Alchemist: Chapter 2
Fiction, X-Article

Alchemist: Chapter 2

Read Chapter 1

There was a war- a worldwide war to end all war, and ultimately decide what faction would control Earth’s dwindling resources.  Everyone refers to it as The War, since WWXI, WWXII, WWXIII, and so forth, was getting redundant. It lasted a century and ended in a truce between the survivors. It was an unprecedented commitment to peace that evolved into The System, a movement where everyone has what they need and plays their role serving the greater good. No factions, no classes, no gender, no separation- just one big happy family where babies are born in test tubes as wards of the collective, their future planned and their wants taken care of for a lifetime. 

There were survivors who secretly didn’t want the truce. They feared order and worshipped individuality, even at the expense of the majority. Nowadays, they are all but extinct, either sabotaged by their own unsustainable hoarding tendencies, or snuffed out by The System. 

As a kid, Hasp obsessed over the outside. They dreamed of having parents who loved them. They created whole personalities for them that they’d tell Arjun about, for example, that they were survivors of The War who lived outside of The System walls and were against The System. Arjun worried Hasp believed these dreams were actual memories. Arjun hoped they’d grow out of the extreme fantasies as they got older, and it seemed to be the case, but then, Hasp got the job at CB.

“We’re not who we’ve been told we are, Arjun,” Hasp said one night at a diner, looking at Arjun intently from across the table.

“And?” Arjun answered, exasperated, “What are we supposed to do about it?”

“I don’t know,” Hasp sighed, “Find our families and live the life that’s rightfully ours?”

Arjun stuffed their mouth with a fork full of scrambled eggs. There was no use arguing with Hasp or trying to dissuade them once they made their mind up.

“Just think,” Hasp continued, getting louder and more passionate, “if we weren’t born in The System, we were taken from rebels. If we were taken from rebels, that means we’ve been lied to. If we’ve been lied to about that, what else have they lied to us about?”

Arjun dropped their fork and took a quick look over their shoulder, raising their hands at Hasp, signaling them to quiet down, “Again, what are we supposed to do about it? Should we march up to your boss’s office and say, ‘Hey, I noticed my friend and I just appeared in the census at five years old, and we were wondering if you could tell us where we were before that. Also, are we the only ones in our hive born biologically? Also, did The System kill our parents’?”

Hasp sighed again, “No, I guess not, but we have to do something…”

Art by Athenaverse


Arjun studies the note closely, racking their brain for any other clues Hasp might’ve left behind as the ink drips off the soggy white paper into black drops on their hands. The text has been printed. It’s no surprise, since AI can easily recognize the writer of anything handwritten. The paper is strange. It’s not made of nano-particulate fiber like in The System, but crude, chunky pulp – homemade. If Arjun can find the source of the material, maybe they can find Hasp. The only problem is that Arjun has no idea who’d be able to analyze it. Hasp is the one who knows how to do these kinds of things.

Arjun remembers meeting Hasp at this very spot several months ago… 

“I just need a little Speed to stay awake,” Hasp shrugged, leaning against the wall and looking amused as Arjun paced back and forth.

Arjun threw their hands into the air, “What happened to everything we got last time?”

Hasp rolled their eyes, “Okay, I need a lot of Speed. You don’t know what CB is like.”

Arjun stopped pacing and rubbed their shoulder dramatically, “Nothing like the mines, I’m guessing.”

Hasp snorted, “You know, there’s stuff to help that too.”

“I’m good,” Arjun scowled.

The dealers appeared from around the corner and Hasp and Arjun quickly stood up straight. There were three of them. One was a tall guy with a robotic arm and a gold, metallic laser eye, carrying a large suitcase. He was dressed in cheap plastic with the Club Muse logo branded on his neck. The other dealer looked more like System security wearing the government’s signature, over-starched blue jumpsuit. Maybe they were rogue. Maybe these dealers were System-sanctioned. 

The third person was unforgettable. They wore a floor-length, black coat made of real leather. Their hair was buzzed. On their scalp were tattooed fluorescent symbols. They pulled off their sunglasses, revealing eyeballs dyed bright red from pupil to eyelids. They opened their coat. Every inch of exposed skin was covered in fluorescent tattooing. They reached into their inner pocket and pulled out a small bag – a bag made of white, pulpy paper – and handed it to Hasp. Then they disappeared as quickly as they came…

Arjun has to go to Club Muse. They might not find the dealers there, but it’s a good place to start. They activate their gliders to turbo mode and fly back towards the city. Arjun wants to collapse into bed, but they have no time to waste if Hasp is in trouble. They yawn deeply and rub their eyes, gliding head on into the icy rain. Some Speed, or at least some caffeine gum, would come in handy right now.

