Hi guys. This is the opening chapter of my first novel, and I would appreciate it if you could give me some feedback. The story is a futuristic dystopia, set in a future reshaped by global warming and nuclear war. There are lots of twists and turns, throughout the book, including a turn from Fantasy to SciFi around halfway. I tend to write short paragraphs, so it shouldn't take much of your time.
Chapter 1- Beginning
“Shafting zombies!” John thought as he struggled to move through the crowd. “Just get out of the way already!”
The crowd was opening behind him, to ease the passage of the uniformed men chasing him. Everything about their masked, armoured suit asserted how serious they were. The joltsticks they were waving around made it even clearer.
They were closing in on him, and he had no idea how to escape. Most in the crowd were inching around with a very uncertain aim, more interested in the feed of their eyepieces than their destinations. An alley appeared at his left, and he ran down it as fast as he could. He ran like the devil himself was on his heels, his mind racing to find an escape, a diversion, something.
He emerged on to another crowd, but this time there was a road to keep the zombies walking in a stream. Joining them, he kept his head down, moving towards the subway. Halfway down the steps he peeked at the alley and saw the three wasps trying to locate him in the river of bodies. He hurried down and entered the first train, without looking or caring where it would take him. When the platform accelerated away from him he finally drew breath. He thought he saw a wasp’s boots coming down the stairs, but by now he was safe.
“How the hell did they know?” he thought to himself. Everything had been meticulously planned, but somehow, he almost got caught, “No turning back now. If I don’t find the smugglers everything is lost.”
His credit card was useless now, and there was no point in returning to the apartment. Fortunately, he had a loaded digiwallet, and quite some cash on him as well. When he surfaced from the subway it had started raining. It seemed like it was always raining in this place. Everything always felt damp and hot, oppressively damp and hot. At least it wreaked havoc with the cameras, so he could relax a bit.
The shop he was looking for appeared after some time. A little kiosk, equal to thousands spread throughout the city. Colourful and packed with every imaginable item, he remembered how awesome they looked to him as a child, a cubicle filled with treasure, a pirate’s chest with a door and a sullen vendor. He heard somewhere that these things existed exactly like this for centuries, but who knows. Maybe the eggheads, maybe not even them. It’s always hard to know what was before the bombs.
He bought a burner phone. He needed to contact Amber quickly. If he lost her, he wouldn’t be able to find the smugglers before the police found him. Pay cash, lay low, survive another day.
Trying to keep as low a profile as he possibly could, he moved slowly through the street. Except that he had no idea how to keep a low profile. Not twelve hours ago he was a television producer, not some shafting spy! This cloak and dagger bullshit was the sort of thing he fired screenwriters for, not a personal skill.
He seemed to at least be well supplied in luck. As he wandered away from the centre the shimmering towers and well-lit streets gave way to ever smaller, older buildings. Even the advertisements, impossible to escape, seemed tired, worn down. As the billboards, so did the surveillance cameras appear in ever-increasing intervals. To his surprise, that made it harder to avoid them, not easier. At least once he found himself looking straight down an inquisitive lens, and his heart almost stopped. He hid in the shadows and waited for the sirens, but no wasps appeared. Hurrying away from the place he looked for a hole in the wall where he could dive in and make a call. But not any hole. As the centre grew distant the pubs became darker and smellier, but he was afraid not yet smelly enough.
He knew he had reached the “Busy Warlock” even before he turned into the alley. The whole area reeked of piss and sick, and he was afraid he might contribute to the aroma soon enough. The locals pronounced the name of the pub “Boozy Warlock”, but no one in their right mind would ever try to register that name with the authorities.
John entered the place, and it was wholly unsurprising. It smelled of bad food and worse drink, and the floor was sticky with stains of beer and, he hoped as his hair raised, red wine. But nowhere in the murky room there seemed to be a wine drinker. The clientele looked like they were pulled straight out of a police line-up of murderers or degenerates. The tables and stools were low and sturdy, no doubt to avoid being easily used as projectiles. The numerous cracks in the walls showed it didn’t work.
Amber had told him of this place, and what to do. All eyes were on him, most of them threatening. He feared that his time in this place was coming to a violent end, so he approached the bar and whispered, “Amber sent me…”
The barman was short but stocky. His thick arms looked like they could break the bones of a TV producer without any effort. He was as smelly as his bar and equally welcoming. Looking John top to bottom he bellowed “Who the shaft are you, and who the shaft is Amber?”
