Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Another 24 hours had passed, and Danem laid awake in the lower bunk of the poorly constructed steel-framed bed. A stench emerged; something difficult to pin-point, vaguely resembling both cabbage and damp. Danem hoped for a moment that it was coming from anywhere but his cellmate in the bunk above him.

The night had brought to Kal a cocktail of imagery and vivid nightmares. He cared about Selena. More than he’d ever cared about anyone.

Danem was all too aware of the Spheran government’s take on punishment. Defendants were referred to as ‘The Accused’, and remained guilty until proven innocent. There were no courts, no lawyers, no witnesses, no jurors. In true Spheran style, they’d adopted a no-bullshit policy on prosecution. A single judge assessed the case, and carried out the sentence. Errors were inevitable, but that’s the beauty of the ARC. Convicts can simply be unplugged if eventually proven innocent, and their minds completely restored. That is of course working on the assumption that they’re still alive.

Danem let out an audible sigh in response to Raff’s continual stirring. It caused the flimsy framed bunk to creek, not unlike the rusted hinge of an old wooden door, only louder.

In the distance, footsteps echoed their way to his cell; drowned out somewhat by the toneless whistling of the guard responsible. The footsteps, along with the whistling, suddenly ceased. There was a moment’s pause. Three violent knocks of the guard’s baton crashed against the force field, causing it to pop and bang with each strike.

“Threeeeeeeeeee one ooooooooone!” yelled the guard from beyond the now blurry force field. Raff immediately clambered down from the upper bunk and sprung to his feet facing away from the officer. Something told Danem that experience had taught him this, so he followed suit. The consistent buzz of the force field increased in volume considerably for a split second before absolute silence when it was deactivated. The guard’s unmistakable footsteps approached the pair of them from behind.

“DANEM, KAL” yelled the guard, needlessly. “Sir!” replied Kal. “You’re up.” “Up?” “Up. The judge is waiting. Follow me”

Obediently, Kal turned one hundred and eighty degrees to face the officer. Fear picked this moment to hang over his head like a black cloud awaiting the perfect moment to begin its monsoon season.

Kal stepped out of the cell, as ordered. Immediately, the force field snapped back into place and resumed its monotonous hum. As it did, Kal felt the now too familiar feeling of cold steel cuffs as they slapped against his wrists again. Danem was led off to the left by the guard, and two more followed, both more heavily armed than the first.

Danem’s heart rate increased as he was led through two sets of white steel doors, into an intensely bright corridor beyond, lit solely by the natural light its design allowed. Its floor, ceiling and walls; constructed entirely from re-enforced Perspex. After squinting for a moment before adjusting to the new light, Danem couldn’t help but wonder just how many men had had their last glimpse of daylight in this very corridor.

In the distance, a solitary white door, identical to the two they’d just passed drew nearer.

On approaching the door, the lead guard pressed his thumb against the Scanner to the right of it, causing a light to flick from red, to green. Danem was led through, escorted by the guards.

Directly ahead of Danem as he stepped through the door, was a blinding white light. It sat strategically positioned behind the head of the Judge, as if, perhaps to conceal his identity. The judge was nothing more than a silhouette of anonymity.

“Sit” said the judge, somewhat more aggressively than Danem had expected.

Danem walked forward, finding the wooden chair in front of the Judge’s desk. He sat. The judge fidgeted for a moment, holding up a couple of the case files to the light behind his head as if to remind himself of the details. After only a few seconds of apparent pretence, the Judge spoke.

“Danem, Kal” “Yes s…” Kal responded. “Ten years. Level three” the Judge interrupted.

And before Kal could speak, the Judge’s hammer slammed down on the desk. The sound of wood on wood pierced Kal’s very soul.

And that was that.

The lead guard grabbed the blood-stained collar of Danem’s shirt, and dragged him to his feet, choking him a little in the process. Reminiscent of his arrest, a violent ‘thud’ struck the back of Danem’s skull. Again, his eyes turned to white. Again, there would be blackness.

Chapter 4

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