, you have done us all a great service. I will spread the news through all of the orders and out Mr. Seth Evans. Retribution will be swift; he will be eternally exiled from Pheros.”
“Good, because he threatened to have me killed if he saw me again. He told me that I had to move away so that no member of the Order of Time might randomly spot me about the city.”
“I would stay low until the news is out, but he will not harm you.”
“Thank you, what is you name anyways?”
“I am Richard Evans, Seth is my grandson.”
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my short story, I do hope that you have enjoyed it. I intend to write more about Kayla Covington and her exploits on the world of Pheros, so keep an eye out for her. I have a Facebook page for all the books and short stories in the Other Worlds universe, so just search for it and “Like” it to keep a tab on my newest stuff.
About the Author
Ronald Brandenburg III was born in the United States in Alabama and grew up on the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Growing up on a small farm meant having few neighbors and thus delved into the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. Major influences include Harold Coyle, J. R. R. Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs, J. K. Rowling and many others.
Ronald studied mechanical engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville where he graduated with honors. Since finishing school, he is a Systems Engineer for a Fortune 500 company. Alongside table top strategy games and computer games, writing is a favorite hobby.
Kayla Covington is a Private Eye for all occasions on the alien world of Pheros. She is the one you hire to find what you have lost, to glean information on a rival to use against them, or to discreetly remove something that could cause embarrassment. She thought she had seen and heard it all, that was until she was hired to infiltrate a secret society to uncover their secrets and steal their prized artifact. Now the only question that she cares about is, will she make it out of this alive?