His heart sank to his stomach, and at that moment he believed it was all over. Fifteen years rising to one of the most coveted jobs in the country, and now he was to die in this shithole. Or worse, the wasps would get him. But as the barman turned away, he felt the tension in the room easing and saw all the eyes dropping to whatever concerned them before he arrived.
He walked slowly into a recess and sat on the dirty stool. He was shivering and now knew that ‘shitting your pants’ was not completely metaphorical. His trembling hands dialled the number he had committed to memory. Hopefully, she would answer. Her, or anyone else… his life was over otherwise.
The phone rang slowly, each beep stabbing at his chest. When he heard the pick up on the other side he almost choked on his words “It’s me, I’m here, in the pub! It’s…” A woman’s voice interrupted him, “Wait!” and the line clicked dead. He listened to the tone for a long time, trying to figure out if his life had ended or not.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the pub started to empty itself. Four of the customers helped the rest to the exit, one by one, whether they wanted it or not. Everyone was ignoring him, so he tried to melt into the wall. When one of the men moved in his direction, he stood up and started stumbling to the exit. “What do you think you’re doing?” the big man rasped at him, “You were told to wait, so sit down and wait!”
The tone admitted no discussion, and he did as he was told. The bartender brought him two glasses and a bottle of something. “Wait for the lady”, he said before going to close the door.
It was not your ordinary door. The thick heavy wood was braced by metal hinges and locked by a ridiculous number of bolts and latches. It looked like the gates of a fairytale fortress, and he was sure a police ram wouldn’t even scratch it.
Amber appeared through an inside door. It was raining outside again, she was drenched. She was dressed plainly, but the wet t-shirt and pants were clinging to her body, making it very pleasant to his eyes. Although used to actresses and models, he felt attracted to her sportier frame, her rough demeanour. Maybe it was just her being his lifeline.
“Bloody idiot!” he thought to himself. “Not even with your life on the line you stop thinking of getting laid.”
He concentrated on the figures in the room. Information is always important, even when you think it’s useless.
Amber greeted the five men standing in the closed bar. The taller one is Carl, the one that addressed him was Mikey. The next one was Tiny, who looked like a shaved gorilla, and finally the bartender and someone as short and stocky as him. Didn’t get that name. They all seemed close. Probably had done this many times. He tried to discern her connection to each man. Before he could finish, she was turning her attention to him.
She crossed the room with big strides, her hiking boots resonating, and sat down across from him. She took the bottle and halved both glasses. Without a toast, she threw her head back and downed the liquid.
John thought of doing the same, but the whisky (was it whisky?) smelled too much of battery acid for his taste. He sipped it instead and was immediately thankful for it.
“You had an important position, Mr Michaels,” she said, “and we need something of you before we take you far away from here.”
“I have quite some money with me” he pleaded “it is all yours if I get a safe way out of this place.”
Amber smiled, “I told you before Mr Michaels, we don't want your money. If we did we would just take it from you. We want access.”
John’s expression betrayed his confusion, “What do you mean access? I have access to nothing anymore. I just need to disappear before they get to me.”
Amber leaned in and said, “You have information, Mr Michaels. That doesn't get frozen by the wasps. And we are very interested in it... interested enough to evacuate you free of any charge, even if you’re not a weird”.
“What do you mean? I am not, but it’s as if I was! Once you’re accused there’s no way out of the Inquest!” John protested. “And nobody ever comes back… not whole, at least.” His voice trailed off to a whimper.
“Now, now Mr Michaels… It’s all beyond the point. We have something you need, you have something we need.” She refilled the glasses “To our partnership”. This time joined her and downed whatever that was.
“I don't know what you want,” he said, “but if it gets me a ticket, then I'm in.”
Amber rose to her feet. “Very well, Mr Michaels. Let’s then procee…” She didn’t finish the word.
“Wasps!” the bartender shouted in alarm, “A couple of dozens!”
“How long can you hold them off?” Amber asked as she dragged John across the room.
“Out of this place?” he answered with a grin “They have nothing that can breach this d…”
The blast deafened everyone in the room. The bartender got the brunt of the concussive force and was killed instantly. No one but the intruders could hear Carl’s screams, as he looked at the splinter that had just pierced his shin.
As the dust started to clear a singular figure entered the pub.
“Oh my God!” screamed Amber as she forced a dazed John to his feet. “They brought a Knight!”
John’s eyes widened as he mumbled “A Knight…”