It’s 3 am. They enter the city, and it’s awake and busy as ever. Arjun has to weave through the crowds of bots, clubbers, guards, and other night lurkers, keeping to the shadows and alley-ways as much as possible. They stop at a small plastic store, tucked away behind some busy food trucks. They need to change if they stand a chance of getting into Club Muse. 

This place is less of a store and more of a tent. There are tables stacked with piles of brightly colored, plastic clothing towering above Arjun’s head. Nestled in the corner is a kiosk manned by a VR bot. There are shelves displaying expensive AR wearables behind them. 

Arjun reaches into a pile and pulls out miscellaneous clothing until they find a green jumpsuit that’ll fit over their clothes. They hand it to the VR bot and flash their watch for the bot to scan as payment before slipping the jumpsuit on. 

“How do I look?” Arjun poses.

After a pause, the VR bot reluctantly scans Arjun up and down, seemingly annoyed to be distracted from whatever its operator is doing somewhere else, IRL.

“You look like a giant bag of compost,” the operator grumbles from their mic through the bot speaker. 

Arjun smirks and nods in agreement, “Just the look I was going for…” and glides back out into the rain.

The plastic is much more weatherproof, but Arjun is still cold and wet. By the time they reach Club Muse, they feel borderline hypothermic, like they’ve been swimming in ice water. At least they’re wide awake now. Arjun switches off their gliders and sneaks to the front of the line of clubbers to get in. They flash their watch for the bouncer bot to scan and slip right in. 

Immediately, they’re immersed in blue smoke and blaring bass. Dancers float overhead, suspended from the ceiling beams. Clubbers hover, shouting, around the blackjack and roulette tables strategically stationed at the entrance. Most of the dancers and dealers are human; others are machines. It’s difficult to tell which is which, especially with all the smoke. 

Arjun walks past the tables to the dancefloor. It’s a sea of colorfully dressed, sweaty, drunk people, half-dancing, half-absent-mindedly-bumping into each other. For once, Arjun is happy to be covered in plastic. They push their way through the crowd, shivering and half-thankful for the influx of body heat. Arjun wished they owned a VR bot that could be here instead. They walk up the steps at the end of the dancefloor to the next level of the club, and finally squeeze their way through the crowd to the bar. It’s less crowded here. Arjun finds a booth in the corner with a view of the whole dancefloor and sits down.

Arjun sighs. There’s slim luck of finding anyone in this place, even if they wanted to be found. Still, Hasp’s dealers are hard to miss, and if they want any business tonight, they, or someone who knows them, will be here. 

And just like that, the tall guy with a robotic arm and metallic laser eye appears from behind the bar, and approaches Arjun’s table. It’s like he was waiting for them.

‘Follow me,” he says gruffly, then he spins on his heels and heads back to the bar.

Arjun jumps up and follows. Tattoo-guy is wearing all black, and Arjun feels silly in their green get-up. They walk behind the bar into the kitchen. Bots are running back and forth with trays of food. Arjun can feel the heat radiating off of their overworked, metal bodies. Maybe it’s their own body getting hot. Arjun pulls at the collar of their suit nervously.

They turn down another dark corridor, and descend down some steps into a dark, damp basement. It’s pin-drop quiet down here. Arjun feels their cheeks getting warmer. Something’s not right.

“Where are we going?” Arjun asks.

Tattoo-guy stops and spins to face them so Arjun is staring right into their gold-plated, laser eye, “We ask the questions around here,” he hisses, then he turns to lead them deeper into the basement.

Arjun doesn’t know what else to do but follow. They enter a side room. It’s filled with plants and solar lights. There are people seated at long tables, mixing, weighing and packaging brightly colored powders and liquids. There are shelves lining every wall, filled with bottles labeled for drugs like “SPEED”, “NO FEAR”, “POWER UP”, BURN 10lbs” and everything else you can imagine. When they walk between some shelves, Arjun makes sure no one is looking, grabs a bottle of Power Up and drops it into their pocket. It might come in handy if this situation takes a turn.

Finally, they enter a dimly lit room lined with lockers. In the center is a chair. 

“Take a seat,” Tattoo-guy gestures to the chair.

Arjun freezes in their tracks. This is not good. 

Tattoo-guy grabs Arjun by both shoulders and pushes them down into the chair. They struggle, but Tattoo-guy is too strong and holds them down. The light above is so bright, Arjun can’t see anything around the room, but they can hear footsteps walking in and see a shadowed silhouette getting closer. Arjun can make out glowing, fluorescent tattoos.

“Listen well, friend,” the shadow says, “Tell us where Hasp is, and we won’t hurt you – not too badly.”

Read Chapter 3

Oly is a musician, writer, and gamer.

Follow Oly’s projects at

September 16, 2022

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