Imagine a world where fresh air and natural light are distant memories. Where a claustrophobic city lies along the seabed, built to protect humanity from disaster. For the last decade, this is what Red has called home.
After the rebellious 19-year-old’s father mysteriously died when she was a child, she was heartbroken. Then, when her mother was accidentally left behind in the Old World, Red began to question President Ivan Spencer and his regime. Now she's prepared to do whatever it takes to finally escape the bleakness of The Shell. But if she does, what will be left of the world outside?
Suspense-filled, shocking and impossible to put down, Shell is a rare pearl in today's ocean of dystopian science fiction.
Are you ready to enter The Shell?
Chris spent time growing up in both England and New Zealand, studied journalism at university in Hampshire and worked as a copywriter in London. He has released both a book of poetry and a memoir through his co-founded publishing company, PRNTD, and contributed articles to websites and magazines around the world. He now lives in Sydney, Australia.
Read the first chapter of Shell
As Red stepped out of the nightclub, she felt the artificial rain lightly touching her skin. Slowly walking away from the throbbing sound behind her, she pulled her black hood over her toxic green denim jacket and lit a cigarette. While she understood how necessary the rain was, she was always so conscious of how unnatural it felt when it made contact with her. Like she was a piece of genetically-modified fruit soaked in pesticides.
The young woman’s gold knee-length platform boots stomped noisily over the bumps and rusty coils in the pavement as she walked away from the club. It was always so much worse on this part of town. As if she was literally walking along the surface of the Reactor. If she’d pressed her ear against the ground, she would have heard its distinctive monotone humming through the layers of metal.
The thumping beat grew quieter and quieter until it disappeared completely. It was always the same thing with that place, or perhaps it was just that she’d grown tired of that scene. She’d been surrounded by hedonism since her early teens and was no stranger to the darkest corners of life and the most dangerous kinds of people. Maybe it was after chasing too many thrills that the novelty of reckless living had finally worn off. Maybe she’d simply grown up.
Red stamped her cigarette out on the ground beneath her boot, before turning another street corner into an even darker and narrower alleyway. The government would imitate the day and night system that had existed in the Old World by switching the lights on and off. Although Red understood this was necessary for growing crops and aiding people’s sleeping patterns, she still disagreed with it. Wouldn’t it feel a hell of a lot safer for a young girl walking home on her own in the middle of the night if the lights were just left on all the time?
Red’s thoughts were interrupted as she stumbled over something soft below her boots and fell onto the side of the pavement. The cat let out a piercing scream as it backed away from her.
“Shit!” Red got halfway back up, then moved towards the small black feline that she’d unexpectedly awoken. “I’m sorry precious, come over here. Why are you all alone on a night like this? Don’t you have a home?”
Her warm, velvety tone was enough to reassure the animal that she wasn’t a threat. The cat cautiously allowed the stranger to move in closer and check the small metallic chip that was attached to her neck. Red pressed the chip’s surface before a blurry three-dimensional hologram of an elderly woman projected above the animal. The entire alleyway lit up.
“Have you found Aura? Please return her to Level…” As the cat’s owner began to read out her address, the recording flickered twice then went out completely as the chip lost all power. Red tapped it a few more times, but to no avail.
“Well, Aura,” Red said, scooping her new-found accomplice up into her arms. “Looks like you’re stuck with me now until you remember your way home.”
The young woman had only walked a few steps further down the alleyway with Aura tightly in her grasp before she heard the first man speak.
“Here, kitty kitty kitty. Here, kitty kitty kitty,” The man’s voice was soft and high but full of malice. Red kept on walking but picked up the pace, only to be greeted by another man who was in front of her this time.
“What’s the rush lil’ lady, don’t you wanna have a kiss in the rain?” The man behind her continued to approach making kissing sounds in the air.
“How romantic. Wouldn’t that be romantic, little kitty?” Red sensed that he was the leader of the pair and was probably more dangerous.
“Look guys, I really don’t want any trouble. My cat and I are just walking home and want to be left alone.” Red was trying her best to cover any signs of fear in her voice as she stared into the eyes of her opposition.
His dark curly hair was soaked from the rain, dripping over his sullen grey eyes. His nose ring moved up and down as his nostrils flared. There was something intimidating about the rips in his faded denim jacket. She couldn’t help but visualise the women who had torn it in an attempt to keep him off.
“Well, maybe we don’t want to leave you alone,” the voice behind continued as the man in front pushed Red backwards into his arms.
Aura leapt out of her grasp onto the dirty street and let out a piercing screech. It was in this brief moment that Red’s thoughts shot back to the nightclub she’d just left and how, like always, she’d chosen not to listen to the advice of her friend and flatmate. Delta, although never one to turn down a good time, was without a doubt the sensible one of the two and constantly worried for Red’s welfare.
“Just stick around for another half an hour or so, Xave and I will be leaving too. That way we can all grab a pod home.” Red remembered Delta’s exact words, but ignored them completely. Her strong mind would often be mistaken for stubbornness, and tonight would be no exception.
“It’s fine, I’m going to walk. I could do with the air, if you can even call it that.” Red had finished her drink and started to make her way across the crowded dance floor to the exit.
“At least let me order you a pod. I don’t want you walking home alone again, it’s not safe!” As always, Delta’s words were spoken in vain. Red knew her friend was right. It wasn’t safe. Particularly on this side of the city where nineteen-year-olds went to nightclubs. The streets were considered to be even less safe now that humanity existed under the ocean.
The seacity, which had been worked on for years in preparation for disaster, had been turned into a crime-filled hellhole with more problems than the world above had ever known. Despite threats by the Authorities to keep theft, violence and murders down, they never seemed to be around to enforce the law. They never seemed to show up when they were actually needed. They didn’t show up on the night Red was attacked on her way home.
“Get off me! Somebody help!” Red’s screaming only encouraged the two men more as they forcefully restrained her from kicking and shoving. The eldest of the pair stepped in front of her and pulled up the sleeves of his ripped denim jacket to reveal an angel tattooed on his forearm.
“No need to make a scene now, is there sweetheart?” His hollow face forced a grimace that made Red’s stomach turn. “It’s always the redheads, eh Taylor? Feisty ain’t they?”
As Taylor kept Red’s arms locked tightly behind her back and pulled her to the ground, she watched the angel on the stranger’s arm move closer towards her as he reached in, pushing his hand down her tights and in between her legs.
The next minute flew past in an instant as Red pulled back her leg and released it forward in a powerful blow. The platform of her boot was sent thrusting into her attacker’s face, bursting it open and sending a gush of blood spraying out onto the ground. The man let out a painful howl and grabbed onto his broken nose as Taylor, the more timid of the two, let go of her and ran. Red then pulled a switchblade out from the inside of her boot and pointed it directly towards the lone remaining man.
“This redhead is far feistier than you realised.”
With that, the bloodied stranger went from monster to mouse and scampered away into the night. Red stood up and brushed the dirt off of her lean figure as she stuffed the switchblade back into her boot. The rain began to subside before she removed her hood, shaking a thick mane of long fire-red hair. Aura cautiously reappeared with tiny silent steps from around the corner.
“Good job our lives aren’t in your hands, hey Aura? Then again, you do have nine of them to throw around.” She scooped the cat up into her arms and continued journeying towards her flat. One thing that Red had learned over the years was how to always find her way back home alone. But on this night, she didn’t mind the company at all.