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THE DEVCOIN AND DEVTOME PROJECTS ARE BOTH VERY IMPORTANT TO THE COMMUNITY. PLEASE CONTRIBUTE TO ITS FURTHER SUCCESS FOR ANOTHER 5 OR MORE YEARS!

ARC by N P Russell - A Science Fiction Novel

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

The following morning, Kal was awoken by the enormous displeasure of a back-handed slap to the face. His eyes flicked open, and he was greeted by a threatening “Oi”, from the mammoth of a man before him.

Kal blinked a few times and shook his head, in an attempt to awaken and acclimatise himself to his new surroundings. His view partially blocked by a gargantuan, alpha-male type, perched on the foot of the poorly constructed bed where he lay in utter discomfort. The man was a tower, with scalpel-shaven head and what looked like a tattoo for every year he’d been alive. By Kal’s count, that would have put him in his fifties.

“Do you know where you are, son?” asked the man, in a bottomless tone.

Kal took a moment to look around the room. It was hazy to begin with but he was quickly awakened by the unfamiliarity of it all. It was well lit. To the left of where he laid, in the rear corner of the small room, was an almost polished-chrome looking toilet bowl, with a far from generous ration of toilet roll to accompany it. Directly ahead of him, at the foot of the bed, was the visual and audible hum of a security field, blocking the only exit. Whilst Kal didn’t respond to the question, he had a pretty good idea of his location.

“You’re in Cell 311 of the ARC preparation Facility” he blurted out as if it were a sales pitch. A wry smirk appeared on his oval, red face, and he announced; “You’re fucked now son”.

Again, Kal Danem declined his offer of conversation with a subtle turn of the head to face the graffiti-laden, white-tiled cell wall to his right. The unknown whereabouts of Selena Kalhari repeatedly shocked him into shaking.

“Quiet one, ain’t ya boy?” he went on to say. The man arose to his feet, and hastily wandered the space-deprived cell, seemingly randomly, with his hands tucked neatly behind his back.

“Raff’s the name” He stopped where he stood, held out his left forearm, and with his right, pointed to a badly-drawn tattoo of his name. Kal wondered if he’d branded himself with that one. “What’s your name, son?” he quizzed.

Kal stirred a little under the rough, auburn bed sheet, and brought himself upright. He thought at this stage that it was probably not wise to ignore the man for much longer.

“Danem” replied Kal, through a concealed frown.

“Oh, so, you’re not a mute then, son?” “No”, Kal replied bluntly. “Not a mute.”

It had struck him as a little odd, that here stood a man, seemingly content with being held in this cell; like it was normal for him, perhaps. So, to settle his curiosity, Danem asked, “What are you in here for?”

Raff began stroking at the bit of brown fluff on the bottom of his chin, and raised his smile into the shape of a crescent moon, displaying a series of crooked, and browning teeth. His wandering slowed to almost a halt, then out of nowhere, he thrust his head toward Kal’s, stopping just shy of his face; “Murder. This time” he said, softly. His head retreated, and he continued his rapid stroll around the cell, hands, once again, behind-back. “Same as you; I’d bet”, winking in the direction of Kal Danem.

Again, he halted, and took a seat on the lid of the toilet to the rear of the cell. His tone and mannerisms immediately altered to something closely resembling sanity.

“Danem” he said softly, with an air of calm “What’re you in here for…?”

Before Raff had finished speaking, Kal’s mind brought up a horrifyingly clear image of Selena being dragged from the motel room by her hair. It startled him, but he shook it off.

“Murder, they say”, Kal responded.

Raff again took to his feet and began to wander with hands again, behind his back. Perhaps it was more of a bounce than a wander. The type of bounce you’d expect from an addict going cold turkey.

”And you disagree?” Raff asked, sarcastically.

“I’d call it justifiable rage” Denam answered, blinking once, slowly, whilst tensing the muscles in the sides of his mouth. Raff turned away, tugging gently at the tuft of hair on his chin once or twice.

