The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Theo took the dusty book off the library shelf and took a seat at a nearby table.
“You can keep reading until the bell goes. Maybe it’ll teach you something about handing assignments in on time.”
Theo rolled his eyes at Mr. Whitlock and opened the book. It was as if he had blinked and been transported to a different universe.
“You’re here. Welcome to Quora. I’m Roman.”
Theo found it hard to speak. His brain was still trying to process what had just happened. “Uh, Quora?” was all he managed to reply. The guy standing in front of him was fairly intimidating. He was pale, as if he’d seen a ghost, and if Theo had to imagine the realistic height of Goliath, this was it.
“Yes, Quora is where you are. You’re probably confused right now, but it’s my job to explain to you what happens next.”
Roman ran a hand through his midnight-black hair and continued. “In order for Quora’s unique society to accept you, you are to fulfil at least one of the Five Quoran Commandments, recited as so:
- Thou shalt put the government above all else.
- Thou shalt make thyself an idol.
- Thou shalt not misuse the name of the government.
- Thou shalt honour the government.
- Thou shalt commit one murder within 12 months of entering Quora.
Once this is complete, you earn the right to a house, a job, and a social security system. If it isn’t, you end up with nothing. Homeless, or something like that.” Roman paused to take a breath. It sounded as if he’d repeated that a hundred times before. “I believe that is all. Any questions?”
Theo opened his mouth to ask one of many, but Roman interrupted him briskly.
“Great. Your time starts now.”
If Theo had been confused before, this was the extreme.
Over the next three weeks, Theo and Roman embarked on their Quoran trial together. Well, Roman embarked. Theo decided that he’d rather sacrifice his reputation than commit what was considered to be an earthly crime, and so he was left with nothing. No home, no job, no friends. Roman, on the other hand, needed to be accepted. He didn’t care who got hurt in the process, as long as he came out on top. And he did. Instead of fulfilling just one Commandment, he fulfilled all five, and was rewarded with a position of absolute power that put him in control of Quora, and its rules.
On a rainy Wednesday afternoon, Theo was sitting on a park bench beneath a tree, trying to stay warm. He’d come to terms with the fact that the only almost-friend he’d made in Quora had now found something better and forgotten all about him. He was cold, hungry, and alone.
Suddenly, two women huddled under an umbrella shuffled past Theo. They were just close enough for him to catch an earful of what they were talking about.
“I can’t believe that blasted human being. He kills a man, and all of a sudden, he’s being treated like the King of Quora. What is this place coming to?
“I agree! And now this Quoran Day nonsense? What on earth are they going to come up with next?”
They were now too far to hear, but Theo had heard enough. Forgetting about the hideous state he was currently in, he rose to his feet and trudged into town. It was deserted, but the local Newsagency was still open. The owner was used to Theo popping in. He was probably the only person who didn’t ignore him.
“Lovely morning for a walk, isn’t it?” he chuckled as Theo entered the toasty store.
Usually, Theo would engage in a lively conversation with the old man – after all, the opportunity didn’t come often – but today, he was on a mission.
“Do you know anything about Quoran Day?” Theo asked anxiously.
The old man eyed Theo over his spectacles. “I know a lot about Quoran Day. Your friend Roman seems to be having the time of his life making everyone else’s miserable.”
Theo’s brow furrowed, ignoring the fact that Roman had been addressed as his ‘friend’. “Miserable? Why?”
“You haven’t heard what happens on Quoran Day? Roman has decided that each individual Quoran newcomer will be forced to obey all Five Quoran Commandments – in an arena in front of the entire town. It’s going to be like a real-life Hunger Games, I can tell you that.”
Theo couldn’t think straight. This was outrageous, awful, barbaric. He had to do something.
“Hi, I’d like to speak with Sir Roman Blaze, please.”
To say Theo was a little underdressed to be standing in the lobby of Quoran Government Hall was an understatement. The secretary was eyeing him down the slope of her pointy nose.
“And your name is?”
“Theodore Knight, but he’ll know who it is if you just say Theo.”
Theo guessed she wasn’t going to take his suggestion as she picked up the telephone and poked some buttons.
“Floor 7, room 264,” she said sharply as she put down the phone.
Theo uttered a ‘thank you’ and edged his way across the stark, white tiles towards an elevator that looked as if it had been stripped from a five-star hotel in London.
One knock on the door and Roman’s imposing figure came into view. “Theodore.”
His voice seemed to have deepened between now and the last time Theo had seen him. Also, that was the first time Roman had called him ‘Theodore’, and he didn’t sound impressed.
“You must have a good reason for coming to Quoran Hall looking like…” Roman eyed Theo’s demeanour critically. “…that.”
Theo ignored his insult and jumped right in. “I think you need to tone it down a notch with this whole Quoran Day nonsense.
If Roman was a dragon, he would’ve been breathing fire. “Nonsense? And what makes you, of all people, think that you can speak to me like that?”
His voice was like a hundred lions roaring at once.
“I just think that making newcomers fulfil the Commandments in front of the entirety of Quora is a little…um…extreme,” Theo explained bravely.
Roman didn’t speak, but Theo watched him pick up the phone ever so slowly. Within seconds, two very official-looking men barged through the door. All Roman had to do was nod his head and they fastened onto Theo’s arms, forcing them behind his back in a painfully uncomfortable position.
“You can stay there until I tell you that you can leave. Maybe it’ll teach you something about defying authoritative decisions,” Roman hissed.
Theo was standing in a cell that smelled like the fumes of death. The concrete walls were dripping with moisture, and he was slightly afraid to sit down. “And maybe when someone gets injured during your ridiculous Quoran Day trials, you’ll realise what a monster you’ve become. And to think we used to be friends.”
Roman smirked. “Unfortunately for you, you won’t be there to see anything. Enjoy your cell. It’s probably a step up from where you slept last night.”
With that, Roman left him in the darkness of his dungeon. Theo had a hard head, a cold heart, and an immense desire to unleash his pent-up anger on the person he now hated most. All he needed was a plan…