Dear readers, tonight with me is someone from the criminal element. A master thief in the gang-dominated Galis City, crime-ridden capital of the frontier world of Zona Nox, he soon found himself forced to join the Troopers, a galactic alliance of human soldiers.
James is thrust into defending Zona Nox from the alien invasion, but as the conflict continues James realises that this war is not as simple as it may seem.
He is here to tell us about his efforts to save his world.
Tell us a little about Galis City and Zona Nox. What was it like growing up there?
Most of the street kids were born in Dead Stone. You might have heard of it. It was the old starport city before the last big push by the Xank. A lot of us got out. Even more didn’t. Galis? Skite hole. We starved, at the best of times. Other times, we were making other people starve. We stared them in the eyes, held a gun to their heads. Sometimes, the hunger was stronger than the fear. So, what was it like growing up in Galis City? At first, hell. Then, it got better. The city found its place. We became its lords. We ruled the streets. What had once beaten us, now served us. So, we suffered, but it wasn’t for nothing.
How about your family? You must have had one.
Had a family in Dead Stone. A real one. Mom and dad. They didn’t make it. After that? Well, my godfather took me in. Billy Roman, and my best friend, Andrew Roman. They registered me as James Roman for convenience sake. Didn’t mean much. Overnight, the Trooper registries meant nothing. So did family. No, no. Don’t get me wrong. I loved them. It’s just… survival, desperation – it changes things. To protect family, I had to do things no child of any family should do. I loved Billy, but I will never forgive him for that.
Tell us about your gang.
The Marzio Mafia was a business. Don Marzio made that very clear. We weren’t a family. We weren’t a government – whatever that is – and we weren’t trying to build an empire like the Zenites. Zenites? Bunch of crazy gangsters trying to take Galis, by any means necessary. But that’s a different story. The Marzios were professional. I found a home there. They got me and my family off the streets. I killed for them, robbed for them. I conducted the Don’s business, and gained the titles of Corporate Bane and Shadow of Galis. Do I regret being in the gang? No. There was no choice. I have a particular skillset. For me, it was one gang or the other. I was just lucky enough to join the sane one.
Joining the army must have been a shock. Tell us how it happened.
I was used to dodging Trooper patrols, not being in one. Shouldn’t have come as a surprise, though. Was saved by a Trooper – an honest to Terra, good one. Nathan. He saved me on the night Galis burned. Saved me from what I may have done to myself and others, otherwise. I don’t blame him for conscripting me. I was a good shot, and one of the only gangsters trustworthy enough to train the militia. Troopers don’t like conscription, but when the enemy is surrounding you in your little bunker, it becomes necessary. Nathan had some dirt on me. Not the big stuff, but something big enough that I didn’t balk at his ‘suggestion’ that I join up.
You were elevated to leadership pretty quickly. How are you coping?
I do what I must. In Galis, every man and woman is their own boss. We don’t have hierarchy there. You pay your cut to the Don because you want the opportunity to work with him. It ain’t a tax. How am I expected to be a leader to these men when Galisians don’t know leaders? Regardless, I’ve found delegation to help matters. I have trusted friends in positions around me. With them, I may very well be able to lead this group to safety.
What is the best thing about leadership in the Troopers?
Best thing about being a Trooper Captain is that Troopers seldom shoot at you on sight. Wearing Marzio colours, I was typically target practice. I didn’t have a positive reputation with the local guards. Luckily, the Trooper dress code allows reasonable face cover, so I have been able to escape detection by old Troopers with a vendetta. But even then, there’s a sense of comradery – of honest duty. It is… good.
How about the worst?
I am not a fan of looking in a mother’s eyes and condemning her and her child to death. But that is what I’ve had to do. Leadership is more than knowing tactics, or being a specialist, or telling your men when to shoot. There’s a nasty side to leadership – the side where you have to put one human above another. That is something I don’t feel I have a right to do – but I do nonetheless.
Tell us a little about your companions.
I’ve mentioned already how I have coped with leadership through delegation. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by some skilled and trustworthy individuals. I am proud to call many of them my friends. Ryan Rebeck is one. Never thought I’d become friends with the guy, but his skills at navigating and managements have freed me from a lot of stress. And, while only a recent friendship, I have found a great friend and comrade in Marshal Rekkie. I’m lucky to have such an honourable and accomplished soldier by my side.
Can you tell us about your most recent activity?
It is bloody business crossing Red Sand, the skiting desert that takes up half this planet I call home. We’ve fought Xank, we’ve slain Sylith. We’ve lost good men along the way. We’re running low on ammo, and hope. But, there is always a way – often unexpected. At this point, however, I’ll take a miracle from whatever god or demon is willing to deliver.
What does the future hold for you?
The unexpected happened. Something I could never have expected, about this war and about myself. There are powers far greater than puny alien empires invading small frontier worlds involved in this. I have found out that I, by choice or not, will become embroiled in this galactic conflict. But I have allies by my side. Some old, some new and unexpected. Regardless, I fly for Nova Zarxa, the jewel of the frontier. An ice world, devoid of breathable air – and the place where the fate of humanity will be decided.
Nicholas Woode-Smith is a free thinking, gun-toting space pioneer, fighting space bugs and marauding alien dictatorships on the frontier. In his spare time, he writes science fiction and political commentary from his home in Cape Town, South Africa.
You can find James Terrin on the pages of Fall of Zona Nox.