“Level three!” he muttered under his breath to himself, in disbelief.

“Level three?” enquired Kal.

“Level…Fucking…three”

“Level fucking three” agreed Kal, not knowing exactly what it was he was agreeing with. That’s not to say he didn’t have a pretty good idea.

“You know how it works, don’t you son?” Raff’s tone altered with every breath. From calm, to chaos. “You know what they do to you in there?” he continued.

Kal twisted his way out from under the sack-like cover on the rickety-framed bed, and stood to his feet. He stretched himself out into a star position, causing several audible ‘cracks’ to echo around the minuscule holding cell. Intrigued at this stage, he made a conscious decision to continue his conversation with the balding, middle-aged psychotic.

“I suppose you do?” Kal said, confidently.

“Of course I fucking do!” Raff barked, and exhaled slowly. Calmer, he continued “This isn’t the first time I’ve been here, you know?”

Kal Danem’s curiosity peaked, and he allowed Raff to continue.

“I’ve done a couple of ones, and a two, but never a three” he shook his head violently, and again raised his tone “Never a fucking three, you know?”

A man screamed out in the distance, causing Kal to flick his head around in the direction of the sound. Raff didn’t even acknowledge it.

“Go on…” said Kal, curiously.

Raff took a seat on the closed toilet lid. He took a deep breath, and calmly went on;

“ARC. The Alternate Reality Chamber. You’ve heard of it, I know” Denam nodded once in response, but remained silent. Raff continued “It’s just that. A chamber in which – you lay – in an altered reality. You’re living a dream. The most vivid, lucid dream of your fucking life, you know?” Raff’s eyes made contact with Kal’s, and he continued;

“There’s a catch, though. You die in there… you die out here. Don’t you be thinking for one second that you’re invincible in there. You ain’t.”

Raff took a moment, as if to steady his nerves.

“Level one. Think of it as a community service. You know, a short sentence. The worst you’ll endure is a heavy, regimented work load. Sure, there’s some trouble, but it’s nothing you can’t handle.

Level two. It’s a prison sentence, all right. They say it replicates the experience on Perseus. Let me tell you, it’s much fucking worse that any fucking prison colony could ever, or has ever been. The guards treat you like shit, the prisoners treat you like shit… and it’s not long before you’re eating and sleeping in shit. Oh it’s shit, all right!”

Danem could make out Raff’s slight twitching of the left eye, and could see the slight sheen beginning to form on his forehead. He was becoming anxious, and fearful. Danem had good instincts for that kind of thing.

“And level three?” asked Danem.

“Ahhhhhh, level three, son. You wanna know about level three, do ya?”

Raff mopped his brow with his sleeve, and continued. “Level three. This is where they really have some fun. It’s like the old death row, you know? Although, they’ll never call it that. About eighty percent of in-mates die in level three of the ARC. Those that do get out, come out mad, messed-up, or worse. It gives the programmer a fucking free reign, you know? They can put you anywhere, any time. Any factual or fictional scenario fabricated in the depths of their twisted imaginations. I shit you not. Anywhere. We’re lab rats for the law abiding, my friend.”

Immediately, Raff leapt to his feet, and continued his incessant pacing around the cell.

“Level fucking three” Kal said again, this time with certainty. Kal took three steps forward toward the force field at the foot of the bed. It was transparent, but oddly visible. Danem held out his right hand, just close enough for its warmth to caress his finger tips, but not close enough to touch it. Raff’s face appeared suddenly from over his shoulder.

“I wouldn’t touch that if I were you.”

Raff held out his right hand. What Danem had originally mistaken for another of his poorly sketched tattoos, was in fact, severe scarring to the back of his hand, and fingers.

“I made that mistake the last time I was here. I promise you, it ain’t worth the trouble, you know?”

Danem took note of what appeared to be sound advice, and sat himself down again on the wafer thin mattress of the military-style bunk. Danem, once again found himself fighting with the image of his lover’s face, full of fear and agony, as if it were branded to the inner of his eyelids.

Chapter 3


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