Fall of Zona Nox - Chapter 1: Galis

Fall of Zona Nox - Chapter 1: Galis

A young master thief attempts to escape a botched theft in a city of criminals and soldiers.


Fantasy / Sci-fi


Nicholas Woode-Smith (South Africa)

A stray bullet ricocheted off the concrete tiling of a nearby shop as the boy narrowly dodged the projectile. The guard was in pursuit and gaining speed by the second, firing as he ran. The boy was faster than the guard but that made little difference against bullets. Luckily, the guard was too incompetent to stop and aim. He skidded into an alleyway, knocking over dustbins, trying to hinder his pursuer. He had done this hundreds of times without a problem, but today he felt that it might be his last.
Loose concrete and red sand fell as he grappled onto the roof of a low lying shanty, the guard still in hot pursuit. The roofing was what it had always been - gray, damaged and flat. He had grown up in this city and this loathsome sight was normal and even of some relief to him. It was a strange feeling, gaining pleasure from the sight of grit and general unpleasantness. The boy had come to accept this, and had become better for it.
The guard lifted himself onto the roof, being weighed down only slightly by his cumbersome armour. Before he could grab the boy, he leapt across a small opening to another roof, once again escaping capture. The boy needed to get to the poor district to have the slightest chance of escape.
He sped across the gray surface, darting away from incoming fire. This route had already been set up by multiple thieves as an escape route and the boy only had to jump a gap occasionally. This was, in fact, a hindrance as he did not typically mind jumping gaps while the make-shift bridges allowed the heavily armoured pursuer an easier route.
He had thought that stealing an X51 Battery to sell on the black market would be easy, but it looked as if he had been wrong, and he was now regretting it. The victim of his crime was a rich merchant that had special connections to gain him new technology.
The X51 Battery had enough energy to power a house for three months and was only the size of a portable communicator. It apparently utilized a new substance from Nova Zarxa, a hybrid fuel made from crystal and chemical.
He had heard rumours of the battery and decided it would be a profitable trinket to steal. A little bit of credit in the right pocket and he found out that the merchant was meeting his client in the southern Merchant District to conduct the trade. All information had stated that the merchant was without private protection and was utilizing the easily bribed guards of the local taverns.
The reports had been wrong. The merchant had, in fact, replaced many of the tavern staff with his own personal retinue of hired gunslingers.
Luckily, the boy had instinctively used his skill in stealth, and had managed to pilfer the battery without attracting too much attention. The alarm had sounded after he had reached the end of the street and was the signal for a band of eight heavily armed mercenaries to give chase after the person who had plundered goods from their client. It seemed they were not used to Galis, and as they drew their guns, they were met with others from jumpier mercenaries; a fire fight of instinct ensued and left only one guard to pursue the boy.
They had been running for about half an hour and the boy had been able to replace much of his need for stamina with adrenaline. He had the advantage of speed and a near-inhuman stamina, but the guard had a gun, so that evened the odds somewhat. He needed only a steady hand and good aim; thankfully for the boy, that was what he lacked. However, he was possessed of a commendable diligence, and never gave up the chase.
The boy was gaining a little bit of speed across the rooftops. The combined feeling of danger and the wind buffeting against him while he ran was thrilling and terrifying at the same time. He jumped up to catch another ledge, he felt the impact of his hands upon the edge of the higher roof and was about to pull himself up when the guard caught hold of his ankle. Only the boy’s tight grip on the edge of the roofing stood between him and punishment, but the guard was strong and the boy would not be able to hold on much longer.
He kicked the guard in the jaw but then realised that he was wearing a mask, like most guards who worked for the corporations in Galis.
He struggled to squirm free.
His grip on the ledge was all that was between a robber’s execution and freedom. He lowered himself an inch feeling the guard relax, thinking that the boy was giving up. Then the boy hooked his foot under the bottom of the guard’s mask and flipped it up. Before he could react, the boy kicked him in the jaw again. This time, it connected with a satisfying thump. The stunned guard loosened his grip on the boy’s ankle for just a moment, but that was all it took.
He climbed onto the ledge while the guard recovered and the chase resumed. Roof top by roof top, the boy leapt and dashed. Neither of them had gained anything but a few bruises and a lot of fatigue. Then he noticed that he had crossed the invisible border between the Poor District and Corporate District. This border had nothing to signify it, and only reputation allowed people to know where it was. He turned to notice that the guard had lost sight of him. He wouldn’t pass up this chance. Hastily lowering himself through a sky light, he landed on the top floor of a building he knew to be a saloon. The saloon was called the Rusty Trooper, a popular hangout for gangsters and ruffians. The owner was a friend, family of sorts, and secretly, a fence for the Galis Black Market.
Years ago, there had been no organised black market and people would have to sell their stolen goods on the streets, which was obviously highly risky as the victim of the crime could see it and report the culprit. Black market fences would purchase your stolen goods and make sure that no one knew who stole them; they also put bounties on certain items, like the battery that the boy had stolen.
He lowered himself into a corner, holding his breath slightly, and waited. Minutes later he could hear the guard run right past the sky light. The heavy footsteps banged loudly on the concrete and tin roof, making the guard’s identity unmistakable.
The boy had escaped and kept his prize.
Skulking out of the shadows, the boy revealed his features. He was of the typical city dweller variety; dark brown, almost black hair, pale skin and green eyes. He was slightly taller than most, but not enough to brag about. Overall, James was an average looking Galisian teenager.
Assured of his safety, James descended the stairway. Like most buildings in Galis it was crafted of concrete and metal; only the corporation housing could afford alternatives. As he climbed quietly down the steps, he could hear sounds of merry-making and smell the scent of fresh meat and vegetables mixed in with the acrid smell of low-shelf booze and unwashed men.
The Rusty Trooper was a good bar for both food and drink, but no saloon could expect respectable clientele in such a location.
The saloon floor was covered with metal tables, seating a number of ruffians who looked to be gambling or drinking. Very few ate at this time, but the owner would have already started cooking for the evening meals by now.
The person of James’ interest and the owner of the establishment was Billy Roman, who was currently shining mugs behind the old metal counter of the saloon. James walked casually to the counter where he took a seat. If he was anyone else, no one would have suspected him of returning from a heist. Alas, his fame went before him, and he was known throughout the bar. Luckily for him, no one cared where he got his money. Hell, they had worse sources for their incomes.
‘James, I didn't see you come in,’ Billy greeted without lifting his head, as if this was a common occurrence, as it was.
‘I used the scenic entrance,’ James replied snidely, as he always did.
‘You know that X51 Battery that the Board wanted?’ James continued.
‘What about it?’ Billy asked, still not looking up from his oh-so-important shining of the glass mug.
James took the battery out of his jacket, ‘That will be five hundred Credits,’ he said proudly.
Billy finally looked up and gawked at the battery. ‘By the Imperial Council, you’re the best damn thief in Galis! I heard reports that that merchant was packing his own private army.’

Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Round 1


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Review 1:

Compelling hook?


Strong characters?


Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing!
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals, conflicts and purpose were clearly introduced and I wanted to find out more about them.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot. A truly absorbing story!
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts.
Technique and tight writing
  • The writing was tight and economical and each word had purpose. This enabled the plot to unravel clearly. Your writing exhibits technical proficiency.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice. Impressive.
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line and hook
  • Your strong opening and compelling hook was a promise of wonderful things to come. I was hooked!